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What is the Holocaust? From the Nazi Take-Over in 1933 until mid-1941

The Holocaust was the Nazis’ attempt to murder the Jewish people, first in Europe and ultimately everywhere in the world, if they could, based on their racist, anti-semitic ideology which saw the Jews as an ultimate evil. The project the Nazis undertook regarding the Jews began in 1933 in their search for a solution to the problem that they saw regarding the Jews, and progressed through various stages and developments, right until the end of World War II in 1945.
Nineteen thirty-three was a critical turning point in history and in the history of the story of the Holocaust. The Nazis came to power via democratic means, and then proceeded to use the machinery of democracy to dismantle democracy, and ultimately to pursue those whom they defined as their arch enemy and the ultimate evil - and those were the Jewish people. At the time the Nazis came to power, there were approximately 16 to 17 million Jews in the world, of whom there were about 9 million in Europe at the time, and in Germany itself, approximately half a million or slightly more than that. According to the Nazis’ racist biological anti-semitic view of the world, the German
people, who were part of the Aryan race as they defined it, were the epitome of mankind: They were the most creative, the most cultured, the best in their spirit, they contributed the most to humanity, they were the builders of culture and society. And in that view,
the Jews were the exact opposite: the inverse of humanity. They were the destroyers, they were the parasites, they were the devil incarnate, as the Nazis viewed them. They described them as microbes or germs that destroy the human body from within, and as such, the Jews as a not quite human creature but in human form, posed to the Nazis, in their sinister power that the Nazis imagined, the greatest threat to Germany and to the world.
The Nazis began their pursuit of the Jews and looking for a solution to their problem with the Jews, what they called “The Jewish Question”, from the moment they came to power in 1933. They looked for ways to separate the Jews from German society, and the economy and politics, civil society, and culture and in everything. They boycotted the Jews, passed laws against the Jews, disenfranchised the Jews, kicked the Jews out of citizenship, and tried to force the Jews to emigrate from the Third Reich, as a way of relieving Germany of this threat that the Nazis imagined.
The climax of all that, of the Nazi treatment of the Jews, came in November 1938, with the violent, nationally organized “Kristallnacht Pogrom”, in which thousands of Jewish stores were destroyed, homes were destroyed, more than 1,500 synagogues were burned to the ground, more than 100 Jews were murdered, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps and to prisons. And this pressure on the Jews to leave, to be separated from society, continued and pushed the Jews - indeed, many were leaving as time went on, looking for places to go. In the course of the pre-war years, 1933 to September 1939, approximately half of the German Jews actually left Germany, some 250,000.
Unfortunately for many of them, they ended up going to neighboring countries and being caught. Those who managed to get further away, of course, ended up saving their lives, although they didn’t exactly know that that was the issue when they left.
On September 1st 1939 Germany invaded Poland and that brought the beginning of World War II. And with the invasion of Poland, they suddenly had in their hands an additional nearly two million Jews. Months after that, they invaded Scandinavia and conquered Norway and Denmark, and then Western Europe. They conquered Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France, and with all of these conquests, by the summer of 1940, Germany found itself now not with a problem of a few hundred thousand Jews inside the Third Reich, but with a problem of several million Jews across territories they had conquered in Europe. And they continued their pursuit of some solution to this problem. They looked for places to send the Jews.
Perhaps they could create some gigantic ghetto somewhere, they thought about the Lublin area as one of those solutions - that didn’t work. Perhaps they could shove all the Jews into the Soviet Union, but that didn’t work either - the Soviet Union was not going to receive millions of Jews simply because Germany wanted to get rid of them. They thought of places that were maybe far away, they could push the Jews far, far from Europe, such as the island of Madagascar, but that too was logistically impossible. But this pursuit of a solution was something the Nazis never left.
And once they conquered Poland, and particularly for Eastern European Jews, it was a good option in that local and regional commanders of the Nazis could pursue the idea of putting Jews into ghettos as a kind of holding pen, until they could find a solution for the Jews.

Before we begin to read and discuss our first poems on the Holocaust, we present, in the next two steps, two parts of a video prepared by Yad Vashem, with a short and concise historical overview of the Holocaust.

As you see in the heading, the video in this step will take us up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.

How do you think the developments we have just seen affected the Jews of the countries invaded?

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Poetry and the Holocaust

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