At a workshop Saturday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum about teaching the Holocaust, Cathleen Cadigan discussed some of the most common related myths and misconceptions. Cadigan is a regional museum educator with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Following are those myths, and the correct information about them, based on Cadigan’s presentation.
Myth: Hitler was Jewish.
Fact: Hitler is the fourth child of Alois and Clara Hitler. Allegations that Hitler’s father was Jewish stem from rumors surrounding Hitler’s grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber. There is speculation that Schicklgruber worked in a Jewish household and that her child, Alois, was fathered by the son of the house. Post-1945 investigations found that no Jews had lived in that area.
Myth: Hitler was elected by the German people.
Fact: The Nazi party received 33 percent of the vote in the 1932 elections. Other parties were the Socialist, Communist and Catholic parties. Hitler, however, was appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg on Jan. 30, 1933.
Myth: Hitler survived the war.
Fact: It is believed that on the morning of April 29, 1945, in a civil ceremony in his bunker, Hitler married his mistress of many years, Eva Braun. The next day, they both bit into thin glass vials of cyanide. As he did so Hitler also shot himself in the head. A handful of remaining Nazi loyalists wrapped his body in a gray blanket, carried him out, saluted in honor and ignited his body.
Myth: Hitler was a homosexual.
Fact: One of Hitler’s close associates was a known homosexual. Fearing his rising political power, Hitler ordered his execution along with several of his allies in the infamous “Night of the Long Knives.”
Myth: The Jews are a race.
Fact: First and foremost, Jews are adherents of a religion — Judaism — around which a culture has evolved based on laws, rituals and customs regarding the Sabbath, holidays, diet and other matters. Second, they are a people with a national identity based on a shared history and historical homeland of Israel. The Nazis decided that if a person had one Jewish grandparent then that person was to be considered Jewish. While that strategy does work for determining someone’s national heritage — Irish-American or Mexican-American, for instance — a person can have grandparents of one religion but identify completely with another.
Myth: The Jews were the only victims.
Fact: People who could identify with other groups also were killed. They include:
-The mentally and physically handicapped, because they did not meet the standards of Hitler’s desired “Aryan race.”
-The Roma or Sinti, more commonly known as Gypsies, on racial grounds.
-Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they refused to salute Hitler or serve in the German army on religious grounds.
-Homosexuals, because they could not advance Hitler’s goal of increasing the population of Aryans.
-Prisoners of war, including 3 million Soviet risoners.
-Other groups of people viewed as inferior, including Poles and other Slavs.
Myth: All camps were the same.
Fact: There were four types of camps: concentration camps, transit camps, labor camps and death camps. Though many people died in all the camps, only the death camps existed for the sole purpose of extermination and used gas chambers. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis created thousands of them in all occupied countries.
Myth: All camps used tattoos.
Fact: Only those sent to Auschwitz received tattoos of numbers on their arms.
Myth: The Nazis routinely made soap out of human fat and lampshades out of human skin.
Fact: After examining all the evidence, including an actual bar of soap supplied by the Soviets, the Nuremberg Tribunal declared that “in some instances attempts were made to utilize the fat from the bodies of the victims in the commercial manufacture of soap.” But, it was not a routine practice. The only confirmed practice relating to the making of lampshades is of Ilsa Koch, who had tattoos she thought looked interesting removed from people’s bodies to make products out of them.
Myth: The Jews went like sheep to the slaughter.
Fact: There were many types of resistance, including spiritual resistance by praying or learning Torah or teaching Hebrew; smuggling food; raising armed resistances; and staying alive, the primary defiance of the goal of the Holocaust.
Myth: The King of Denmark donned the yellow star to show his support for Danish Jews.
Fact: Jews in Denmark were never required to wear a Jewish star. The Danish people did save a lot of Jews by taking them on boats in the night to safety in Sweden. A similar widely believed myth is that Norwegians wore paper clips to show their resistance against the Nazis and solidarity with the Jews. There is no evidence of this, either.
Myth: All Germans were Nazis and all Germans were perpetrators.
Fact: There were perpetrators who took action against Jews and other undesired people, and there were bystanders who did not speak up about what happened. There also were pockets of resistance. White Rose was a nonviolent resistance organization made up mostly of German students. Its leaders were beheaded.
Wendy K. Kleinman