Holocaust Remembrance Day: Lessons to learn from the darkest chapter of history
The Holocaust is among the darkest chapters in the history of mankind. It was the first time an entire people were systematically targeted, discriminated against, persecuted, and murdered on an industrial scale for their religious persuasion.
But this genocide against the Jewish people did not occur in a vacuum. The Holocaust was the result of a prolonged and sinister campaign against the Jewish people.
While the shocking nature of barbarism, violence, and mass murder pushes the Holocaust to the focal point of historians, the strategy that enabled the Nazis to systemically target an entire people without much resistance needs to be studied.
A bit of history.
Following Germany's humiliating defeat during World War 1 in 1914, the Germans were compelled to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make considerable territorial surrender, and pay reparations that were the equivalent of US$442 billion in 2022.
The treaty caused great resentment among Germans, who felt that the politicians had stabbed them in the back.
The Great Depression in Germany during the 1930s added to the woes of an already fragile nation. Unemployment was high, and so was inflation, which eroded the purchasing power for regular people.
At such a juncture, people often look toward easy scapegoats.
Despite the fact that Jews had integrated into German society, many indigenous Germans perceived them as outsiders. There was resentment based on antisemitism, but it was seldom overt. In fact, the history of antisemitism and persecution of the Jewish people in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages.
The Nazis under Hitler managed to channel all public resentment toward the Jews. The historical antisemitism made the feelings more potent.
A relentless and systematic campaign against the Jews is what led to the Holocaust.
The following measures were applied:
Blaming their political opponents for the Reichstag Fire
When the German parliament building caught fire in 1933, the Nazis claimed that it was a communist plot to overthrow the government. The Nazi propaganda machinery was used to whip the nation into a frenzy against the communists. They abolished freedom of expression, assembly, privacy, and the press; legalized interception of communications; and suspended the autonomy of federated states. Four thousand people were imprisoned.
The Nazis claimed that the communists were predominantly Jewish. The fact that Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Rosa Luxemburg were Jewish made their case easier.
Some historians have claimed that the fire was a false-flag operation by the Nazis, but this is a matter of dispute.
In 1931, the German government discovered plans for a Nazi takeover in which Jews would be denied food, and persons refusing to surrender their guns within 24 hours would be executed. In reaction, the government authorized the registration of all firearms and the confiscation thereof, if required for "public safety."
In 1933, when the Nazis seized power, they used the gun registry to identify, disarm, and attack political opponents and Jews. Constitutional rights were suspended, and mass searches for and seizures of guns and dissident publications ensued.
The Nazis ensured that armed Jewish resistance against the Nazis would be very difficult, almost impossible.
The Nazis propagandists falsely claimed that the Jews exploited the misery of World War 1 to enrich themselves and that Jews dominated the peace negotiations and caused the nation to "surrender," causing permanent "enslavement."
Propaganda via mass media
Under the Nazis, the mainstream media were co-opted, and the dissenting press was shut down. There was no difference between utterances from the Nazi regime and what appeared in the print and on the radio. The movie industry was also co-opted to make propaganda films that masqueraded as regular films.
Newspapers such as Der Stürmer regularly carried cartoons with unaesthetic caricatures of Jews. Filmmakers carried pro-Nazi messages while they demeaned Jews in their films.
Jewish classical composers, such as Mendelssohn and Mahler, were banned, while Wagner was promoted.
It was a sinister strategy of propaganda and censorship to brainwash a people against the Jews, which would create grounds for persecution.
Universities in Nazi Germany were strictly controlled by Nazis. All Jewish faculty members were dismissed, creating career opportunities that were popular with non-Jewish faculty and students. The Nazis recruited professors and lecturers to indoctrinate students about Nazi ideology while inculcating antisemitism. University curricula were developed to emphasize German achievements and ignore or deride Jewish achievements.
Co-opting the Legal System
Judges were ordered to take an oath of loyalty to Nazis and to adjudicate in favor of the Nazis. Lawyers were mandated to join the Nazi Lawyers' Association, which meant they could be controlled. "People's Courts" were set up in 1934 to try those accused of "crimes against the state."
In Nazi Germany, any dissent against groupthink, even in moderation, was crushed with brute force.
Mere utterances or pledges of loyalty were not sufficient; the Nazis wanted citizens to be true believers. The fear caused the citizenry to compete against one another to demonstrate their belief. This even included reporting those who were deemed traitors.
Laws were instituted that introduced "protective custody" for what Orwell terms thoughtcrimes. Hence, people could be arrested and interned despite not breaking laws.
Books by Jewish authors or that didn't adhere to the groupthink were burned in public ceremonies.
These draconian measures caused a major deterrence in the minds of any potential dissenters.
Adolf Hitler believed in the superiority of the "Aryan Master Race." This race-baiting was crucial for creating grounds for the Nuremberg Race Laws that deprived Jews of German citizenship and forbade marriage or sexual relations between Jews and "citizens of German or kindred blood."
Access restriction and boycotts of Jews
Special identity cards were issued to Jews, and they were restricted access to cinema, theatre, beaches, and hotels. Educational institutes were restricted to Jewish students. Jewish businesses were boycotted.
The scale, the systemic persecution, and genocide of the Jews by the Nazis make the Holocaust unique. Casual comparisons to any modern occurrences are particularly insensitive to the millions of victims and trivialize its graveness. The word Nazi, hence, should never be used lightly.
However, occurrences in Germany that led to the Holocaust must be remembered because a thorough knowledge of history it the only way to prevent recurrences.
The citizenry must therefore be vigilant when the powerful attempt to demonize a group as "deplorable" or blame them for problems by using phrases such as "pandemic of the unvaccinated" or use pejorative epithets such as "flyover country."
When civil liberties are encroached upon or access to public places is restricted for "the greater good" or protesting citizens is deemed "domestic terrorist" or a break into a government building is called terrorism the citizen must not take it lightly.
When politicians refer to confiscation of guns, it must be taken seriously.
When academia, the Judiciary, the press, and the entertainment industry relentlessly parrot the narrative of the groupthink, the citizen must be attentive.
When wokeness is used to shut down those who don't subscribe to the approved thoughts and vocabulary, the citizen must fight back.
While the nation may be light-years away from Nazi Germany, it takes a few steps to begin a journey.
Being a passive spectator results in the emboldening of totalitarians. The citizens therefore must be attentive and fearless proponents for freedom.