Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany
Germany was defeated in World War I (1914– 1918), and in the ensuing years, the politics of this country swung widely between extreme right wing and extreme left wing philosophies. It was during this time that the German Workers’ Party was formed. In 1919, Adolf Hitler joined this party and quickly rose to power. Hitler changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which was, in turn, referred to as the Nazi Party for short. By the end of 1920, the party had about 3,000 members.
As Hitler gained authority, he formulated the belief that Germany would be better off if it rid itself of people who were not of a so-called pure race. In his definition of this pure race, Hitler completely excluded Jewish people. Jews became, in Hitler’s way of thinking, the cause of all Germany’s ills and must therefore be eliminated.
The Nazis received little attention in the early 1920s until Hitler staged a revolution against authorities in Munich. He failed miserably and was jailed for treason. However, during his trial, he gained the attention of many people in the courtroom as well as the sympathy of the judge. He was given a light sentence of five years, which was later reduced to just one year. While in prison, Hitler wrote the major tenets of his political beliefs in the book Mein Kampf (1925, 1926). With his words in print after he was released from prison, Hitler campaigned to increase membership in the Nazi Party. The party grew as Germany’s economy faltered. In 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, and under his influence Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, was created. Dachau provided a place of training for concentration camp guards. Their prisoners, at first, were political dissidents and labor leaders. Later most victims would be Jews. In 1934, President Paul von Hindenburg died, and Hitler proclaimed himself the Fuhrer , leader of Germany.
Hitler dominated German politics by this time and quickly followed through on his belief that Germany must be rid of Jews. In 1935, Hitler created the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of all civil rights. In 1938, hungry for more territory, Hitler ordered his armies into Austria, where they easily took over control. A few months later, Hitler invaded part of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler’s anti-Semitism spread. On the night of November 9, Germans went on a destructive spree, burning synagogues, as well as Jewish businesses and homes. In the immediate aftermath, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps. Shortly afterward, Jewish children were not allowed to attend school and all Jews were forced to give up all their properties.
In 1939, Hitler’s armies invaded Poland. This was the tipping point for the European allies, and World War II began. By the time European forces were engaged in this war, Germany had gained control of Poland. To isolate Jewish people from the rest of the German population, Hitler ordered massive numbers of Jews to be taken to Poland. Special areas called ghettos were set up to house the Jews. In the course of the next few years, these areas were cleared out as Jews were systematically transferred from the ghettos to concentration camps, where they were put to death. By the end of the war, it has been estimated that at least five million Jews, and perhaps as many as nine million, were put to death under the orders established by Hitler.
Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York
On a warm day in August 1944, about one thousand refugees from war-torn Europe were granted asylum in the United States and were transported to an internment camp at Fort Ontario (an old army base) in Oswego, New York. Most of the refugees were Jews who had escaped from Nazi persecution. Though the refugees were safe and well treated, none would be freed from Fort Ontario for two years.
In a symbolic demonstration of humanitarianism in the midst of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had put aside the normal procedures of immigration and had invited this relatively small group of refugees to come to the United States and to stay until the war ended.
Each immigrant had signed an agreement that they would return to their homelands once the war was over. Eleanor Roosevelt worked toward reversing this agreement, but it was not until President Harry Truman took office that the refugees were given the chance to legally apply for American citizenship and were freed.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Jane Yolen, Published by Gale Group, 2001.