The Holocaust (from the Greek holkaustos: hlos, “whole” and kausts, “burnt”), also known as the Shoah (Hebrew: , HaShoah, “the catastrophe”), was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. The victims included 1.5million children and represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe. Some definitions of the Holocaust include the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to about 11 million. Killings took place throughout Nazi Germany, German-occupied territories and territories held by allies of Nazi Germany.
From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in the deadliest genocide in history, which was part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime. Under the coordination of the SS, following directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet citizens and Soviet POWs, Romanis, communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories was used to concentrate victims for slave labor, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what Nazis termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (die Endlsung der Judenfrage), an agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe. Initially the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Nazis established a network of concentration camps starting in 1933 and ghettos following the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In 1941, as Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen murdered around two million Jews, partisans, and others often in mass shootings. By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. This continued until the end of World War II in Europe in AprilMay 1945.
Jewish armed resistance was limited. The most notable exception was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, when thousands of poorly-armed Jewish fighters held the Waffen-SS at bay for four weeks. An estimated 20,00030,000 Jewish partisans actively fought against the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe.French Jews took part in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities. Over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings took place.
The term holocaust comes from the Greek word holkauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole (olos) animal is completely burnt (kaustos).
Writing in Latin, Richard of Devizes, a 12th-century monk, was the first to use in his Chronicon de rebus gestis Ricardi Primi (1192) the term “holocaustum”. The earliest use of the word holocaust to denote a massacre recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1833 when the journalist Leitch Ritchie, describing the wars of the medieval French monarch Louis VII, wrote that he “once made a holocaust of thirteen hundred persons in a church”, a massacre by fire of the inhabitants of Vitry-le-Franois in 1142. The English poet John Milton had used the word to denote a conflagration in his 1671 poem Samson Agonistes and the word gradually developed to mean a massacre thereon. The term was used in the 1950s by historians as a translation of the Jewish word shoah to refer specifically to the Nazi genocide of Jews. The television mini-series Holocaust is credited with introducing the term into common parlance after 1978.
The biblical word shoah (; also transliterated sho’ah and shoa), meaning “calamity” became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s, especially in Europe and Israel.Shoah is preferred by some Jews for several reasons including the theologically offensive nature of the word “holocaust” which they take to refer to the Greek pagan custom.
The Nazis used the phrase “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” and the formula “Final Solution” has been widely used as a term for the genocide of the Jews.
All branches of Germany’s bureaucracy were engaged in the logistics that led to the genocides, turning the Third Reich into what one Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, has called “a genocidal state”.
Every arm of the country’s sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish; the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders; the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property; German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders.
The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics; government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps; German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria; detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company’s punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany to be reused or recycled. Berenbaum writes that the Final Solution of the Jewish question was “in the eyes of the perpetrators … Germany’s greatest achievement.”Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
Saul Friedlnder writes that: “Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews. He writes that some Christian churches declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point. Friedlnder argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because antisemitic policies were able to unfold without the interference of countervailing forces of the kind normally found in advanced societies such as industry, small businesses, churches, trade unions, and other vested interests and lobby groups.
In many other genocides, pragmatic considerations such as control of territory and resources were central to the genocide policy. Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer argues:
The basic motivation [of the Holocaust] was purely ideological, rooted in an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest. No genocide to date had been based so completely on myths, on hallucinations, on abstract, nonpragmatic ideologywhich was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means.
German historian Eberhard Jckel wrote in 1986 that one distinctive feature of the Holocaust was:
Never before had a state with the authority of its responsible leader decided and announced that a specific human group, including its aged, its women and its children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this resolution using every possible means of state power.
The killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of German-occupied territory in what are now 35 separate European countries. It was at its most severe in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than seven million Jews in 1939. About five million Jews were killed there, including three million in occupied Poland and over one million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The Wannsee Protocol makes it clear the Nazis intended to carry their “final solution of the Jewish question” to Britain and all neutral states in Europe, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.
Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated without exception. The Nazis envisioned the extermination of the Jews worldwide, not only in Germany proper, unless their grandparents had converted before 18 January 1871.
The use of extermination camps (also called “death camps”) equipped with gas chambers for the systematic mass extermination of peoples was an unprecedented feature of the Holocaust. These were established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chemno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibr, and Treblinka. They were built for the systematic killing of millions, primarily by gassing, but also by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions. Stationary facilities built for the purpose of mass extermination resulted from earlier Nazi experimentation with poison gas during the secret Action T4 euthanasia programme against mental patients.
A distinctive feature of Nazi genocide was the extensive use of human subjects in “medical” experiments. According to Raul Hilberg, “German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in terms of party membership.” Some carried out experiments at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrck, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.
The most notorious of these physicians was Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, and amputations and other surgeries. The full extent of his work is unknown as Otmar von Verschuer destroyed the truckload of records Mengele sent to him at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Subjects who survived Mengele’s experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.
Mengele worked extensively with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys and personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him “Onkel (Uncle) Mengele”. Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:
I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parentsI remember the mother’s name was Stellamanaged to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.
Yehuda Bauer and Lucy Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with antisemitism, and that there was a direct ideological link from medieval pogroms such as the Rhineland massacres to the Nazi death camps.
The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in Germany and Austria-Hungary of the Vlkisch movement developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement presented a pseudo-scientific, biologically based racism that viewed Jews as a race locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination.Vlkisch antisemitism drew upon stereotypes from Christian antisemitism but differed in that Jews were considered to be a race rather than a religion.
Friedrich Nietzsche, an opponent of antisemitism and nationalism, wrote in 1886:
The whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred. In almost all contemporary nations, thereforein direct proportion to the degree to which they act up nationalisticallythe literal obscenity of leading the Jews to slaughter as scapegoats for every conceivable public and internal misfortune is spreading.
In a speech before the Reichstag in 1895, vlkisch leader Hermann Ahlwardt called Jews “predators” and “cholera bacilli” who should be “exterminated” for the good of the German people. In his best-selling 1912 book Wenn ich der Kaiser wr (If I were the Kaiser), Heinrich Class, leader of the vlkisch group Alldeutscher Verband, urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to Fremdenrecht (alien status). Class also urged that Jews should be excluded from all aspects of German life, forbidden to own land, hold public office, or participate in journalism, banking, and the liberal professions. Class defined a Jew as anyone who was a member of the Jewish religion on the day the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 or anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent.
The first medical experimentation on humans and ethnic cleansing by Germans took place in the death camps of German South-West Africa during the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. It has been suggested that this was an inspiration for the Holocaust.
During the era of the German Empire, vlkisch notions and pseudo-scientific racism had become commonplace and were accepted throughout Germany, with the educated professional classes of the country, in particular, adopting an ideology of human inequality. Though the vlkisch parties were defeated in the 1912 Reichstag elections, being all but wiped out, antisemitism was incorporated into the platforms of the mainstream political parties. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party; NSDAP) was founded in 1920 as an offshoot of the vlkisch movement and adopted their antisemitism. In a 1986 essay, German historian Hans Mommsen wrote about the situation in postFirst World War Germany that:
If one emphasizes the indisputably important connection in isolation, one should not then force a connection with Hitler’s weltanschauung [worldview], which was in no ways original itself, in order to derive from it the existence of Auschwitz.[...] Thoughts about the extermination of the Jews had long been current, and not only for Hitler and his satraps. Many of these found their way to the NSDAP from the Deutschvlkisch Schutz-und Trutzbund [German Racial Union for Protection and Defiance], which itself had been called into life by the Pan-German Union.
Tremendous scientific and technological changes in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries together with the growth of the welfare state created widespread hopes that utopia was at hand and that soon all social problems could be solved. At the same time a racist, social Darwinist, and eugenicist world-view which declared some people to be more biologically valuable than others was common. Historian Detlev Peukert states that the Shoah did not result solely from antisemitism, but was a product of the “cumulative radicalization” in which “numerous smaller currents” fed into the “broad current” that led to genocide. After the First World War, the pre-war mood of optimism gave way to disillusionment as German bureaucrats found social problems to be more insoluble than previously thought, which in turn led them to place increasing emphasis on saving the biologically “fit” while the biologically “unfit” were to be written off.
The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I also contributed to virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated in battle, giving rise to the Stab-in-the-back myth. The myth insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and Communists, who orchestrated Germany’s surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment espoused by the myth was the apparent overrepresentation of ethnic Jews in the leadership of Communist revolutionary governments in Europe, among them Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, and in Germany itself Ernst Toller as head of a short lived revolutionary government in Bavaria, contributing to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
The economic strains of the Great Depression led many in the German medical establishment to advocate the idea of euthanization of the “incurable” mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure to free up money to care for the curable. By the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, a tendency already existed in the German social policy to save the racially “valuable” while seeking to rid society of the racially “undesirable”.
The origin and first expression of Hitler’s antisemitism remain a matter of debate. Although Hitler never wrote that he would exterminate the Jews, he was open about his hatred of them. Hitler stated in Mein Kampf that he first became an antisemite in Vienna. Also in Mein Kampf, he announced his intention of removing the Jews from Germany’s political, intellectual, and cultural life. From the early 1920s Hitler linked the Jews with bacteria and claimed that they should be dealt with in exactly the same way; in August 1920 he said that resolving “racial tuberculosis” would be solved by the removal of the “causal agent, the Jew”. In Mein Kampf again, Hitler wrote: “The nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated.” Hitler came up with the idea of poisoning the poisoners, suggesting: “If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain”. Hitler viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine and proclaimed he was fighting against “Jewish Marxism”.
During his time writing Mein Kampf, Hitler reflected on the Jewish Question and concluded that he had been too soft and in the future only the most severe measures were to be taken if there was any chance of solving it. Hitler believed the Jewish Question was not only a problem for the German people but for all peoples as “Juda is the world plague”.Ian Kershaw writes that some passages in Mein Kampf are undeniably of an inherently genocidal nature.
In 1922, Hitler allegedly told Major Joseph Hell, at the time a journalist:
Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rowsat the Marienplatz in Munich, for exampleas many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.
As early as 1933, Julius Streicher was calling for the extermination of the Jews in the Nazi newspaper Der Strmer. During the war, Streicher regularly authorized articles demanding the annihilation of the Jewish race.
Mommsen suggested there were three types of antisemitism in Germany: 1) the cultural antisemitism found among German conservatives, especially in the military officer corps as well as in the top members of the civil administration; 2) the “volkisch” antisemitism or racism which advocated using violence against the Jews; and 3) the religious anti-Judaism, particularly within the Catholic Church. The cultural antisemitism kept the ruling establishment from distancing itself or opposing the violent, racial antisemitism of the Nazis, and religious antisemitism meant that the religious establishment did not present opposition to racial persecution of the Jews.
With the establishment of the Third Reich, Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of a Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”). Nazi policies divided the population into two categories, the Volksgenossen (“national comrades”), who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde (“community aliens”), who did not. Nazi policies about repression divided people into three types of enemies, the “racial” enemies such as the Jews and the Romani who were viewed as enemies because of their “blood”; political opponents such as Marxists, liberals, Christians and the “reactionaries” who were viewed as wayward “National Comrades”; and moral opponents such as homosexuals, the “work-shy” and habitual criminals, also seen as wayward “National Comrades”. The last two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for “re-education”, with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft, though some of the moral opponents were to be sterilized, as they were regarded as “genetically inferior”.
“Racial” enemies such as the Jews could, by definition, never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be totally removed from society. German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that the National Socialists’ “goal was an utopian Volksgemeinschaft, totally under police surveillance, in which any attempt at nonconformist behaviour, or even any hint or intention of such behaviour, would be visited with terror”. Peukert quotes policy documents on the “Treatment of Community Aliens” from 1944, which (though never implemented) showed the full intentions of Nazi social policy: “persons who … show themselves [to be] unable to comply by their own efforts with the minimum requirements of the national community” were to be placed under police supervision, and if this did not reform them, they were to be taken to a concentration camp.
Leading up to the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against the opposition. With the co-operation of local authorities, they set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment of their opponents. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp primarily contained Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisonsfor example, in basements and storehouses run by the Sturmabteilung (SA) and less commonly by the Schutzstaffel (SS)were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing those Germans who did not conform to the Volksgemeinschaft. Those sent to the camps included the “educable”, whose wills could be broken into becoming “National Comrades”, and the “biologically depraved”, who were to be sterilized, were to be held permanently, and over time were increasingly subject to extermination through labor, i.e., being worked to death.
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. The Israeli historian Saul Friedlnder writes that, for the Nazis, Germany drew its strength “from the purity of its blood and from its rootedness in the sacred German earth.” On 1 April 1933, there occurred a boycott of Jewish businesses, which was the first national antisemitic campaign, initially planned for a week, but called off after one day owing to lack of popular support. In 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed which excluded all Jews and other “non-Aryans” from the civil service. All persons in the civil service had to obtain an Ariernachweis (Aryan certificate) in order to prove their Aryan ancestry. The first antisemitic law passed in the Third Reich; the Physicians’ Law; and the Farm Law, forbidding Jews from owning farms or taking part in agriculture.
Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of their offices and courtrooms and beaten. At the insistence of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler added an exemption allowing Jewish civil servants who were veterans of the First World War or whose fathers or sons had served, to remain in office, but he revoked this exemption in 1937, after Hindenburg’s death. Jews were excluded from schools and universities (the Law to Prevent Overcrowding in Schools), from belonging to the Journalists’ Association, and from being owners or editors of newspapers. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of 27 April 1933 wrote:
A self-respecting nation cannot, on a scale accepted up to now, leave its higher activities in the hands of people of racially foreign origin … Allowing the presence of too high a percentage of people of foreign origin in relation to their percentage in the general population could be interpreted as an acceptance of the superiority of other races, something decidedly to be rejected.
In July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring calling for compulsory sterilization of the “inferior” was passed. This major eugenics policy led to over 200 Hereditary Health Courts (Erbgesundheitsgerichte) being set up, under whose rulings over 400,000 people were sterilized against their will during the Nazi period.
In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which prohibited “Aryans” from having sexual relations or marriages with Jews, although this was later extended to include “Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring” (the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor), stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. At the same time the Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande (race defilement) to justify the need for a restrictive law. Hitler described the “Blood Law” in particular as “the attempt at a legal regulation of a problem, which in the event of further failure would then have through law to be transferred to the final solution of the National Socialist Party”. Hitler said that if the “Jewish problem” cannot be solved by these laws, it “must then be handed over by law to the National-Socialist Party for a final solution”. The “final solution” (Endlsung) became the standard Nazi euphemism for the extermination of the Jews. In January 1939, he said in a public speech: “If international-finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into yet another world war, the consequences will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe”. Footage from this speech was used to conclude the 1940 Nazi propaganda movie The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude), whose purpose was to provide a rationale and blueprint for eliminating the Jews from Europe.
Intellectuals were among the first Jews to leave. The philosopher Walter Benjamin left for Paris on 18 March 1933. Novelist Lion Feuchtwanger went to Switzerland. The conductor Bruno Walter fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there: the Frankfurter Zeitung explained on 6 April that Walter and fellow conductor Otto Klemperer had been forced to flee because the government was unable to protect them against the mood of the German public, which had been provoked by “Jewish artistic liquidators”.Albert Einstein was visiting the US on 30 January 1933. He returned to Ostende in Belgium, never to set foot in Germany again, and calling events there a “psychic illness of the masses”; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and his citizenship was rescinded. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Sigmund Freud and his family fled from Vienna to England. Saul Friedlnder writes that when Max Liebermann, honorary president of the Prussian Academy of Arts, resigned his position, none of his colleagues expressed sympathy, and he was still ostracized at his death two years later. When the police arrived in 1943 with a stretcher to deport his 85-year-old bedridden widow, she committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates rather than be taken.
On 7 November 1938, Jewish minor Herschel Grnspan assassinated Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris. The Nazis used this incident a pretext to go beyond legal repression to large-scale physical violence against Jewish Germans. What the Nazis claimed to be spontaneous “public outrage” was a wave of pogroms instigated by the Nazi Party and carried out by SA members and affiliates throughout Nazi Germany, at the time consisting of Germany proper, Austria, and Sudetenland. These pogroms became known as Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night” or “Night of Broken Glass”). Jews were attacked and Jewish property was vandalized. Over 7,000 Jewish shops and more than 1,200 synagogues (roughly two-thirds of the synagogues in areas under German control) were damaged or destroyed.
The death toll is assumed to be much higher than the official number of 91 dead. 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, including Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Oranienburg, where they were kept for several weeks, and released when they could either prove that they were about to emigrate in the near future, or transferred their property to the Nazis. German Jewry was made collectively responsible for restitution of the material damage of the pogroms, amounting to several hundred thousand Reichsmarks, and furthermore had to pay an “atonement tax” of more than a billion Reichsmarks. After these pogroms, Jewish emigration from Germany accelerated, while public Jewish life in Germany ceased to exist.[clarification needed]
Before the war, the Nazis considered mass deportation of German (and subsequently the European) Jewry from Europe. Hitler’s agreement to the 193839 Schacht Plan, and the continued flight of thousands of Jews for an extended period when the Schacht Plan came to nothing, indicate that the preference for a concerted genocide of the type that came later did not yet exist.
Nazi bureaucrats also developed plans to deport Europe’s Jews to Siberia. Palestine was the only location to which any Nazi relocation plan succeeded in producing significant results, via an agreement begun in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany (die Zionistische Vereinigung fr Deutschland) and the Nazi government, the Haavara Agreement. This agreement resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100million from Germany to Palestine, until the outbreak of World War II.
Hitler halted plans to reclaim former German colonies such as Tanganyika and South West Africa for Jewish resettlement, arguing that no place where “so much blood of heroic Germans had been spilled” should be made available as a residence for the “worst enemies of the Germans”. Diplomatic efforts were undertaken to convince the other colonial powers, primarily the United Kingdom and France, to accept expelled Jews in their colonies. Areas considered for possible resettlement included British Palestine, Italian Abyssinia, British Rhodesia,French Madagascar, and Australia.
Of these areas, Madagascar was the most seriously discussed. Heydrich called the Madagascar Plan a “territorial final solution”; it was a remote location, and the island’s unfavorable conditions would hasten deaths. Hitler approved in 1938 and Adolf Eichmann’s office carried out resettlement planning, but abandoned it once the mass killing of Jews had begun in 1941. The end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10 February 1942. The German Foreign Office was given the official explanation that due to the war with the Soviet Union, Jews were to be “sent to the east”.
Nazi resettlement schemes entailed taking measures to prepare the way eastwards. Ethnic Germans required more Lebensraum (“living space”) according to Nazi doctrine so population displacement (which included murder) and colonial settlement were intrinsically linked. Once the Nazis embarked on their push eastwards through Poland and later into Russia with Operation Barbarossa, there was a radicalization in the speed and brutality of their methods. Winning land from the Russian and Slavic peoples in the east was more than just territorial aggrandizement for Hitler; it was part of the final reckoning with Jewish Bolshevism.
Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 increased the urgency of the “Jewish Question”. Poland was home to about three million Jews (nearly nine percent of the Polish population) in centuries-old communities, two-thirds of whom fell under Nazi control with Poland’s capitulation.
In September 1939, Himmler appointed Reinhard Heydrich chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA). This organization was made up of seven departments, including the Security Service (SD) and Gestapo. They were to oversee the work of the SS in occupied Poland, and carry out the policy towards the Jews described in Heydrich’s report. The first organized murders of Jews by German forces occurred during Operation Tannenberg and through Selbstschutz units. Heydrich (later the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia) recommended concentrating all the Polish Jews in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. The ghettos would be in cities located on railway junctions to furnish, in Heydrich’s words, “a better possibility of control and later deportation”. During his interrogation in 1961, Adolf Eichmann recalled that this “later deportation” actually meant “physical extermination.”
I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear.
The Jews were later herded into ghettos, mostly in the General Government area of central Poland, where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office headed by Fritz Sauckel. Here many thousands died from maltreatment, disease, starvation, and exhaustion, but there was still no program of systematic killing. There is little doubt, however, that the Nazis saw forced labor as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit (“destruction through work”) was frequently used.
Although it was clear by late 1941 that the SS hierarchy was determined to embark on a policy of killing all the Jews under German control, there was still opposition to this policy within the Nazi regime, although the motive was economic, not humanitarian. Hermann Gring, who had overall control of the German war industry, and the German army’s Economics Department, argued that the enormous Jewish labor force assembled in the General Government area (more than a million able-bodied workers), was an asset too valuable to waste, particularly with Germany failing to secure rapid victory over the Soviet Union.
When Germany occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, antisemitic measures were also introduced into these countries, although the pace and severity varied greatly from country to country according to local political circumstances. Jews were removed from economic and cultural life and were subject to various restrictive laws, but physical deportation did not occur in most places before 1942. The Vichy regime in occupied France actively collaborated in persecuting French Jews. Germany’s allies Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Finland were pressured to introduce antisemitic measures, but for the most part they did not comply until compelled to do so. During the course of the war some 900 Jews and 300 Roma passed through the Banjica concentration camp in Belgrade, intended primarily for Serbian communists, royalists and others who resisted occupation. The German puppet regime in Croatia, on the other hand, began actively persecuting Jews on its own initiative, so the Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies was declared on 10 October 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia.
Though the vast majority of the Jews affected and killed during Holocaust were of Ashkenazi descent, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews suffered greatly as well.
In 1938, the Fascist Italian regime passed anti-Semitic laws which barred Jews from government jobs and government schools, and required them to stamp “Jewish race” into their passports. But these laws were not harsh enough to force Jews to leave Libya, because 25% of Tripoli’s population was Jewish, and the city had over 44 synagogues. In 1942, the Nazis occupied Benghazi’s Jewish Quarter and deported more than 2,000 Jews to Nazi labor camps. By the end of WWII, about one-fifth of those who were sent away had perished. Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Libya, the largest of which, the Giado camp, held almost 2,600 inmates, of whom 562 died of weakness, hunger, and disease. Smaller labor camps were established in Gharyan, Jeren, and Tigrinna.
Tunisia, the only North African country to come under direct Nazi occupation, had 100,000 Jews when the Nazis arrived in November 1942. During their six months of occupation, the Nazis imposed anti-Semitic policies in Tunisia, including forcing Jews to wear the Yellow Star, fines, and property confiscation. Some 5,000 Tunisian Jews were subjected to forced labor, and some were deported to European death camps. More than 2,500 Tunisian Jews died in slave labor camps during the German occupation.
On 28 September 1939, Germany gained control over the Lublin area through the German-Soviet agreement in exchange for Lithuania. According to the Nisko Plan, they set up the Lublin-Lipowa Reservation in the area. The reservation was designated by Adolf Eichmann, who was assigned the task of removing all Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. They shipped the first Jews to Lublin on 18 October 1939. The first train loads consisted of Jews deported from Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. By 30 January 1940, a total of 78,000 Jews had been deported to Lublin from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. On 12 and 13 February 1940, the Pomeranian Jews were deported to the Lublin reservation, resulting in Pomeranian Gauleiter Franz Schwede-Coburg to be the first to declare his Gau (country subdivision) judenrein (“free of Jews”). On 24 March 1940 Gring put the Nisko Plan on hold, and abandoned it entirely by the end of April. By the time the Nisko Plan was stopped, the total number of Jews who had been transported to Nisko had reached 95,000, many of whom had died from starvation.
In July 1940, due to the difficulties of supporting the increased population in the General Government, Hitler had the deportations temporarily halted.
In October 1940, Gauleiters Josef Brckel and Robert Heinrich Wagner oversaw Operation Brckel, the expulsion of the Jews into unoccupied France from their Gaues and the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed that summer to the Reich. Only those Jews in mixed marriages were not expelled. The 6,500 Jews affected by Operation Brckel were given at most two hours warning on the night of 2223 October 1940, before being rounded up. The nine trains carrying the deported Jews crossed over into France “without any warning to the French authorities”, who were not happy with receiving them. The deportees had not been allowed to take any of their possessions with them, these being confiscated by the German authorities. The German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop treated the ensuing complaints by the Vichy government over the expulsions in a “most dilatory fashion”. As a result, the Jews expelled in Operation Brckel were interned in harsh conditions by the Vichy authorities at the camps in Gurs, Rivesaltes and Les Milles while awaiting a chance to return them to Germany.
During 1940 and 1941, the murder of large numbers of Jews in German-occupied Poland continued, and the deportation of Jews to the General Government was undertaken. The deportation of Jews from Germany, particularly Berlin, was not officially completed until 1943. (Many Berlin Jews were able to survive in hiding.) By December 1939, 3.5million Jews were crowded into the General Government area.
The Third Reich first used concentration camps as places of incarceration. And though death rates were highwith a mortality rate of 50%they were not designed to be killing centers. After 1939, the camps increasingly became places where Jews and POWs were either killed or made to work as slave laborers, undernourished and tortured. By 1942, six large camps were built in Poland solely for mass killing. It is estimated Germans established 15,000 camps and subcamps in the occupied countries, mostly in eastern Europe. New camps were founded in areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communist, or Roma and Sinti populations, including inside Germany. Prisoner transportation was often carried out under horrifying conditions in rail freight cars; many died before reaching their destination.
Extermination through labor was a policy of systematic exterminationcamp inmates would literally be worked to death, or worked to physical exhaustion, when they would be gassed or shot. Slave labour was used in war production, for example producing V-2 rockets at Mittelbau-Dora, and various armaments around the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex.
Some camps tattooed prisoners with an identification number on arrival. Those fit for work were dispatched for 12- to 14-hour shifts. Roll calls before and after could sometimes last for hours; prisoners regularly died of exposure.
After invading Poland, the Nazis established ghettos in the incorporated territories and General Government to confine Jews. The ghettos were formed and closed off from the outside world at different times and for different reasons. Ghettos were intended to be temporary until the Jews were deported. But deportation never occurred. Instead, the ghettos’ inhabitants were sent to extermination camps.
Germany required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat (Jewish council). The first order establishing a council is contained in a 29 September 1939 letter from Heydrich to the heads of the Einsatzgruppen. Councils were responsible for a ghetto’s day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps. The councils’ basic strategy was one of trying to minimise losses, largely by cooperating with Nazi authorities (or their surrogates), accepting the increasingly terrible treatment, bribery, petitioning for better conditions, and clemency. Overall, to try and mitigate still worse cruelty and death, “the councils offered words, money, labor, and finally lives.”
The ultimate test of each Judenrat was the demand to compile lists of names of deportees to be murdered. Though the predominant pattern was compliance with even this final task, some council leaders insisted that not a single individual should be handed over who had not committed a capital crime. Leaders who refused to compile a list, such as Joseph Parnas in Lviv, were shot. On 14 October 1942, the entire council of Byaroza committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations.Adam Czerniakw in Warsaw killed himself on 23 July 1942 when he could take no more as the final liquidation of the ghetto got under way. Others, like Chaim Rumkowski, who became the “dedicated autocrat” of d, argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved, and that therefore others had to be sacrificed.
The councils’ importance in facilitating Germany’s persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was not lost on the Nazis: one official was emphatic that “the authority of the Jewish council be upheld and strengthened under all circumstances”, another that “Jews who disobey instructions of the Jewish council are to be treated as saboteurs.” When cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council’s authority, the Germans lost control.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people; the d Ghetto was second, holding 160,000. They were, in effect, immensely crowded prisons serving as instruments of “slow, passive murder.” Though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of Warsaw’s population, it occupied only 2.4% of the city’s area, averaging 9.2 people per room.
Between 1940 and 1942, starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed hundreds of thousands. Over 43,000 Warsaw ghetto residents, or one in ten of the total population, died in 1941; in Theresienstadt, more than half the residents died in 1942.
The Germans came, the police, and they started banging houses: “Raus, raus, raus, Juden raus.” … [O]ne baby started to cry … The other baby started crying. So the mother urinated in her hand and gave the baby a drink to keep quiet … [When the police had gone], I told the mothers to come out. And one baby was dead … from fear, the mother [had] choked her own baby.
Himmler ordered the start of the deportations on 19 July 1942, and three days later, on 22 July, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began; over the next 52 days, until 12 September 300,000 people from Warsaw alone were transported in freight trains to the Treblinka extermination camp. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated.
The first ghetto uprising occurred in September 1942 in the small town of achwa in southeast Poland. Although there were armed resistance attempts in the larger ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Biaystok Ghetto Uprising, in every case they failed against the overwhelming Nazi military force, and the remaining Jews were either killed or deported to the death camps.
A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the Second World War. The Nazis encouraged some and others were spontaneous. Notable are the Iai pogrom in Romania on 30 June 1941, in which as many as 14,000 Jews were killed by Romanian residents and police. In the infamous series of Lviv pogroms committed in occupied Poland by nationalists from the Ukrainian People’s Militia in Lww (now, Ukraine), some 6,000 Polish Jews were murdered in the streets between 30 June and 29 July 1941, on top of 3,000 arrests and mass shootings by Einsatzgruppe C. Other pogroms perpetrated by the Ukrainian militia in Polish provincial capitals included uck and Tarnopol. During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, in the presence of the Nazi Ordnungspolizei 300 Jews were burned to death in a locked barn by local Poles, which was preceded by German execution of 40 Jewish men at the same location.[a]
Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase in the Holocaust. Even before the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops had been indoctrinated with anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic ideology via movies, radio, lectures, books and leaflets. Following the invasion, Wehrmacht officers told their soldiers to target people who were described as “Jewish Bolshevik subhumans”, the “Mongol hordes”, the “Asiatic flood” and the “red beast”. Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Bolsheviks, Jews, Romani and Slavic Untermenschen (“sub-humans”). Hitler on 30 March 1941 described the war with the Soviet Union as a “war of annihilation”. The pace of extermination intensified after the Nazis occupied Lithuania, where close to 80% of the country’s 220,000 Jews were exterminated before year’s end. The Soviet territories occupied by early 1942, including all of Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova and most Russian territory west of the line LeningradMoscowRostov, were inhabited at the start of the war by about three million Jews.
Due to shortage of manpower, an order of February 1943 forbid anyone to characterize the peoples of Eastern Europe as “beasts,” “subhumans” or other derogatory descriptions in order to gain their support in “the struggle against Bolshevism.” Local populations in some occupied Soviet territories actively participated in the killings of Jews and others. But it was ultimately the Germans who organized and channelled these local efforts. Many of the collaborators who participated in the killings of Jews enlisted in the Waffen-SS. In Lithuania, Latvia, and western Ukraine locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the very beginning of the German occupation. The Latvian Arajs Kommando is an example of an auxiliary unit involved in these killings. Some of these Latvian and Lithuanian units left their own countries to murder Jews in Belarus. In the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews and some went to Poland to serve as concentration and death-camp guards.Ustae militia in Croatia also persecuted and murdered Jews, among others.
Many of the mass killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice. German witnesses to these killings emphasized the locals’ participation.
The mass killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was assigned to SS formations called Einsatzgruppen (“task groups”), which were under Heydrich’s overall command. These had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but were organized in the Soviet territories on a much larger scale. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to the Baltic area, Einsatzgruppe B to Belarus, Einsatzgruppe C to north and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D to Moldova, south Ukraine, Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus. The Einsatzgruppen’s commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals, most were intellectuals, and they brought to bear all their skills and training in becoming efficient killers.
According to Otto Ohlendorf at his trial, “the Einsatzgruppen had the mission to protect the rear of the troops by killing the Jews, Gypsies, Communist functionaries, active Communists, and all persons who would endanger the security.” In practice, their victims were nearly all defenseless Jewish civilians (not a single Einsatzgruppe member was killed in action during these operations). By December 1941, the four Einsatzgruppen had killed, respectively, 125,000, 45,000, 75,000, and 55,000 peoplea total of 300,000 peoplemainly by shooting or with hand grenades at mass-killing sites outside the major towns.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides the account of one survivor of the Einsatzgruppen in Piryatin, Ukraine, where the Germans killed 1,600 Jews on 6 April 1942, the second day of Passover:
I saw them do the killing. At 5:00pm they gave the command, “Fill in the pits.” Screams and groans were coming from the pits. Suddenly I saw my neighbor Ruderman rise from under the soil … His eyes were bloody and he was screaming: “Finish me off!” … A murdered woman lay at my feet. A boy of five years crawled out from under her body and began to scream desperately. “Mommy!” That was all I saw, since I fell unconscious.
The most notorious massacre of Jews in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 293 September 1941. The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor Major-General Friedrich Eberhardt, the Police Commander for Army Group South SS-Obergruppenfhrer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. A mixture of SS, SD, and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not participate in the killings, men of the 6th Army played a key role in rounding up the Jews of Kiev and transporting them to be shot at Babi Yar.
On 29 September Kiev’s Jews gathered by the cemetery as ordered, expecting to be loaded onto trains. The crowd was large enough that most of the men, women, and children could not have known what was happening until it was too late; by the time they heard the machine gun fire, there was no chance to escape. All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and shot. A truck driver described the scene:
one after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and outer garments and also underwear … Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.
In August 1941 Himmler travelled to Minsk, where he personally witnessed 100 Jews being shot in a ditch outside the town. Karl Wolff described the event in his diary: “Himmler’s face was green. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his cheek where a piece of brain had squirted up onto it. Then he vomited. After recovering his composure, Himmler lectured the SS men on the need to follow the “highest moral law of the Party” in carrying out their tasks.
Germany usually justified the Einsatzgruppen’s massacres on the grounds of anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the German historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this was merely an excuse for the German Army’s considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia. He wrote in 1989 that the terms “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” were indeed correct labels for what happened. Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2million defenseless men, women, and children based on a racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.
Army co-operation with the SS in anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and intensive. In mid-1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Hermann Fegelein, killed 699 Red Army soldiers, 1,100 partisans, and 14,178 Jews during the course of “anti-partisan” operations in the Pripyat Marshes. Before the operation, Fegelein had been ordered to shoot all adult Jews and herd the women and children into the marshes. After the operation, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the rear areas of Army Group Center, ordered that all Wehrmacht security divisions should emulate Fegelein’s example when on anti-partisan duty, and organized a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar on how best to kill Jews. The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews before the assembled officers at a village called Knjashizy as an example of how to “screen” the population for partisans.
As the war diary of the Battalion 322 read:
The action, first scheduled as a training exercise, was carried out under real-life conditions (ernstfallmssig) in the village itself. Strangers, especially partisans could not be found. The screening of the population, however resulted in 13 Jews, 27 Jewish women and 11 Jewish children, of which 13 Jews and 19 Jewish women were shot in co-operation with the Security Service
Based on what they had learned during the Mogilev seminar, one Wehrmacht officer told his men: “Where the partisan is, there is the Jew and where the Jew is, there is the partisan”.
Head of the OKW, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, in an order on 12 September 1941, declared:
The struggle against Bolshevism demands ruthless and energetic, rigorous action above all against the Jews, the main carriers of Bolshevism.
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