In 1933, the Great Depression had just ended and the worst financial crisis the world had ever seen and probably will ever see was just waning in America. However, Germany was not a nice place to be at the time. A young agitator from Austria, Adolf Hitler had founded a party. National Socialist German Workers Party or more popularly known as the Nazi Party. Soon after becoming a German citizen in 1932 (up to that point he was an Austrian citizen although he fought for Germany during the First World War.) he and in the 1933 election led his party to claim majority of the seats in the Reichstag (German Parliament). Through much politicking, threatening and downright underhanded and illegal ways he got himself appointed as the Chancellor of Germany.
He then proceeded to convince the other parties in the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act which allowed his cabinet the power to make, break and amend laws at their will and also to deviate from the Constitution. After that he slowly chipped away at the remaining checks and balances and banned other political parties except the Nazi Party. Upon the death of President von Hindenburg in 1934, he declared the powers of the President to be his and used the SA paramilitary force to kill, imprison and torture his political opponents.
Finally he was all powerful. His conquest of the German republic was complete and he was now a supreme dictator, answerable to no one and commanded the support of his own personal armed guards the SS, who would keep all his cabinet members in line. Having secured supreme political power, Hitler went on to gain their support by convincing most Germans he was their savior from the economic Depression, communism, the "Judeo-Bolsheviks," and the Versailles treaty, along with other "undesirable" minorities. The Nazis eliminated opposition through a process known as Gleichschaltung ("bringing into line").
Hitler then went on to pursue a form of social engineering. He "modernised" Germany by ordering the construction of armament factories and supervised the building of trains, roads and dams bringing employment to the labourers and farmers who were the traditional supporters of the Nazi Party. Although a secret German armaments programme had been on-going since 1919, in March 1935, Hitler rejected Part V of the Versailles treaty by publicly announcing that the German army would be expanded to 600,000 men (six times the number stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles), introducing an Air Force (Luftwaffe) and increasing the size of the Navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France, Italy and the League of Nations quickly condemned these actions. However, after re-assurances from Hitler that Germany was only interested in peace, no country took any action to stop this development and German re-armament continued.
On 13 September 1935, Hitler hurriedly ordered two civil servants, Dr. Bernhard Lösener and Franz Albrecht Medicus of the Interior Ministry to fly to Nuremberg to start drafting anti-Semitic laws for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for 15 September. On the evening of 15 September, Hitler presented two laws before the Reichstag banning sex and marriage between “Aryan” and Jewish Germans, the employment of “Aryan” woman under the age of 45 in Jewish households, and deprived “non-Aryans” of the benefits of German citizenship. The laws of September 1935 are generally known as the Nuremberg Laws. This began the official anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party. (Up to this point it was undercover and Jews were taken from their homes at night, tortured and shot.)
In August 1936, in response to a growing crisis in the German economy caused by the strains of rearmament, Hitler issued the "Four-Year Plan Memorandum" ordering Hermann Göring to carry out the Four Year Plan to have the German economy ready for war within the next four years. He then made this statement, " I consider it necessary for the Reichstag to pass the following two laws:
1) A law providing the death penalty for economic sabotage and
2) A law making the whole of Jewry liable for all damage inflicted by individual specimens of this community of criminals upon the German economy, and thus upon the German people. "
He thus made it legal to kill Jews.
This is the main point of today's post. How one man with a lot of ambition and severly twisted racist ideology went about killing six million innocent Jews for no reason other than their faith.
He was able to do this because people weren't careful. Because people were scared and bought into his politics of fear. Because people were swept up in his racist xenophobia and his clever oratory skills. This is exactly what he did.
One of the foundations of Hitler's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, a French count, eugenics, a pseudo-science that advocated racial purity, and social Darwinism, a mis-use of Charles Darwin's thought. Applied to human beings, "survival of the fittest" was interpreted as requiring racial purity and killing off "life unworthy of life." The first victims were children with physical and developmental disabilities; those killings occurred in a programme dubbed Action T4. After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings in fact continued (see Nazi eugenics).
Between 1939 and 1945, the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed somewhere between 11 and 14 million people, including about six million Jews, in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. In addition to those gassed to death, many also died as a result of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers (sometimes benefiting private German companies). Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over three million), communists or political opponents, members of resistance groups, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war (possibly as many as three million), Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists and Neopagans, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. One of the biggest centres of mass-killing was the extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hitler never visited the concentration camps and did not speak publicly about the killing in precise terms.
The Holocaust (the Endlösung der jüdischen Frage or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") was planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Heinrich Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing has surfaced, there is documentation showing that he approved the Einsatzgruppen, killing squads that followed the German army through Poland and Russia, and that he was kept well informed about their activities. The evidence also suggests that in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler decided upon mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later, Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers." Also his private secretary, Traudl Junge, testified that Hitler knew all about the death camps.
To make for smoother cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on 20 January 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of planning for the Holocaust. On 22 February, Hitler was recorded saying to his associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".I hope everyone learns a lesson from this. How we should be always aware of allowing extremists to come to power.