This document is the basis for talks presented by Hilde Hines to various school groups when invited to speak about the Holocaust.
My justification for speaking is that I was there!
I lived during the period of the rise of the Nazi power in Germany and let us for a moment go back and see how it all came about.
Germany was an advanced Western nation – cultural and civilized.
Germany lost the First World War and the Peace Treaty of Versailles forbade them to have an army any more – they had to give up their colonies and certain parts of Germany were given to other countries. The Germans had always been a very proud and nationalistic people and this came as a very great degradation.
On top of it they had to pay for repairs for damages done during the war. This, plus the general economic down-turn all over the world, created a difficult economic position in Germany.
I still remember as a child hearing, “How much is the Dollar today?”. There was inflation of the kind we cannot imagine. People were paid not only weekly but also daily and at one time it cost 1,000 Mark for a loaf of bread.
Then at one stage an end was called to it all and all the money became useless. This was the cause of the disappearance of a large section of the middle class because all their savings went at once.
Fruitful soil for anarchy – economics, politics and unemployment.
Many changes of government in a comparatively short period of time, and none really able to improve the situation. These were the conditions when Hitler and the National Socialist Workers Party came to prominence.
On the one hand communism, which many people feared, and on the other the Nazis. Conditions conducive to production of revolutions and false messiahs. Hitler was duly elected in 1933. He had a private army of SA and SS Troops devoted to him. Thugs who did not blink an eyelid when hitting anyone who got in their way. They would have given their lives for him.
How did the change in Government affect me personally?
I lived in the city of Nuremberg, which was a hot bed of not only the Nazis but also of anti-Semitism. One of Hitler’s main theories was that Germany should only be for the Germans and Jews were a foreign element, which had to be eliminated.
It did not matter that my family had lived in Germany for hundreds of years, that Jews had fought in great numbers in the First World War and were as patriotic Germans as one could be.
My father loved the city of Nuremberg and loved every nook and cranny of it. It was his greatest joy and pride to show this medieval city to visitors.
I was at school and the school system was such that if you intended to go to university you had to go to a so-called Gymnasium, which taught Latin and took you to matriculation at 19. Ours was the only girls school of that kind in our city and we had a very kind, very democratic head teacher.
In Nuremberg was the headquarters of a man called Julius Streicher, who produced a newspaper called “The Storm”, which was originally illegal but still distributed. It was virulently anti-Semitic.
After the rise of the Nazis to power there was a street meeting outside my school at which Mr Streicher and some of his colleagues spoke. Amongst other things they said : “A man who says a decent Jew is better than a German criminal does not belong to us”. This was quoting our headmaster. Consequently the headmaster was sent on extended leave and shortly afterwards dismissed.
The biggest Nazi professor was appointed headmaster, regardless of the fact that he had spent several periods of his life in a sanitarium.
We were all listening from a distance at this meeting and in the end one of the older girls made this prophetic remark. “If any of you think that we can still finish our schooling in this school you are mistaken”. Most of us pooh-poohed this prediction because, like the rest of the country, we thought people would come to their senses and see the Nazis for what they were – cruel thugs and impossible as rulers – and toss them out.
However, this was not to be. Whenever there was any opposition to Hitler and his party he managed to exterminate these people – and not only them but also anyone connected with them. For instance, if a priest dared to speak against his political party not only was he put in a concentration camp but also his whole monastery was closed. If it was a minister of a Protestant congregation, he was taken away and his church was without a minister.
The concentration camp in Dachau was one of the first to be opened.
I belonged at that time to a Jewish Youth Organization which was quite left wing in its outlook and within a month all the senior people of this group had either gone over the frontier or were in concentration camps. One of my friends was killed there and his parents were told ‘trying to escape’.
I have brought along a little book which I found which was distributed to school children aged from 14 to 16 years quite early in 1933. This was to be an addition to the history course. It is called, “Aufbruch of the German National 1914-1933″. The word ‘aufbruch’ is hard to translate, it means ‘Arising’, ‘breaking out’, of the German Nation. I have read through this book again and anything more like propaganda than this supposedly impartial history lesson you cannot imagine.
That kind of teaching took place in the schools from the day of the take over by the Nazis. I was treated like a leper in my schoolroom – standing on my own in the courtyard during recess, unless I joined with other Jewish girls. I was the only one in my class.
There was no official method yet of persecution of Jews but it was taken on by individuals and groups with great enthusiasm. To give you one example – sports day. The instructions came around – Aryan girls to appear in sports uniform, Jewish students in street clothes. We had to be there and stand around the oval whilst the rest of the school was marching past singing anti-Jewish songs, such as “When Jewish blood sprouts from our knives”. Quite a difficult task to maintain a stoic face under such conditions.
I remember towards the end of this year of 1933 a particularly nasty episode when our English professor came in and started talking against the Jews. I sat there with a stony face as long as I could and then I left the room, went up to the headmaster’s office and asked the secretary what I could do. She told me that she could give me an appointment with the headmaster but that I knew what he was like. She was still of the old school. She asked me what my plans were for after the present term. When I said that I was leaving she asked me why didn’t I get a note from my parents to excuse me from English lessons for the rest of the term.
Furthermore, anyone who was a member of the Hitler Youth automatically got their marks one up – for instance if you earned in a paper a “B”, you got an “A” because you were spending your time working for the Fatherland!
At the end of that particular year there was not one Jewish student left in that school.
As far as the general population was concerned, new laws were created. All Jews were dismissed from the public service.
Between 1933 and 1945 an estimated 32,000 German civilians were executed for so-called political offences:
Writers and journalists
Mentally ill/chronically sick
In addition more than 250,000 Gypsy’s were murdered, in the attempt by the Nazis to eliminate Gypsy’s as well as Jews from the map of Europe.
German official plans for the final solution 20th January 1942. The number of Jews mentioned at the Wannsee Conference, country-by-country, and area-by-area, for eventual deportation and subsequent death – more than 14 million were earmarked for death.
The Wannsee Conference also specified the number of Jews in unconquered countries for eventual destruction:
330,000 from Britain
18,000 from Switzerland
6,000 from Spain
4,000 from Ireland
The noose was tightened in Germany and yet the world had no understanding and most countries were closed.
Conditions for Germans during Hitler’s regime.
Very soon clandestine munitions factories were built, roads were built with military intention – thus more and more people were employed.
Germany also annexed the Rhineland – contrary to international agreements, and there many other breaches of the Versailles Treaty.
Jewish businesses were taken over by Aryans and if Jews emigrated they had to leave all their possessions behind and were only allowed to take 10 Mark out of the country.
The average German worker was better off in that they did have a job and so forth, and closed their eyes to whatever went on around them. It was too dangerous even to speak to your nearest. Children were made to spy on their parents and report any remarks against the Government.
The objective therefore, in a nutshell, is to demonstrate how sheer prejudice has led to this mass crime. The sobering thought is that the conditions that enabled the Holocaust to happen are still with us. Basically nothing has changed. People indulge in their pet hates of those who are different. Given the right climate there is no guarantee that this could not happen again. This, of course, applies particularly to anti-Semitism – which if anything is on the increase. Only a few isolated voices are raised for justice for all, equality and dignity for all men.