THE DESTRUCTION: 1940-1945
This exhibit is about the actual Final Solution: the concentration camps. The purpose, as a visitor, is not only to understand but to feel and to emphasize. Here, I encourage you to write a short reflection afterwards as a way to take stock of this encounter with the past and how it affected your thoughts, emotions, and viewpoints.
As you go through this exhibit, it is important to remember the diversity of Holocaust experiences. We often associate the genocide with Auschwitz and the concentration camps. Even here, we need to recognize that there were slave labor camps and then there were death camps with gas chambers (and some were both). Yet, most of the Jews who died lost their lives via bullets and death squads as the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) stormed through Eastern Europe alongside the Nazi army.
During this period, neither bullets nor gas killed most of the fourteen million victims of Hitler and Stalin. It was deliberate starvation. More than half died in this way.
One historian describes the Final Solution in this way...which historiographical school might s/he be a part of?
The German bureaucrats who contributed their skills to the destruction of the Jews all shared in this experience, some in the technical work of drafting a decree or dispatching a train, others starkly at the door of a gas chamber...at every stage they displayed a striking pathfinding ability in the absence of directives, a congruity of activities without jurisdictional guidelines, a fundamental comprehension of the task even where were no explicit communications.
In retrospect it may be possible to view the entire design as a mosaic of small pieces, each commonplace and lusterless by itself. Yet this progression of everyday activities, these file notes, memoranda, and telegrams, embedded in habit, routine, and tradition, were fashioned into a massive destruction process. Ordinary men were to perform extraordinary tasks (263).
Or this one?
Without Hitler, the charismatic political leader, who believed he had a mission to annihilate the Jews, the Final Solution would not have occurred. Without that assertive and enduring tradition of anti-Semitism by which the Germans sought self-definition, Hitler would not have had the fecund soil in which to grow his organization...Anti-Semitism was the core of Hitler's system of beliefs and the central motivation for his policies" (163).
Or how about this?
Germans’ anti-Semitic beliefs about Jews were the central causal agent of the Holocaust. The conclusion of this book is that anti-Semitism moved many thousands of “ordinary” Germans to slaughter Jews. Not economic hardship, not the coercive means of a totalitarian state, not social psychological pressure, but ideas about Jews that were pervasive in Germany, and had been for decades, induced ordinary Germans to kill unarmed, defenseless Jewish men, women, and children by the thousands, systematically and without pity.
My explanation—which is new to the scholarly literature on the perpetrators—is that the perpetrators, “ordinary Germans,” were animated by anti-Semitism, by a particular type of anti-Semitism that led them to conclude that the Jews ought to die. Why did the horror, brutality, and frequent gruesomeness of the killing operations fail to stay the perpetrators’ hands or at least substantially daunt them? (9, 14).
Here are some specific questions you may want to think about as you peruse the Destruction exhibit:
One of the goals of Holocaust education is to learn to empathize with others. What are you feeling as you visit this exhibit?
One of the other goals of Holocaust education is to try to understand why this happened? From everything you've learned, what do you think caused the Holocaust?
What questions does this raise for you about the Holocaust?
DEPORTATION OF STUTTGART JEWS TO RIGA, LATVIA
Waiting in a Detention Camp in Stuttgart (Nov. 1941)
The systematic "resettlement" of Jews from the German Reich began on October 16, 1941. Only a few weeks later, the first of these Jews were killed in mass shootings near Kaunas (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia). Other German Jews, together with Jews from all over Europe, were either deported to ghettos in the east or sent directly to concentration and extermination camps.
The photograph comes from the "Auschwitz Album," a collection of 193 photographs documenting the arrival and selection of one or more transports of Hungarian Jews in May/June 1944. The photographs were taken by SS Hauptscharführer Bernhardt Walter and his assistant, Unterscharführer Ernst Hofmann.