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How Did the Holocaust Occur?

Persuading the German People

How was Hitler able to win over millions of Germans to the Nazi cause? His success began with the desperate situation of the German people after 1929. As you know, in that year the worldwide economic depression began. The depression also financially ruined millions of Germans. They had already suffered financially during World War I and in the early 1920s. Once again their businesses went bankrupt, or they were let go from their jobs. They stopped believing in democracy. Many Germans were ready to listen to the messages on the Nazi posters that said, “Hitler, Our Last Hope.”

Hitler’s great skill as a speaker helped influence the German people. At huge rallies, he stirred the emotions of tens of thousands of people. He was one of the first politicians who took advantage of the radio and reached an audience of millions. Hitler knew how to appeal to the German national feeling (nationalism) and to mix that appeal with attacks on Jews.

Hitler used anti-Semitism to tell different groups of Germans what they wanted to hear. He did not tell them the truth. He told the nation that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World

War I. He told the business people that Jews favored communism. He told German workers that the

Jews were the business people who were taking advantage of them. Through his emotional speeches,

Hitler persuaded the German people to blame their problems on the Jews. Hitler, as the Nazi leader, identified Jews as a race. This is incorrect. He defined this Jewish race as “inferior” and told Germans that Germans were “racially superior” to the “inferior” Jews.

Hitler used violence against those people who spoke out against him. He sent Nazi storm troopers into the streets to beat up his opponents. These actions helped Hitler and the Nazis win control of the German government in January 1933. Once they had power, they used it brutally.

The Nazi Dictatorship and the Jews

Hitler became Chancellor of Germany by legal means. He rose to power according to the rules of Germany’s democratic system. The people elected him. However, his first goal when he became chancellor was to destroy democracy in Germany.

He succeeded in a matter of months. In February of 1933, the German parliament building burned down. The Nazis blamed the fire on another political party. The Nazis then instituted emergency acts to end freedom of speech and other freedoms.

In March 1933, the Nazi government passed a new law that gave Hitler total power for four years.

At the same time, the government set up its first concentration camp. It was called Dachau.

Hitler used his power to completely end Germany’s democracy. Germany’s people had failed to defend their democracy against the Nazis. As a result, the German people soon lived under a dictatorship.

“Don’t Buy From Jews”

Germany’s Jews began to suffer immediately. In March 1933, Nazi storm troopers attacked Jews on the streets of Berlin, Germany’s capital. Gangs of five to thirty often attacked a single person.

In April, the Nazi government announced that Germans should boycott Jewish businesses for one day. To boycott is to refuse to do business or associate with a certain individual or group. Storm troopers stood in front of Jewish-owned stores with signs stating “German people, defend yourselves. Don’t buy from Jews.” They painted anti-Jewish slogans of the word “Jew” on shop windows. Germans who dared to shop in Jewish stores were insulted and often beaten.

The Violence Continues

After the boycott, violence against the Jews continued. The violent acts of the Nazi storm troopers frightened Germans and Jews alike. It also helped to push Jews out of German society. The violence stirred up anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews. Many Jews were murdered or arrested on

German streets. Jews had to wear a yellow six-pointed star on their clothing. (This is the Star of David; it is the holy symbol of Judaism.)

The Nazi government had already built its first concentration camp, called Dachau. The Nazis murdered four thousand Jews in a two-week period at the Dachau concentration camp. In May, the Nazis burned thousands of books at a huge bonfire in front of the Berlin Opera House. Some of the burned books were by Jewish authors. Other books burned were written by non-Jewish authors who sympathized with the Jewish people. The book burning clearly was more than an attack on Jews. It was a warning to anyone who opposed the Nazis.

During 1933, quotas were set up that greatly limited the number of Jews who could attend public schools. Thousands of Jewish children had to leave their schools. They attended private schools that the

Jewish community quickly set up. The Jewish children who remained in the public schools found themselves under constant attack.

The Nuremberg Laws

By the end of 1933, there were signs on thousands of roads, shops, and other places with the message “Jews not wanted.” During 1934, a campaign took shape to create “Jew free” villages. Mobs of

Nazi supporters entered villages and dragged Jews from their homes. They whipped, beat, and insulted their victims. Some were cruelly murdered.

Thousands of Jews lost their jobs. A decree (government statement) said that Jews could not inherit farms. Jews found it impossible to keep their businesses alive because of the boycotts and violence.

In the spring of 1934, all “non-Aryans” were banned from serving in the military. By then there were laws forbidding Jews to do most of the things people often take for granted. For example, Jews could not go to public parks, use public swimming pools, or even own a dog.

In September 1935, the Nazi party held a meeting in the town of Nuremberg. They announced two new laws. The first law said that only a person of “German or related blood” could be a German citizen. This law stripped the Jews of their German citizenship. The second law was called the “Law for

Protection of German Blood and German Honor.” It made marriage between Jews and other Germans illegal. Severe punishment awaited anyone who dared to violate the law.

The Nuremberg laws took away all of the civil rights of Germany’s Jews. The laws also completely separated them from the rest of society. There was little the Jews of Germany could do to defend themselves.

Many people believe that the Nazis, at first, intended to try to force Germany’s Jews to leave

Germany and ultimately, Europe. This “Final Solution” of ridding Europe of Jews was claimed by the Nazis to be the solution to all of Europe’s problems. But the Nazis soon learned that most Jews were not economically able to leave, nor was any other country willing to accept large numbers of Jewish refugees.

The Depression was still affecting the world.

Nazi Propaganda and Terror

As the campaign against the Jews mounted, millions of German people joined in. They loved

Hitler and were prepared to do whatever he said. A store across the street from his home put up a sign stating, “The Jews are our misfortune.” A mob of teenagers beat up religious Jews and set their beards on fire.

Why did people who had previously not had hatred towards Jews join in anti-Semitism? One reason is that the Nazis were masters of propaganda. Propaganda is the spreading of false information to purposely mislead people.

The main organizer of the Nazi propaganda was Joseph Goebbels. He controlled and used films, books, radio, newspapers, and even the German educational system to promote the Nazi cause. Nazis changed the curriculum in schools with the intention of creating more members of the Nazi party. After school, millions of German children went off to the Nazi party’s youth organization, called the Hitler


Goebbels helped turn Hitler into a godlike figure in the eyes of the German people. Goebbels also convinced the people to hate Jews as much as they loved Hitler. No lie was too big for Goebbels. Through the use of propaganda, the Nazis told big lies about the Jews and convinced the German people to believe them.

The Gestapo and the SS

The Nazis had several methods of terror that they used to enforce their power. The most important of them were the Gestapo and the SS. The Gestapo was a police force that the Nazis set up in early 1933. However, the Gestapo was not an ordinary police force. Its mission was not to protect German citizens. Its job was to eliminate all opposition to Hitler and the Nazis. The Gestapo used brutal methods when it arrested and questioned people. Between 1933 and 1945, the Gestapo committed murder and participated in every crime of the Nazi government. The Gestapo was part of a larger and even more deadly organization called the SS. The SS began in the 1920s as a few men who served as a special guard for Hitler. After 1933, it became the most active method to cause Nazi terror. By 1939, the

SS had over 250,000 men.

The SS was headed by Heinrich Himmler. Himmler and the SS spread terror throughout Nazi controlled Europe. By the early 1940s, much of Europe was under its control. The SS controlled Germany’s police and had its own military units. It was the SS that took charge of the extermination of

Jews. It rounded up Jews and controlled the death camps where they were murdered. The SS was the most efficient killing machine in history.

The Night of the Broken Glass

Since the Nazis came to power in 1933, they persecuted Germany’s Jews. In less than six years,

Jews in Germany lost all of their rights. Hundreds of Jews were being murdered on Germany’s streets or in concentration camps.

By November 1938, about 30 percent of Germany’s Jews had emigrated. Then on November 9, came Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass). As the Nazi mobs shattered the glass in Jewish homes and stores, they also shattered the last bit of hope that Jews had for a future in Germany.

The most common targets of the mobs were Jewish synagogues and the religious objects inside.

Every synagogue has at least one copy of the Torah in the form of two large scrolls. It is kept in a wooden closet called an ark. The mobs took special pleasure in destroying these Holy Scriptures.

The Results of Kristallnacht

The results of Kristallnacht were disastrous for Germany’s Jews. Ninety-one were killed and thousands more were beaten and tortured. In just one day, the Nazis destroyed over 7,000 Jewish-owned shops and businesses. The mobs burned over 300 synagogues to the ground.

During and immediately after Kristallnacht, the Nazis arrested over 30,000 Jews. They sent them to Dachau and two other concentration camps. Finally, the German government fined the Jewish community one billion marks (the German currency). The government declared that the Jews were responsible for the riots and should pay for the cleanup costs.

After Kristallnacht about 150,000 Jews fled Germany. However, those who settled in neighboring countries in Europe did not go far enough. In September 1939, Nazi Germany’s invasion of

Poland marked the beginning of World War II. Suddenly over three million Polish Jews were in the same terrible situation as Germany’s Jews.

Jews had lived for hundreds of years in France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries in Europe. They considered these countries their homelands. But when the Germans invaded and conquered these countries, Jews across these countries found themselves trapped with nowhere else to turn.

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