Memphis Jewish Federation’s 8th Annual Holocaust Art and Essay Competition drew an unprecedented 87 essay entries and 85 art entries from students in Tennessee and the Mid-South. This year’s theme was Degradation and Dehumanization: The Nazi Assault on Human Dignity. The contest was sponsored by the Memphis Commissioners of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, along with their spouses: Jack and Marilyn Belz, Allen and Eileen Exelbierd, Jan and Andy Groveman, Josh and Joanna Lipman, and Leonid and Friderica Saharovici.
JCPConnect will be publishing the two honorable mention essays, the second place winning essay, and the winning essay. Each will be paired with one of the top four winning art entries.
Essay by Yaseen Omar, 12th grade, Cordova High School. Collaborative art by David Sabin and Zachary Funk, 7th grade, Bornblum Jewish Community School. – Photo by Steve Conroy
One of the most serious questions to ask about the Holocaust is, “How did this happen?” How is a whole race of people subjected to such cruelty, for no rational reason whatsoever? If you look at Nazi propaganda efforts and literature, you get a clearer picture. Jews were dehumanized by the Germans, to the point where they were considered less than human. They were hunted and killed like game. Another thing to remember is that the holocaust wasn’t an isolated incident, it has happened multiple times throughout history.
Nazis called the Jews Untermenschen, or subhumans. To them it wasn’t morally wrong to kill the Jews because they were rats. In fact it was good to kill a rat. A rat carried diseases, they’re deadly to society. With the mindset that the Jews were basically a virus, the Nazis didn’t feel bad when they used Jewish babies as target practice, or sent massive amounts of Jews to death camps. Most people don’t feel bad killing an animal, so Nazis portrayed Jews as thus.
Recently photos of American troops called the “kill team” posing with the dead bodies of Afghans they killed, were published. The reports also showed that these American troops were also taking trophies, such as fingers, of their kills even if they were civilians. This was the same mentality of the Nazis, when they treated the Jews as game to be hunted and killed. There have even been claims of Nazis using the skin of those killed in concentration camps for lampshades. By dehumanizing their victims anyone can commit atrocities of such a despicable nature without feeling morally wrong.
What’s important the remember is that the Nazis were and will not be the only ones to dehumanize people who are considered enemies of the state. This same practice was used in Russia with propaganda depicting the Germans as blood thirsty animals. This thought turned into much more when the Soviet Union turned the tide of the war and began pushing into German land. Many of the women in Germany raped and killed, and some people were even crucified by the Soviet soldiers. Almost any war you look at, between any two nations will have some kind of dehumanization and degradation of the enemy people.
It important to look at the Holocaust in a serious and introspective way, so as to prevent history from repeating itself. We cannot just say that now is different and that the Holocaust was caused by a small group of extreme manipulators. Because we would be lying to ourselves. The truth is the holocaust was less than a century ago and humans are still capable of the same atrocities as we were back then. Which is why we must be wary when we are told that we are better than someone else or that were different. As satisfying as it is to blame another group of people for our problems, it is also a slippery slope of suffering and violence.