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Elsie’s (Bubbe) family in Germany (left) and the Parent family at the Yom Hashoah ceremony last year (right)/Contributed

Yom Hashoah: A Time to Reflect on the History of Anti-Semitism

By Hyphen Parent

The Holocaust did not begin and end with the camps. Persecution existed long before and continued after. The narratives of the Shoah often focus on the concentration camps and ignore the long history of horrors that existed before the first gas chamber was ever used.

I recently read a piece about Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Born in Germany in 1928, she escaped on a kindertransport train in 1939. Yet she is not comfortable referring to herself as a “Holocaust survivor” because she never spent time in the camps.

I’ve seen and heard similar things from Jews and non-Jews alike. The suffering and loss endured was enough to cause many to leave behind everything and everyone they had ever known; yet their experiences are discounted or ignored because they never set foot in a concentration camp.

The Holocaust or the Shoah was a period of time between 1933 and 1945. During that time, the Nazi regime was responsible for a long list of anti-Semitic laws, rules, and actions.

  • A boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933 left many Jewish businesses vandalized and the business owners attacked.
  • The same year, laws made it impossible for Jews and political opponents to hold government jobs.
  • Jewish children were first restricted and later entirely excluded from German schools.
  • The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, imposed restrictions on home life and marriage for Jews and took away their German citizenship. The laws were later applied to those of Roma and African ancestry as well.
  • By 1935, there was a sharp rise in public attacks of Jews.
  • In the late 1930s, a series of laws were enacted in an attempt to impoverish the Jews.
  • Jewish businesses were forcibly transferred to non-Jewish owners.
  • Various German cities enacted legislation which forbid Jewish professionals from seeing non-Jewish clients or patients. The Nazi regime revoked the licenses of Jewish lawyers. Laws prohibited the ritual slaughter of animals necessary for kosher meat—literally and figuratively starving the Jewish butchers who relied on the work and the observant Jews who relied on kosher meat for food.

Without clients, jobs, or income; many Jews were left with nothing.

  • The riots and destruction of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938; lead to the burning of many synagogues and the beating of many Jews.
  • After that, Nazi legislation became even more aggressive. Jews were barred from schools and public areas. They were forced to wear yellow stars to identify themselves—making it easier for non-Jews to segregate and attack them.
  • Between 1933 and 1939, there were over 400 imposed on the Jews and other marginalized groups in Nazi Germany.

We cannot fully study and understand anti-Semitism unless we step back and see the whole story. The gas chambers did not appear out of nowhere. There was a lethal rise and acceptance of hatred over time. The Holocaust was long and horrifying. The Shoah, like all anti-Semitism, did not begin and end with the concentration camps.

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