To dehumanize someone is to “deprive them of positive human qualities”. During the Holocaust, the Nazis used several techniques to dehumanize the Jews. This was done so that the Nazi soldiers, and the Jews themselves would start to see them as ‘things’ rather than as people. In Elie Wiesel’s Night, there are several examples of the Nazi’s attempts to dehumanize Elie and his fellow Jews. The three best examples of this are; taking the identity of the Jews away, failing to provide the Jews with basic needs, and making the Jews feel fearful and unsafe at all times. These three things took away the Jew’s physiological needs, self-esteem, sense of belonging, and sense of safety; things that we all agree every human being is entitled to, and needs to survive.
From the very early stages of the Holocaust, even before the Jews were moved into camps, all the way up to the very end – the Nazis attempted to strip the Jews of their identity. The first thing that the Nazis did was force them to all wear a yellow Star of David at all times. When the Jews arrived at concentration camps, they were immediately, other prisoners “tattooed number on [their] left arms” and from then on, they “had no other name” (Wiesel 42). Their hair was all cut off, and they were forced to all wear the exact same thing. All these things in combination were a way to make the Jews feel like they were not individuals anymore. Once they stopped thinking of themselves as individual people, and the Nazis saw them as numbers rather than people, it became increasingly psychologically easier for terrible things to them. This stripping of the Jew’s identities took away the basic need of belonging, as no Jew was different than another, and no one felt that they had a purpose or belonged to something larger than themselves. To dissolve the individual identity of the Jews was the first step in their dehumanization.
The second step in the dehumanization of the Jews was to ignore their physiological needs. The Jews were often treated like animals rather than people. On the way to the concentration camps, the Jews were crammed into cattle cars with “little air” and with so little room that they “had to take turns sitting” (Wiesel 22) – there were up to 80 Jews per car. At the camps, the conditions were terrible. The barracks they slept in were crammed with as many people as could fit. Two, three, or four would sleep on one bunk with no mattress, and one thin blanket to share. Many became ill and died. The Jews were fed just enough bread and soup to stay alive, but many still died of starvation. The clothing they were given was not sufficient to stay protected from the elements, and when they were forced to march distances in the cold, many froze to death, or later became ill due to cold conditions. This extremely poor treatment of the Jews was done in order to make them feel like they were not equal with other humans. This treatment violated the Jew’s basic physiological needs such as food and shelter. This second strategy to dehumanize the Jews further deteriorated the Jew’s will to live, and their self-esteem.
Another strategy the Nazis utilized in the dehumanization of the Jews was making them feel fearful of their lives at all times. The Jews were constantly afraid of losing their lives to either the elements, or to the furnace. Elie and his fellow Jews were forced to watch as their friends and family were hanged in front of them. This act of dominance by the Nazis took away the Jew’s sense of safety, as they could never relax and feel safe. This took a toll on the Jews mentally, and as a result had physical consequences as well. As well as being fearful of death, when a Jew died, they were given no funeral, but instead were either burned, or left where they died. This went against Jewish beliefs, as there is a proper way to die and be buried in Jewish culture. Jews were forced to load other Jews who had passed away, people who were once their friends, into the furnace or into mass graves. This made the Jews feel worthless, and took away their sense of esteem, a basic human need. The constant killing and improper burials of the Jews took away their sense of safety, as well as made them feel unhuman, and was another step into dehumanizing the Jewish race.
As shown in Night, the Nazis tried to dehumanize the Jews in any way they could. This created a mindset that the Jews were below all other people. Thinking this way is what made it possible for seemingly normal people to do such horrible things to innocent humans. The constant inhumane treatment and fear tactics took away the Jew’s physiological needs, self-esteem, sense of belonging, and sense of safety; things that we all agree every human being is entitled to, and needs to survive. It is important to know about the things the Nazis did during the holocaust so that something similar will never happen again.
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