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The Holocaust

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The Holocaust
Part of
gas chambers. Camp prisoners are visible in their striped uniforms.[1]
LocationGerman Reich and German-occupied Europe
DescriptionGenocide of the European Jews
Attack type
DeathsAround 6 million Jews[a]
PerpetratorsAdolf Hitler
Nazi Germany and its collaborators
List of major perpetrators of the Holocaust
Trial of Adolf Eichmann, and others

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah,

Germany implemented the persecution in stages. Following Adolf Hitler's appointment as chancellor on 30 January 1933, the regime built a network of concentration camps in Germany for political opponents and those deemed "undesirable", starting with Dachau on 22 March 1933.[6] After the passing of the Enabling Act on 24 March,[7] which gave Hitler dictatorial plenary powers, the government began isolating Jews from civil society; this included boycotting Jewish businesses in April 1933 and enacting the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. On 9–10 November 1938, eight months after Germany annexed Austria, Jewish businesses and other buildings were ransacked or set on fire throughout Germany and Austria on what became known as Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass"). After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, triggering World War II, the regime set up ghettos to segregate Jews. Eventually, thousands of camps and other detention sites were established across German-occupied Europe.

The segregation of Jews in ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the

death marches. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe
in May 1945.

The Holocaust is understood as being primarily the genocide of the Jews, but during the Holocaust era[8] (1933–1945), systematic mass-killings of other population groups occurred. These included Roma, Poles, Ukrainians, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, and other targeted populations. Smaller groups were also victims of deadly Nazi persecution, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Black Germans, disabled people, communists, and homosexuals.[9][10]

Terminology and scope


The first recorded use of the term holocaust in its modern sense was in 1895 by The New York Times to describe the massacre of Armenian Christians by Ottoman forces.[11] The term comes from the Greek: ὁλόκαυστος, romanizedholókaustos; ὅλος hólos, "whole" + καυστός kaustós, "burnt offering".[d] The biblical term shoah (Hebrew: שׁוֹאָה), meaning "calamity" (and also used to refer to "destruction" since the Middle Ages), became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of the European Jews. According to Haaretz, the writer Yehuda Erez may have been the first to describe events in Germany as the shoah. Davar and later Haaretz both used the term in September 1939.[13][e]

On 3 October 1941 the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", apparently to refer to the situation in France,[15] and in May 1943 the New York Times, discussing the Bermuda Conference, referred to the "hundreds of thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi Holocaust".[16] In 1968 the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)".[17]

The term was popularised in the United States by the

Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage).[22]


Holocaust historians commonly define the Holocaust as the genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1941 and 1945.[a] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favor a definition that includes the Jews, Roma, and disabled people: "the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity".[31][g]

Other groups targeted after Hitler became

Roma, and the disabled), and those targeted because of their beliefs or behavior (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and homosexuals).[10] Peter Hayes writes that the persecution of these groups was less uniform than that of the Jews. For example, the Nazis' treatment of the Slavs consisted of "enslavement and gradual attrition", while some Slavs were favored; Hayes lists Bulgarians, Croats, Slovaks, and some Ukrainians.[24] In contrast, according to historian Dan Stone, Hitler regarded the Jews as "a Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race' ... not really human at all".[9]

Distinctive features

Genocidal state

The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what

crematoria.[36] As prisoners entered the death camps, they surrendered all personal property,[41] which was cataloged and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling.[42] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.[43]

Medical experiments

Doctors' trial
, Nuremberg, 9 December 1946 – 20 August 1947

At least 7,000 camp inmates were subjected to medical experiments; most died during them or as a result.

Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, sought to uncover strategies to counteract chemical weapons, survive harsh environments, develop new vaccines and drugs and treat wounds. Many men and women were also involuntarily sterilized.[44]

After the war, 23 senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg with crimes against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors, and biomedical researchers.[45] The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943.[46] Interested in genetics,[46] and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects on the ramp from the new arrivals during "selection" (to decide who would be gassed immediately and who would be used as slave labor), shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!).[47] The twins would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem.[48][i]


Antisemitism and the völkisch movement

Antisemitic Christian Social Party placard from the 1920 Austrian legislative election: "Vote Social Christian. German Christians Save Austria!"[50]

Throughout the

National Socialist German Workers' Party) originated as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism.[54]

Germany after World War I, Hitler's world view

After World War I (1914–1918), many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated. A stab-in-the-back myth developed, insinuating that disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.[55]

Early antisemites in the Nazi Party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving force behind communism.[56] Central to Hitler's world view was the idea of expansion and Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe for German Aryans, a policy of what Doris Bergen called "race and space". Open about his hatred of Jews, he subscribed to common antisemitic stereotypes.[57] From the early 1920s onwards, he compared the Jews to germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany.[58]

Rise of Nazi Germany

Dictatorship and repression (January 1933)

Israel's Department Store, Berlin, 1 April 1933. All signs read: "Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews!"[59]

With the appointment in January 1933 of

seizure of power, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community").[60] Nazi policies divided the population into two groups: the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the "racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma; political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists, liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades"; and moral opponents, such as gay men, the work-shy, and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be removed from society.[61]

Before and after the

March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents,[62] setting up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment.[63] One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 22 March 1933.[64] Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats.[65] Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS.[66] The camps served as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not support the regime.[67]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted.[68] On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses.[69] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service.[70] Jews were disbarred from practicing law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms.[71] In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers; Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials.[72] Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities.[70] Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans; of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers,[73] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions.[74] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only."[75]

Sterilization Law, Aktion T4

Office of Racial Policy of the Nazi Party."[76]

The economic strain of the Great Depression led Protestant charities and some members of the German medical establishment to advocate compulsory sterilization of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled,[77] people the Nazis called Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life).[78] On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed.[79][80] The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized".[81] There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization.[82] Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.[83]

In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized

Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered.[85] T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the euthanasia of children was also carried out.[86] Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. There were also dedicated killing centers, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp.[87] Overall, the number of mentally and physically disabled people murdered was about 150,000.[88]

Although not ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions were involved in the planning and carrying out of Aktion T4.[89] In August 1941, after protests from Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, Hitler canceled the T4 program,[90] although disabled people continued to be killed until the end of the war.[88] The medical community regularly received bodies for research; for example, the University of Tübingen received 1,077 bodies from executions between 1933 and 1945. The German neuroscientist Julius Hallervorden received 697 brains from one hospital between 1940 and 1944: "I accepted these brains of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was really none of my business."[91]

Nuremberg Laws, Jewish emigration

Croydon airport, England, 31 March 1939, before deportation[92]