What was life like for Jews in both the ghettos and concentration camps?
Before the final solution had been organized and plans made Jews faced death at the hands of Nazi Kill squads. Jews faced killing squads in occupied territories. Eventually, Jews and other dissidents were rounded up and placed in ghettos. The ghettos were dirty, and diseases constantly spread. The ghettos were used as a method to add pressure to Nazi leadership to finalize a solution to the Jewish problem (Troxler, 2018). In the ghettos, Jews faced overcrowded housing, unsanitary living conditions, and restricted freedom of movement. The ghettos seem to have served as a staging area to ensure all Jews were in a consolidated location for their eventual extermination. Concentration camps were located all over Germany and began to be established in 1933. Living conditions for Jews in these camps was much harsher than in the ghettos. Jews faced forced labor, starvation, and death by guards. Although death at concentration camps inside Germany was not nearly as systematic as in the death camps established in Poland however, guards still had the ability to kill prisoners if desired.
What would cause German soldiers and citizens to participate in the systematic killing of an entire ethnic population?
Anti-Semitism had existed in Germany for centuries before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. When the Nazis came to power and propagated the message of hatred of Jews and Slavic people, German citizens gladly bought into this message. The extreme hatred the German people had towards Jews drove them to willingly participated in all facets of the extermination and imprisonment of the Jewish people (Glass 1997). The Nazi propaganda machine dehumanized the entire Jewish ethnic group while simultaneously blaming them for all of Germany’s problems. This created an immense sense of disgust and hate towards the Jews further degrading their social standing. The German populace was told they are the master race and Jews were the lowest of the low. This created a sense of inferiority towards the Jews further desensitizing the population to the humanity of the Jewish people. In the end, a combination of dehumanizing propaganda, a hatred that is rooted in centuries-old mentalities, and a feeling of superiority led to many Germans willingly participating in the extermination of the Jewish population.
What was it like for ordinary citizens in the occupied areas?
For non-Jewish or Slavic people’s life in occupied areas was not nearly as bad as their fellow countrymen. The Nazis controlled the education system, churches, and economies of occupied nations. Most people who the Nazis did not plan to exterminate had two choices when living in occupied areas, they could resist or collaborate occasionally however collaboration was not an option. Both of these held their positives and negative aspects.
- What choices were they forced to make?
Many people in occupied territories were forced to make a choice of whether to collaborate or resist. Many made that choice based off of ideology, selfish ambition, patriotism, and a lack of any other viable option. Many had to choose whether or not to stay in their locations such as occupied France or Belgium or try to flee to another neutral country.
- Did they collaborate or resist occupation?
In every occupied nation across Europe, there were resistance movements (Shubert & Goldstein 2012). These movements were not as effective as some others. For example, resistance put up in Norway was much more passive than that of the resistance in Yugoslavia. France had upwards of over 200,000 resistance fighters resisting German occupation. With the resistance, however, came collaboration. Many nations established their own fascist parties and acted as puppets of the German occupiers. From Norway to Vichy France to Poland many people took the chance to actively work with the Nazis. For some, this was providing the locations of Jews to the SS, to fighting for Nazi Germany on the front, to having sexual relations with occupying Nazi troops.
- Why do you think they made those choices?
Many people made the choice to resist out of national pride. Many resisters were communists which is the natural enemy of fascism. For all occupied nations the idea of German rule without resistance was unacceptable. Resistance simply put for many was the only option. For collaborators, it was more complicated. Many were serving a selfish goal, picking the side they thought would win, or simply just trying to survive.