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The Holocaust: Non-Jewish Victims

by Terese Pencak Schwartz

Although Jews were the primary victims of the Nazi’s evil, many other groups were targeted based on both racial and political grounds.  Other groups singled out by the Nazis included LGBTQ individuals, the physically and mentally disabled, Roma (gypsies), Poles and other Slavic peoples, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of political opposition groups. However tragic, these non-Jewish victims are typically not considered victims of the Holocaust.  According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, “By the 1950s, the English term Holocaust came to be employed as the term for the murder of the Jews in Europe by the Nazis. Although the term is sometimes used with reference to the murder of other groups by the Nazis, strictly speaking, those groups do not belong under the heading of the Holocaust, nor are they included in the generally accepted statistic of six million victims of the Holocaust.”

How Many Non-Jews Were Killed*

Five million is frequently cited as the number of non-Jews killed by the Nazis. The figure is inaccurate and was apparently an invention of famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. According to historian Deborah Lipstadt, he began to refer to “eleven million victims” of the Holocaust, six million Jews and five million non-Jews in the 1970s. Wiesenthal later admitted making up the figure to promote interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. Lipstadt, says “he chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million.”

The number of non-Jewish civilians murdered for racial or ideological reasons in concentration camps, historian Yehuda Bauer estimates, was no more than half a million. As many as 35 million non-Jews were killed by the Nazis in the course of the war, he said.

Why Did Hitler Kill Non-Jews?

First, we need to examine Hitler’s egocentric and maniac ideology. Hitler, who was Chancellor of Germany during the Holocaust, came to power in 1933 when Germany was experiencing severe economic hardship. Hitler promised the Germans that he would bring them prosperity and that his military actions would restore Germany to a position of power in Europe.

Hitler had a vision of a Master Race of Aryans that would control Europe. He used very powerful propaganda techniques to convince not only the German people, but countless others, that if they eliminated the people who stood in their way and the degenerates and racially inferior, they – the great Germans would prosper.

Hitler’s first target was Germany’s closest neighbor to the east, Poland. An agricultural country with little military power. Hitler attacked Poland from three directions on September 1, 1939 and, in just over one month, Poland was overrun.

In Poland, Hitler saw an agricultural land near Germany, populated by modest but strong and healthy farmers. Hitler quickly took control of Poland by wiping out the Polish intelligentsia. During the next few years, millions of other Polish citizens were rounded up and either placed in slave labor for German farmers and factories or taken to concentration camps where many were either starved and worked to death or used for scientific experiments.

The Jews in Poland were forced inside ghettos, but the non-Jews were made prisoners inside their own country. No one was allowed out. The Germans took over the ranches, farms and Polish factories. Most healthy citizens were forced into slave labor. Young Polish men were drafted into the German army. Blond haired children were “Germanized” and trained from an early age to be Nazi supporters.

“All Poles will disappear from the world,” Heinrich Himmler said, It is essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Every European country, even Germany, had those who did not believe in the Nazi ideology and who were willing to die for their beliefs. Perhaps no other group stood so firmly in their beliefs as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hitler felt particularly threatened by this strong group of Christians because they, from the very beginning, refused to recognize any God other than Jehovah.

When asked to sign documents of loyalty to the Nazi ideology, they refused. Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to wear purple armbands and thousands were imprisoned as “dangerous” traitors because they refused to take a pledge of loyalty to the Third Reich.

Roma Gypsies

Like the Jews, the Roma were chosen for total annihilation solely because of their race.

Even though Jews were typically defined by religion, Hitler saw the Jewish people as a race that he believed needed to be annihilated. Likewise, the Roma were a nomadic people that were persecuted throughout history. Both groups were denied certain privileges in many European countries. The Germans believed both the Jews and Roma were racially inferior and degenerate and therefore worthless.

The Roma were also moved into special areas set up by the Nazis and half a million of them – representing almost the entire Eastern European Roma population – was wiped out during the war.

Courageous Resisters

Every European nation had its courageous resisters. Poland’s Underground army –- made up of children, teenagers, men and women – was responsible for defending the lives of thousands of its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Many were killed for their acts of courage against the Nazis.

Even though most German citizens were supportive of Hitler’s plan to control Europe, there were German citizens who died because they refused to go along with Hitler’s plan.

Priests and Pastors Died for Their Beliefs

Hitler wanted to conquer all of Europe and create a new religion based on worship of the Nazi ideology. Since Catholic priests and Christian pastors were often influential leaders in their community, they were sought out by the Nazis. Thousands of Catholic priests and Christian pastors were forced into concentration camps. A special barracks was set up at Dachau, the camp near Munich, Germany, for clergymen. A few survived; some were executed, but most were allowed to die slowly of starvation or disease.

Pink Triangles for Homosexuals

Because Hitler’s plan for a great Master Race had no room for homosexuals, many males from all nations, including Germany, were persecuted, tortured and executed. Suspected homosexuals among the Nazis were also sent to concentration camps, some wearing their SS uniforms and medals. The homosexual inmates were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothes so they could be easily recognized and further humiliated inside the camps. Between 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals died in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

No Place for the Disabled

The Nazis decided that it was a waste of time and money to support the disabled. During Hitler’s “cleansing program,“ thousands of people with various handicaps were deemed useless and put to death like dogs and cats.

Sterilization for Black Children

Prior to World War I, there were very few dark-skinned people of African descent in Germany. But, during World War I, black African soldiers were brought in by the French during the Allied occupation. Most of the Germans, who were very race conscious, despised the dark-skinned “invasion.” Some of these black soldiers married white German women that bore children referred to as “Rhineland Bastards” or the “Black Disgrace.”

In Mein Kampf, Hitler said he would eliminate all the children born of African-German descent because he considered them an “insult” to the German nation. “The mulatto children came about through rape or the white mother was a whore,” Hitler wrote. “In both cases, there is not the slightest moral duty regarding these offspring of a foreign race.”

The Nazis set up a secret group, Commission Number 3, to organize the sterilization of these “Rhineland Bastards” to keep intact the purity of the Aryan race. In 1937, all local authorities in Germany were to submit a list of all the mulattos. Then, these children were taken from their homes or schools without parental permission and put before the commission. Once a child was decided to be of black descent, the child was taken immediately to a hospital and sterilized. About 400 children were medically sterilized -- many times without their parents’ knowledge.

Death or Divorce - A Choice for Many

Many husbands and wives of Jews in Germany were forced to choose between divorce or concentration camps. Hitler would not allow “interracial” marriages. Those that chose to remain married were punished by imprisonment in camps where many died.

*Added by Mitchell Bard

Sources: Holocaust Forgotten (Reprinted with permission from the author);
Yad Vashem;
Deborah E. Lipstadt, “Simon Wiesenthal and the Ethics of History,” Jewish Review of Books, (Winter 2011);
Ron Kampeas, “‘Remember the 11 million’? Why an inflated victims tally irks Holocaust historians,” JTA, (January 31, 2017).