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In 1933, there were over nine million Jews living in Europe. By 1945, only three million remained. During the course of twelve years, Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, would discriminate, relocate, apprehend, imprison, and ultimately murder six million people. This is their story. Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people. “Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1926) In the early 1930s, the world’s economy was in despair. Triggered by the United States stock market crash in 1929, The Great Depression, as it would come to be known as, impacted almost every country in the world. On January of 1933, Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and began a plot to bring Germany back to prosperity. To combat the problem of unemployment, the Nazi Party, led by Hitler, made enormous amounts of money rearming Germany. With the German war machine in motion, employment in military factories and enrollment in the national army wiped out all unemployment. To increase the public’s pride in the new Germany, Hitler picked the Jews to be the cause of all previous economic problems. Hitler created the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebles. The goal of the Ministry was to control and direct all German media, from newspapers to film to literature. All of these methods were used to stir hatred towards Jews. And to clarify who was a Jew, the Nuremberg Laws were established. These laws classified people with four German grandparents as “German or Kindred Blood” while people were classified as “Jews” if they descended from three or four Jewish grandparents. A person with one or two Jewish grandparents was a “Mischling,” a crossbreed of mixed blood. These laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and prohibited marriage between Jews and other Germans. During this time, Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor, remembers the discrimination she felt as a child. “In my school, we were the only Jewish family in the class. The Nazis did every thing they could to make people hate the Jews. Our math was taught to us in books that had questions like: If there were five Jews and you killed three then how many are left?” Nazis also encouraged Germans to buy and trade only with other Germans. Many prominent Jewish businesses were vandalized and forced out of business. As the Jews lost their ability to own businesses, they were becoming poorer and made to look like a bigger burden to the country. The government now decided to move Jews out of their native countries and cities and group them together in areas called ghettoes. The local Jewish leaders were told when the people were to evacuate their homes. Many would try to package as many of their belongings as they could carry. The Nazis ransacked the rest of their homes and many valuables were stolen and used to support the war effort. Life in the ghetto was not easy. The Germans rationed out food but they were very meager meals provided by the Germans. Starvation and sickness were rampant. Those who were able-bodied were put to work at the direction of their German captors. There was no way out. Walls were constructed to isolate one Jewish group from another. Outside these walls were German outposts with orders to shoot anyone trying to escape. All Jews were identified by an armband or patch sewn on their clothes. The emblem was a yellow star, usually with the word Jude, German for Jew. As bad as these conditions were, the Jews did not know what awaited them. The Nazis never envisioned the ghettos to be a permanent location for the Jews. Instead, it was only a holding place for their solution to the “Jewish problem.” Many Jews only stayed for a couple of weeks before being sent to a concentration camp. After staying in a ghetto for a few weeks, the Nazis moved the Jews by freight train to a concentration camp. They would pack the few items they had while living in the ghetto into a small suitcase and write their name on it. The journey to a concentration camp often took days. They were jammed into cars like cattle and the door was bolted behind them. During this ride on board, the Jews had little food or water. If they were given food, it was usually stale bread and the guard would toss water at them. After their journey ended, their fate was determined as soon as they got off the train. At Auschwitz-Birkenau Doctor Joseph Mengele would inspect the Jews after they had been unloaded from the train. He looked for doctors, strong men, twins, and many other different people. These he would pull out for his experiments. He was very interested in twins. Hitler had Doctor Mengele to conduct research on twins to find out what made a person have twins. Hitler wanted to know this so that he could maximize the number of Aryans per birth. “My family and I were on the train to what we now know is Auschwitz. We were on the train for 70 hours without any food or water. When we arrived the doors were unbolted and a mass of people poured out of the cattle car. My twin sister Miriam and I grabbed hold of our mother’s hands. I looked around me and didn’t see my father or my older sisters. I never saw them again. While we were on the selection platform, a soldier asked my mother if we were twins. At first she asked him if that was a good thing. The soldier replied yes. My mother told him we were twins. We were then torn away from our mother and we never saw her again.” To keep track of his experiments, each Jew was tattooed with an identification number on their arm. This would be a daily reminder that they were not considered people but only a number for tracking. Those who were weak and handicapped or elderly were gathered up. Most women and children were also placed in this group. Then they were moved to a grassy area at the end of the camp. This area had many trees and seemed peaceful unlike the rest of the camp. But unknowing to the people of this place, their time at camp was about to come to an end. At Auschwitz, most Jews were gassed within an hour of getting off the train. The Jews that were too weak to work at the camp were immediately taken to the gas chambers. The Nazis told them that they were going to take a shower to keep them calm. They had the Jews put all their belongings in an area and told them to remember that area’s number in order to keep their minds busy on something else other than their death. They then packed over 3000 Jews into each gas chamber. Then the Sonderkommando, a special unit of Jews that were chosen by Doctor Mengele, administered a poisonous substance called Zyklon-B through small vents in the ceiling. Zyklon-B gives off a deadly cyanide gas that would kill one third of the Jews immediately. The rest died after twenty minutes of exposure to the gas. The Sonderkommando then carried the bodies out and brought them to the cremation furnaces. Soldiers would remove things like gold teeth from the dead Jews to send back to Germany. They would collect around 50 pounds a day of gold teeth and other valuables found with the Jews. They then shaved their heads to make uniforms for the German army. And they were also used to make delayed action bombs because hair uniformly expands and contracts no matter what the humidity of the air is. The bodies were then cremated and their ashes were dumped into a nearby field. On January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. Weeks before the camp was actually liberated the prisoners could hear planes flying through the night on bombing runs. The Germans left the camp at first and then came back to kill as many of the prisoners as they could before the Soviets arrived at the camp. While the Germans were there they tried to get rid of every thing they could. They tried to burn documents, cremation facilities, and gassing chambers but were unsuccessful. When the Soviets arrived they found hundreds of thousands or men’s suits, more than 800,000 women’s outfits, and more than 14,000 pounds of human hair. In all, there were 15,668 Jews freed from Auschwitz. After all they’d been through, they were finally free from the Nazis. “After our camp was liberated, Miriam and I were all alone. We lived in three different refugee camps over nine months before being reunited with our aunt in Romania.” Eva Kor currently lives in Terre Haute, Indiana, with her husband, who is also a Holocaust survivor. She is the founder of the Candles Museum and lectures around the world about her Holocaust experience.
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