PROFIT AND SLAVERY
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
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
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
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
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."
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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