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THEHOLOCAUST

http://www.history.com/topics/worldwarii/theholocaust.

ThewordHolocaust,fromtheGreekwordsholos(whole)andkaustos(burned),washistorically
usedtodescribeasacrificialofferingburnedonanaltar.Since1945,thewordhastakenonanewand
horriblemeaning:themassmurderofsome6millionEuropeanJews(aswellasmembersofsomeother
persecutedgroups,suchasGypsiesandhomosexuals)bytheGermanNaziregimeduringtheSecondWorld
War.TotheantiSemiticNazileaderAdolfHitler,Jewswereaninferiorrace,analienthreattoGerman
racialpurityandcommunity.AfteryearsofNaziruleinGermany,duringwhichJewswereconsistently
persecuted,HitlersfinalsolutionnowknownastheHolocaustcametofruitionunderthecoverofworld
war,withmasskillingcentersconstructedintheconcentrationcampsofoccupiedPoland.
BEFORETHEHOLOCAUST:HISTORICALANTISEMITISM&
HITLERSRISETOPOWER
AntiSemitisminEuropedidnotbeginwithAdolfHitler.Thoughuseofthe
termitselfdatesonlytothe1870s,thereisevidenceofhostilitytowardJews
longbeforetheHolocaustevenasfarbackastheancientworld,when
RomanauthoritiesdestroyedtheJewishtempleinJerusalemandforced
JewstoleavePalestine.TheEnlightenment,duringthe17thand18th
centuries,emphasizedreligioustoleration,andinthe19thcenturyNapoleon
andotherEuropeanrulersenactedlegislationthatendedlongstanding
restrictionsonJews.AntiSemiticfeelingendured,however,inmanycases
takingonaracialcharacterratherthanareligiousone.

DidYouKnow?
Evenintheearly21stcentury,thelegacyoftheHolocaust
endures.Swissgovernmentandbankinginstitutionshavein
recentyearsacknowledgedtheircomplicitywiththeNazis
andestablishedfundstoaidHolocaustsurvivorsandother
victimsofhumanrightsabuses,genocideorother
catastrophes.

TherootsofHitlersparticularlyvirulentbrandofantiSemitismareunclear.
BorninAustriain1889,heservedintheGermanarmyduringWorldWarI.
LikemanyantiSemitesinGermany,heblamedtheJewsforthecountrys
defeatin1918.Soonafterthewarended,HitlerjoinedtheNationalGerman
WorkersParty,whichbecametheNationalSocialistGermanWorkers
Party(NSDAP),knowntoEnglishspeakersastheNazis.Whileimprisoned
fortreasonforhisroleintheBeerHallPutschof1923,Hitlerwrotethe
memoirandpropagandatractMeinKampf(MyStruggle),inwhichhe
predictedageneralEuropeanwarthatwouldresultintheexterminationof
theJewishraceinGermany.Hitlerwasobsessedwiththeideaofthe
superiorityofthepureGermanrace,whichhecalledAryan,andwith
theneedforLebensraum,orlivingspace,forthatracetoexpand.Inthe
decadeafterhewasreleasedfromprison,Hitlertookadvantageofthe
weaknessofhisrivalstoenhancehispartysstatusandrisefromobscurity
topower.OnJanuary20,1933,hewasnamedchancellorofGermany.After
PresidentPaulvonHindenburgsdeathin1934,Hitleranointedhimselfas
Fuhrer,becomingGermanyssupremeruler.

NAZIREVOLUTIONINGERMANY,19331939
Thetwingoalsofracialpurityandspatialexpansionwerethecoreof
Hitlersworldview,andfrom1933onwardtheywouldcombinetoformthe
drivingforcebehindhisforeignanddomesticpolicy.Atfirst,theNazis
reservedtheirharshestpersecutionforpoliticalopponentssuchas
CommunistsorSocialDemocrats.Thefirstofficialconcentrationcamp
openedatDachau(nearMunich)inMarch1933,andmanyofthefirst
prisonerssenttherewereCommunists.Likethenetworkofconcentration
campsthatfollowed,becomingthekillinggroundsoftheHolocaust,Dachau
wasunderthecontrolofHeinrichHimmler,headoftheeliteNaziguard,the
Schutzstaffel(SS),andlaterchiefoftheGermanpolice.ByJuly1933,
Germanconcentrationcamps(KonzentrationslagerinGerman,orKZ)held
some27,000peopleinprotectivecustody.HugeNaziralliesandsymbolic
actssuchasthepublicburningofbooksbyJews,Communists,liberalsand
foreignershelpeddrivehomethedesiredmessageofpartystrength.

In1933,JewsinGermanynumberedaround525,000,oronly1percentof

thetotalGermanpopulation.Duringthenextsixyears,Nazisundertookan
AryanizationofGermany,dismissingnonAryansfromcivilservice,
liquidatingJewishownedbusinessesandstrippingJewishlawyersand
doctorsoftheirclients.UndertheNurembergLawsof1935,anyonewith
threeorfourJewishgrandparentswasconsideredaJew,whilethosewith
twoJewishgrandparentsweredesignatedMischlinge(halfbreeds).Under
theNurembergLaws,Jewsbecameroutinetargetsforstigmatizationand
persecution.ThisculminatedinKristallnacht,orthenightofbrokenglass
inNovember1938,whenGermansynagogueswereburnedandwindowsin
Jewishshopsweresmashed;some100Jewswerekilledandthousandsmore
arrested.From1933to1939,hundredsofthousandsofJewswhowereable
toleaveGermanydid,whilethosewhoremainedlivedinaconstantstateof
uncertaintyandfear.

BEGINNINGOFWAR,19391940
InSeptember1939,theGermanarmyoccupiedthewesternhalfofPoland.Germanpolicesoonforcedtens
ofthousandsofPolishJewsfromtheirhomesandintoghettoes,givingtheirconfiscatedpropertiestoethnic
Germans(nonJewsoutsideGermanywhoidentifiedasGerman),GermansfromtheReichorPolish
gentiles.Surroundedbyhighwallsandbarbedwire,theJewishghettoesinPolandfunctionedlikecaptive
citystates,governedbyJewishCouncils.Inadditiontowidespreadunemployment,povertyandhunger,
overpopulationmadetheghettoesbreedinggroundsfordiseasesuchastyphus.
Meanwhile,beginninginthefallof1939,Naziofficialsselectedaround
70,000Germansinstitutionalizedformentalillnessordisabilitiestobe
gassedtodeathinthesocalledEuthanasiaProgram.Afterprominent
Germanreligiousleadersprotested,Hitlerputanendtotheprogramin
August1941,thoughkillingsofthedisabledcontinuedinsecrecy,andby
1945some275,000peopledeemedhandicappedfromalloverEuropehad
beenkilled.Inhindsight,itseemsclearthattheEuthanasiaProgram
functionedasapilotfortheHolocaust.

TOWARDSTHEFINALSOLUTION,19401941
Throughoutthespringandsummerof1940,theGermanarmyexpanded
HitlersempireinEurope,conqueringDenmark,Norway,theNetherlands,

Belgium,LuxembourgandFrance.Beginningin1941,Jewsfromallover
thecontinent,aswellashundredsofthousandsofEuropeanGypsies,were
transportedtothePolishghettoes.TheGermaninvasionoftheSovietUnion
inJune1941markedanewlevelofbrutalityinwarfare.Mobilekillingunits
calledEinsatzgruppenwouldmurdermorethan500,000SovietJewsand
others(usuallybyshooting)overthecourseoftheGermanoccupation.

AmemorandumdatedJuly31,1941,fromHitlerstopcommanderHermann
GoeringtoReinhardHeydrich,chiefoftheSD(thesecurityserviceofthe
SS),referredtotheneedforanEndlsung(finalsolution)totheJewish
question.BeginninginSeptember1941,everypersondesignatedasaJew
inGermanheldterritorywasmarkedwithayellowstar,makingthemopen
targets.TensofthousandsweresoonbeingdeportedtothePolishghettoes
andGermanoccupiedcitiesintheUSSR.SinceJune1941,experiments
withmasskillingmethodshadbeenongoingattheconcentrationcampof
Auschwitz,nearKrakow.ThatAugust,500officialsgassed500Soviet
POWstodeathwiththepesticideZyklonB.TheSSsoonplacedahuge
orderforthegaswithaGermanpestcontrolfirm,anominousindicatorof
thecomingHolocaust.

HOLOCAUSTDEATHCAMPS,19411945
Beginninginlate1941,theGermansbeganmasstransportsfromthe
ghettoesinPolandtotheconcentrationcamps,startingwiththosepeople
viewedastheleastuseful:thesick,oldandweakandtheveryyoung.The
firstmassgassingsbeganatthecampofBelzec,nearLublin,onMarch17,
1942.Fivemoremasskillingcenterswerebuiltatcampsinoccupied
Poland,includingChelmno,Sobibor,Treblinka,Majdanekandthelargestof
all,AuschwitzBirkenau.From1942to1945,Jewsweredeportedtothe
campsfromalloverEurope,includingGermancontrolledterritoryaswell
asthosecountriesalliedwithGermany.Theheaviestdeportationstookplace
duringthesummerandfallof1942,whenmorethan300,000peoplewere
deportedfromtheWarsawghettoalone.

ThoughtheNazistriedtokeepoperationofcampssecret,thescaleofthe
killingmadethisvirtuallyimpossible.EyewitnessesbroughtreportsofNazi
atrocitiesinPolandtotheAlliedgovernments,whowereharshlycriticized
afterthewarfortheirfailuretorespond,ortopublicizenewsofthemass
slaughter.ThislackofactionwaslikelymostlyduetotheAlliedfocuson
winningthewarathand,butwasalsoaresultofthegeneral
incomprehensionwithwhichnewsoftheHolocaustwasmetandthedenial
anddisbeliefthatsuchatrocitiescouldbeoccurringonsuchascale.At
Auschwitzalone,morethan2millionpeopleweremurderedinaprocess
resemblingalargescaleindustrialoperation.AlargepopulationofJewish
andnonJewishinmatesworkedinthelaborcampthere;thoughonlyJews
weregassed,thousandsofothersdiedofstarvationordisease.Duringthe
summerof1944,evenastheeventsofDDay(June6,1944)andaSoviet
offensivethesamemonthspelledthebeginningoftheendforGermanyin
thewar,alargeproportionofHungarysJewishpopulationwasdeportedto
Auschwitz,andasmanyas12,000Jewswerekilledeveryday.

NAZIRULECOMESTOANEND,ASHOLOCAUSTCONTINUESTO
CLAIMLIVES,1945
Bythespringof1945,Germanleadershipwasdissolvingamidinternal
dissent,withGoeringandHimmlerbothseekingtodistancethemselves
fromHitlerandtakepower.Inhislastwillandpoliticaltestament,dictated
inaGermanbunkerthatApril29,HitlerblamedthewaronInternational
JewryanditshelpersandurgedtheGermanleadersandpeopletofollow
thestrictobservanceoftheraciallawsandwithmercilessresistanceagainst
theuniversalpoisonersofallpeoplestheJews.Thefollowingday,he
committedsuicide.GermanysformalsurrenderinWorldWarIIcame
barelyaweeklater,onMay8,1945.

Germanforceshadbegunevacuatingmanyofthedeathcampsinthefallof
1944,sendinginmatesunderguardtomarchfurtherfromtheadvancing
enemysfrontline.Thesesocalleddeathmarchescontinuedalltheway
uptotheGermansurrender,resultinginthedeathsofsome250,000to
375,000people.InhisclassicbookSurvivalinAuschwitz,theItalian
JewishauthorPrimoLevidescribedhisownstateofmind,aswellasthatof

hisfellowinmatesinAuschwitzonthedaybeforeSoviettroopsarrivedat
thecampinJanuary1945:Welayinaworldofdeathandphantoms.The
lasttraceofcivilizationhadvanishedaroundandinsideus.Theworkof
bestialdegradation,begunbythevictoriousGermans,hadbeencarriedto
conclusionbytheGermansindefeat.

AFTERMATH&LASTINGIMPACTOFTHEHOLOCAUST
ThewoundsoftheHolocaustknowninHebrewasShoah,orcatastrophe
wereslowtoheal.Survivorsofthecampsfounditnearlyimpossibleto
returnhome,asinmanycasestheyhadlosttheirfamiliesandbeen
denouncedbytheirnonJewishneighbors.Asaresult,thelate1940ssawan
unprecedentednumberofrefugees,POWsandotherdisplacedpopulations
movingacrossEurope.InanefforttopunishthevillainsoftheHolocaust,
theAlliesheldtheNurembergTrialsof194546,whichbroughtNazi
atrocitiestohorrifyinglight.IncreasingpressureontheAlliedpowersto
createahomelandforJewishsurvivorsoftheHolocaustwouldleadtoa
mandateforthecreationofIsraelin1948.

Overthedecadesthatfollowed,ordinaryGermansstruggledwiththeHolocaustsbitterlegacy,assurvivors
andthefamiliesofvictimssoughtrestitutionofwealthandpropertyconfiscatedduringtheNaziyears.
Beginningin1953,theGermangovernmentmadepaymentstoindividualJewsandtotheJewishpeopleasa
wayofacknowledgingtheGermanpeoplesresponsibilityforthecrimescommittedintheirname.