By Emily Torpey
Liberty Bell High School, WA
Six of us at Libertybell High School in Twisp, Washington, participated in a Holocaust study unit. We used the iearn.hgp teleconference as well as a number of other resources.
I focused on the concentration camps and have also asked several questions. Why did the Nazis persecute the Jews? How did this experience affect the lives of the survivors? To find the answers to these questions, I have read the following books: The Cage, Night, The Journey Back From Hell, The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior. I also received information by telecommunicating.
Why did the Nazis persecute the Jews? One theory was that many of the younger generation followed Hitler because of their traumatic childhood. They had little food or money as a result of World War I. Also, many of Hitler's followers lost family members in the war, and this was one way to get back at society. After World War I, the older generation returned from the war in defeat. They got little media attention because of Germany's problems, and they were even considered part of the problem. These veterans were reluctant to trust others who had not lived through their experiences, and Hitler had.
Hitler also had a traumatic childhood. He despised his father and loved his mother, but his mother died from breast cancer when he was young. It was a Jewish doctor who treated her. Hitler sometimes referred to the Jews as a "cancerous growth." When Hitler researched his family, it turned out that his father might have been Jewish.
Before the Jews were sent to concentration camps, they were held in ghettos. Ghettos were set up in the poorest, most run down parts of town and were surrounded by barbed wire, fences and sometimes a wall. The ghettos were overcrowded and very unsanitary. Disease killed many Jews. The disease that took the most lives was probably typhus. Many people died of starvation. They got very little food, which was rationed. On the worst days the Jews were only allowed 350 calories a day. Considering that an adult needs about 2,000 calories, a 13-year-old boy needs 3,000, and a baby needs 1,200, this ration was not nearly enough. As a result of their situation, the Jews often resorted to smuggling food into the ghetto. It was mostly young children who did this, since they could fit under barbed wire and through holes in the walls. If Jews were caught smuggling, they would be shot on the spot, or, worse, they would be imprisoned and later publicly hanged.
When it was time for the Jews to be shipped to the concentration camps, they were loaded into cattle cars and shipped like animals to the camps. The cars were overcrowded, and inmates had no food or water. By the time they reached the camp, many Jews had already died.
The concentration camps were not originally intended for the Jews. They were first used to imprison political criminals, Gypsies, and other people that were thought inferior to the German people. The concentration camps were ranked by their severity. Class I was supposed to be the mildest camp. It was supposed to be a labor camp. Dachau was a Class I camp. Class II camps had harder work and worse living conditions. Class III camps were death camps. These camps were operated to kill Jews in great numbers. Only a small group of prisoners was needed to run these camps and to sort out the bodies. The other prisoners were gassed as soon as possible. Treblinka was the largest death camp.
There were two types of gases used to exterminate people. The first, and most frequently used, was carbon monoxide gas. It took 40 minutes. The other was Zyklon-B, a hydrogen cyanide preparation. It took only 15 minutes. Zyklon-B was poison used to kill rats and insects and was first tested at Auschwitz. To exterminate Jews, the Nazis had crematoriums. Also, they would make the Jews go into a field, dig a pit, and then the Nazis would shoot them. Sometimes they would throw babies up in the air and use them for target practice. The Nazis also used mobile gas vans.
Upon arrival at the concentration camps, the Jews were made to march in two lines past two doctors. Men were on one side, and women and children were on the other side. Those that were fit to work went to the right, but the young, old, sick, crippled, and pregnant women went to the left and they then would be exterminated. The ones that were sent to the work camps would face grueling hard work and terrible living conditions. It was said that if they made it through the first year, they would have a better chance of survival. Many Jews died within three months.
Some Jews were sent to work on projects such as building roads and working in munition factories. As a result of the hard work, lack of food and brutality, the Jews became walking skeletons and usually died. There would also be "selection day," where the Jews would line up to be inspected by doctors. Those able to work would be sent back to the camp. Those unable to work would be exterminated.
One of the most infamous and brutal concentration camps was Auschwitz, located in Auschwitz, Poland. Auschwitz consisted of three camps. The original camp, Auschwitz I, had a section called Block 10. This was where experiments were done on women. Block 11 was the punishment block. Between Blocks 10 and 11 was the "black wall." This was where people were shot. There was also a crematorium and a gas chamber. Within each camp were sub-camps. This was where factories were located. Auschwitz II-Birkenau, was the worst death camp. It could hold 250,000 people. The camp was divided into sections for men, women, Gypsies, and had a Czech family camp where families were kept together. There was also a place called "Kanada" where the prisoners sorted through the rubble of the gas chambers, and "Mexico," a section which was never completed but was for Hungarian Jews.
In the women's section, Block 25 was the gathering point for women who were selected for the gas chambers. The women would sometimes be left there without food or water for days. Until the end of the war almost ninety per cent of the Jews sent to Birkenau were gassed. At Auschwitz the life expectancy was about three weeks.
At Birkenau there were four main crematoria that had gas chambers. Each was about 300 square yards and could hold about 2,000 people at a time. After it was full, small children would be pushed above the heads of the adults. The furnaces could burn three bodies every 20 minutes, and the two crematoria could burn 6,500 bodies every 24 hours. About four million people died at Auschwitz alone, and half of them were Jews.
The Nazi system made a profit from this genocide. They stole property that belonged to the Jews. The Jews had to build the camps and roads and work in German war factories. The Jews with skills, like a carpenter or an electrician, would do the maintenance work at the camps. Some prisoners were made to work in the extermination camps.
How did the Holocaust affect the lives of the Jews who survived? Many of them feel guilt. They wonder why they survived when so many of their family and friends did not. It is hard for them to relate to and trust those people who have not lived through the experience. Some want the world to forget that the Holocaust happened. It brings back too many painful memories. The sight of the dying, the dead, the filth, and sickness was just too much. Some of them want to forget, but they cannot. Others want the Holocaust to be remembered. If we do not remember, another catastrophe such as the Holocaust might occur. The survivors of the Holocaust often have tormenting dreams. To have lived through the camps, the Jews had to have spirit and inner strength. This keeps survivors going today.
Throughout history the Jews have been persecuted, and this is still happening today. After all of history, how can we still persecute people? Jews were not the only ones to be persecuted during the Holocaust. Among them were different races and religions, like Christians, blacks, Gypsies, the handicapped, and political prisoners.
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