Answer: The explanation for the Nazis’ implacable hatred of the Jew rests on their distorted world view which saw history as a racial struggle. They considered the Jews a race whose goal was world domination and who, therefore, were an obstruction and threat to Aryan dominance. They believed that all of history was a struggle between races, which should culminate in the triumph of the superior Aryan race. Therefore, they considered it their duty to eliminate the Jewish threat. Moreover, in their eyes, the Jews’ racial origin made them habitual criminals who could never be rehabilitated and were, therefore, hopelessly corrupt and inferior.
There is no doubt that other factors contributed toward Nazi hatred of the Jews and their distorted image of the Jewish people. These included the centuries-old tradition of Christian antisemitism which propagated a negative stereotype of the Jew as a Christ-killer, agent of the devil, and practitioner of witchcraft. Also significant was the political antisemitism of the latter half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, which singled out the Jew as a threat to the established order of society. These combined to point to the Jew as a target for persecution and ultimate destruction by the Nazis.17. What did people in Germany know about the persecution of Jews and other enemies of Nazism?
Answer: Many aspects of the Nazi persecution of Jews and other opponents were common knowledge in Germany. The Boycott of April 1, 1933 and the hundreds of subsequent laws including the 1935 Nuremberg Laws were fully publicized. Moreover, offenders were often publicly punished and shamed. The same holds true for subsequent anti-Jewish measures such as Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), which was a public pogrom that was carried out in November 1938 in full view of the entire population and of the whole world. Even some information on the concentration camps was publicized, so a great deal of information was available to the German public that suggested that Jews and other prisoners were being treated harshly, even if the exact details were harder to obtain.
As for the implementation of the “Final Solution” and the murder of other undesirable elements, the situation was different. The Nazis attempted to keep these murders a secret and, therefore, took precautionary measures to ensure that they would not be publicized. Their efforts, however, were only partially successful. Thus, for example, public protests by various clergymen in August of 1941 led to the limitation and enhanced camouflage of their killing program to murder handicapped Aryans. These protests were obviously the result of the widespread dissemination of the knowledge the murders in special institutions in Germany and Austria.
As far as the Jews were concerned, it was common knowledge in Germany that they had disappeared after having been sent to the East, and were highly unlikely to ever return. While the details of what had happened to them may not exactly have been clear to large segments of the German population, there were thousands upon thousands of Germans who participated in and/or witnessed the implementation of the “Final Solution” either as members of the SS, the Einsatzgruppen, death camp or concentration camp guards, police in occupied Europe, the Wehrmacht, or in civilian capacities.18. Did all Germans support Hitler’s plan for the persecution of the Jews?
Answer: Although the entire German population may not have been in full agreement with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, there is no evidence of any large scale protest regarding their treatment. There were Germans who defied the April 1, 1933 boycott and purposely bought in Jewish stores, and there were those who aided Jews to escape and to hide, but their number was very small. Even some of those who opposed Hitler were in agreement with his anti-Jewish policies. Among the clergy, Dompropst Bernhard Lichtenberg of Berlin publicly prayed for the Jews daily and was, therefore, sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis and other priests were deported for their failure to cooperate with Nazi antisemitic policies, but the majority of the clergy complied with the directives against German Jewry and did not openly protest.19. Did the people of occupied Europe know about Nazi plans for the Jews? What was their attitude? Did they cooperate with the Nazis against the Jews?
Answer: The attitude of the local population vis-à-vis the persecution and destruction of the Jews varied from zealous collaboration with the Nazis to active assistance to Jews. Thus, it is difficult to make generalizations. The situation also varied from country to country. In Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), there was much more knowledge of the “Final Solution” because it was implemented in those areas. Elsewhere, the local population had less information on the details of the “Final Solution.”
In every country they occupied (Denmark and Bulgaria being glaring exceptions), the Nazis had little difficulty in finding locals who cooperated willingly and fully in the murder of the Jews. This was particularly true in Eastern Europe, where there was a long-standing tradition of virulent antisemitism, and where various national groups, which had been under Soviet domination (Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians), fostered hopes that the Germans would restore their independence. In nearly all countries in Europe, there were local fascist movements which allied themselves with the Nazis and participated in anti-Jewish actions; for example, the Iron Guard in Romania and the Arrow Guard in Hungary and Slovakia. On the other hand, in every country in Europe, there were courageous individuals who risked their lives to save Jews. In several countries, there were groups which aided Jews, e.g. Joop Westerweel’s group in the Netherlands, Zegota in Poland, and the Assisi underground in Italy.20. Did the Allies and the people in the Free World know about the events going on in Europe?
Answer: The various steps taken by the Nazis prior to the “Final Solution” (1941) were all taken publicly and were, therefore, reported in the press. Foreign correspondents commented on all the major anti-Jewish actions taken by the Nazis in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia prior to 1939. Once the war began, obtaining information became more difficult, but reports, nonetheless, were published regarding the fate of the Jews. Thus, although the Nazis did not publicize the “Final Solution,” less than one year after the systematic murder of the Jews was initiated, details began to filter out to the West. The first report which spoke of a plan for the mass murder of Jews was smuggled out of Poland by the Bund (a Jewish socialist political organization) and reached England in the spring of 1942. The details of this report reached the Allies from Vatican sources as well as from informants in Switzerland and the Polish underground. (Jan Karski, an emissary of the Polish underground, personally met with Franklin Roosevelt and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden). Eventually, in late November 1942, the American Government and the Allies officially confirmed the reports of mass murder to Jewish leaders. They were publicized immediately thereafter. While the details were neither complete nor wholly accurate, the Allies became aware of most of what the Germans were doing to the Jews and other victims.