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Last Updated on September 14, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 947

Historical Context

From 1933 to 1945, an estimated 15 to 20 million people were imprisoned or murdered in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps spread throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. At least six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust and an estimated one out of every six of those killings took place at Auschwitz death camp.

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Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich (1933–1945), was a dictatorship controlled by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler was appointed the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 by the president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg. After Hindenburg’s death in 1934, Hitler solidified his dictatorship by combining the positions and powers of the Chancellery and Presidency.

The Nazis viewed the German people, or the “Aryan race,” as being racially superior to the rest of the world. Jews were considered to be racial enemies of the Third Reich because of their “blood” and its potential to contaminate the purity of the Aryan race.

Origins of Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism, or discrimination against Jews, was present in Europe long before the rise of Nazi Germany. The hatred of Jews stems back to the Middle Ages, when Christian theology blamed the Jews for killing and rejecting Jesus Christ. Additionally, Christianity forbade the practice of charging interest on loans, while Jewish religious law allowed Jews to charge interest to non-Jews. This added fuel to the stereotype that Jews were wealthy and greedy moneylenders. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pogroms, or violent riots aimed at Jews, increased in the Russian Empire (modern-day Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus).

German defeat in World War I

Part of Germany’s terms of surrender in World War I was that they had to accept full blame for the war. The Allied Powers in Europe demanded that Germany pay heavy war reparations, and the countries that bordered Germany wanted to make sure that Germany would be too weak to ever attack them again. From 1921 to 1924, the Weimar Republic experienced hyperinflation, which led to increased instability and poverty in Germany. In the 1920s, the United States tried to provide Germany with economic assistance, but after the Great Depression began in 1929, the United States was no longer in position to provide aid. Following Hitler’s rise to power, Germany refused to pay its loans and reparations, and the German people saw a return to economic stability.

Early Years of Nazi Germany (1933–1939)

In the early years of the Holocaust, the Nazis enacted a series of repressive laws that stripped away the rights of German Jews. These laws outlawed intermarriage between Jews and non-Jewish Germans, denied Jews of German citizenship, established a boycott of all Jewish businesses, removed Jews from positions in civil service, law, academia, and journalism, and gradually worked to exclude Jews from occupying public spaces. The Nazis began building concentration camps during this time but used them to house political prisoners rather than Jews.

Invasion of Poland

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and increased their Jewish population by approximately two million Jews. The Nazis required Jews to register with the Nazi government and forced them to live in ghettos. (text box: Nazi ghettos were set up throughout cities in German-occupied Europe from 1939–1945. The ghettos were meant to separate Jews from the general population in either open, closed, or extermination ghettos. Living conditions were inhumane and approximately half a million Jews died from starvation and diseases.) Each ghetto was run by a Judenrat, or Jewish council, who managed the distribution of resources, implemented Nazi policies in the ghettos, and, later, chose which Jews would be “resettled” in concentration camps.

Death Squads

The Nazis invaded the Soviet...

(The entire section contains 3209 words.)

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