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PROLOGUE: Roots of the Holocaust
 pg. 18 
As Wiesel stood with other survivors at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1979, "at the place where we had lost our families," he reports that "there were no words....There was nothing to say." But then, Wiesel recalls, out of memory in the Auschwitz wind, ancient words could be heard, words that also go back to the beginning: "Shma Israel. 'Hear, O Israel, God is our God, God is one.'...Ani maamin. 'I believe with all my heart in the coming of the Messiah....'" Centuries and even millennia old, those words from the Jewish tradition hearken back not only to the origins of the Jewish people but also to the beginning of time and creation themselves. Heard from Auschwitz, those words ask: How did it happen that Birkenau scarred the earth and left humankind to cope with the Holocaust's enduring anguish? Why did that ending result from the beginning?
Religious faith and a keen grasp of the world before the Holocaust have helped to sustain author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Photo: AP / Wide World Photos
Long after the last page of this book has been turned, those questions will remain. How could they not, for no event challenges human understanding more than the Holocaust. To grasp how and why it happened, detailed analysis of the years 1933 to 1946--the focal point of The Holocaust Chronicle--is essential. However, just as it is incomplete to say that the Holocaust ended in 1946, it is also insufficient to say that the Holocaust's beginning was in 1933.
Why Antisemitism?

In 1879 and 1880, Heinrich von Treitschke, an influential German nationalist historian, published a series of articles that drew attention to a fateful phrase: "Die Juden sind unser Unglück" ("The Jews are our misfortune"). Eventually, that slogan would be written on banners at Nazi Party rallies. Just before Treitschke's essay appeared, another German writer, anti-Jewish journalist Wilhelm Marr, coined the term antisemitism. But what that term denotes--discrimination and hatred against Jews--is arguably the world's longest hatred.

In the year 70 c.e., the Romans under Titus starved and/or slaughtered at least 600,000 Jews at Jerusalem. Early-day Christian theologians said the Jews brought the massacre upon themselves because they had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. Violence subsequently raged against Jews for centuries. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.

As religious toleration and civil rights developed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe, Jews became almost equal citizens under the law. Those liberal trends, however, did not eliminate hate for Jews. In the late 1800s, for instance, anti-Jewish pogroms broke out in Russia and Poland, killing thousands.

Over the centuries antisemitism has taken different but related forms: religious, political, economic, social, and racial. Jews have been discriminated against, hated, and killed because prejudiced non-Jews believed Jews belonged to the wrong religion, lacked citizenship qualifications, practiced business improperly, behaved inappropriately, or possessed inferior racial characteristics. These forms of antisemitism, especially the racial one, all played key parts in the Holocaust. Without antisemitism, the Holocaust could not have happened.

 c. 1500 bce: Based on biblical chronology, Hebrews move to Egypt.
 c. 1250 bce: The Hebrew Moses receives the Ten Commandments, which is crucial to the Hebrew religion's evolution into monotheism.
 c. 1000 bce: Kings Saul, David, and Solomon reign. Jerusalem becomes the capital of the Israelite Kingdom. The great Solomon's Temple is constructed in Jerusalem.
 c. 700 bce: Assyrians deport ten of the 12 Jewish tribes--the Ten Lost Tribes.
 c. 600 bce: Babylonians conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. They exile many Jews to Babylon. This diaspora is called the Babylonian Exile.
 c. 500 bce: The notion of a Messiah, a political/military-religious/moral leader, develops.
 c. 500 bce: The Persians conquer the Babylonians and permit the return of the exiled Jews and reconsecration of the Temple.
PROLOGUE: Roots of the Holocaust
 pg. 18 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.