The Nazi Holocaust is considered by many to be a purely Jewish experience but this was not entirely the case. While some six million Jews were, indeed, murdered in Hitler's death camps, it has been estimated that at least another six million non-Jews perished in the same camps under identical circumstances. Not all of these were merely miscellaneous victims; non-Jews were to a certain extent the victims of genocide as well. It was the usual Nazi policy to exterminate gypsies for example, while a conscious and deliberate attempt was made to “thin out” the Slavic populations of both Poland and Russia during the German occupation. Nazism, as the world knows, was a racist philosophy, and while this racism, applied to the Jews, resulted in genocide, genocide—actually, in part, and potentially, in toto—could be practiced by the Nazis upon all so-called inferior peoples.
It is natural, of course, for many Jews to think of the Holocaust largely in terms of its Jewish victims, a situation akin to a newscaster identifying only the casualties from his local community when describing a plane crash occurring in another city. But to limit the Holocaust to an anti-Jewish phenomenon, as is sometimes done, is not only historically inaccurate but also unwise. Not only does this ignore the sufferings of other people who were victims of the same atrocity, but it also ignores the fact that the Holocaust was in actuality an atrocity committed against all mankind.
To neglect this does the Jews themselves a disservice, too, for limiting the Holocaust to a solely Jewish experience tends to cut non-Jews off from the real lesson of this monstrous episode in recent history and creates at times in some non-Jews one of the following three responses:
1. The Holocaust was a uniquely anti-Semitic phenomenon, another example of the age-old streak of anti-Jewish sentiment which has run throughout Western history and which would not and could not happen to another people.
2. The Nazis were dynamic, efficient, exciting, and even glamorous figures, except for their unfortunate aberration of being anti-Semitic. This is an attitude—in part fostered by Hollywood films—which I have often encountered among my students.
3. Or, finally, the attitude I have heard, occasionally in Germany and once in Russia, that the massacre of the Jews was not such a bad idea after all and that “it is too bad they didn't get the rest of them.”
It is my position that no one could take any of the three attitudes just cited if the true extent and nature of the Nazi atrocities were fully realized.