This stripped Germany of its foreign colonies, imposed heavy economic penalties on the country in the form of fines and disarmament, and it changed many of the borders of the countries of Europe. This policy gave rise to severe economic problems in Germany. Hunger and poverty were wide-spread, and galloping inflation caused prices to rise at a dizzying rate. The middle class, which had been the chief support of the German Republic, which was established after World War I, became embittered, and many Germans longed for the old autocratic kind of government that had formerly dominated the country.
It was during the years after World War I that Adolf Hitler, a house painter who had experienced the bitterness of defeat as a soldier in the German Army, developed his ideas of the Master Aryan Race, the need to rid Germany of "inferior" peoples, such as Jews and Gypsies, and the need to expand Germany's borders and build a Germany that was militarily strong. He gathered around him a group of people who supported his ideas and used the tactics of bullying and terrorism to obtain publicity and intimidate his opponents. His National Socialist — or Nazi — party advocated the establishment of a totalitarian state, the redistribution of the nation's wealth and the pro-vision of jobs for everybody.
Hitler used inflammatory rhetoric in his speeches, and he was able to arouse huge audiences to hysterical enthusiasm. He claimed that Germany's problems and the decline in its power were the fault of Jews and radicals, and that the German, or Aryan, race was the Master Race, the creators of all civilization, and fitted by nature to rule the world.
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In order for this Master Race to have adequate living space, Lebensraum, Hitler intended to expand Germany's frontiers in the East, taking from the lands of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. The inhabitants of those countries, the Slays, were also "inferior," according to Hitler, fit only either to serve the Master Race as slaves — or to be killed. Hitler's Nazi party, regarded initially by most Germans as merely a lunatic fringe, began to gain ground and support within Germany after the world's economic depression, which began in In the German parliament, the Reichstag, the Nazis were represented alongside the various other political parties.
Hitler continued to fulminate against the Jews, describing them as an alien, inferior race despite their distinguished contribution to German cultural and economic life throughout many centuries. He regarded them as being responsible for all the movements which the Nazis opposed, communism, pacifism, internationalism, and Christianity, as well as being a threat to "German racial purity. Many believed that the political hysteria would soon pass, that the common people would soon see Hitler for what he really was, or that, once in power, Hitler would modify his extreme views.
After all, they seemed to think, Germany is a civilized country; anti-Semitic riots could never happen here. They could not imagine that millions of people would be murdered for no other reason than that they were Jews. Hitler's racial theories and nationalism had deep roots in Germany's past. When, through various parliamentary maneuvers, Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in , he immediately took measures to establish an absolute, totalitarian regime.
He outlawed all political parties other than his own, banned all literature that did not support his party or that was written by Jews or communists, and introduced a set of laws, the Nuremberg Race Laws, prohibiting Jews from interacting with, or marrying, Aryans. Most Germans quietly accepted Hitler's regime, and those who did not were confronted with arrests, beatings, torture, and imprisonment. Hitler's new laws prevented Jews from holding public office, being teachers, practicing law or medicine, working in journalism or engaging in business.
Jews were forbidden to employ Aryans, and Aryans were discouraged from patronizing Jewish stores. Jewish property was confiscated, collective fines were imposed on Jewish communities, and even emigration was made difficult for Jews. The countries of the world gathered at Evian, France, in to discuss ways of absorbing the Jewish population of Germany, but no country was willing to provide a home for more than a handful of Jews.
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The U. Even countries like Australia and Canada, with vast tracts of uninhabited land, refused to allow large numbers of Jews to enter. After gaining power, Hitler set about rearming Germany, even though this was strictly prohibited by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In doing so, he strengthened Germany's economy, created full employment, and restored a sense of pride to the German population. The countries of Europe, however, turned a blind eye to this flagrant disregard of the Versailles Treaty, refrained from taking any action, and thereby allowed the stage to be set for Hitler's next acts.
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In , encouraged by the inaction of the European nations, Hitler proceeded to invade and annex, first, Austria, and then Czechoslovakia, each time assuring the world that all he wanted was "peace," and that this would be his "last demand. The years since that Hitler had spent rearming Germany had not been militarily paralleled by the Allies the European countries, the United States, and Russia so that the outbreak of World War II found Germany vastly superior in military strength. This enabled German forces to rapidly overrun Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France within a short space of time in and , so that within less than a year, most of Europe was occupied by Germany.
The German troops were highly mobile and mechanized, strictly disciplined, and motivated by theories of national and racial superiority. Britain's island status enabled it to withstand German threats, and although it suffered considerable devastation as a result of German bombardments, its people rallied, manufacturing arms and defending its shores and skies. Not content with being master of most of Europe, Hitler then launched an attack against Russia in June, despite the non-aggression pact that Hitler had signed with Stalin in For over five years, Europe was a virtual slave empire under the Nazis.
The people of Europe worked long, hard hours in farms and factories, receiving little more than subsistence rations in return, and millions of people were taken to Germany to work there. In occupied countries, any resistance was crushed ruthlessly; hostages were executed in retaliation for the killing of a single Nazi soldier, listening to British broadcasts, or possessing anti-Nazi literature were all made punishable by death. Harboring Jews was punishable either by death or by being sent to a concentration camp. The Nazis were as efficient in setting up the machinery of death as they were in manufacturing arms.
Over the years, they perfected a system of obtaining lists of all the Jewish inhabitants of a particular place and making them all wear a distinguishing mark in the form of a yellow star, herding them into "ghettoes" and then loading them into crowded cattle cars and dispatching them by train to concentration camps. There, they were either worked until they died, starved to death, or gassed. All through the war, the long trains of Jewish prisoners rolled through Europe, taking their human cargo to be killed.
Even at the end of the war, when Germany's defeat was obvious to everyone, the death trains continued to cross Europe, and the gas chambers continued to operate. Later, Jews were marched, or transported, from concentration camps outside Germany to other camps farther inland, many dying on these forced marches.
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The Nazis made sure that these Jews would be dead before the Allies could rescue them. Both prior to the war and throughout the war years, the Nazis continuously depicted the Jews as "vermin" and as "sub-human.
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It did not matter that the events of the war years proved decisively that the Jews were poor, weak, and powerless. In many countries of Europe, the inhabitants were rewarded for handing over Jews who had not yet been arrested.
Here and there, however, some Europeans did risk their freedom, and even their lives, in order to help Jews and help conceal them from their Nazi oppressors. In Denmark, the king himself declared that he and the entire population would wear the yellow star, in sympathy with the Jews.
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The Nazis used special terms, or euphemisms, to disguise their intentions and their treatment of the Jews. These constituted a "code," which sounded fairly harmless to those — including the victims — who were not fully aware of their real meaning. Thus, the cattle trucks and trains in which Jews were sent to the concentration camps were only "transports.
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By the time that the war had ended, millions of people had been killed or made homeless, exiled from their homes and separated from their families. Meanwhile, the systematic murder of six million Jews by the Nazis continued steadily and with brutal efficiency throughout all this chaos. When the war ended, the Jewish populations of Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, France, Holland, Yugoslavia, and part of Russia, embodying a unique and age-old culture, had been virtually wiped out.
Despite the efforts which the Nazis made to keep their systematic murder of the entire Jewish and Gypsy populations of Europe secret, most people knew, at least in rumored theory, if not in detail, what fate awaited those Jews who were "sent East. Many people closed their eyes to the truth, refusing to admit even to themselves the full horror of what was happening, or perhaps unable to grasp to what depths human bestiality could descend, while others, such as the Franks' "protectors," did what they could to help Jews evade the Nazis. At dawn, we switched to a local train for a one-hour ride.
Schoolmaster Yoshizumi-sensei then walked us through the mulberry bushes. When we got off the local train, we did not see any green. It was not yet spring in Tokyo, and, of course, Nagano was even more wintry. I remember crossing a small bridge over a running stream and walking through dry mulberry bushes. In Sanada village, mulberries were cropped short and kept like bushes for the silkworm industry.
The dormitory, a converted inn, was very close to the railroad station. In the dorm, over two hundred children lived with four teachers from the Tokyo school and ten locally hired room mothers, ages sixteen to twenty-two. Each room mother cared for a dozen boys and a dozen girls. As we arrived at the dorm, we could see older children looking out of the windows, waving to us and making us feel welcome. We were temporarily divided into rooms, and I was sent to an upstairs room where Akira lived with eleven other boys.
At night there was a roll call. The boys wore yukata and obi cotton kimono with sashes at night as in peaceful times. I remember seeing Maruyama-kun still in his yukata in the morning as we were putting the futon away in the closet. He soon left to go elsewhere with his family. That sort of thing was called enko sokai evacuating to join country relatives. As the train that carried him left the station, we waved goodbye from the dorm windows. Two sisters, Kawashima Toshiko-chan and Reiko-chan, were among the children in Room 13 downstairs.
They had lived across the street from us in Narimune. Toshiko-chan insisted that I join them in their room, so the following day I moved there, although I wanted to stay with Akira a little longer. Toshiko-chan was a fifth grader, and Reiko-chan a third grader.