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Holocaust--search words: Rossel, Seymour Rossel, Holocaust, Genocide, Hitler, anti-Semitism, prejudice, ladder of prejudice, war crimes, war crimes trials, World War II, Second World War, Himmler, Eichmann, concentration, concentration camps, ghetto, ghettos, shtetl, Nazi, Nazis, Nazism, Nuremberg, Kristallnacht, boat people, revolts, Warsaw ghetto, death camps, Heydrich, rescue, escape, slavery, discrimination, racism, racist, racists, Shoah, aftermath, roundup, roundups, transport, transports, selection, selections, medical experiments, Nazi hunters, echoes of Holocaust


4
WAR


France and Britain were hardly ready for war against Germany, but sides had already been taken. In the mid-1930s Germany and Italy had supported the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The two had forged an alliance, and they now became known as the Axis powers. France and Great Britain--later joined by Russia--came to be known as the Allied Powers.

Hitler was eager to conquer France. He wanted revenge for Germany's defeat in World War I. And he very much wanted to conquer Russia and overthrow the Communists there. But he had no quarrel, he said, with Great Britain. Indeed, he admired the British for the empire that they had built, and for their mighty navy. He also realized how weak the Italians were. They were as much a burden as a help to him. Their Fascist government was a watered down version of Nazism that Hitler thought was weak-kneed, and Hitler had little respect for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

In the weeks following the conquest of Poland, Hitler was pleased to see that the Allies were taking no steps to attack his western borders. For one thing, much German equipment had been damaged in Poland. And for another, Hitler had placed most of his troops inside Poland. Germany might have been defeated had the Allies attacked from the west in those early weeks of the war before the German army could be re-equipped and transferred to the western front.

War in the North

Instead, it was Russia that next entered the fray. On November 30 the Russians attacked Germany's ally, Finland, in what would prove a failed attempt to conquer it. The Russian move gave Hitler reason to be both angry and frightened. More than ever he was now determined to conquer Russia; and more than ever he was afraid that his enemies would now join to come at him from the north, through Finland, Norway, and Denmark.

To keep this from happening, Hitler occupied Norway and Denmark. He forced the Danes to accept German "protection." Two months later, Norway succumbed. But both the Norwegians and the Danes proved to be thorns in his side throughout the war. Time and again small groups of Norwegians banded together to attack German installations and outposts in Norway; and the German navy was often engaged in battling Norwegian ships and sailors. Denmark refused to carry out Hitler's anti-Jewish programs and resisted every German attempt to deport the Danish Jews.

The West

With Norway and Denmark occupied, Hitler had to make a major decision. He wanted to attack Russia, but was afraid that France and Britain might choose that moment to attack him from the west. He knew that his armies were not strong enough yet to fight in both the east and west. Reluctantly, he turned his forces westward. On May 10, 1940, the German armies entered Belgium and Holland to "protect" them from attack by the English and the French. Both countries fell to Germany within days.

It was the first maneuver in a clever scheme. Just as Hitler had hoped, the Allied armies marched toward the Low Countries during those few days, while the main section of the German army began its march southward into France. It was only a matter of weeks before the French and British armies were trapped between the two halves of the German forces; their food lines to the south had been cut, and their backs were to the sea. Four tank divisions of the German army were closing in for the kill--and the British and French armies faced certain destruction.

At that fateful moment Hitler sent orders to the front to stop the tank divisions. The job of finishing off the Allied armies was awarded to the German air force, the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe, however, had little success. The British Royal Air Force gave protective cover as more than three hundred thousand British, French, and Belgian soldiers were rescued by sea at Dunkirk and taken across the English Channel to safety. Nevertheless, France--Germany’s hated enemy--had been conquered.

Hitler's Hour of Victory

On June 21, 1940, France surrendered to Germany. Hitler was celebrated in Germany as the greatest military leader of modern times. He had defeated the French, he had ousted the British, and he had conquered most of Europe.

For a while he considered sending his troops into Britain. But between Europe and the British Isles there was the sea, and Britain still had the strongest navy in the world. So Hitler turned his eyes back to the east. Feasting on his victories, he was hungrier than ever to conquer Russia and to defeat the "Communist Jews," as he called the Russians.

Just as Hitler was about to attack and invade Russia, the Italians attacked Greece. As Hitler had feared, the Italian army was too weak to conquer the fiercely resisting Greeks. In the end, afraid that the British might come ashore in Greece to help the Greek army, Hitler sent twenty-nine divisions against Greece. It took only four weeks to conquer Greece, including the island of Crete; but it was a four-week delay that Hitler had not anticipated.

Axis Politics

Hitler’s alliances had not been helpful to him. Italy had proved next to useless. Japan--a more recent ally--despite her pact with Hitler, refused to attack the Russians. Spain--which had also made a pact with Hitler--refused, for reasons that Hitler could not understand, to attack the fortress of Gibraltar. Taking Gibraltar would have made it possible to keep the British navy out of the Mediterranean, and might have shifted the balance of the war. But Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain, had reasons for being a "nonbelligerent" ally of the Axis. For one thing, Spain was exhausted after its civil war. For another, although Hitler did not know it, Franco may have been partly Jewish, at least, so it was rumored. In the main, Germany had to go it alone in western Europe.

The Soviet Union

On June 22, 1941, three million German soldiers, more than 7,000 cannons, and 3,500 tanks crossed over into Russia. The Luftwaffe quickly defeated the Russian air force. Russian tank divisions were speedily overcome. But the Russian army continued to fight. The war in Russia dragged on; the precious months of summer turned to fall, then quickly to winter. It was October before the Germans saw Moscow in the distance. The weather was below zero in December, they still had not taken the capital city, and they were still in their summer uniforms. For Hitler it was all going too slowly. The blitzkrieg was turning into a suicide mission. And in the midst of it, on December 7, 1941, his Japanese allies attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war. The Germans had had their hours of victory; now began the long slow days of defeat.


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“Seymour Rossel, a long-experienced and gifted educator, here gives yet another important contribution for readers of every age and background. This book is a rare and valuable overview of an enormously challenging subject. Every chapter is accessible, intelligent, and compelling.”David Altshuler, PhD, Founding Director, Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York

 


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