What was the Nazi rationale for the extermination effort that came to be known as the Holocaust?
Although mainly attributed to the Nazis, anti-semitic thought had been around in Europe for several decades before the Holocaust. As early as 1895, Jewish people were considered to be predatory and parasitic (Neusner, 1987), making a living out of extorting others that lived in the country. It was assumed that Jewish people were somehow “different” to other citizens, particularly in what is now Germany, and as a result should not be able to hold public office or any other position that has an effect on the population in general (Neusner, 1987). Jewish people were also seen by some individuals as having too much power in public life, and thus there was a need to remove them from this power (Neusner, 1987).
By removing their power (and ultimately exterminating them in great numbers) it was felt that a true order could be restored in Europe. Additionally, the development of genetic and scientific ideas about evolution posed the theory that some individuals were weak and were holding back the general progress of the human race. As an already victimized people, the Jews were singled out as the group that was holding humanity back, and this led the Nazis to believe their extermination would be to the benefit of the country (Berkovits, 1979). Jewish people were also believed to be lesser people based on their looks, and the aim of Nazi Germany was to create a race of Aryan people with blonde hair and blue eyes, another off-shoot of eugenic policy.
What was its ultimate cost in human lives?
There were several different extermination camps run by the Nazis, each of which had a different death toll. In numbers, it is estimated that around six million Jewish people were killed in the concentration camps. This amounts to around 90% of the Jewish population from Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany and Austria (Neusner, 1997). Additionally, several million other people from different minority groups were killed, including Romani gypsies and disabled people. It is also estimated that several other Jewish citizens were killed as by-products of starvation, emigration and other Nazi policies at the time (Neusner, 1997).
What changes resulted in Judaism and in world events?
One of the major changes in Judaism after the Holocaust was the relationship between Christians and Jews. Although it cannot be said that Christianity caused the Holocaust as such, many of those involved with the extermination of Jewish people had been baptized into the Christian faith and many of the ideas about purity were manipulated from the Bible (Neusner, 1987). The creation of the state of Israel was also a major political change that came about after the Holocaust. After their lives had been destroyed in Europe, many Jews were fleeing to escape their past and wanted to emigrate to a new nation that would respect their right to their faith. Israel in the Jewish faith has long been a place of importance, and it seems only natural that the Jewish people aimed to re-populate their Holy Land. Evidently, the Palestinians that were living here at the time were not fond of the creation of a new state on their land, and this has led to many of the conflicts we see in the area today. The Holocaust and the creation of a Jewish state has also arguably led to an increased Zionism within the Jewish population (Berkovits, 1979). A new Jewish observatory “holiday” has also been added to the existing roster, known as Holocaust Memorial Day. This is a time where people of the Jewish faith (and others who wish to remember the events) come together in rememberence for those who lost their lives.