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I've always wondered how is it possible that an entire nation and beyond (Germany) wasn't aware of the Jewish persecution during the WW2 years or, if they were, that they did nothing to stop it.
Were they comfortable with that as long as Germany could prosper or what else?
My parents, uncles and aunts grew up in Nazi Germany. The following is purely anecdotal based on their personal accounts. It's not researched and I can't vouch for all statements being factually true (although I believe them to mostly accurate).
- The Nazis were extremely good at controlling information. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of "propaganda" was one of the most powerful and important leaders of the Nazis.
- The Nazis got to the kids really early. In terms of age 6-10 was "Pimpfe", 10-14 was "Jungvolk" and 14-18 "Hitlerjugend". Participation was almost always mandatory, and so the Nazis controlled a lot of the time that the kids weren't in school or working
- For boys the center of these youth activities was indoctrination and pre-military training. It was fairly effective: My uncle was 14 at the end of the war and actually wanted to volunteer for the army. My grandfather smacked him over the head and locked him in the basement.
- There was no free press, no way to assess "objective" information and it was extremely dangerous to discuss anything outside the party line. Most Germans clearly knew that the party memos were all non-sense but they didn't know what to do about it. Keeping your mouth shut greatly increased your chances of survival.
- Most Germans were actually fairly busy with basic survival. As a girl my mother spend a lot of time foraging through the woods for acorns and beechnuts as food. Try 'em to find out what that means.
So in general it seems to me that many Germans knew that bad things were happening (on more than one front) but were foggy on the details and at a loss on how to act on these suspicions. In this regard most dictatorships function the same way: tight information control and extreme violence against anyone who jeopardizes that control.
When studying this, it's important to understand the every-day life in Germany at the time. Things look considerably different when sitting in a warm and safe easy chair. I grew up very comfortably in post war West Germany. My father was indoctrinated by the Nazis starting at age 10. At 17 he started 4 years in WWII and then spend another 3 post-war years as a prisoner of war in a French coal mine where he lost most of his teeth through malnutrition, scurvy, and unfriendly guards. When I got into a fight with him as a teenager he would say "What the heck is your problem: You are not starving, you are not freezing to death and no one is shooting at you". I think he was genuinely puzzled, simply because his frame reference was so different from mine.
Germany isn't alone in having committed a genocide. Sadly, this is normal human behavior. However, the Shoah is probably is the best documented case, having occurred smack dab in the middle of the most literate society on earth. So what you are asking isn't really a Germany question, but a human behavior question (with Germany as the best of sadly too many good examples).
I have read a book that tries to delve into this phenomenon: James Waller's Becomming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (at the moment, wikipedia claims this is the standard college textbook on the subject). His basic thesis is that under the right circumstances most (not all, but most) ordinary people will quite willingly participate in mass evil of this kind. Passively sure, but even actively, if called upon to do so.
The balance of the book explores what exactly those circumstances are. He developed a model that tries to describe such situations. Its pretty detailed, but I think the important takeaway for the novice is a situation where a group of people are viewed by others as separate, lesser, threatening beings. It "helps" a lot if people are raised from an early age to believe this, but active media propaganda helps a lot too. If I don't view an "Elbonian" as an equal person (or really even a human at all), then suddenly killing them as a solution to a perceived problem with them isn't entirely off the table. If I can convince myself the Elbonians are somehow attacking me, then it would logically follow that attacking them back is not only reasonable, but in fact the proper thing to do.
In Germany's case, you have a country steeped in centuries of anti-semitic culture, along with several years of pervasive state media propaganda telling citizens they and everything they held dear were under direct attack from these sub-human creatures. They responded little differently than people responded in East Timor in 1975, or in Cambodia in 1975, or in Guatemala in 1982, or Rwanda in 1990, or Srebernica in 1995. (First-hand accounts from all of these appear in Waller's book)
After a decade of preparing the population for it, I seriously doubt enough Germans were going to protest the wholesale slaughter of Jews.
And even then, the official line always was "relocation" and putting them to work for the greater benefit of Germany. And most Jews indeed were relocated to forced labour camps. Camps in which the conditions were such of course that most didn't survive for long, but especially near the end of the war that wasn't too different from the conditions in which the average German was living.
Which is in fact part of the reason the charges against German administrators of prisoner of war camps didn't include the starving and denial of medical care of their prisoners, those prisoners were not treated significantly worse than the general population, who also suffered a severe lack of medical care and food towards the end.
And yes, I know that view is in some circles deemed "controversial" as it doesn't match with the propaganda induced view that every German in WW2 was a monster who lived in splendor while treating everyone else like rats to be exterminated.
As I was made aware of this by Drux' comments: my answer may lead some people to believe that I am in some way justifying people not intervening, or even actively participating in the Holocaust.
If read the comments below, I hope it is self-evident that this is not the case.
Just to be clear: I absolutely and unequivocally condemn any action that discriminates on the basis of religion and or race, be it in the past, present or future.
My main interest, as far as history is concerned, is 20th century geo-politics. The question of how could this happen is one that we all ask about every genocide. What I tend to do (and attempted to do in my answer) is to shift that question to could this happen (again) today or is it happening again.
Of course, when attempting to apply this very sensitive subject (WWII genocide) to modern-day politics, I recognize the fact that bad choice of words or phrasing can lead to misunderstandings. It also stands to reason that a 1-on-1 "projection" of past events onto the present is, by definition false/flawed. But the cliché of history repeating itself is, IMHO, not all together absurd.
Anyway, it is not my intention to hurt people, I am not trying to negate or minimize any of the atrocities that were committed. My only goal is to communicate what I believe are genuine similarities between the rise of Nazi Germany and today's political tendencies/evolutions.
And to avoid any further misunderstandings, let's not beat around the bush: I have no sympathies towards anything even remotely resembling fascism or (neo-)Nazism whatsoever.
So if you are a neo-Nazi looking to recruit: try your luck at the local asylum, or try reading a book, instead of using it as a hammer.
If the contents of my answer below offends anyone for any reason, do not hesitate to leave a comment, and I'll be happy to clarify whatever needs clarification, or edit my answer in accordingly.
From the off: The phrase "Wir haben es nicht gewusst" is a lie. Many Germans have later admitted that the deportation and mass killing of Jews, Gipsies and political prisoners was a public secret.
At first, it could well be that not everybody was equally aware, and yes, the German economy was headed in the right direction, and yes the Nazi regime did manage to create jobs, and instill on the people a lost sense of pride. So it's not unlikely that, at first, people were willing to subject themselves and others to the nasty sides of the regime.
By the time the ghastly things that were going on had become this public secret, the Nazi apparatus had managed to infiltrate every aspect of daily life, though. There are recorded accounts of children that got sent home from school, and were expressly prohibited to attend classes until they joined the Hitler Jugend.
Though this does not serve as justification, with the rise of fascism, there grew a sense of terror among the population, too: if they didn't contribute, that was seen as a sign of rebellion, and thus they, too, could fall victim. But that's just one of many reasons why the Nazi's could keep on doing what they did, and does not answer your question.
For that, we need to go back to the end of WWI.
Germany had capitulated, and was heavily punished (Treaty of Versailles). WWI was in part caused by the Germans wanting a part of the colonial pie that the rest of Europe were having (among other things of course) as you may know.
While the Treaty of Versailles was said to be about making amends and repaying war damage to those countries involved, it also prohibited Germany to expand its borders (ie: no colonies).
Do not underestimate the social trauma a nation can sustain when, already having had to admit defeat, being forced to forego the perks (colonies back then were seen as a nations right) other countries so happily grant themselves.
A nation is a mass of people, and a mass behaves irrational and emotional (like a toddler). Tell a 3 year old it's done wrong, punish it and then tell it, it has to watch while other toddlers are eating its sweets, it'll cry, kick and scream.
So there was a genuine feeling of betrayal and disgruntlement in Germany. There had also been a long tradition of antisemitism in Europe. Couple that to the rise of Communism (Russian revolution happened during WWI) and you have: Anger, Fear (of Communism) and a not-well-liked minority. That's an explosive mix, no matter how you look at it.
All you need is a spark: a charismatic leader, preferable one that also manages to restore some of the national pride that the country in question seems to have lost.
An interesting read in this respect is "The Nuremberg Diary". Gustave Gilber, an American psychologist interviewed Hermann Göring and wrote their conversation down:
Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.
When you speak of WWII and the Holocaust in particular, it stands to reason that the same "rule" applies: the people aren't actively asking for pogroms. But Göring continues:
But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
Leaders are indeed the ones that make out the policies, both domestic and foreign. It is they who stand to gain from conflict. Economic and geopolitical factors come into play, and quickly overtake humanitarian considerations. As far as the leaders of a country are concerned, human casualties become statistics, and are seen as part of the cost vs benefits analysis.
Basically, it's as Joseph Stalin (allegedly) stated:
A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
All things asside, but in the interest of correctness, this may not be Stalin's quote
How about this one, by Jean Rostand:
Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.
Back to Göring, though, Gilbert points out a possible flaw in Göring's logic: the fact that a democratic society couldn't possibly elect a gouvernament that institutionalizes the prosecution of certain groups of people:
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring, however, does not see things like this, and actually summarizes the plot of Orwell's yet to be written novell 1984:
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
In Germany, the people were brought to the leaders' bidding by first: creating jobs, improving the economy, breaking the Treaty of Versailles and reinstating the sense of National pride.
Targetting Jews and Gipsies was, in a way, self-evident: they could be the scape-goat and play the role of the enemy that has already infiltrated the country. They were seen as the ones that stole the wealth of the German people.
People are worryingly gullible when it comes to things like this as American schoolteacher Jane Elliott's infamous experiment has demonstrated time and time again. Here's a clip
There have been many experiments like this, and all of them seem to come to the same conclusion: When people are put in a situation where they feel they have the right to exercise power over another group, violence ensues, and is even seen as justifiable.
Ironically, a more recent example of this can be seen in Israel, and the way people treat muslim refugees. They aren't even referred to as refugees, but "Infiltrators", in the same way the Jews were seen as the enemy that lived within back in WWII Germany…
Even more worrying, though: this phenomenon is so inherent to human nature, we don't even notice it's going on all around us:
After 9/11, Bill Mahr caught some slack for saying the suicide attackers were not cowards. At the same time, Howard Stern stated that America should choose "any Arab country, they're all harbouring terrorists, and just nuke 'em". Bill Mahr was fired, Howerd Stern wasn't.
Look at the people who have used the quote: "You're either with us, or against us" in various forms here: Lenin (Communist), Mussolini (Fascist), George W Bush (US president), Hillary Clinton (US Foreign Secretary) and Vic Toews (Canadian public safety minister).
Since the Communist and Fascist dictators, the phrase has always been used in a context of threads to national security, mainly terrorism.
This threat is also used to justify mass surveillance, invasive searches in airport security, The patriot act (Christ, patriotism and (extreme) nationalism is in the name), active prosecution of whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden, and racial profiling.
Now think about these things, and read the quote by Göring a second time:
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
How could something like the Holocaust happen, and could it happen again? I'm afraid to say that I believe it can happen anywhere, and if it were to happen again in our life-time, we wouldn't realize it before it's too late, and even so: few of us would actually have the courage to step up and do something about it.
A couple of books that are loosely related, in the sense that they touch on, or identify similarities between nazi- or communist dictatorships and current western foreign policies:
Gore Vidal: Permanent war for Permanent Peace
William Blum: Rogue State
I've always wondered how is it possible that an entire nation and beyond (Germany) wasn't aware of the Jewish persecution during the WW2 years or, if they were, that they did nothing to stop
At least when it comes to that beyond, it isn't true. The relatives of my friends were fighting in Polish guerilla (AK). At least the partizants were all aware, that people caught in roundups were sent to death camps. How many people were taken away by military conwoys, (and how many of them were Jews) were seen by everyone, so the fact that the extermination is taking place was commonly known.
This is a large topic where you cannot expect a single accepted answer or point of view: I don't know if by now historians even agree on when reliable information about mass killings reached the German public for the first time.
However, one quote from Heike B. Gortemaker's Eva Braun: Life with Hitler (referring to some time in 1940) staid firmly in my mind, perhaps because it points so strongly towards the banality of evil (if that's even the right term):
[The assassination of Jews] was never discussed openly in the innermost private circle; the topic was never allowed to be mentioned in Hitler's presence.
Perhaps it is symptomatic for what also went on in larger society. The entire book is also a telling account of layers of deceptions (perhaps including self-deception) around Hitler and his innermost circle at the Berghof, where even Eva Braun's status as his girlfriend was deliberately kept vague.
I recommend the historian Robert Gellately's work "Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany". The essence is that the Germans did know or could have known about persecution and deportation of Jews.
This is an often discussed topic in German history lessons. Often in company with the novel The Wave. I can tell you that there is no single answer to the question, and it definitely was not the German nation focusing just on profit.
Look at today's media and try to figure out what is really currently happening in the Ukraine. You only see what your country's media is telling you. Watch the Russian media and you will for sure get a completely different image of what is "really" happening.
The regime was no exception here. Many people in Germany actually did not know about the mass-murdering of Jews, because what the media told them what happened to them was something entirely different. There was even a special concentration camp just for the media, where everyone was happily living their happy life (while they actually weren't). Guess which one almost exclusively appeared in the media. And almost all Germans did never travel to any such camps, because why would they?
There was a huge dispute between "the Jews" and most other religions (not only in Germany). I.E. greed is considered a sin, which allowed only the Jewish members of the country to operate a bank. People often felt like they were being cheated, which created a general antipathy for Jewish banks and stores.
If people realized later on that Jews were "punished", some of them considered this a well deserved revenge, and media build part of their propaganda on this.
Also after loosing the first world war Germany was forced to admit - against historical facts - that it was the only aggressor in this war and therefore had to pay reparations and endure other humiliating penalties. Many war veterans were still angry about this and welcomed any form of punishment against the "old enemy".
If someone tells you to kill a Jew, you would probably refuse it, and thats a good thing. Now if they threaten you to either kill him/her or your life will end, you might start to have concerns, but probably go the heroic martyr way. Now lets say they won't kill you, but your wife/children/parents if you do not comply, also your friends and friends of your family. At some point you might consider a single life to be much less worse than the lives of your entire family and friends. And if you called them a liar, you found those people dead or mutilated the next day.
This control was further established by having the so called Blockwart. Basically any random neighbor could have been working for the state (and receive benefits for everyone they report). Mention that you don't like the Führer, and next day you loose your job. Question what they do to the Jews in those camps, and your wife is in a camp next day. There was almost no limit in cruelty and creativity when trying to maintain control over the people.
Once can say many things about the regime, but they definitely were brilliant when it came to propaganda. Everything official was planned as well as any political campaign nowadays, just for the entire nation. People were told what they need to hear, they saw what they had to see and they felt - through expert engineering of events - what they had to feel. An entire nation was blinded to what actually happened by a massive machinery called the ministry of propaganda lead by Joseph Goebbels.
There was an awareness, and consequent protests (that were in some ways effective, e.g., from clergy and veterans' organizations), about the T-4 euthanasia program. The extent of it was such that many people assumed that casualties from the Eastern front would be given the T4 treatment. How much additional thinking was needed to perceive that if German soldiers and veterans had been, and were thought to still be, at risk of state-organized murder, that official enemies the Jews were a likely target for things that were worse?
T4 was on an infinitesimal scale compared to the deportation and extermination campaign extended throughout the European theatre and beyond. Tens of thousands of Germans were involved in logistics and support roles for that campaign, apart from the official perpetrators such as SS, Gestapo, soldiers and administrators of the occupation governments. Neither the official nor the unofficial personnel were by any means sealed off from the rest of the population and when they were, it was rarely for the duration of the war. Some had adverse psychological reactions or declined to participate in the more gruesome murders (there was no significant punishment for that) and were reassigned or sent home. Some undoubtedly discussed what was going on with religious confessors, psychiatrists, trusted friends and family, or even the odd Jewish friend that for some reason they might have wanted to warn or save.
The number of Germans who took large risks, such as domestic resistance activity or assisting Jews, or in whatever way undertaking activities that would have been severely punished by the state, must surely be much smaller than the number who took the small risk of progressively sharing information with others. A substantial fraction of the German electorate was against the Nazis before their accession to power, and these people did not all disappear afterward or suddenly become co-opted by anti-Jewish propaganda.
That the "climate" in Greater Germany forbade open discussion and opposition means that communication of facts and rumors was slowed, but it is inconceivable that a necessarily extremely shocking and controversial program such as the far larger and more brutal version of T-4, could have been kept quiet for so many years on such a scale. It is statistically absurd considering the number of people who knew many things, and the amount of opportunity to propagate at least some of the juicy information.
Incidentally, here is what Himmler thought about the state of information of the Nazi party members, as expressed in one of his speeches to the SS and party apparatchiks in the Generalgouvernement (occupied Poland). He seems to have been speaking, at a minimum, of the upper tier 'civilian' party members back home, since a few words later he refers to his audience's familiarity with giant piles of corpses.
I am talking about the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things that is easily said. [quickly] "The Jewish people is being exterminated," every Party member will tell you, "perfectly clear, it's part of our plans, we're eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, a small matter". [less quickly] And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. [mockingly] They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew.
Before Hitler came to power, Germany was the Western European nation where Jews were most integrated. Recall that Hitler was born an Austrian not a German and that anti-Semitism was most virulent in Austria. Hitler and his goons, of course, undid all that and added his own bloody chapter to world history.
Holland&rsquos occupation during WWII
Despite Holland’s attempts to remain neutral as WWII took hold in Europe, German forces invaded the country on 10 May 1940. Soon after, Holland was under German control. This began five years of occupation, during which life only got worse for the Dutch people. As well as being repressed, forced from their homes, starved, and forced to work in factories by their occupiers, almost three-quarters of the Netherlands’ Jewish population had been deported to concentration and extermination camps by the time the war ended. Learn more about the occupation and persecution of the Dutch during this time and discover the places, monuments and museums that you can still visit today to relive this dark period in Dutch history.
- Learn more about how the Dutch population was persecuted while being occupied by German forces during WWII.
- Discover the cemeteries and memorials that pay tribute to those who lost their lives during this dark period in Holland’s history.
- Read more about how the Dutch resistance helped fight back against German control during WWII.
While the discrimination against Roma began centuries before the Nazi era, their treatment worsened drastically following Hitler’s accession to power in January of 1933. By the mid-1930s, the Nazis had banned Roma from working in certain jobs, Roma were subjected to forced sterilization as a form of ethnic cleansing, and a large number were sent to special internment camps.
An estimated 500,000 Roma were killed, but the precise number is unknown &mdash in part because many murders were unrecorded &mdash and some researchers argue that the true death toll is higher. The number is small compared to the estimated six million Jews killed during the Holocaust and the Roma were not central to the Nazis’ hateful ideology, but they were similarly regarded as a threat to the “Aryan master race.” Warnock estimates that the death toll represented about a quarter of the Roma population.
“A majority of the Roma never even made it to the camps, they were simply murdered whenever they were found, and their deaths went unrecorded,” Abraham says. “This is why there is such a major discrepancy between ‘official’ death tolls based upon Nazi records and the actual losses to our population.”
Following the German army’s invasion of Austria in March 1938, the persecution of this group intensified. More than a thousand Roma and Sinti in Germany and Austria were sent to concentration camps where many were murdered.
During this time, everything changed for Hermine Horvarth, a 13-year-old Roma girl living in Jabing, Austria. Her father was taken to Dachau concentration camp in June 1938, leaving Horvarth with her pregnant mother and five siblings.
“I noticed quite soon that the local [SS leader] had no qualms about any racial problem when it was a matter of a young gypsy girl,” Horvarth told journalist Emmi Moravitz in February 1958. “He kept pestering me. One day he suddenly appeared in front of me with a pistol at the ready.” But Horvarth, whose testimony to Moravitz is featured in the Weiner Library exhibit, escaped and told the SS leader’s wife. His wife demanded that Horvarth repeated the accusation in the presence of the SS leader. “While I was speaking, she positioned me behind her back to protect me. He reached for his pistol in fury, and it was not there,” Horvarth recalled. His wife had hidden the gun and Horvarth was able to escape.
Horvarth was later sent to Auschwitz. Her block was next to the railway tracks to the crematorium. “[One night] I could hear terrible screams,” she recalled. “What I saw was so terrible that I fell unconscious. They were throwing people who were still alive into the flames. Since this time I suffer from epileptic seizures.”
Eventually, after being moved to Ravensbrück concentration camp, Horvarth managed to escape and return home, but nothing was there. “No-one thought we would ever come back,” Horvarth recalled. “My entire possessions comprised a casserole dish and a spoon &mdash and the courage to start a new life.” Horvarth died at the age of 33, on March 10, 1958, leaving behind her three children and partner Herr Gussak.
The official beginning of the Second World War in September 1939 meant the persecution expanded, as the German Reich marched on to invade Poland and France. Starting in early 1942, thousands of Roma who had been confined to ghettos in Poland were deported to Trebilinka and Chelmno concentration camps and murdered by gas. Later that year, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, ordered most remaining Roma to be deported to occupied Poland from Germany.
In 1943, the Nazis created a specific section of the Auschwitz-Birkenhau camp designated the “Zigeunerlarger” or “Gypsy” camp. Around 23,000 Roma were deported to Auschwitz, of whom 21,000 were murdered in shootings and gas chambers.
The policy of genocide was made clear in a letter written by Himmler in 1944 stating that “the accomplished evacuation and isolation” of “Jews and Gypsies” meant that the initial directives against them were no longer necessary.
In part because so many Roma deaths went unrecorded, many families don’t know what happened to their relatives. Every week, the Wiener Holocaust Library’s researcher in charge of overlooking the ITS is contacted by people hoping to find out what happened to their loved ones.
New Project Uncovers What Americans Knew About the Holocaust
When the horrors of the Holocaust came to light after the end of World War II, the world reeled at revelations of concentration camps, mass murder and the enslavement of millions of Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents and Romani people. But the Holocaust’s horrors didn’t come as a surprise to the people who tried to warn others of Hitler’s plans. Now, a new initiative calls on the public to uncover evidence that people did know about the dangers of Nazi Germany before it was too late—and they want your help.
“History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust” is part of an attempt by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to both curate a 2018 exhibit focusing on Americans and the Holocaust and to collect data about what Americans knew as Hitler laid the plans for genocide and carried it out. Anyone can contribute to the project, which invites the public to find evidence of 20 major events in the archives of their local newspapers. The project doesn't just focus on the brutal implementation of the Nazis' Final Solution during the war—it looks at Americans' awareness of Hitler's growing power, anti-Jewish laws and growing violence before the Holocaust began.
Participants can gather letters, political cartoons and articles that relate to everything from journalist Dorothy Thompson’s expulsion from Germany to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the opening of Dachau concentration camp. It’s a chance to learn more about the era, contribute to a new exhibit and advance a growing body of evidence about what Americans knew about the Holocaust as it unfolded.
How extensive was knowledge of the Holocaust in the U.S.? It’s a question that has long intrigued historians. Despite a flood of Jewish refugees to the United States, evidence of Adolf Hitler’s instability and political plans, and even evidence of concentration camps and murder in Europe, the Allies passed by several opportunities to end Hitler’s Final Solution. Denial, administrative failures and crass anti-semitism collided to create an environment in which the Nazis’ unspeakable acts went unchallenged. As more and more evidence of people's awareness of Hitler's plans before and during the Holocaust comes to light, the image of an unknowing American public becomes harder and harder to uphold.
The result of the world's failure to act was tragic—and the “History Unfolded” project has already uncovered over 900 pieces of evidence of the warning signs that the United States failed to heed. Here are a few examples of people who sounded the alarm long before World War II came to an end:
The Beginning of the Holocaust
On April 1, 1933, the Nazis instigated their first action against German Jews by announcing a boycott of all Jewish-run businesses.
The Nuremberg Laws, issued on September 15, 1935, were designed to exclude Jews from public life. The Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and prohibited marriages and extramarital sex between Jews and Gentiles. These measures set the legal precedent for anti-Jewish legislation that followed. Nazis issued numerous anti-Jewish laws over the next several years: Jews were banned from public parks, fired from civil service jobs, and forced to register their property. Other laws barred Jewish doctors from treating anyone other than Jewish patients, expelled Jewish children from public schools, and placed severe travel restrictions on Jews.
Nazi Germany 1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution
A Timeline of the Holocaust
My Jewish Learning is a not-for-profit and relies on your help
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Within weeks, the Polish army was defeated, and the Nazis began their campaign to destroy Polish culture and enslave the Polish people, whom they viewed as &ldquosubhuman.&rdquo Killing Polish leaders was the first step: German soldiers carried out the massacres of university professors, artists, writers, politicians, and many Catholic priests. To create new living space for the &ldquosuperior&rdquo German race, large segments of the Polish population were resettled, and German families moved into the emptied lands. Other Poles, including many Jews, were imprisoned in concentration camps. The Nazis also &ldquokidnapped&rdquo as many as 50,000 &ldquoAryan&rdquo-looking Polish children from their parents and took them to Germany to be adopted by German families. Many of these children were later rejected as not capable of Germanization and were sent to special children&rsquos camps where some died of starvation, lethal injection, and disease.
As the war began in 1939, Hitler initialed an order to kill institutionalized, handicapped patients deemed &ldquoincurable.&rdquo Special commissions of physicians reviewed questionnaires filled out by all state hospitals and then decided if a patient should be killed. The doomed were then transferred to six institutions in Germany and Austrian where specially constructed gas chambers were used to kill them. After public protest in 1941, the Nazi leadership continued this euthanasia program in secret. Babies, small children, and other victims were thereafter killed by lethal injection, pills, and forced starvation.
The &ldquoeuthanasia&rdquo program contained all the elements later required for mass murder of European Jews and Roma (Gypsies): a decision to kill, specially trained personnel, the apparatus for killing by gas, and the use of euphemistic language like &ldquoeuthanasia&rdquo that psychologically distanced the murderers from their victims and hid the criminal character of the killings from the public.
In 1940 German forces continued their conquest of much of Europe, easily defeating Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded the Soviet Union and by late November, was approaching Moscow. In the meantime, Italy, Romania, and Hungary had joined the Axis powers led by Germany and were opposed by the main Allied powers (British Commonwealth, Free France, the United States, and the Soviet Union)
In the months following Germany&rsquos invasion of the Soviet Union, Jews, political leaders, Communists, and many Roma (Gypsies) were killed in mass shootings. Most of those killed were Jews. These murders were carried out at improvised sites throughout the Soviet Union by members of mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) who followed in the wake of the invading German army. The most famous of these sites was Babi Yar, near Kiev, where an estimated 33,000 persons, mostly Jews, were murdered over two days. German terror extended to institutionalized handicapped and psychiatric patients in the Soviet Union it also resulted in the death of more than three million Soviet prisoners of war.
World War II brought major changes to the concentration camp system. Large numbers of new prisoners, deported from all German-occupied countries, now flooded the camps. Often entire groups were committed to the camps, such as members of underground resistance organizations who were rounded up during a sweep across Europe under the 1941 Night and Fog decree. To accommodate the massive increase in the number of prisoners, hundred of new camps were established in occupied territories of eastern and western Europe.
During the war, ghettos, transit camps, and forced labor camps, in addition to the concentration camps, were created by the Germans and their collaborators to imprison Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and other victims of racial and ethnic hatred as well as political opponents and resistance fighters. Following the invasion of Poland, three million Jews were forced into approximately 400 newly established ghettos where they were segregated from the rest of the population. Large numbers of Jews were also deported from other cities and countries, including Germany, to ghettos and camps in Poland and German-occupied territories further east.
In Polish cities under Nazi occupation like Warsaw and Lodz, Jews were confined in sealed ghettos where starvation, overcrowding, exposure to cold, and contagious diseases killed tens of thousands of people. In Warsaw and elsewhere, ghettoized Jews made every effort, often at great risk, to maintain their cultural, communal, and religious lives. The ghettos also provided forced labor pool for the Germans. Many forced laborers (who worked in road gangs, in construction, or at other hard labor related to the German war effort) died from exhaustion or maltreatment.
Between 1942 and 1944, the Germans moved to eliminate the ghettos in occupied Poland and elsewhere, deporting ghettos residents to &ldquoextermination camps&rdquo&ndashkilling centers equipped with gassing facilities&ndashlocated in Poland. After the meeting of senior German government officials in late January 1942 at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, informing senior government officials of the decision to implement &ldquothe final solution of the Jewish question,&rdquo Jews from western Europe also were sent to killing centers in the East.
The six killing sites, chosen because of their closeness to rail lines and their location in semirural areas, were at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Chelmno was the first camp in which mass exterminations were carried out by gas piped into mobile gas vans. At least 152,000 persons were killed there between December 1941 and March 1943, and between June and July 1944. A killing center using gas chambers operated at Belzec, where about 600,000 persons were killed between May 1942 and August 1943. Sobibor opened in May 1942 and closed following a rebellion of prisoners on October 14, 1943 about 250,000 persons had already been killed by gassing at Sobibor. Treblinka opened in July 1942 and closed in November 1943. A revolt by prisoners in early August 1943 destroyed much of that facility. At least 750,000 persons were killed at Treblinka, physically the largest of the killing centers. Almost all of the victims at Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were Jews a few were Roma (Gypsies), Poles, and Soviet POWs. Very few individuals survived these four killing centers where most victims were murdered immediately upon arrival.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, which also served as a concentration camp and slave labor camp, became the killing center where the largest numbers of European Jews and Roma (Gypsies) were killed. After an experimental gassing there in September 1941&ndashof 250 malnourished Polish prisoners and 600 Soviet POWs&ndashmass murder became a daily routine. More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 9 out of 10 of them Jews. In addition, Roma, Soviet POWs, and ill prisoners of all nationalities died in the gas chambers there. Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, nearly 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary on more than 140 trains, overwhelmingly to Auschwitz. This was probably the largest single mass deportation during the Holocaust. A similar system was implemented at Majdanek, which also doubled as a concentration camp, and where between 70,000 and 235,000 persons were killed in the gas chambers or died from malnutrition, brutality, and disease.
The Germans carried out their systematic murderous activities with the help of local collaborators in many countries and the acquiescence or indifference of millions of bystanders. However, there were instances of organized resistance. For example, in the fall of 1943, the Danish resistance, with the support of the local population, rescued nearly the entire Jewish community in Denmark by smuggling them via a dramatic boatlift to safety in neutral Sweden. Individuals in many other countries also risked their lives to save Jews and other individuals subject to Nazi persecution. One of the most famous was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, who played a significant role in some of the rescue efforts that saved tens of thousand of Hungarian Jews in 1944.
Resistance existed in almost every concentration camp and ghetto of Europe. In addition to the armed revolts at Sobibor and Treblinka, Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto led to a courageous uprising in April and May 1943, despite a predictable doomed outcome because of superior German force. In general, rescue or aid to Holocaust victims was not a priority of resistance organizations, whose principle goal was to fight the war against the Germans. Nonetheless, such groups and Jewish partisans (resistance fighters) sometimes cooperated with each other to save Jews. On April 19, 1943, for example, members of the National Committee for the Defense of Jews, in cooperation with Christian railroad workers and the general underground in Belgium, attacked a train leaving the Belgian transit camp of Malines headed for Auschwitz, and succeeded in assisting Jewish deportees to escape.
The U.S. government did not pursue a policy of rescue for the victims of Nazism during World War II. Like their British counterparts, U.S. political and military leaders argued that winning the war was the top priority and would bring an end to Nazi terror. Once the war began, security concerns, reinforced in part by anti-semitism, influenced the U.S. State Department (led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull) and the U.S. government to do little to ease restrictions on entry visas. In January 1944, President Roosevelt established the War Refugees Board within the U.S. Treasury Department to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees. Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York, began to serve as an ostensibly free port for refugees from the territories liberated by the Allies.
After the war turned against Germany, and the Allied armies approached German soil in late 1944, the SS decided to evacuate outlying concentration camps. The Germans tried to cover up the evidence of genocide and deported prisoners to camps inside Germany to prevent their liberation. Many inmates died during the long journeys on foot known as &ldquodeath marches.&rdquo During the final days, in the spring of 1945, conditions in the remaining concentration camps exacted a terrible toll in human lives. Even concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen, never intended for extermination, became death traps for thousands, including Anne Frank, who died there of typhus in March 1945. In May 1945, Nazi Germany collapsed, the SS guards fled, and the camps ceased to exist.
The persecution of the Jews
A boycott of Jewish shops was organized in Germany as early as April 1, 1933. From then on, laws and regulations were regularly issued that systematically limited Jews&rsquo civil rights and their part in economic life. The law on the reorganization of the civil service led to the dismissal of Jewish employees of the national and local governments the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 introduced a ban on mixed marriages and tightened the definition of &ldquoJew&rdquo in &ldquoracial-legal&rdquo terms finally, a series of regulations in late 1938 sanctioned the &ldquoAryanization&rdquo (in other words, the confiscation) of Jewish businesses. A plethora of separate rulings deprived Jews of the capacity to work as journalists and artists the works of Jewish writers were burned publicly, and access to education for Jewish youth was limited. Characteristically, aside from the actions of the Nazi leadership, many German associations and organizations took matters into their own hands and passed bylaws that discriminated against Jews. Some of these restrictions had injurious practical consequences, while others clearly had the nature of malicious harassment.
In this situation, German Jews could only resort to moral suasion, pointing out their shared language and culture, and citing as examples Jewish inventors, scientists, and soldiers who gave their lives for Germany during World War I. Any remaining illusions cherished by some Jews came crashing down during the Kristallnacht pogrom (November 9/10, 1938), when hundreds of synagogues and thousands of shops and dwellings were ransacked and torched, dozens of Jews were injured, and many thousands sent off to concentration camps.
Experiencing History Holocaust Sources in Context
This collection explores the challenges faced by medical providers with the rise of the Nazi regime and the onset of the Holocaust. Oral histories, photographs, diaries, and other primary sources illustrate how healthcare professionals throughout Europe responded amid violence and upheaval. These materials address the experiences of doctors, nurses, and others providing medical care in a variety of contexts from 1933 to 1945.
While their ability to treat those in need was often severely limited, medical providers' choices and actions had an enormous impact on millions of lives during World War II and the Holocaust. The German medical profession influenced the development of Nazi racial policies, and many doctors and nurses became complicit in Nazi medical experiments or the regime&rsquos so-called "euthanasia" program. During the years of Nazi rule, medical care could become a form of opportunism, a means for survival, or a method of resistance. This collection explores how doctors, nurses, and others devoted to healing encountered profound moral and ethical dilemmas as a direct result of Nazi policies.
For those providing and seeking medical care, the priorities and possibilities changed drastically in Nazi Germany and territories under its control. Shortly after rising to power in 1933, the Nazi regime began reorganizing Germany's cultural, social, and professional organizations to redefine who belonged to German society and who was marginalized and excluded. The Nazis swiftly reformed professional medical associations, and membership became limited to non-Jewish Germans whom the regime determined held pro-Nazi political views. 1 This photograph of a German Red Cross ceremony reveals how the regime politicized and militarized such organizations while using them to spread Nazi propaganda. Medical associations often began valuing political conformity more than medical knowledge. 2 In this climate, ideologically acceptable "Aryan" medical providers like nurse Anna Hölzer were promoted past the limits of their abilities until their poor medical skills became impossible to ignore.
The so-called "Aryanization" of the German medical profession created many opportunities for pro-Nazi, non-Jewish physicians when the regime began forcing Jewish doctors from their jobs. 3 For example, authorities gave Dr. Erwin Schattner two weeks' notice to vacate his practice in Vienna so a non-Jewish physician could take his place. The diary of Dr. Aron Pik illustrates how Jewish doctors in German-occupied Eastern Europe were often removed from their jobs and subjected to public humiliation and violence.
Doctors imprisoned within the Nazi camp system or confined to Jewish ghettos faced a range of dire health problems resulting from Nazi policies. Malnutrition, overcrowding, and unhygienic conditions helped contagions spread easily. Epidemics of diseases like typhus became commonplace, and the indifference and hostility of Nazi authorities undermined efforts to properly treat them. An oral history with Avraham Tory reveals how German authorities' murderous fear of epidemics forced Dr. Moses Brauns to begin treating contagious diseases in the Kovno ghetto in total secrecy.
Insufficient resources were another constant concern within camps and ghettos. Food, medicine, and medical equipment were always in short supply. The diary of Dr. Janusz Korczak illustrates how a lack of medicine and food contributed to a severe decline in the health of the children under his care in the Warsaw ghetto. Prisoner doctors within the Nazi camp system were frequently forced to treat their patients and perform surgeries without anasthesia or basic hygienic supplies.
Working in camp hospitals offered certain advantages nevertheless, and practicing medicine could itself become a means of survival for the persecuted. In a panel discussion on medicine within the Nazi camp system, Dr. Leo Eitinger describes how his training as a physician gave him a sense of purpose, a firm moral code, and an inner strength that sustained him. An oral history with Marie Ondrá&scaronová reveals how the young Czech Romani woman's work in the camp hospital spared her from the most brutal experiences of camp life. Ondrá&scaronová was even able to protect her family by bringing them into the camp dispensary during deportations.
Others used their medical skills to survive while living underground. Photographs of Lala Grunfeld show the young Polish Jewish woman working in the Warsaw offices of a German dentist and SS officer. Living under a false identity, Grunfeld applied the skills she learned there when she began serving as an underground medic for the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The combination of medical skills and false documents helped other Jewish medical providers to survive underground life during the years of the Nazi regime, as well. The false identity documents of Dr. Mordechai Tenenbaum still identify him as a surgeon. His family used his status as a doctor to reunite after he was arrested, and he continued to practice medicine illegally in exchange for food for his family.
The Nazis' persecution of Jews created unique problems for non-Jewish medical providers. The diary of Dr. Maria Madi reveals how some non-Jewish doctors struggled to decide whether or not to fill the vacant positions created by the persecution of their Jewish colleagues. Other non-Jewish physicians, however, displayed far less sympathy for the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. In an oral history with Dr. Maurice Rossel, the Swiss physician uses antisemitic stereotypes to dismiss his role in the Nazis' coverup of their crimes at the Theresienstadt camp. 4 Other medical providers found themselves overwhelmed by the consequences of Nazi anti-Jewish policies. An oral history with Marcelle Duval reveals how the French nurse and her overworked colleagues struggled to provide medical care to the thousands of Jews imprisoned during the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Vél d'Hiv) roundup in Paris. Neither German nor French authorities had made arrangements for food or sanitary facilities for so many people during the mass arrests and deportations, and Duval determined that she and her fellow nurses could provide only limited aid.
The Nazi regime's policies also challenged the established roles of medical providers and made it impossible to maintain traditional practices. For example, an oral history with Ruth Elias reveals how an anonymous female physician working in the prisoner hospital at Auschwitz provided Elias with the means to euthanize her suffering newborn. Although her medical oath prevented her from doing it herself, the doctor urged Elias to administer a lethal injection to her child. Physicians' commitment to healing could be difficult to maintain, as demonstrated by the manuscript of Dr. Douglas M. Kelley. An American psychiatrist assigned to determine if high-ranking Nazis were fit to stand trial after the collapse of Nazi Germany, Kelley befriended his subjects, betrayed their trust, and publicized sensationalistic accounts of his psychological profiles of the leading Nazis imprisoned at Nuremberg. 5
The Nazi regime and the Holocaust confronted medical providers with countless ethical dilemmas and posed extreme challenges to their ability to treat patients. Within the constraints of the Nazi system, the possibilities of providing proper medical care to those in need were severely limited. The primary sources in this collection demonstrate how a diverse array of medical providers responded when encounters with the Nazi regime disrupted their lives and upended their established roles. 6
Many German medical professionals joined the Nazi Party or its affiliated professional organizations in the years of the Nazi regime, and German doctors were especially overrepresented. Nearly half of all German physicians joined the Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945. For more on this disproportionately high percentage, see Michael H. Kater, "Criminal Physicians in the Third Reich: Toward a Group Portrait," in Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practices, Legacies, edited by Francis R. Nicosia and Jonathan Huener (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002): 77&ndash92.
The relationship between the Nazi regime and medical science was extremely complex. Many German doctors became complicit in Nazi crimes, such as human experimentation, forcible sterilizations, or the murders of individuals with disabilities. At the same time, however, Nazi leadership also promoted public health initiatives and launched campaigns against cancer and quack medicine. For more on the complicated relationship between Nazism and medical science, see Robert N. Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).
For more on the so-called "Aryanization" of the German medical profession, see Michael H. Kater, "The Persecution of Jewish Physicians," Doctors under Hitler (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989): 177&ndash221.
Rossel was a representative of the International Red Cross responsible for investigating conditions within the ghetto, but he failed to realize that the Nazis had heavily stage-managed his inspection tour.
The subsequent "Doctor&rsquos Trial" at Nuremberg (1946-1947) not only established the guilt of several individual German doctors, but it also resulted in the creation of international medical ethics standards known as the "Nuremberg Code."
For further resources on the topic of medical science and the Nazi regime, see this online Bibliography on Nazi Racial Science.
We analyze if growing up under Nazi rule had a lasting effect on attitudes later in life using cohort-specific indoctrination in the past as a source of identifying variation for present-day behavior (16). We find that anti-Semitic attitudes are particularly pronounced for ALLBUS respondents who grew up under the Nazi regime.
Fig. 1 shows the share of committed anti-Semites (AS comm ) by birth decade from 1910 to 1980. There is a general downward trend people born later are on average less anti-Semitic. In addition, there is a striking outlier: about 10% of respondents from the 1930s birth cohort show strongly anti-Semitic attitudes––almost three times the percentage after 1950, and more than double the percentage of the preceding and the next cohort. [At the end of World War II (WWII), individuals from the 1930s cohort were between 6 and 15 years old. Below, we show that our results are robust to using the larger cohort born between 1920 and 1939, who were between 6 and 25 years old at the end of WWII. We also discuss why committed anti-Semitism is not unusually pronounced among the 1920s cohort in Fig. 1––this is likely due to differential selection of fervent Nazi supporters from this cohort into army divisions that saw particularly high casualty rates.] The difference in AS comm for the 1930s birth cohort is statistically highly significant, as indicated by the 95% confidence intervals in the figure.
Share of committed anti-Semites by birth decade. Source: ALLBUS data. The figure shows the proportion of respondents who answer with 6 or more (on a scale of 7) on each of three Jew-specific questions asked in ALLBUS: “Do Jews have too much influence in the world?,” “Are Jews partly responsible for their own persecution?,” and “Are Jews trying to exploit their victim status for financial gain?”
Regression results confirm these findings. Table 2 shows that individuals in the cohort 1930–1939 have significantly more pronounced anti-Semitic attitudes, even after controlling for personal characteristics such as education or the perception of the economic situation. According to our estimates in column 1, they are 5.8 percentage points more likely to be committed anti-Semites than the individuals outside of this cohort, who have a proportion of 3.6% of committed anti-Semites. In other words, those born in the 1930s are approximately twice as likely to hold extreme anti-Semitic beliefs (after controlling for individual characteristics). A similar pattern holds when we restrict the sample to individuals born before 1950 (column 2) and when analyzing broad anti-Semitism instead (columns 4 and 5). For the latter, the 1930–1939 birth cohort shows values that are 0.35 points higher on a scale from 1 to 7 (and relative to an average of 3.15 for all other cohorts). Results are also very similar when we repeat the analysis for the broader birth cohorts 1920–1939 (columns 3 and 6).
Anti-Semitic attitudes by birth cohort
In SI Appendix, section A.4, we examine the 1920s and 1930s cohorts separately. Cohorts born in the 1920s were also exposed to Nazi indoctrination. We find that they similarly show higher shares of average anti-Semitic beliefs (AS broad ). This pattern holds for men and women. The 1920s cohort also shows a significantly higher share of committed anti-Semites (AS comm ) among women. The one group for which there is no effect for the 1920s cohort are male extremists. We argue that these were more likely to become war casualties. Many young fanatic Nazi supporters volunteered for the Waffen-SS, which had particularly high casualty rates. We show that in places with more anti-Semitic activity, fewer men born in the 1920s survived and entered our sample (SI Appendix, section A.4). [To proxy for the extent of anti-Semitic activity in the 1920s and 30s, we use measures from ref. 17 for anti-Semitic actions and violence: attacks on synagogues, deportations of Jews, anti-Semitic letters to the Nazi pamphlet Der Stürmer, and pogroms against Jews.]
In combination, these results suggest that Nazi indoctrination––in school, through propaganda, and in youth organizations––successfully instilled strongly anti-Semitic attitudes in the cohorts that grew up under the Nazi regime, and that the differential effect is still visible today, more than half a century after the fall of the Third Reich.
The strength of effects for the 1930s cohort may be surprising children born in 1939 were only 6 y old in 1945. However, results in social psychology show high levels of ethnocentric bias at early ages. Studies from several countries demonstrate that preschool children already exhibit in-group favoritism and out-group dislike (18 ⇓ ⇓ –21). In addition, memoirs of Germans who grew up under the Nazis speak eloquently of how as early as age 5 and 6, they were being indoctrinated in nationalist ideology and racial hatred (22, 23). [Alfons Heck, who rose to a high position in the Hitler Youth before the end of the war, describes how “we five- and six-year olds knew nothing of the freedom…of the Weimar Republic. More than any other political party, the NSDAP recognized that those who control the children own the future. We swallowed our daily dose of nationalistic instruction as naturally as our morning milk.”]
What made Nazi indoctrination so powerful? In the following, we examine two competing explanations: (i) the extent to which Nazi propaganda confirmed preexisting prejudices among the local population, and (ii) regional variation in the implementation of Nazi indoctrination efforts, proxied by media exposure and the strength of the Nazi party organization. We find strong evidence for the former but much less for the latter, lending support to theories that emphasize the importance of confirmation bias in shaping attitudes and beliefs (24).
Schooling changed in character everywhere, and historical accounts emphasize the importance of this channel. In addition, we examine interactions with preexisting anti-Jewish sentiment. To this end, we compile data on voting behavior from the late 19th and early 20th century––long before the Nazis’ rise to power. Soon after the founding of the German Empire in 1870, anti-Semitism emerged as a political force. For example, a petition in 1881 urged the government to restrict immigration of Jews, ban them from teaching professions and the army, and revoke their emancipation and access to equal rights. It was signed by 265,000 supporters and presented to Chancellor Bismarck. From the 1890s onward, political parties with an exclusively anti-Jewish agenda competed in national elections. Although the anti-Semitic parties never received a high share of the national vote, electoral support exceeded 40% in some districts (see SI Appendix, section A.5 for details).
We combine historical voting records with the modern-day survey data for all 264 locations in our sample. As indicators of historical anti-Jewish sentiment, we use the average vote shares of anti-Semitic parties between 1890 and 1912. As a first step, we show that attitudes on average persisted in the same location––where voters turned to anti-Jewish parties in the 1890s and 1900s, they are still much more anti-Semitic today. In Fig. 2, we group all electoral districts according to the tercile of the vote share for anti-Semitic parties between 1890 and 1912. [The data are from six parliamentary elections over the period 1890–1912. Anti-Semitic parties in these elections are classified according to Schmädeke (25). We describe these parties in more detail in SI Appendix, section A.5.] The long arm of the past is clearly visible in the share of committed anti-Semites (Fig. 2, Left). In locations that were in the lowest third of districts supporting anti-Semitic parties before 1914, only a little more than 2% of respondents are committed anti-Semites today. In places in the top third of support for the anti-Semitic parties, this proportion rises to nearly 8%, a fourfold increase compared with localities in the bottom third of historical support for anti-Semitic parties. These differences are statistically highly significant, as indicated by the 95% confidence intervals. In Fig. 2 (Right), we confirm this pattern for broad anti-Semitism (AS broad ). Attitudes in Germany today are markedly more negative toward Jews in towns and cities in the upper third of historical support for anti-Jewish parties, compared with the lowest third, as indicated by the 20% higher average score.
Contemporaneous individual-level anti-Semitic attitudes and historic voting patterns. (A) Share of committed anti-Semites (individuals answering 5 or higher on three specific Jew-related questions) (B) Average of our broad anti-Semitism measure (on a scale from 1 to 7, with 7 the most anti-Semitic). Data are grouped into terciles based on electoral support for anti-Semitic parties in the period 1890–1912. The lines with whiskers represent the 95% confidence intervals. Overall, the two figures show that modern-day anti-Semitism is consistently and significantly greater in areas with higher levels of historical electoral support for anti-Jewish parties.
Table 3 examines these patterns statistically, using pre-WWI voting for anti-Semitic parties as an explanatory variable. Because anti-Semitic parties were typically small, they did not put forward candidates in all cities for all elections. To deal with the resulting missing vote shares, we present results for three different samples. Sample (a) includes all cities, treating those without anti-Semitic candidates as zero votes [thus sample (a) implicitly assumes that where anti-Semitic parties before WWI did not put forward candidates, they would have won zero (or very few) votes] sample (b) drops these observations and sample (c) only includes cities where anti-Semitic parties presented candidates in at least three out of the six elections between 1890 and 1912. Thus, by going from sample (a) to (c), we use increasingly precise information on pre-WWI anti-Semitism. However, this comes at the cost of sample size: the number of cities falls from 264 in sample (a) to 160 in sample (b), and to 46 in sample (c). [SI Appendix, section A.5 shows the distribution of vote shares for anti-Semitic parties for the three samples.]
Persistence of anti-Semitism at the city level
We present results with and without controls. The latter include several individual- and city-level characteristics, including age, education, city size, and the share of foreigners living in a location, as well as historical city characteristics. We find strong and significant effects of historical anti-Semitism in all specifications, for both the share of extremists in a location (columns 1–4) and average levels of Jew-hatred (columns 5–8). To illustrate the magnitude of effects, we compute how much the dependent variable changes in response to a 1-SD increase in the vote share of pre-WWI anti-Semitic parties. Such an increase goes hand-in-hand with a rise of 0.7–2.1% in the share of committed anti-Semites (relative to a sample average of 4.8%), and it is associated with a broad anti-Semitism score today that is 0.07–0.18 points higher (equivalent to 6–16% of an SD). The results hold across all possible definitions of the relevant sample. [SI Appendix, section A.6 shows that this also holds if we restrict the sample to individuals born after 1945.]
Having shown that anti-Semitism persisted locally in Germany throughout the 20th century, we analyze the extent to which preexisting anti-Semitic sentiment (i) favored Nazi indoctrination, and (ii) was, in turn, reinforced during the Nazi regime. In Table 4, we regress individual-level measures of committed and broad Jew-hatred on the share of voters for anti-Semitic parties pre-1914, a birth decade dummy, and an interaction effect between these two variables. The interaction effect reflects whether Nazi indoctrination was particularly effective in regions with a history of anti-Semitic sentiment. We find strong support for a magnification effect, for both committed and broad anti-Semitism (columns 1 and 4). This pattern also holds when we add control variables (columns 2 and 5), and when defining the longer period 1920–1939 as the birth years exposed to Nazi indoctrination (columns 3 and 6).
Amplifying preexisting anti-Semitism
These findings illustrate the extent to which Nazi indoctrination reinforced local persistence of anti-Semitism. Approximately 17% of the individuals in our sample belong to the birth cohort 1930–1939. Thus, the interaction term in our baseline specification with controls (column 2) implies a total coefficient on ASvote of 0.0438+0.17 × 0.399 = 0.11, i.e., more than double the coefficient for other cohorts (0.0438). [The results in Table 4 are obtained using the full sample (a) from Table 3. In SI Appendix, section A.7, we show that results are very similar when using samples (b) or (c). Also, because interaction effects cannot be readily interpreted in Probit models, we run ordinary least square (OLS) regressions throughout, including for committed anti-Semitism.] In addition, we show that in towns and cities where indoctrination was most effective––and the share of extremists in the 1930s cohort is particularly high––there is markedly higher anti-Semitism also among those born after 1945, 1955, 1965, and even after 1975 (SI Appendix, section A.6). [This is true even after controlling for historical anti-Semitism. This implies that effective indoctrination in the 1930s created an “echo effect,” with the share of committed anti-Semites higher than one would expect based on historical anti-Semitism alone.] These findings suggest that by reinforcing preexisting racial hatred, Nazi indoctrination contributed importantly to the long-term persistence of anti-Semitism in Germany. And conversely, the strong interaction with preexisting attitudes suggests that confirmation bias played an important role in shaping anti-Semitic beliefs.
We also examine other possible explanations for the success of Nazi indoctrination. Youth growing up in 1930s Germany were also exposed to propaganda in school and the National Socialist (NS) youth organizations (both were universal across Nazi Germany) the “modern” media film and radio also had a decidedly anti-Semitic slant (but their coverage varied by region). Similarly, the local strength of Nazi party organization may have fostered indoctrination, while suppressing voices from the opposition. To evaluate the relative importance of these proxies for the local intensity of propaganda, we exploit their regional variation. We use data on the number of radio subscribers, cinema seats, and of Nazi party members on a per-capita basis in each city. The data and results are described in detail in SI Appendix, section A.8. We find that these variables have no predictive power for the additional rise in anti-Semitism among the cohorts who grew up under the Nazis (effects are insignificant, with tight confidence intervals around zero). This suggests that––at least among the impressionable young cohorts––spatial variation in the intensity of propaganda was of minor importance, relative to the huge and universal indoctrination in schools and youth organizations.
In contrast, we have shown that regional variation in pre-WWI anti-Semitic votes is strongly associated with indoctrination. This suggests that broad compatibility of Nazi ideology with preexisting beliefs was important. Our results provide empirical support for Goebbels’ famous argument that propaganda can only be effective if it is broadly in line with preexisting notions and beliefs (26). These findings suggest that the universal Nazi indoctrination in schools and youth organizations was highly effective, and especially so if it could build on preexisting anti-Semitic prejudices.
1 The Nazis Performed Horrible Experiments on the Jews in the Camps
The most disturbing fact about Nazi Germany during World War II is that they performed horrible experiments on the Jews in the prison camps. Thousands of prisoners were subject to these experiments, which fell into three different categories:
The first of these three were experiments that were done to ensure the survival of the Axis troops. One, for instance, as a high-altitude experiment where prisoners were placed in a low-pressure chamber in order to see how high a parachute trooper could fall from and remain alive before altitude affected them. There were also freezing experiments, where prisoners were essentially frozen alive in order to discover a treatment for hypothermia.
The second category was focused on experimenting with drugs, illness and injury treatments. In this case, prisoners were injected with diseases such as tuberculosis, yellow fever and malaria, and then drugs were tested on them to find one that worked. At some camps, prisoners were sprayed with mustard gas in order to test antidotes.
The third category was more focused on the Nazi worldview. These experiments had to do with testing on twins, and tests to show the physical and mental inferiority of the Jews when compared to other races, such as the Germans.
Other experiments that the Nazis did were so horrible they don’t even fall into these categories. These include forced sterilization, radiation exposure and starvation experimentation. Of course, most of the people who became part of these experiments died from the experience, and those who didn’t were often killed.
If you are reading this, you have made it through this chilling list. From 1933 to 1945, the people who lived in Germany and throughout Europe who did not fit into the ideal of the “Master Race” were put through horrible things. The Jews, however, were not the only people that had to endure this, though they were essentially the focus of many of the racial and cultural hatred. Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and Jehovah’s Witnesses were also targeted. Additionally, as the Nazi expanded their territory into neighboring countries, such as France, anyone who resisted the Nazi regime were also forced into the camps or killed on the spot. More than 11 million people were killed by the Nazis over the whole of the war, and 6 million of these were Jews.
In 1944, the Allies began advancing into Germany, and began taking over and liberating the camps, and in January 1945, the largest Nazi camp, Auschwitz, was liberated. This liberation is one of the major milestones of the end of the war.