Wed | Feb 19, 2020

The Holocaust of the Jews – Part II

Published:Saturday | April 20, 2019 | 12:14 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss looks at moderator, Rabbi Zush Wilhelm, as he listens to a question from the audience during an interview at The Jamaica Pegasus on Tuesday, April 2.
Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss looks at moderator, Rabbi Zush Wilhelm, as he listens to a question from the audience during an interview at The Jamaica Pegasus on Tuesday, April 2.

The Holocaust of the Jews started almost immediately after Hitler gained power in Germany in January 1933. Jewish wealth was confiscated through punitive government fines. Shops and other businesses were vandalised or totally destroyed.

The Jews were barred from working in the civil service, law courts, universities, state schools and most professions. They were not allowed to own land, or permitted to enter public buildings. By 1941 they were forbidden to use the telephone system or ride on public transport. Any Jew over the age of 86 was ordered to wear a yellow Star of David.

Under the first (the Law of the Reich Citizen) of The Nuremberg Laws, that were passed on September 15, 1935, their citizenship was revoked. Under the second of these laws, The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, sex and marriage between Jews and Germans were made illegal.

A supplementary decree made people who had at least one Jewish grandparent a Jew, and those people had to relinquish their German citizenship. Jews could not employ female domestic workers of German blood, unless they were over 45. They were identified in their passport by a red J, which stood for Jude (Jew). Some Jews were forced to adopt surnames that sounded more ‘Jewish’.

Prior to assuming power, a powerful group, the Schutzstaffel (SS), was formed by Adolf Hitler in 1925 as his personal bodyguards. By 1939 the number of SS had grown to 250,000, and they were used by Hitler to carry out untold atrocities on Jews and other ‘minorities’ in all countries under Germany control.

People deemed racially impure and inferior were sought after and killed. Squads of SS troops routinely murdered only Jews, gypsies and Slavs by the bullet or carbon dioxide poisoning from cars. Those who hid from the Germans were hunted by the official secret ­service, the Gestapo.

It is written that as the German army advanced into western Russia and the Ukraine, SS death squads followed, rounded up and shot any Jew they could find. And on January 20, 1942, 15 leading Nazis and SS leaders met in the Berlin suburb of Grossen-Wannsee to discuss the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. It was decided to deport the Jews from the German-occupied countries to extermination camps in eastern Europe, most of which were constructed in Poland.


With immediate effect, the order was issued to deport all Jews rounded up to concentration camps in eastern Poland, where they would be murdered or worked to death in labour camps. In nearly two years, over four million Jews died in the extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Belsen Buchenwald.

Upon arrival at the camps, the Jews were subjected to a brief selection process, during which anyone capable of hard work or possessed skills which might have been useful to the Germans were sent to the labour camps. The rest, mostly women, children and the elderly, was sent to gas chambers at a rate of 12,000 a day.

Those who survived selection were forced to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, and after extracting gold teeth and fillings had to push the dead into the fires of the crematoriums. However, some amount of resistance came from the Jews, especially the ones who were banished to what was known as the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

It was a community 11 miles long and surrounded by 10-foot-high walls, created by the Nazis to hold the Jews who were sent to the extermination camp at Treblinka. By the summer of 1942, it held half a million Jews, many of whom had poor or no housing, and some of whom were wiped out by diseases and starvation. Some were shipped to large open-air camps in the countryside at a rate of 5,000 a day. Many went back to the ghetto despite the horrible conditions that existed there.

When the SS entered the ghetto on January 18, 1943, they were met with firepower from the Jews on the streets for four days. The SS left and returned on April 19 with 2,000 troops armed with tanks and flame throwers. The Jews were armed with a few captured guns and improvised bombs. They held the SS at bay, killing hundreds of Germans, until the confrontation fizzled on May 16.

In 1945 when the Germans were defeated by the Allies, the Jews were freed from the concentration camps, where the living, the dying and the dead were existing in the same spaces. It was estimated that overall, six million Jews were killed. That number represented two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe.