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The Holocaust Essay, Research Paper

The Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. Millions of Russians, Poles, gypsies and other ?subhumans? were also murdered. But Jews were the favored targets–first and foremost. It took the Nazis some time to work up to the full fury of their endeavor. In the years following 1933, the Jews were systematically deprived by law of their civil rights, of their jobs and property. Violence and brutality became a part of their everyday lives. Their places of worship were defiled, their windows smashed, their stores ransacked. Old men and young were pummeled and clubbed and stomped to death by Nazi jack boots. Jewish women were accosted and ravaged, in broad daylight, on main thoroughfares.

Some Jews fled Germany. But most, with a kind of stubborn belief in God and Fatherland, sought to weather the Nazi terror. It was forlorn hope. In 1939, after Hitler?s conquest of Poland, the Nazis cast aside all restraint. Jews in their millions were now herded into concentration camps, there to starve and perish as slave laborers. Other millions were driven into dismal ghettos, which served as holding pens until the Nazis got around to disposing of them. The mass killings began in 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Nazi murder squads followed behind the Wehrmacht enthusiastically slaying Jews and other conquered peoples. Month by month the horrors escalated. First tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of people were led off to remote fields and forest to be slaughtered by SS guns. Assembly-line death camps were established in Poland and train loads of Jews were collected from all over occupied Europe and sent to their doom.

At some of the camps, the Nazis took pains to disguise their intentions until the last moment. At others, the arriving Jews saw scenes beyond comprehension. ?Corpses were strewn all over the road,? recalled one survivor. ?Starving human skeletons stumbled toward us. They fell right down in front of our eyes and lay there gasping out their last breath.? What had begun as a mean little edict against Jewish civil servants was now ending the death six million Jews, Poles, gypsies, Russians, and other ?sub-humans? Uncounted thousands of Jews and other hapless concentration-camp inmates were used as guinea pigs in a wide range of medical and scientific experiments, most of them of little value. Victims were infected with typhus to see how different geographical groups reacted; to no one?s surprise, all groups perished swiftly. Fluids from diseased animals were injected into humans to observe the effect. Prisoners were forced to exist on sea water to see how long castaways might survive. Gynecology was an area of interest. Various methods of sterilization were practiced–by massive X-ray, by irritants and drugs, by surgery without benefit of anesthetic. As techniques were perfected, it was determined that a doctor with 10 assistants could sterilize 1,000 women per day.

The ?experimental people? were also used by Nazi doctors who needed practice performing various operations. One doctor at Auschwitz perfected his amputation technique on live prisoners. After he had finished, his maimed patients were sent off to the gas chamber. A few Jews who had studied medicine were allowed to live if they assisted the SS doctors. ?I cut the flesh of healthy young girls,? recalled a Jewish physician who survived at terrible cost. ?I immersed the bodies of dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride (to preserve them), or had them boiled so the carefully prepared skeletons might safely reach the Third Reich?s museums to justify, for future generations, the destruction of an entire race. I could never erase these memories from my mind.?

But the best killing machine were the ?shower baths? of death. After their arrival at a death camp, the Jews who had been chosen to die at once were told that they were to have a shower. Filthy by their long, miserable journey, they sometimes applauded the announcement. Countless Jews and other victims went peacefully to the shower rooms–which were gas chambers in disguise.

In the anterooms to the gas chambers, many of the doomed people found nothing amiss. At Auschwitz, signs in several languages said, ?Bath and Disinfectant,? and inside the chambers other signs admonished, ?Don?t forget your soap and towel.? Unsuspecting victims cooperated willingly. ?They got out of their clothes so routinely,? Said a Sobibor survivor. ?What could be more natural??

In time, rumors about the death camps spread, and underground newspapers in the Warsaw ghetto even ran reports that told of the gas chambers and the crematoriums. But many people did not believe the storied, and those who did were helpless in any case. Facing the guns of the SS guards, they could only hope and pray to survive. As one Jewish leader put it, ?We must be patient and a miracle will occur.? There were no miracles. The victims, naked and bewildered, were shoved into a line. Their guards ordered them forward, and flogged those who hung back. The doors to the gas chambers were locked behind them. It was all over quickly.

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