Imagine having your whole life taken away from you in the blink of an eye. Everything you cherished and loved had suddenly been ripped away. You were loaded on a train like livestock, not knowing where your final destination would be. Your clothes had been stripped off your back. Your head was shaved. You received a blue numbered tattoo and were treated as if you were an object. Your family was separated and you would never see them again. Everything you worked for in your life was taken right from under your feet. You lived in horrid conditions and were mistreated and malnourished. The only certain thing that would await you was death. This is what a Jewish person would have gone through during WWII not only in Germany but around Europe. The mental and physical strain the Nazi regime’ put upon these people is far above abuse, it was mass murder at its worst. The constant question of why me had to be looming in their minds. The mental psychology of a Jewish prisoner had to change, otherwise one could not survive. Any possible escape they could find from the current Hell they were in, had to be welcomed with open arms for one to remain sane. For anyone to even survive the concentration camps could be said to be nothing short of a miracle.
Why the Jews? Why pick these people to enslave? Why treat them like they are nothing more than dirt under one’s feet? It all started back in the days when Jesus Christ walked the Earth. According to Meltzer (pg. 3), “The religious basis for it in the Christian world is the accusation (it appears in the Gospels) that the Jews were to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus. “Christ-killer” became a synonym for Jew.” After the blame of Jesus’ death, there was a target on every Jews back. To continue with Metzer (pg.3), “A popular and enduring hatred of the Jews built up. If Jews suffered misfortune, it was only divine punishment for Christ’s crucifixion. But the punishment was not left to God alone. Both Church and State took legislative steps- later imitated in Hitler’s edicts- to ensure Jewish misery.” Jews have always been the scapegoat, ever since the death of Christ. If a terrible tragedy were to occur, Jews would be blamed because of they were the target of God’s wrath. After Germany lost WWI, they blamed the Jews for Germany’s embarrassing defeat.
One can only imagine the mental thoughts and images an individual thinks when enslaved against their will. To quote Ellie Wiesel from Landau (pg. 197), “Reduced to a mere number, the man in the concentration camp at the same time lost his identity and his individual destiny. He came to realise that his presence in the camp was due solely to the fact that he was part of a forgotten and condemned collectively. It is not written: I shall live or die, but: someone-today-will vanish, or will continue to suffer; and from the point of view of the collective, it makes no difference whether that someone is I or another.” The Jews in the concentration camp saw the big picture. They knew if they did not die that day then they must continue to work and suffer. Wiesel continues from Landau (pg. 197), “I am happy to have escaped death” becomes equivalent to admitting: “I am glad someone else went in my place.” The Jews knew they had to change their meaning of survival, by caring only for themselves. If they were still alive, they were escaping the grasp of death which lurked around the corner. Each and every person that was held captive in the camp knew death was possibly in their near future, it was undeniable. The Jews went into each day not knowing if it would be their last. The quotes by Wiesel tell about the mental thoughts of a Jewish prisoner. They were stripped of their humanity and condemned. The only thing on their mind was survival and how they would get to the next day. Getting to the next day meant you were that much closer to surviving and regaining your freedom.
To escape the position they were currently in one wonders how they managed with the threat of death constantly lurking around the corner? What could the prisoners do to keep that fact away for a couple brief moments? According to Meltzer (pg. 98), “One expression of that endurance was the cultural life that went on in the ghetto despite all the surrounding horror. Plays and concerts were allowed by the Germans so long as the dramatists and composers were not Aryan and the censor was not offended.” Continuing with Meltzer (pg. 99), “In the Lodz ghetto, too, there was the same spontaneous creation of theatricals, concerts, lectures, classes, and reading circles. Writers wrote, actors acted, musicians played, incredible as it seems to us who never knew that life in death.” It had to be incredible release from their current state to be able to have their humanity back, even if it is for a few moments. To create a song or play, this had to bring memories back to the Jews from when they were not in the concentration camp, back when they were free. To be able to relive those precious moments had to boost their morale and willingness to not give up hope for potential freedom again.
To be a survivor of the Holocaust was nothing short of a miracle, right? To be able to survive the cruel living conditions and harsh treatment from the Nazi’s had to show an incredible will to live and an extreme level of resilience. Or is it the survivors of the Holocaust were just lucky? According to Kren and Rappoport (pg. 131), “Psychologically, however, the profound impact of the Holocaust is that it leaves the individual stripped of moral authority and moral security.” If a Jewish Holocaust prisoner was lucky enough to survive, the new freedom they experienced was nothing like their life before. They were reintroduced back into a civilization that didn’t necessarily want them back. They had been stripped of everything that made up their humanity. For many they were left alone, not knowing where their families had ended up, or if they were all dead. Most never got to go back to their homes, instead they were transported to new destinations to live. The effects of the Holocaust could never leave their minds; they were constantly haunted by the past. According to Finkelstein (pg. 85), “Indeed, the German government sought to make explicit in the agreement with the Claims Conference that the monies would go solely to Jewish survivors, strictly defined, who had been unfairly or inadequately compensated by German courts.” To continue with Finkelstein (pg. 86), “The final accord called on the conference to use monies “for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of Jewish victims.” The German government was supposed to give money to the Jewish survivors to help them get their lives back in order and to help them start anew. Instead, Finkelstein (pg. 86) states, “Whatever benefits (if any) the actual Jewish victims received were indirect or incidental. Large sums were circuitously channeled to Jewish communities in the Arab world and facilitated Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe.” The money was never directly sent to the Holocaust survivors, and if it was, it was only a small amount. To be a Jewish Holocaust survivor meant that you never escaped the total effects of the concentration camps, instead you faced another monster with a different face.
The Jews have always had a huge target on their back with humanity always placing the blame squarely on their shoulders for whatever seems to go wrong at that moment. The Jewish survivors of the Holocaust never escaped the mistreatment of the concentration camps even after their release. They were stripped of all humanity and dubbed “trash”. They faced persecution and hatred head on and showed that they knew how to survive in the harshest of environments. They never stopped and always kept fighting. Humanity should take a second look at this group of people because as Landau (pg. 196) states, “Suffering may have been part of the Jewish cultural tradition, but so had survival.”
Finkelstein, Norman G. The Holocaust Industry. New York: Verso, 2000.
Hoss, Rudolph. Death Dealer The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992.
Kren, George M. and Rappoport, Leon. The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1980.
Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Inc., 1992.
Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
I have read and understood the Manchester College policies concerning academic dishonesty. I affirm that I have not submitted this work for a previous course, that I have not accepted inappropriate help with this paper, and that the work is my own, except for quoted or paraphrased material that I have acknowledged within the text.