Not one single country in the world was willing to take the hundreds of thousands of Jews attempting to flee the Nazi Holocaust. Not even America. Not even England. Nobody. When the world turned their backs on the Jews, they went to their historical homeland. As if to say, “great, you go there, we’ll let you have it as long as you stay out of our countries,” the League of Nations agreed to start the process of giving the Jews a swath of barren desert that the Arabs hardly lifted a finger to improve. So away the Jews went, doing what they could to get away from Nazi terrorists. Today, the Jews refer to the Holocaust as “Sho’ah,” or simply “the calamity.”

The realities of the Holocaust are hardly spoken of today. Americans largely don’t want to think about it; it makes us uncomfortable because of the horrors suffered at the hands of the Nazis. We know it was horrible. When we hear the word “holocaust” we understand that it included unspeakable acts of barbaric inhumanity, yet not only do we not really discuss it, we attach words like “Nazi” and “Holocaust” to politicians we don’t like or actions we disagree with–most of which have absolutely no parallel to the realities that existed during those times.

As part of Hitler’s “final solution to the Jewish question,” millions upon millions of Jews were first forced to wear yellow six-pointed Jewish stars. Then their businesses were taken by the Nazis. Then they were forced from their homes, rounded up and herded like cattle onto trains. They were taken to concentration camps, where they were sorted (again, much like cattle) into two groups: those that were fit would work, and the rest would go directly to the gas chambers. The gas chambers meant you were stripped naked, your hair completely shorn, and you were shoved into a massive chamber under the pretense of showering with a hundred other people. Then Zyklon-B gas was pumped in, killing everyone inside. The bodies would be stripped of anything useful (gold or silver teeth especially) and cremated in massive ovens. At times, so many would be cremated that the ash would blanket the nearby German towns like a ghastly, eerie snow-like substance.

Being allowed to live in the camps was often worse than dying. They were only fed enough to keep them alive, so it was not uncommon for Jewish prisoners to look like little more than skeletons covered by a thin layer of sallow skin. On top of this, they were mercilessly beaten while they were forced to do slave labor. The ammunition and bombs used by the Nazis were sometimes put together by Jews in the camps. Some Jews were used in horrific medical tests, often being slowly tortured to death. Josef Mengele tested sets of twins (sometimes by injecting their eyes with dye to change their eye color, even sewing the twins together physically to create conjoined twins). Freezing tests required the literal freezing of live people to test the best forms of resuscitation for hypothermia. Subjects were exposed to mustard gas to inflict severe chemical burns, which would then be tested for the best treatments. Severe wounds were inflicted and horrible infections deliberately caused with wood and glass shavings to test sulfonamide and other antimicrobial drugs.

Many different methods of sterilization were tested, including radiation and injections of iodine and silver nitrate, often with unspeakable side effects. Treatments for the injuries caused by incendiary bombs were tested by burning victims and then testing all manner of treatments, most of which eventually killed the subjects. Among the worst tests involved poisons. Most were secretly poisoned when they were fed, usually resulting in death. Some were shot with poison-tipped bullets, a tortuously slow death. Every single subject was either treated before death or simply monitored while they died, then used in autopsies to study the results.

When there was no time to herd a group of Jews to a camp, SS troops would force them to dig a massive ditch, then line them up in front of it and shoot them. The next batch of victims would be required to cover the first with a thin layer of dirt before seeing the same fate.

We tend to think of these people as faceless, nameless numbers rather than as the individuals they were, with families and lives of their own just like us. But they were people; they were human beings with dreams, hopes, loved ones and futures. Every single one experienced a hell not one of us can imagine and every one deserves to be remembered for their humanity. Their only wrong was being Jewish.

With these details in mind–and some too horrific for me to describe–please, try to compare this to what is going on in Israel and Gaza now. Tell me that Bush is the new Hitler. Tell me that today’s American Christians are equal to the Taliban or the Nazis. Tell me what being stripped of human rights really means.

Better yet, tell the Jews.


5 thoughts on “Sho’ah

  1. I would recommend everyone read the book “Theory and Practice of Hell” by Eugene Kogan. It was his story about living through the camps and how they where set up and run. It’s one of the most disturbing things I have read. It has a lot of information.

  2. I would also recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel. His book is one of the few good things that came out of The Holocaust.

  3. “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom is another good one. It’s actually about the Christian resistance and how they worked to hide the Jews–and what happened to them when they were caught.

    I’ve heard of the book by Eugene Kogan, but I’ve not yet read it. I think I might just have to stop by Barnes & Noble on the way home.

  4. There is a lot of things in it that they don’t usually tell you about. Like the fact that the Germans used to make whore houses in the camps for the guards and sometimes let the local rat get in there for good behavior. He also talks a lot about the medical experiments since he was forced to either watch or help with them.

    It’s not a fun book but much like the “The Gulag Archipelago” it’s something everyone should read.

  5. Leon Uris has a series of historical fiction books that tell a myriad of stories about the holocaust and founding of Israel. The most famous being, of course, Exodus.

    Many years ago they were my first introduction to the emotions and events surrounding Israel’s history, and I still re-read at least one or two of them every year.

    Also excellent reading – The Hope and The Glory by Herman Wouk. I’ve read both of them at least three times each.

    Of course I’ve also read many more scholarly books since them (Army of Roses being an EXCELLENT synopsis of life for women in the Palistinian territories, written by someone who apparently did not want to admit the “death cult” but ended up being forced to), but Uris and Wouk capture not just the history, but the emotions.

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