The Destruction of a Society
A keynote of German social policy was racism. To the Nazis, the Jews were lowest on the scale of humanity. To create a racially pure Aryan society—to “save” Germany—Jewish people, Jewish society, had to be eliminated before any other undesirable group.
This policy was instituted gradually in Germany. It began in the early 1930s with book burnings and a skillfully conducted propaganda campaign against the Jews. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws denied citizenship, property, and means of livelihood to Jews. A signal event was Kristallnacht: November 9, 1938, the “Night of Shattered Glass” in which Jewish synagogues, schools, homes, and hospitals throughout the country were destroyed. After that, the Germans began arresting Jews and shipping them to concentration camps.
The policy of racial hatred and destruction of Jewish society was carried out in other countries, such as Austria and Czechoslovakia, where Germany occupied the land or attained power in the late 1930s. Many local people, continuing their historical anti-Semitism, willingly collaborated with the German occupiers. But in these countries, the destruction was carried out in more sudden ways. Jews were quickly denied rights, humiliated, beaten, jailed, killed. They were resettled in ghettos and then deported to death camps.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1938, Poland fell at once and was divided between Germany and its then-ally, the Soviet Union. Soviet occupation was bad enough. But then in 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and occupied the previously Polish-controlled parts of Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus. The German regime of terror began immediately in these areas.
Many Jews, especially in 1930s Germany, found it hard to believe how serious the growing signs of imminent danger were. And many Jews, especially in other countries, simply didn't know what was happening. In any case, the early events of the Holocaust struck with sudden, cruel blows. The writers in this section tell of their shock and horror as they watched the emblems and institutions of their society being destroyed. In “An Action against the Jews, ” “Kristallnacht” is the moving cry of a boy witnessing the burning of his synagogue; he experiences the pain of all German Jews when sacred and secular Jewish structures were senselessly trashed. In “The Sandwich” the same writer's