Home Contact Us
Index Purchase Info
About Site About Us
Appendices Credits
Further Reading Links
Special Features
By Keyword:

Page Number:
Click on an image to see a larger, more detailed picture.
PROLOGUE: Roots of the Holocaust
 pg. 22 
Economic Calamity

In Germany in 1923, a typical workingman carted his weekly salary home in a wheelbarrow. Housewives used the nearly worthless government currency to light household fires. An armload of banknotes might buy a loaf of bread. These absurdities were some of the more visible results of the economic inflation that wiped out people's savings and crippled Germany's Weimar government during the interwar years before Hitler.

From its inception in 1919, the democratic Weimar Republic faced serious economic problems, foremost among them staggering reparations payments demanded by the victorious Entente powers after the Great War of 1914-1918, and set forth in the Treaty of Versailles. Because German financial manipulators became fabulously wealthy by taking advantage of middle-class misfortune, those who had been ruined became receptive to right-wing political extremists who blamed the nation's ills on the Weimar government and, frequently, on Jews.

Although inflation came to a halt in 1924, the German recovery was fragile. The New York stock-market crash of October 1929 set off an international economic crisis that devastated Germany. Business failures and unemployment reached unprecedented levels. Argument in the Reichstag led to virtual paralysis of Germany's political decision-making process.

Throughout these years Adolf Hitler campaigned tirelessly, vowing to repudiate Versailles and restore Germany's pride and prosperity. A desperate electorate responded. In the 1930 elections, the NSDAP scored a dramatic political breakthrough, winning 18.3 percent of the vote and increasing its Reichstag representation from 12 delegates to 107--the second largest in parliament.

Nazi rhetoric encouraged the middle class to remember the awful inflation of 1923, and to resent the indignities of the Versailles Treaty. Nazis blamed Germany's calamitous situation on "November criminals" (a reference to Social Democrats deemed responsible for Germany's prostrate position in 1919), on Marxists, on economic profiteers, and on the Jews, who supposedly were behind it all.

The shouting matches in parliament found increasingly more violent expression on Germany's streets, where pitched battles were fought by competing political armies. Youthful Nazi thugs relished clashes with Social Democrats and other political opponents. The summer of 1932 was particularly bloody, as Nazi Storm Troopers made good on their promises to "break skulls" and "smash up the goddamned Jewish republic." In June in the state of Prussia alone, nearly 500 skirmishes left more than 80 people dead.

As the Depression deepened, vigorous Nazi propaganda efforts paid even more dramatic dividends. The July 1932 elections gave the Nazis a stunning 37 percent of the vote. Now, with 230 Reichstag members, they became Germany's largest political party. Emboldened by this ballot-box success and apparent public approval of his grandiose economic plans, Hitler intensified his demand to be named chancellor.
Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive / Bettmann Archive

 11th-15th centuries: Medieval Jews experience a significant deterioration of their status in Europe. Jews are viewed as the devil's agents; Europe's greatest sinners; rapacious usurers; malicious murderers of Christian children (ritual-murder defamation); drinkers of Christian blood (blood libel); conspirators who seek to destroy Christianity (poisoners of wells); and continued enemies of Jesus Christ (desecrators of the Host). These frequent defamations against Jews are not born out by the facts. Nevertheless, whole Jewish communities are slaughtered as a result of the animosity behind these charges.
 1171: In the town of Blois, southwest of Paris, Jews are falsely accused of committing ritual murder (killing of a Christian child) and blood libel (using the blood of the child in Jewish religious ritual). The adult Jews of the city are arrested and most are executed after refusing to convert. Thirty-one or 32 of the Jews are killed. The Jewish children are forcibly baptized.
PROLOGUE: Roots of the Holocaust
 pg. 22 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.