An Unbelievable Tragedy
Millions of people died during the Holocaust, some were killed by machine guns while others died because their bodies just stopped working for starvation and abuse. This is how people that were disliked by the Nazis were treated. Today we refer to this large scale destruction and killing of millions of Jews and other people by Adolf Hitlerís Nazi Germany during World War II as the Holocaust. Jews and others were put to death just because they were disliked by other people because of what they believed in. This was the first time there was a Holocaust for this reason. Usually, there is a Holocaust because people are fighting for land and resources or an attempt to win a war. In this case, millions of people were killed because they practiced a different religion and were disliked by other people. Hitler and his Nazi troops killed a total of 11 million people, six million of them were Jews, and five million of them were non-Jews that were disliked by the Nazis.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, was born on April 20, 1889, in a small Austrian town called Braunau-am-Inn. Even though he was born in Austria, he had relatives that were German, so Hitler liked to think of himself as a German.
When Hitler was a kid, he was lonely and unhappy, and throughout his life he had a hard time making friends because he was rather quiet. Hitlerís dad wanted him to become a political worker or at least be a leader, but with his inability to make friends, this wish was not going to be easy to accomplish. But Hitler did not let this keep him from being a political worker. He worked very hard to become the leader of any group he could find. When his dad died in 1903, Hitler dropped out of school claiming he had lung problems, but he was really just not a very good student. Because of his fatherís death, he was getting ready to forget his fatherís wish. For the next six years, he barely made a living working as a laborer and painting cheap postcards. Finally, in 1912, Hitler moved to Germany to find a better life, but he still had the troubles of making friends and being lonely and unhappy.
One night, while spying on six members of the German Workersí party in a dark little restaurant, they started to talk to him and began to like him as a friend. After a short time, Hitler joined their group and became their leader. This little step of gaining power gave him high hopes for reaching his goal.
At the beginning of World War I, in 1914, Hitler said that he was willing to give his life for the German people. He was in the army for four years as a message carrier, and he fought at the front line against the British. The Germans ended up losing to the Allies. Hitler was very angry for a long time after Germany was defeated in 1919.
After World War I, Germany was desperately trying to recover from the war. Along with this came Germanyís Great Depression. Many people were without jobs and starving. This terrible economic situation made Hitlerís rise to power possible. In desperate times like these, the people of Germany needed a way out. Hitler gave the Germans hope.
Hitler decided to partly blame the Allies-England, France, and the United States-for Germanyís conditions after the war, but he also blamed others. He believed that the German army was not beaten fairly because it had been betrayed by the Jews, which he called the "evil partners" of the Allies. Hitler thought that the wealthy merchants and the international bankers, which were mostly Jews, had given all of Germanyís secrets away. Because of this, Hitler hated and helped convince others to hate the Jews.
Victims of the Holocaust
There were many different kinds of victims, and each had a different colored triangle with a letter on it that they had to wear. Some of the victims were the Jews, Gypsies, people with physical or mental disabilities, and Jehovahís Witnesses. These victims were selected simply because they were disliked by Hitler and the other Germans.
The Jews were the main victims of the Holocaust because they were hated the most by the Nazis because Hitler blamed the Jews for Germanyís defeat in World War I. Their triangle was yellow, and it had a "P" on it. Many people who were Jewish but never considered themselves to be a Jew (they considered themselves Germans) suddenly became a target of the Nazis. German Jews werenít allowed to go to theaters, swimming pools, and resorts. Jews had to carry identification cards around with them, and they always had to wear a Star of David badge everywhere they went.
There was a time called Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned down synagogues, places where the Jews practiced their religion, and they destroyed Jewish businesses and homes. Jewish children were not allowed to go to school anymore. The Jews had curfews for how late they could be out, and then they werenít allowed in public places. Finally, Germany started kicking them out of the country. The next step for the Nazis was to send the Jews to concentration and death camps. About six million Jews died for one simple reason: they were Jewish.
The Gypsies, a group of people who moved around a lot, are believed to have originally come from northwest India, and had been getting killed for centuries by other people because they were also disliked. The Nazis just continued to kill them, seeing the Gypsies as both selfish and pests to Germans because they thought that the Gypsies practiced witchcraft. Their triangle was black and had a "T" on it. The Nazis began sending the Gypsies to concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands of Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust.
In 1933, the Jehovahís Witnesses, a religious group, had a population of about 20,000 in Germany. This groupís triangle was purple and had a "B" on it. Although their religious meetings were banned after the Nazis rose to power, many of them continued to practice their religion. The Jehovahís Witnesses that ignored the ban went to concentration camps. About 10,000 Jehovahís Witnesses were sent to concentration camps.
Anne Frank was a Jewish German girl who lived until the very end of World War II. On her 13th birthday, right before she and her family received a message telling them to go into hiding, she got a diary. When she and her family eventually went into hiding, she brought her diary with her to the hiding place, which was right behind her fatherís work office. She wrote in it every day, telling about her feelings of the situation and what it was like to be in the position that she was in. In 1944, the Nazis found her, her family, and the other people that were hiding with them because some Germans who disliked the Jews reported to the Nazis where they were. In 1945, Anne Frank, at the age of 16, died in the concentration camps. Her diary was found and is now an amazing book of all of the terrifying situations that she went through called The Diary of Anne Frank.
The Concentration Camps
Concentration camps are places where most of the victims of the Nazis were killed. The concentration camps were not a place where you could live and die peacefully. At these camps, the treatment was extremely harsh and cruel. Every person there was either sick, starving, dying, or a slave laborer. They would die in many types of ways, like starvation, sickness, a machine gun, or overworking your body. Some people were even told that they were going to take a shower, but they were killed. They were tricked, and they actually went into a gas chamber. They died at all different ages, but the Nazis didnít care.
Some of the victims that were eventually killed found out that they were in trouble too late. Others thought that the Nazi group would not be able to survive. Many of them thought they were just as German, Dutch, French, or Polish as anyone else.
Many of the survivors either sensed the danger, or they were forced to leave their homes. For the people that left, it often meant that they would never see their friends and relatives again. The survivors lived because they were always a step ahead of the Nazis and had a lot of luck.
Life in hiding from the Nazis was always a struggle. The people that hid were always in terror of being found by the Nazis. People that were hiding were constantly being found. The consequence of being found for the person in hiding, as well as the people hiding them was often death.
The chances of surviving the war were incredibly small. The people that did survive and are witnesses of the Holocaust are left with memories of horror. The stories they tell remind us of how terrible humans can act when they think people who are different from them are not needed.
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The Teacherís Guide to the Holocaust: People <http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/people/people.htm> Last visited: February, 2002.