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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


From the beginning of the anti-Semitic campaign, the Nazis had found ways of enriching Germany at Jewish expense. When Jews were forbidden to practice as lawyers, doctors, and government employees, their practices passed to non-Jews. German doctors and lawyers became busier and wealthier. Non-Jews took the office jobs left vacant when Jews were forced to quit the government. When Jews were forbidden to sell to non-Jews, there was more business in stores owned by non-Jews.


Goering, who was in charge of business and commerce in Hitler's government, announced to the world that "the Jews must disappear from the German economy." He meant to see that the property of the Jews, their belongings, their business and professional offices, would soon belong to non-Jews. By the end of the war nearly nine billion dollars of Jewish money, goods, and property fell to non-Jews through this "legalized" theft. There was even an official name for this transfer of wealth. It was called Aryanization.

In occupied territories such as Poland, Aryanization was carried out by the officers of the German army. One witness remembers:

In the first three months of the occupation, the looting usually stopped short of the furniture. Later, however, the Nazis went ... from house to house, and laid hands on whatever they could find. ... In Cracow, on December 3, 1939, large military detachments surrounded the Jewish quarter at eleven o'clock at night. Guards were posted in front of the houses to prevent the inhabitants from leaving. The next morning at eight, all the houses were ransacked from top to bottom.    
     Officers did not hesitate to confiscate for their personal use such things as silk stockings, shoes, bedding, and even food. The search continued the next day and did not stop until half past two in the afternoon. [Quoted in The Black Book of Polish Jewry]

In eastern Europe where anti-Semitism was strong, most non-Jews felt that they deserved what they could steal from Jews because Jews were the "enemy." In western Europe (apart from Germany), where there was less anti-Semitism, the profits of stealing were enough reason for doing it. One Nazi chief in France reported:

It is plainly almost impossible to cultivate in Frenchmen an anti-Jewish feeling based on ideological grounds [anti-Semitism], whereas the offer of economic advantages could more easily create sympathy for the anti-Jewish struggle. [Quoted in Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate]

Jewish Books and Art

In March 1942 Hitler set up a special staff called the Einsatzstab to "collect" the most valuable pieces of Jewish art and literature. This process was accomplished as the Jews themselves were being transported to their deaths.

The Einsatzstab also collected Jewish Bibles, copies of the Talmud, prayer books, and books printed in Hebrew and Yiddish. Hitler wanted to be able to "prove" after the war was over that the Jews had been a true enemy. In the end nearly six million volumes were amassed in a mansion near Frankfurt to be studied later by Nazi scholars who would try to convince the world how dangerous the Jews and their ideas had been.

But the Einsatzstab soon learned that works of art were the most valuable property. These were given to Nazi leaders or placed in German museums. In a period of three years the Nazis collected more than twenty-one thousand works of art--paintings, drawings, miniatures, sculptures, medallions, and antiques among them. Works of art must not remain in Jewish possession, the Einsatzstab stated, for the Jews might later sell them and use the money to fight against Germany. "Today's Rembrandt," they said, "is the financing of tomorrow's anti-German fight."

Jewish apartments were sometimes left fully furnished and given to Nazi officers as places to live. One officer, assigned a Jewish apartment, complained that the Jew who had been told to leave was packing his things and having them shipped to the Jewish quarter. This was stopped at once. "Luckily," the German officer wrote, "there still seem to be a few packing cases in the apartment. ... Perhaps we can still 'swipe' something."


It was not long before the Nazis found still another way of profiting from the Jews. The SS, under Heinrich Himmler, began to use captive Jews as slaves. There was a new twist in the Nazi brand of slavery, however. Whereas in the past, slaves were valued for their labor, the Nazis saw no value in the Jews at all. Their idea of slavery was to work the slave to death. Himmler bragged that when he ran out of Jews, he would use Slays or Poles as slaves.

The SS offered Jewish slaves for hire to large German factories and industries such as stone quarries, coalmines, glass works, textile factories, brickyards, and iron works. To keep the Jews working, the SS guard beat them or whipped them. Those Jews who fell down from exhaustion or refused to work were killed on the spot. The owners of the factories paid a small fee to the SS for each slave they used; and many new factories were built close to the concentration camps just to be near this cheap labor supply.

Forced labor took many forms. Jews were rounded up in Poland, for example, and made to clean the streets, dig ditches, build canals and fortifications, and even build the walls of the Jewish ghettos--the very walls that held them prisoners. Jewish slaves were used to dig out huge plots of earth that served as mass graves when the Jews of a town were machine-gunned to death. In the death camps Jewish slaves were forced to move the bodies of dead Jews from the gas chambers to the furnaces where the bodies were burned, and to remove the ashes of the victims and clean the furnaces.

One boy, sent to a coal mine near the Polish-German border, wrote:

Why are we here? A hundred Jewish boys of fifteen, seventeen, and twenty, miserable and unhappy. Many of us have seen our own families killed. Apparently just to make us suffer. We are exposed to the jeers and mockery of the German brutes. On top of the blows: hunger. We were warned that if they found any bread on us beyond the ration, we would be shot. Fifteen days later there were only sixty-five of us left out of one hundred. [Private letter, quoted in Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate]

The Nazis' hatred of Jews was such that many Nazis wanted to make the Jews suffer, even more than they wanted to make money from Jewish labor. To these Nazis, slavery was better than killing the Jews immediately, for the slaves would first be profitable, then they would die, and they would also suffer cruelly.

"We Have Taken Everything They Owned"

Even after Jews died, the Nazis found ways to make a few last profits from them. In May 1942, with the beginning of Operation Reinhard, the death camps began to work at top speed. Now gold fillings were taken from the teeth of Jewish corpses. Marriage rings and the last jewelry were taken from dead hands and necks. Shoes and clothing were sorted for size and resold to non-Jews. (There were complaints when some customers found bullet holes in their newly bought coats and vests, or blood stains on the dresses they bought for their children, or yellow stars that had not been removed from the clothing before it was sold.)

Suitcases, thermos bottles, baby bottles, shawls, and blankets were collected from those entering concentration and death camps and resold. Eyeglasses and monocles were plucked from dead bodies. Artificial limbs were "recovered" from Jews who needed them no longer. Even women's hair that had been removed was used in the making of wigs or woven into "hair-cloth." The bones of some victims were ground into phosphate.

Even the graves of long-dead Jews were disturbed. The gates and funeral monuments of Jewish cemeteries were resold. Tombstones of Jews were used to pave the streets of German cities. Himmler said: "We have written a glorious page in our history. We have taken everything they owned."

Order The Holocaust at Amazon

The newly revised and updated edition of
The Holocaust: An End to Innocence is now available
in paperback and Kindle.

“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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