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Death Becoming Intentional Toward the Holocaust

Guest Author - Rebecca Graf

Purpose in death could be seen as far back as the Spartans of Ancient Greece where children were killed based upon their physical potential. Infant boys were to be raised to be the perfect soldiers. In fact, their potential determined whether they lived or died. If they did not fall into the category of future Spartan soldier, they were abandoned close to Mount Taygetus to die. Death was intentional and with purpose.

During the Middle Ages, the focus on Jews intensified. The reasons could be listed into the hundreds, but one of the largest was fear and the need to have an enemy. The Jews were not the only ones that were singled out during this period, but they were some of the most populous. Their religious laws required them to live separate from the world around them. Many foods and practices that were practiced by non-Jews, Gentiles, were sinful. The Jews had to live pulled away from others in order to break their religious laws. This did not help in assimilation in the many cultures they lived in and emphasized the differences. Mankind has always had a problem with those that are different and refuse to meld into society. The view of Jews as the killer of Jesus that was pushed by many Church leaders did not help this tension. Ghettos were established in the early sixteenth century. These were walled in areas of the city that became thriving Jewish cities. The only ways in and out were locked at sunset and opened at sunrise. This guaranteed the safety of both the Jews and the Gentiles as superstitious and panic stricken people could blame the “unexplained disappearance of a Christian child” on a Jew. The result was death, fire, and destruction. Eventually, Jews were expelled from Spain and many other countries.

From here, the Inquisition stepped up to continue persecution. Specific races were not targeted. It was all those that opposed the Catholic Church and who were suspected of not being one hundred percent Catholic. Anyone brought before the Inquisition could face imprisonment, torture, or death. In the beginning, the Inquisition only focused on those that were Christian who taught heresy. After 1242, the Jews came under scrutiny with an extremely large number being executed by fire in 1288. Tens of thousands died at the hand of the Inquisition. This number was made up of anyone who was considered an enemy of the Church. Death came to many who were targeted by the Inquisition.

This led directly into the treatment of the natives in the New World by Spanish explorers. From the minute Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, there was indifference in how the Spanish dealt with those that were already living there. The men had no qualms about killing any of the natives. There was no intent to wipe out huge cultures. There was just no care as to who and how many did die: “By the time they realized that they were up against ruthless and determined antagonists who knew exactly what they wanted, it was too late.” The numbers of Native Americans that lived in the New World prior to the Spanish dwindled by the millions over the next couple of hundred years.


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Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History. New York: Harper Perennial, 1994.

Cody, David. “French Revolution”, The Victorian Web, http://www.victorianweb.org/history/hist7.html, (accessed February 18, 2011).

Hale, J.R. Renaissance Europe 1480-1520. Malden: Blackwell, 2000.

Hopkins, Keith. “The Colosseum: Emblem of Rome.” BBC History. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ history/ancient/romans/colosseum_01.shtml, (accessed February 12, 2011).

McAlister, Lyle N. Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984.

Newman, Leonard S. and Ralph Erber, ed. Understanding the Genocide: The Social Psychology of the Holocaust. Cary: Oxford, 2002.

Pomeroy, Sarah B., Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. New York: Oxford, 2008.

Robinson, B. A. “The Reconciliation Walk.” Religious Tolerance. Org, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_cru1.htm, (accessed February 10, 2011).

Schleunes, Karl A.The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews 1933-1939. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1990.

Supple, Carrie. From Prejudice to Genocide: Learning About the Holocaust. Staffordshire: Trentham, 2009.

“The Inquisition”, Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ jsource/History/Inquisition.html, (accessed February 18, 2011).

“The Rape of Nanking 1937-1938”. The History Place. 2000. http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/nanking.htm, (accessed January 15, 2011).

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.
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