Children of the Holocaust

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During the holocaust, both German and Jewish children, some a mere ten or eleven years old, were forced by circumstance to take on the role of caretaker, breadwinner or defender of the family. In other words, they were forced to become adults way before their time.

Although some children rose to the occasion, millions perished. To what extent were they involved in the holocaust? What happened to children left orphans? Were there any children in concentration camps? How many children perished?

Did any children serve under Hitler?

When I think of the holocaust, I am always plagued by thoughts of the children who, like me, had hopes and dreams, had friends and hobbies but had all of that taken from them during the holocaust. After multiple days spent diligently researching their plight, I have begun to piece together answers to some of my questions. I now better understand the harrowing experience of children during the holocaust.

Although children during World War Two lived in an era of death and misery, for German children, the beginning of the slaughter and suffering was distant. It was like watching a vivid movie; it seemed real and terrible, but shortly after they watched the news, they carried on with almost normal lives.

Some people today have the false conception that a cruel and intimidating government compelled the people to commit genocide. On the contrary, most German’s were very willing to accept their racial superiority. Rather than defend the Jews, many civilians assisted the Gestapo in murdering Jews. Very few of them tossed at night in their beds with guilt for the Nazis launched propaganda campaigns that were drilled into the minds of people everywhere. The Nazis preached pflict, treue, wille and serving the Volk. Or in English, Duty, Loyalty, Will and serving the nation. Even many people who had originally opposed the Nazis were able to accept these virtues as their own.

Hitler wrote a book title Mein Kampf or My Struggle. It became like the bible of the Nazi party. They blamed the Jews for their defeat in World War I and for all that was wrong in the country. Most children contributed to the war cause. Almost all the boys aged fourteen to eighteen were in the Hitler Youth, and the girls of the same age were in the League of German Girls.

They were “educated” in Nazi policy, assisted soldiers, guarded prisoners, and wore uniforms. They helped bring stability to the cities of Germany after they had been bombed, and extinguished fires. They carried daggers and insulted the Jews. They also attended social gatherings such as dances, plays and parties that were exclusively for the Hitler Youth and The League of German Girls.

The Hitler youth was the envy of all boys too young to join. Most boys between the age of 6 and 14 joined the German Young People. The girls between ages 10 and 14 joined Young Girls.

Although the Germans had a considerably easier time than most of Europe, their life was not devoid of hardship. Especially before the fall of France, there was an extreme shortage of supplies. Later when England was bombing, many children died or were left orphaned or homeless.

In the Hamburg air raids alone, between 35,000 and 41,000 people were killed. In the first two months, in which only Berlin and Hamburg were bombed, 189,543 children were evacuated to the countryside. Near the end of the conflict, when it became apparent that Germany was going to lose, Hitler grew desperate. He ordered many Hitler youth to join the Vulksstrum, which compromised of old men and 14-16-year-old boys. They were created to replace the severe losses the German army had sustained. In the siege of Berlin, 27,00 Hitler Youth were killed.

Their own government caused other hardships for German children. The Nazis were so concerned with a perfect society, that they often sent children, many times the victim in an incident, to reformatories. They reasoned that if they are making waves about it, they are the ones who are a threat to society. Their treatment there was harsh. They worked 12-hour days and were barely fed. Waltraud Pfeil attempted to run away. She was caught and sentenced to four weeks arrest, which was solitary confinement on half rations. She died shortly after. This was the punishment for all major offenses, and many perished

German Children Who Perished

However many German children perished, for much of the war, Germany prospered, and so it’s children were safe and cared for. Thus, the German children’s suffering pales in comparison with that of the Jewish children. Their suffering began in 1933 when the Nazi party came to power and Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

The Nazis organized a nationwide boycott on Jewish owned stores, Jewish lawyers and Jewish doctors. Then they passed a law preventing blacks and Jews from holding teaching positions in state schools. The classes became separated. All Jews and blacks had to sit separately from their Aryan classmates. Another method of belittling Jews was making them wear a yellow star on their clothing, to set them apart as Jews. In Germany, during the time of shortages, Jews were not allowed to shop except during certain hours. These and other new rules were created to humiliate the Jews and make their lives difficult.

In Germany and other countries occupied by Germany, Jews were rounded up and forced to live in ghettos with all the other Jews. The Germans came and would take the whole ghettos to be judged. The ones able to work were sent to concentration camps. Those unable to work, like many women and children, were taken directly to death camps or shot on the spot. Many were forced to dig their own graves. The concentration camps helped the war effort. They freed up men to serve. Prisoners in concentration camps produced things such as uniforms and hand grenades.

A Holocaust Survivor

Many Jews had a similar case to Jack Mandelbaum, the 12-year-old boy who worked odd jobs to support his mother after his father left to fight the Germans. He used his reputation as a worker to escape the gas chambers, where his mother and siblings were sent. He became one of the children in concentration camps. About 216,000 children were in Auschwitz during the war. Fewer than 7,000 actually were in the camp to work, the rest were sent directly to the gas chambers. When Auschwitz was liberated, only 451 Jews under the age of 16 were alive. Most children in the camps died because their bodies were too weak to endure the punishing work that they had to do, especially with so little nourishment.

Many children starved, were gassed, or died of the disease. In total, 1.1 million Jewish children died at the hands of Nazis in the “final solution.” Many German children died as well. Even the survivors were scarred. Many had physical problems such as arthritis, rheumatism, and loss of circulation due to frostbite. In the words of Holocaust survivor Jack Mandelbaum, “Greater than the physical suffering is the emotional suffering,” Almost all survivors suffer from posttraumatic stress syndrome.

It is truly heartbreaking how many individual children with hopes and dreams for the future perished or were orphaned. Although we cannot change the terrible wrongs that were done to these innocent children, we can remember their stories, so that we can prevent a vile act of this magnitude in the future.

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