The HyperTexts

The Holocaust: What Was the Holocaust, Why Did It Happen and How Can Such Terrible Things Continue to This Day?

by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry

I have created this article for students, teachers and other educators who want to understand what the Holocaust was, how it happened, and what we can do to prevent current and future holocausts.

In this article I will use the term "Holocaust" (capitalized) to refer to the massive suffering and deaths inflicted by the Nazis on millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other victims prior to and during World War II. I will use the term "holocaust" (uncapitalized) to refer to other similar historical events such as the Nakba (Arabic for "Catastrophe") of the Palestinian people, the Trail of Tears and American slavery. I will use the term "Shoah" (Hebrew for "Catastrophe") to refer to what happened specifically to the Jews during the Holocaust.

What was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust began with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power in Weimar Germany in the years prior to World War II. It began as a system of government-sanctioned injustices designed to strip people the Nazis considered "inferior" of their land, homes, businesses and other property. A primary motive was, quite simply, robbery of large numbers of people who had been left defenseless. The wealth stolen from these "undesirables" was then used by the Nazis to create a huge war machine. That war machine was then launched at other "undesirables" in neighboring nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. When the Allies finally acted to halt the Nazis’ aggression against their neighbors, World War II resulted. As the war raged, the Holocaust steadily intensified and worsened. The people the Nazis deemed "undesirable" included Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists and people with physical and mental handicaps. Because these people had been robbed of their homes, land, property and jobs, they could no longer provide for themselves, so the Nazis "cleansed" them to walled ghettoes and concentration camps where the able-bodied victims were often forced to provide slave labor. But over time the cost of housing, feeding and caring for millions of people whose health was constantly deteriorating under horrendous conditions became enormous, and the Nazis finally settled on a "final solution" of murdering large numbers of people who were unable to work, including women, children and the elderly. A primary target of this premeditated genocide were Jews, but in the end more non-Jews may have died than Jews. The total deaths from the Holocaust have been estimated as high as 17 million people. Jewish deaths have been estimated at five to six million. No one knows the exact numbers, but not knowing the exact numbers must not be used to deny what we do know: that millions of innocents were denied justice, stripped of their human rights and freedom, enslaved, abused and murdered. It was an absolute horror for millions of Jews to suffer and die so horrendously. It was an absolute horror for millions of non-Jews to suffer and die so horrendously. We should mourn all the victims and not dishonor anyone’s memory by suggesting that one person’s death was unimportant because more people of some other race may have died. Every individual death was a personal Holocaust for that person and his/her family and friends.

Did the Holocaust really happen?

Yes, the Holocaust really did happen. The evidence of the Holocaust is preserved in the Nazi death camps, many of which still stand to this day with their gas chambers, ovens and mass graves. The evidence is also preserved in the photos Allied soldiers and journalists took of the multitudes of corpses and emaciated survivors, and in the verbal and written testimonies of Holocaust victims and survivors. Anyone who denies that the Holocaust really happened is either lying or refusing to see the world as it really is, at its worst. There is absolutely no doubt that the Holocaust really happened. No one knows the exact number of people who suffered and died, but there is no doubt that the numbers are in the millions. Arguments about the exact numbers shame the memories of the millions of people who suffered and died so needlessly. We need to accept the terrible truth and concentrate on preventing such things from happening, and yet today millions of completely innocent women and children are victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Darfur and Israel/Palestine.

How could the Holocaust have happened?

Today it seems unthinkable that the Holocaust could ever have happened. How could an advanced industrialized nation like Germany not only allow, but cause millions of innocent people to suffer and die such unimaginably horrible deaths?

And yet we must realize that the United States — a nation that calls itself the "cradle of democracy" — authored not one but two holocausts. The first was the decimation of the lives of millions of Native Americans, which culminated in the Trail of Tears and a series of slaughters of American Indians, multitudes of them completely innocent women and children. The second American holocaust was carried out by white American slaveowners against black slaves, many of them also completely innocent women and children. How many innocents did white Americans enslave, rape, torture and send to early graves? No one knows the exact number, but there is no doubt that tens of millions of innocents bore the brunt of white racism and fascism. [I define "fascism" as the willingness to use force to subdue, dominate and kill people for racial, economic and/or ideological reasons. By this definition Hitler and the Nazis were fascists, but so were American slaveowners and the American government when it forced Native Americans to walk the Trail of Tears.]

To cause the premature death of an innocent person is, in a word, murder. To plan the premature deaths of innocent people is premeditated murder. To plan and bring about the premature deaths of mothers and their children constitutes the terrible crimes of matricide and infanticide. To do such things on a large scale, targeting millions of people, is the most terrible of all crimes: genocide. And yet three supposedly advanced "democracies" led by men and women who claimed to be people of "faith" with deep religious convictions have willfully chosen the path of genocide:

(1) Under Hitler, who called himself a "prophet," the Christian nation of Germany practiced ethnic cleansing and genocide against millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and other people the Nazis considered to be "inferior" to themselves.

(2) Under George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other white men who professed to be "Christians," the United States practiced ethnic cleansing and genocide against millions of Native Americans while enslaving millions of black Americans. Before the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property, like livestock, and thus did not qualify for the equal rights granted self-evidently to all human beings by their Creator, according to the American Declaration of Independence.

(3) Today the supposedly advanced "democracy" of Israel practices ethnic cleansing and apartheid against millions of Palestinians on a daily basis. If Israel is not already guilty of practicing genocide, an epidemic or plague in Gaza or Occupied Palestine could change that tomorrow. Every day the self-alleged "democracy" of Israel carries out racist pogroms against millions of completely innocent Palestinian women and children. The children and grandchildren of Holocaust victims and survivors are now savagely inflicting a new holocaust on women and children! The Palestinians are Semites, so Israeli Jews who rightfully accuse the Nazis of the crime of anti-Semitism are themselves guilty of the very same crime on a massive scale.

What Can We Do to Prevent Present and Future Holocausts?

If these things sicken you please join the club, because they sicken me every time I think about them. But it is up to people like us to do what can be done to change things for the better. If you continue to read, you will see that there is something very simple, but very profound and far-reaching, that we can do together. If you don’t have the time to read further (I hope you do, because this subject is very, very important if we want to have world peace rather than World War III), please consider reading the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative.

How is it possible that such things can happen, in modern nations that tout themselves as "democracies"?

It is important to understand that nations like Nazi Germany, the pre-Civil-War United States and modern-day Israel are not true democracies. In a true democracy, every person is treated as an equal and has equal rights and access to justice (in the form of fair, non-racist laws and courts). But it is self-evident that:

(1) in Nazi Germany, Jews, Gypsies and Slavs did not have equal rights;
(2) in the pre-Civil-War United States, blacks and Native Americans did not have equal rights;
(3) in modern-day Israel, Palestinians and other non-Jews still do not have equal rights.

Of course the nations in question refuse to admit the horrendous truth:

(1) Hitler and the Nazis insisted that the "real problem" was the Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, et al.;
(2) white slaveowners in the pre-Civil-War South insisted that blacks were "the real problem";
(3) white Americans who forced Native Americans to walk the Trail of Tears insisted the Indians were "the real problem";
(3) today Israeli Jews insist that the "real problem" is the Palestinians, not their own racism.

As an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry who has studied these matters, I find it deeply offensive and disturbing that racists can "spin" the truth and convince other people that their victims are "the problem" rather than their own bigotry, injustice and cruelty. Hopefully someday soon no one will subscribe to these terrible lies. But as long as people do subscribe to them, we will continue to live in a world where racists can inflict all sorts of horrors on completely innocent women and children.

How bad can things get?

Please consider these facts:

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are considered to be authors and heroes of democracy. But they both owned slaves until they  died. What sort of "democrat" makes slaves of women and children? Jefferson was such a bigot and hypocrite that he raised his children by Sally Hemmings as slaves in his own house. Jefferson once had a slave beaten for the "crime" of stealing nails, when Jefferson had stolen the man’s freedom! Who was the greater criminal? Please never believe the outrageous lie that the United States was in any way a "democracy" before the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement. In reality, the United States was an oligarchy of white male chauvinists who called themselves "Christians" while ignoring every commandment of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets to practice compassion and social justice.

In the same way, Nazi Germany was an oligarchy of white male chauvinists who called themselves "Christians" while ignoring every commandment of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets to practice compassion and social justice.

Today Israel is an oligarchy of Jewish chauvinists who ignore every commandment of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets to practice compassion and social justice.

In each case, the fascists in the ruling class declared their "belief" in the Bible but then chose to persecute and abuse people of other races and religions.

I wish this was not the truth, but this is the truth, and it will remain the truth until the world decides to no longer tolerate racism, chauvinism and people who continually "spin" the truth. Such people are all around us: Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. They begin with the proposition that they and their kind are "superior" to everyone else. They then use this aura of superiority to justify the use of force against other people who are weaker:

(1) Washington and Jefferson used force to enslave black men, women and children;
(2) Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and the other Nazis used force to enslave Jews and other people they considered "inferior" to themselves;
(3) Israeli Jews use force to steal the land and water of defenseless Palestinians;
(4) Americans like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld use the military power of the United States to force other people to do their bidding, or live through hell here on earth.

Is this the kind of world you want to live in — a world where powerful fascists crush the hopes, dreams and lives of people who are nowhere near as powerful?

Do you agree that white Americans had the "right" to enslave and slaughter blacks and Native Americans?
Do you agree that Hitler had the "right" to enslave and slaughter Jews, Gypsies and Slavs?
Do you agree that Israeli Jews have the "right" to enslave and slaughter Palestinians?
Do you agree that Americans have the "right" to force Muslims to do their bidding?

If you don’t agree that anyone has the "right" to persecute and abuse people of other races and religions, then please consider reading, studying and supporting the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative.

The HyperTexts