History has many common themes; persecution, genocide and discrimination are just a few of them. The Holocaust is one event that intertwines these three themes. The Jewish people have been persecuted numerous times throughout history.
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There have also been genocides that killed as many or more people as the Holocaust, such as; the depopulation of the USSR under Stalin between 1929-1939 that claimed approximately 20 million lives, or the killing of the North and South American Indians in the 16th century that claimed 100 million lives. Six million Jewish men, women and children died in the Holocaust. Anti semitism was not unique to 20th Century Germany. Throughout history in Egypt, in the Roman Empire, and all throughout Europe and the Middle East, the Jews were at the very least not wanted and at the most persecuted for being who they are. The Holocaust, if put in all these contexts, is not unique. However there is one circumstance that only the Holocaust had. As Steven T. Katz says in his book, The Holocaust in Historical Context, The Holocaust is phenomenologically unique by virtue of the fact that never before has a state set out, as a matter of intentional principle and actualized policy, to annihilate physically every man, women, and child belonging to a specific people. The Holocaust was the first time in history an organized government tried to completely exterminate a group of people. How could something like the Holocaust be allowed to happen? How could a young European country in the midst of a world war create an incredible killing machine? There are a number of unique and not so unique circumstances that led to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a tipping point of anti semitic attitudes throughout Germany and Europe as a whole that was possible because of the rise to power of an autocratic leader in a country desperate for change.
The Holocaust wasn’t the first time the Jewish people had been persecuted. Just about everywhere they went throughout history, Jews were persecuted for being different. They were a monotheistic people in a world where polytheism was the norm. They engaged in strange customs and traditions that confused outsiders. The Jews also refer to themselves as The Chosen People so it can be assumed that other groups took offense to a group of people blatantly saying that they are better than others. Some of the earliest recorded persecution of the Jews occurred in ancient Egypt, where they were slaves until the Exodus. When they lived under Alexander the Great’s rule, they were discouraged from practicing their religion because it made them different from the other populations Alexander conquered. This went against Alexander’s dream of uniformity for his kingdom. When Jesus of Nazareth died, it was a common myth that it was the will of a Jewish committee.
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