A have targeted groups or races for mass

A journalist once summed up the uniqueness of the
Holocaust into one sentence: “Other genocides have targeted groups or races for
mass murder; but they were not designed
to remove them in their entirety”1. However
it wasn’t only the drive of Nazi Germany to make the Jewish people extinct that
make the Holocaust unique. The practises used to humiliate and dehumanise Jews
also play a large factor in making the Holocaust stand out against other
genocides, the killing methods used and also the public response to this major
event all piece together one of the world’s most tragic events. In this essay I
will discuss the aspects of the Holocaust that differ and relate to other major
historical genocides that have occurred and in turn come to a conclusion as to
how far we can say the Holocaust was unique in regards to other tragedies of
the sort.

The Holocaust was not unique in the fact that it
was an attack directed towards a certain demographic, as history shows that
many different ethnic groups have been subject to genocides in their own right.
The Holocaust was a genocide of the Jewish people, which can be compared to the
Armenian Genocide or the Porajmos, two other genocides directed towards
Armenians and Romani Gypsies respectfully. However, what does make the holocaust
unique is that the Germans chose to remove the Jews from society through a series
of well-planned stages in the years before the organised
mass murders. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party or the Nazi Party
(which I will be using to refer to the political party from this point forward),
started implementing anti-Jewish policies in 1933, kicking off the first stage
of Jewish persecution. The attacks on Jews that began in March of 19332 were
only the by-products of the actions that the Nazi party was taking to exclude Jews from society, as in the
months of March and April the Nazis took over employer’s associations and union
groups in attempts to drive Jewish professionals out of their occupations. The
second stage of Jewish persecution began in January of 1935 and lasted up until
the late summer of 19353.
The ban on “miscegenation” or inter-breeding
between races was implemented as well as separate citizenship laws and
regulations for Jews working in finance and economics. The third stage
following closely behind the second stage, starting at the end of the 1935
summer saw the exclusion of Jews from German welfare handouts, German Health
System and certain aspects of the German school system. The fourth and final
stage of the Jewish racial persecution was done through state endorsed
activities between the years of 1937 and 1939. Forceful property and business
seizures from Jewish owners were widespread and the Nazi organised riot programs such as “Kristallnacht”
(Night of Broken Glass) were incredibly successful at turning the German people
against their Jewish neighbours. It could
be argued that other minority groups were subject to similar persecution in
Nazi Germany, such as Romani Gypsies, political opponents, homosexuals and the
physically or mentally handicapped. However,
a counter argument for this is that the
Nazi party treated these types of minority groups very differently to the
Jewish population, opting to euthanize/sterilize them than to put them through
the different stages of maltreatment. It is important to understand that
although the treatment of minority groups throughout Nazi Germany was abhorrent
and inherently evil, there is a distinction between cold-blooded killing and
psychologically conditioning an entire ethnic group to believe they are
subhuman… and then to systematically attempt to render them extinct.

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The methods used by the Ottoman Turks to
exterminate an estimated 1.5 million Armenians can only be described as
barbarous and uncivilised. Mass burnings,
poison and drug overdoses, drowning and death marches were all practises employed by the Ottomans on their
tirade through Armenia. The Hutus chose to hunt down up to one million Tutsis
and execute them with machetes during the proceedings of the Rwandan genocide4.
The Cambodian Genocide is famous for its killing fields, militia murdered
parents with sharpened bamboo sticks or poison to save on ammunition and then
“smashed their children’s skulls to stop them taking revenge”5.
These genocides, like many others, are notoriously known for their savage
killing methods, processes of extermination that would be perceived to be
commonplace hundreds of years ago and not in the 20th century in
which they were carried out. This is what sets the Holocaust aside from other
major acts of atrocity, that the Germans were incredibly meticulous and
creative in their killings and spared no expense. In the beginning of the year
1942, 15 high ranking members of the Nazi party met in the Berlin suburb of Wansee to discuss the implementation of the ‘Final
Solution to the Jewish Question’, this event came to be known as the infamous ‘Wansee Conference’. The outcome of the
conference was the mutual agreement that all Jews in Europe should be shipped
to Nazi controlled Poland where they
would be imprisoned in concentration camps and killed.6 By
this time many concentration camps had already been created and were in full
operation, examples of this are Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec and Chelmno, but mass shipping of Jews for
execution into these camps truly began mid-1942. It is estimated that around 6
million Jews died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Germans, out of the 6
million approximately 2.3 million Jewish people were killed in the five main
extermination camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmo). The process for a Jew entering into a
concentration camp was incredibly dehumanising
and methodical. As soon as Jewish prisoners stepped foot off of the trains that
had brought them there they were
separated by gender, children staying with the mother. The next step was for
the prisoners to be registered, then all head hair was shaved off and clothing
removed, preparing them for a shower.7
Only in Auschwitz were prisoners tattooed on their arm with their
identification number. If it was decided that the prisoners would be
exterminated upon arriving at the camp then they would not be showered, but instead lead into a gas chamber disguised as a
shower room. This is where the infamous gas, Zyklon B, would be administered.
The process for administering Jews into the concentration camps was not only
well planned out and organised but an
effective weapon in dehumanising and
humiliating the Jews. Other methods of killing that the Germans employed were the
use of the Einsatzgruppen and Gaswagens. The Einsatzgruppen was a special death
squad operated under the SS (Schutzstaffel),
created by Heinrich Himmler and were tasked with exterminating Jews and other individuals
the Germans deemed undesirables. Gaswagens were contraptions used by the
Einsatzgruppen and other subdivisions of the Wehrmacht8,
vans that were modified to be airtight in the rear compartment and had an inlet
from the exhaust so that victims being held would be asphyxiated by Carbon
Monoxide. Death squads and gas vans are definitely not unique methods for
carrying out killings, the Russians had practically invented death squads in
the times of the October Revolution and they were the inspiration behind the
gas vans. What the Germans did do that was unique was that they professionalised and perfected these methods to
become incredibly effective in the crude art of killing. The same can be said
for the concentration camps, used by the British in the Boer war and claimed to
be invented by the Spanish sometime in the mid-19th century but
perfected by Nazi Germany in the early 1940’s.

When comparing genocides by death toll it is
evident that the Holocaust comes out on top with estimates of total life lost caused by the Nazis ranging from 11
million to 17 million, and 5 to 6 million of said deaths were solely Jewish9.
The genocides that follow closely behind in regards to death toll are the
Holodomor Genocide and the Cambodian Genocide with estimates ranging from 2 to
7.5 million deaths and 1.4 to 3 million deaths respectively. It is incredibly
difficult to comprehend the sheer vastness of these figures, especially when
considering the Holocaust and the methods used to exterminate all of those
millions of individuals. The next largest genocide, the Holodomor, was carried
out by Stalin’s Soviet Government by artificially starving the nation of Ukraine
by taking control of large amounts of peasant-owned
farmland. Understanding that to kill so many people by forced starvation is –
in layman’s terms – relatively simple, but to put such a vast amount of people
through a specific system like the Nazi’s did is astounding.

When learning of the details of a historical
tragedy it is important to understand the reasoning behind it, why such events
came about and the justifications that the perpetrators had for conducting such
an event. In the case of Nazi Germany, it could be argued that Adolf Hitler was
the cause for the hatred for the Jewish race. However this simply is not true
as anti-sematic views were widespread throughout Europe before the rise of the
Nazi party and Hitler. Christian theology is behind some of the large amounts
of anti-semitism that was prevalent in the years before the Nazi party, a
belief that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus and the view that the
Jewish were a race were in combat with the white Aryan race. Hitler was an
extremely intelligent individual and a skilled manipulator and used the
pre-existing hatred for the Jewish race as a foundation to build up the Jewish
people as a living evil entity, a so called enemy of the state. Hitler’s more
modern reasoning for persecuting the Jewish people was based on the First World
War and the German defeat, blaming the Jews for stabbing Germany in the back.
This can relate to other genocides closely such as the Cambodian Genocide. The
Cambodian Genocide came about due to the Khmer Rouge (led by Pol Pot) regime’s
want to bring the nation back to a time when society was purely agricultural, a
time the common people were focused on maintaining crops and farmland instead
of what was actually happening, the society was becoming more modern and
advanced. A KR leader is once reported to have said that the genocide was for
the “purification of the populace”10.
This wording is very similar to what we know the Germans would say to justify
their killings of the Jews, so in this sense the motivations were not entirely
unique.  

The reaction to the events that went on during
the Holocaust after WW II were incredibly unique and resonated all around the
world. From the Nuremberg Trials to the recognition of the word Genocide by the
UN and the weight that it carries with it show that the human race had come
forward in accepting what had happened, wanted to punish those responsible and attempt to make sure that
nothing like it would ever occur again. However, the very same nations that encouraged
a heavy punishment for all those responsible for the Holocaust did not take
action during the Holocaust, when the Jewish people needed them most. President
Roosevelt failed to mention anything about the treatment of the Jews in Nazi
Germany to the US press11,
his Treasury official Josiah Dubois had to make the announcement after 998
press conferences without mention of the atrocities. Switzerland, as a neutral
country would have been expected to have no part in the persecution of the
Jews, but in fact aided in making travel and emigration more difficult for
those fleeing Nazi Germany. Switzerland closed her borders to all refugees from
the 13th of August 1942 until the 12th of July 1944 and
were the catalyst behind all Jews receiving stamps on their passports to
identify them as being part of the minority group12.
Switzerland also upheld some of Germany’s anti-sematic laws and leaders of the
Red Cross (based in Switzerland) urged their committee to not condemn Germany
and their “attacks” on “certain categories of nationalities”13. Many
conferences were held in response to the ever increasing knowledge that Nazi
Germany was persecuting an ethnic group on a level never witnessed before. The
Evian Conference held in 1938 and the Bermuda Conference held in 1943 both
discussed the issue of Jewish refugees. The result of both conferences were
equal, most of the western countries attending refused to increase their quotas
for the amount of Jews allowed to enter their countries. The US even went as
far as disallowing fleeing Jews to fill the quota spots set aside for them as
the Department of State held onto 90% of the spaces allowed for such refugees.
However, in a time of rigidity in politics there were some nations that helped
the Jews in any way they could. The Dominican Republic offered to accept up to
100,000 Jewish refugees14, Denmark
saved 95% of all its Jewish inhabitants by sending them to neutral Sweden15
and even Japan, an axis power, saved over 6,000 Jewish refugees from Lithuania16.
In relation to other genocides, the public reaction is not wholly unique. The
Chinese government was a major supporter of the Khmer Rouge during the
Cambodian Genocide, supplying them with massive amounts of aid and over 15,000
military advisers. In the UK and the US it was widely known what was going on
in Armenia but external aid was seldom given.

In conclusion it is evident that there are some
aspects that make the Holocaust entirely unique from other genocides that have
occurred, but there are also aspects that are universal between genocides or
share similar characteristics. The methods used by the Nazis to kill so many
Jews were not entirely unique but were performed at such a professional level
to merit the Holocaust as not an “amateur” genocide as such. Also public
response to the incident, like to many other genocides they follow the pattern
of not getting involved during, but publicly stating that the act was of a
horrific nature after the fact.

1 Pollard,
The characteristics that made the
Holocaust the most horrible crime ever committed

2
Longerich, Holocaust : The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, Page 32

3
Ibid, Page 52

4 Prunier,
The Rwanda crisis : history of a genocide,
Page 247

5
Buncome, Khmer Rouge chief: babies were
‘smashed to death’

6
Longerich, Holocaust : The Nazi
Persecution and Murder of the Jews, Page 309

7
Processing and Routines, Holocaust
Explained

8
Longerich, Heinrich Himmler: A Life,
Page 542

9United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution

10Hannum,
International Law and Cambodian Genocide:
The Sounds of Silence

11Medoff, Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E.
DuBois, Jr. and the Struggle for an American Response to the Holocaust,
Page 6

12Hilberg,
Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The
Jewish Catastrophe 1933–1945, Page 258

13Ibid,
Page 259

14Museum
of Jewish Heritage, A Community Born in
Pain and Nurtured in Love

15Auschwitz-Birkenau
State Museum, Holocaust Survivors and
Remembrance Project “Forget You Not”

16Pfefferman,
Sugihara’s Mitzvah

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