A raging, destructive fire. In the context of Jewish History, the term refers to a horrific period in the middle of the twentieth century, from 1941-1945, when there was a systematic attempt by the Nazi Government of Germany to destroy all of European Jewry. During that period, six million of Europe’s eight million Jews, including one and a half million children, were killed.
The chief villains were the German followers of Adolf Hitler (may his name be erased), at the head of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party. Enthusiastic followers were also the Poles and the Lithuanians but as one observer noted, the massacre was aided and abetted by the “indifference of bystanders in every land.”
While the tragedy could be seen as the result of the frenzied hatred of one man, it could be also be seen as the 2,000 year old fruit of the hatred of Jews by the Christian Church, the Catholic and, newer on the historical scene, but no less violent, the Protestant. That the Jewish People were perceived as Christ-killers, has always underlain Church dogma. And ferocious language permeated the sermons of Martin Luther, “Father” of the Protestant Reformation. In 1543, he wrote, “First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up, should be covered or spread over with dirt, so that no one will ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it.” All the possessions of the “poisonous bitter worms” should be confiscated and they should be expelled from the country “for all time.” These words found an uncanny echo in “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle) written by Hitler while he was in jail, and in mid-century German legal edicts.
Monstrous personalities of the period included Dr. Josef Mengele, commonly referred to as the “Angel of Death.” He was a very active commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, after he arrived there in 1943. The Frankfurt Court which indicted him charged him with “hideous crimes” committed “willfully and with bloodlust.” Included in his “crimes against humanity” were “selections,” in which he would decide which prisoners would be immediately gassed and which would remain to do slave labor, lethal injections, shootings, beatings and other forms of deliberate killings. Most infamous were his “Twins” experiments, for which he had a nearly inexhaustible supply of “victims.” One twin would serve as the control and the other would endure the experiment. Shots of phenol were used to eliminate the “control” twin at the end of the experiment.
Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) was head of the dreaded SS (Schutzstaffel). After Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, Himmler began to expand the SS into the vast state within the Nazi state, that became the Gestapo. Himmler is responsible for starting to build the network of concentration camps. At the end of the war, he was captured by British troops while trying to flee. But he escaped trial by poisoning himself.
Adolf Eichmann (SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Karl Adolf Eichmann) – (1906-1962) – was head of the Department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo from 1941-1945. He organized the Wannsee Conference of January, 1942, that dealt with issues relating to the “final solution of the Jewish question.” From this point, Eichmann headed the campaign to deport European Jews to the death camps, and was personally responsible for the tragic fate of three million Jews. At the end of the war, he fled to Argentina, but he was captured by the “Mossad,” the Israeli Intelligence Division. He was tried in Jerusalem for “crimes against humanity,” convicted, and became the only person in the history of the modern State of Israel to be hanged. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Mediterranean far from the Jewish State, that he worked hard to prevent from coming into being.