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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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HOLOCAUST SYNDROME

Written by Alexander Kimel - Holocaust Survivor.

Most of the Holocaust victims, went to their deaths without resistance. In the midst of the winter, people disrobed peacefully and boarded the cattle cars of the death trains. Men, women and children, lined up in front of the mass graves, waiting to be shot. At the collection points, thousands of people sat in silence, waiting for the trains to take them to the gas chambers, although by the sheer weight of their numbers, they could easily overwhelm the Germans. Lack of resistance on the part of the Jews can be attributed to many factors: terror, isolation, collective responsibility, lack of leadership; but the most important factor, is the psychological factor of cooperation of the victims with their oppressors. It can be explained by the "Holocaust Syndrome," closely resembling the "Stockholm Syndrome." In Stockholm, during a bank robbery, a young woman was taken hostage by a gunman and held under the gunpoint for several days. The gunman threatened to kill her, but the police rescued her; the gunman was captured and sentenced to a long prison term. To the surprise of everybody, the young woman fell in love with the gunman and married him while he was in prison. The unexplained psychological phenomenon is called the Stockholm Syndrome. People in life threatening situations, isolated and terrorized, develop a defense mechanism based on the identification, submission and cooperation with their tormentors.
Patty Hearst, kidnapped by terrorist, isolated and terrorized, identified with her captors, and adapted their revolutionary slogans and their revolutionary violence. This is a good example of the Stockholm Syndrome.
The Holocaust Syndrome, explains the total resignation of individuals subjected to hunger, terror and isolation. Hunger and terror destroys the fabric of the human personality like a pressure cooker disintegrates the organic cohesiveness of the food. The victims lose the ability of rational thinking, and are molded into a amorphous mass, easily guided into the gas chambers. A healthy, young individual cannot perceive his own destruction, his own death. In a few moments he sun will stop shining, darkness will prevail; no plants, any animal life, everything will die. The victim knows that this not true, doesn't believe in his own death and fully cooperate with his executioners. The fear of death overrides rational thinking, makes the victims believe in the most obvious lies, and in a paradoxical way, their full cooperation with their executioners, makes their killing easier. In one of the films about the Holocaust, a witness describes how naked people standing in line to be shot, voluntarily took up positions at the end of the ditch, and jumped into the trenches to be shot, without a sign of resistance or protest. A five-year old daughter urged her to run away "Mommy lets run. Why are people standing and waiting? "Where shall we run" answered the mother. It looks like that five year old child, not be affected by the syndrome, had more common sense than her adult mother. Another example of the syndrome: In the town of Rohatyn, a teenage boy on its way to the gas chambers of Belzec, had to choke to death two old ladies, who would not allow him to jump the train. Stripped naked, cramped in cattle cars, on the way to the gas chambers, they were afraid that the Germans will kill them after discovering that boy is missing.
In the film Shoah, a witness describes how to last moment the victims facing gassing, in the process of disrobing before entering the gas chambers, didn't believe in their forthcoming destruction, could not believe that in 30 minutes they will turn into ashes. Only the Holocaust Syndrome can adequately explains their behavior.

It was impossible to save people. One day, in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train arrived from Bialystok. A prisoner from the "special detail" saw a woman in the "undressing room" who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: " You are going to be exterminated. In three hours you will be ashes. The woman believed him because she knew him. She run all over and warned the other women. "We are going to get killed. We are going to be gassed." Mothers carrying their chidden on their shoulders didn't want to hear that. They decided that the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn't believe her: they'd hears rumors in the Bialystok Ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that! When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream.

So what happened? Everyone was gassed. The woman was held back. We had to line up in front of the ovens. First, they tortured her horribly because she wouldn't betray him. In the end she pointed to him. He was taken out of the line and thrown alive into the oven. We were told: " Whoever tells anything will end like that."

The Holocaust Syndrome is seen in the behavior of inmates of concentration camps who lived in a state of total automation, having their instinct of self-preservation muted by the obedience to the oppressors. In the concentration camps, the SS men amused themselves snatching off prisoner's caps and throwing them toward the barbed wire fence, into the zone where the prisoners were shot without warning. The victim ordered to pick up the cap, usually obeyed automatically, and was killed on the spot. Kapos in Auschwitz, would hand a prisoner a rope and order him to hang himself. The writer Rusinek, in his book "Listy spod Morwy', describes the case a block leader one night ordering a poor unfortunate "to hang at midnight". When the time arrived, the victim, who slept next to his tyrant, got up and went slowly on tiptoe, so as not to waken his persecutor, and hanged himself. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a known Jewish philosopher, observed human behavior that became so common during the Holocaust: "...being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune's greedily coveted favors, they are consequently, for the most part very prone to credulity. The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery. ....in adversity the know not where to turn, but beg and pray for counsel from every passer-by. No plan is then too futile, too absurd, or too fatuous for their adoption. Holocaust Syndrome was only a temporary aberration of human behavior and the awakening from the stupor, was experienced as euphoria. In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish fighters experience such euphoria when seeing the scared Germans fleeing. Holocaust Syndrome explains the behavior of a victims exposed to a constant, prolonged danger over which they have no control, no recourse, use the denial mechanism to cope with life threatening situations. The Germans were fully aware of this phenomena, and deliberately starved, terrorized and dehumanized the victims, to make the killing easier. The Holocaust Syndrome explains also how one man, Hitler, with the help of the SS, his private army, could kill millions of people.
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