Reprinted courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
From the time Adolf Hitler became the dictator of Germany in
January 1933, until the surrender of his Third Reich at the end
of World War II in May 1945, Hitler's Nazi led government engaged
in two wars. One was a declared war of military expansion against
the nations of Europe, which began with the 1939 invasion of
Poland and reached its peak in mid-1942, when German armies
occupied much of the continent and had penetrated deep into the
Soviet Union. The other was a war against the Jews of Europe, the
persecution and mass murder, hidden at first from the rest of the
world, that came to be known as the Holocaust.
Even when the tide of war turned against Germany in 1943, and
became clearly hopeless with the mid-1944 Allied invasion of
Europe, the mass killing of Jews continued with increased
ferocity, eventually claiming six million lives. In addition, the
Nazis also put to death an estimated five million Gypsies (or
Roma), Slav peoples, homosexuals, mentally retarded people, and
people with handicaps, all of whom were considered "inferior" to
the pure "Aryan" race. The term "holocaust," however, which means
"destruction by fire," refers specifically to the Nazis'
systematic destruction of Jews. As Elie Wiesel puts it, "Not all
victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims."
Hitler's horrifying scheme was foreshadowed by his denunciation
of "the Jewish conspiracy" in his 1923 book Mein Kampf and fueled
by German economic hardships that tapped deep currents of
anti-Semitism, but to carry it out required the active,
deliberate involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, both
within Germany and in the occupied countries. It also required
the silent acquiescence of millions of people throughout Europe,
people who saw what was happening and either did nothing to stand
in the way or else took part by turning in neighbors or joining
the rush to take over Jewish homes and possessions.
The first Nazi concentration camps were established early in
Hitler's regime, at the German towns of Dachau (1933) and
Buchenwald (1937), and used primarily as prisons and a source of
forced labor. But the conquest of Poland in 1939 brought a new
development, as that country's Jews were herded into ghettos at
such cities as Krakow, Warsaw, and Lodz in a first step toward
transporting them all to concentrations camps. By 1940, mass
murder and "euthanasia" in special "gas vans" was in progress,
and with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Nazi
Einsatzgruppen ("strike squads") began mass killings of Jews in
captured territory, such as the machine-gunning of 33,000 Jews at
the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev in September, 1941. Systematically,
the ghettos in Poland and elsewhere were brutally liquidated, and
the survivors sent to special extermination camps, such as
Auschwitz and Treblinka. Then, in January 1942, at the infamous
Wannsee Conference, the Nazi high command sanctioned the
so-called "final solution," a plan for the total destruction of
all European Jews in the extermination camps' gas chambers.
Nazi leaders tried to keep the mass killings secret, but word
leaked out quite early in the scheme. The United States
government, for example, had confirmed reports of atrocities by
1942. For the most part, however, the outside world paid little
attention. American and British officials met to discuss the
matter in Bermuda in 1943, but accomplished little. It was not
until early in 1944 that the United States even established a
special War Refugee Board (which eventually did help in the
rescue of approximately 200,000 Jews).
In July 1944, the Red Army liberated the Majdanek concentration
camp, and within the next sixth months all the Nazi extermination
camps were liberated by Soviet or American troops, many of whom,
although hardened by years of battle and death, were shocked by
what they encountered there. Only then did the world begin to
learn the full extent of what the Nazis had been doing over the
past 12 years. The results: not counting millions of civilian
deaths from "regular" military actions, some 12-14 million human
beings were murdered by the Nazis, including six million
Jews-more than two thirds of Europe's prewar Jewish population,
and more than had been slain in anti-Semitic pogroms during the
previous 18 centuries.
Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany (as leader of largest
political party) by President von Hindenburg, the head of the
Government-decreed boycott of Jewish business. Concentration camp
for "undesirables" established at Dachau. Jews banned from courts
and government agencies. Jewish quota established for schools and
colleges. Jews banned from college teaching posts. Jews banned
from cultural enterprises (music, film, theater, etc.). Jews
banned from journalism. Jewish food preparation rituals
Marriage and extramarital relations between Jews and non-Jews
prohibited. Jewish citizenship and civil rights revoked. Jews
forbidden to display the German flag.
Jews required to report all financial interests and property.
Jews forbidden to practice law or medicine. Jews required to
carry identification cards at all times. Jews required to assume
the names "Israel" if male, "Sarah" if female. Jews required to
turn in passports so they can be stamped to identify them as
Jews. Jewish religious institutions placed under government
control. Thousands of Jewish men arrested and sent to forced
labor camps. Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938):
Government-sanctioned night of anti-Jewish riots - synagogues
burned, homes looted and businesses destroyed, Jews beaten,
tortured, arrested or killed. Jewish newspapers and journals
outlawed. Jewish children expelled from schools. Jews prohibited
from public places - theatres, concerts, museums, etc. Jewish
businesses closed and Jewish business activity prohibited. Jews
taxed to pay for Kristallnacht property damage.
Administration of Jewish affairs placed under Gestapo control.
Detailed procedures established for government resale and reuse
of confiscated Jewish property. Conquest of Poland: Jews
systematically rounded-up and relocated to urban ghettos; Jewish
businesses, homes, and property confiscated; Jews required to
wear the Star of David; many Jews moved from ghettos to forced
Invasion of Russia: Jews systematically executed as villages come
under German control. Gas chambers for mass execution constructed
near Polish ghettos - Auschwitz Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor,
Majdanek, and Treblinka.
Wannsee Conference completes planning for the "Final solution."
Jews rounded up for mass execution in Nazi gas chambers in
Germany and German controlled countries: France, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Estonia,
Pre-Screening Instructional Objectives
Schindler's Listis at times a historically complex movie.
Experience indicates that students find the movie more engaging
and comprehensible in they understand the historical context of
Students should understand and be able to use the following:
- Death Camp
- Germany (identify on map and describe role in war)
- Nuremberg Laws
- Poland (identify on map and describe role in war)
- World War II
Students should understand the key events leading to World War
- Nazi Seizure of Power
- Invasion of Poland
- Beginning of World War II
- Death Camps Open
- End of War
Post-Screening Instructional Objectives
- Understands the central events of the Holocaust
- Analyzes the moral and political significance of Schindler's List
- Recognizes the central role of prejudice in creating the Holocaust
- Understands the significance of the Holocaust to their own lives and the world today
- Understands key theories on the causes of "rescuer" behavior
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