8 lesser known facts about the Holocaust

 

THE NAZIS WERE INDIFFERENT TO JUDAISM 

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish People. Many people are unaware that the Nazis did NOT persecute Jews on religious grounds. 

The Nazis subscribed to pseudoscientific racial science and believed that Jews were the inferior race. According to the antisemitic Nuremberg Laws, those of Jewish blood (that is, those who had at least one Jewish grandparent) were to be considered Jews and were thus subject to discriminatory policies.

The Nazis initially did not persecute the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus region because they incorrectly believed them to be “just” religious Jews and not ethnic Jews. 

 

NORTH AFRICAN JEWS WERE DEPORTED TO EUROPE

Unfortunately, the horrors of the Holocaust were not limited to the borders of Europe. Jews in Axis-occupied North Africa were targeted too, though on a lesser scale (that said, had the war turned out differently for Germany, there is no doubt that North African Jews would also have been subject to the Final Solution). 

Thousands of North African Jews were deported to concentration camps in North Africa. Many worked on the trans-Saharan Railroad. Thousands died of starvation, torture, Allied bombings, and disease.

In 1941, all Jews of foreign citizenship were deported from Tunisia and sent to the Nazi camp Bergen-Belsen in Germany, which is the camp where Anne Frank died. 

 

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH & RED CROSS HELPED NAZIS ESCAPE 

Following the end of the war, over 10,000 prominent Nazis escaped Europe. Around 1000 or more of them used the aid of the Catholic Church and/or Red Cross, utilizing an Underground Railroad-esque system known as “ratlines.”

Most ended up in South America (with as many as 12,000 of them in Argentina). Others went to the Middle East and other parts of Asia, where they were welcomed by Nazi sympathizing governments. 

At the end of the war, the Catholic Church considered Communism to be a much greater threat than Nazism. So did the United States. 

 

NON-JEWISH PARTISANS KILLED JEWS 

Partisans — or resistance fighters — existed within and outside of the Jewish community during WWII. While sometimes Jewish and non-Jewish partisans worked together, often Jewish partisans feared not just getting caught by the Germans and their allies, but by non-Jewish partisans themselves.

This makes sense, considering how pervasive antisemitism had been in Europe for 2000 years. While detesting the Nazis, many non-Jews were glad that the Germans were taking care of their “Jewish problem.”

The Home Army, which was the biggest branch of the Polish resistance, was notorious for killing and selling out Jewish resistance fighters. 

 

THE UNITED STATES KNEW 

American newspapers reported on Hitler’s antisemitism and Nazi atrocities all throughout the 1930s. Many Americans disbelieved the reports or thought them to be exaggerated.

Newspaper records prove that the general American public was well-aware of the Nazi’s systematic murder of Jewish People as early as 1942. 

Jewish activists in the United States and Europe repeatedly asked President Roosevelt to intervene on behalf of European Jewry, but in 1935, he said, “This is not a governmental affair.” The American government was also asked to bomb the transportation system to the death camps, which would have drastically lessened the death toll, but they refused to do so. 

 

JEWS WERE MURDERED AFTER THE WAR, TOO

By the end of the war, most Holocaust survivors had no interest in returning to their old homes, having seen how their own friends and neighbors had stood idly by — or worse, collaborated with the Nazis. 

Some survivors, though, did try to return to their old homes and were greeted with violence. 

The most notorious example of this is the Kielce Pogrom. In 1946, following false allegations that a non-Jewish Polish boy had been kidnapped by a Jew, violence broke out in the city of Kielce, where the returning Jewish refugees were viciously attacked, many battered to death with iron rods. In the end, 42 Jews were murdered.

The Kielce Pogrom shocked what remained of European Jewry and convinced most of them that there was no way they could stay. 

 

THE NAZIS CREATED A PROPAGANDA CAMP

Theresienstadt was a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia that was used for Nazi propaganda purposes. It was also a transit camp between the ghettoes and the extermination camps in Poland.

By 1943, the Red Cross was under increasing pressure to intervene on behalf of European Jewry. As such, they announced that they would visit Theresienstadt to assess the conditions, though the extent to which they actually intended to investigate is debated. 

In 1944, the Nazis enacted a “beautification” campaign to prepare the camp for a Red Cross visit, turning the concentration camp into an idyllic Jewish “town.” They created propaganda films to showcase how well the Jews were being treated. 

Some Jews in the camp secretly tried to warn the Red Cross of the real conditions, but the report still concluded that the Jews were being “treated favorably.”

 

HITLER DREW INSPIRATION FROM JIM CROW 

The Nazis did not come up with their oppressive antisemitic policies out of thin air. They drew heavy inspiration from the Jim Crow laws in the United States, as well as the genocide of Native Americans and possibly the Armenian Genocide.

The Nazis were particularly interested in the segregation laws that separated white Americans from Black Americans. Ultimately, however, they decided that segregation was not enough. They believed that because Jews were supposedly “rich and powerful” (a classic antisemitic trope) that Jim Crow laws, which targeted “poor” Black folks, simply were not severe enough to disenfranchise the Jews. 

The antisemitic Nuremberg Laws also drew heavy inspiration from American citizenship laws targeted at Native Americans.