Holocaust Reflective Statement

Holocaust Reflective Statement By Ryan Lack Year 13


Why does the Holocaust matter?

The definition of the Holocaust almost answers this question in and of itself. ‘The murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during WW2.’ This definition – while it appears to neatly answer the question – ultimately simplifies the abhorrent circumstances faced by Jews within pre-1940s Germany. Focusing only on the six million murdered however, fails to acknowledge both the displacement of countless Jewish citizens as well as the attempted destruction of a whole culture in the 1930s and 40s.

Contrary to popular belief, the Nazi’s did not invent antisemitism. Antisemitism, or rather the perception of Jewish (or non-Jewish) individuals usually expressed as hatred towards the community had been around since the Middle Ages. One of the examples discussed was the ‘Dreyfus affair’ (1894) – the alleged selling of military secrets by Alfred Dreyfus. This scandal showed the willingness of the public to believe the conviction purely ‘because he was Jewish’. Following on from this, a common facet of antisemitism is the distrust of the Jewish because of their jobs. Stereotypically, Jews had well-paying jobs, having been pushed towards the jobs (such as accountancy) that typically in which Christians did not want to work. Both of these factors evidence how the persecution of Jews predates the Nazi Party and the persecution faced did somewhat shape the pre-war Jewish identity.

Geographic boundaries didn’t confine the Jewish identity. The pre-war Jewish identity wasn’t engrained in religion or work, rather being an amalgamation of hobbies, work and social interactions. This diversity can be seen through the varied case studies – the contrasts of the Zagreb Zionist youth group and the ‘Schultüte’ to Makabi Kaunas FC and the Szeged memorial. These each evidence different aspects of what it was like to be Jewish. The Zionist youth group shows the lack of faith Jews had at being accepted in society as the premise of Zionism was the reestablishment of the Jewish nation. Many Zionists believed that European societies would never accept Jews and that Jewish population should ‘instead create their own state in Palestine’. Bertha Roseinhein’s Schultüte does begin to contradict this Zionism however, as taking a symbol of Jewish traditions into school was accepted by German society. The Makabi Kaunas football team however, does reinforce the Zionist way of thinking. As the team was a solely Jewish team it poses the question of whether the decision was by choice or if it was forced onto them because other teams did not want to play with Jews. The fact that all of the players, owners and fans were Jewish the Zionistic ideals of societal ejection. The Szeged memorial shows the sacrifices the Jewish population made within the first world war with the 320,000 Jewish soldiers who fought for the Austro-Hungarian army (alongside all of the Jews who will have fought for other countries as well) with the death of over 40,000 of those. The sacrifices made by those who fought is ultimately undermined by the lack of recognition shown by the bystanders when the Jews were being persecuted.

‘Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented’ – Elie Wiesel

After taking control of Germany in 1933, the Nazi Party began to limit the freedom of the Jews. One of the first examples of this was the organised boycott of Jewish Shops in April 1933. Following on from this in 1938 the Nazi leadership began to create rules to identify Jewish individuals to the native German population. The most well-known of these is the identification measures is the star of David armband worn by the Jewish – however in addition to this Jewish people were isolated with the letter J being emblazoned on their passports. Furthermore, in September 1939, the dehumanisation continued with the pogrom mandating all Jewish individuals to have the same name by the Nazi party – Sara for women, or Israel for men. The identification of the Jewish further progressed into persecution – with the events of ‘Kristalnacht’ (or the night of broken glass) and the revoking of Jewish-German citizenships preceding the implementation of concentration and labour camps within Europe.

‘Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.’ – Yehuda Bauer – Professor Emeritus of History and Holocaust Studies.

Auschwitz was established in April 1940 by head of the SS – Heinrich Himmler – and on the 14th of June the first transportation was made to the camp. This transportation consisted of 728 Polish citizens – which included a number of Jewish citizens from Tarnów a city in Southern Poland. Unlike the other groups that were sent to camps such as Auschwitz (like Gypsies, political prisoners, ethnic minorities) only Jews were targeted for ‘complete extermination’ – others were planned to be converted. The location of the camp of Auschwitz is also prevalent being based in the village of Oświęcim. Prior to the German invasion of Poland, Oświęcim had a large Jewish population, the village containing synagogues so the residents could show their faith. The fact that such a diverse village was used as the location for the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau caused irreparable damage to the community, with the village now having a non-existent Jewish community. The proximity of the camp to the village is also striking. One moment you are immersed within the village, and the next the perimeter wall of Auschwitz is the only thing in sight. Additionally to the town of Oświęcim, the creation of Auschwitz also led to the desertion and destruction of multiple other villages within proximity to the camp.

‘Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness’ – Elie Wiesel

The lengths survivors went to in order to seek asylum in other countries is one of the most incomprehensible elements of the holocaust, as for the most part it consisted of young children travelling across Europe, and in some instances all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to reside in America often leaving parents and grandparents behind to make the journey. One such example of this is Eve Kugler’s journey. As a child, Eve had to make the journey from Halle all the way to America with her two sisters. Eve’s journey began in Leipzig, moving on from Leipzig to Paris. Once in Paris, Eve was sent to a home for displaced Jewish children in Montmorency. In 1941, the United States issued a rare visa for Jewish children trapped in France. This led to Eve and her sister Ruth travelling to Lisbon, Portugal where they ended up on a boat sailing across to America. When in America, Eve lived in many foster homes until the end of the war, where miraculously she was reunited with her parents who managed to survive multiple French concentration camps. Eve’s journey is one of many that Jewish children will have been forced to take to avoid the tyrannical persecution they were exposed to in Europe.

‘There is nothing we can do about the past, but we can do a lot about the present and the future’ -Zigi Shipper

So does the Holocaust have any contemporary relevance? Arguably the Holocaust is becoming more relevant in the present day. Due to the aging of those who experienced the Holocaust first hand, it is up to those who have heard the stories of what happened to carry on the legacy of the survivors and make sure the persecution at the heart of the Holocaust is never forgotten. Bearing this in mind, the reason I decided to extend my response for the reflective statement and use it as my Next Steps project, with the aim of publishing this within the schools newsletter or alternatively given the opportunity perform it as a speech – with the intent to hopefully inspire further research and understanding into the subject and reach a varied audience. Fortunately, before his passing, I was able to attend a speech by Zigi Shipper where he made references to how the Holocaust should be used as a reminder of the dangers of hatred and racism. This is important with regards to the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust as the knowledge of the atrocities that were conducted should serve as a reminder that as a society we should speak out against injustice and never stay silent, as silence only ‘encourages the tormentor.’


First They Came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

  • Martin Niemoller