he next fifteen years, from the early 1930’s to the mid 1940’s will be remembered as the darkest time in history for the Jewish people and for all of humankind. Never before had human beings allowed the forces of evil in the world become so powerful as in the Nazi era in Germany and Eastern Europe.
Throughout human history men have waged war — tribe against tribe, nation against nation, religion against religion. People have taken up arms and given their lives fighting oppression, fighting for liberty and political freedom. The war against slavery in the United States, the Civil War, was such a war. Sometimes even the most peace-loving people may find themselves having to fight for social justice and in order to prevent even greater human suffering. To protect democracy and justice, freedom and liberty, there are times when it is right for human beings to bear arms against one another.
But wars have also been fought out of economic greed, to acquire power or property or wealth, or merely out of hatred and intolerance. Such wars are still going on, but the war of hatred and mass destruction waged by the Nazi’s in the 1930’s against humanity exceeded any devastation previously known to humankind. It was a war of genocide and mass murder, the killing of innocent human beings by armed German soldiers in the name of their government — their so-called Fatherland.
Adolf Hitler, a powerful charismatic leader took hold of an entire nation, managed to control the government and convince the entire nation that it was justifiable to kill innocent men, women and children in the name of Germany — the Fatherland. The Jews were the primary targets of the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. Hitler, an Austrian and the leader of the Nazi Party, came into power in Germany in 1932 at a time when the world’s economic systems were collapsing. There was severe poverty and high unemployment, not only in Europe, but in America as well. Millions of people were without jobs or sufficient income to obtain anything but the basic necessities of life, and there were no jobs to be found. In a few years, Hitler had convinced the German people that it was the Jews who were to blame for all of these economic and social ills.
There is no explanation that can help us to understand or come to terms with the reign of terror of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Germany, a country that had a long tradition of culture and learning, where musicians and writers, philosophers and artists had flourished for hundreds of years became instead a place where hatred and murder flourished. During this time of economic hardship it was as though the country fell under the spell of the yetzer hora, the Evil Inclination. And it was as though the power of evil was embodied in one man, Adolf Hitler, who led the Austrian and German people on a rampage of hatred and destruction. Soon there were many other men and also women whose lives were controlled by the forces of evil, forces that destroyed civilization beyond anything that could have been imagined. Soon, not only Hitler, but also Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hesse, Josef Göbbels,Reinhard Heydrich, and scores of other Nazi leaders marched and rode throughout the countryside of Europe with their shiny boots, metal helmets, and powerful tanks and weapons. Soon it was not just the leaders of the Nazi Party, but also ordinary people, who were enthralled by the power. They considered themselves to be the ‘Master Race‘, and believed everyone else to be inferior beings.
For many people, it may have been fear that prompted them to go along with the terror. For others, it may have been weakness. Many wanted to identify with this powerful, so-called ‘Master Race‘, to be a part of something strong and powerful. And for some it was antisemitism, a hatred of Jews that had been simmering beneath the surface of much of European culture for hundreds of years.
Antisemitism was not uncommon in Europe. Sometimes it was more pronounced and other times it lay under the surface. The Jews had been a people apart. Sometimes they were kept apart and forced to live in ghettoes. They had a different religion and customs from the people in the countries in which they lived. Their children went to separate schools. They celebrated different holidays and many Jews spoke their own language — Yiddish in northern Europe, Ladino in Spain and Portugal. They also had their own courts and judges. Also, the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, something that has been difficult for Christianity to accept or understand. All of this was used by the Nazis to scapegoat and promote fear and hatred of the Jews. The Nazis launched their campaign of propaganda primarily towards the Jews, but against others as well — the Gypsies, homosexuals, and people with mental and physical disabilities. All of them were deemed to be inferior, a drain on the economy and therefore enemies of the ‘master race‘, enemies of a “free” and prosperous Germany.
People, regardless of race or nationality, have difficulty accepting people who are perceived as being different from themselves. Jews, for nearly 2000 years since Roman times until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 CE, were a Nation without a country, and have historically been a prime target whenever there has been a period of religious fervor, political unrest or economic difficulty. The Fifteenth Century, the time of the Inquisition in Spain in 1492, was such a time. The 1930’s and 40’s in Germany in the 20th Century were the worst of such times. There was a worldwide economic depression. People were out of work. There were no jobs and not enough money for food and clothing or other basic necessities of life. The Nazis said that the Jews were the enemy and were to be blamed for their suffering.
Reinhard Heydrich was a close aide of Hitler’s who ruled Czechosloavia during the Nazi era. He was one of the originators of the “final solution” to the Jewish question — the complete annihilation of the Jewish people.