How a small human rights charity made a big difference in prompting action on an unfolding genocide
The period of Nazi power, from 1933-1945, was calamitous for Europe’s Jews.
Hitler’s overt anti-Semitism had won him the votes and admiration of millions in Germany and in many of the countries it occupied such as Poland. He rapidly reintroduced discriminatory policies against the Jews, then planned and put into effect the ‘Final Solution’, a dramatic attempt to answer the ‘Jewish Question’ first posed during the French Revolution. The result was slave labour, detention in concentration camps and catastrophic loss of life. Over six million Jews, as well as many other undesirable üntermenschen were murdered, including LGBT, disabled, and 500,000 Romani Gypsies.
How could the Nazis get so close to success in their plans for genocide?
Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the word ‘genocide’, was able, using his library of Nazi documents, to describe the process:
The first step was denationalisation, making individuals stateless by severing the link of nationality between Jews and the state, so as to limit the protection of the law.
This was followed by dehumanisation, removing legal rights from members of the targeted group.
The third step was to kill the nation ‘in a spiritual and cultural sense.’ Jews were forced to register, wear a distinctive badge, then move into designated areas, ghettos.
Seizure of property, the fourth step, rendered the group ‘destitute’ and ‘dependent on rationing’. Decrees limited rations of carbohydrates and proteins, reducing the members of the group to ‘living corpses’.
Spirits broken, individuals became ‘apathetic to their own lives’, subjected to forced labour that cause many deaths, and to further measures of dehumanization and disintegration as they were left to await the ‘hour of execution’.
(from Philippe Sand’s summary of Raphael Lemkin’s analysis of Nazi Method, East-West Street (2017))
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