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STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Editor’s Note: Because of its importance this topic this page is separated from ‘The Evolution of Antisemitism.
The term ‘antisemitism’ was created by the German Wilhelm Marr at the end of the 19th century based on what is now known as ‘faulty science’. The science still exists with its peak in the Nazi extermination policy of the Holocaust in which 6,000,000 Jews were murdered. The date it came into existence explains why it was not used earlier. Some use the term ‘anti-judaizing’ to fill the ‘gap’.
Scientific racism (sometimes race biology or racial biology) is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism (racial discrimination), racial inferiority, or racial superiority; alternatively, it is the practice of classifying individuals of different phenotypes or genotype into discrete races. Historically it received credence in the scientific community, but is no longer considered scientific.
Scientific racism employs anthropology (notably physical anthropology), anthropometry, craniometry, and other disciplines or pseudo-disciplines, in proposing anthropological typologies supporting the classification of human populations into physically discrete human races, that might be asserted to be superior or inferior. Scientific racism was common during the period from 1600s to the end of World War I. Since the second half of 20th century, scientific racism has been criticized as obsolete and discredited, yet historically has persistently been used to support or validate racist world-views, based upon belief in the existence and significance of racial categories and a hierarchy of superior and inferior races.
After the end of World War II, scientific racism in theory and action was formally denounced, especially in UNESCO's early antiracist statement "The Race Question" (1950): "The biological fact of race and the myth of 'race' should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes 'race' is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of 'race' has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years, it has taken a heavy toll in human lives, and caused untold suffering". Such "biological fact" is no longer considered to exist as developments in human evolutionary genetics showed that human genetic differences are nearly totally gradual.
The term "scientific racism" is generally used pejoratively as applied to more modern theories, as in The Bell Curve (1994). Critics argue that such works postulate racist conclusions unsupported by available evidence such as a connection between race and intelligence. Publications such as the Mankind Quarterly, founded explicitly as a "race-conscious" journal, are generally regarded as platforms of scientific racism for publishing articles on fringe interpretations of human evolution, intelligence, ethnography, language, mythology, archaeology, and race subjects.
The Nazi Party and its sympathizers published many books on scientific racism, seizing on the eugenicist and antisemitic ideas with which they were widely associated, although these ideas had been in circulation since the 19th century. Books such as Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes ("Ethnology of the German People") by Hans F. K. Günther and Rasse und Seele ("Race and Soul") by Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss attempted to scientifically identify differences between the German, Nordic, or Aryan people and other, supposedly inferior, groups. German schools used these books as texts during the Nazi era. In the early 1930s, the Nazis used racialized scientific rhetoric based on social Darwinism to push its restrictive and discriminatory social policies.
During World War II, Nazi racialist beliefs became anathema in the United States, and Boasians such as Ruth Benedict consolidated their institutional power. After the war, discovery of the Holocaust and Nazi abuses of scientific research (such as Josef Mengele's ethical violations and other war crimes revealed at the Nuremberg Trials) led most of the scientific community to repudiate scientific support for racism.
Propaganda for the Nazi eugenics program began with propaganda for eugenic sterilization. Articles in Neues Volk described the appearance of the mentally ill and the importance of preventing such births. Photographs of mentally incapacitated children were juxtaposed with those of healthy children. The film Das Erbe showed conflict in nature in order to legitimate the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring by sterilization.
Although the child was "the most important treasure of the people", this did not apply to all children, even German ones, only those with no hereditary weaknesses. Nazi Germany's racially based social policies placed the improvement of the Aryan race through eugenics at the center of Nazis ideology. Those humans were targeted who were identified as "life unworthy of life" (German: Lebensunwertes Leben), including but not limited to Jewish people, criminals, degenerate, dissident, feeble-minded, homosexual, idle, insane, and the weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. Despite their still being regarded as "Aryan", Nazi ideology deemed Slavs (i.e., Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, etc.) to be inferior to the Germanic master race, suitable for expulsion, enslavement, or even extermination.
Adolf Hitler banned intelligence quotient (IQ) testing for being "Jewish" as did Joseph Stalin for being "bourgeois".
Racial antisemitism is a form of antisemitism or prejudice against Jews on the basis belief that Jews are a racial or ethnic group, rather than prejudice against Judaism as a religion. The definition is based on the premise that Jews constitute a distinctive race or ethnic group, whose traits or characteristics are in some way abhorrent or inherently inferior or otherwise different to that of the rest of society. The abhorrence may be expressed in the form of stereotypes or caricatures. Racial antisemitism may present Jews, as a group, as being a threat in some way to the values or safety of society. Racial antisemitism could be seen as worse than religious antisemitism because for religious antisemites conversion was an option and once converted the 'Jew' was gone. With racial antisemitism a Jew could not get rid of their Jewishness.
According to William Nichols, religious antisemitism may be distinguished from modern antisemitism based on racial or ethnic grounds. "The dividing line was the possibility of effective conversion . . . a Jew ceased to be a Jew upon baptism." However, with racial antisemitism, "Now the assimilated Jew was still a Jew, even after baptism ... . From the Enlightenment onward, it is no longer possible to draw clear lines of distinction between religious and racial forms of hostility towards Jews... Once Jews have been emancipated and secular thinking makes its appearance, without leaving behind the old Christian hostility towards Jews, the new term antisemitism becomes almost unavoidable, even before explicitly racist doctrines appear."
In the context of the Industrial Revolution, following the emancipation of the Jews and the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), Jews rapidly urbanized and experienced a period of greater social mobility. With the decreasing role of religion in public life tempering religious antisemitism, a combination of growing nationalism, the rise of eugenics, and resentment at the socio-economic success of the Jews, and the influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, soon led to the newer, and often more virulent, racist antisemitism.
Scientific racism, the ideology that genetics played a role in group behavior and characteristics, was highly respected and accepted as fact between the years of 1870 and 1940. It was not only antisemites that believed in race science but highly educated Jews, among others, as well. This acceptance of race science made it possible for antisemites to clothe their hatred of Jews in scientific theory.
The logic of racial antisemitism was extended in Nazi Germany, where racial antisemitic ideas were turned into law, which looked at the "blood" or ethnicity of a person, and not their current religious affiliations, and their fate would be determined purely on that basis. When added to its views on the Jewish racial traits which the Nazi pseudoscience devised, led to the Holocaust as a way of eradicating conjured up "Jewish traits" from the world.
LIMPIEZA DE SANGRE
A first appearance of racial antisemitism can be found in the Middle Ages alongside religious antisemitism. Though the limpieza de sangre and ("purity of blood") laws of medieval Spain and New Spain affected all non-Christians in society, it had particular impact on Jewish converts to Catholicism who continued to bear some of the disabilities to which they had previously been subject, and even grandchildren of a convert (who may even not know of the heritage) could be stigmatized for their "inferior" blood. The laws tainted Jewish converts to Catholicism, who were denied equal rights and status as Christians, This inferior status continued to apply to the convert's descendants, whose sincerity to their new faith was always in question before the Inquisition, and always had to be able to prove their blood line.
Racial antisemitism has existed alongside religious antisemitism since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. In Spain even before the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism (conversos in Spanish), and their descendants, were called New Christians. They were frequently accused of lapsing to their former religious practices ("Crypto-Jews"). To isolate conversos, the Spanish nobility developed an ideology of "cleanliness of blood". The conversos were called "New Christians" to indicate their inferior status in society. That ideology was a form of racism, as in the past there were no grades of Christianity and a convert had equal standing. Cleanliness of blood was an issue of ancestry, not of personal religion. The first statute of purity of blood appeared in Toledo in 1449, where an anti-converso riot lead to conversos being banned from most official positions. Initially these statutes were condemned by the monarchy and the Church. However, the New Christians came to be hounded and persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition after 1478, the Portuguese Inquisition after 1536, the Peruvian Inquisition after 1570 and the Mexican Inquisition after 1571, as well as the Inquisition in Colombia after 1610.
In Portugal, the legal distinction between "New" and "Old" Christians continued until the issue of a legal decree by the Marquis of Pombal in 1772.
NATIONALISM AND ANTISEMITISM
Racial antisemitism was preceded, especially in Germany, by antisemitism arising from Romantic nationalism. As racial theories developed, especially from the mid nineteenth-century onwards, these nationalist ideas were subsumed within them. But their origins were quite distinct from racialism. On the one hand they derived from an exclusivist interpretation of the 'Volk' ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder. This led to antisemitic writing and journalism in the second quarter of the 19th century of which Richard Wagner's Das Judentum in der Musik (Jewry in Music) is perhaps the most notorious example. On the other hand, radical socialists such as Karl Marx (himself of Jewish descent) identified Jews as being both victims and enforced perpetrators of the Capitalist system – e.g. in his article On the Jewish Question. From sources such as these, and encouraged by the broad acceptance of racial theories as the century continued, antisemitism entered the vocabularies and policies of both the right and the left in political thought.
Germany experienced strong industrial growth following its unification in 1871. Romantic nostalgia coalesced with the rising industrial middle class to form the Völkisch movement. Proponents became concerned with race: pre-Christian German pagan traditions and customs. Terms such as "teutonic" and "aryan" entered the vocabulary. Industrialist Theodor Fritsch financed publication of texts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and reprints of Henry Ford's "The International Jew." The Germanenorden of 1912 was one such party to emerge from this movement.
In Medieval Europe, all Asian peoples were thought of as descendants of Shem. By the 19th century, the term Semitic was confined to the ethnic groups who have historically spoken Semitic languages or had origins in the Fertile Crescent, as the Jews in Europe did. These peoples were often considered to be a distinct race. However, some antisemitic racial theorists of the time argued that the Semitic peoples arose from the blurring of distinctions between previously separate races. This supposed process was referred to as semiticization by the race-theorist Arthur de Gobineau.
Gobineau himself did not consider the Semites (decedents of Shem) to be of a lesser race. He broke people up into three races: white, black, and yellow. The Semites, like the Aryans (and Hamites) came from Asia and were white. Over time each of the groups had mixed with black blood. The Aryans had stayed pure longer and it was not until more recent times that they had mixed. It was this mixing of races that would lead to man's downfall. This idea of racial "confusion" was taken up by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. It was used by the Nazi's to perpetuate the idea that the Jews were going to destroy Germany.
The term semiticization was first used by Gobineau to label the blurring of racial distinctions that, in his view, had occurred in the Middle East. Gobineau had an essentialist model of race based on the three distinct racial groups, though he had no clear account of how this division arose. When these races mixed this caused "degeneration". Since the point at which these three supposed races met was in the Middle East, Gobineau argued that the process of mixing and diluting races occurred there, and that Semitic peoples embodied this "confused" racial identity.
This concept suited the interests of antisemites, since it provided a theoretical model to rationalise racialised antisemitism. Variations of the theory are to be found in the writings of many antisemites in the late 19th century. The Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg developed a variant of the theory in his writings, arguing that Jewish people were not a "real" race. According to Rosenberg, their evolution came about from the mixing of pre-existing races rather than from natural selection. The theory of semiticization was typically associated with other longstanding racist fears about the dilution of racial difference through miscegenation, manifested in negative images of mulattos and other mixed groups.
THE RISE OF RACIAL ANTISEMITISM
Modern European antisemitism has its origins in 19th century theories—now mostly considered as pseudo-scientific, but then accepted as credible—that said that the Semitic peoples, including the Jews, are entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations, and that they would not be able to assimilate. In this view, Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their supposed hereditary or genetic racial characteristics: greed, a special aptitude for money-making, aversion to hard work, clannishness and obtrusiveness, lack of social tact, low cunning, and especially lack of patriotism. Later, Nazi propaganda also dwelt on supposed physical differences, such as the shape of the "Jewish nose".
While enlightened European intellectual society of that period viewed prejudice against people on account of their religion to be declassé and a sign of ignorance, because of this supposed 'scientific' connection to genetics they felt fully justified in prejudice based on nationality or 'race'. In order to differentiate between the two practices, the term antisemitism was developed to refer to this 'acceptable' bias against Jews as a nationality, as distinct from the 'undesirable' prejudice against Judaism as a religion. Concurrently with this usage, some authors in Germany began to use the term 'Palestinians' when referring to Jews as a people, rather than as a religious group. Similar custom is still displayed in the use in academic circles of the term "Hebrew" in preference to the term "Jewish".
Actually, it is questionable whether Jews looked significantly different from the general population in which they lived. This was especially true in places like Germany, France and Austria where the Jewish population tended to be more secular (or at least less Orthodox) than that of Eastern Europe, and did not wear clothing (such as a yarmulke) that would particularly distinguish their appearance from the non-Jewish population. Many anthropologists of the time such as Franz Boas tried to use complex physical measurements like the cephalic index and visual surveys of hair/eye color and skin tone of Jewish vs. non-Jewish European populations to prove that the notion of separate "Jewish" and "Aryan" races was a myth. The 19th and early 20th century view of race should be distinguished from the efforts of modern population genetics to trace the ancestry of various Jewish groups, see Y-chromosomal Aaron.
The advent of racial antisemitism was also linked to the growing sense of nationalism in many countries. The nationalist context viewed Jews as a separate and often "alien" nation within the countries in which Jews resided, a prejudice exploited by the elites of many governments.
RACIAL ANTISEMITIC LEGISLATION
A chart use to explain the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which used a pseudo-scientific racial basis for discrimination against Jews In Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 prohibited sexual relations and marriage between any Aryan and Jew (such relations under Nazi ideology was a crime punishable under the race laws as Rassenschande or "racial pollution"), and made it that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens of their own country (their official title became "subject of the state"). This meant that they had no basic citizens' rights, e.g., to vote. In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them having any influence in politics, higher education and industry. On 15 November 1938, Jewish children were banned from going to normal schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been persuaded to sell out to the Nazi government. This further reduced their rights as human beings; they were in many ways officially separated from the German populace. Similar laws existed in Bulgaria (The Law for protection of the nation), Hungary, Romania, and Austria.
ANTISEMITISM IN HISTORY: RACIAL ANTISEMITISM, 1875–1945
With the development during the last quarter of the nineteenth century of technological progress and scientific knowledge, especially about human biology, psychology, genetics, and evolution, some intellectuals and politicians developed a racist perception of Jews. This perception developed within a broader racist view of the world based on notions of "inequality" of "races" and the alleged "superiority" of the "white race" over other "races."
Belief in the superiority of the "white race" was both inspired and reinforced by the contact of European colonist-conquerors with native populations in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, and buttressed as pseudo-science by a perversion of evolutionary theory known as "social Darwinism." "Social Darwinism" postulated that human beings were not one species, but divided into several different "races" that were biologically driven to struggle against one another for living space to ensure their survival. Only those "races" with superior qualities could win this eternal struggle which was carried out by force and warfare. Social Darwinism has always been the product of bogus science: to this day, despite a century and a half of efforts by racists to find it, there is no biological science to support social Darwinist theory.
These new "antisemites," as they called themselves, drew upon older stereotypes to maintain that the Jews behaved the way they did—and would not change—because of innate racial qualities inherited from the dawn of time. Drawing as well upon the pseudoscience of racial eugenics, they argued that the Jews spread their so-called pernicious influence to weaken nations in Central Europe not only by political, economic, and media methods, but also literally by "polluting" so-called pure Aryan blood by intermarriage and sexual relations with non-Jews. They argued that Jewish "racial intermixing," by "contaminating" and weakening the host nations, served as part of a conscious Jewish plan for world domination.
Though secular racists drew upon religious imagery and stereotypes to define hereditary Jewish "behavior," they insisted that alleged Jewish "traits" were handed down from generation to generation. Since "Jews" did not form a religious group, but a "race," the conversion of an individual Jew to Christianity did not change his racial "Jewishness" and was therefore by nature an insincere conversion.
In the late nineteenth century in Germany and Austria, politicians took advantage of both traditional and racist antisemitism to mobilize votes as the electoral franchise widened. In his political writings during the 1920s, Adolf Hitler named two Austrian politicians who most influenced his own approach to politics: Georg von Schönerer (1842–1921), and Karl Lüger (1844–1910). Schönerer brought the racist antisemitic style and content to Austrian politics in the 1880s and 1890s. Lüger was elected mayor of Vienna, Austria, in 1897, not only because of his antisemitic rhetoric, which for him was primarily a political tool, but because of his oratorical skills and populist charisma that permitted him to communicate his message to broad sectors of the population.
THE NAZI RACIAL STATE
BBC By Professor Peter Longerich, 2011-02-17
A RACIST UTOPIA
The Jews were considered to be the chief enemy.
The Nazi regime attempted, in an unprecedented manner, to establish a system of rule based upon race. The National Socialists saw themselves as a revolutionary movement and their goal was a radical reshaping of existing society into a racially homogenous, 'Aryan' national community (Volksgemeinschaft).
But this goal remained an unrealisable utopian ideal, not least because the 'races' existed only in the fantasy world of the Nazis. The racial homogeneity they desired could only be created negatively, through discrimination, exclusion and eradication - and ultimately by killing those who did not fit into their perfect 'Aryan' society.
These included, on the one hand, members of their own 'Aryan race' who they considered weak or wayward (such as the 'congenitally sick', the 'asocial', and homosexuals), and on the other those who were defined as belonging to 'foreign races'.
Among the latter, the Jews were considered to be the chief enemy. They were represented by the National Socialists as an 'anti-race' that had come into being through negative selection, and that had, through assimilation, deeply penetrated the German 'national body'.
The goal of the Jews, according to the Nazis, was to prevent the construction of the national community the Nazis were striving for. This racist anti-Semitism was able to build on a centuries-old Christian hostility to Jews that had, over time, become a social convention.
'Gypsies', including Roma and Sinti, were also viewed by the Nazis as a dangerous 'foreign' race.
Anti-Jewish legislation covered almost all aspects of life.
Nazi propaganda: 'Such friendships debase Aryans' Nazi propaganda: 'Such friendships debase Aryans' © By examining the persecution of the Jews between 1933 and 1939 - the years that saw the formation of the core of Nazi racism - three distinct phases can be discerned. During the first phase, in 1933 and 1934, the focus was on the exclusion of Jews from public life.
Immediately after taking power the Nazis organised an aggressive boycott of Jewish businesses, but very quickly also began to introduce anti-Jewish laws. Jews were not longer permitted to be civil servants or to practice law. Neither could they occupy any sort of public position.
At the same time, the Nazis quickly made clear that their racist policies were not exclusively aimed at Jews. As early as the summer of 1933 they passed a law that allowed the forced sterilisation of people who were considered 'congenitally sick'. By the end of the 'Third Reich' more than 300,000 Germans had fallen victim to this legislation.
In the spring of 1935, the Nazis began a new phase in the persecution of the Jews. The goal was now to bring about their biological segregation through a process of 'legal' discrimination. As in 1933 this phase began with anti-Semitic rioting organised by supporters of the Nazi party.
Again the regime reacted by imposing measures 'from above'. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws, defining who was to be considered Jewish, were announced. The equal rights of Jews as German citizens - in place in Germany since 1871 - was ended. Marriages and extramarital sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews were forbidden. In the years that followed, comprehensive anti-Jewish legislation was introduced which covered almost all aspects of life.
Following Heinrich Himmler's appointment as head of the German police in 1936, the persecution of other stigmatised groups also intensified. The Nuremberg Laws were extended to 'Gypsies', whose freedom of movement was restricted in 1936 through the introduction of special camps.
Social outsiders were branded 'asocial', and accused of carrying defective genes. They were frequently sterilised and imprisoned. Male homosexuality was declared a critical threat to the very existence of the German people and homosexuals were persecuted as a consequence.
Children known as 'Rhineland bastards' - born to German mothers, but fathered by French-African soldiers stationed in Germany after World War One - were forcibly sterilised in a comprehensive campaign in 1937.
POGROMS AND 'EUTHANASIA'
Around 5,000 'malformed' children were transferred and murdered.
Staff of the T4 'euthanasia' programme relaxing off duty Staff of the T4 'euthanasia' programme relaxing off duty © A third, yet more radical phase in the persecution of Jews followed. From the spring of 1938, Nazi party workers organised demonstrations and riots which lasted through the summer and led to the pogrom of 9 November. Following the so-called 'Night of Broken Glass' (Kristallnacht), the Jews in Germany were stripped of all rights through the introduction of further anti-Semitic laws.
The step-by-step process, begun in 1933, through which Jewish property was forcibly removed, was now brought to a rapid conclusion. The expulsion of Jews from Germany was to be forced through by the threat and use of violence. The Nazis' conquest of Europe from 1939 opened the way for them to subject the whole continent to their racist policies. From the outset, mass murder was a part of this process.
As early as August 1939 the regime ordered all 'malformed' children in Germany to be registered. In the years that followed, around 5,000 such children were transferred to special 'children's departments' and murdered. Shortly after the start of World War Two, this programme of so-called 'euthanasia' - dubbed 'T4' - was extended to include adult patients in mental institutions. More than 70,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals were murdered, mostly in gas chambers set up in six special killing centres.
This programme was cancelled in August 1941, but such patients continued to be killed in great numbers through local, decentralised action. Moreover, soon after the start of the war special SS units murdered thousands of institutionalised patients in the occupied Polish territories, shooting them or killing them in mobile gas chambers.
During the invasion of Poland, and in the first months of occupation, SS special units also systematically murdered 10,000 members of the Polish elites, among them thousands of Jews. This was the Nazis' first war of racial extermination.
THE MADAGASCAR PLAN
The Nazi leadership planned the death by starvation of 30 million people
Jewish mother before execution, Byelorussia Jewish mother before execution, Byelorussia © With the defeat of Poland, around 1.7 million Jews came under German rule. The Nazi leadership now planned to establish a 'Jewish reservation' for all Jews from Poland and other parts of the German 'Reich'. It was to be located in the Lublin district of Poland, in the newly established 'General Government'. This plan formed a part of an extensive resettlement project that Adolf Hitler had appointed Himmler, also chief of the SS, to lead.
Hundreds of thousands were expelled from Poland in order to make room for 'ethnically German' settlers. Yet all these plans for an 'ethnic new order' in Poland were to fail, made impossible by the scale of their megalomania. Thus the 'Jewish Reservation' remained a phantom, despite the fact that by the spring of 1941 several thousand Jews had already been deported to the 'General Government'. After the conquest of France in June 1940 these plans were largely replaced by another project designed to provide a 'territorial solution' to the 'Jewish question'.
As part of the so-called 'Madagascar Plan', all Jews under German rule were to be deported to the French colony of Madagascar. However, this plan was rendered unworkable as long as Great Britain's Royal Navy retained control of the seas.In the winter of 1940 to 1941, Hitler commissioned a third variation of the 'territorial solution', in which the Jews would be deported to the Soviet Union after it had been conquered.
Whether in Poland, Madagascar or the Soviet Union, these plans show unambiguously that the deported Jews would have succumbed to a combination of malnutrition, disease, forced labour and general abuse. Thus even the 'territorial solutions' were effectively conceived to bring about the physical end of the Jews in Europe.
In June 1941, the invasion of the Soviet Union began. It was conceived from the first by the Germans both as a racist war of extermination and as a campaign intended to exploit the occupied territory economically. The Nazi leadership planned in advance the death by starvation of 30 million people in the territory they hoped to conquer, in order to create additional 'living space' (Lebensraum) for Germans.
Significantly, no preparation of any kind was made for a supply of food and other essentials to the large numbers of prisoners of war they expected to capture. Around 60% of the 5.7 million Soviet soldiers captured were to die in German custody.
'THE FINAL SOLUTION'
Fixed and mobile gas chambers were to be used to murder Jews
Additionally the Nazi leadership planned to liquidate the Soviet Union's ruling class in its entirety. Special teams of SS officers and policemen were employed to this end - including the notorious 'task force units' (Einsatzgruppen).Initially these groups, as they had done two years before in Poland, murdered members of the elites. Those killed were almost exclusively Jews, which accorded with the official Nazi doctrine that the Communist regime was ruled by Jews.
Soon, these German special units began to shoot all Jewish men of military age. Before long, they were systematically shooting women and children as well, thereby 'cleansing' entire regions of Jews. By the end of the year more than half-a-million Jewish civilians had been killed. In the Nazis' eyes, this mass murder was the first step towards an 'ethnic new order' in the conquered 'living space', and its victims were those whom the Nazis ranked lowest in their racial hierarchy.
In mid-1941, Hitler ordered the deportation of Jews from the Greater German 'Reich' to Eastern European ghettos. Ten thousand German Jews were sent to Lodz, Minsk and Riga between October 1941 and February 1942. From March 1942 they were deported to ghettos in the Lublin district. Hitler was thus putting into practice his plan, developed at the start of 1941, to deport the Jews to occupied Soviet territories. But he did not wait for his original precondition to be fulfilled - military victory over the Soviet Union's Red Army.
In autumn 1941, the Nazi regime extended the policy of mass murder to areas outside the Soviet Union. In so doing they drew on experience gained from the defunct T4 'euthanasia' programme. From this point, fixed and mobile gas chambers were to be used to murder Jews. At Chelmno, from December 1941, specially adapted buses (Gaswagen) were used for this purpose. In March 1942, Belzec extermination camp went into operation, killing Jews from Lublin and Galicia.
The exact date on which the leadership of the Nazi regime decided to convert the as-yet-unplanned intention to exterminate all European Jews into a concrete programme is not documented and is still the subject of controversy among historians. It is likely that it was not the consequence of a single decision, but of a longer process. The surviving minutes taken at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, at which representatives of the Nazi government and the SS discussed the 'Final Solution', is one of the rare documents that sheds light on this process.
Millions of Eastern Europeans died as a consequence of brutal occupation.
In May 1942, the comprehensive European-wide programme of systematic murder began. Between May and July the deportations were extended to the other occupied Polish regions and the extermination camps Sobibor and Treblinka were opened. At the same time German and Slovak Jews were no longer being deported to ghettos, but directly to the extermination camps. July 1942 saw the first systematic deportations from Western Europe to Auschwitz, where people were subjected to a process of 'selection' and those deemed 'incapable of work' were sent directly to the gas chambers.
Gradually, the Germans extended deportations to almost all occupied regions and to the countries with which they were allied. In the process it became evident that the extent and speed of the deportations varied from region to region and were dependent upon a number of factors. These factors were determined by how radically the occupied territory in question was being governed and/or the nature of the relationship with the German-allied government; by the willingness of local authorities to collaborate with the Germans; by the degree to which it was possible for Jews to escape or go underground; by the level of anti-Semitism exhibited by the local population, or, conversely, by the degree to which they were willing to help and protect Jews.
'Gypsies' were admittedly not persecuted with same intensity or in the same systematic fashion as were the Jews, but they were also shot and deported in huge numbers. Almost 20,000 died in Auschwitz alone. Millions of Eastern Europeans, who were seen by the Nazis as Slavic 'sub-humans', also died as a consequence of brutal occupation of their home countries. Many were deported to Germany as 'foreign labourers', or were ruthlessly forced from their homelands in the second half of the war as a consequence of the 'scorched earth' tactics of the German army.
The genocide and mass murder perpetrated by the 'Third Reich' and its allies - maintained until the last days of the war - should always be seen in the context of the Nazis' racist policies.