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The Holocaust

 
I recently took a course, on the Holocaust, from the
University of Iowa. The following papers and book reviews
were written as assignments for that course. I am including
only those on which I got an "A".
 
These papers have to do with a subject that is brutally
violent. This is a warning to the reader. Unless you are
ready to take a graphic look at this historical event, skip
these papers entirely and go on to more pleasant subjects. It
was my purpose, when I wrote these papers, to paint a graphic
picture of the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. It can give
you nightmares.

 
 The Course Title: Literature and Philosophic Thought
            (The Holocaust) 32:148/8:176 (off campus)

 
Student: Burr Cook
           
Lesson 3 What Hitler Thought of the Jews  
 
 
To quote the text "Hitler's ideas about the Jews were at the
 
center of his mental world. They determined the anti Jewish policies
 
of the German dictatorship from 1933 to 1945. Few ideas in world
 
history achieved such fatal potency."
 
 
 
In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler seems to want to hide the routes
 
of his anti-semitism. He denies mention of it in his home and school
 
days, but this appears not to be the case. He describes his first
 
encounter with a Jew, in Vienna, as if it were a spiritual
 
awakening: "One day while walking in the inner city, I suddenly came
 
upon a being clad in a long caftan, with black curls. Is this a Jew
 
was my first thought. ... Is this a German? ... For the first time
 
in my life I bought some anti-semitic pamphlets for a few pennies.
 
... They were not only not Germans but an entirely different race.
 
... Later the smell of these caftan wearers made me ill. ...
 
Therefore, I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the
 
Almighty Creator: By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the
 
Lord's work." He makes it sound as if in this one instant he realized
 
that all the evils of the world are caused by Jews including
 
prostitution and white slave traffic.
 
 
 
Noticing the success of some Jews in the arts seemed to anger him.
 
His own artistic ambitions and failures may have played a role in
 
that.
 
 
 
In spite of his assertions to the contrary it is believed that his
 
father, Alois, was an anti-semite and many of his teachers as well.
 
He was influenced also by Wagner, as well as Karl Lueger and
 
 Schonerer. Reading Lanz in Ostara may have given him the idea of
 
castration as part of the solution to the "Jewish problem".
 
Hitler blamed the Jew for everything wrong with the world including
 
communism, disease, pestilence, syphilis, the war was a Jewish plot
 
and he was especially fearful of the "jewish" press. He made it clear
 
that his problem was not with the religion of the Jew, but, the race
 
itself.
 
 
 
Thus there was no way to reform a Jew. He believed that their filth
 
and complete lack of morals was in the blood and the only way to
 
solve the (perceived) problem was to kill him. It seems clear that
 
he felt that it was his mission to rid the world of this creature
 
for good. It appears that the final solution was in his mind from the
 
start. In Mein Kampf he states that they are so different that humans
 
should have no humane feelings toward them. "Does the fox have
 
humane tendencies toward the geese?"  In a speech in 1920 he says
 
"every means is justified in extirpating the evil, even if we must
 
ally ourselves with the devil."
 
 
 
The fact that some Jews were allowed to emigrate during his early
 
    years in power does not mean that he deviated from his goal, but
 
only that he intended to catch up with them in his conquests. He
 
looked at emigration to Palestine as an attempt to build a center
 
for world domination and a "university for budding crooks". 
 
 
 
 
Literature and Philosophic Thought (The Holocaust) 32:148/8:176
 
Student: Burr Cook
          
Lesson 4
 
Life in the East European ghetto

 
The region of eastern Europe and Russia, prior to 1939, was home
 
to over five million Jews, mostly living in metropolitan industrial
 
centers such as Warsaw, Lodz, Cracow, Kiev, Vilna and Riga. The
 
population of most urban centers increased shortly after the invasion
 
of Poland as the Einsatzgruppen immediately went to work
 
concentrating those that had not already fled the small towns for the
 
cities. Many became homeless beggars and candidates for disease.
 
After the brief war with Poland, the "good hearted" Germans,
 
after receiving payment, set up soup kitchens to feed the hungry,
 
but, the Jews were ejected from the lines, first by the Germans then
 
later by the Poles as they got the idea. Jews were taken and used as
 
hostages by the Nazis to extort money from them. The hostages however
 
were seldom released.

 
Soon reports started to surface in the Ghettos about mass
 
executions taking place. Many chose not to believe and even those
 
that did couldn't do anything about it. It was too late for flight as
 
the Ghettos became enclosed prisons and those (Jews) found outside
 
without permission, if lucky were beaten severely, but more likely
 
they would be shot. The only reason they were allowed to venture
 
outside was for forced labor which became the law of the land for the
 
ghetto residents.

 
By November 1939 Jews were made to wear a star for
 
identification. They were being identified and concentrated. In each
 
Ghetto a Judenrat was formed through which the Germans passed orders
 
to the ghetto. Even though the Judenrat cooperated with the Nazis,
 
they were not bad people. The will to live is strong and none of us
 
can judge them unless we have been in their situation. There were
 
also those who chose to follow the leadership of the underground
 
movements, the resistance, even though it was extremely dangerous
 
to do so. At first some movement was allowed in the smaller ghettos
 
but in Warsaw and Lodz, the biggest of the ghettos, the walls became
 
the boundaries of existence. As time went on even the smaller ghettos
 
became closed with the same penalties for violations of the decrees.
 
Telephones, newspapers and radios were among the things to become
 
illegal in the ghettos. The Germans even confiscated parcels of food
 
sent to inhabitants from outside.

 
The ghettos were located in the most run down sections and
 
became so overcrowded that normal conventions of privacy had to be
 
put aside and a total breakdown of sanitation soon crept in. Fuel was
 
scarce and just keeping warm was a struggle. Children froze in the
 
streets, some barefooted. Food rations were small and often the food
 
was spoiled or stolen. It was illegal for outsiders to bring food to
 
the ghettos, but, were it not for smuggled goods all inhabitants
 
would have starved. There were some who profited greatly on the
 
misery of others.

 
In the face of all this there were some who partied it up
 
drinking and dancing and even the moralists among them said "every
 
dance is a protest". Street markets where people sold their household
 
goods became popular with most of the buyers coming from outside.
 
This could only be a temporary relief, however.

 
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea were common complaints due to
 
hunger. Also, disobeying German decrees, a necessity of life, brought
 
about severe punishment if not death. Families that had been
 
separated for long periods were suddenly reunited in the ghettos
 
because they preferred to be crowded together with kin, as the option
 
was to live with strangers. Families divided the chores outside of
 
traditional roles. Divorce ceased and marriages increased.

 
When the deportations started and news started arriving about
 
the destinations some chose not to believe since there was little
 
chance of escape. The Germans were quick to reassure them that each
 
deportation would be the last. It was easy to believe since many of
 
the Jews were skilled workers in the war industries and it made no
 
sense for them to be deported. The Nazis, however, were not logical
 
in their dealings with the Jews. The sadism of the SS struck terror
 
in the heart of the ghetto as the Nazis amused themselves, by
 
tormenting the helpless, for example setting beards on fire.
 
Corruption was rampant in the ghettos with the police being out
 
in front leading the pack. There were also many heroic acts, both
 
spontaneous, in the most unlikely situations, and by planned actions
 
of the underground.

 
Fear of death is, I'm sure, the greatest fear, and none of us
 
can look at this kind of situation from the outside and know how we
 
would react. I certainly don't. 
 
 
 
 
 
Literature and Philosophic Thought (The Holocaust) 32:148/8:176
 
Student: Burr Cook
           
Lesson 5 A book review
 
 
I Survived Rumbuli by Frida Michelson
 
Frida's story is unique in that she is the only one to escape
 
from the "actions" against the Jews in the Rumbuli Forest near Riga.
 
It is an indictment of the Latvian population of Riga almost as much
 
as it is of the Nazis. The barbarism perpetrated against the Jews, by
 
the Germans, received little opposition from the local population in
 
Riga. Perhaps the Nazi control over the populace was that tight that
 
they had no choice, but, I prefer to think that I would have behaved
 
differently.

 
Her story begins in the summer of 1941 and ends with the return
 
of the Russians in 1944. She was a successful fashion designer and
 
appeared to have a good life up to this point. She had family and
 
friends in Riga including two sisters who survived by fleeing before
 
the actions began. The family seemed to eat well keeping chocolates
 
and candies about when visitors came. Although Frida was not seen
 
in the synagogue other than for special occasions, she followed some
 
Jewish traditions, observed the holidays and ate kosher foods. She
 
did not dress different or flaunt her Jewishness outside of the home.
 
When the German bombers appeared over the city she was surprised to
 
see that many Latvians did not seem to be terribly upset.

 
Frida first encountered a change in attitude while at Varaklani,
 
when Alex, a friend of a friend, who was very gracious when inviting
 
them to stay at their country home and wait for the Germans to sweep
 
through the town, but, ushered them out suddenly to greet the enemy
 
alone. When the Germans did arrive many Latvians led them to the
 
Jewish homes which they then plundered. The Nazis rounded up Russian
 
solders and shots were heard in the areas they were driven to.
 
Suddenly posters appeared around town announcing the Jewish laws. A
 
special store was the only place to buy food and they ran out
 
frequently. Hunger began to be the rule rather than the exception.
 
The local aryan population laughed at their behavior in the long
 
lines. Beatings by Latvian police as well as the Nazis became
 
commonplace. Jewish work details were formed, more as a humiliation
 
technique, than to serve any useful purpose. The Jewish girls tried
 
to dress as old women to avoid being raped by the occupation forces.
 
Latvians were allowed free access to Jewish household possessions and
 
took full advantage. Rumors of impending Jewish massacres abounded.
 
Every knock on the door became a nightmare.

 
During the train ride back to Riga someone told of seeing Jews
 
herded into a freight car which was then sealed and labeled 183
 
Juden. It was then that she had the first guilt feelings about hiding
 
while others are dying, but, decided that surviving and being a
 
witness, by any possible means short of betrayal, was to be her goal.
 
The idea that God had chosen her as a witness seemed to be a
 
sustaining force throughout the ordeal.

 
In Riga she found the German military walking about with
 
flirtatious Latvian girls on their arms and not a Jew in sight. Not
 
finding her family she found some Latvian acquaintances who told her
 
of unspeakable atrocities that were happening to Jews. Women forced
 
to remove clothing and perform disgusting sexual acts. Obviously she
 
was terror stricken. A feeling that she became accustom to until
 
1944 and liberation. The local Fascist organization, the Perkonkrust,
 
seemed to try to outdo the Nazis in barbarism, they, for instance,
 
herded Jews into a synagogue and when it was full burned it down.
 
She was soon picked up by Latvian police and forced to labor and back
 
to Riga into a ghetto such as we described in lesson 4.

 
Then came the two "actions" as they called them. Those that
 
suffered the first action were most likely better off than those of
 
the second as there was no longer any doubt about what lay ahead and
 
no chance for escape. The terror took over the mind.
 
After witnessing this unfathomable event, the second action,
 
which engulfed her friend Sonia Bobrov and her little girl, Frida
 
miraculously escaped only to find herself very much alone in an
 
extremely hostile world. All of a sudden she realized that every
 
house contained the enemy.

 
The first help came from the Berzinsh family who were helpful at
 
first but opted to abandon her when things got rough. It seems that
 
her best friend was the forest itself, as she felt some sense of
 
security there and it didn't slam its door in her face. She tried
 
empty apartments in the city but always returned to the forest.
 
The best thing that the Berzinshes did for her was to steer her
 
to Pesla and the Seventh Day Adventists. Frida and old Pesla
 
complemented each other and got along famously. I don't know if Pesla
 
was in possession of all her faculties, but, she was happy and
 
harmless and treated Frida as a daughter. All good things must end
 
and when things got hot, at one location she had to move on.
 
There were two important families that were involved with the
 
rest of Frida's ordeal. These were Mrs. Scheink and the Viliumsons.
 
She was especially close to Olivia. The Viliumsons turned out to be
 
the most faithful, and for the most part, the only true friends she
 
had for a very long time. They looked at her as someone holy, chosen
 
by God to survive and they felt that they had a religious duty and a
 
moral one to aid her. Frida felt somewhat hypocritical praying in an
 
alien faith. Olivia understood this need for Frida to pray in her
 
own faith and justified it.

 
Frau Scheink, on the other hand, was not such a nice person. She
 
had some religious conviction but seemed to be caught up somewhat in
 
the German thing. She took full advantage of having someone around
 
who wasn't in a position to complain about doing all the work and on
 
top of things, she added to the tension by having jealous fits. Even
 
when Frida became ill she was still expected to do the chores. The
 
relationship deteriorated into one of master and slave. Frida seemed
 
relieved when she finally left the Scheinks and returned to the
 
forest.

 
The forest had a curative effect on Frida as she was no longer
 
being worked to death and enjoyed food baskets supplied by the
 
Viliumsons and in the fresh air and sunshine, got her health back.
 
When the bombs started to fall again they did not frighten her nearly
 
as much as the fear of being caught. She knew where the real danger
 
was.

 
Frida's encounter with the Russian army went well. When it was
 
established that she was Jewish they knew what she had been through.
 
She later found a home in Israel with her children.

 
Recently, I picked up, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington
 
D.C., some books by Elie Wiesel, all of which I thoroughly
 
appreciated, since I am about the same age, but grew up quite
 
differently. One of his statements about the Holocaust was that it
 
robbed him of his youth and his God. Even though I don't believe that
 
he is, deep down, Godless, I was refreshed to not get this from
 
Frida's book. Through it all she remained a very moral person and I
 
think, maintained a quiet relationship with her maker. 
 
 
 
 
 
Literature and Philosophic Thought (The Holocaust) 32:148/8:176
 
Student: Burr Cook
           
Lesson 6 A book Review 
 
 
 
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi 
 
 
The author states in his preface that the book adds nothing to
 
the many accounts that already exist of the atrocities, perpetrated
 
by the Nazis, or of the death camps themselves, but, is meant to
 
provide a quiet study of certain aspects of the human mind. In the
 
authors very compelling poem, that opens the story, the line
 
which reads "consider if this is a man" seems to be the question
 
being posed throughout the book.

 
Mr. Levi was a member of the resistance, in Italy, when he was
 
captured in December 1943 and incarcerated along with several hundred
 
Jews and partisans. On February 21, 1944 the news came of
 
deportation. Most of them knew what that meant although many
 
continued to hope. That night children were given no homework as
 
preparations were made for the trip. The Italian guards stayed away
 
throughout the night not caring to look into the eyes of the
 
condemned.

 
The trip, by train, was similar to that of millions of others,
 
although less cramped than some; Twelve freight cars for six hundred
 
and fifty "pieces". I saw one of the wagons, used for this purpose,
 
at the Holocaust Museum. It was small for fifty people, but,
 
sometimes carried two hundred, all standing as there was not room to
 
sit. As usual, the Nazis understated the estimated duration of the
 
trip, causing the prisoners to not take along enough food and water.
 
At the loading platform, the Germans, knowing that any further
 
escapes were not plausible and that furthering the lies about being
 
nice guys resettling the Jews for their own good were no longer
 
required, began to issue random blows. Of the forty five in Primo's
 
wagon, only four returned. Cold and thirst became the enemy. As the
 
author stated so well, "perfect happiness is unattainable, but, so is
 
perfect unhappiness". Things discussed on the trip are seldom said
 
among the living.

 
The door of the car finally opened to what Mr. Levi later
 
realized was his first "selection" and that from this convoy, more
 
than five hundred were not among the living two days later. It can
 
not be known which group was better off, although, since the Germans
 
were experiencing labor shortages, those entering the camp, were
 
better off than their predecessors Primo was quick to notice that
 
while delivering crushing blows to keep things moving the oppressors
 
were oblivious to their needs. Cries of hunger and thirst were as if
 
unheard. The German Guards seemed amused by the sight. Questions, by
 
newcomers seemed stupid to the veterans and usually went unanswered.
 
When someone first mentioned that you may only leave by way of the
 
chimney, number 174517 did not yet understand. It was soon obvious
 
that he was among the lowest of the low, a Jew, slave to all other
 
groups in the camp.

 
In order to survive one had to learn many lessons very quickly,
 
one of the most difficult was to master some of the many languages
 
spoken in the Lager; also keeping lifes necessities from being stolen
 
was as important to survival as was learning to steal. The rules of
 
the camp were as voluminous as the statutes of any state and had to
 
be mastered to avoid beatings or worse. The story about learning how
 
to avoid having to empty the bucket of urine in the night was both
 
amusing and tragic. Finding a compatible work partner was also
 
essential as was knowing when and for what reasons one might visit
 
the infirmary (Ka-Be).

 
One thing that used to puzzle me, when reading of the camps, was
 
that the reason prisoners wanted to see escapes was so the world
 
would find out what was happening and thus bomb or in some way
 
destroy the machinery of death. How could they, the prisoners, know
 
that the word was out, that the world was aware and still did nothing
 
to help. In his dreams Primo would find himself telling his family
 
about the camp and they seemed not to listen.

 
Primo's association with Alberto, another Italian, who was
 
popular in the block even though uncorrupted, was a plus for both
 
men. It was a friendship that lasted until the evacuation of the
 
camp. I don't recall if it lasted beyond the camp, perhaps he said
 
something about it and I missed it. Together they learned the rules
 
of commerce in the Lager. This was important as the normal
 
distribution of goods was insufficient to avoid becoming a
 
"mussulman". There was no help for such a being, instead they would
 
be knocked down or pushed aside if between someone and food. They,
 
the mussulmen, were considered already dead; they were also in the
 
majority. They were those who did not learn quickly the ways of the
 
Lager. Not a trace of thought could be seen on their face which they
 
tried to keep hidden. "To he that has will be given and to he that
 
has not will be taken away" as the author stated so well the rule of
 
the Lager. Unless a saint, one must be corrupted to survive. This is
 
pointed out in the stories of Schepschel, Alfred L., Elias Lindzin,
 
Henri and countless others.

 
Assignment to the Chemical Kommando was probably one of the
 
important twists of fate that helped the author to survive. However
 
surviving the selections, unless a total mussulman, was primarily
 
chance. When Primo found Kuhn praying, after being overlooked at
 
selection, he said "does Kuhn not understand that what took place is
 
an abomination that no prayer or pardon can ever clean again. If I
 
were God, I would spit on Kuhn's prayer".

 
The final story, that of the last ten days in Ka-Be was
 
amazing, although ill and weak, the participants seemed to come
 
together, becoming human again, helping each other and those unable
 
to get up, to survive that last ordeal. With the help of the
 
Frenchmen, Charles and Arthur, and the potatoes turnips and rotten
 
cabbages he fought to keep their little group alive and 174517 again
 
became Primo Levi, little by little. This friendship with the
 
Frenchman was to become a lasting one.

 
After reading this book, for a second time, (I read it before as
 
part of a larger book called "If This Be a Man") my final thought was
 
that we can only read the accounts of the survivors. We don't see the
 
stories of the six million who did not survive. what kind of tales
 
would they tell? I suspect that most would be too horrible to be
 
told and if told, too horrible to be believed.
 
 
 
 
Literature and Philosophic Thought (The Holocaust) 32:148/8:176

Student: Burr Cook
       
Midcourse Exam
 
 
 
Events and Personalities That Made Hitler's Rise to Power Possible
 
 
 
Certainly Germany was ready for an Adolf Hitler when he came
 
along. Centuries of acquired anti-Semitism preceded his arrival and
 
there were many "John the Baptists" making things ready for him.
 
Germany had really never outgrown her superstitions and beliefs,
 
such as witchcraft, from her barbaric past. So, when a new occult
 
came around in the form of Aryanism, many jumped on the bandwagon.
 
Wagner, who Hitler worshipped, was wrapped up in mythology and
 
Schelling argued that "a nation comes into existence with it's
 
mythology".

 
All of the comments from lesson one of this course are
 
historically relevant to Hitler's rise to power. Martin Luther
 
provided good Nazi texts. But, two of the strangest contributors to
 
German thought, in the early part of this century, were a Frenchman
 
and an Englishman. These were Gobineau and H. S. Chamberlain who
 
believed the basis of civilization to be race.

 
By the time the Third Reich was born Hitler's ideas were well
 
documented and all should have known his intentions, but, to the
 
beating of drums and the sound of marching feet the Austrian tramp,
 
with the Charlie Chaplin mustache, became Chancellor on a grey
 
January 30, 1933 beginning a reign of terror that lasted twelve
 
years and four months.

 
Hitler's mother is sometimes credited with molding his
 
personality but, little is known for sure of this relationship. He
 
attended high school at Linz and at Steyr but, received poor grades
 
and never graduated. His History teacher, Dr. Leopold Poetsch, a
 
fanatical German nationalist, who later became a member of the SS,
 
made an impression on him. It was in Vienna, where, after failing as
 
an artist, he turned to the politics of anti-Semitism as a hobby and
 
later became involved with the Pan-German Nationalist Party founded
 
by Georg Ritter von Schoenerer. This provided him with an adult dose
 
of violent nationalism, anti-socialism and anti-Semitism. His true
 
political mentor, however was Karl Lueger of the Christian Social
 
Party who taught the power of oratory in politics.

 
Following WWI, being somewhat of a decorated hero, Hitler was
 
made an Army Education Officer. This provided him with a chance to
 
test his success with oratory. His hateful remarks about the Jews
 
delighted his military superiors. This brought him again to Munich
 
where he discovered the German Workers Party and was won over by
 
Gottfried Feder and Anton Drexler to become a member. Already a
 
member was one Captain Ernst Roehm, a ruthless tough guy, and like
 
many of the early Nazis, a homosexual. Also, Dietrich Eckart, to
 
whom Hitler devoted the last sentence of his book, Mein Kampf, was
 
a significant early influence even though he died, of overdrinking,
 
in 1923.

 
In the spring of 1920 Hitler entered politics by becoming the
 
party propagandist for the fledgling National Socialist German
 
Workers Party (Nazi Party), and by summer of 1921, became the leader
 
of the party. Together with Drexler and Feder he drew up the 25
 
point party doctrine, much of which later restricted the lives of
 
all Germans. The next step was to organize a group of roughnecks, to
 
terrorize the enemy camp (political enemies), which soon became
 
known as the SA, and to acquire a newspaper. The Nazis were, after
 
all, saying things that many Germans thought but did not dare to say
 
aloud.

 
Many of the major players in Hitler's rise were around in these
 
early days of the party, among them was Rudolf Hess who impressed
 
Hitler with a prize winning essay describing the qualities of the
 
ideal person to lead Germany into the future. Some of those
 
qualities were "not to shrink before bloodshed, great questions are
 
always decided by bloodshed and iron ... to reach his goal, he is
 
prepared to trample on his closest friends ... he proceeds with
 
terrible hardness ... ", music to the ears of Adolf Hitler.
 
Hermann Goering, in Munich to study economics, fell under the
 
spell in 1921 and not only did he contribute funds but he became
 
commander of the SA in 1922, which was made up mainly of pimps,
 
murderers, drug addicts, homosexuals and the list goes on.
 
One of the most disreputable men to be embraced by the party
 
was Julius Streicher, noted pornographer, and depraved sadist, who
 
boasted of the torture he meted out from 1922 until 1939 when he
 
fell from grace.

 
The infamous "Beer Hall Putsch" ended in a clash between
 
regular army and SA troops. It was said by witnesses that the first
 
shot came from Hitler's revolver. Goering was wounded, treated by a
 
Jew, and along with Hess, fled to Austria. Hitler was arrested and
 
tried for treason. The trial received a great deal of press and
 
actually improved his political stance among the German masses. On
 
April 1, 1924 he was sentenced to five years, but was on the street
 
again on December 20th of the same year. The entire fiasco had made
 
him a national figure and the prison term gave him opportunity to
 
write. While a prisoner he was treated as an honored guest along
 
with Rudolf Hess to whom he dictated much of Mein Kampf. This book
 
provided Hitler with useful royalties as it became a best seller in
 
Germany. All of the horrors of the Third Reich were alluded to in
 
these pages.

 
Upon emerging from Landsberg Prison Hitler set out to
 
reorganize and attract contributing members to his party. Realizing
 
that the SA would never be anything but rowdies, he developed a
 
special group as his personal guard. When the chicken farmer,
 
Heinrich Himmler took over in 1929 it numbered just 200 men but soon
 
developed into an army that struck terror in the hearts of people
 
all over The continent.

 
As the party continued to grow Hans Frank was added to the
 
ranks as a settler of internal disputes. Later, as we know, he
 
reigned terror in occupied Poland and was ultimately tried at
 
Nuremburg. Gregor Strasser returned to the party in 1925 and took
 
on, as his secretary, a young, small man with a crippled foot and a
 
Catholic education, by the name of Joseph Goebbels. Around that time
 
Hitler became distracted by a love affair with his niece, Geli
 
Raubal and was mourning her death on the occasion of his first
 
meeting with President Hindenburg, which did not go well for him.
 
The world wide depression of 1929 threw millions out of work
 
and bank and business failures were frequent. In 1930, the last
 
Social Democrat Chancellor, Hermann Mueller, resigned over a dispute
 
about the unemployment insurance fund and was replaced by Heinrich
 
Bruening, leader of the Catholic Center Party and recipient of the
 
Iron Cross. Bruening aided the Nazis, and started Germany down the
 
path to fascism, by pushing for more power for the office and asking
 
for a Parliamentary election in which the N.S.D.A.P. wound up with
 
an astounding 107 seats. Hitler now turned his attention toward the
 
courtship of big business and the Army. He drew a tremendous
 
applause when he exclaimed in public court "when we come to power
 
there will be a National Socialist Court of Justice too, the 1918
 
revolution will be avenged and heads will roll". These words were
 
not wasted on the Generals and interest was aroused among the
 
industrialists such as the director of I. G. Farben, Conti Rubber
 
and Baron Kurt von Schoeder.

 
  By the start of 1931 Hitler was surrounded by the band of
 
fanatical and ruthless men that would help his rise to power, five
 
of which stood above the rest, these were Strasser, Roehm, Goering,
 
Goebbels and Frick. Goering, just having been cured of narcotic
 
addiction at the Langbro Asylum, was assigned to represent the party
 
in the Reichstag and became President of the body in 1932.
 
Ernst Roehm again assumed leadership of the SA. He made use of
 
a martyr, a pimp from Berlin (who was killed in 1930 by some
 
Communists) by the name of Horst Wessel. Wessel had written a song
 
that would bring a tear to the eye which became the anthem of the
 
Nazi Party. Goebbels acquired a Berlin news paper and made himself
 
extremely valuable to the party. Wilhelm Frick was a typical German
 
civil servant. Although he was colorless, he was loyal and
 
efficient. Himmler was busy building up the black uniformed SS.
 
Also, Balder von Schirach became the organizer of the Reichs Youth
 
Organizations. At Nuremburg he claimed to have become an anti-Semite
 
after reading Eternal Jew by Henry Ford.

 
Kurt von Schleicher, in 1931, was a Lieutenant in the Army.
 
Having served in Hindenburgs old regiment he had become a confidant
 
of the aged President and was instrumental in recommending Bruening
 
for the post of Chancellor and urged that he be allowed to govern
 
with a forceful hand. He soon realized his miscalculation in
 
relation to the strength of the Nazi Party and by the end of 1930
 
was in contact with Roehm and Strasser, thus establishing the first
 
serious contact with the National Socialist movement. It was he who
 
made the appointment for The Fuehrer to see Hindenburg. In the 1932
 
election Hitler ran against Hindenburg for president and lost.

 
On June 1, 1932 Franz von Papen, a ludicrous figure was named
 
Chancellor and according to a previous agreement with Schleicher,
 
called for an election, after deserving the Reichstag, and a wave of
 
political violence and murder such as Germany had ever seen was
 
unleashed on rivals and Jews by the SA. Even so, the election was a
 
victory with the Nazis winning 230 seats. Goebbels diary entry for
 
the occasion said "once we have the power we will never give it up,
 
They will have to carry our dead bodies out of the ministries".
 
Hitler made another appeal to Hindenburg for the
 
Chancellorship, but, again he was turned down with Hindenburg siting
 
excesses against Jews and other enemies of National Socialism.
 
Papen, unable to come up with a majority in the Reichstag, was
 
replaced by Schleicher for a short period starting December 2, 1932.
 
Schleicher was to be the last Chancellor of the Republic.

 
The Nazis suffered a setback when Strasser resigned his office.
 
Two years later he ceased to exist when the party settled the score.
 
Then followed a period of wheeling and dealing filled with all the
 
intrigue of a spy novel. Papen turned on Schleicher and met with
 
Hindenburg now urging that Schleicher be replaced by Hitler. Also,
 
the Presidents son, Oskar von Hindenburg, met with the Fuehrer and
 
came under his spell. He then joined in the push for Hitler.
 
On January 28, 1933, also unable to find backing in the
 
Reichstag, Schleicher resigned his government. On January 29,
 
Goering brought the news to the Fuehrer that he would be sworn in as
 
Chancellor the following day. The Nazi chiefs partied that evening
 
at the Goebbels home. The next day it happened. Hitler became
 
Chancellor. The Germans that opposed Nazism failed to unite. They
 
would soon learn what they had wrought.

 
Germany was to have one more relatively free election set for
 
March 5, 1933. Now the Nazis could employ their special tactics and
 
outlaw the opposition, stage arrests and even murder to obtain what
 
was by then inevitable, the nearly complete submission of the German
 
people to the will of one man, one dictator, the Fuehrer. Even
 
though the party did not get a majority in the election of March 5th
 
the Enabling Act was accepted in Parliament on March 23rd by a vote
 
of 441 to 84. The storm troopers gathered outside burst into the
 
Horst Wessel song.

 
What this meant for the Jews we have already discussed in
 
lesson 4 on the ghettos and in lesson 3 on the death camps. On
 
April 1, 1933 Hitler proclaimed a national boycott of Jewish shops,
 
beginning the carrying out of his number one priority, dealing with
 
the Jewish problem.
 
 
 
 
 

Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Salmen Lewenthal's manuscript
From: kmcvay@nizkor.almanac.bc.ca (Ken McVay OBC)
Date: 18 Jan 1996 05:10:02 -0800

 
Archive/File: camps/auschwitz auschwitz.05
Last-Modified: 1994/06/09
 
"Among the most remarkable documents to have survived the war is the
manuscript written in Birkenau by one of the members of the Sonderkommando,
Salmen Lewental. This particular manuscript was discovered in 1962 in a
jar buried in the ground near Crematorium III, where Lewental worked. The
gaps in it are words destroyed by dampness which seeped into the jar.
Lewental, who did not survive his gruesome work, recalled in his note book
the same episode witnessed in its opening stages by Madame Vaillant
Couturier and Rudolf Vrba.
 
Lewental's account is headed '3,000 naked people'. It reads:
 
This was at the beginning of 1944. A cold, dry lashing wind was
blowing. The soil was quite frozen. The first lorry, loaded brimful
with naked women and grils, drove in front of Crematorium III. They
were not standing close to one another, as usual, no; they did not
stand on their feet at all, they were exhausted, they lay inertly one
upon another in a state of utter exhaustion. They were sighing and
groaning.
 
The lorry stopped, the tarpaulin was raised and they began to dump
down the human mass in the way in which gravel is unloaded on to the
road. Those that had lain at the edge, fell upon the hard ground,
breaking their heads upon [...] so that they weakened completely and
had no strength left to move. The remaining [women] fell upon them,
pressing them down with their weight. One heard [...] groans.
 
Those that were dumped down later, began to extricate themselves from
the pile of bodies, stood [...] on their feet and tried to walk [...]
the ground, they trembled and jerked horribly with cold, they slowly
dragged themselves to the bunker, which was called Auskleidungsraum,
'undressing room' and to which steps led down, like to a cellar.
 
The remainder [of the women] were taken down by men from the Kommando
who swiftly ran upstairs, raised the fainted victims, left without
help, extricated them carefully, crushed and barely breathing, from
the heap [of bodies] and led them quickly downstairs. They were a
long time in the camp and knew that the bunker (the gas-chamber) was
the last step [leading] to death.
 
But still they were very grateful, with their eyes begging for mercy
and with [the movements] of their trembling heads they expressed
their thanks, at the same time giving signs with their hands that
they were unable to speak. They found solace in seeing tears of
compassion and [an expression] of depression [...] in the faces of
 those who were leading them downstairs. They were shaking with cold
and [...].
 
The women were taken downstairs, were permitted to sit down, the rest
of them were led into this [con]fined, cold room, they jerked
horribly and trembled with cold, [so] a coke stove was brought. Only
some of them drew near enough to be able to feel the warmth emanating
from the small stove. The rest sat, plunged in pain and sadness. It
was cold but they were so resigned and embittered with their lives
that they thought with abhorrence of physical sensations of any
kind... They were sitting far in the background and were silent.
 
Lewentel then set down the story of a girl from the ghetto of Bedzin, who
had been brought to Birkenau 'towards the end of the summer', and who now
talked as she lay 'helpless':
 
She was left the only one of a numerous family. All the time she had
been working hard, was undernourished, suffered the cold. Still, she
was in good health and was well. She thought she would survive.
Eight days ago no Jewish child was allowed to go to work. The order
came. 'Juden, antreten!' 'Jews, leave the ranks!' Then the blocks
were filled with Jewish girls. During the selection nobody paid
attention whether they looked well or not, whether  they were sick or
well.
 
They were lined outside the block and later they were led to Block
25, there they were ordered to strip naked; [allegedly] they were to
be examined as to their health. When they had stripped, all were
driven to three blocks; one thousand persons in a block and there
they were shut for three days and three nights, without getting a
drop of water or a crumb of bread, even.
 
So they had lived for three awful days and it was only the third
night that bread was brought; one loaf of bread weighing 1,40
kilogramme for sixteen persons, afterwards [...]
 
'If they had shot us then, gassed us, it would have been better.
Many [women] lost consciousness and others were only semi-conscious.
They lay crowded on bunks, motionless, helpless. Death would not
have impressed us at all then.
 
'The fourth day we were lead from the block, the weakest were led to
the Krankenstube (infirmary), and the rest were again given the
normal camp ration of food and were left [...] were taken [...] to
[life].
 
'On the eighth day, that is five days later, we were again ordered to
strip naked, Blocksperre (permission for prisoners to leave the
blocks) was ordained. Our clothes were at once loaded and we, after
many hours of waiting in the frost, were loaded into lorries and here
we were dumped down on the ground. Such is the sad end of our
mistaken illusions. We have been, evidently, cursed even in our
mothers' wombs, since such a sad end fell to our lot.'
 
The girl from Bedzin had finished her story. As Lewental noted:
 
She could no more pronounce the last words because her voice became
stifled with flowing [tears] [...] from [...] some women still tried
to wrench themselves away, they looked at our faces, seeking
compassion in them.
 
One of us, standing aside and looking at the immensity of unhappiness
of those defenceless, tormented souls, could not master his feelings
and wept.
 
One young girl then cried, 'Look, what I have lived yet to see before
my death: a look of compassion and tears shed because of our dreadful
fate. Here, in the murderers' camp, where they torture and beat and
where they torment, where one sees murders and falling victims, here
where men have lost the consciousness of the greatest disasters,
here, where a brother or sister falls down in your sight, you cannot
even vouchsafe them a [farewell] sigh, a man is still found who took
to heart our horrible disaster and who expressed his sympathy with
tears. Ah, this is wonderful, not natural. The tears and sighs of a
living [man] will accompany us to our death, there is still somebody
who will weep for us. And I thought we shall pass away like deserted
orphans. The young man has given me some solace.  Amidst only
bandits and murderers I have seen, before my death, a man who still
feels.'
 
She turned to the wall, propped her head against it and sobbed
quietly, pathetically. She was deeply moved. Many girls stood and
sat around, their heads bowed, and preserved a stubborn silence,
looked with deep revulsion at this base world and particularly at us.
 
One of them spoke, 'I am still so young, I have really not
experienced anything in my life, why should death of this kind fall
to my lot? Why?' She spoke very slowly in a faltering voice. She
sighed heavily and proceeded, 'And one should like so much to live a
little bit longer.'
 
Having finished, she fell into a state of melancholy reverie and
fixed her gaze on some distant point; fear of death emanated from her
wildly shining eyes. Her companion regarded her with a sarcastic
smile, she said, 'This happy hour of which I dreamed so much has come
at last. When the heart is full of pain and suffering, when it is
oppressed by the criminal world, full of baseness and low corruption,
[full of] limitless evil, then life becomes so troublesome, so hard
and unbearable that one looks to death for rescue, for release. The
nightmare, oppressing me, will vanish forever. My tormented thoughts
will experience eternal rest. How dear, how sweet is the death of
which one dreamed in the course of so many wakeful nights.'
 
She spoke with fervour, with pathos and with dignity. 'I am only
sorry to sit here so naked, but to render death more sweet one must
pass throught that indignity, too.' A young emaciated girl lay aloof
and was moaning softly, 'I am ... dy...ing, I ... am dy...ing' [;] a
film was covering her eyes which turned this way and that [...], they
begged to live [...].
 
A mother was sitting with her daughter, they both spoke in Polish.
She sat helplessly, spoke so softly that she could harldy be heard.
She was clasping the head of her daughter with her hands and hugging
her tightly. [She spoke] 'In an hour we both shall die. What
tragedy. My dearest, my last hope will die with you.' She sat [...]
immersed in thought, with wide open, dimmed eyes [...] threw [...]
around her so [...].
 
After some minutes she came to and continued to speak, 'On account of
you my pain is so great that I am dying when I think of it.' She let
down her stiff arms and her daughter's head sank down upon her
mother's knees.
 
A shiver passed through the body of the young girl, she called
desperately, 'Mamma!' And she spoke no more, those were her last
words.
 
The order was then given, as Lewental noted, to conduct the women 'into the
road leading to the crematorium'. [3]"
 
[3] Salmen Lewental notebook: Bezwinska and Czech, AMIDST A NIGHTMARE OF CRIME: MANUSCRIPTS OF MEMBERS OF SONDERKOMMANDO, Auschwitz-Oswiecim
1973, pages 142-5.
 


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