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2013 Days of Remembrance

Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs



Transcript

Narrator
As we remember those whose lives were lost in the Holocaust, we’re confronted by the question, “Could it have been prevented?” While at the time few saw that the events of 1938 were leading to the Holocaust, there were warning signs. Can our understanding of these events help us anticipate and prevent genocide in our own time?

Victoria Barnett, Committee on Church Relations, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
1938 is such a key year because it marked an escalation both of the persecution of the Jews, the violence against Jews. It became more widespread. It also marked an escalation of the Nazi policy of expansion. This is where we can see all the dominoes begin to fall.

Narrator
From the time that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, German Jews had gradually seen their rights as citizens stripped away, and their employment options severely limited. But in those early years of the Third Reich, no one could imagine the physical annihilation of the Jews of Europe.

Hedi Pope, Holocaust Survivor
My parents and a lot of other of that generation tried to ignore it. They said, “Oh, this isn’t going to last. This man is crazy. It’s not going to last.” Well, they were wrong.

Narrator
An initial warning sign of 1938 came in mid-March, when Germany annexed neighboring Austria, an act known as the Anschluss. Within hours, an explosion of violence engulfed the Jewish population in Vienna. It spread throughout Germany in the following months, accompanied by new anti-Jewish legislation. Jews no longer felt safe and tried to get out while they could.

Peter Black, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Beginning in March 1938, you have a real push for the first time since 1933 in Germany of large numbers of people trying to get out at any cost. Even if they had to give up all of their assets.

Narrator
But despite official Nazi policy demanding that the Jews leave Germany, emigration was not a simple matter.

Fritz Gluckstein, Holocaust Survivor
My parents really tried to leave. But where to go? We had some very distant relatives in the United States and some friends. But you needed an affidavit. And even if you had an affidavit, there was a quota number.

Victoria Barnett, Committee on Church Relations, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
There's several reasons why governments didn’t open their doors. The main one is cold, calculated self-interest. In the United States, you know, looking to the issues that were on the front burner in this country, the depression, the widespread isolationism of the American population, antisemitism.

Narrator
The United States was not alone in its refusal to raise its immigration quota.

Peter Black, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Many of the world’s governments showed sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Germany and also showed, obviously, concern for Nazi intentions elsewhere in Europe. But few were willing to take significant steps to meet either crisis.

Narrator
This became clear in July of 1938 at the Evian Conference, convened by President Franklin Roosevelt to address the growing humanitarian crisis faced by German Jews.

Ann Millin, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
With the exception of the Dominican Republic, every single country refused to open its doors, to expand its immigration quotas.

Narrator
Over the summer of 1938, Germany threatened to invade Czechoslovakia to take control of the Sudetenland, a western border region where the majority of the population was ethnic German. Unprepared for war, Great Britain, France, and Italy agreed to let Germany annex the Sudetenland in an attempt to guarantee peace.

Ann Millin, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
This was a cause for great jubilation in much of Europe because it was believed that war had been forestalled or prevented altogether. Other Europeans realized, though, that this was just Germany flexing its muscles and seeing whether or not the world would back down.

Narrator
And soon, Nazi policy toward Jews became even more aggressive. On November 9th and 10th, the Nazi Party unleashed a wave of anti-Jewish violence throughout Greater Germany.

Ann Millin, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass,” represents the first national, organized, physical attack on the Jews. It was a very public event. Germans saw it happening, and many participated in it.

Jill Pauly, Holocaust Survivor
I saw the smoke and the fire of the synagogue burning, and we both of us, my sister and I, started screaming from fear.

Susan Taube, Holocaust Survivor
Mid-morning came a hoard of people to the door. Just smashed the door down, came in with scissors and all kinds of instruments and just demolished the whole apartment.

Jill Pauly, Holocaust Survivor
It was so dreadful when my mother went into the house that she at that point internalized what was going to happen to us and to all the other Jews.

Hedi Pope, Holocaust Survivor
To me, this was the true beginning of the Holocaust.

Narrator
German police rounded up about 30,000 Jewish men and held them in concentration camps. In the weeks that followed, German authorities closed Jewish communal organizations and schools, and forced Jews to sell their businesses, property and stocks to non-Jews, usually at a great loss.

Susan Taube, Holocaust Survivor
I mean, no more business, no more income, nothing, nothing. The business was closed. They just put things in front of it, plywood or whatever it was, and nailed it down so nobody could come in anymore.

Narrator
In spite of the escalating violence, very few nations, individuals, or groups chose to help. Those who did made a difference. A small group of British and German Jews persuaded the British government to allow unaccompanied Jewish children to enter the United Kingdom under a program known as the Kindertransport.

Victoria Barnett, Committee on Church Relations, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
It's a poignant success story because these are children who were, you know, their families put them on these trains to get out of harm’s way, knowing full well that they might never see their children again. And in many cases didn’t see their children. But the children survived. These were 10,000 lives that were rescued.

Narrator
As 1938 ended Nazi Germany’s intentions were increasingly clear. In the coming year, Germany would occupy the Czech lands and invade Poland, igniting World War II. Efforts to rescue Jews, such as the Kindertransport, were effectively shut down. Looking back at the events of 1938, the signs of impending war and the Holocaust are clearer today than they were then. Unfortunately, acts of genocide have continued into the 21st century. But there’s hope that the world has begun to heed the warning signs.

Cameron Hudson, Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
We’ve learned enough, we’ve seen enough, we’ve studied enough the case of the Holocaust and the cases since the Holocaust to understand what those signs are.

Michael Abramowitz, Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The choice is not just between sending in the 101st Airborne and doing nothing. There’s diplomatic efforts, there’s intelligence, there’s financial sanctions. There’s a range of different things that governments can do to prevent genocide.

Cameron Hudson, Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The thing that we need to be conscious of is how quickly these events can develop into an act that cannot be undone. And so, why not take preventative steps early on so that we’re not dealing with the effects of true mass violence and genocide?

[Text on screen] Our choices in response to hatred truly do matter. Together we can help fulfill the promise of “Never Again.”

The 2013 Days of Remembrance theme, Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs, looks back at the events of 1938 and the momentous changes that were happening in Central Europe. Why did so many countries and individuals fail to respond to the warning signs? And what can we learn from the few who chose to act, despite widespread indifference? As we reflect on these questions, we remember all whose lives were lost or forever altered by the Holocaust. And we are challenged to think about what might motivate us to respond to warning signs of genocide today.