In the Second World War, a man named Adolph Hitler, the leader of the infamous Nazi regime, had a plethora of things on his mind. From guarding the stricken land of Poland against Soviet advancement, to making sure the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean in France were closely guarded, Hitler had much to worry about. Unfortunately, it was during Hitlers reign when a most horrible atrocity took place. Adolph Hitler was born on April 20th, 1889 in a small hamlet named Braunau Am Inn, just across the border from German Bavaria. Hitlers childhood was often riddled with abuse and physical beatings.
His family lived in a small farmhouse with 10 other people. Because of this, Adolphs older brother, Alois, ran away from home. As a child, Hitler was fascinated with art. He begged his father to let him attend a classical secondary school, but his father would have nothing to do with it. He insisted that his son follow in his footsteps as a civil servant. As a result, Hitler, in his first year of civil school, failed miserably, claiming he did so on purpose to spite his father. Around the age of 13, Hitler, as a result of living on the German-Austrian border, became interested in German nationalism.
A few years later, after his fathers death, 18-year-old Adolph decided it was time to try his luck in art, and moved to Vienna. After failing miserably in art, he became interested in politics. At the time, the mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, was an anti-Semite and Jew hater. Even though Hitler still had a few Jewish friends, the messages from Lueger began to sink in (Gilber 24). Hitler left Austria at the age of 24 years old, partly to leave the Austrian empire which he had started to hate, and, in part, to avoid required military service. At this time, it was 1914, and World War I had broken out.
Hitler found a sense of pride and belonging in the German army during The War. He was not a great soldier, but was stoic, and was awarded with the Iron cross at the end of the war. After the war, Hitler became increasingly anti-Semitic, which won the attention of his superiors (Gilber 37). At the end of 1919, the German army had Hitler, now age 30, look into an organization called the German Workers Party. Soon after, Hitler joined and became head of propaganda. The party fiercely attacked Communism, and was heavily anti-Semitic. As more and more people feared Communist revolution in Germany, the more and more people joined the party.
In 1920, Hitler modified a common ancient symbol to form the swastika, or twisted cross, as a symbol for his party. He then changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers Party, or, in the shortened German form, the NAZI party (Keegan 65). By 1921, the Nazi party had over 3000 members, mostly drawing in large numbers of ultra-conservatives from Munich. In late 1921, Hitler traveled to Berlin to try and find more members for his party, but quickly returned, for the members of his party had signed a coup, which attempted to try and overthrow Hitler.
Offended, Hitler resigned his position, only to be asked to join again two weeks later. He knew the party was nothing without him (Gilber 54). Between 1921 and 1923, Germany had collapsed into financial ruin. Germany was presented with a 33 billion dollar bill, as reparations as a result of World War I. Inflation hit the roof, and the economy was finished. It took 4 billion marks to buy a loaf of bread. Life savings were completely wiped out. As a result, riots broke out. These riots incited extremist political groups into action, quickly bringing Germany to the brink of chaos.
In 1923, the Nazis had a party population of 55,000 members, far more than any extremist group vying for power. Hitler, knowing this, devised a plan, in which the Nazis would kidnap the leaders of the Bavarian government, and hold them at gunpoint until they accepted Hitler as their leader. The kidnapping was supposed to take place at a beer hall in Munich, for there was a party, and the guests of honor were the officials in the Bavarian government. On November 8th, 1923, SA troops (Hitlers personal bodyguards), under the direction of Hermann Goering, burst into the beer hall.
Hitler fired a shot to the ceiling, and demanded everyone silent. He made his way to the podium, and proclaimed, the National Revolution has begun! The Bavarian and Reich governments have been removed, and a provisional government formed (Gilber 76). Of course, none of this was true, but the people in the beer hall did not know the difference. Hitler ordered the 3 Bavarian officials to a back room, and proclaimed I have four bullets in this gun: three for you gentlemen, and one for me. (Gilber 77). The three gentlemen finally succumbed to the Nazi government.
They then went out to the podium in the beer hall, and publicly announced their loyalty to Hitler. All four, including Hitler then sang Deutschland uber Alles, the song of the Nazis. Hitler couldnt have been more pleased. Hitler left the beer hall in pure happiness. This proved to be a fatal mistake for Hitler, for after he left the hall, the revolution fizzled into nothing, he was captured, tried for treason, and, on November 21st, 1923, Hitler was put in jail for five years (Gilber 79). While in jail, Hitler funneled all of his hatred-driven energy into a book, titled Mein Kampf.
Hitler originally wanted to title his autobiography Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice, yet Hitlers publisher knew better. In the book, Hitler rambled from one subject to the next, one minute blaming the Jews for Germanys loss in World War I, and the next, talking about his future ambitions. It clearly made no sense. In 1925, Hitler was released from prison for being good, and arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister of Bavaria. The intent of the meeting was to ask the Prime Minister to lift the recently imposed ban on the Nazi party in Germany.
Yet, again, though, Hitler started to rant and rave during the meeting about Communism, and again threatened to rip apart Germanys government. Because of this, Hitler was banned from public speaking in Germany for 2 years, and the ban was not lifted (Gilber 98). During this two year period, Hitler reorganized the Nazi party, because he needed to have a smooth transition, if, in fact, he took control of the Reich government. In 1928, Hitler met Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi member, and quickly made him chief propaganda man. With Goebbels working hard making posters, billboards, signs, Hitler gained more and more support.
In 1929, the American stock market crashed, and Hitler felt that it was time to seize the power he had wanted. The stock market crash in America affected Germany just as much, because America was still giving Germany help financially from the First World War. Because America needed money so badly, they forced Germany to pay back all of the loans at once. This drove Germany into an even greater economic despair. For some reason or another, Hitler attracted the wealthy, aristocratic families of Germany by his dynamic speeches. Because of this, these families decided to give Hitler private financial help in order to keep the party alive.
At the end of 1929, Hitler had 100,000 total devoted members in his Nazi party, yet he would need to do much more to achieve any high-end position (Source #3) The Great Depression also split up the German Parliament, or Reichstag. No one had any idea how to fix the economic problems in Germany, so, in retaliation, President Hindenburg ordered the Reichstag dissolved at once, and a new election be held. In this new election for the Reichstag, the Nazi party gained over 6,000,000 votes, giving them 18 percent of the popular vote, and 107 seats in the Reichstag. This was achieved because of great parades and meetings arranged by Goebbels.
Hitler told crowds what they wanted to hear, using his over-bearing speaking voice (Source #3). In 1931, Hitler was having serious personal problems. His mistress, named Geil, was tired of someone always escorting her around. So, when Hitler told her not to leave a hotel room when he went away on a speaking tour, she shot herself through the heart. Hitler was a broken man. One man once said that at Christmas that year, he was dining at Hitlers home in the Bavarian mountains, and ham was served. Hitler was disgusted at the sight of the ham saying, eating the ham is like eating a corpse, and he never ate meat again.
This depression, though, did not stop Hitler from running up against President Hindenburg for the Presidency of Germany in 1932. Hitler lost the first round of the Presidency, but since there was no majority vote, another vote was cast. Hitler lost again, and lost the majority. Even though they lost, the Nazis had gained great popularity, and the present government of Germany was unstable, at best (Keegan 87). On July 17th, 1932, also called Bloody Sunday, Hitler marched over 400,000 SA and SS troops into a heavily Communistic part of Germany. Bullets were exchanged, and 19 Communists were dead, along with 300 wounded.
Later that month, another vote was taken. This time, Hitler won 37 percent of the vote, giving the party majority in the Reichstag. Hitler demanded Hindenburg give him Chancellor ship. The President refused, and only offered him vice-Chancellor ship. Hitler was outraged. Before the new Nazi government ousted him, the Chancellor ordered that the Reichstag be dissolved, and elections held again. Rumor got out that the Chancellor that was currently in office was backstabbing the President. Not wanting this, Hindenburg immediately made Hitler Chancellor (Keegan 101).
The next election was supposed to take place on March 5th, 1933. Hitlers officials came up with a master plan, which would insure Hitler a victory. The night before, the Nazis helped a Communist arsonist burn down the Reichstag building, and the next day, the Nazis blamed it on the Communists. Because of this, the voters voted in favor of Hitler, giving him 44% of the votes, and full dictatorial powers. He had finally won. The reign had begun. Hitler wasted no time, persecuting anyone political that was anti-Nazi. As early as 1934, two prisons were built strictly for political prisoners.
These prisons, or concentration camps, were set in Germany, and named Dachau (1934) and Buchenwald (1935). Laws were made which restricted the rights of non-Aryan people. To Hitler, an Aryan person was of German dissent, with blonde hair and blue eyes. These non-Aryans included Roma, Gypsies, and especially, Jews. Jews were not allowed to own any business or trade. Jews could not be bankers. Other laws were put into place, which stated that Jews could not leave the country, yet this law was not fully enforced until 1939. Anyone against the Nazis was arrested. The terror was forming.
In 1935, Hitler, in violation of the Versailles treaty, marched SS troops into the Rhineland. Under the Versailles treaty, the Rhineland would not be touched or remilitarized by the German army, unless the Allies granted proper authority. Later in the year, the army marched into the Saar, a region rich in mineral and coal deposits. This land too, was not to be touched, yet the Allies did not do anything about it. In early 1936, Hitler marched his troops south, into Czechoslovakia, and demanded that the area in northern Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland, be given to him.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Britain heard about Hitlers doings and demanded to see him at once. He and Hitler had a meeting in a railroad car, where they discussed the partitioning of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain used the policy of appeasement, giving Hitler the Sudetenland, in exchange for Hitlers word that he would not advance any farther into Czechoslovakia. Hitler agreed, and the Sudetenland was his. Later on in the year, Hitler broke his promise with Chamberlain, and took over the entire country of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain was enraged, but did nothing about it (Gilber 113).
In 1937, Germany met with the Austrian Prime Minister to discuss a possible alliance. A pact, or anschluss was made with Austria, saying Germany would not advance onto Austrian soil. This, in part, made Germany and Austria one large country, with Hitler as the dictator. Hitlers first move of anti-Semitism against the Jews came in November of 1938. One night, SS troops from all over attacked Jewish communities in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. The SS destroyed shops, businesses, synagogues, and anything else they deemed to be Jewish.
Large amounts of Jews were deported to different concentration camps in the Reich, where they were subjected to unusually brutal treatment. From then on, the Jews of Europe were in a constant state of panic. In July of 1939, Hitler and his top advisors were planning an invasion of Germanys eastern neighbor, Poland. They felt that they should expand eastward. On August 31st, 1939, a group of Polish nationalists violently invaded a radio tower on the border of Germany and Poland. Three German men were killed because of the break-in. Hitler heard about this and was enraged. The next morning, at 7:00, September 1st, 1939, 1. illion troops plunged over the Polish border.
Tanks, airplanes, and heavy guns were also employed. This German blitzkrieg or lightning war was unbearable. The Polish air force was immediately destroyed. The Polish army fought a losing battle against the German force, fighting back with old rifles and men on horseback. Within 3 days, Great Britain had declared war on Germany. The next day, France, staying loyal to its ally, declared war on Germany. This was the very spark plug, which ignited World War II (Source #4). Now, Hitler had two wars: one against the Allies, and the other against the Jews.
He really wanted to get rid of the Jews of the Europe. Ever since he lived in Vienna, with Karl Lueger as mayor, Hitler had developed a strong hatred for Jews. Now, one question loomed: What should the Nazi Party do to get rid of the Jews? This was the question that occupied Hitler’s mind. Hitler did not come up with the solution to the \”Jewish question\” himself, he had trustworthy people working on the solution for him. Hermann Goering, Hitlers Luftwaffe general and second hand man, was given the job of planning the master plan without drawing the world’s attention to the killing that would take place (Source #5).
At first, nobody knew about the plan to exterminate the Jews besides Hitler and his very close advisors. Slowly, the news got out and other government officials gradually became aware of what was going on. The whole Nazi government soon knew about the plan that Hitler was trying to carry out. The first major step towards the Final Solution came when Goering ordered the evacuation of all Jewish people to ghettos that were sealed off from the rest of the world. There were many different ghettos that the Jewish people evacuated to, located throughout Nazi-controlled territories.
Some, like the ghetto of Lodz, held 230,000 Jews within their limits. Other ghettos, such as Warsaw, held up to 500,000 Jews and Poles. The conditions in these ghettos went from bad to worse. The people inside the walls were treated terribly. They suffered from malnutrition, exhaustion, and sickness. Goering had every ghetto strategically placed near railroad lines so he could easily accomplish the final goal, which became to destroy the Jewish people. Once the Nazis had rounded up all of the Jewish people, they had each ghetto report its population, financial assets, and the occupation of every person held within.
The Nazis confiscated the Jews’ assets in order to finance the ghettos. During that time, Goering came up with one way of destroying the Jews. He formed the Einsatzgruppen, which was a group of Waffen SS, which went around Eastern Europe, mass killing people. The Waffen SS would have the Jews line up along side a large mass grave, which they would make them dig. They would then be cut down with machine gun fire, and their bodies would fall into the grave. The SS would then bury the evidence. When the SS leader Heinrich Himmler witnessed one of these executions, he ordered a new, \”humane\” method to be developed for killing.
These mass executions were the second step towards carrying out the Final Solution (Gilber 135-137). Soon, a new form of execution was used on the Jewish people. They would be loaded into trailers and told they were being relocated. This trailer was a sealed compartment and was attached to the exhaust pipe of the truck that was towing it. This way, the Jewish people would be dead after a short drive to the gravesite, where their bodies would be thrown into a large ditch that had been pre-dug by Jewish slave labor. The truck would then return to the ghetto to get more Jews.
When the ditch was filled, they would kill the slave laborers, throw them on top, and once again, bury or burn the evidence. This form of execution was deemed inefficient because at most, only 25 people could be killed per trip. Plus, there was the unpleasant task of carrying the bodies from the truck to the burial site (Keegan 113). The next form of execution was the use of large gas chambers. The first camp to experiment with the use of gas chambers was at Brandenburg, which was a former prison. Euthanasia of the sick and disabled was easily carried out here.
Patients were lead into what appeared to be shower rooms, but were really hermetically sealed chambers connected to cylinders of carbon monoxide. The Nazis would turn on the gas and in about 25 minutes, all of the people inside the large shower room would be dead. Families of the patients were then notified that their loved ones had died from either heart failure or pneumonia. The bodies were then cremated at a very large crematorium inside the prison (Source #3). When Hitler realized how efficient the prison was at Brandenburg, he ordered that many of the existing concentration camps be fitted with gas chambers.
The town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) in Poland was selected to be the main death camp for Jewish people. Rudolf Hoess was chosen to be the Kommandant of Auschwitz and to instructed to oversee the killing that went on there. As Himmler told Hoess, \”The Fuhrer has ordered the Final Solution of the Jewish question. We, the SS, have to carry out this order… I have therefore chosen Auschwitz for this purpose. \” (Gilber 138). With this came the order for ghettos to be evacuated and the Jewish inhabitants be brought to Auschwitz to be put to death. By the end of the Second World War, Auschwitz could process over 9,000 bodies each day.
At first, the Nazis used carbon monoxide as they had in the Euthanasia centers, and at a camp called Chelmno, in which great vans were constructed with carbon monoxide tubes, to kill the Jews. Soon, experiments in 1941 found that Zyklon-B, a common industrial strength plant disinfectant, killed people much quicker than the carbon monoxide. Less Zyklon-B was needed to kill the same number of people as carbon monoxide. On January 20th, 1942, the Nazi leaders met at the Wannsee Conference to coordinate how to finish carrying out the Final Solution.
This conference also let many of the military leaders of the Nazi party know the details about the plan for the Jews. At the conference, the fate of over eleven million Jews was discussed. Evacuations of Jews to designated areas and where they were to be exterminated was planned among the military leaders. Plans for every country’s Jewish population in Europe were laid out. The SS did not want the Jews to reappear after the exterminations were finished because a few Jews had survived. A series of four camps were to be built for extermination purposes only.
The names of these camps were Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Chelmno (mentioned earlier). These camps were all located in Eastern Poland, for reasons of conspicuousness. The prisoners would immediately be processed on arrival at these camps. Yet, these camps all used carbon monoxide gas, which was very inefficient (Keegan 149). To get rid of the evidence of the genocide that was happening, the Nazis had slave labor units dig up the mass graves throughout Europe and burn the bodies, or what was left of the bodies, effectively destroying all of the evidence of the mass killings.
These special units worked throughout the year of 1943. The same would happen when a concentration camp was shut down or moved: everything would be burned, bulldozed, and cleaned. Trees would then be planted, making it seem as if nothing had ever been there. This is one reason that it was very hard to confirm the mass executions that were reportedly going on in Europe. When the Jews arrived at the death camps, their valuables were immediately confiscated. This included all gold, silver, or items of any worth.
These items were then sent to soldiers on the front lines to reward them for their hard work. By September 26, 1942, over 800 boxcars had left Auschwitz with confiscated items headed towards the SS Headquarters of the Economic Administration. Soldiers even sorted through the bodies of the freshly gassed Jews looking for gold teeth, which they would pull out of the body’s mouth with a set of pliers. The hair was even cut off the heads of the women and was used to stuff mattresses and cushions. Clothes and artificial limbs were also taken from the Jews before they were put to death.
The Nazis would then send the clothes to German families, and give the artificial limbs to German soldiers who needed them (Source #5). To get the Jews to the concentration camps, the SS loaded them onto boxcars pulled by trains. For this, the ghettos were placed near railroad tracks. Although when the ghettos were first made, the purpose of the placement so near the railroad tracks was to make it very easy for the SS to transport the Jewish prisoners wherever they were needed. Hitler knew that eventually he would move the Jews in masses from certain areas of Europe.
The death camps became the locations he intended to move the Jewish population to. The location of these ghettos made it simple to quickly move a huge number of Jews from one area of Europe to another. Many of the Jews died on the way to the camps due to lack of oxygen, water, and food. These bodies were usually thrown out of the boxcars when the train stopped. When the Jews arrived at the concentration camps, they were either killed immediately or made to work in a forced labor camp until they were to weak to work any longer, and then they were executed (Source #4).
The Nazis encountered almost no resistance when they loaded the boxcars with Jews to send them to their deaths. This was because none of the Jewish people knew what awaited them at the end of the line. The Jews were told that they were simply being relocated. A good part of the time, the Jews were even allowed to bring a few items on board with them, to reassure them that they were sincerely being moved to another part of Europe. In the end, the Nazis would kill the Jews and steal their possessions. Rarely did a Jew escape this death. Because of this, word about the death camps RARELY ever made it to the isolated ghettos.
By the end of the Second World War, many nations had become controlled by Germany and were forced to conduct the operations Hitler was employing against the Jews. Romania, Italy and Hungary all participated and aided the Germans, only because they were forced to, and threatened that if they didnt participate, they would also meet their death (Gilber 198). The reason the Allies did not try to stop or interfere with Hitler’s Final Solution was mostly because they did not have any proof he was carrying it out. The Allies knew Hitler was moving people in large amounts, but they did not know where or why.
The first inspection of a concentration camp was in June of 1944. The Red Cross inspected Theresienstadt, a camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia that was thoroughly prepared by the Nazis before their arrival. The Red Cross gave the camp a good report. This hindered the rumors of mistreatment and mass execution in the Nazi-controlled areas. The camps were slowly liberated one by one as the Allied forces pushed from both sides of Germany. In the concentration camps, soldiers from the Allied nations often found thousands of emaciated, starving Jews among piles of dead bodies the stench of death was imminent and over-bearing (Source #5)
Even in the last hours of the war, the Nazis tried to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution. As the Allies approached Auschwitz, the guards forced the 25,000 Jews to evacuate the compound and walk over 100 miles in the snow, barefooted. Most of these prisoners ended up in the Buchenwald camp, in Germany, much farther west of the advancing Soviet army. Eventually these prisoners were liberated, but many died on the long trek. On May 1st, 1945, World War II was over, with Germany signing an unconditional surrender. The day before though, Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide by consuming cyanide capsules (Keegan 198).
In conclusion, The Nazi regime’s solution to the problem of what to do with the Jews was to try and kill every last one of them. At first, Hitler took it slow, but as the war progressed, the insanity grew, and so did Hitlers plot. He was out of control. What it comes down to is that Hitler walked the fine line between genius and insanity. His speeches were brilliant, but the results were weak and poor. His idea about the Holocaust was skewed. Was this a man without any morals? This is a question that will continue to plague mankind for history.