The book Parallel Journeys teaches many important lessons about the Holocaust and life in general.
Many of the Hitler youth and German citizens alike believed that Hitler could do no wrong. They would follow him anywhere and never suspected that he would lead them astray. He did not make mistakes. They were fiercely devoted to him. In the book, Alfons talks about how he and other Hitler Youth members would even have died for Hitler. It helped that Hitler was an excellent public speaker and appeared to win all military battles by using Blitzkreig, or lightning war, to conquer many countries. People will see no flaws in their heroes.
“For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: “Sieg Heil Hitler, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!” From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul.” -Alfons Heck “ It was obvious to most teenagers that Hitler was invincible-he could not be beaten. In their minds, der Führer was more powerful than God.”
Hitler deceived an entire nation. The people of Germany never suspected the mass extermination of Jews that he was planning. They were lead to believe that Jews and other minorities were a lower race of humans than Aryans (“true Germans”). Some German people helped with the attempted annihilation of the Jews, although several of them may have helped unintentionally. While a few helped the Jews escape, many simply ignored the atrocities that took place. In the book, Alfons mentions how he and his fellow students didn’t question Nazism when learning about it in school. Helen remembers that many Jews didn’t believe what was happening and thought that it would eventually go away. People can be mislead.
“No one cared (or dared) to speak out against Adolph Hitler.” “On that night, I was just as certain as Hitler that the Third Reich would last a thousand years.” –Alfons Heck “But the idea of mass murder in our modern twentieth century seemed outrageous!” –Helen Waterford “Not even the most fanatic Hitler Youth leader believed that the term Final Solution meant extermination.” –Alfons Heck
The Holocaust killed over six million people by means of gassing, cremation, firing squads, starvation, and other unspeakable horrors. The people who were deported to concentration camps and ghettos were subject to unbelievable cruelty and inhumane conditions. Helen recalls how she couldn’t even keep track of how many died on the train ride and during selections. The Jews were stripped of almost all their belongings and their dignity. Although a number of Germans had no part of this, many officers knew exactly what they were doing. Some were even proud of it….. Humans are capable of horrible things.
“For his part in the Holocaust, Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962. He declared that he would go to his grave happy in the knowledge that he had helped to kill 6 million Jews.” “The streets resound with the futile screams of children dying of hunger. They whine, beg, sing, lament, and tremble in the cold, without underwear, without clothes, without shoes, covered only by rags and bags that are tied by strings to their meager skeletons.” –Holocaust survivor on the conditions in a ghetto.
Hardships can have two very different effects on humans; some are more brave or compassionate than they ever were before. Some are more horrible and cruel than they ever dreamed of being and look back on it in later years with shame. The Holocaust brought out the best in those who hid their neighbors and friends although their livelihoods and possibly even their lives were in danger. It brought out the worst in those who betrayed their friends in order to save themselves or even helped by becoming a collaborator, or helper of the Nazis. Among these were the members of the Gestapo, which were the secret police of Germany, and the members of the Schutzstaffel, which was the elite force of German soldiers that carried out the Final Solution. One betrayer mentioned in the book is Paul Wolf, a carpenter who belonged to the SS and pointed out Jewish buildings to the SS members. Struggle brings out the best and worst in people.
“Then she whirled around at the circle of silent faces staring from the sidewalks and windows, neighbors she had known all her life, and she screamed, “Why are you people doing this to us?”-Alfons Heck “For many Jews, the hardest thing to bear was the fact that their own neighbors were the ones who were torturing them.” “He and his wife and their friends had formed a small group whose goal was to defy the German forces in Holland by helping the Jews. By doing this, of course, they risked great danger to themselves and their families.” –Helen Waterford
The Holocaust didn’t start with mass exterminations. It started with prejudice towards the Jews, which is also known as Anti-Semitism. Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems. Hitler first passed “The Law against the Overcrowding of German Schools” which was made only so that Jewish children couldn’t go to German public schools. Jews who wanted to leave the country had to fill out endless amounts of paperwork and could only take small amounts of money with them. On September 15 th, 1935, the Nuremburg Racial Laws were passed. Jews lost their German citizenship and could no longer marry non-Jews. Next came more laws taking rights from the Jews. One of these was a law that German Jews must have a Jewish first name. After that came Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass. The SS led an attack on Jews all over the country. They smashed the windows of Jewish stores and homes, arrested 20,000 Jews, killed thirty-six, and injured thirty-six. This would be the start of the horrible campaign that began with simply prejudice and ended with six million dead. Small prejudice can grow to unspeakable horrors.
“ It was the worst pogrom-the most savage attack against the Jews of Germany-thus far in the twentieth century.” “ When I speak to young people, the message I hope that they remember is this; the murder of eleven million in the Holocaust began very simply with prejudice, minor harassment. If you allow harassment to grow and fester, if you do nothing to stop it, then you become one of the perpetrators. What began in the Hitler years as minor harassment turned, in the end, to genocide.” –Alfons Heck