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Essay: Cause of the Holocaust: Unresolved WWI Conflicts Led to Nazi Germany’s Genocide of European Jews

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PasteDiane Li


World History/English

16 March 2017

Cause of the Holocaust

It is a widely accepted idea that WWII was a result of the unresolved conflicts of WWI. The Germans had lost WWI and were given many restrictions and reparations by the Treaty of Versailles. Bitter about their unfair treatment, they sought to regain their lost pride, causing the start of WWII. While the war cost the lives of millions of soldiers, the most horrific aspect of the war is arguably the Holocaust, a mass genocide that primarily targeted Jews. The Holocaust took place between 1933 and 1945, and in only 13 years, 6 million European Jews were murdered by the members of the German National Socialist “Nazi” Party. The Holocaust happened because the Jews were used as scapegoats for Germany’s problems after WWI.

After the end of WWI in 1918 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany’s economy suffered from a major depression due to the reparations and economic restrictions from the Treaty of Versailles. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles states, “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies”. Even though they were not one of the main instigators of WWI, Germany still had to bear the full brunt of the consequences. For more than a decade, the Germans had to work their lives away to pay back their debts, and anti-Semitism increased as the German economy fell (Northwest Minnesota Historical Center). Then, in 1933, the German Nationalist Socialist “Nazi” Party came into power with Adolf Hitler as their leader. Hitler formed the first concentration camps and death camps in Germany to exterminate his political enemies, including communists and socialists (Florida Center for Instructional Technology). The Nazis encouraged anti-Semitism by spreading anti-Jewish propaganda and calling them an “inferior race”. On November 9, 1938 “Jewish store windows were broken and many shops were looted. Numerous synagogues were set on fire. Some 30,000 Jews were arrested, at least 91 were killed on the spot, and others were sent to already functioning but newly expanding concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen” (Etzioni). Later on, the Nazis deported Jews, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, homosexuals, and other groups to concentration camps (Florida Center for Instructional Technology). In 1939, Germany initiated WWII with the invasion of Poland, and as they began taking over all of Europe, they detained and deported more and more people. First, the Jews were relocated to ghettos, and then onto trains that carried them to the concentration camps. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says in Night, when the Jews arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp, “[they] saw…that flames were gushing out of a tall chimney into the black sky” (36).  The camps had crematories that burned the bodies of Jews that were deemed unfit to work at the camps, including those that were too old or too young. In addition, Wiesel says that when he and the other Jews went inside the camp, “three ‘veterans,’ with needles in their hands, engraved a number on our left arms” (51). The Jews were made prisoners in the concentration camps and given prisoner numbers. In Wiesel’s memoir, he also recalls veterans of the camp saying, “You’re lucky to have been brought here so late. This camp is like paradise today, compared to what it was like two years ago. Buna was a real hell then. There was no water, no blankets, less soup and bread. At night we slept almost naked, and it was below thirty degrees. The corpses were collected in hundreds every day. The work was so hard. Today, this is a little paradise. The Kapos had orders to kill a certain number of prisoners every day. And every week–selection. A merciless selection…Yes, you’re lucky” (77). These conditions lasted for many years until Germany was defeated by Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States in 1945. The concentration camps were liberated and the Nuremberg Charter was passed, allowing for the “just and prompt trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis” (“Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1 Charter of the International Military Tribunal”). The Nuremberg Trials against the accused criminals were held on October 1, 1946, and would later “[inspire] human rights law in the postwar era” (Rodden 36).

After WWI, the Germans blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat. In Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf,  he says, “Government offices were staffed by Jews. Almost every clerk was a Jew and every Jew was a clerk. I was amazed at this multitude of combatants who belonged to the chosen people and could not help comparing it with their slender numbers in the fighting lines” (166). Almost all German soldiers who went through WWI would live with PTSD for the rest of their lives. Knowing that the German soldiers went through terrible experiences, both German citizens and soldiers were infuriated to hear that the Jews in Germany did nothing to help while “Aryan” Germans went off to fight and die for their country. This caused the Germans to feel resentment towards Jews for supposedly “shirking” their duties to their country. In addition, there was a myth that said that “Germany suffered from a ‘stab-in-the-back’ inflicted from within…by Jewish traitors and their left-wing collaborators” (Monhollen 72). The Germans believed in these claims even though they were not supported by facts because they needed an explanation for why Germany lost the war. The simple answer that “Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in WWI” was easy to accept, and German citizens were, therefore, convinced that the Jews were traitors and led Germany to its demise.

The Germans also blamed the Jews for the demands in the Treaty of Versailles. Max Warburg, “As one of the Jewish members of the German delegation, he was condemned…to endure vilification for years to come from anti-semitic critics of the Schmachfrieden (what the Germans called the Treaty of Versailles)” (Ferguson 401). The Treaty of Paris was inevitably signed on 1919, much to the dread of the Germans. Due to the large numbers of Jews in German politics and the country falling into a deeper and deeper dilemma, anti-Semitism rose as the economy fell. “Max Warburg…had been forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles as representative of Germany and [his] actions first initiated the thought of Jews selling out Germany” (Trinity Communications). The Germans used direct causation and figured that if Warburg had signed a paper that would force everyone to have a harsh life for decades, he must have been a traitor to Germany, and since Warburg was a Jew, the Jews must also be traitors to Germany. This gave German people all the more excuses to blame Jews for the problems that Germany was going through.

Lastly, the Germans blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic crisis after WWI.

In the book Maus, based on the interviews of Vladek Spiegelman’s experience in WWII Poland, Vladek is detained and is waiting to be taken to Auschwitz when a guard searches his belongings and finds a gold watch; the guard keeps the watch and tells Vladek, “…you Jews always have gold!” (Maus I 154.2). It was a well-known stereotype that Jews have a lot of money; this was used in a negative way because it allowed Jews to be easily targeted by hate crimes spurred on by envy from the lower class, especially during a time of economic decline. In “Money is the God of the Jews,” an anti-Jewish children’s story written by a Nazi propagandist, a German girl asks her mother why Jews have so much money while all the other Germans were so poor. Her mother tells her that “the Jew is quite indifferent when the cheated non-Jew goes hungry. Jews have no pity. They strive for one thing: — money. They do not care two hoots how they get it” (Bytwerk). After WWI, there were a number of Jews who were well off and had a lot of money while other Germans were poor and suffering from the depression. This caused suspicion about how the Jews could have so much money during an economic decline and led to rumors that the Jews lie and cheat to get rich so they don’t have to work hard to earn money like everyone else. The Nazis took advantage of the rich Jew stereotype to create propaganda and lies about how Jews cheat others to make money and get rich. This, in turn, caused the other Germans to resent the Jewish population and encourage anti-Semitism.

    Although there are many varying factors as to what caused the Holocaust, the evidence supports that the Holocaust began due to Jews being used as scapegoats for Germany’s problems after WWI. The Germans held the defeat of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, and the economic depression against the Jews so that they have someone to blame. In the end, their decision to accuse the Jews of being the reason for all their problems resulted in the murder of six million innocent lives.

Boemeke, Manfred F., Gerald D. Feldman, Elisabeth Glaser. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print. <https://books.google.com/books?id=zqj-oHp4KsgC>.

Burant, Stephen R. “Weimar Germany and the Rise of the Nazis.” Weimar Germany and the Rise of the Nazis. Sam Houston State University. N.d. Web. 17 March 2017. <http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Weimar.html>.

Bytwerk, Randall. “Money is the God of the Jews.” Money is the God of the Jews. German Propaganda Archive, Calvin College. N.d. Web. 12 March 2017. <http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/story15.htm>.

Etzioni, Amitai. “`Kristallnacht’ Remembered.” Commonweal, vol. 126, no. 3, 12 Feb. 1999, p. 12. EBSCOhost. <http://0-web.a.ebscohost.com.www.saclibrarycatalog.org/ehost/detail/detail?sid=ba1c8d0c-11d0-422d-9c9a-5f888c69dc37%40sessionmgr4010&vid=0&hid=4204&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=1584319&db=aph>.

Florida Center for Instructional Technology. “A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust: The Camps”. Holocaust Timeline: The Camps. University of Southern Florida. 2005. Web. 6 March 2017. <https://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/timeline/camps.htm>.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Trans. James Murphy. PDF Edition. Hurst & Blackett, 1939. <www.greatwar.nl/books/meinkampf/meinkampf.pdf>.

Monhollen, Judy. “The Effect of Nazi Propaganda on Ordinary Germans.” Saber and Scroll. 1.1 (2012): 71-88. European History Commons. Web. March 16, 2017. <http://digitalcommons.apus.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=saberandscroll>.

Northwest Minnesota Historical Center. “ANTI-SEMITISM IN GERMANY: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND”. Untitled Document. Minnesota State University. N.d. Web. 16 March 2017. <http://web.mnstate.edu/shoptaug/AntiFrames.htm>.

“Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1 Charter of the International Military Tribunal”. The Avalon Project: Charter of the International Military Tribunal. Yale Law School. N.d. Web.  17 March 2017. <http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/imtconst.asp>.

Rodden, John. “Heuristics, Hypocrisy, and History without Lessons: Nuremberg, War Crimes, and “Shock and Awe”.” Journal of Human Rights, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan-Mar2008, pp. 34-43. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14754830701863838. <http://0-web.a.ebscohost.com.www.saclibrarycatalog.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=7fb52858-2f51-4c7e-a129-876cb271ae99%40sessionmgr4010&hid=4204>.

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011. Print.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960. Print.

Trinity Communications. “Survivors share stories, history of Holocaust.” Survivors share stories, history of Holocaust | Trinity Newsroom. Trinity International University. 03 March 2017. Web. 17 March 2017. <https://news.tiu.edu/2017/03/03/survivors-share-stories-history-of-holocaust/>.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “INVASION OF POLAND, FALL 1939”. Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. N.d. Web. 17 March 2017. <https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005070>.

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