The Holocaust was the genocide of European Jews and others during World War II.
Nazi Germany and its collaborators murdered six million Jews, two-thirds of the nine million Jews in Europe.
The killings were carried out through forced labor under barbaric conditions in concentration camps, mass shootings, and gas chambers in extermination camps.
One of the largest camps, a complex of more than 40 concentration and extermination camps, was Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, where approximately one million people were killed.
In addition to six million Jews, the Nazis also murdered millions of other people including Slavic peoples, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, political prisoners, criminals, people with disabilities, homosexuals, and other people deemed “undesirable.” Exact numbers are unknown. The largest numbers of non-Jews killed were Russians, Poles, and other Slavic peoples (these peoples also included many Jews). See Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution.
The National Socialist party in Germany (Nazi) was formed after World War I and led by Adolf Hitler beginning in 1921. The eugenics movement was widespread at the time, and racist theories were central to Nazi party dogma:
The Nazis … believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
Eventually the Nazis developed a response to this perceived threat that they called the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” They would kill all the Jews in Europe.
The Nazis came to power in January 1933. The first concentration camp, Dachau, was opened in March 1933, initially for political prisoners. Jews and other “undesirables” were increasingly isolated from German society, including being sent to concentration camps, especially after the racist Nuremburg Laws of 1935, the German annexation of Austria in March 1938, and Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) in November 1938.
World War II in Europe began in September 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded, conquered, and dismembered Poland. In April and May 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The German army entered Paris in June 1940. The Battle of Britain began in July 1940.
Heavy fighting continued throughout the remainder of 1940 and into subsequent years. The Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Germany and its other allies invaded Egypt, Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. A major change in the war occurred in June 1941 when Germany turned on its former ally and invaded the Soviet Union.
The United States entered World War II in December 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but President Franklin Roosevelt had been speaking publicly for more than a year of the need to prepare for war with Germany. See Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.
After the invasion of Poland, the Nazis began confining Jews in ghettos. Nazi leadership adopted the Final Solution in January 1942. The deliberate and systematic genocide of European Jews continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945 as German defeat loomed.
The image shown above is the yellow badge in the shape of the Star of David that the Nazis required Jews to wear in public beginning after the invasion of Poland in September 1939. The badge was meant to identify, isolate, and humiliate Jews. In Germany the badge said “Jude” (German for Jew) in mock-Hebrew script.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC opened in 1993 and has welcomed more than 40 million visitors. The Museum’s role is to:
memorialize the victims, teach the history and lessons of the Holocaust, and work to prevent future genocides.
The digital resources on the Museum’s website include a Holocaust Encyclopedia.
The Vermont Holocaust Memorial was founded in 2017. It is not a physical museum, but a group of people with stories, traveling exhibits, and a website. They are especially active in schools. The Memorial was founded by children of Holocaust survivors (now deceased) who tell the stories of their parents’ generation.
“And you shall tell your children.”
I have added a “Holocaust” tag on the blog to link past and future posts on this topic.