I just noted that, in an article carried by JTA, the year of the Nuremberg Laws was incorrectly given as 1933 instead of 1935. I notified the JTA news desk and later received an email that the mistake had been corrected.
Why did I take the time to notify JTA? Because every time any of us (including me) gets a date or fact wrong about the Holocaust and WWII we risk giving a toehold to Holocaust deniers.
Yet it is hard for those of us who are not Holocaust scholars to keep straight all the multiple historical threads.
As a journalist and writer I have been interviewing and writing about the Holocaust since the 1970s. Yet it is only in the last couple of years — aided by the Covid lockdowns and access to such streaming services as Jewzy.tv and Chaiflicks.com along with the many Zoom film screenings now available — that I have finally be able to clarify for myself some of the historical strands.
I would like to share a few examples of historical facts that have recently become clearer to me:
Because my U.S. Army officer husband and I were stationed in Munich, Germany, from September 1970 to May 1972 and often visited the site of the concentration camp of Dachau, I knew that Dachau – opened in March 1933 less than two months after Hitler came to power — was not an extermination camp. Did many, many prisoners die there? Yes they did. Yet Dachau opened as a political prisoners camp and never was transformed to a designated extermination camp.
Only recently did I realize that Auschwitz was started as a political prisoners camp, and then in 1942 after the Wannsee Conference on the Final Solution (held on January 20, 1942) was Auschwitz and the subsequently built adjoining Birkenau camp turned into a designated extermination camp.
One reason I think that Dachau is so often incorrectly cited as an extermination camp is because the Americans liberated the camp on April 29, 1945, and did find crematorium used to burn the bodies of the deceased. For those of us in the U.S. the concentration camp of Dachau may have more “name recognition.” (The Russians liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.)
Now I have often pondered the historical context that the German Jews had the most opportunity to get to safety. From the moment that Hitler was legally appointed German Chancellor on January 30, 1933 (and then almost immediately seized dictatorial control), the writing was on the wall as the saying goes. He made no secret of what he intended to do to the Jews.
This window of opportunity to escape – difficult as it was to leave Germany – did not exist for the Austrian Jews. The Nazis occupied Austria in March 1938, and those Jews were caught overnight. The same happened with the Czech Jews in March 1939 when the Nazis marched into Czech lands without any opposition from the rest of the world. (This was six months after the Sudetenland was ceded to Germany in the infamous Munich Agreement.)
With no warning the Jews became captives when the Nazis invaded western Poland on September 1, 1939, while the Jews in eastern Poland now lived under occupation by the Russians, whose Communism caused much hardship for the Jews but did not extend to a Final Solution. In fact, the Jews shipped to Siberia by the Russians ultimately had a much better chance of surviving the Holocaust than the Jews allowed to remain in Russian-occupied Poland and Lithuania.
The start of the mass murder of Jews began when on June 21-22, 1941, the Nazis broke the (August 23, 1939) German-Russian nonaggression pact. The Einsatzgruppen death squads rushed into those newly occupied lands and mass murdered the Jews at locations such as Babi Yar. (This was before Auschwitz had been transformed into an extermination camp to murder the Jews from western Europe.)
(My nonfiction play www.ThinEdgeOfTheWedge.com does portray some of this historic timeline. Yet I know that, even after greatly increasing my knowledge of the historic milestones of the Holocaust and WWII, I still need to check dates when watching a documentary or film about the period in order to better understand the context.)
If you notice an incorrect dating of a Holocaust-related event, do politely let the writer or publication know. The person or publication should appreciate the help in setting straight the all-important historical record.