Category Archives: Nazi Germany

Decoding Nazi Germany’s Enigma Code: Review of “The Imitation Game”

The-Imitation-Game.liveforfilms.com

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Decoding Nazi Germany’s encrypting machine, Enigma, was no easy task. Invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of WWI, Enigma machines were used by the Nazis during WWII to exchange (encode and decipher) secret messages pertaining to national security and strategy of war. Three Polish cryptologists who worked for Polish military intelligence—Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski—were the first to begin deciphering Enigma messages, using theoretical mathematics and information given by French military intelligence.

 

During the war, the Allies captured an actual Enigma machine, enabling them to study its hardware and make further progress in figuring out how it worked.  Two compatible Enigma machines would have to work together, the first one encoding a secret message, the second decoding it. An operator would type in a message in German. The Enigma machine would automatically convert each letter into a different letter of the alphabet, through a process of random substitution. The encrypted text would be sent to another operator whose deciphering machine was similar and compatible with the first operator’s machine: only in this case the second Enigma machine would convert the random letters into plain German.

 

A new movie, The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, focuses on the life of British mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing, who is credited for helping decode the Nazi Enigma machines. Loosely based on Andrew Hodges biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma (Princeton University Press, 2014), this movie succeeds as a character study as well as a very interesting historical thriller. Turing faces barriers not only from the Navy Commander Denniston, but also from his colleagues, who initially resent the fact he’s entirely focused on building a machine at the expense of their collective work. Portrayed as slightly autistic, without friends lacking a sense of humor, Turing ends up being a fascinating character nonetheless. In fact, his flaws make him seem all the more unique. He goes against the grain to invent the machine capable of solving the puzzles that hundreds of brilliant minds working in the field cannot. Turing’s more sensitive side evolves in his friendship with his colleague Joan Clark (marvelously played by Keira Knightly), whom he asks to marry him in the spring of 1941. Although she accepts despite the fact Turing confesses to her his homosexuality, soon thereafter he changes his mind and breaks up with her in a dramatic scene.

 

Turing’s homosexuality becomes as central to the plot of the movie as his creation of the machine that breaks the Enigma codes. A few years after the war, in 1952, Turing, by then 39 years old, has a sexual and romantic relationship with a homeless young man named Arnold Murray. When one of Murray’s acquaintances burglarizes his house, Turing calls the police. During the investigation, the detectives called to the scene discover that Turing is homosexual, a criminal offense in Britain at the time. He’s charged with “gross indecency” and given the choice of going to prison or two years of probation (which includes taking hormonal treatment to reduce his libido). On June 8, 1954, the man who helped save millions of lives and shorten the war by at least two years tragically commits suicide by ingesting cyanide. The movie implies that the hormonal treatment, criminal charges and social isolation have a lot to do with Alan Turing’s untimely death, while the Hodges biography indicates this could have been an accidental death.

 

To transform a messy, complex human life into a drama, a film has to change many aspects of that life. In a recent review of The Imitation Game for Slate, L. V. Anderson goes over some of the ways in which the film deviates from Turing’s life as described by Hodges’s biography:

 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

 

The (real) Alan Turing depicted by Hodges in Alan Turing: The Enigma, though eccentric, was a much more likable and social person than the character in the film. He was well liked by his fellow cryptologists working at Bletchley Park, who describe him as “a very easily approachable man” and claimed to be “very very fond of him”. In the film, Alan’s more of a loner who is taught to value human emotion by Joan Clark, his friend and confidante. The movie also exaggerates Alan Turing’s role in single-handedly deciphering the Enigma machine, downplaying the roles of others and of the Polish precedents. The movie romanticizes Alan’s early crush for a fellow student at Sherborn School, a boy named Christopher Morcom with whom he shares a love of cryptology (in real life, L. V. Anderson states, they shared a love of chemistry and math). In the movie this love is described as reciprocal, while in the biography it appears to be a more ambiguous relationship, probably just friendship on Christopher’s part.

 

All these changes, in my estimation, add rather than take away from the strength of the film. They render Alan Turing’s scientific contributions seem all the more significant and heroic while the tragic irony of his death becomes all the more acute. After all, the man who helped save the world from the Nazi regime—a regime that killed homosexuals for being gay—is forced by the British government to choose between prison and a debilitating hormone treatment, in a “free” democratic country to which he had devoted his mind and his life.

 

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

Comments Off on Decoding Nazi Germany’s Enigma Code: Review of “The Imitation Game”

Filed under Alan Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma, Claudia Moscovici, history, Holocaust Memory, Nazi Germany, The Imitation Game, WWII

A cowardly success: The Final Solution as a reaction to German failure in war

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA: PRISONERS

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder advances an interesting and plausible hypothesis about some of the motivations behind the Final Solution. Snyder also believes that the accelerated timing of the plan to annihilate European Jews arose from Himmler’s and Heydrich’s efforts to compensate for the (partial) German failure in the war against the Soviet Union. When it became clear that the plan to conquer, starve and enslave the people of the Soviet Union was not moving as quickly as Hitler anticipated and desired, Snyder argues, “Heydrich and Himmler were able to turn the unfavorable battlefield situation to their advantage, by reformulating the Final Solution so that it could be carried out during a way that was not going according to plan. They understood that the war was becoming, as Hitler began to say in August 1941, a “war against the Jews. Himmler and Heydrich saw the elimination of the Jews as their task” (Bloodlands, 188).

When he attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Snyder elaborates, Hitler and his henchmen had in mind a dystopic plan for the East:

1) attacking and conquering quickly the Soviet Union;

2) implementing a Hunger Plan that would blockade and starve entire areas of the Soviet Union, causing the deaths of over 30 million people;

3) a Final Solution that would eliminate all Jews after the war was won, and

4) a Generalplan Ost in which native Germans would colonize the western part of the Soviet Union and enslave its people for the German economy

Competing for Hitler’s favor (and for power) with Göring, Himmler started implementing these objectives in 1941. The Hunger Plan, however, didn’t work as effectively as the Nazis had hoped. It achieved only partial success in Leningrad, parts of Belarus and the Ukraine. Overall, the conquest of the Soviet Union was taking longer than anticipated. According to Snyder, “As these utopias waned, political futures depended upon the extraction of what was feasible from the fantasies” (Bloodlands, 187). So Himmler and Heydrich, eager to prove their “courage” and resourcefulness in the face of Germany’s partial failure on the military front, engaged in an act of ultimate cowardice: He ordered the ruthless mass murder of all the Jews in the conquered territories in the Soviet Union, and soon afterward in most of Nazified Europe.

Himmler personally travelled to the Soviet Union in June 1941 to make it clear to the Waffen SS troops and to the Order Police battalions that they needed to kill not only Jewish men—all of whom he labeled as “Communist partisans”–but also Jewish women and children. Himmler and Heydrich worked closely together, engaging in a kind of division of labor of genocide. Heydrich made arrangements for the Final Solution in Berlin, while Himmler managed the administrative details to carry it out, directing the Waffen SS, the Einsatzgruppen and the Order Police under his control to mass shootings of Jewish civilians in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union. By August 1941, Snyder estimates, the Nazis had murdered over one million Jewish civilians in the Soviet Union. “The East,” Himmler pompously declared, “belongs to the SS” (Bloodlands, 189).

While Snyder’s hypothesis that the earlier implementation of the Final Solution had a lot to do with Germany’s partial failure in their conquest, colonization and destruction of the Soviet Union is exceptionally well argued and persuasive, this argument doesn’t take away from the fact that the Final Solution was a central goal for the Nazis regardless of German success or failure in war. The annihilation of the Jews would have no doubt happened had Nazi Germany won the war. Soviet Jews—along with the Jews of conquered nations throughout Europe–were trapped in an impossible situation by Nazi ideology itself, for which anti-Semitism and the annihilation of the Jews was a central priority.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

Comments Off on A cowardly success: The Final Solution as a reaction to German failure in war

Filed under Claudia Moscovici Holocaust Memory, Himmler's plans for the Final Solution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, Timothy Snyder Bloodlands

Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics: Review of The Boys in the Boat

The US Olympic rowing team in 1936

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

In 1936 Hitler held the Summer Olympics in Berlin, having won the bid for the event over Barcelona. He spared no expense to impress the world with the prowess and superiority of Nazi Germany. He built six gymnasiums, numerous arenas and an enormous track and field stadium (state of the art for its time) with a capacity of 100,000 seats. He commissioned his favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, to create a documentary about the event, called Olympia, which highlighted the talent of the German athletes. The groundbreaking film employed many new techniques that would become the staple of documentaries on athletic events: including extreme close-ups, smash cuts (abrupt changes of scenes without transition), and unusual camera angles that captured the viewers’ attention. Olympia received high praise, internationally.

Daniel James Brown’s new bestselling book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (New York: Penguin Books, 2014) captures this historic event from an American perspective. The book focuses in particular on the point of view of Joe Rantz, a poor boy from Seattle abandoned by his father and stepmother at a young age and left to fend for himself.

Brown’s prose, reminiscent of another bestseller about this era—Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken—captures with simplicity, eloquence and pathos Joe’s tribulations with his dysfunctional family; his long-lasting love with Joyce, his loyal teenage sweetheart, and the arduous practice with his teammates in preparation for the Olympics.

Offering an engaging perspective on the sport of rowing and a slice of life into the Great Depression in the U.S., The Boys in the Boat also captures especially well the moment in European history when the Nazi regime consolidated power and gained international recognition.

By 1936, Hitler had already instituted the Nuremberg Race Laws in Germany. In 1935, at the annual Nazi party rally held in Nuremberg, he had announced laws that defined the racial concept of a “Jew” and a half-Jew”, excluded German Jews from citizenship, prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with Aryans, and imposed numerous economic sanctions and restrictions on German Jews.

The implications of the Nuremberg laws extended to the 1936 Olympics. Hitler desired to ban Jews and black people from the Olympic games. The official Nazi newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter, explicitly declared that these groups should not be allowed to participate in the Olympic Games in Berlin. Once several nations objected to this racism and threatened to boycott the Olympics, however, Hitler relented. He abandoned the racial prohibitions at the event and even allowed a half-Jewish German woman—Helene Mayer—to participate on the German team. He also ordered the temporary removal of discriminatory signs such as “Jews not wanted” from the streets of Berlin.

The Boys in the Boat delves into Nazi history and propaganda, even capturing the mutual attraction–as well as the tension and competition for Hitler’s favor–between filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Notorious for his voracious sexual appetite and affairs with young movie stars, Goebbels tries to seduce Riefenstahl following their flirtatious interactions. In several dramatically described episodes in the book, Riefenstahl rejects his advances and even complains to Hitler about his interference into her filming of the Olympics. Nonetheless, the author makes it clear that the talented filmmaker and the lecherous Minister of Propaganda share a common goal. Like Hitler, they want to see the triumph of the German athletes.

To the readers’ delight, their desires are frustrated by the unexpected victory of the underdogs. The American team wins despite all odds: despite the fact that two of their rowers fell ill before the race; despite the fact the home crowds cheered for Germany, and despite the fact they were given the worst lane. Italy gets second place and Germany comes in third. In some ways, the American athletic victory is conveyed not only as the personal triumphs of Joe Rantz and his teammates, but also as a political victory over Nazism of sorts, as Hitler is described leaving the balcony in fury over his country’s loss. The Boys in the Boat thus transforms an American personal interest story into an unforgettable part of world history.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

Comments Off on Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics: Review of The Boys in the Boat

Filed under 1936 Berlin Olympics, Claudia Moscovici, Daniel James Brown, Holocaust Memory, Leni Riefenstahl, Nazi Germany, Olympia, The Boys in the Boat

The siege of Leningrad: Genocide by starvation

The Great Patriotic War. Blokade of Leningrad.

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

The Nazi siege of Leningrad—the historic capital of tsarist Russia, Saint Petersburg–lasted for several years: It begun on September 8, 1941 and was lifted on January 27, 1944. For Lenigraders, this encirclement constituted 872 days of sheer torture; of hovering on the brink between life and death. Hundreds of thousands didn’t make it. The blockade might as well have been called genocide through starvation because it caused the deaths of an estimated one million Russians. Marshal Zhukov, sent by Stalin to save the city, followed the dictator’s orders not to retreat. But, to the Russian’s surprise, the Germans didn’t advance much either. Hitler decided to kill the inhabitants of Leningrad in a slow, tortuous way by strangling all of their supply routes and starving a population of 2.5 million. He planned to wipe out the inhabitants, then raze Leningrad to the ground and hand over the area to his Finnish allies.

This genocide by starvation was therefore a premeditated decision–a crime against humanity–not an indirect or incidental result of a siege during war. According to historian Max Hastings, Hitler consulted Professor Ernst Zigelemeyer, in charge of the Munich Institute of Nutrition—to find out how much food (and calories) the average person requires to live. Zigelemeyer informed him that the Soviet government would not be able to provide Lenigraders with more than 8.8 grams of bread daily, which wouldn’t be sufficient for the majority to survive the siege. Hitler thus concluded: “It’s not worth risking the lives of our troops. The Leningraders will die anyway. It is essential not to let a single person through our front line. The more of them that stay there, the sooner they will die, and then we will enter the city without trouble, without losing a single German soldier” (Inferno, Vintage Books, 2012). His demonic plan almost worked.

Within months, tens of thousands of people perished from hunger and cold. Within a few weeks of the siege, the city was left without its coal and oil supplies, and thus without heat. Within a few months, the water supplies froze, resulting in much quicker deaths from thirst. The desperate population began hunting and eating birds and rats. Household pets weren’t safe either as many ate cats and dogs. Some even resorted to eating wallpaper paste, sawdust, grass cakes and even the dead. Corpses accumulated in the streets as the ground was frozen solid and people had little energy left to bury the bodies. Hastings cites Elena Skryabina, who captures with eloquence the pangs of hunger of Lenigraders in her diary: “We are approaching the greatest horror… Everyone is preoccupied with only one thought: where to get something edible so as not to starve to death. We have returned to prehistoric times. Life has been reduced to one thing—the hunt for food” (Inferno, 167).

The Soviets made some attempts at saving women and children and workers, but millions were left behind. Only the privileged few could count on escaping the horror. Once he realized that Hitler wasn’t planning a full-scale attack of the city, Stalin recalled Zhukov to Moscow. The composer Dimitri Shostakovich, who created a symphony about the plight of his native city–the Seventh Leningrad Symphony–finished the piece elsewhere.

If the Soviet army and bands of partisans hadn’t been resourceful enough to open up a small corridor to the city in mid-January 1943—which subsequently enabled them to send barges of goods during the summer and sleds on improvised ice paths during the winter—and channel some life-saving supplies to Leningrad, Hitler would no doubt have achieved his objective of starving to death the city’s entire population.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

Comments Off on The siege of Leningrad: Genocide by starvation

Filed under Claudia Moscovici Holocaust Memory, genocide by starvation Leningrad, Holocaust Memory, Max Hastings Inferno, Nazi Germany, siege of Leningrad, WWII

The Gypsy Holocaust: Review of The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies by Guenter Lewy

GysiesHolocaustushmmorg

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

The Gypsies also experienced a Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi regime. Initially, Nazi racial ideology expressed some ambivalence towards the Gypsies, by way of contrast to the Jews, whom they perceived as “vermin”. On the one hand, the Nazis regarded the Gypsies as “work-shy”, nomadic beggars and thieves, racially inferior to the Aryan race. On the other hand, some Nazi racial theories traced “racially pure” Gypsies to “Aryan” Indian tribes. In the end, this dual perspective on the Gypsies didn’t alter their mistreatment. Although the Nazis didn’t have a comparable “Final Solution”, or systematic plan to exterminate the Gypsies the way the did the Jews, the Gypsies suffered a similar fate. Like the Jews, they were rounded up for slave labor, interred in ghettoized areas (Gypsy Camps), and subsequently sent to killing centers.

Guenter Lewy’s closely researched book, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), traces the oppression of the Gypsies in Germany and Nazi controlled territories, starting with the racial laws of the early 1930’s, to their deportation to concentration camps beginning in 1940, to their eventual extermination in Auschwitz in May 1944.

When the Nazis consolidated power in 1936, Heinrich Himmler, who became the SS Chief and the Chief of German police, instituted the Reich Central Office for the Suppression of the Gypsies Nuisance. This organization took progressive steps to contain and persecute the Gypsies. As early as 1938, Lewy recounts, the Gypsies were rounded up and confined to Gypsy camps (Zigeunerlager). Many men were also forced into slave labor, under the program “Operation Work-Shy”. Himmler took charge of this step-by-step process of isolation and discrimination, in a characteristically systematic—and insidious–fashion. In a decree entitled “Combatting the Gypsy Plague,” he set out to determine the “inner characteristics of that race” (36). Dr. Robert Ritter, a Nazi child psychologist, became the head of The Research Institute for Racial Hygiene and Population Biology. He classified the Gypsies according to their racial profile, as pure-bred or mixed. (43) Ironically, Gypsies of “pure blood” received some special consideration and were deemed to be more integrated into German society. By way of contrast, “mixed blood” Gypsies were declared “racially inferior” and subjected to far worse treatment: in a kind of inversion of the racial laws applied to the Jews.

Only a small number of Gypsies benefitted from the racial exemptions applicable to “pure Gypsies”: somewhere between 5,000 to 15,000 individuals. The rest—about 90 percent of the Gypsies—were considered by Ritter’s pseudoscientific classification as being of “mixed” or “degenerate” blood. The vast majority of them were rounded up and deported from all the Reich and Nazi-occupied territories. In 1938, Gypsy men from Marzahn were sent to Sachsanhausen. However, large-scale, mass deportations of the Gypsies to the East began in 1940. By 1942, Himmler ordered that all the Gypsies (Roma people) in the Reich be deported to concentration and extermination camps. (75)

At Auschwitz, Gypsies were some of the few inmates, along with a group of Czech inmates from the Theresienstadt concentration camp (known as “the Family Camp”), who were allowed to keep their clothes, not shave their hair off, and stay together in clans that comprised men, women and children. Despite this somewhat better treatment, their conditions were miserable. They lacked sufficient food, lived in squalor and were plagued by lice and disease. The children often suffered from noma, a disease stemming from malnutrition that caused a form of gangrene on their faces, which often looked like holes in their cheeks. The notorious Josef Mengele also enjoyed experimenting on Gypsy children, particularly on twins, his specialty.

Lewy doesn’t call the Nazi persecution of the Gypsies a “Holocaust” because it was, in some respects, less systematic than the genocide of the Jews. Gypsies were not explicitly selected for total extermination, as were the Jewish people. This distinction makes sense. However, in the end, the result was the same, since approximately 250,000 Gypsies were killed by the Nazi regime.

 

Claudia Moscovici,

Literature Salon

Comments Off on The Gypsy Holocaust: Review of The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies by Guenter Lewy

Filed under Claudia Moscovici, Guenter Lewy, Holocaust Memory, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

Lebensraum: Genocide, Slavery and Ethnic Cleansing in the Nazi expansion campaign

lebensraumnewyorktimes

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Hitler’s idea of Lebensraum–or, literally, creating more “living space” for Germany and the Germanic people by expanding to other areas of Europe and the Soviet Union through ethnic cleansing, deportation and genocide—was not original. This essentially colonialist concept had been around since the Middle Ages, while the term itself was coined in the early 1900’s by the German ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel. However, in his implementation of Lebensraum, Hitler transformed colonialism into a process of pillaging and mass murder of unprecedented proportions, with tragic consequences for humanity. Claiming that the Germanic people didn’t have enough room and natural resources to sustain their growing population, Hitler wanted to build an Aryan empire by conquering large parts of Europe and the Soviet Union, including Poland, the Ukraine and Russia. In order to achieve this goal, Hitler intended to kill hundreds of millions of their inhabitants and enslave the rest, annihilating and subjugating entire populations whom he considered “subhuman” or, at any rate, far inferior to the Aryan master race.

To prove the so-called inferiority of the conquered nations, Hitler inverted, in a characteristic move, cause and effect. He began a ruthless policy of terror, starving the captured people, humiliating them, killing them, and imprisoning them in labor and concentration camps. This mistreatment dehumanized the victims, often reducing them to animal-like behavior in their hopeless struggle to survive. Hitler then launched a propaganda campaign that “demonstrated” the behavior of the conquered people was abject and animalistic, to prove that they were inferior to the “civilized” German race.

The WWII historian Antony Beevor documents in his magnificent book, The Second World War (New York, Little, Brown & Company, 2012) that, following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, “By February 1942, 60 percent of the 3.5 million Red Army prisoners had died of starvation, exposure or disease” (418). A quarter of the population of Belarus perished due to the Germans’ savage oppression. In addition, millions of Jews were rounded up in conquered cities and villages and shot by the Einsatzgruppen, or incarcerated in ghettos, concentration and death camps. Hitler aimed to achieve his top two, interrelated, goals simultaneously: to create more living space for the Germans by clearing vast areas of their native, “undesirable” people.

Although they agreed on the basic principle of Lebensraum, top Nazi officials disagreed about how to best achieve it. Vying for influence, they offered competing proposals. According to Beevor, Alfred Rosenberg, the minister of the Eastern territories, wanted to secure the cooperation of former Soviet nationalities, such as the Ukraine, in a joint struggle against the Soviet Union. Initially, many Ukrainians welcomed the German invasion and collaborated with the Nazis. The tide began to turn, however, when they realized that they were mistreated by the Germans as much, if not more so, than they had been by the Soviets. In Germany, the most “radical” views about how to achieve Lebensraum prevailed.

Herman Göring, appointed President of the Reichstag (1932-1945) as well as Minister (Reichminister) of Economics and of Aviation, preferred the method of starving out the native populations and bringing in German and Germanic people on those lands. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichführer or Chief of German Police and Commissioner for Strengthening the German Nationhood, opted for the most brutal method: ethnic cleansing through mass murder, either by shooting or gassing. In the end, Germany adopted all three strategies, focusing in particular upon the ruthless solutions proposed by Göring and Himmler, which were most closely aligned with Hitler’s racist ideology and sociopathic tendencies.

Both Hitler and Himmler envisaged an idyllic German empire stretching to the Urals, built upon the blood and sacrifice of those they considered to be “subhuman races” (Untermenschen): including the Jews, Slavs and Gypsies. The notion—and practice—of creating more Lebensraum for the German people inseparably combined utopia and dystopia by turning a mad fantasy into an all-too-real nightmare. As Beevor elaborates, “Nazi ideas for the future constituted little more than a grotesque fantasy… Himmler dreamed of gemütlich German colonies, with gardens and orchards built across the former killing grounds of his SS Einsatzgruppen. And to provide a holiday center the Crimea, renamed Gotenhau, would become the German Riviera” (418). The result of this so-called utopic vision of an Aryan master race dominating most of Europe and the Soviet Union was the horrific abuse and death of tens of millions of innocent people, the devastation of entire cities and villages, and the destruction of natural resources that would take years to replenish.

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

Comments Off on Lebensraum: Genocide, Slavery and Ethnic Cleansing in the Nazi expansion campaign

Filed under Anthony Beevor The Second World War, Claudia Moscovici, Hitler, Holocaust Memory, Lebensraum, Nazi Germany, Slavery and Ethnic Cleansing in the Nazi expansion campaign, the Holocaust, WWII

The Lodz Ghetto: Review of The Cage by Ruth Minsky

TheCageAmazon

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

In her Holocaust memoir, The Cage (Simon & Schuster, 1997), Ruth Minsky Sender compares the Lodz Ghetto not to imprisonment of human beings, but to a cage that animals are trapped in. The metaphor is powerful and apt. A medium sized city in Poland, Lodz had a relatively large Jewish population. Out of the city’s nearly 700,000 occupants, about a quarter of million were Jews. The Germans established the Lodz Ghetto in February, 1940. They forced the Jews who lived in other areas to abandon their homes and squeeze into the tiny, 4 square kilometer area, of the Jewish Quarter. The cage grew smaller and smaller as outside contact became more and more difficult. German Police units patrolled the perimeter of the ghetto, to eliminate contact between Jews and Poles. The ghetto walls trapped inside 162,681 human beings, left with meager means of survival. Many of them, particularly those who had moved from other parts of town, were also left homeless, at the mercy of the ghetto’s dissipating community resources. To ensure that the ghetto didn’t receive outside help, the Germans passed punitive laws towards anyone that sold food or goods to its inhabitants. While in the Warsaw Ghetto the underground food smuggling and black market trade flourished for a while, in the Lodz Ghetto it was practically impossible. As contact with the Poles was strictly punished, the Jewish inhabitants were at the mercy of the Germans for all the resources they needed to survive.

The ghetto was governed by a Jewish Council whose “Elder”, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, ruled with an iron fist. One of the most colorful and controversial figures of the Holocaust, Rumkowski became so used to the power he exercised within the ghetto walls that he came to be known as “King Rumkowski”. The historian Raul Hilberg describes him as a megalomaniac autocrat hungry for power. He notes, however, that Rumkowski had some benevolent tendencies, which he exercised on behalf of the ghetto inhabitants and particularly on behalf of children:

 

“A Zionist, he involved himself in community affairs and managed several orphanages with devotion. Widowed and childless, he became a dedicated autocrat in the ghetto. He was able to act alone, because the fear-stricken men who had replaced the murdered councilmen were merely his advisory board… When bank notes were printed in the ghetto, they bore his likeness. Frequently he made speeches with phrases like ‘I do not like to waste words,’ ‘My plan is based on sound logic’, ‘I have decided,’ ‘I forbid,’ and ‘My Jews.’ Rumkowski presided over his community through periods of starvation and deportations for almost five years” (Perpetrators, Victims and Bystanders, New York: HarperPerennial, 109).

 

To appease Hans Biebow, the ruling Nazi official in the area, and to keep the inhabitants alive, Rumkowski established a ghetto manufacturing economy for the Germans. Even so, most of the ghetto inhabitants, particularly the poorer ones and those unable to work, barely had enough food to survive. Most subsisted on a meager diet of about 900 calories a day. Starvation and disease thinned out the ghetto population even before the Nazis began deporting people to the death camps.

LodzGhettochildren_headed_for_deportation

Ruth (Riva) Minsky was only 16 years old when her mother was taken away by the Nazis, never to be seen again. Her father had already passed away earlier from an illness. So Riva, only a child herself, was left to take care of herself and her three younger brothers, including the youngest, Laibele, who suffered from tuberculosis. They barely have enough food to survive; in the harsh Polish winter they shiver from cold. Eventually Riva manages to find a job as a seamstress making German army uniforms. Despite being orphans, Riva and her brothers resist with all their might moving to the ghetto orphanage or being adopted by different families. In fact, the way their nuclear family clings together—with such tenacity that even the director of the orphanage decides to give Riva custody of her brothers—is one of the most moving aspects of the memoir.

Even so, during the winter, the living conditions become so harsh that the Jewish Council decides to burn all the old homes in order to have firewood for the ghetto inhabitants. Riva and her brothers, who live in an old house, are obliged to move into a room of an old grocery store with an underground cellar. This new place, though much smaller and bereft of their family memories, serves them well. Later they hide in the cellar, during the repeated raids by the Jewish Police looking for Jews to meet the Nazi quota for deportation to death camps. Riva and her brothers are particularly at risk since “Operation Reinhard”, or the Final Solution, initially targets children, the ill and the elderly. All those in the Lodz Ghetto deemed by the Nazis “unfit” for work are sent to the Chelmno death camp. Riva escapes several of the selections by hiding and depending on a network of teenage friends. But she cannot escape for long.

In the summer of 1944, the Nazis begin to liquidate the entire ghetto as the Soviet forces approach. They transport the remaining population, including the Elder himself, to Auschwitz. Although he had been promised safety and protection for his cooperation with the local Nazis, Rumkowski himself perished in the concentration camp. Out of the nearly 200,000 inhabitants of the Lodz ghetto, less than 1000 survived to be liberated by Soviet troops on January 19, 1945. Only 12 of them were children. Riva is one of the relatively lucky ones. She survived the unspeakably harsh conditions in Auschwitz due to her youth and resilience; her network of friends that helped each other; luck, and a kind prisoner doctor that took her to a local hospital. Her moving memoir, written in a simple and didactic prose intended for the young adult audience, offers a unique and informative look into the horrendous human cage that was once the Lodz Ghetto.

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

 

Comments Off on The Lodz Ghetto: Review of The Cage by Ruth Minsky

Filed under Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memoir, Holocaust Memory, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, Nazi Germany, Nazi occupation of Poland, Ruth Minsky Sender, The Cage, the Holocaust