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Holocaust Museum Washington DC
The Holocaust Museum Washington DC is a must see while visiting. It is a dark, horrifying, and a witness to “Man’s Inhumanity to Man”…as it should be. Consequently, everybody should see this and remember the lessons learned from allowing such a diabolical force to take over a country. (Here is a link to the museum’s website.) The museum is dark and cool to preserve the artifacts exhibited. Consequently, it also serves the purpose of making this sparse concrete and steel construction add to the effect as well.
I believed it was important to make this post stand on its own. Although it was on our Washington DC trip, this is a follow-up post.
Visitors take ID cards as they enter the Holocaust Museum Washington DC. The Nazi’s forced Jewish people to carry similar cards. Each one is about a real person who lived during the Holocaust. Of course, many of them died there as well. The ID cards at the museum are the beginning of the experience that will sometimes shock you and frighten you and appall you.
Visitors start on the top (third) floor. This floor portrays the dehumanizing of the Jews during the period from 1933 to 1939. I’m showing a few key points from my visit. There is so much more.
Finding ways to make people less than human
Hitler proclaimed the Germans the master race. He found ways to make Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, clergy, and others to be less than human. Above all, these actions made it “acceptable” for the German leadership to perform the atrocities of the Holocaust. The dehumanizing of various groups, one by one, served a purpose. Hitler developed his “master race” through dehumanizing some groups and elevating other groups, such as the impressionable Aryan German youth groups.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– Martin Niemoller, German Lutheran pastor
These actions continued to occur throughout the early to middle 1930’s. The Nazi leadership, by enabling a small segment of the population to follow Hitler’s plan, were able to silence opposition within Germany. Here is a link to an article on dehumanizing of groups of people.
Holocaust Museum Washington DC
Increasing the persecution
The Nuremberg Laws
The Third Reich enacted the Nuremberg laws in September 1935. As a result, Hitler obtained the laws he needed. These laws did not define who were Jews and how to make the distinction. The German bureaucracy now had the power to define who were Jews. The bureaucracy used their own varying ideas to decide. The laws also stripped Jews of German citizenship. The Nuremberg Laws driving reason was that Hitler needed an enemy of Aryan purity. Many believed that if Germany didn’t have “enough” Jews, he would have found another group to ostracize from German society. The laws gave Hitler what he needed to form the homogenous and harmonious Aryan Germany. The Laws gave Hitler the first step toward getting rid of “these parasites” and imposing racial conformity on society.
Initially, the actions of the Nazi’s toward Jews and others was to force them to identify themselves with ID cards and identifying symbols. Here is a link to an article about those symbols. As a result, the Nazi’s started to take Jewish businesses away from the owners and force the Jews into “Jewish Ghetto’s” (link). As the Nazi’s sent more Jews into these ghetto’s, the conditions deteriorated. Disease and death increased dramatically as the crowding increased. The increased persecution actions happened in Germany and many conquered countries as well. (Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, and others). (Note: The Nazi’s did not conquer the Soviet Union but did occupy part of the country nearest their other conquered countries.) By Executive Order, the Reich canceled all government contracts with Jewish-owned firms.
Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, was a night of horrifying violence in Germany and Austria. First of all, the Nazi’s murdered hundreds of Jews. Also, the Nazi’s burned and desecrated synagogues. They destroyed Jewish owned shop windows. The Nazi government arrested Jews by the thousands. Finally, Hitler’s government expelled Jewish children from German schools. Kristallnacht marked a much faster escalation of violence and brutality toward Jews.
Following Kristallnacht, Nazi’s ordered all Jewish-owned businesses closed by a decree on the Exclusion of Jews from German Economic Life. The Reich Interior Ministry forbade Jews from owning carrier pigeons. The Reich also ordered them to turn over all jewelry of any value to the government. Finally, the President of the German Lottery outlawed the sale of lottery tickets to Jews. (The sale of lottery tickets seems to be somewhat unimportant. I found it odd that something like this would be included. A sign of intruding upon every area of Jewish life.)
The beginning of World War II
The Third Reich invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. As a result, World War II effectively began. The European allies went it alone until Pearl Harbor when the Americans entered the war. Since the Nazi’s had conquered much of Europe, the British stood virtually alone until the Americans entered the war. The world was hearing about the Nazi atrocities. There is still discussion and disagreement on how the Holocaust could have been stopped earlier.
Continued dehumanization, atrocities, forced labor camps, and death camps
Pictures, artifacts, and films depict the below information as well as much more on the second floor of the Holocaust Museum Washington DC. I picked a few points here to highlight.
Forced Labor and Death Camps
As the Third Reich took over Poland and soon other countries, the dehumanizing spread to those countries as well. The Reich deported thousands of German Jews to Poland. Nazi authorities forced the Jews into ghettos in Poland and in Germany. Above all, the Nazi’s “purified” Germany by moving as many Jews to Poland as possible. Also, the Reich moved Jews into forced labor camps. Eventually, the Nazi’s forced Jews in most of the conquered countries into ghettos. Later in 1940, the Reich moved more Jews to forced labor camps. The Reich increased mass murders in 1940 and 1941. The Reich moved Jews into concentration camps throughout Western Europe. The Nazi’s built the forced labor camps and death camps all over Europe. Prisoners built the camps that would become their prison and eventually their death place.
Nazi leadership added more restrictions on Jews in 1941. Jews could not leave their homes without permission from the police. Jews were forbidden to use public telephones. In 1942, Nazi officials presented to the full leadership the “final solution”, the killing of all European Jews. Hitler decreed that the Jews were forbidden to do the following: Subscribe to newspapers; keep dogs, cats, birds, etc; keep electrical equipment including typewriters; own bicycles; buy meat, eggs, or milk; use public transportation; attend school.
The Final Solution
The Nazi leadership planned how to eliminate all Jews. The SS mass murder machine had already taken many Jews as well as political dissidents, gypsies, communists and many others. They needed an “efficient” way to murder millions of people. They discovered the poison gas to kill and then ovens to burn the bodies. By mid-1943, 80% of the Jews that would be killed were already dead. Most of those still alive were in forced labor camps. They were kept alive because they could work and be “useful” to the regime. Hitler conquered Hungary in 1944 and began deporting 12,000 Jews per day to Auschwitz. The death camp exterminators murdered these prisoners, often on the day of arrival. (Imagine how all these human beings were treated like cattle being taken to slaughter. Probably the Nazi’s treated cattle better.)
After the war
The aftermath of World War II in Germany, focusing on the Holocaust, is found on the first floor of the Holocaust Museum Washington DC.
The Nazi’s destroyed many of the death camps and tried to hide much evidence of the Holocaust when they knew the war was lost. The Allied forces invading and liberating Germany found many of the death camps and were appalled at what they saw. Here is a link to descriptions of Allied soldiers’ reactions. They found people alive buried under people who had already died. They found people so near death that they couldn’t be saved. But they did rescue many of the Jews and others remaining in the death camps, the forced labor camps, and other areas. The accounting of the number of people killed during the Nazi regime continues to this day. The Holocaust Museum Washington DC has much of this research.
As the Allied leadership viewed the aftermath of the death camps, they were adamant that the world should know about what had happened. Here is General Eisenhower’s response.
“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses –
– because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
Here is a link to information showing estimates of how many total people were killed by the Nazi’s before and during World War II.
I’ve read about the Holocaust and seen movies on it. Being immersed in all of this during the visit seemed to make it worse than anything I’ve seen. I hope that with this post and the links, readers will remember the Holocaust. All this happened less than 100 years ago. Here is a link to a ranking of the worst genocides in history. Others say current North Korea should be on the list as well. How far have we come? (While other genocides happened in history (Stalin during his regime, Pol Pot in Cambodia during the late 1970’s), really how far have we come? Genocide is still occurring in the world. Not on the scale of these but it’s still horrifying-Man’s Inhumanity to Man.)
Please visit the Holocaust Museum Washington DC if you are able to do so.
The Driveby Tourist