English 12 -1862
May 13, 2009
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored organized maltreatment and execution of Jewish people by Nazi Germany. Jews were believed to be inferior and were treated as such. Concentration camps and extermination camps were created to imprison the large number of Jews and work them to death. Gas chambers and crematorium were created as a merciful death for prisoners who were mentally ill, handicap, elderly, and too young and too sick to work. People were selected daily for death. An estimation of six million individuals were murdered before the Holocaust prisoners were finally liberated and Nazi Germany was defeated.
The enslavement and extermination of the Jewish people during the Nazi Regime between the years of 1938 and 1944 was known as the Holocaust. The Holocaust was an era in time when millions of innocent human beings were murdered and forced into intensive labor. Countless of individuals were stripped of their rights, property and life. The majority of these individuals were Jewish. Jewish people were blamed for all that was wrong within the world. The main person at fault for this act of violence was Adolf Hitler who was the leader of the Nazi regime and the man who put forth the plans to rid the land of Jewish people and any other race he considered inferior (Rees par 8). Any individual who survived immediate execution was placed in labor camps. These labor camps were known as concentration camps. Within such places prisoners were forced to live and work in inhumane conditions. Nazis were able to enslave Jews by using dehumanization, fear, and pain to control. Jewish slaves were in constant danger of losing their lives due to harsh labor, diseases, and the experimentation they faced daily. Although the labor was harsh and at times cruel it was also thought of in a positive light. Many survivors discuss the emotional experience of living as a prisoner within the Nazi regime. Among the individual stories from Night by Elie Wiesel, Bondi’s Brother by Irving Roth, Witness: Voices from the Holocaust Edited by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar, and ”Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state” by Laurence Rees this essay will explore the depths of the unjustified imprisonment of Jews by the Nazi regime.
An important tactic used within the Nazi Regime to gain control over Jewish prisoners was dehumanization. The prisoners who entered the labor camps were stripped of their property and individuality. The changes were so drastic that it was almost impossible to recognize themselves. “They told us to strip naked and carry our shoes in our hands… One by one we were shaved. First our heads, then our underarms and finally our pubic hair… I stared at Bondi and Zoli. They no longer looked human. I wondered what I looked like” (Roth 52). It’s as if the Nazis were breaking them down and then building them into something that was less than human. Dehumanization is an important method to enslaving any human being. Without such methods, enslaving an individual and keeping them enslaved would be a more difficult task.
In order to keep track of every prisoners within the concentration camps the Nazi officials labeled each prisoner with a number and kept an organized system. The organized numbers was not only placed in a file with the individuals name but it was also tattooed on the prisoners arm. Roth, writer of Bondi’s Brother is a survivor of the Holocaust. He describes the emotions felt the moment the Nazis took his arm and tattooed a long number on it. This action in itself had an entirely different meaning to prisoners like Roth. Roth writes “We were told to arrange ourselves in alphabetical order… They tattooed the number on my arm and on a piece of paper along with my name… I got a new name… I was branded like a horse, and I was happy. It meant that I was important enough to get a number. Workers get numbers, not people who go up the chimneys” (Roth 54). The chimney is a reference to the furnace they burned the dead prisoners. Such a branding was seen in a positive light. I have wondered why those with a branding like that did not have it removed, but now it makes sense that it was a mark of survival. It meant a chance at life and a step away from the death that always lurked around the corner as a prisoner within the Nazi regime.
Survivors who spoke over the experience within the Nazi regime described the many threats they had to face on a daily basis. “Most prisoners who survived initial selection for death spent their waning energies struggling simply to stay alive. Threats to life included exhaustion, starvation, disease, beatings, and frequent selection. Some who could not bear the horror committed suicide” (Greene and Kumar 127). It says a great deal of what a human being is capable of when faced in dire circumstances. Everyday they were in danger and kept moving forward in hopes of another day of life. Living was so important that it didn’t matter what conditions they were in so long as they could say that they were living.
As slaves, Jews faced cruel and unusual punishments within the Nazi regime. They were required to do jobs that could lead to death. “Camp prisoners were forced to work under conditions that would directly and deliberately lead to illness, injury, and death… Emaciated prisoners were forced to run up 186 steps out of a stone quarry while carrying heavy boulders” (Rees Par 4). It is a cruel punishment to have someone carry a heavy object while they walk up dangerous steps, yet Jewish prisoners were forced to do just that. This is only one of the many activities Jewish prisoners were required to do. It is no wonder that many deaths occurred during the required labor prisoners dealt with.
Many victims describe the forced labor as a method to survival. It allowed a slave a chance to focus on the task at hand instead of the many dangers they faced. “I realize that people do go to work, and I figured if I go to work [it] will help because the others [were] sitting around and waiting for destruction. They were taking us out to fieldwork, digging ditches” (Greene and Kumar 130). It was important to stay busy and push forward. It’s extremely impressive that an individual can find solace during a circumstance that offers none. In a way labor was a blessing to certain individuals. Whether they were digging holes or moving rocks from one place to another it all led to one more day, and one more chance at life.
The range of tasks that were required of the Jewish prisoners was numerous. Many labor camps were contracted by corporations to have the prisoners work within their organization for a good sum of money. “In exceptional cases, concentration camp prisoners were “leased” to private firms, such as the I.G. Farben synthetic fuel and rubber plants… After the incorporation of the camps into the WVHA in 1942, the SS increasingly engaged concentration camp prisoners in producing for the German war effort, deploying them, still under SS guard, to German state-owned firms and private firms, which compensated the SS for the increasingly scarce labor” (Rees par 15). Supply and demand was true even under these circumstances. These corporations that funded such activity made it acceptable for individuals to be treated in such a manner. The forced slavery industry was very profitable. The Nazi regime truly thrived economically. It didn’t matter what a slave’s skill was. They simply had to the job that the Nazis leased them out to do.
Editors Greene and Kumar’s Witness: Voices from the Holocaust help to reveal the existence of a camp that was used to destroy and dispose of the selected prisoners to be killed. Greene and Kumar describe the work the prisoners in camp three were required to do. “In [camp] three, about fifty, sixty Jews worked there. They did the dirty work there. They gassed bodies, they threw on the fire, and all that kind of chores” (Greene and Kumar 154). The individuals forced to work in camp three were faced with the worst of the concentration camps, as they were killing and burning the bodies of people that they may have known or cared for at one point or another. Many individuals were faced with gassing and burning the bodies of loved ones.
The gas chambers were devices used to murder selected prisoners within the Nazi regime with the use of poisonous gas. Leading officials within the Nazi regime felt that by using methods such as the gas chamber to kill undesirable prisoners it would be a much more humane way to eliminate people. “Rudolf Höss a Nazi official wrote… ‘I was always horrified of executions by firing squads. Now I was relieved to think that we would be spared all these bloodbaths.’ Death by gas was a more efficient way to murder people—psychologically better for the killers, not for the victims” (Rees par 3-4). It is amazing how one can be so worried about the human psyche yet actually perform activities that destroy it in more ways than one. It’s obvious that Rudolf Höss could not stomach the thought or idea of people being brutally executed and yet it does not make him any less of a murderer.
Like most weapons, the gas chamber was created through ideas and experimentation. The main experiment that led to the gas chamber was the use of a van and carbon monoxide. “The Nazis' experimented with carbon monoxide. Deported Jews … were led through a basement corridor and then up a ramp to a small windowless room that turned out to be the cargo area of a large van. Once the van was full, the doors were slammed shut, and as it was driven to a nearby forest, exhaust fumes were routed into the back, asphyxiating the trapped victims” (Rees par 7). The victims of this very experiment were never even given a chance to work. The only task they were able to do was unknowingly participate in an experiment. They had no rights to their own lives. They were obligated to walk into a large van and be the very first individuals gassed by the Nazis.
Experimention was a regular task within the Nazi regime, and often the Jewish prisoners were victims to it. A witness by the name of Ann describes the types of experiments done. “There was the block for experiment. And they, they used to do in the womb three injections, and they put women in X-rays to sterile the girls. And the twin children too… Nobody survived (Greene and Kumar 147). Why exactly they put three injections into the womb is beyond my knowledge. This brings about the questions of how many other kinds of experiments were there. It’s not a question of why they did experiments on slaves, but really why not do experiments on slaves?
Nazis had the advantage of knowing exactly how a human body would react in certain situations without worrying about them complaining or fighting against them.
Another witness of the experimentation speaks of women being asked to volunteer into specific experiments in exchange for extra food. The witness also points out the different experiments done to girls that lead to their death. “They said they need for experiment well bodies and healthy girls. And they would get in exchange for cooperation a loaf of bread everyday… They were experimentation [to see] why women with beautiful eyes had very healthy eyes… They would cut their spine and takeout fluid, and-and gynecological” (Greene and Kumar 149). For a loaf of bread individuals allowed themselves to be experimented on. It is surprising that Nazis had the decency to ask for volunteers instead of forcing their participation. The simple fact that prisoners were asked to volunteer is a kind of contradiction within the entire structure of the Nazi regime. Why ask for something that they had the opportunity to take?
The emotional, spiritual and physical effects of being a slave within the Nazi Regime can be seen in Wiesel’s Night. Wiesel describes the anger and conflict felt for his God. It was an anger that had risen as they entered the concentration camp and he thought he was going to face death. “For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible master of the universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?” (Wiesel 33). It is only logical that there would be anger towards the very being you are told is suppose to protect and be righteous when you are forced to walk straight into deaths hands. Wiesel states that the eternal and terrible master of the universe chose to be silent; the fact that he acknowledges that there is a God who has chosen to be silent, makes it obvious that he still believes in God. It is as though he needs someone or something to blame for the ugliness seen as a slave within the Nazi regime.
In rare cases, individuals who had spent quite some time within the concentrations camps had survived starvation and death by turning to cannibalism. A survivor describes the sight of finding a friend bleeding to death after other slaves tried to eat him. “The people who had first arrived had turned to cannibalism and because of the blood falling from him, attacked and ate him” (Greene and Kumar 163). The starvation being faced within the labor camps had forced individuals to become something beyond who they once were. It was survival of the fittest and by turning to cannibalism, they made the step to survive and live no matter what had to be done. Many of them became the very animals the Nazis believed them to be.
The enslavement of Jews within the Nazi regime was one of the harshest forms of slavery known in history. Nazis used dehumanization to gain control and used Jewish prisoners to advance in technology through experimentation, and even gain economic profit. Jewish prisoners struggled to live as they dealt with disease, exhaustion, harsh living conditions and daily abuse from the Nazi officials who controlled and monitored their every move.
Greene, Joshua M. and Shiva Kumar, Ed. Witness: Voices from the Holocaust. New York: The Free Press, 2000.
Rees, Laurence. “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state.” PBS Home. NPR. 14 April 2009. <www.pbs.org... /40-45/background/>
Roth, Irving. Bondi’s Brother. Williston Park, NY: Shoah Educational Enterprise, 2004.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. Trans. Marion Wiesel. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.