The Treatment Of Jews In Nazi Concentration Camps: "The Book Thief"

During the Holocaust, Nazis incorporated concentration camps. German Jews were treated horrendously. The Nazis were Germans, and they treated their own people wrongly. The process of transporting the German Jews to the concentration camps was gruesome. The Wiener Holocaust Library described the process of concentration camps in depth. The negative effects the Nazi regime has on citizens and Jews who question Nazi ideas and beliefs. The German Jews were not put on buses or cars with their own personal seat to sit on. The Jews were crammed with thousands of people into a train car. They were given two buckets, one for water and another to go to the bathroom. There was a selection process before being put into the concentration camps. The children were separated from their parents; husbands and wives were separated by gender. This is cruel of the Nazis to separate the children from their parents. The Nazis should have allowed children to be with their parents through these excruciating concentration camps. The methods that the Nazis used on the German Jews were inhumane and unethical. The Germans treated Jews as animals and dehumanized them. Prisoners slept in the same bed in large barracks with people jammed together. The Nazi’s did this to their enemies to show that they had supreme power and reign over the inferior German Jews. Therefore, German Jews died from the combination of being jammed together, from hunger, sickness, and suffocation. The barracks had holes in the walls, which made living in the winter brutal. The sanitation in the camp was filthy. Prisoners wore the same clothes every day because they could not wash them.They could not drink water and the water that was available was not clean. The lack of care given to the German Jews was unlawful. Roll call was gruesome. Jews were mandated to stand for hours for attendance in the morning and evening after a hard day of labor. Those who could not stand any longer were tortured or killed in gas chambers. Nazis showed no mercy or empathy toward the German Jews. There was no reason to make the Jews stand for that many hours. They did this to humiliate and torture the German Jews. Many of these themes are represented in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. In the book, Max and the Hubermanns were aware of these conditions, and this awareness explains their actions and reactions. Hans Hubermann Sr. paints the shade of his house black. He does this in order to avoid the Nazis. The family knows the consequences if they are caught hiding a Jew. They know about the forced labour and concentration camps. Another example is when Hans Hubermann could not find the swastika flag to display on Hitler’s birthday. Hans knows that he has to show support to something he does not believe in. Hans must pretend to support Hitler’s motives in order for his family to not be put in the camps. The readers see this when Hans states, “At one point, it seemed like Papa might have to go down the basement and paint a flag on one of those drop sheets.

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Thankfully, it turned up, buried behind the accordion in the cupboard”. Hans would have made a new flag, that’s how afraid he was of the repercussions of not following Nazis beliefs. Prisoners included anyone who was not beneficial to the Nazi regime such as minorities, homosexuals, Catholics, gypsies and political prisoners. These groups were placed in concentration camps because they opposed Nazi values. They started to put people in social groups, such as homosexuals, tramps, and the unemployed. The Germans Jews were not the only group being segregated. To survive, German Jewish people turned against each other, avoiding highly educated people who were clueless in ways to survive: “People with a working-class background often distanced themselves from those with professional or intellectual background, since the latter were regarded as weak”. This can be related to The Book Thief when Hans Hummerman Sr. gave the German Jew a piece of bread. His German neighbors turned on him and called him a “Jew lover”. It is important because Nazis caused Germans to turn against their friends and neighbors. This shows how much the threat of concentration camps can change people both physically and mentally. The Book Thief, the reader must infer what is happening to the German Jews because the book does not directly show this to the readers. The character Hans Sr. fought in World War I and Hans Jr is fighting in World War II. The only difference is that World War I didn’t focus on the extermination of a certain group. Hans Jr. says, “It’s pathetic how a man can stand by and do nothing while a whole nation cleans out the garbage and makes itself great”. Hans Jr. is suggesting that his father is a coward for not being a part of the extermination of German Jews to make Germany great. German Jews were separated by gender. Statistical analysis proves that women live longer than men. Because they were more able to survive through harsher conditions than men. Another gender issue that leads to more women surviving is the Nazis saw men as more of threat. Women were more able to adapt to concentration camps than men who “succumbed more easily to the chaos and the lack of hygiene and food”. Women were more optimistic and motivated to survive to be able to see their children and husband again. Men gave up very quickly and did not see hope during these difficult times. Equality was accomplished when extermination happened. It did not matter what gender one was; men and women were on the same playing ground at that point. People reading The Book Thief in the twenty-first century would not see Hans Sr. as a coward because they know about the Nazis’ fallacies.

On the other hand, Hans Jr. does not see anything wrong with separating German Jews and placing them in concentration camps. The question is where Hans Sr. went wrong with raising Hans Jr. How could an innocent child become an evil Nazi individual? Hans Jr. says, “And what trash is this girl reading? Liesel should be reading Mein Kampf”. This shows he is evil because he is insulting Hans Sr.’s orphan daughter, Liesel. He is trying to manipulate her into reading Nazi fallacies which is evil. Adolf Hitler knew he could not do this task alone; it would be impossible. Therefore, he manipulated young children in part by creating The Hitler Youth Group. Hitler said that, “These young people will learn nothing else but how to think German and act German. . . . And they will never be free again, not in their whole lives”. Nazis banned all youth groups and forced children to join only The Hitler Youth Group. The Nazis created this in order to take away children from their parents, because most German parents were against the Nazis. The goal of this was to create more soldiers for the Nazi Regime. Children who refused to join were alienated and punished. Teenagers who were seventeen or older were forced to fight in the war. They were executed for refusing to do so. Hitler taught them that the Jews were evil and wanted to take over their country. Consequently, he brainwashed children to believe these lies and distort the truth. It is very easy to trick children into believing in something if one says it repeatedly until one day, they believe it is true. In The Book Thief, Hans Jr. was manipulated by Nazis to believe that what they were doing was right and for the good of Germany. This impressed him so thoroughly that Hans Sr. could not change what had already been solidified. Also, teenagers are very rebellious and think they are always correct. Hans was brainwashed so much that he had the audacity to say to his father, “You’re either for the Furher or against him”. He starts to believe the fallacies. Hans Sr. must choose a side; he cannot be on both sides. Teenagers did not understand what they were doing when marching Jews to Dachau to their death. They were given orders and they did what they were told to do. There were probably German teenagers who questioned what they were doing, but the fear of what would happen to them if they resisted kept them from rebelling. This could be considered a war crime because they killed millions of Jews in concentration camps, but it was indirectly, because they did not understand what they were doing. The Germans were so brainwashed and manipulated that they saw the death of German Jews in concentration camps as normal. The ways the character Franz Deutscher, a Hitler Youth, treats Rudy embodies how Hans Jr. treated Jews. It was said that “[Rudy] been returning from meetings in a considerably worse state than he’d left in”. Franz Deutscher abused and beat his own people. A boy named Tommy had an ear problem and made a mistake during a Nazi drill. Rudy tried to explain that to Franz. Franz couldn’t care less about people’s physical conditions and personal lives. He showed no empathy towards Tommy.

Franz did not want to help him or know if he was alright. Instead he decided to humiliate both Rudy and Tommy by making them do push-ups in the mud. This individual’s attitude and actions show how nasty and gruesome a person can be. He’s beating up on an innocent young child to prove he is superior and powerful over the weak. Franz says, “You ape” to Tommy. He is essentially dehumanizing the children and treating them terribly. Franz was never born evil; he developed into this monster and became this way through falling for the Nazis’ fallacies. Through Franz Deutshcer, the readers can picture the way Hans Jr. treated German Jews as well. If Nazis are this atrocious to their own people, they must be a million times worse to the Jews that they hate. The majority of the German teenagers were brainwashed from Hitler’s fallacies. In the article “The Boys who fought Nazis” by Kristin Lewis, there was a group of three German children who did not believe in the Nazi Regime motives. One child named Karl-Heinz Schnibbe saw a Nazi spit on a group of German Jews, and he was disgusted. Karl and his best friends Helmoth and Rudy also hated what Adolf Hitler stood for. They said Hitler promised to restore Germans’ pride and dignity through the killing of Jews. These children saw this as wrong and did not believe in Hitler’s brainwashing. They believed Hitler was trying to destroy their country, and not build it up. They would listen to the radio that would describe the “suspicions that the Nazis were lying to the German people”. They began to realize that Hitler was lying to the German teenagers. Schnibbe went on a mission, putting papers in people’s mailbox to reveal the truth of Hitler. These letters stated “Hitler is a murderer” and “Do you know your’e being lied to?” Schnibbe has not always despised Nazis; he actually looked up to them as a child until he joined the Hitler Youth and was treated wrongly. He didn’t believe in the tools that the Nazis used “to shape the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of the German Youth”. After the Nazis caught the boys for trying to use negative propaganda throughout Germany they were thrown in prison, tortured, and beaten. Helmoth took all the blame for posting the posters and papers. He was later beheaded; Karl and Rudy were sent to hard labor. This shows what happens to those who did resist. Hearing about a child being beheaded would scare other German teenagers to resisting against Nazis. This can be related to the Liesel and Rudy from The Book Thief. Rudy was forced to join the Hitler Youth Group The novel, The Book Thief, does not go into depth of what happens in the concentration camps, instead Markus Zusak sugar coats and hides what happened.

The audience is given hints from characters and the narrator, Death. The book pertains to aspects of German history and offers insights into what led to these atrocities. Understanding history through the characters and the plot of The Book Thief can enable readers to recognize how to ensure that nothing of this magnitude will happen again. There are people who will try to convince others or even children that the Holocaust never happened. Some people believe the mass killings and extermination have never taken place. The younger children need to be aware and educated on what one powerful evil minded person can cause. These people are Nazis, Neo-Nazis, and revisionists. The Nazis tried to burn bodies and dig large graves to cover the evidence of this atrocity. Luckily, the evidence was uncovered and they were unable to hide their tracks. People will try to deny the holocaust ever happened and that is purely untrue. We cannot deny and think that the millions of Jews who died is fake. This will cause another Holocaust to occur because we are not reflecting on our past mistakes. That is why there are history classes which teach children about the holocaust. We need to prevent history from ever repeating itself. If we do not educate the younger generation of the atrocities that have occurred, there is a chance that one of them could cause this to happen again, either by their own actions or not acting at all. The Book Thief, takes a fascinating approach of describing the Holocaust through a young girl, Liesel. The book does not describe how the Jews are treated and killed throughout the book. Markus Zusak avoids taking the blood and gore approach to the story. Zusak did this in order for children to read the book and gain a sense of what a German family experienced. Zusak does not take the boring approach of describing the Hlocaust through history. The author describes what happens during the Holocaust through the narrator, Death. The novel does not directly show what happens in the concentration camps. We can infer due to Death quoting, “For me, the sky was the color of Jews”. Death is referring to the deaths of Jews in concentration camps. The book never describes in detail the killings; Death only hints and gives the readers clues. Another example is when Death says, “they watched the Jews come down the road like a catalog of colors”. This is implying the Jews being marched to the concentration camp Dachau. The readers can infer that at Dachau, they will be treated horrendously. A death camp had horrible living conditions, high probability of death and a life of misery. We see this through Liesel’s family, hiding Max, of the full impact of concentration camps. Max is representing the other Jewish children. Max would sit in cold darkness and be unable to go outside. He has not seen the world outside for twenty two months. He would rather live in a basement that is very depressing and in solitude than being sent to the camps. Concentration camps are outside, but he’d rather miss out on the outside world. That speaks a lot of how atrocious concentration camps were for Jews. The Book Thief helps the audience and younger children gain a more complete historical understanding of concentration camps through Max. The Book Thief does not focus on the inside of the concentration camps. It indirectly addresses the existence of concentration camps. Markus Zusak does this to provide historical evidence of the Holocaust to inform younger people of what happened. This strategy Zusak uses will hopefully help history to not repeat itself again.

What would happen if the Holocaust and World War II occurred during the twenty-first century? If the entire world had known what was going on in Germany, would the system of concentration camps and killing of Jews have been able to happen? In the twenty first century, technology is advanced; therefore, German teenagers would hear what other countries think about them. If the German teenagers, could learn what the world thought of the Nazi regime, this might have changed their views of the Nazis. Teenagers would learn what was happening through the radio, television, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. So the question I am left with is this: In the technologically advanced society that we have today, do you think Adolf Hitler would be able to successfully carry out the extermination and manslaughter of Jews through his concept and initiation of concentration camps so effectively?

01 February 2021

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