In July of 1921, Adolf Hitler became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, more commonly referred to as the Nazi’s. What initially began as a small faction of Nationalist anti-semites, flourished under Hitler’s rule, as promises of economic stability during the time of the Great Depression led to a rise in the party’s influence in Germany. On January 30th, 1933, Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany, cementing his already growing hold over the nation. With this new found power, Hitler began to change the face of the nation. The Nazi party became the largest political party in Germany, where white supremacist, racist ideals were perpetuated throughout the country. These ideas came to a head in September of 1935, when the Nazi party met in Nuremberg, Germany to discuss what would become laws that institutionalized the anti-semitic, racist ideology of the party; the Nuremberg Laws. These laws established what made a person a Jew in the eyes of the law and sought control over every aspect of their lives, from marriage to how they conduct business.
These laws succeeded in alienating those identified by the state as racially inferior, and set a precedent for additional discriminatory, race laws in others countries. The heinous crimes committed against Jews and other racial minorities during the Holocaust, notably Kristallnacht and the expansion of concentration camps, came as a result of the implementation of the Nuremberg laws. Additionally, these laws directly led to the creation of the United Nations, an international body dedicated to maintaining peaceful international relations, protecting human rights, and ensuring that the atrocities of the Holocaust will never again be able to occur. Adolf Hitler believed that a person’s characteristics and behaviour was determined by their racial make-up, and as a result, there were some races that were superior to others.
He classified Aryans as the perfect race, and expressed his concern that the “”Aryan” race was threatened by…intermarriages between “Aryan” Germans and members of inherently inferior races: Jews, Roma, Africans, and Slavs.” He believed that intermarriage weakened German blood and made the offspring of such marriages inferior to his so-called pure blood Aryan Germans. As leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, he passed his beliefs on to members of the party, creating a large body of xenophobic Germans determined to purify the country. Motivated by these passionate, racist views, the Nazi’s set out to eradicate the country of who they determined to be the biggest racial threat: the European Jews.
In 1935, the Nazi party met in Nuremberg, Germany to discuss their plan to deal with the Jewish threat. The product of this meeting was the first set of Nuremberg Laws, which established what a Jew was in the eyes of the law and restricted a number of their rights as Germans. The Reich Citizenship Law revoked Reich citizenship from any German Jews. In November of 1935, an addition was made to the existing Reich Citizenship Law, revoking Jews of their existing political rights and barred them from holding public office.
This addition also clarified what made someone a Jew in the eyes of the law. It stated that a Jew is anyone who “had three or four Jewish grandparents” regardless of whether or not they practiced these beliefs or belonged to a Jewish religious communities. The Nazis, in many cases, labelled individuals and families who had converted to other religions from Judaism as Jews, simply because of the beliefs of a few past relatives. Coupled with the citizenship law was the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which prohibited Jews from “marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood.”” The hope was that by placing regulations on Jewish marriages, the German bloodline would remain strong and not be tainted by the blood of what they considered to be an inferior race.
Section 3 of this particular law stated that Jews were not permitted to employ German females who are under the age of 45, as it was believed by the Reich that Jews would mistreat and take advantage of young female employees. The Nuremberg laws even went as far as barring German Jews from participating in the 1936 Olympics, successfully sending a message to the Jews that they are not considered a part of the national German identity. In 1937 and 1938, the government set out to “impoverish Jews by requiring them to register their property and then by “Aryanizing” Jewish businesses…the ownership of most Jewish businesses was taken over by non-Jewish Germans…” The Nuremberg Laws also succeeded in setting a precedent for the creation and enforcement of racist laws.
“By 1941, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Vichy France, and Croatia had all enacted anti-Jewish legislation similar to the Nuremberg Laws in Germany.” This allowed for the expansion of already existing anti-semitism throughout the world. Lastly, and perhaps the most widely known consequence of the Nuremberg Laws, is the requirement of those considered Jews to carry identifications cards with a large red “J” stamped on it, boldly distinguishing them based on their perceived, and oftentimes mistakenly identified faith. The Nuremberg Laws were the first step in institutionalizing anti-semitism throughout Germany, and served as the groundwork upon which the Reich based their actions during the events that would later become known as the Holocaust. The Nazi’s plan to eradicate the population of Jews in Germany and German occupied countries, was known as the “Final Solution.
” Implemented in stages, the “Final Solution” began with the creation and enforcement of the Nuremberg Laws, which perpetuated the systematic racism that allowed the Nazi party to move on to the next item on their agenda. On November 9 and 10, 1938, the Nazi’s instigated a violent and destructive host of anti-Jewish demonstrations, known as Kristallnacht, in “Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia recently occupied by German troops.” The two days of destruction, translated to “the Night Of Broken Glass,” got its name from the shards of shattered glass that covered the streets, from broken store windows and homes. More than 200 synagogues were burned to the ground, with firefighters standing by on orders not to put out the fires unless they spread to nearby buildings. Amidst the violence, approximately 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and arrested. With thousands of homes and livelihoods now destroyed, it was time for the Nazi’s to being the process of further isolating the Jews.
Jews were evicted from their homes and forced into ghettos, where severe overcrowding became a breeding ground for starvation and disease. On February 8, 1940, the first ghetto was established in Lodz, Poland, where approximately 155,000 Jews were forced to live. The largest ghetto in Poland was the Warsaw ghetto, where approximately 450,000 Jews were crowded into an area of 1.3 square miles.
The Nuremberg Laws decreed that Jews living in the ghettos were armbands or badges with the yellow star of David, as a way of distinguishing and further isolating Jews from the rest of the population. German authorities warned that “severe punishment – up to and including death by shooting – is in store for Jews who do not wear the yellow badge on back and front.” For some, life in the ghettos lasted for years. Able-bodies men, women and children were forced to complete laborious tasks on behalf of the German army, from creating clothing and shoes for Reich soldiers, to the production of portable ceramic-ware that was to be shipped to the Front Lines. It was the success and efficiency of these factories that allowed a number of Jews to escape the destruction of the ghettos and avoid being sent to concentration camps. The vast majority however, were not so lucky. In 1939, German einsatzgruppen, or “mobile killing units” were created. These units were comprised of German SS officers and police personnel, and reported directly to the Reich Security Main Office.
The primary function of these units, as the name suggests, was to carry out mass murders on behalf of the Reich. Nazi authority in addition to existing anti-semitic legislation permitted the round up and execution of people perceived to be a political threat to Nazi leadership, both in Germany and in other countries. “During an invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen trailed the German Army into Soviet territory.” There, the einsatzgruppen marched directly into Jewish communities massacred entire populations. In addition, the einsatzgruppen assumed responsibility for deporting Jews from their homes or the ghettos into transport trucks bound for concentration camps. Initially, the einsatzgruppen targeted mainly Jewish men, who were perceived to be the biggest threat, however as time went on, this murderous scope was expanded to include women and children. Those who were massacred were buried together in large, unceremonious graves.
In some cases, Jews were forced to undergo a more dehumanizing death, as the killing squads forced Jews to “dig their own grave and strip themselves of clothes and belongings before standing or lying down in the hole they dug for themselves, waiting to be shot.” Those who managed to escape the destruction of the ghettos and avoid being shot by the mobile killing units were loaded onto transport trucks and sent to concentration camps. Concentration camps, first established in January 1933 after Hitler’s election as Chancellor of Germany, served as prison camps where people, deemed by the Nazi’s as a threat to their political power, were housed.
An important note to be made on concentration camps is that they operated outside of the law of the German state, meaning they were “answerable not to judges and courts but to the S.S” and Heinrich Himmler, the Chief Leader of the SS. This allowed for the racial ideals put forth in the original Nuremberg Laws to not only be practiced, but expanded upon, enabling the increasingly sadistic treatment of camp residents. Much like in the ghettos, the living conditions were poor and overcrowded, and prisoners found themselves doing forced labour within the camps. However, at the outset of the Second World War in 1939, the function of concentration camps changed from prison camps to death camps. The largest concentration camp established, and perhaps the most well-known was Auschwitz. “It was a complex of camps, including a concentration, extermination, and forced-labor camp.
” Many escaped immediate death by continuing to work in the labour camps. Here they were further dehumanized, having their hair shaved and an identification number tattooed onto their arms, which stripped them of any sense of individuality that remained. Labourers often fell victim to the slow and painful death that the Naiz’s called “extermination through work,” as the work was physically exhausting and the prisoners were malnourished and directly exposed to the harsh elements. When a worker died, another prisoner would be selected to take their place, and the work continued on. Regarded as the most inhumane, torturous form of systematic genocide within the camps, were the gas chambers.
Large hosts of prisoners were marched to the gas chambers and forced to undress, either out in the open or inside the antechamber. Often they were told that there were simply being disinfected before returning to the camp. With this cruel sense of false hope, prisoners entered the gas chambers, where the doors were locked from the outside. “In some killing centers, carbon monoxide was piped into the chamber.
In others, camp guards threw “Zyklon B” pellets down an air shaft.” Within minutes, prisoners inside the chambers were dead, and other prisoners were forced to remove their bodies “to a nearby room, where they removed hair, gold teeth, and fillings.” Once the bodies had been pillaged, they were either thrown into a crematorium and burned, or dumped in massive graves. When the true nature of these death camps and the full extent of the killings were revealed to the world, countries wondered in horror how humans could have the capacity for such evil. The events of the Holocaust directly violated, not only the Treaty of Versailles, created at the close of the First World War to promote international peace, but also the unwritten and universally accepted idea of human rights. Evidently, the Treaty of Versailles had not done enough to ensure peace and respect for all nations and individuals, and at the end of the war, it became clear that further actions needed to be taken. In 1942, the term “United Nations” was first coined by American President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, in a document titled the “Declaration of the United Nations.” This document was initially signed by twenty-six countries, among them China, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Those who signed the declaration pledged to continue fighting the Axis powers and ensure international peace. On October 24, 1945, just two months after the official close of the Second World War, the United Nations was officially established, replacing the League of Nations as the main governing body of international peace.
Representatives of more than fifty countries met to draw up the “United Nations Charter,” a document which directly addressed the crimes against humanity committed during the war. The overall purpose of the Charter is to protect future generations against the “scourge of war,” establish the necessity for an understanding of human rights and gender equality, and to promote “better standards of life in larger freedom.” The effect of the Nuremberg Laws were met with an addition to the Charter that provided all people with the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” in addition to the right to “life liberty and security of person.” This was included to ensure that all people be able to practice their religion, free from prejudice and discrimination. In addition, the Charter outlaws punishment without just cause or a fair trial, whose purpose is to ensure that such punishment as concentration camps will never again be permitted to occur. All nations who signed this Charter are bound by the letter of the law to uphold that which is protected under the document. Created in 1864, the original Geneva Convention sought to establish the “red cross emblem, signifying neutral status and protection of medical services and volunteers.
” Its main purpose however, has always been to protect the rights of people who fall victim to the repercussions of armed conflict, while not being directly involved in the conflict. This extends to civilians, prisoners of war and wounded or sick soldiers who can no longer participate. A number of revisions were made and ultimately additional conventions were added. In 1949, at the end of the Second World War, there were four existing conventions that had been ratified. The first and second conventions protect “wounded and infirm soldiers and medical personnel who are not taking active part in hostility”, including naval officers and soldiers, and ensures “humane treatment without discrimination.” The third convention directly addressed the treatment of prisoners of war during World War Two, and afforded any future prisoners of war the right to “proper and humane treatment.” The third convention also prohibits the use of torture as a means of interrogation.
The first three conventions address the rights afforded to soldiers and military personnel, as they were created during wartime. The fourth convention, and perhaps the most important, extends such rights afforded under the initial conventions to everyday civilians during peacetime. It establishes the necessity for the protection of all people, and a universal sense of human equality. The Geneva Conventions ultimately assisted in introducing the world to the idea of human rights, and are still upheld by the International Court of Justice, the principal authority of international justice, located in Hague, Netherlands.
The court works to settle disputes between counties and prosecutes individuals or groups who commit such offenses as crimes against humanity, torture and destruction of cultural institutions. The court ultimately assists the United Nations in promoting and upholding standards of human rights and equality throughout the world. From 1945 to 1946, a host of Nazi war criminals were brought to Nuremberg, Germany, where the Nuremberg Laws had been created, to stand trial for the crimes they committed during the Holocaust. Twenty-four Nazi officials were tried, among them: “Hermann Goering (Hitler’s heir designate), Rudolf Hess (deputy leader of the Nazi party), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign minister), Wilhelm Keitel (head of the armed forces)…” Adolf Hitler was not tried, as he had committed suicide prior to the end of the war. Many of the defendants plead guilty to the crimes they stood accused of, but sought acquittal on the grounds that they were simply obeying orders from the German high command.
Those that were deemed directly responsible for the racially motivated genocide received the most severe penalties; “twelve prominent Nazis were sentenced to death.” Among them were Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Rudolf Hess. Others whose charges were significantly less serious, for example individuals who used slave labour, made off with mercifully short prison sentences. The Nuremberg Trials were a public display of the new form of international criminal justice, which vowed to not let anyone guilty of a war crime escape the consequences.The trials were an important milestone in establishing an international judicial body responsible for trying war criminals, as there was no legal precedent for such a large scale operation. The London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, published on August 8, 1945, outlines the rules and procedures that were to be followed during the trials.
The document defined three types of crimes: crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In addition to being a milestone for international criminal law, the Nuremberg Trials also emphasized the unity of the different countries involved in the trials, as is evident from the incorporation of multiple legal traditions. “There were prosecutors and defense attorneys according to British and American law, but the decisions and sentences were imposed by a tribunal rather than a single judge and a jury… Each of the four Allied powers supplied two judges–a main judge and an alternate.
” In this instance, the cooperation of each of the different countries, in addition to the successful prosecution of the war criminals publically reinforced the notion of international justice and equality and demonstrated the intensity with which the United Nations will pursue such matters. In the instance of the Nuremberg Trials, the cooperation of the participating countries aptly represented the meaning of the name “United Nations.”