Learning About the Holocaust in Abrahamic Religions

Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

– Elie Wiesel –

Abrahamic Religions, taught by Professor Mathews, is three parts–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As the name suggests, these three monotheistic religions all trace their origins back to one man: Abraham. During our Judaism unit, which we just finished, Professor Mathews went into detail about many events where Jews were persecuted and killed. One such one was the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews.

Abram was a man, likely of the Apiru, who lived around 2000 BCE. He was called by God to follow Him. The two entered into The Covenant, upon which he became Abraham, as we know him. Abraham’s descendants, after many centuries, had well-established the religion known as Judaism, rooted in the belief of God, Torah, and Israel. Persecution and targeting Jews can be traced back to the Greeks, was rampant in Medieval Times, and began to grown and gain traction in the late nineteenth century. Scientific Racism was used to target Jews and support a rise in Anti-Semitism. Jews were minorities in any country they lived in, supporting conspiracy theories that they were egotistical, self-focused, and aiming to rise up and take over the world.

Jews–many Orthodox–were concentrated heavily in the Pale of Settlement, a region of Eastern Europe that consisted of some Germany, and Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. (There was no coincidence that this is the same area Snyder termed the “Bloodlands.”) They were legally allowed to live here, in small communities that were devout, followed Talmudic law, and emphasized Jewish culture.

After the devastation of World War I, Germany was in economic and political shambles. Officially the German government had to accept blame for the war, and they chose to push that blame onto their Jewish citizens. They called them things like “economic parasites”, “cultural degenerates”, the reason Germany lost the war, and the causes for the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, which became the Soviet Union.

The systematic targeting of Jews, through Nuremberg Laws, forced ghettos, and preventing Jews from having certain professions, escalated quickly in Kristallnacht, in November of 1938. Jews were beaten and killed, synagogues were burned, and windows smashed (hence the name, “Night of Broken Glass”). While 3/5 of the population of German Jews had left the country by the following year, many remained. Tasked by the Nazi regime to remove them, Heinrich Himmler called it a “glorious historic task.” Here, like with the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, Nazi Germany was faced with a “Jewish Question.”

Ultimately, the initial plan of mobile SS killing squads was not as quick or inexpensive as the Nazis hoped. Concentration camps, like Auschwitz, became the way to solve the “final solution.” Most camps were located in and around the borders of the Pale of Settlement, and they were near railroads. Jews were treated like cattle, herded into rail-cars, and driven to places that would either kill them immediately, or work them until they died. The Nazi goal of completely eradicating the Jews through intimidation and fear (to reduce resistance), was sped up after they sensed their defeat. 2/3 of the deaths were carried out after this critical point.

After the Holocaust and the death of six million Jews, many decided to re-evaluate their faith. Their big question was, “How can you believe in God after this happens? How can He be acting in history?” Rubenstein, author of “After Auschwitz,” said that the Holocaust destroyed any belief of God acting in History. Fackenheim called for people to reaffirm their belief. His theory was that if you do give up Judaism, then Hitler essentially wins…he gets rid of all the Jews. Others said that this was nothing new in terms of challenges. It was a test in morality and ethics. There’s also, still, a chance because not all Jews were killed. In the beginning of this post, I quoted Elie Wiesel. Author of “Night,” he asked everyone–not just Jews–to remember the past. “What does being a human mean?” he asked. “When do we all choose to leave humanity behind?”

While writing this post, I found myself thinking back to our class discussion on the Snyder Thesis versus the Holocaust Thesis we are all taught in middle and high school. In a sense, this was definitely a Holocaust Thesis, but perhaps only because the class is about religion, about Judaism. But what about the Polish Catholics? Other religions targeted within the Soviet Union’s reign? Will we talk about them, or will they disappear under the shadow of the Holocaust Thesis?

(( A Must Read Book ))

I just wanted to write this tiny blog post in support of one of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite books. The book, Between Shades of Gray, was written by Ruta Sepetys. I could never say enough good things about it. But mostly, what makes me read it over and over again (along with her other books), is how painstakingly honest and researched it is. Ruta Sepetys cared, and she cared about getting the story right. In all of her books she does. And she doesn’t write about typical young adult topics–love, high school, drama. She writes about the things that kids should be learning, or at least know about. The history of our world matters, and the stories that she tells mean something. Between Shades of Gray tells the story of Lina, a Lithuanian girl who is arrested with her mother and younger brother by the NKVD. She suffers terrible loss–losing her home, loved ones, the chance to be a teenager. But she pushes through with strength, determination, and courage. Sepetys carefully tracks her journey, and what happened to the victims of Stalin’s mass-arrests. Immediately when beginning Bloodlands, I knew I had to not only write this post, but reread the book (which I admit I did). It is a must-read, like her other books, Out of the Easy and Salt to the Sea. Please give them all a chance!



Bloodlands Chapters 1-5

The Bloodlands is the nickname for the countries affected most heavily by Hitler and Stalin in their grasp for power during the 1930s to the early 1940s. They are the countries of Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus. The fight over these countries resulted in a total of 14 million people dead from 1933-1945. All of the 14 million people killed were civilians. To say that Hitler and Stalin disliked each other would be an understatement. Although their hatred for each other was strong, they had many similarities. Both were afraid of a certain group of people. For Stalin, it was the Ukrainian peasants, Japan, and Poland. Hitler feared Jews, communists, and Slavs. Their fear for these groups both resulted in the targeting and killing of these groups by the leaders. The Bloodlands story is one of great suffering for these groups at the hands of some of the most evil men the world has known.

Chapter 1 talks about the famines that were directed towards the Ukrainian kulaks, or wealthy peasants. Stalin’s policy of collectivization was meant to nationalize privately owned farms in order to increase production. The failure of collectivization made Stalin very hostile, and blamed the Ukrainian people. He used laws to restrict the amount of grain that a family could keep to feed themselves and eventually, he ended up taking all of the grain because he was not pleased that the quotas were not met. In the end, not many people knew about the starvation occurring in Soviet Ukraine.

Chapter 2 discusses Hitler’s rise to power. Within this chapter, Snyder talks about how both Stalin and Hitler portrayed themselves as the victims very efficiently. Hitler and Stalin both opposed each other: Hitler hating communists, while Stalin couldn’t stand fascists. Snyder also talked about how Stalin used terror to intimidate his armed forces, while Hitler used terror to bring the Nazi party closer together.

Chapter 3 talks about the Great Terror which lasted from 1937-1938. The main target of the Great Terror was the Polish people. Stalin feared that the Poles would rise up and he wanted to stop that at all costs. In addition to the Ukrainians, the Poles took the blame for the failure of collectivization. The majority of the arrests made against the Poles took place in Leningrad, where there was a large population. Hitler began the violence against the Jewish people at the same time as the Great Terror in the Soviet Union. He wanted to rid Germany and the surrounding countries of the Jewish people to create his Aryan race. Along with the Jewish people, Hitler also targeted the Polish people, just like Stalin.

Chapter 4 discusses the beginning of World War II and the Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance between the Soviet Union and Germany. The Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance was the line that divided the Soviet Union from Hitler’s Germany. Stalin continued his mass killings and deportations, while Hitler began to group the Jewish people into ghettos, the most well known being the Warsaw ghetto. Hitler and Stalin both wanted to get rid of the Polish intelligentsia.

Chapter  5 discusses Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union and the Hunger Plan that Germany created. They wanted to kill the Soviets through starvation. The prisoners-of-war camps were where the majority of the Soviet deaths occurred.

Snyder does a really good job of comparing the two leaders to each other, but at the same time, discussing their differences. They were both paranoid power hungry people who went to great lengths to consolidate their power.

Bloodlands Ch 1-5

This book thus far is my favorite book we have read.  The way it flows is perfect for my understanding, splitting up specifically when they’re talking about Germany and Hitler, and separately when discussing The Soviet Union and Stalin.

The thing that I really enjoy about this is honestly the emphasis it puts on Stalin’s part of the genocide.  When you hear World War II most people’s minds immediately go to Hitler, Jews, Holocaust, concentration camps.  I myself have never learned about all of the awful things Stalin did and his actual part in the Holocaust.  Stalin didn’t only kill people for being an ethnicity or religion, as did Hitler, he actually killed his own people as he was so paranoid that someone was coming for his power.

This book also reveals how deceitful the both of them actually were. They were “on each other’s side” but were so hungry for power they would go behind the back of the other to gain more power and land.

Suny Pt 2

After having a good class discussion on the first part of the reading of Suny, it opened my eyes to things I didn’t initially catch in my reading.  I then went back for the second part of the reading and really mined the book, highlighting and making notes of key parts so when we did discuss I remembered what I was thinking for those parts.

The thing that really struck me the most in this reading was the end, discussing why Turkey still to this day denies the genocide ever happened.  Millions of people dead and nothing to show for it.  Some of the reasons being technically their government didn’t do it because it was a different group in power at the time.  Second they don’t want to admit to it because they will have to potentially redraw map lines.

It’s just sad to me that this horrible thing happened, yet there is really no justice or anything to show for it.

Suny Pt 1

At first I didn’t know what I was reading about while reading this book. To me, the layout and how the book flowed was confusing. I decided to read To Kill A People’s chapter on The Armenian Genocide which clarified a lot for me to then go back and read and actually understand what I was reading.

A lot of the information in this book surprised me as I haven’t learned any of this in any of my previous history classes in high school. There was literally no justice and there people were being eliminated solely for who they were.

This text was also pretty graphic, the way it gives explanations of how some of these people were murdered. This is the best book in my opinion we have yet to read because the information is very specific whereas other novels we’ve read have been very general, just about genocide as a whole.

Suny, Chapters 6-10

In Ronald Suny’s novel, “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else,” he explains the happenings of how the Ottoman Empire turned on a sect of its own peoples. Suny focuses on the major and minor events that lead up to the fatal moment in the Armenian peoples history. By analyzing these developments, Suny gives the reasons and justifications that the Ottoman Empire, now the nation of Turkey, have tried to produce in an effort to clear their name of the label “genocidal”.

The Republic of Turkey has refused to acknowledge the facts of the Armenian genocides. Going so far as to deny it’s existence in school systems and in front of other national leaders, the nation of Turkey is still claiming innocence. While the borders between Turkey and Armenia are now closed due to another incident, reconciliation for the mass murders of Armenians has yet to be accomplished. The Republic of Turkey has multiple reasons as to why it has been denying the acknowledgement that is necessary for the two countries to heal beyond this. One of the main points of this is that the Government is not the same as it was during the killings. While under the Young Turks, Armenians faced genocidal intents starting in 1915 as they were deported and forced to walk immense distances without decent food, water, clothing, or health care. Many died on these walks from starvation and disease. Now that the Ottoman Empire has fallen and the Republic of Turkey has risen, the people of this nation believe that since it was not under their explicit control no repercussions should be made on their behave. Another claim by the Turkish government is that the mass killings of the Armenians was not of genocidal intent, but that actions taken to stop a potential civil war. Rebellion was a threat to the state, as so they took measure to prevent that from happening, which just happened to end up with an entire sect of people being targeted for suffering.

If the Republic of Turkey were to admit there part in the horrifying attacks they would be forced to face a tribunal as in accordance with the forth Geneva Convention that took place in 1949. During this tribunal, the nation of Turkey may be forced to pay repercussions with monetary value, along with the treat of redefining the borders with the nation of Armenia.

Suny describes these possibilities in the last chapter of his novel. He illustrates the struggles that Armenians went through in the twentieth century, as well as the twenty-first as the recognition they require is continuously denied.

Bloodlands 1-5

Timothy Snyder’s writing of “Bloodlands” has made a very impacting first impression on me just in the first 5 chapters. The sensitive topic of the holocaust and dominance of power between Stalin and Hitler was just as brutal as anything I have learned so far in my history knowledge. The reading so far has already explained so much and expanded my knowledge immensely. Reading about the Ukraine famine in the first chapter really helped grasp my mind around the kind of person Stalin was. I never really compared him to Hitler, but his actions and thought make them somewhat similar. Stalin came to power and wanted total control over everything. He attempted to start a new thing called Collectivization which involved all other people in the soviet union to surrender any type of food. this lead to the mass deaths and violence in the Ukraine. I was never really aware of the Ukraine famine until i read this chapter in the book. The book introduces Hitler and his rise to power and explains the ideologies that lead up to his intentions to rid Europe of all Jewish Poles. The different allies that were involved because of WW1 and an upcoming World War all had either a positive or negative effect on Stalin or Hitlers intentions with their plans to prosper. I really found this reading easier to follow along with and I am getting a better understanding of who, what, why, when and how things lead up to the final solution of Hitlers mass genocide. Stalin and Hitler together created monsters in each other, but I believe that Hitler’s dominance exceeded anyone else’s and he had a very intense plan to take over everything he wanted and totally wipe out the Jewish population, which he believe were not actual people. I am interested to read the rest of this book and learn more about the details to come.