The word Holocaust comes from the Greek, meaning, "Sacrifice by fire." With the rise of Hitler to power in 1933 Jews faced the ultimate test in the annals of human suffering. The reason for their misfortune was Nazis' usage of the Aryan ideology of racial superiority. The Jews were classified as an aberration of nature. They were labeled as inferiors and misfits, foreigners and stateless, who should be exterminated for the betterment of the Aryan nation. In his book
(My Struggle), Hitler delineated his "final solution" to exterminate European Jewry. Unfortunately, his inhumane plans were never taken seriously by the free world until it was too late. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, there were nine million Jews in Europe. By 1945, only three million survived the carnage of his "final solution." The rest were murdered systematically in the gas chambers of Treblinka, Auschwitz, Birkenau and others.
To accomplish his master plan to exterminate European Jewry, Hitler established concentration camps; he herded Jews into Ghettos, and labor camps. The Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) carried out mass murder operations against the Jews. They shipped millions of them from Europe's occupied territories to extermination camps, where they were murdered in gas chambers and other killing facilities.
Germany, one of the most developed nations in the world in science and technology, used peaceful technology and great scientific achievements as vehicles for annihilation of innocent people. In hindsight, the genocide of Europe Jewry was written on the walls of every European capitol. Unfortunately, the European nations did not have the political will to oppose Hitler's monstrous plans. Hitler knew it. He gambled on the isolationist policies of the free world and won. He started with local anarchy and ended up with global destruction and terror. First he ordered his Nazi party to carry out discrimination, persecutions, and segregation of Jews in an organized fashion. As he grabbed more power, he became even bolder. He issued anti-Jewish legislation, a boycott of Jewish businesses, and ordered what was later known as the "Kristallnacht" (the night of broken glass).
Hitler knew that Jews, who were known as the "People of the Book," could not be exterminated easily. The German dictator realized that his highest priority at that stage was to separate the Jews from their nurturing sources. He had to destroy them in stages; spiritually, intellectually, and then physically. As early as 1933 German students rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods in a series of government sponsored torch light parades. The Nazis made large bonfires and threw thousands of Jewish books into the flames in the city of Munich. The book burnings were not only intended to cut off Jews from their past, but also to "purify" Germany of foreign culture and influence, and keep the Aryan race superior and pure. The world was watching in astonishment. The fires were the early omens of things yet to come. Nations became alarmed when the purges of intellectuals and suppression of freedom of the press and free speech were taking place in Germany.
Some in America responded to the book burning with displays of Jewish cultural exhibitions, as a sign of identification with the plight of Jews in the hands of Hitler and his henchmen. The demonstration of support included expositions of books written by Jewish scientists and intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and others famous Jews whom Hitler labeled "ink slingers." The book exhibition and support of American citizens with the plight of European Jews left the painful unanswered question of: why was there such a strong reaction to book burning in Germany and such a slow national response to the burning of people in Europe? The answer is beyond the scope of this curriculum. It is obviously a question for social scientists and students of history to analyze for many years to come.
Nazi ideology continued unabated. They built forced labor camps, and in 1938 they began to deport Jews to these camps and when they were no longer useful, they were killed in the gas chambers and disposed of by cremation. The Germans followed their destructive path, and built "death factories" or extermination camps such as: Sobibar, Treblinka, Auschwitz and others. They tried to keep their death camps a secret. They landscaped the ground, buildings were camouflaged, and dead bodies were removed and cremated. Such ideology of terror and destruction could not be kept secret for too long. Word came out via escapees, refugees, or Holocaust survivors, detailing the German atrocities in the extermination camps and places like, Babi Yar.