Understanding the Holocaust: A Deep Dive into Atrocities and Aftermath
The Roots of the Holocaust
The Holocaust is presumably the greatest genocide we know about; these atrocities thrived not because of the fear in the ranks/ not following orders as often misunderstood but because of the prevalent anti-Semitism, racism, and hate that was cultivated, praised, and allowed to thrive during that time period. Calling the Holocaust an ethnic cleanse downplays it. We need to understand that ethnic cleansing and genocide are two different things; Jews were not removed from certain geographic they were systematically murdered.
Why did the Holocaust happen? Was already a brewing stereotype and hatred for the Jews in Germany? The country/ Germany was already a broken nation after the ww1. They needed someone/ a group to blame. Hitler strongly believed in eugenics; to fulfill/test this pseudo-scientific theory of a racial hierarchy he strongly believed in, he needed a scapegoat. He played on the German’s vulnerability, basically conditioning them to believe the Jews were the reason for all their problems.
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The Vulnerability of Children During the Holocaust
Children were particularly vulnerable during the Holocaust era; before the escalated, Jews children were being denounced in class for being Jewish. The killings of these kids were justified under the grounds of preventive measures. According to the United States Holocaust memorial museum, about 93% of the Jewish children population were dead. To give a clearer picture, of the nine thousand prisoners liberated from Auschwitz, only 451 were children. There were routine ‘children actions’ carried out to reduce the number of kids in the camps, and gassing of children and pregnant mothers upon arrival was the norm at most of the camps.
It is important to know that while there were cases of anti-Nazism, being anti-Nazi did not automatically mean being a sympathetic Jew helper. The 7% that survived faced a future with no familiar face/family, and for some, that was even worst/ worse than dying. There were a few factors that increased survival rates, the ability to look ‘German/Aryan’ being the best booster. However, ‘blue-eyes blonde hair did not always guarantee a pass, as we saw in the case of this often? This leads to the question; How exactly did the Nazis construct an Aryan identity. Who decided who had ‘good blood’? Why was blue eyes and blonde hair a marker of that blood in some cases and in other cases not enough?
The Struggle for Survival and Identity
Ultimately, avoiding the camps came down to these two decisions; can you openly pass as a non-Jew? Or are you small and quiet enough to be hidden in tiny spaces like attics, chicken coops even barns? Even with that, you would have to be strong enough to be able to move from hideout to hideout without being caught. For a good number of these kids, the emotional trauma was too much. It was also very hard to find a family willing to keep them for so long.
There were a couple of organizations that helped link Jews with sympathetic non-Jew helpers. These organizations focused more on children as it was easier to place them. Most of these organs, as you can imagine, were in Western Europe. There was a Committee de Defense Des Juifs, a Zionist youth movement in Budapest, that helped with falsifying documents. Also, the network called Circuit Garel was set in place by the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) in southern France; they tried to recuse, race, and transport as many children as possible to Switzerland during the Holocaust.
The Aftermath and Search for Identity Post-Liberation
Life in the camp was very horrible. ‘Plenty of empty beds in the infants’ shelter even though the birth rate in the camps was relatively high.’ -Hava Volovich. Children born at these camps were murdered immediately. Records from the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum show that children from the age of six months and upwards were helped at the camp, where they died by the thousands. They were not seen as any different from the adults even though their bodies could not handle as much. Many of these kids, especially twins, were the subject of different inhumane pseudo-medical experiments while at the camp. A majority of the children liberated at Auschwitz were only alive because they were supposed to be used for medical research. These atrocities went on up until the final days before the liberation.
Liberation for the surviving 7% did not mean light at the end of the tunnel; some of them had forgotten what it was like to even be themselves, and they hid and blended so well that they had forgotten their true identities. In comparison, others had to deal with survivals guilt. A good example of forgotten identity was the case of Menachem Frenkel, Rescued by the OSE alongside other kids on their way to Auschwitz and taken to a private institution to increase his chances of survival. Menachem was there for so long that he forgot he was Jewish and ate pork like every other French boy up until the age of nine.
After the liberation, the painful search for other relatives who survived began. There were various efforts by various organizations like the Jewish relief organization a lot of them were not fruitful. However, a reunion was not a blessing for all. Some children were away for far too long. An example will be Renee Fritz, A Jewish child hidden in Belgium. She said, ‘I had been separated from my mother so long that mother did not mean anything to me.’ There were a number of cases where parents trying to get back their children were met with resistance and hostility by these same kids.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Children During the Holocaust.”
- Volovich, Hava. Quoted in “Plenty of empty beds in the infants’ shelter even though the birth rate in the camps was relatively high.” – Hava Volovich.