Continuing the WWII series, Connor and Brittany discuss the tragedy of the holocaust and how an out-of-control government made this horrific event possible.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hey, Connor.

Connor: Okay, sensitive subject alert, for parents out there. Granted, you probably wouldn’t have clicked on this episode if you weren’t, anticipating that, but this issue, what is the Holocaust? This is such an important and tragic, part of world history to understand how something like this could have happened, what happened, how it could have happened, how, did people go along with this? And so this is a continuation of our discussion about World War II, but, you know, this is a tragic aspect of the war. We’ve already talked about Adolf Hitler and how he rose to power. Well, Hitler had something called the final solution, and this was his plan to get rid of people who weren’t German, or what he called Arian the race. And he believed everyone who wasn’t Arian was ruining Germany like this. This was his worldview. And that these other people were contributing to Germany’s problems. Now, you know, there were many people that were considered undesirable by Hitler’s standards, but his main enemy, the target of his rage was Jewish people. And during the war, Hitler and his kind of Nazi party, they killed millions. I think it was like 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. I mean, it’s just an astounding figure. And, I, sometimes think when I hear statistics like that, Brittany, I think, what would the world be like today with all those people, you know, alive and then children and grandchildren? Like what contributions have we missed out on in the world? What inventions, what amazing things, you know, because of this horrific tragedy and this loss of life? So, Brittany, I’m gonna, toss it to you. Walk us through, just to start some of the basics about, you know, this final solution. What was Hitler trying to do, and what did the Holocaust entail? And then we can break it down a little.

Brittany: Yeah. Well, one thing I really want to to point out is this didn’t just happen overnight. It wasn’t, you know, Jewish families woke up one morning and found themselves being chased into what they called concentration camps. This was a very slow and steady thing. Remember we talked about, I think we talked about the frog and boiling water analogy before, where if you put a frog in boiling water, it’ll jump out. But if you put a frog in cold water and then slowly turn up the heat,  it won’t know what happened to it. Right? And then, and then it will die. And that’s what happened here. In fact, I don’t know that the German people, they did not know the full extent of what was happening. And when they did, they were, a lot of them were horrified. So first you have all these laws being passed that starts limiting the freedom of Jewish families. they have to wear a star, a yellow star on their clothes to identify themselves as, as Jewish. Everybody has to get their head measured. That sounds crazy, right? But that’s how they were determined. If you weren’t like a perfect area and a perfect German, measure your head, and if your head was in a shirt and shape, or if your great-grandmother wasn’t, you know, pure blood German, it’s very Harry Potter-ish. Actually, if you read that book, then you would, you would have to be considered, you know, another part of society. So one of the things that really kicked off, the beginning of the Holocaust was something called crystal notch, which meant the night of broken glass, right? And this was a night where the Nazi party said, all right, the Jewish people are destroying the German economy because they’re taking all of our business. You know, we need to use things that are German made. It’s very nationalistic. We talked about that ism before. So boycott all the Jewish businesses don’t buy anything from the Jewish businesses, but not only that, we’re going to destroy all the Jewish businesses. So, the night of broken glass that kind of might put in your head the image of people breaking store windows and burning things down and desecrating, which meant like ruining, you know, church’s synagogues as they call them. So this was one of the first things that really just sparked it. And then to make matters worse, I believe they started blaming the Jewish people for why it happened, which is a typical government tactic, right? So that was step one. And I’ll get into step two, and then I’ll throw it back to you, Connor. So the next step was, well, first they start segregating children. So then the children have to go to a Jewish school. They can’t go to a German school. Then they start what’s called the ghettos. The ghettos is where they were like, okay, you know what, we’re not, you know, we already separated you into schools, but now you can’t live next to your neighbors anymore. We’re gonna put you into this one street. Like there were different ghettos, but like, we’re gonna block off this section of the street, and you all have to move here now. And they could take some of their belongings with them. Not everything, but they could take some of their belongs with them. But they were given a ration, meaning they were only given a certain amount of food a day, very small calorie intakes. In fact, one day one of my professors made us cookies that were of the same calorie content that they were allowed to eat a day, and it was only one cookie worth. So they slowly start just treating them like, like subhuman. It’s very sad. So they’re moved into these ghettos, and that was not the worst of it, sadly. So, Connor, do you wanna, add some stuff in before we move on?

Connor: Well, so coming out of the ghettos, the next kind of phase of all this was leading towards, you know, execution. And as part of that many, most of all of these Jews were rounded up in cattle cars and put on trains, basically. What’s interesting too is we’ve talked in the past about propaganda and the way, you know, war happens that you have to dehumanize the enemy. In other words, it’s, easier to, you know, hurt or kill someone if you don’t see them as human as a brother or a sister, a child of someone, a father or a mother. And so the Jewish people were treated like by the Nazis, like pests, like vermin. They were, they were treated like animals. And that was the way that the Nazi soldiers could kind of start to compartmentalize this and have such a vicious outrage in treating these people so differently. And so they were rounded up in these cattle cars. They were, packed in, families were being separated from one another. It was just horrific circumstances that they would be, sent to these camps, hard labor camps, and hardly any food. They were routinely starved. You know, backbreaking labor kids separated from mom, mom, and dad separated from one another. You know, and this is ultimately where the, the gas chambers and the eugenics and everything were being done, which,  Brittany, I’ll have you talk about in a moment. But these camps, these concentration camps were basically like prisons. But way worse, you know, you’re not just sitting in a cell, you’re being starved to death. You’re being beaten to death, you’re being forced to work very hard. And so the Nazis were having these people, you know, engage in manual labor, basically enslaving them to do this work that they wanted done various, you know, tasks and creating weaponry and, you know, armaments and so forth. And then, you know, they would use these people up and then, you know, start to kill ’em in the end. So, for various periods of time, they would be in these different concentration camps. There were different camps throughout the country. There were several of them. And ultimately the end goal of this final solution was, you know, use ’em up and then exterminate them. So Brittany, why don’t you talk about kind of that final solution as Adolf Hitler called it.

Brittany: Yes. And I wanna go about this very delicately, cuz this is really just sad and kind of horrific stuff. But there was lots of ways that because you kill a lot of people in one go was is really hard. So one way they did that is gas chambers. They told everyone they were going to take showers and it turns out they were gas chambers. It’s just so tragic. And there was really no age limit for that. So it was people of all ages of all, genders. Now I wanna back up here because I mean, not everybody in Germany was a bad person. I wanna make sure you know that. So part of the reason this was so just crazy is that a lot of the German people, these concentration camps were in the countryside, right? So a lot of the German people did not know the extent. They knew that their Jewish neighbors were being taken away. And, there was actually a lot of propaganda videos showing, Jewish families, like they would pay them extra, feed them extra that day to film a video that made it look like the ghettos and the concentration camps were great. Like they were having a great time. In fact, I think America did that with Japanese internment camps too. Yep. Where they make it look like, no, that’s fine. Look, they’re having a great time. So a lot of the people didn’t know what was going on. And, the propaganda was so good that nobody even thought twice about it. At one point one of the commander’s wife found out, and she never spoke to him again. They remained married until the end, but she wouldn’t talk to him. She wouldn’t look at him. So people were horrified when they found out what happened. And I wanna tie you this in because the reason I wanted to do this episode is I had a mom come up to me at a conference telling me how much her kids loved the episode we did on the White Rose, if you guys remember that one. and that she was like, I really liked how you approached that topic. I’d love for you to talk about it further. So that’s why I thought this was an important thing to talk about. But the reason I bring them up is, remember some of the things that they were talking about is they were exposing, they were showing what the German people were doing. Cuz a lot of them didn’t know what was going on in the Holocaust or didn’t know the full extent. So that was why the people who, well there’s three of ’em, right? The Scholl siblings and then the friends.

Connor: Scholl her brother and then a friend.

Brittany: Yeah, I can’t remember the friend’s name, but that was some of the information that they were spreading. So it shows you just how important it was cuz they were trying to get people to see, like, look at what your government is doing. So yeah.

Connor: What’s interesting about that too is not just was their heavy propaganda, but it was a criminal act to listen to like the BBC radio, which was like the big, you know, western, radio. And you know, back then there weren’t like 40 billion channels and satellite TV and internet, right? So there were like few radio stations, few TV stations, and so the BBC radio was the big one that would try and broadcast widely and into enemy territory. And so when you had people like Sophie Scholl or another story that I’ve always loved is Helmuth Hübener, he was the youngest person to be executed by the Nazis. Helmuth basically borrowed a radio and in secret would listen to the BBC broadcasts and then write down what he learned and then turn that into pamphlets and try and spread that around. And so he was caught.

Brittany: How are the pamphlet man?

Connor: Yeah, So he was caught and then beheaded as the youngest person, as I said, to be executed by the Nazis, Sophie and her brother, you know, similarly, they’re trying to learn the truth and then educate other people. And it’s so hard because as you point out, Brittany, the propaganda was intense where people would disbelieve the truth when they were told, right? It’s like, you know, oh no, that’s crazy. I know Adolf Hitler’s, you know, kind of bonkers guy, but they would never do something like that. That’s not what he means, you know, that’s not the final solution. And so it is very hard for people to come to grips with the truth, even when they’re told it, it’s instructive, perhaps Britney to think about our own day, right? About like, what propaganda are we being told and how, what is the government covering up and what is actually, you know, being done around the world or in our country that, you know, we’re like, oh no, that’s, that’s too crazy. Another thing I wanted to mention too is you mentioned the gas chambers where, you know, these, so many of these people were being killed. And, to me it’s another example of this dehumanization where the chemical that was used was a pesticide.

Brittany: Yes, it was.

Connor: And so here again, you know, you have these Germans killing fellow Germans, these Jews, and to do that, I mean you have to overcome conscience. You have to over like, just, I can’t imagine what it would be like to try and be involved in administering death to so many people. And so you have these like internal things in your brain and your soul at least I would think, right? That kind of, you hope restricts that. And so as part of that, right, they see these people as vermin, they’re pests to be, you know, dealt with. And so here they, you know, maybe it was symbolic or I don’t know what, but they’re literally using a pesticide. It wasn’t lining them all up and shooting them, it wasn’t doing anything, you know, else it was.

Brittany: They did some of that too, but that was Yeah, yeah.

Connor: Yes, they did do that, but their kind of max mass execution strategy was literally using a pesticide, which to me is just the exclamation point on this whole strategy of treating these people as subhuman. And it makes you, again, wonder like in our day when people are being, you know, treated poorly or you know, their rights not respected or people are being criticized or whatever, it makes you pause and be, wait a minute. Like we need to see everyone as a kind of part of the human family, right? We all have rights, we all, you know, it’s such a sad period. And I don’t know, Brittany, like, you know, you’ve, I remember you said, you mentioned,  that you studied this a bit in college. Yes. What, would you say is kind of your main takeaway from the Holocaust? If you talk to maybe your students when you were a teacher or the kids listening now, you know, what’s the message that you want to share that we should all take away from this whole tragic episode of history?

Brittany: Yeah, there’s actually two. So I think there’s the kind of more obvious one, and Emma and I talked to this when we talked about the Tuskegee experiment a couple of episodes ago, that we should all have a healthy distrust of government because we’ve seen throughout history what they’re willing to do. But I also want that, I think there’s a lesson in the human spirit. what is that book? A Man Search for Meaning? Yeah. I believe it’s called where somebody who survived the holocaust talks about.

Connor: Viktor Frankl.

Brittany: Viktor Frankl, thank you. What he experienced and what it taught him. also bravery. So even in Auschwitz, one of the worst camps, there was actually an uprising. And one of the gas chamber buildings was burned to the ground. So even though these people ended up losing their life, in the end, they had had enough and these people had nothing. They had no weapons, and they found a way to revolt against evil. So I think, you know, we’ve talked about,  the Misas Institute’s, slogan, which is, do not give in to evil. What is the last part against it? Yeah. And that always reminds me of that. So even in these terrible situations where the government has lied and we have to pay the consequences, there are lessons of bravery, lessons of people managing to survive and, doing it with grace and dignity. So even in these horrific stories, I think it’s really important to try to find those stories of the heroes that lived through them.

Connor: I really like that. And for that reason, I think I’m gonna end this episode by suggesting a movie that I think is very family appropriate from what I recall. I’ve watched it several times. Life is beautiful. Have you ever seen it, Brittany?

Brittany: I’ve only seen The End, which oh, is not the best word to go.

Connor: So, ok. Well, you know, this movie was done in the late nineties and exactly to what you were just saying, Brittany, I’m so awestruck both, I mean, I think the title of this movie is indicative of the overall movie itself. It’s the Holocaust and the Concentration camp, and it’s exactly the setting in which, like, you see this family that’s going through all of this, the night of broken glass and being taken away and shuffled off to the concentration camps and lots of people being killed. They’re all emaciated, meaning they’re all starving. And so that is the tragic setting of this film. And it centers around this father trying to help his boy who’s swept up in all of this kind of, you know, think of this as a game and be happy and find joy in this miserable, miserable circumstance. So the dad is kind of this clown always trying to goof off and trying to find ways to be lighthearted to help his boy not just be horribly depressed and sad. And so the movies are extremely well done. But, I love exactly what you just said, Brittany. It reminded me of that film life is beautiful because, like with Victor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning, this message of we all go through trying times. We all have challenges, nothing hopefully ever to the degree that the Jews during the Holocaust did. But there’s lessons to be learned. And that to me is one of the big takeaways. I’m glad you mentioned that because in whatever degree, less way less of challenges and suffering and whatnot that we may go through, I think that’s a very life-affirming type of thing for us to think about. So kids out there listening, like life may be hard in whatever way, but we can still find, you know, joy in the journey as it were. We can try and be happy and try and learn from these tragic episodes. So maybe consider watching life as beautiful. Pretty sure it’s child appropriate. It’s been a while since I watched it, but,  this is an important topic to talk about and also just to try and understand how could, how could this ever happen. And in other words, how can we prevent similar or anything close to it from happening in our day? What do we need to be aware of? Who do we need to disbelieve? What, how do we, how can we recognize propaganda? Right? All these things are questions that I think we need to struggle with today because history can repeat itself and, it’s not a given that something like that will never happen again. And so it’s good for us to think about, learn about, talk about, hopefully, this was useful to you as families, to talk a little bit more about this and deal with a sensitive subject, but in a way that can empower us all to grow and learn from it. So thanks as always, Brittany, for talking. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.