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Death Becoming Intentional As the World Moved Toward the Holocaust

Updated on February 2, 2018
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

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.

The Middle Ages

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.


Religious Persecution

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.


Native American Persecution

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.

Paving the Road

These were just the beginning toward genocide of the Jews. The Holocaust was nothing new. It had been done before but on smaller scales. It was the idea that wasn't new. The Nazis could look back and see how effective previous persecutions of groups could be.

The fact that it wasn't the first time the Jews had been persecuted also helped to pave the road. Since nearly every other civilization had targeted them, it was almost accepted to turn on them. The fact that the Jews were targeted in the Holocaust was shocking but shouldn't have been too surprising. It has been laid out centuries before and reinforced time and again. The horror was nothing new, just elaborated on.


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

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

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.

Robinson, B. A. “The Reconciliation Walk.” Religious Tolerance. Org,, (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, jsource/History/Inquisition.html, (accessed February 18, 2011).


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