Holocaust Teacher Resource Center

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The Holocaust in Perspective, Chapter Analysis and Review


“The only thing necessary for the triumph of
evil is for good people to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke
18th Century English Philosopher

Difficult Questions

This unit is not designed to deal with what happened in the camps themselves, their dehumanizing cruelty. You will come to study this in greater detail at the high school level. Our quest is to find out how it all became possible, what could have been done to prevent it from happening, and why we need to be watchful for the future. Therefore, let us review and discuss the following:

As stated early on in this study, the Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers, it ended there. Adolf Hitler officially entered politics in January of 1933, being appointed chancellor of Germany. By August 1934, one and a half years later, he had manipulated the laws, influenced the masses, and proclaimed himself Fuehrer and sole ruler of the Third Reich. He demanded and received allegiance from the military and his people.

  • How was this achieved? By propaganda, by ruthless suppression of any opposition, and by scapegoating. By blaming others—the Jews—for past misfortunes. By rewriting history books, blaming all negative historical development on the Jews, and attributing everything positive to the Germans. And by indoctrination of the young via the Hitler Youth.

But there was more. There was appeasement from other nations; there was lack of moral condemnation for his actions from religious leaders. It was almost as if no one or no nation wanted “to get involved” until it was nearly too late.

  • How were Hitler’s intentions so misjudged at the onset? Was his book “Mein Kampf”, where he expounded his ideas, an unknown work of literature? Hardly so. And yet, nations lulled themselves into believing that his excesses could be contained and time and again gave in to his demands.
  • What about the age-old scourge of antisemitism? What role did it play? Without it, would ordinary Germans have accepted the premise of the Jew as “Unmensch” or would they have objected, as was the case with the Euthanasia program? Without the Jew as scapegoat, what would have happened to Hitler’s master plan?
  • How about the lure of belonging to a “super-race”? Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s List states in so many words that prejudice and racism are the “hairy backside” of what we all need: a sense of identity and belonging. Yet, does this sense of belonging necessarily exclude tolerance and respect for others? Or is it possible to have pride in one’s own heritage, while recognizing, respecting and accepting the beliefs and human dignity of others as well?

We all love the feeling that we are somehow superior, better than average, better than the “other guy”. The best way to reach this point is to excel at something. Each and every one of us is above average at something, be it sports or music or math or just plain human kindness. Feeling good about oneself does not necessitate putting someone else down. If the only means to rise above average is to put others down, then we haven’t really attained any loftier heights. All we have done is lower the common denominator or standard. That is not an achievement in which we can or should take pride.

On the other hand, tolerance does not mean accepting blindly the values of others, especially if they tend to be prejudicial or racist in nature. Not from peers, and certainly not from leaders. Therefore we must be alert, react quickly, and carefully review background and motivation of any individual in whom we place our trust or to whom we grant the reins of our country and ultimately our lives. All too often, as we have seen in the case of Adolf Hitler, laws can be changed. Those eager to gain power will resort to any subterfuge to get our vote. We must look beyond their words. We must do our homework. We must never let our guard down and never allow evil to grow because of our ignorance or apathy.

For ultimately, evil destroys all. Think of the legacy Hitler left to his people. Instead of a glorious vastly expanded 1000-year Reich, Germany being the master over all other enslaved nations, Hitler left his people far less. His tally sheet includes ruined cities, a divided country for over forty years, (East and West Germany) and a permanent stain on Germany’s history in school texts of the present and the future. The German youth from now on will have to live under the shadow of this history, even though nothing that happened during the Third Reich was of their doing.

In the end, hatred destroyed all. There were no winners. Not the perpetrators, but neither the victims that survived the Holocaust. For they had lost their homes, their country, their loved ones. Fathers, mothers, children. They have to continue living with their haunted memories. Hatred and prejudice and discrimination may achieve some temporary victory but will lose in the end. As Elie Wiesel so eloquently states, “Hate consumes both the victim and perpetrator”.

  • Do we need to care if injustices occur in our country? Elsewhere? Can we make a difference? Just because the Holocaust happened was it inevitable? When is a good time to speak out? When is it too late to do so? Is it ever too late?
  • Adolf Hitler used children, the Hitler Youth, to achieve his goal. Are there other countries that at the present time or in the past used similar tactics? How would you feel if you were urged to defend a cause “with your life”? What do you think of a philosophy that exhorts children to become “martyrs” for a cause? How important is a careful selection of a leader?
  • Was our country always blameless or did we too, have excesses in our past? How did we deal with them?
  • Do hate crimes still exist? How do we deal with them at present? Is this enough? What else can be done? In what areas have we been most successful? Where do we need additional work?
  • Could the Holocaust have happened here?

Your teacher may decide to discuss these questions with the class as a whole, or to sub­divide the class into smaller groups, who will share their conclusions with the entire class. Another means is to state your conclusions in writing, and then discuss the various responses with the entire class. Review the following page and include those facts in your deliberations