Stages of genocide & the Holocaust

Introduction to genocide

In order to understand the holocaust you must understand the different stages of genocide. Most of the genocides committed in the world follow  similar patterns. In this article we will discuss the different stages, and the phases within them, of genocide. The holocaust will be used as an example of what happens within these stages. The stages themselves can be divided up in the following:

Stage1: classification

Stage 2: symbolization

Stage 3 : dehumanization

Stage 4: organization

Stage 5: polarization

Stage 6: preparation

Stage 7 extermination

Stage 1 classification

In this stage the perpetrator of the genocide tries to clearly define a target group. This can be on an ethnic, racial, religious or social status basis. In Nazi Germany the classification was made on a racial basis, although they also fabricated racial groups for religious groups, e.g. the Jews. In Nazi Germany racism was combined with the pseudo-science of social Darwinism. For short, social Darwinism believers think that the same rules as Darwinism can be applied to the human sociology and politics. The laws of Darwinism are:

the struggle for survival: there are not enough resources on earth for all species to survive.

Survival of the fittest: only the best adapted species will survive the struggle for survival.

The racial hierarchy of the Nazis was described in Hitlers book “Mein Kampf” (my struggle). In this book it was described that the aryans, the culture producing races, were the fittest people. Within these culture producing races the Germanic people were the most well developed. The least developed people were the Jews, Africans, Gypsies and the Slavic people. Furthermore, the book, and Hitlers speeches, told the people that the “inferior” races  were reproducing faster and therefore would outnumber the Germanic people themselves. He also told that the “inferior” people would harm the “superior” races.

Several methods can be used for the precise classification of people themselves. In the case of the Jews it was easy for the Nazis to establish a classification system. They could use the Jewish church administrations to determine who was fully Jewish. It became harder for the Nazis to determine the racial hierachy of half Jews and quarter Jews. These classification problems on who was of the Jewish race and who was German were determined by the nuremberger laws in 1935. A different method of classification is the pseudo- science of measuring people physics. In the 1930s it was believed that different groups of people had different physical measures. The group responsible for these measurments in Germany was the Nazi bureau for enlightenment on population policy and racial welfare.

2 different aims for the classification of people can be established. Racial hygiene and racial purity. In the first situation the wish is to have a “clean” race. Which means that the weaker people within a race must be removed. This removing of people is a form of genocide. These people can be the physically or mentally impaired or the people which are not “pure” German. In Nazi Germany this purity was tried to be established by forced euthanasia and sterilization of people. Furthermore, in racial hygiene policy it is prohibited for races to sexually interact with each other. In the case of racial purity the wish is to remove different groups from the society at all. This can be established by forcing migration of those people out of your nation or by committing genocide.

Stage 2 symbolization

Once it is established what the target group is, the genocide moves to the second stage of symbolization. In this stage the general public is made aware of false problems related to the target group through rhetorics and propaganda. In Nazi Germany exhibits, such as the wandering jew exhibition, were opened with anti-Jewish content. Also, school programs started to incorporate anti-Semitic school lessons. The propaganda started to associate Jews with communists, thieves and vermin in general. The general public was moved into a general state of fear against the Jews, and other target groups of the Nazis. This fear was promised to be “solved” by the Nazis.

In order to make propaganda work the best you need strong symbols and taglines. The Nazis were masters in this. First the different groups must have well divined names. This was a product of the classification stage. In nazi Germany you were either a German, Germanic, Jew, Gypsies etc. But one could not be part of 2 different groups at the same time. This strict classification made it easier for the propaganda to induce polarization within the society. Furthermore strong symbols were needed. To this day we still well recognize the Swastika flags and the different Nazi uniforms, but also the yellow Jew star. In the case of the Jews it was very hard to hide their Jewish origins: They had to mark their shops or business as jewish, they got a J stamp in their official papers and had to wear the yellow star od David on their clothing.

Stage 3 dehumanization.

The next stage is the stage of dehumanization. This means that one group denies the humanity of the other groups and starts to see them as “animals” or “vermin”. This stage is an very important step in the process of genocide. This because it overcomes the normal human revulsion against killing other people. Since the target group is no longer human, and killing animals is all right, the people are more willing to commits acts of violence or even (mass) murder against the target group.

The process of dehumanization was hate propaganda in speeches, print, television and radio. The target group was described and related to animals, vermin and diseases. This induced a feeling of us, the superior, against them, the inferior. Furthermore cover-up terms were used to describe the killing, such as: ethnic cleansing or purification of our lands. Also anti-Semitic laws making the Jewish people poorer make them look more inferior, justifying the message of the propaganda.

Stage 4 organization

A genocide is a mass murder, with groups working together. It are not events of sporadic killings. Since a genocide is a group crime, it must be organized. In the case of the Nazis the state supplied the groups producing the propaganda or committing the genocide with the materials and money needed. Also the process of genocide is usually planed from by the elites and executed by the working class people.

An example of this is the Kristallnacht. The German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called for revenge on the murder of a German ambassador employee in Paris by a Jewish German refugee. Aftert this call of vengeance a mass mob violence broke out. The German policy and military did not intervene and the results of the mob violence was a burning of many synagogues, destruction amd looting of jewish stores and beating and murdering of Jews.

Stage 5 polarization

All these prior stages cultivate into the stage of polarization. The extremist groups, which are in this case the Nazis, had well defined victim groups and drives these apart from the general population. They have done this by broadcasting and printing polarizing propaganda. Furthermore, laws are enacted to forbid interaction and marriage between different groups. To prevent uprisings and revolts the political middle are silenced, threatened or forbidden. At this point the Nazis had complete control.

A next step in the genocide was the formation of Jewish neighborhoods by forced moving of the Jews. These ghettos were closed part of the cities were the Jewish people were concentrated. The Jews no longer had other interactions with the public on the outside of the ghettos and became completely isolated from their outer surroundings in all aspects.

Stage 6 preparation

This is the final stage before the extermination of the target group. At this point the victim group is forced to wear their identifying symbols. The members of the target group are well defined by the classification system and the public is set-up against them. Furthermore, the target group is now separated from the general public.

The segregation is performed by concentrating the Jews in ghettos and concentration camps. Forced emmigration is no longer an open option for them. In case of the Nazis the decision to move towards a genocide was made at the start of the second world war by the first use of the Nazi killing squads, einsatzgruppen. The preparation by concentrating people is accompanied by very harsh living condition for the Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps. The food in the ghettos and concentration camps is not adequate, as is the healthcare. Many people already died already in this stage and the others were too weakened to form effective resistance. But no active killings are performed at a broad scale at this stage. However, In the meanwhile the resources needed to commit the genocide are stockpiled or prepared. In case of the Nazis this meant the equipping and training of einsatzgruppen and the construction of death camps.

The end of this stage can be marked by the Wannsee conference. In January 1942 Nazi top officials held a meeting to discuss “the final solution of the Jewish problem. At this meeting the details of the genocide were discussed and streamlined. The results was a well-articulated and clearly defined plans with the determined systematic methods to carry them out.

Stage 7 extermination (genocide)

At first I would like to point out why the term extermination is used and not the term killings. The perpetrators did not longer see the victims as human beings and in their view they no longer committed killings or murders, in their view they were “exterminating the vermin”. At this stage the mass killings begin and the event can be called a genocide. Most of the genocide are committed and organized by the governments. As is the case with the Nazis. The Nazi stage of extermination of the inferior people can be sub-divided in several phases:

Phase 1: mass shooting by the einsatzgruppen

Phase 2: the use of gas vans for the gassing of people

Phase 3: the use of death camps

In the first phase the Jews were concentrated in ghettos or squares and told that they were to be relocated. In reality they were relocated to remote areas were mass shooting took place by the Einsatzgruppen. The bodies of the victims were buried in mass graves at the shooting site. This method of killing proved to be to time consuming and mentally tasking on the German military SS personnel. Please note, the feelings and perception of the victim was not taken into account. In order to make process less tasking for the personnel gas vans were introduced. These vans had their exhaust connected to an airtight cabin at the back of the truck. The victims were told that the trucks would relocate them to their new location, while in reality they were gassed. This method however proved to be to slow and the production of the gas vans did not meet the demand of the einsatzgruppen.

These problems were discussed at the Wannsee conference and a solution to these problems were found. The majority of the victims would no longer be shot on site by the einsatzgruppen, but transported to highly efficient death camps. As a buffer the concentration camps and ghettos were to be used to house all the victims till they could be transported towards death camps. These death camps were located in Poland in the area were the highest amount of victims lived.

The conditions in the ghettos and concentration camps were so harsh that people were willing to be relocated to different camps. The existence of the death camps was a strict secret. The Jews leaving the ghettos were told that they were moved to labour camps were the conditions would be better than the current conditions in the ghettos and concentration camps.

Once people arrived at the death camps they usually had to undergo a process called selection. The new arrivals were divided into a group of men and a group of woman, elderly and children. From the male group some prisoners would be picked to work in the camps. A hallmark of the death camps is that most work within the camp was done by the Jewish prisoners themselves. Usually the prisoners did not survive for long. This process is called destruction though labour. The Nazis liked to keep their hand “clean”.




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