Jewish and Slave Transportation

Michael Gleason

Slave Transportation

From the 1500s to the 1900s, the rapidly growing economies of advanced countries such as the United States and Great Britain as well as colonies in South America required more workers than the countries contained. Because of this, between 10 and 15 million slaves were shipped from their homes in Africa to farms and plantations where they were forced to work dangerously long and strenuous hours. (1) The journey from Africa to the final destination was an extensive, disgusting voyage that many slaves did not survive. Called the “Middle Passage,” it was a journey that lasted more than seven weeks long for even the most experienced captains as the dangerous Atlantic Ocean had to be traveled on for thousands of miles. (2)
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The above picture illustrates the route taken by slaves ships as they moved slaves from Africa to various destinations. Most of the slaves ended up in South America, the United States, Great Britain, or other parts of Europe.
The condition on these “slave ships” were horrendous. Many slave traders used a method called tight-packing, which forced as many slaves as possible onto each ship. (3) Slavers thought this was beneficial because even if some slaves died, they would make more money per trip. (4) As a result of tight-packing, conditions below decks, where the slaves were kept, were unhygienic and depressing. In most slave ships, men were kept shackled and stored in the stern, while women and children were stored in the bow and left unchained, as they posed a smaller risk of rebelling. (5)
In Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative, slave Olaudah Equiano recounts some of the experiences he had while being transported to America. He said, “The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time…” (6) Equiano also described the crowdedness of the ship, saying ”The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us.” These large masses of people were forced to relieve themselves in buckets kept below decks. Often, there were too few buckets below decks for everyone, and some people simply did their business wherever they felt like it. (7) This, coupled with the humidity and heat below decks, produced the stench Equiano described as a smell he had “never experienced in his life.” (8) The smell and depression of the whole situation made Equiano stop eating, but his small rebellion was short lived as the slave masters on the ship tied him down and forced him to eat. Attempted forms of suicide such as these were common on the slave ships due to the terrible conditions the slaves were forced to endure every day. (9) Unfortunately, most slaves like Equiano were separated from their families when they were taken from Africa, and never saw them again.

Due to the poor conditions on board the ships and harsh treatment from slavers, a staggering number of slaves were killed while being transported across the Middle Passage. An estimated forty percent of slaves were killed from the time they were removed from their homes to the time they arrived at their destinations. (10) At least 2 million of these slaves died on the voyage from Africa to America. (11) The brutality and inhumanity of this transportation can only be mirrored by the transportation of persecuted Jews during the Holocaust.

Jewish Transportation

In 1942, Hitler and his Nazi government began deporting Jews to death camps set up mainly in Germany and Poland. (12) The most common method of transporting Jews from locations around Europe to the death camps was by train, and both passenger and freight cars were used. Germany tried to cover their tracks by saying they were relocating the Jews to work camps in the East. (13) However, the true reality was that Hitler was instituting his “Final Solution,” which was a form of ethnic cleansing which attempted to remove all inferior races, such as Jews and Gypsies, from Europe while establishing the Aryans as the superior race.

Because all of the people riding these trains were destined to die in the eyes of the Nazis, they received awful treatment while travelling. The railroad cars were not heated or air conditioned, which meant that the passengers were subject to the harsh winters and suffocating summers of Germany. (14) In addition, the cars were filled wall to wall with newly deported Jews. Most of the trips took four or five days. This is short compared to the slaves’ journeys, but the Jews were not fed or given any water. As a result, many Jews died before they reached the final destination. On some of the longer journeys, almost all the passengers on the trains died. Those that tried to escape upon arrival were promptly shot. (15)
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Jews being crowded onto a train.

Victor Lewis

Those who survived deportation and the rest of the Holocaust lived to tell the grim details of their rides on the trains and lives in the Holocaust. Victor Lewis, who survived the Holocaust by jumping out of a transport train window, tells a story that displays the true savageness of the situation:


“There was no water and very little air to breathe. People were screaming and there were many cries for help. Some of the older and weaker people began to die. Some people began to take off their clothes to get relief from the unbearable heat. My heart was breaking at this horrible scene. I felt that I couldn’t bear the torture any longer.” (16)


From this account, a sense of great fear and suffering is produced. This, coupled with the fact that he knew the final destination of the train, led Lewis to saw his way out of the window and jump to freedom. Lewis, like most other survivors of the Holocaust, was separated from his family, and never saw them again. (17)

Connection Between Slave Trade and Jewish Deportation

The slave trade and the deportation of Jews had many similarities. Both featured removing an established population from its home and transporting it elsewhere. Both featured horrific conditions for the unfortunate people who had to undergo these journeys, leading to the deaths of millions of people in both cases. Finally, both were the outcome of dehumanizing people simply based on their race or location. Slaves were considered objects and bought and sold on the free market in many countries. 75 years after slavery was abolished in the United States, the Jews were dehumanized in Europe as Hitler persecuted them and executed his Final Solution. This demonstrates that under the right conditions, it is possible for any race of people to be discriminated against.

Notes

1. "Digital History." Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=446 (accessed March 31, 2014).

2. "Conditions on Slave Ships." Conditions on Slave Ships. http://4thebest4e.tripod.com/id15.html (accessed April 1, 2014).

3. "Conditions on Slave Ships." Conditions on Slave Ships. http://4thebest4e.tripod.com/id15.html (accessed April 1, 2014).

4. "Conditions on Slave Ships." Conditions on Slave Ships. http://4thebest4e.tripod.com/id15.html (accessed April 1, 2014).

5. "Digital History." Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=446 (accessed March 31, 2014).

6. "Understanding Slavery Initiative." Understanding Slavery Initiative. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=376&Itemid=237 (accessed April 1, 2014).

7. "Conditions on Slave Ships." Conditions on Slave Ships. http://4thebest4e.tripod.com/id15.html (accessed April 1, 2014).

8. "Understanding Slavery Initiative." Understanding Slavery Initiative. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=376&Itemid=237 (accessed April 1, 2014).

9. "Conditions on Slave Ships." Conditions on Slave Ships. http://4thebest4e.tripod.com/id15.html (accessed April 1, 2014).

10. "Digital History." Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=446 (accessed March 31, 2014).

11. "Digital History." Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=446 (accessed March 31, 2014).

12. United States Holocaust Memorial Council. "Deportations to Killing Centers." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005372 (accessed March 30, 2014).

13. United States Holocaust Memorial Council. "Deportations to Killing Centers." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005372 (accessed March 30, 2014).

14. United States Holocaust Memorial Council. "Deportations to Killing Centers." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005372 (accessed March 30, 2014).

15. United States Holocaust Memorial Council. "German Railways and the Holocaust." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005445 (accessed April 1, 2014).

16. "The survival of Victor Lewis! Survivors Stories www.HolocaustResearchProject.org." The survival of Victor Lewis! Survivors Stories www.HolocaustResearchProject.org. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/survivor/vlewis.html (accessed March 30, 2014).

17. "The survival of Victor Lewis! Survivors Stories www.HolocaustResearchProject.org." The survival of Victor Lewis! Survivors Stories www.HolocaustResearchProject.org. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/survivor/vlewis.html (accessed March 30, 2014).