Nazism and World War II


The National Socialist German Workers' Party almost died one 
morning in 1919. It numbered only a few dozen grumblers' it had no 
organization and no political ideas. But many among the middle class 
admired the Nazis' muscular opposition to the Social Democrats. And 
the Nazis themes of patriotism and militarism drew highly emotional 
responses from people who could not forget Germany's prewar imperial 
 In the national elections of September 1930, the Nazis garnered 
nearly 6.5 million votes and became second only to the Social 
Democrats as the most popular party in Germany. In Northeim, where in 
1928 Nazi candidates had received 123 votes, they now polled 1,742, a 
respectable 28 percent of the total. The nationwide success drew even 
faster... in just three years, party membership would rise from about 
100,000 to almost a million, and the number of local branches would 
increase tenfold. The new members included working-class people, 
farmers, and middle-class professionals. They were both better 
educated and younger then the Old Fighters, who had been the backbone 
of the party during its first decade. The Nazis now presented 
themselves as the party of the young, the strong, and the pure, in 
opposition to an establishment populated by the elderly, the weak, and 
the dissolute. Hitler was born in a small town in Austria in 1889. As 
a young boy, he showed little ambition. After dropping out of high 
school, he moved to Vienna to study art, but he was denied the chance 
to join Vienna academy of fine arts. 
 When WWI broke out, Hitler joined Kaiser Wilhelmer's army as a
Corporal. He was not a person of great importance. He was a creature
of a Germany created by WWI, and his behavior was shaped by that war 
and its consequences. He had emerged from Austria with many 
prejudices, including a powerful prejudice against Jews. Again, he was 
a product of his times... for many Austrians and Germans were 
prejudiced against the Jews. 
 In Hitler's case the prejudice had become maniacal it was a 
dominant force in his private and political personalities. 
Anti-Semitism was not a policy for Adolf Hitler--it was religion. And 
in the Germany of the 1920s, stunned by defeat, and the ravages of the 
Versailles treaty, it was not hard for a leader to convince millions 
that one element of the nation's society was responsible for most of 
the evils heaped upon it. The fact is that Hitler's anti-Semitism was 
self-inflicted obstacle to his political success. The Jews, like other 
Germans, were shocked by the discovery that the war had not been 
fought to a standstill, as they were led to believe in November 1918, 
but that Germany had , in fact, been defeated and was to be treated as 
a vanquished country. Had Hitler not embarked on his policy of 
disestablishing the Jews as Germans, and later of exterminating them 
in Europe, he could have counted on their loyalty. There is no reason 
to believe anything else. On the evening of November 8, 1923, Wyuke 
Vavaruab State Cinnussuiber Gustav Rutter von Kahr was making a 
political speech in Munich's sprawling Bürgerbräukeller, some 600 
Nazis and right-wing sympathizers surrounded the beer hall. Hitler 
burst into the building and leaped onto a table, brandishing a 
revolver and firing a shot into the ceiling. "The National 
Revolution," he cried, "has begun!" At that point, informed that 
fighting had broken out in another part of the city, Hitler rushed to 
that scene. His prisoners were allowed to leave, and they talked about 
organizing defenses against the Nazi coup. Hitler was of course 
furious. And he was far from finished. At about 11 o'clock on the 
morning of November 9--the anniversary of the founding of the German 
Republic in 1919--3,000 Hitler partisans again gathered outside the 
 To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. But a shot 
rang out, and it was followed by fusillades from both sides. Hermann 
Göring fell wounded in the thigh and both legs. Hitler flattened 
himself against the pavement; he was unhurt. General Ludenorff 
continued to march stolidly toward the police line, which parted to 
let him pass through (he was later arrested, tried and acquitted). 
Behind him, 16 Nazis and three policemen lay sprawled dead among the 
many wounded. The next year, Röhm and his band joined forces with the 
fledgling National Socialist Party in Adolf Hitler's Munich Beer Hall 
 Himmler took part in that uprising, but he played such a minor 
role that he escaped arrest. The Röhm-Hitler alliance survived the 
Putsch, and Öhm's 1,500-man band grew into the Sturmabteilung, the SA, 
Hitler's brown-shirted private army, that bullied the Communists and 
Democrats. Hitler recruited a handful of men to act as his bodyguards 
and protect him from Communist toughs, other rivals, and even the S.A. 
if it got out of hand. This tiny group was the embryonic SS.
 In 1933, after the Nazi Party had taken power in Germany, 
increasing trouble with the SA made a showdown inevitable. As German 
Chancellor, the Führer could no longer afford to tolerate the 
disruptive Brownshirts; under the ambitious Röhm, the SA had grown to 
be an organization of three million men, and its unpredictable 
activities prevented Hitler from consolidating his shaky control of 
the Reich. He had to dispose of the SA to hold the support of his 
industrial backers, to satisfy party leaders jealous of the SA's 
power, and most important, to win the allegiance of the conservative 
Army generals. Under pressure from all sides, and enraged by an SA 
plot against him that Heydrich had conveniently uncovered, Hitler 
turned the SS loose to purge its parent organization.
 They were too uncontrollable even for Hitler. They went about 
their business of terrorizing Jews with no mercy. But that is not what
bothered Hitler, since the SA was so big, (3 million in 1933) and so 
out of control, Hitler sent his trusty comrade Josef Dietrich, 
commander of a SS bodyguard regiment to murder the leaders of the SA.
The killings went on for two days and nights and took a tool of 
perhaps 200 "enemies o the state." It was quite enough to reduce the 
SA to impotence, and it brought the Führer immediate returns. The 
dying President of the Reich, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, 
congratulated Hitler on crushing the troublesome SA, and the Army 
generals concluding that Hitler was now their pawn--swore personal 
loyalty to him. In April 1933, scarcely three months after Adolf 
Hitler took power in Germany, the Nazis issued a degree, ordering the 
compulsory retirement of "non-Aryans" from the civil service. This 
edict, petty in itself, was the first spark in what was to become the 
Holocaust, one of the most ghastly episodes in the modern history of 
mankind. Before he campaign against the Jews was halted by the defeat 
of Germany, something like 11 million people had been slaughtered in 
the name of Nazi racial purity.
 The Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. Millions of
Russians, Poles, gypsies and other "subhumans" were also murdered. But
Jews were the favored targets--first and foremost. It took the Nazis 
some time to work up to the full fury of their endeavor. In the years 
following 1933, the Jews were systematically deprived by law of their 
civil rights, of their jobs and property. Violence and brutality 
became a part of their everyday lives. Their places of worship were 
defiled, their windows smashed, their stores ransacked. Old men and 
young were pummeled and clubbed and stomped to death by Nazi jack 
boots. Jewish women were accosted and ravaged, in broad daylight, on 
main thoroughfares. 
 Some Jews fled Germany. But most, with a kind of stubborn belief 
in God and Fatherland, sought to weather the Nazi terror. It was 
forlorn hope. In 1939, after Hitler's conquest of Poland, the Nazis 
cast aside all restraint. Jews in their millions were now herded into
concentration camps, there to starve and perish as slave laborers. 
Other millions were driven into dismal ghettos, which served as 
holding pens until the Nazis got around to disposing of them.
The mass killings began in 1941, with the German invasion of the 
Soviet Union. Nazi murder squads followed behind the Wehrmacht
enthusiastically slaying Jews and other conquered peoples. Month by
month the horrors escalated. First tens of thousands, then hundreds of
thousands of people were led off to remote fields and forest to be
slaughtered by SS guns. Assembly-line death camps were established in
Poland and train loads of Jews were collected from all over occupied
Europe and sent to their doom.
 At some of the camps, the Nazis took pains to disguise their 
intentions until the last moment. At others, the arriving Jews saw 
scenes beyond comprehension. "Corpses were strewn all over the road," 
recalled one survivor. "Starving human skeletons stumbled toward us. 
They fell right down in front of our eyes and lay there gasping out 
their last breath." What had begun as a mean little edict against 
Jewish civil servants was now ending the death six million Jews, 
Poles, gypsies, Russians, and other "sub-humans" Uncounted thousands 
of Jews and other hapless concentration-camp inmates were used as 
guinea pigs in a wide range of medical and scientific experiments, 
most of them of little value. Victims were infected with typhus to see 
how different geographical groups reacted; to no one's surprise, all 
groups perished swiftly. Fluids from diseased animals were injected 
into humans to observe the effect. Prisoners were forced to exist on 
sea water to see how long castaways might survive. Gynecology was an 
area of interest. Various methods of sterilization were practiced--by 
massive X-ray, by irritants and drugs, by surgery without benefit of 
anesthetic. As techniques were perfected, it was determined that a 
doctor with 10 assistants could sterilize 1,000 women per day.
 The "experimental people" were also used by Nazi doctors who 
needed practice performing various operations. One doctor at Auschwitz
perfected his amputation technique on live prisoners. After he had
finished, his maimed patients were sent off to the gas chamber. A few 
Jews who had studied medicine were allowed to live if they assisted 
the SS doctors. "I cut the flesh of healthy young girls," recalled a 
Jewish physician who survived at terrible cost. "I immersed the bodies 
of dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride (to preserve them), or had 
them boiled so the carefully prepared skeletons might safely reach the 
Third Reich's museums to justify, for future generations, the 
destruction of an entire race. I could never erase these memories from 
my mind." 
 But the best killing machine were the "shower baths" of death. 
After their arrival at a death camp, the Jews who had been chosen to 
die at once were told that they were to have a shower. Filthy by their 
long, miserable journey, they sometimes applauded the announcement. 
Countless Jews and other victims went peacefully to the shower 
rooms--which were gas chambers in disguise.
 In the anterooms to the gas chambers, many of the doomed people 
found nothing amiss. At Auschwitz, signs in several languages said, 
"Bath and Disinfectant," and inside the chambers other signs 
admonished, "Don't forget your soap and towel." Unsuspecting victims 
cooperated willingly. "They got out of their clothes so routinely," 
Said a Sobibor survivor. "What could be more natural?"
 In time, rumors about the death camps spread, and underground
newspapers in the Warsaw ghetto even ran reports that told of the gas
chambers and the crematoriums. But many people did not believe the
storied, and those who did were helpless in any case. Facing the guns
of the SS guards, they could only hope and pray to survive. As one
Jewish leader put it, "We must be patient and a miracle will occur."
There were no miracles. The victims, naked and bewildered, were shoved
into a line. Their guards ordered them forward, and flogged those who
hung back. The doors to the gas chambers were locked behind them. It
was all over quickly.
 The war came home to Germany. Scarcely had Hitler recovered from 
the shock of the July 20 bombing when he was faced with the loss of 
France and Belgium and of great conquests in the East. Enemy troops in
overwhelming numbers were converging on the Reich. By the middle of 
August 1944, the Russian summer offensives, beginning June 10 and 
unrolling one after another, had brought the Red Army to the
border of East Prussia, bottled up fifty German divisions in the 
Baltic region, penetrated to Vyborg in Finland, destroyed Army Group 
Center and brought an advance on this front of four hundred miles in 
six weeks to the Vistula opposite Warsaw, while in the south a new 
attack which began on August 20 resulted in the conquest of Rumania by 
the end of the month and with it the Ploesti oil fields, the only 
major source of natural oil for the German armies. On August 26 
Bulgaria formally withdrew from the war and the Germans began to 
hastily clear out of that country. In September Finland gave up and 
turned on the German troops which refused to evacuate its territory.
In the West, France was liberated quickly. In General Patton, the
commander of the newly formed U.S. Third Army, the Americans had found 
a tank general with the dash and flair of Rommel in Africa. After the
capture of Avranches on July 30, he had left Brittany to wither on the
vine and begun a great sweep around the German armies in Normandy,
moving southeast to Orleans on the Loire and then due east toward the
Seine south of Paris. By August 23 the Seine was reached southeast and
northwest of the capital, and two days later the great city, the glory
of France, was liberated after four years of German occupation when
General Jacques Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 4th
Infantry Division broke into it and found that French resistance units
were largely in control.


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