By Shaina Lidd and Rachel Fried
Survivors of Buchenwald
Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust. But history often forgets about the five million others.
1) What was Hitler’s Aryan (perfect) race?
2) What groups of people were persecuted?
3) Who were the Gypsies (Sinti and Roma) and why were they persecuted?
4) Why were the handicapped persecuted and why?
5) Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and why were they persecuted?
6) Who are the Polish people and why were they persecuted?
7) Why were the homosexuals persecuted during the Holocaust?
Hitler’s Aryan Race
In the Holocaust millions of people were killed because of their "race" and supposedly flawed genetic makeup. The human gene had not yet been discovered, nor was there any proof that those exterminated were flawed in any way. The Nazi Secret Service used eugenics, hate, and the poverty of Germany to get the public to say that what they were doing was okay.
Often characterized by the "blonde-hair, blue-eyes" description, the Aryan race was, in several Germans' minds, the perfect future of the world. It was believed that they should replace most of the people living in Western Europe with Aryans, but the Aryan race does not really exist. The idea of an Aryan race was based on the beliefs of different occultist groups at the beginning of the 19th century. The idea was started by ethnic groups and added onto by the Nazis, not by a scientific discovery. Some myths of different religious groups included an ancient people who were supposed to be perfect. One of these occultist groups was the soon to be Nazi Party which Hitler joined.
Hitler blamed the depression that Germany went through along with the rest of the world on the Jews and other ethnic groups. The Germans went along with it because they were angry and bitter about their misfortune in the depression.
The Lebensborn organization was developed in Germany to offer to young girls "racially pure" the possibility to give birth to a child in secret. The child was then given to the Secret Service organization which took in charge his "education" and adoption.
At first, the Lebensborn were Secret Service nurseries. But in order to create a "super-race", they were transformed into "meeting places" for "racially pure" German women who wanted to meet and make children with Secret Service officers. The children born in the Lebensborn were taken charge of by the Secret Service.
In the eastern occupied countries, children who matched the Nazi’s racial criteria were kidnapped and forced to reject and forget their birth parents. Eventually if they refused the Nazi reeducation they were sent to a concentration camp. Others were sent to live with a Secret Service family.
To learn more about Hitler’s idea for an Aryan Race click here.
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People who were persecuted
Besides from the Jews there were many other groups persecuted because of their “racial inferiority”. Along with the six million Hebrews that were persecuted in the Holocaust there were also groups that made up another five million killed. This five million also includes people who helped the people who were being persecuted. Half a million Gypsies, almost the entire Eastern European Gypsy population, was wiped out during the Holocaust.
The official list from the Holocaust museum website is; “Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.” Women and children and African Americans were also persecuted but in different ways than the different Ethnic groups.
There were many people persecuted in the Holocaust, Hitler’s hatred for the Jews made them the most persecuted but his goal was to create a perfect race and if you didn’t fit his description then you could possibly be persecuted.
To learn more about the African Americans persecuted click here.
German Africian American, Photographer Unknown*
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Gypsies (Sinti and Roma)
The Roma Gypsies were a nomadic people that were persecuted throughout history just like the Jews. For centuries Europeans regarded Gypsies as social outcasts and in modern Germany, persecution of the Sinti and Roma preceded the Nazi regime. The Gypsies, like the Jews, were moved into special areas set up by the Nazis.
In 1939, 30000-35000 people known as “Gypsies” lived in Germany and Austria, which the year before had become part of Germany. Gypsies were believed to have come to Europe from northern India in the 400s. They were called Gypsies because Europeans thought they came from Egypt. This ethnic minority is made up of distinct groups called “tribes” or “nations”. Most of the Gypsies in German-occupied Europe belonged to the Sinti and Roma tribes. The Sinti and Roma spoke dialects of a common language called Romani, based in Sanskrit, the classical language of India.
Zigeuner, the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning “untouchable”. In the Balkan principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, Gypsies were slaves bought and sold by monasteries and large estate holders until 1864, when the new nation of Romania liberated them. Like the Jews and blacks in Europe, many laws were created to deprive Gypsies of their civil rights. The Gypsies had their own concentration camps and weren’t officially rounded up by the police in large numbers until December 1937 when there was a decree on “crime prevention”.
In June of the next year Gypsies were deported to concentration camps. All prisoners in the camps wore markings of different shapes and colors, which enabled guards and camp officers to identify them by category. Gypsies wore the black triangular patches, the symbol for “asocials,” or green ones, the symbol for professional criminals, and sometimes the letter “Z”. Dr. Robert Ritter was a psychiatrist who directed genealogical and genetic research on Gypsies. He helped to identify Sinti and Roma Gypsies before they were arrested by the police. Secret Service chief, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the registration of all Gypsies in the Reich above the age of six and to be classified into three racial groups: Gypsies, part Gypsies, and nomadic persons behaving as Gypsies.
It’s hard to estimate the number of the Gypsies who perished but scholarly estimates range from 220,000 to 500,000 people.
To learn more about how the gypsies were persecuted click here.
A map of places were the Gypsies were persecuted. ***
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On July 14, 1933 Hitler and his cabinet put into effect a sterilization law, the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases, for persons suffering from a variety of mental and physical disabilities. It allowed for the forced sterilization and, in some cases, the murder of people afflicted with hereditary diseases. People diagnosed with schizophrenia, epilepsy, so-called feeblemindedness, hereditary blindness, severe hereditary physical deformity, severe alcoholism, deafness, and other ailments were steadily turned in to local Nazi officials by teachers, nurses, social workers, and doctors. In most cases they were sterilized, some were forced to abort pregnancies, but others were murdered. The mass exterminations of Jews and other victim groups all started with the first secretive murder of a handicapped child in a state-run euthanasia clinic.
The Third Reich called citizens who deviated from the physical “Aryan” ideal through hereditary illness as “life unworthy of life and a threat to race hygiene”. In a top secret order on September 1, 1939, Hitler authorized a program of killing the mentally and physically handicapped, beginning with children. Midwives and family doctors would forward mandatory registration forms to local public health offices where experts would determine whether or not a child would be moved to a state institution and killed by lethal injection. A plus sign written by the experts meant inclusion in the program or the killing of the child whereas a minus sign meant the opposite. The first killings took place as early as October 1939.
Soon the euthanasia program included adult victims. Code-named “T4” after the location of the administrative headquarters at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, the program was carried out at several killing centers. The Germans experimented with various killing agents to replace lethal injections that were then considered too slow and “cumbersome” to work effectively with the large number of victims. Until concentration camps built their own facilities, the Secret Service used the existing gas chambers at selected T4 centers for that purpose.
To learn more about the disabled persecuted in the Holocaust click here.
Smoke rising from the chimney at Hadamar, one of six facilities which carried out the Nazis' Euthanasia Program.
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The Jehovah’s Witnesses were also persecuted during the Holocaust for not being Aryan. They are Christians, and believe in God, Jesus, and a future paradise on earth. They believe that Jesus was the son of God, and will return to Earth once more. They also believe that the Earth will never be destroyed or depopulated, and will eventually become a peaceful place. They are famous for going door-to-door in hope of converting you.
During the Holocaust, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were targeted mainly because they did not want to accept the authority of state, because of international relations, and because they were strongly opposed to the war. They were also not considered ‘Aryan’. Not decorating their homes with Nazi flags, not giving the Nazi salute, and not letting their children join Hitler youth, also angered the Nazis. The Witnesses did claim that their actions were not anti-Nazi, however, but the Nazis weren’t convinced. The Gestapo filed a registry of all of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The actual religion was not banned, but the Nazi’s attacked events crucial to exercising their faith.
The fight “ended” when they refused to be drafted or perform military acts in 1935 and had been meeting secretly and illegally. This led to them being arrested and put in concentration camps. An estimated number of 6.000 Witnesses were murdered in concentration camps during the Holocaust. But they never gave up. Even in the harshest conditions, they continued to practice their faith, as well as seek converts. In Buchenwald, they even set up an underground printing press and distributed religious tract.
“In those days, yes, they were carried on meetings… I did not realize that these were meetings…if someone would come they would whistle a song…the literature would disappear under the covers…And those meetings, as time went on, became smaller, and smaller, and smaller.” Robert Wagemann, describing the Witness meetings that were held during Nazi Germany.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
To learn more about the Jehovah’s Witness faith click here.
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The Nazi’s persecution of the Polish people began in 1939, when Germany defeated Poland. Thousands of Poles were shot and put in forced labor units in the German’s effort to destroy Polish culture. In order to do this, they tried to abolish Polish leadership. They did this to also to prevent conflict for the German occupation.
The fight continued in May of 1940 when the Germans launched AB-Aktion in an effort to kill all Polish intelligentsia and leadership class. They wanted to instill fear in the rest of the population. The Germans mercilessly shot thousands of teachers, priests and others in mass killings in and around Warsaw. About 50,000 children were taken from their parents to the Third Reich to be put in the “Germanization” process.
An underground Polish government was formed in exile, headed up by Wladyslaw Sikorski, was established in London. Its primary job was to organize the Polish Home Army. They attacked the Germans, but were defeated by the Germans in two months.
Between 1939- 1945 more than 1.5 million Poles were taken to Germany for forced labor. More were held captive in concentration camps.
In total the Germans murdered about 4.9 million Poles- both Jewish and not- during the Holocaust. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website)
“...Whoever appeared not employed in a meaningful way that involves supporting the German war effort was being singled out, put in a truck, and shipped to the railroad station and put on a train and shipped to Germany. There were hardly any
families that did not feel the...the tragedy of war.” Wallace Witkowski, on the ruthless conditions for the non-Jews during the war.
Germans on the outskirts of Warsaw
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.
For more information regarding the persecution of the Poles click here.
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Male homosexuality was illegal in Germany. The Nazis believed that male homosexuals were “weak, effeminate men who could not fight for the German nation…unlikely to produce children and increase the German birthrate…so anything that diminished Germany’s reproductive potential was considered a racial danger,” says the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
Which homosexuals were “targeted” was directed by Heinrich Himmler, Secret Service chief. “Lesbians were not regarded as a threat to Nazi racial policies and were generally not targeted for persecution. Similarly, the Nazis generally did not target non-German homosexuals unless they were active with German partners. In most cases, the Nazis were prepared to accept former homosexuals into the ‘racial community’ provided that they became ‘racially conscious’ and gave up their lifestyle,” as told by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
Paragraph 175, which states that male homosexually, is illegal, was revised on June 28, 1935 by the Ministry of Justice, making it easier to persecute the homosexuals.
Some Nazis believed that homosexuality was a curable disease. They tried to cure it with work and humiliation. They were ridiculed and were often separated from other inmates to avoid “spreading” the “disease.”
As for any prisoner, it was extremely difficult to survive in the camps. “Lucky” inmates were able to snag an administrative or clerical job. But for many, this was not an option. Sexuality became means of survival. The Kapos would trade sexual “favors” for protection, food, and other things. If the Kapos got tired of somebody, they would sometimes kill them and find another person.
There are no known statistics on how many homosexuals were killed in the Holocaust.
A Couple Dances at a nighclub
Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz
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“German Extremes.” Visions of Perfection. 2007 Thinkquest team. 5 Nov. 2007.
“Sinti and Roma (Gypsies”): Victims of the Nazi Era.” Holocaust Teacher Reasource
Center. 2007. Holocaust Education Foundation, Inc. 6 Nov. 2007.
“The Lebensborn.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2007. The American-Israeli
Cooperative Enterprise. 6 Nov. 2007
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Forgotten Memorial. 7 Nov. 2007.
“United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” Oct. 25 2007. United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum. Nov. 6 2007
Valley, Paul. “The Big Question: Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and
Why do they refuse blood transfusions?” Nov. 6 2007. The Independent. Nov. 6, 2007
“Jehovah’s Witnesses.” 2007. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of
Pennsylvania. Nov. 6, 2007
“Watchtower: Official Site of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” 2007. Watch Tower and
Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Nov. 6, 2007. http://www.watchtower.org/
* image gotten from http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/1672/Black_history_in_Nazi_Germany_a_brief_story
** image gotten from http://warrensburg.k12.mo.us/ww2/holocaust.html
*** image gotten from http://warrensburg.k12.mo.us/ww2/holocaust.html
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