Nazism and the Rise of Hitler
the spring of 1945, a little eleven-year-old German boy called Helmuth
was lying in bed when he overheard his parents discussing something in
serious tones. His father, a prominent physician, deliberated with his
wife whether the time had come to kill the entire family, or if he
should commit suicide alone. His father spoke about his fear of revenge,
saying, 'Now the Allies will do to us what we did to the crippled and
Jews.' The next day, he took Helmuth to the woods, where they spent
their last happy time together, and singing old children's songs. Later,
Helmuth's father shot himself in his office. Helmuth remembers that he
saw his father's bloody uniform being burnt in the family fireplace. So
traumatized was he by what he had overheard and what had happened, that
he reacted by refusing to eat at home for the following nine years! He
was afraid that his mother might poison him.
may not have realized all that it meant, his father had been a Nazi and
a supporter of Adolf Hitler. Many of you will know something about the
Nazis and Hitler. You probably know of Hitler's determination to make
Germany into a mighty power and his ambition of conquering all of
Europe. You may have heard that he killed Jews. But Nazism was not one
or two isolated acts. It was a system, a structure of ideas about the
world and politics. Let us try and understand what Nazism was all about.
Let us see why Helmuth's father killed himself and what the basis of his
In May 1945,
Germany surrendered to the Allies. Anticipating what was coming, Hitler,
his propaganda minister Goebbels and his entire family committed suicide
'collectively in his Berlin bunker in April. At the end of the war, an
International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was set up to prosecute
Nazi war criminals for Crimes against Peace, for War Crimes and Crimes
against Humanity. Germany's conduct during the war, especially those
actions which came to be called Crimes against Humanity, raised serious
moral and ethical questions and invited worldwide condemnation. What
were these acts?
Under the shadow
of the Second World War, Germany had waged a genocidal war, which
resulted in the mass murder of selected groups of innocent civilians of
Europe. The number of people killed included 6 million Jews, 200,000
Gypsies, and 1 million Polish civilians, 70,000 Germans who were
considered mentally and physically disabled, besides innumerable
political opponents. Nazis devised an unprecedented means of killing
people, that is, by gassing them in various killing centers like
Auschwitz. The Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced only eleven leading Nazis to
death. Many others were imprisoned for life. The retribution did come,
yet the punishment of the Nazis was far short of the brutality and
extent of their crimes. The Allies did not want to be as harsh on
defeated Germany as they had been after the First World War.
Everyone came to
feel that the rise of Nazi Germany could be partly traced back to the
German experience at the end of the First World War.
Birth of the Weimar
a powerful empire in the early years of the twentieth century, fought the
First World War (1914-1918) alongside the Austrian empire and against the
Allies (England, France and Russia.) All joined the war enthusiastically
hoping to gain from a quick victory. Little did they realize that the war
would stretch on, eventually draining Europe of all its resources. Germany
made initial gains by occupying France and Belgium. However the Allies,
strengthened by the US entry in 1917, won, defeating Germany and the
Central Powers in November 1918.
The defeat of
Imperial Germany and the abdication of the emperor gave an opportunity to
parliamentary parties to recast German polity. A National Assembly met at
Weimar and established a democratic constitution with a federal structure.
Deputies were now elected to the German Parliament or Reichstag, on the
basis of equal and universal votes cast by all adults including women.
however, was not received well by its own people largely because of the
terms it was forced to accept after Germany's defeat at the end of the
First World War. The peace treaty at Versailles with the Allies was a
harsh and humiliating peace. Germany lost its overseas colonies, a tenth
of its population, 13 per cent of its territories, 75 per cent of its iron
and 26 per cent of its coal to France, Poland, Denmark and Lithuania. The
Allied Powers demilitarized Germany to weaken its power. The War Guilt
Clause held Germany responsible for the war and damages the Allied
countries suffered. Germany was forced to pay compensation amounting to 6
billion. The Allied armies also occupied the resource-rich Rhineland for
much of the 1920s. Many Germans held the new Weimar Republic responsible
for not only the defeat in the war but the disgrace at Versailles.
The Effects of the
The war had a
devastating impact on the entire continent both psychologically and
financially. From a continent of creditors, Europe turned into one of
debtors. Unfortunately, the infant Weimar Republic was being made to pay
for the sins of the old empire. The republic carried the burden of war
guilt and national humiliation and was financially crippled by being
forced to pay compensation. Those who supported the Weimar Republic,
mainly Socialists, Catholics and Democrats, became easy targets of attack
in the conservative nationalist circles. They were mockingly called the
'November criminals'. This mindset had a major impact on the political
developments of the early 1930s, as we will soon see.
The First World War
left a deep imprint on European society and polity. Soldiers came to be
placed above civilians. Politicians and publicists laid great stress on
the need for men to be aggressive, strong and masculine. The media
glorified trench life. The truth, however, was that soldiers lived
miserable lives in these trenches, trapped with rats feeding on corpses.
They faced poisonous gas and enemy shelling, and witnessed their ranks
reduce rapidly. Aggressive war propaganda and national honor occupied
centre stage in the public sphere, while popular support grew for
conservative dictatorships that had recently come into being. Democracy
was indeed a young and fragile idea, which could not survive the
instabilities of interwar Europe.
and Economic Crises
The birth of the
Weimar Republic coincided with the revolutionary uprising of the Sparta
cist League on the pattern of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Soviets
of workers and sailors were established in many cities. The political
atmosphere in Berlin was charged with demands for Soviet-style governance.
Those opposed to this - such as the socialists, Democrats' and Catholics -
met in Weimar to give shape to the democratic republic. The Weimar
Republic crushed the uprising with the help of a war veterans organization
called Free Corps. The anguished Spartacists later founded the Communist
Party of Germany. Communists and Socialists henceforth became
irreconcilable enemies and could not make common cause against Hitler.
Both revolutionaries and militant nationalists craved for radical
radicalization was only heightened by the economic crisis of 1923. Germany
had fought the war largely on loans and had to pay war reparations in
gold. This depleted gold reserves at a time resources were scarce. In 1923
Germany refused to pay, and the French occupied its leading industrial
area, Ruhr, to claim their coal. Germany retaliated with passive
resistance and printed paper currency recklessly. With too much printed
money in circulation, the value of the German mark fell. In April the US
dollar was equal to 24,000 marks, in July 353,000 marks, in August
4,621,000 marks and at 98,860,000 marks by December, the figure had run
into trillions. As the value of the mark collapsed, prices of goods
soared. The image of Germans carrying cartloads of currency notes to buy a
loaf of bread was widely publicized evoking worldwide sympathy. This
crisis came to be known as hyperinflation, a situation when prices rise
Americans intervened and bailed Germany out of the crisis by introducing
the Dawes Plan, which reworked the terms of reparation to ease the
financial burden on Germans.
The Years of
The years between
1924 and 1928 saw some stability. Yet this was built on sand. German
investments and industrial recovery were totally dependent on short-term
loans, largely from the USA. This support was withdrawn when the Wall
Street Exchange crashed in 1929. Fearing a fall in prices, people made
frantic efforts to sell their shares. On one single day, 24 October, 13
million shares were sold. This was the start of the Great Economic
Depression. Over the next three years, between 1929 and 1932, the national
income of the USA fell by half. Factories shut down, exports fell, farmers
were badly hit and speculators withdrew their money from the market. The
effects of this recession in the US economy were felt worldwide.
The German economy
was the worst hit by the economic crisis. By 1932, industrial production
was reduced to 40 per cent of the 1929 level. Workers lost their jobs or
were paid reduced wages. The number of unemployed touched an unprecedented
6 million. On the streets of Germany you could see men with placards
around their necks saying, 'Willing to do any work'. Unemployed youths
played cards or simply sat at street corners, or desperately queued up at
the local employment exchange. As jobs disappeared, the youth took to
criminal activities and total despair became commonplace.
The economic crisis
created deep anxieties and fears in people. The middle classes, especially
salaried employees and pensioners, saw their savings diminish when the
currency lost its value. Small businessmen, the self-employed and
retailers suffered as their businesses got ruined. These sections of
society were filled with the fear of proletarianization, an anxiety of
being reduced to the ranks of the working class, or worse still, the
unemployed. Only organized workers could manage to keep their heads above
water, but unemployment weakened their bargaining power. Big business was
in crisis. The large mass of peasantry was affected by a sharp fall in
agricultural prices and women, unable to fill their children's stomachs,
were filled with a sense of deep despair.
Politically too the
Weimar Republic was fragile. The Weimar constitution had some inherent
defects, which made it unstable and vulnerable to dictatorship. One was
proportional representation. This made achieving a majority by anyone
party a near impossible task, leading to a rule by coalitions. Another
defect was Article 48, which gave the President the powers to impose
emergency, suspend civil rights and rule by decree. Within its short life,
the Weimar Republic saw twenty different cabinets lasting on an average
239 days, and a liberal use of Article 48. Yet the crisis could not be
managed. People lost confidence in the democratic parliamentary system,
which seemed to offer no solutions.
Hitler's Rise to
crisis in the economy, polity and society formed the background to
Hitler's rise to power. Born in 1889 in Austria, Hitler spent his youth in
poverty. When the First World War broke out, he enrolled for the army,
acted as a messenger in the front, became a corporal, and earned medals
for bravery. The German defeat horrified him and the Versailles Treaty
made him furious. In 1919, he joined a small group called the German
Workers' Party. He subsequently took over the organization and renamed it
the National Socialist German Workers' Party. This party came to be known
as the Nazi Party.
In 1923, Hitler
planned to seize control of Bavaria, march to Berlin and capture power. He
failed, was arrested, tried for treason, and later released. The Nazis
could not effectively mobilize popular support till the early 1930s. It
was during the Great Depression that Nazism became a mass movement. As we
have seen, after 1929, banks collapsed and businesses shut down, workers
lost their jobs and the middle classes were threatened with destitution.
In such a situation Nazi propaganda stirred hopes of a better future. In
1928, the Nazi Party got no more than 2. 6 per cent votes in the Reichstag
- the German parliament. By 1932, it had become the largest party with 37
per cent votes.
Hitler was a
powerful speaker. His passion and his words moved people. He promised to
build a strong nation, undo the injustice of the Versailles Treaty and
restore the dignity of the German people. He promised employment for those
looking for work, and a secure future for the youth. He promised to weed
out all foreign influences and resist all foreign 'conspiracies' against
devised a new style of politics. He understood the significance of rituals
and spectacle in mass mobilization. Nazis held massive rallies and public
meetings to demonstrate the support for Hitler and instill a sense of
unity among the people. The Red banners with the Swastika, the Nazi
salute, and the ritualized rounds of applause after the speeches were all
part of this spectacle of power.
skillfully projected Hitler as a messiah, a savior, as someone who had
arrived to deliver people from their distress. It is an image that
captured the imagination of a people whose sense of dignity and pride had
been shattered, and who were living in a time of acute economic and
The Destruction of
30 January 1933, President Hindenburg offered the Chancellorship, the
highest position in the cabinet of ministers, to Hitler. By now the Nazis
had managed to rally the conservatives to their cause. Having acquired
power, Hitler set out to dismantle the, structures of democratic rule. A
mysterious fire that broke out in the German Parliament building in
February facilitated his move. The Fire Decree of 28 February 1933
indefinitely suspended civic rights like freedom of speech, Press and
assembly that had been guaranteed by the Weimar constitution. Then he
turned on his archenemies, the Communists, most of who were hurriedly
packed off to the newly established concentration camps. The repression of
the Communists was severe. Out of the surviving 6,808 arrest files of
Duesse1dorf, a small city of half a million population, 1,440 were those
of Communists alone. They were. However ,only one among the 52 types of
victims persecuted by the Nazis across the country.
On 3 March 1933, the
famous Enabling Act was passed. This Act established dictatorship in
Germany. It gave Hitler all powers to sideline Parliament and rule by
decree. All political parties and trade unions were banned except for the
Nazi Party and its affiliates. The state established complete control over
the economy, media, army and judiciary.
and security forces were created to control and order society in ways that
the Nazis wanted. Apart from the already existing regular police in green
uniform and the SA or the Storm Troopers, these included the Gestapo
(secret state police), the SS (the protection squads), criminal police and
the Security Service (SD). It was the extra-constitutional powers of these
newly organized forces that gave the Nazi state its reputation as the most
dreaded criminal stat. People could now be detained in Gestapo torture
chambers, rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Deported at will or
arrested without any legal procedures. The police forces acquired powers
to rule with impunity.
Hitler assigned the
responsibility of economic recovery to the economist Hjalmar Schacht who
aimed at full production and full employment through a state-funded
work-creation programmed. This project produced the famous German
superhighways and the people's car, the Volkswagen.
In foreign policy
also Hitler acquired quick successes. He pulled out of the League of
Nations in 1933, reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, and integrated Austria
and Germany in 1938 under the slogan, One people, One empire, and One
leader. He then went on to wrest German-speaking Sudetenland from
Czechoslovakia, and gobbled up the entire country. In all of this he had
the unspoken support of England, which had considered the Versailles
verdict too harsh. These quick successes at home and abroad seemed to
reverse the destiny of the country.
Hitler did not stop
here. Schacht had advised Hitler against investing hugely in rearmament as
the state stilt ran on deficit financing. Cautious people, however, had no
place in Nazi Germany. Schacht had to leave. Hitler chose war as the way
out of the approaching economic crisis. Resources were to be accumulated
through expansion of territory. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
This started a war with France and England. In September 1940) a
Tripartite Pact was signed between Germany, Italy and Japan, strengthening
Hitlers claim to international power. Puppet regimes, supportive of Nazi
Germany, were installed in a large part of Europe. By the end of 1940,
Hitler was at the pinnacle of his power.
Hitler now moved to
achieve his long-term aim of conquering Eastern Europe. He wanted to
ensure food supplies and living space for Germans. He attacked the Soviet
Union in June 1941. In this historic blunder Hitler exposed the German
western front to British aerial bombing and the eastern front to the
powerful Soviet armies. The Soviet Red Army inflicted a crushing and
humiliating defeat on Germany at Stalingrad. After this the Soviet Red
Army hounded out the retreating German soldiers until they reached the
heart of Berlin establishing Soviet hegemony over the entire Eastern
Europe for half a century thereafter.
Meanwhile the USA
had resisted involvement in the war. It was unwilling to once again face
all the economic problems that the First World had caused. But it could
not stay out of the war for long. Japan was expanding its power in the
east. It had occupied French Indo-China and was planning attacks on US
naval bases in the Pacific. When Japan extended its support to Hitler and
bombed the S base at Pearl Harbor) the US entered the Second World War.
The war ended in May 1945 with Hitler)s defeat and the US dropping of the
atom bomb on Hiroshima in Japan.
From this brief
account of what happened in the Second World War, we now return to Helmuth
and his fathers story, a story of Nazi criminality during the war.
The Nazi Worldview
The crimes that
Nazis committed were linked to a system of belief and a set of practices.
Nazi ideology was
synonymous with Hitler's worldview. According to this there was no
equality between people, but only a racial hierarchy. In this view blond,
blue-eyed, Nordic German Aryans were at the top, while Jews were located
at the lowest rung. They came to be regarded as an anti-race, the
arch-enemies of the Aryans. All other colored people were placed in
between depending upon their external features. Hitler's racism borrowed
from thinkers like Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Darwin was a
natural scientist who tried to explain the creation of plants and animals
through the concept of evolution and natural selection. Herbert Spencer
later added the idea of survival of the fittest. According to this idea,
only those species survived on earth that could adapt themselves to
changing climatic conditions. We should bear in mind that Darwin never
advocated human intervention in what he thought was a purely natural
process of selection. However, his ideas were used by racist thinkers and
politicians to justify imperial rule over conquered peoples. The Nazi
argument was simple: the strongest race would survive and the weak ones
would perish. The Aryan race was the finest. It had to retain its purity,
become stronger and dominate the world.
The other aspect of
Hitler's ideology related to the geopolitical concept of Lebensraum, or
living space. He believed that new territories had to be acquired for
settlement. This would enhance the area of the mother country, whi1e
enabling the settlers on new lands to retain an intimate link with the
place of their origin. It would also enhance the material resources and
power of the German nation.
Hitler intended to
extend German boundaries by moving eastwards, to concentrate all Germans
geographically in one place. Poland became the laboratory for this
the Racial State
Once in power, the
Nazis quickly began to implement their dream of creating an exclusive
racial community of pure Germans by physically eliminating all those who
were seen as 'undesirable' in the extended empire. Nazis wanted only a
society of 'pure and healthy Nordic Aryans'. They alone were considered
'desirable'. Only they were seen as worthy of prospering and multiplying
against all others who were classed as 'undesirable'. This meant that even
those Germans who were seen as impure or abnormal had no right to exist.
Under the Euthanasia Program, Helmuth's father along with other Nazi
officials had condemned to death many Germans who were considered mentally
or physically unfit.
Jews were not the
only community classified as 'undesirable'. There were others. Many
Gypsies and blacks living in Nazi Germany were considered as racial
'inferiors' who threatened the biological purity of the 'superior Aryan'
race. They were widely persecuted. Even Russians and Poles were considered
subhuman, and hence undeserving of any humanity. When Germany occupied
Poland and parts of Russia, captured civilians were forced to work as
slave labor. Many of them died simply through hard work and starvation.
Jews remained the
worst sufferers in Nazi Germany. Nazi hatred of Jews had a precursor in
the traditional Christian hostility towards Jews. They had been
stereotyped as killers of Christ and usurers. Until medieval times Jews
were barred from owning land. They survived mainly through trade and money
lending. They lived in separately marked areas called ghettos. They were
often persecuted through periodic organized violence, and expulsion from
the land. However, Hitler's hatred of Jews was based on pseudoscientific
theories of race, which held that conversion was no solution to 'the
Jewish problem'. It could be solved only through their total elimination.
From 1933 to 1938
the Nazis terrorized, pauperized and segregated the Jews, compelling them
to leave the country. The next phase, 1939-1945, aimed at concentrating
them in certain areas and eventually killing them in gas chambers in
The Racial Utopia
the shadow of war, the Nazis proceeded to realize their murderous, racial
ideal. Genocide and war became two sides of the same coin. Occupied Poland
was divided up. Much of north-western Poland was annexed to Germany. Poles
were forced to leave their homes and properties behind to be occupied by
ethnic Germans brought in from occupied Europe. Poles were then herded
like cattle in the other part called the General Government, the
destination of all 'undesirables' of the empire. Members of the Polish
intelligentsia were murdered in large numbers in order to keep the entire
people intellectually and spiritually servile. Polish children who looked
like Aryans were forcibly snatched from their mothers and examined by
'race experts'. If they passed the race tests they were raised in German
families and if not, they were deposited in orphanages where most
perished. With some of the largest ghettos and gas chambers, the General
Government also served as the killing fields for the Jews.
Youth in Nazi
was fanatically interested in the youth of the country. He felt that a
strong Nazi society could be established only by teaching children Nazi
ideology. This required a control over the child both inside and outside
What happened in
schools under Nazism? All schools were' cleansed' and 'purified'. This
meant that teachers who were Jews or seen as 'politically unreliable' were
dismissed. Children were first segregated: Germans and Jews could not sit
together or play together. Subsequently, 'undesirable children' - Jews,
the physically handicapped, Gypsies - were thrown out of schools. And
finally in the 1940s, they were taken to the gas chambers.
children were subjected to J. process of Nazi schooling, a prolonged
period of ideological training. School textbooks were rewritten. Racial
science was introduced to justify Nazi ideas of race. Stereotypes about
Jews were popularized even through maths classes. Children were taught to
be loyal and submissive, hate Jews, and worship Hitler. Even the function
of sports was to nurture a spirit of violence and aggression among
children. Hitler believed that boxing could make children iron hearted,
strong and masculine.
were made responsible for educating German youth in the 'the spirit of
National Socialism', Ten-year-olds had to enter Jungvolk. At 14, all boys
had to join the Nazi youth organization - Hitler Youth - where they learnt
to worship war, glorify aggression and violence, condemn democracy, and
hate Jews, communists, Gypsies and all those categorized as 'undesirable'.
After a period of rigorous ideologica1 and physical training they joined
the Labor Service, usually at the age of 18. Then they had to serve in the
armed forces and enter one of the Nazi organizations.
The Youth League of
the Nazis was founded in 1922. Four years later it was renamed Hitler
Youth. To unify the youth movement under Nazi control, all other youth
organizations were systematically dissolved and finally banned.
The Nazi Cult of
Children in Nazi
Germany were repeatedly told that women were radically different from men.
The fight for equal rights for men and women that had become part of
democratic struggles everywhere was wrong and it would destroy society.
While boys were taught to be aggressive, masculine and steel hearted,
girls were told that they had to become good mothers and rear pure-blooded
Aryan children. Girls had to maintain the purity of the race, distance
themselves from Jews, look after the home, and teach their children Nazi
values. They had to be the bearers of the Aryan culture and race.
In 1933 Hitler said:
'In my state the mother is the most important citizen.' But in Nazi
Germany all mothers were not treated equally. Women who bore racially
undesirable children were punished and those who produced racially
desirable children were awarded. They were given favored treatment in
hospitals and were also entitled to concessions in shops and on theatre
tickets and railway fares. To encourage women to produce many children,
Honor Crosses were awarded. A bronze cross was given for four children,
silver for six and gold for eight or more.
All 'Aryan' women
who deviated from the prescribed code of conduct were publicly condemned,
and severely punished. Those who maintained contact with Jews, Poles and
Russians were paraded through the town with shaved heads, blackened faces
and placards hanging around their necks announcing 'I have sullied the
honor of the nation'. Many received jail sentences and lost civic honor as
well as their husbands and families for this 'criminal offence'.
The Art of
The Nazi regime used
language and media with care, and often to great effect. The terms they
coined to describe their various practices are not only deceptive. They
are chilling. Nazis never used the words 'kill' or 'murder' in their
official communications. Mass killings were termed special treatment,
final solution (for the Jews), euthanasia (for the disabled), selection
and disinfections. 'Evacuation' meant deporting people to gas chambers. Do
you know what the gas chambers were called? They were labeled
'disinfection-areas', and looked like bathrooms equipped with fake
Media was carefully
used to win support for the regime and popularize its worldview. Nazi
ideas were spread through visual images, films, radio, posters, catchy
slogans and leaflets. In posters, groups identified as the 'enemies' of
Germans were stereotyped, mocked, abused and described as evil. Socialists
and liberals were represented as weak and degenerate. They were attacked
as malicious foreign agents. Propaganda films were made to create hatred
for Jews. The most infamous film was The Eternal Jew. Orthodox Jews were
stereotyped and marked. They were shown with flowing beards wearing
kaftans, whereas in reality it was difficult to distinguish German Jews by
their outward appearance because they were a highly assimilated community.
They were referred to as vermin, rats and pests. Their movements were
compared to those of rodents. Nazism worked on the minds of the people,
tapped their emotions, and turned their hatred and anger at those marked
The Nazis made equal
efforts to appeal to all the different sections of the population. They
sought to win their support by suggesting that Nazis alone could solve all
Ordinary People and
the Crimes Against Humanity
How did the common
people react to Nazism?
Many saw the world
through Nazi eyes, and spoke their mind in Nazi language. They felt hatred
and anger surge inside them when they saw someone who looked like a Jew.
They marked the houses of Jews and reported suspicious neighbors. They
genuinely believed Nazism would bring prosperity and improve general
But not every German
was a Nazi. Many organized active resistance to Nazism, braving police
repression and death. The large majority of Germans, however, were passive
onlookers and apathetic witnesses. They were too scared to act, to differ,
to protest. They preferred to look away. Pastor Niemoeller, a resistance
fighter, observed an absence of protest, an uncanny silence, amongst
ordinary Germans in the face of brutal and organized crimes committed
against people in the Nazi empire. He wrote movingly about this silence:
'First they came for
Well, I was not a
So I said nothing.
Then they came for
the Social Democrats,
Well, I was not a
So I did nothing,
Then they came for
the trade unionists,
But I was not a
And then they came
for the Jews,
But I was not a Jew
- so I did little.
Then when they came
There was no one
left who could stand up for me.
What Jews felt in
Nazi Germany is a different story altogether. Charlotte Beradt secretly
recorded people's dreams in her diary and later published them in a highly
disconcerting book called the Third Reich of Dreams. She describes how
Jews themselves began believing in the Nazi stereotypes about them. They
dreamt of their hooked noses, black hair and eyes, Jewish looks and body
movements. The stereotypical images publicized in the Nazi press haunted
the Jews. They troubled them even in their dreams. Jews died many deaths
even before they reached the gas chamber.
Knowledge about the
Nazi practices had trickled out of Germany during the last years of the
regime. But it was only after the war ended and Germany was defeated that
the world came to realize the horrors of what had happened. While the
Germans were preoccupied with their own plight as a defeated nation
emerging out of the rubble, the Jews wanted the world to remember the
atrocities and sufferings they had endured during the Nazi killing
operations - also called the Holocaust. At its height, a ghetto inhabitant
had said to another that he wanted to outlive the war just for half an
hour. Presumably he meant that he wanted to be able to tell the world
about what had happened in Nazi Germany. This indomitable spirit to bear
witness and to preserve the documents can be seen in many ghetto and camp
inhabitants who wrote diaries, kept notebooks, and created archives. On
the other hand when the war seemed lost, the Nazi leadership distributed
petrol to its functionaries to destroy all incriminating evidence
available in offices.
Yet the history and
the memory of the Holocaust live on in memoirs, fiction, documentaries,
poetry, memorials and museums in many parts of the world today. These are
a tribute to those who resisted it, an embarrassing reminder to those who
collaborated, and a warning to those who watched in silence.