Before and during the Nazi regime in Germany headed by Adolf Hitler, there was a systematic- state-sponsored persecution that led to the murder of many Jews. This occurred at the beginning of the year 1933 when the Nazi regime came to power and progressively propagated the belief among the German citizenry that Germans were a superior race compared to other ethnic communities that lived in Germany (Berenbaum, 1997).
This persecution of the Jews and other communities like the Poles, Russians, and Roma continued until around the year 1945. The Nazi regime particularly believed that the Jewish community was inferior and was a threat to the integrity of the German racial community. During this time, Hitler himself wrote a book titled Mein Kampf (which translates as ‘’My Struggle”) in which he advocated for the removal of Jews from Germany.
The total figures of the Jews and other communities that suffered during this persecution is not accurately known to date.It is, however, estimated that close to five or six million people were killed.
An American writer named Goldhagen in his book titled Hitler’s willing executioners claims that German citizens were aware and supported the killings during the Holocaust due to a prevalent mentality that was based on biased religious attitudes and which became secularized before and during the Nazi regime.
Goldhagen refers to this mentality as eliminationist anti-Semitism. This form of anti-Semitism was very virulent and is thought to have been established during the era of the french revolution (Nicosia, 2008, p.19).This paper explores arguments that this mentality contributed to the murder of close to one and a half million Jews.
Towards the end, the paper pays particular focus on how the activities of the Einsatzgruppen and police battalions in Poland and the Soviet Union tend to reinforce the belief that due to the widespread eliminationist anti-Semitism, ordinary Germans played a role in abetting the persecution of Jews…
Explanation on eliminationist anti-Semitism
A description by Newman and Erber (2002, p.46) explains that the term eliminationist anti-Semitism is often used to describe the activities geared towards the elimination of the entire Jewish community and other smaller communities, which were regarded by the Nazi regime as inferior by any means necessary.
A good description of how eliminationist anti-Semitism among ordinary Germans could have promoted the Holocaust can be got by looking at the reactions of ordinary Germans during the three phases under which the Holocaust took place; during the first phase, laws and regulations targeted at the elimination of Jews were introduced, these legislative measures include the Law for the protection of German blood and German Honor and the Reich Citizenship Law.
The second phase involved the creation of concentration camps in which most of the Jews worked as slaves and died due to starvation, maltreatment, and disease. In the final phase, commonly known as the “final solution,” Hitler ordered the murder of all Jews across Europe.
The change towards what can be regarded as complete eliminationist anti-Semitism began with the establishment of various laws that would systematically eliminate Jews from the German community life. Jarausch (1997, p.70), for example, cites the Nuremberg laws introduced in 1935, which technically denied the right to German citizenship to people who had Jewish ancestry.
Jarausch explains that under these laws, any German who had at least one Jewish grad parent was formally denied German citizenship. In addition, these laws also forbade intermarriages and extramarital sexual relations between people who were racially different, particularly where one of the partners was a German citizen.
At this point in time, some of the German citizens were actively involved in the circulation of papers like the Der Sturmer to propagate this information and other anti-Semitic ideas as well. It is important to note that at this point that there were no serious protests when these laws were enacted, and this possibly indicates that most of the Germans supported the Nazis had in mind.
Some protests were staged later in 1943 when the Nazi Government was continuing with the deportation of spouses who were of non-German descent. The exercise of deportation of Jews with a German heritage had begun two years earlier; it actually had started in the year 1941.
When the Nazi regime was defeated in 1945, the Nuremberg laws were lifted, and this also enabled the marriage to backdate to make it easy for couples to legitimatize their marriages and their children so that it would be easy to handle issues related to the inheritance of property.
In regard to the effects of the Nuremberg laws on the Jewish and other minority communities. Stackelberg and Winkle (2002, p.186) say that Jewish emancipation was effectively deterred, and as a result, the Jewish people ended up as aliens in their own country.
What followed after this phase was the concentration of Jews in various camps that were spread out in different parts of the country. Scheindlin (2000,p.203) explains that Dachau was the first camp built in the year 1993 and was intended for Jews like writers, lawyers, and journalists who were considered as dangerous.
As the years went by, more camps were constructed in Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen; these camps were put under the control of special police unit s known as the Gestapo, who were given the authority to detain anyone. In the year 1937, Jews were being detained in these camps for the sole reason of being Jews,.it was expected that there would be a mass exodus of Jews from Germany, but it did not happen as only a few Jews left.
As this was happening, Scheindlin explains that fellow Germans acted indifferently and turned a blind eye to the plight their Jewish neighbors were experiencing due to the antithesis policies imposed by the government. The Jews had expected that their fellow Germans would do away with the Nazi regime after witnessing what was happening, but instead, the people went ahead to vote the Nazi regime to power.
Similarly, the Germans had the means and opportunity to force the Nazi regime to change, but they did not. Most of them refused to openly oppose the government policies, with some actually supporting the government’s anti-Jewish policies despite the long ties of friendship and association they shared with Jews (Scheindlin, 2000, p.203).
The final phase of Jewish persecution came with the implementation of the “final solution” in 1941. It was thought by the Nazi regime that when the plan was fully executed, there would be no more Jews in the European community life.
During this period, Mann (2005, p.248) explains that the government policy against the Jews in Germany shifted from emigration to murder. This was the beginning of widespread, systematic, and indiscriminate torture against the Jews.
The Einsatzgruppen and police battalions
A recollection of the events that led to the invasion of Jews in the Soviet Union by Browning and Matthäus ( 2004, p.214) informs that the Germans invaded in the month of June in 1941.
The authors proceed to explain that the planning and execution of attacks on the Jews involved various groups like the military, civil administrators, ministerial bureaucrats, economic planners, various police formations, and local collaborators.
Specialized units for the execution of the operations were created and named Einsatzgruppen. The units were granted the responsibility to execute their operations in the manner they deemed as appropriate though the units would be subordinate to the military these units would receive their supplies from the military. This is to say that all army commanders were well informed of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen.
It is believed that the Einsatzgruppen were issued with orders to kill the entire soviet Jews by two ranking officials, namely Streckenbach and Reinhard Heydrich.
Despite acting as mobile death squads in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen units were also used in the same way in other regions like Australia, Czechoslovakia,Poland, and Sudetenland, the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen identified, selected and shot people regarded as political and racial enemies of the Nazi regime. Those particularly targeted included the Jews, nobles, popes, clergy, and the social elites. It is estimated that close to one and a half million Jews were killed (Cook, 2006, p.162).
According to Rubenstein and Roth, 2003, p.148, the executions against the Jews were not carried out by the Einsatzgruppen alone; special police battalions were organized with the aim of ensuring order in areas which had been conquered by the military. When the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, the Police battalions terrorized Jews by killing unframed civilians, burning the synagogues and properties.
These perpetrations occurred under the leadership of a man called Lieutenant General Udo von Woyrsh. In addition to the above, Woyrsh’s troops openly intimidated Jewish leaders, destroyed businesses owned by Jews, killed Jewish boys, and forced Jewish men to dig mass graves into which they were buried after being shot.
There are several reasons why some people like Goldhagen think that an eliminationist anti-Semitism attitude among the officers serving in the police battalions and the ordinary Germans led to the massive killings of Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union. Firstly, the officers in the battalions had a choice not to follow the orders issued to them to kill the Jews.
On the part of the ordinary citizens, Plakans (2007, p.91) explains that some accepted to be recruited into the auxiliary police groups despite having a clear knowledge of what was happening to the Jews.It is important to point out that there were also instances of forced recruitment in areas where the Germans faced a serious shortage of personnel like Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Plaka continues to explain that some locals volunteered to help the troops in their missions. This happened in Latvia, which was under German control in 1941. The volunteers were assigned guarding duties for a period of six months, after which their mandate was extended.
In a nutshell, the operations of the police battalions, especially battalion 101 and the Einsatzgruppen, contributed greatly to the de-emancipation of the Jewish community and other minorities as well. The efficiency with which the mobile units executed the killings brought the Nazi regime closer to attaining its aim of eliminating the Jews.
The issue of “bystanders” in relation to Holocaust research has been changing as more and more people begin to change their perspective on the influence of bystanders in Holocaust, in the past, bystanders were seen as mere witnesses to the events that took place during the holocaust, today it has increasingly become common for people to regard the bystander as being responsible to some extent for the killings that took place (Rubenstein,& Roth,2003 p. 27).
The main argument advanced to support this perspective is that the people who lived in areas where the police battalions and the Einsatzgruppen operated saw what was happening, they could also hear the Jews were shot and their cries but remained neutral for most of the time, neither helping the persecutors (Nazis) nor offering solace to the jews.
The neutrality and indifference of the German people helped the persecutors (Nazis) to accomplish their plans while the Jews and the other minority communities suffered the disadvantages.
The indifference portrayed by the German citizens can be linked to the socialization that they underwent during the Nazi regime and which could have led to the development of extreme racism. The existence of this radical racism can be cited as the main reason why there were no open oppositions to anti-Jewish policies and actions by the Nazi regime (Hiden& Housden, 2008, p.96).
On the other hand, there are documented accounts of ordinary Germans who went out of their way and took risks to assist their Jewish neighbors. It would, therefore, be wrong to assume that all Germans had the same levels of radical anti-Semitism that could have led them to abet the persecution of the Jews.
This paper concludes that to a certain degree, the eliminationist anti-Semitism mentality was present especially among the members who formed the execution units, but there is need to put into consideration the prevailing political and socioeconomic factors that could have influenced the decisions made by ordinary Germans especially those who were actively involved in helping their neighbors.
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