"There was a sign 'to disinfection'. He said 'you see, they are bringing children now'. They opened the door, threw the children in and closed the door. There was a terrible cry.
A member of the SS climbed on the roof. The people went on crying for about ten minutes. Then the prisoners opened the doors. Everything was in disorder and contorted. Heat was given off. The bodies were loaded on a rough wagon and taken to a ditch. The next batch were already undressing in the huts. After that I didn't look at my wife for four weeks."
From the testimony of SS private Boeck (Langbein, quoted in Pressac, 181)
To write all about the Holocaust in one writeup would be close to impossible, and so I will not even begin to attempt it. I will write briefly about each aspect of the Holocaust and then refer you to relevant writeups for details. I believe that in this way, by reading this writeup, you will get a good general understanding of the Holocaust, and for the details you can follow the links.
Not all the writeups in the links have been filled in yet. The ones not yet filled in are small. So if you fill in a link, or find that one was filled please /msg me. Links with brackets are ones that I think that are seriously lacking for content. In bold are ones I consider to be the most important in the topic.
In memory of over 1 million children who died at the hands of the Nazis.
'Holocaust' means roughly 'a sacrifice by fire
'. The Holocaust
was the systematic persecution
of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime
and its collaborators. Note that the Holocaust does not only refer to murder
, but to the treatment of the Jewish people under the Nazi regime, the most prominent of course being the murder of six million Jews. It should also be noted that many other groups were also targeted by the Nazis - gypsies
), the handicapped
, Jehova's Witnesses
and others. And mostly for the same reason. The Nazis considered themselves racially superior
, and thus all other 'inferior' races were to be separated and destroyed.
A semantic technicality - there are several different definitions to 'The Holocaust'. Some people consider the persecution and murder of non-Jews as part of the Holocaust, and others use the term 'The Holocaust' to refer specifically to the murder of 6 million Jews. The most accepted definition is the treatement of the Jews by the Nazis from when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany (January 30, 1933) to when Germany surrendered (May 8, 1945). In any case we have to remember the pain of all who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Events leading up to the Holocaust
did not begin with the Holocaust. In fact, antisemitism was widespread in Germany
in general long before Hitler
's rise to power. Pogrom
s were widespread in Russia
, the Ukraine
, and Poland
, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was because of the deep roots of anti-semitism in many European countries, that the Nazis found collaborators in all the countries they controlled.
Hitler used and inflamed antisemitism. The Nazi Party, founded in 1919, distributed anti-Jewish propaganda. Hitler's book Mein Kampf, calls for the removal of Jews from Germany. As soon as Hitler came to power, many anti-Jewish events took place, like the burning of books written by Jews. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed. In these laws, Jews were formally defined and separated from 'Aryans'. Progressively, more and more laws were passed against the Jews, further separating them from German society, and removing more and more privileges, and eventually leaving them devoid of any.
Kristallnacht, in 1938, was a major turning point. It was a state-supported pogrom of Jews, Jewish stores and synagogues. Kristallnacht marked the 'taking off of the gloves'.
The ghettos served to separate the Jews from the rest of society. Ghettos were sealed off by walls and barbed-wire fences
. Jews were forced to live in the ghettos, in unspeakable conditions. When Germany invaded Poland
in 1939, Reinhard Heydrich
immediately issued an order to erect ghettos
in Poland. The first was opened in Piotrkow
, and soon others followed, the most famous being the Warsaw ghetto
, where half a million Jews were confined, but there were many others. Overall there were over 400 ghettos in Nazi-occupied territories.
In the ghettos, there was a curfew, Jews were forced to wear an identifying arm band (with the Star of David), and food was sparsely rationed. Living conditions were terrible, and there was overcrowding. This led many thousands to die of starvation and epidemics. Many Jews were forced to work for the Nazis in and about the ghetto. There were several uprisings in ghettos, the most famous of which being the Warsaw ghetto uprising. With the implementation of the Final solution, ghettos were closed off as Jews were sent to extermination camps (see the section on the Final Solution and Extermination Camps).
Concentration Camps and Forced Labour
The first concentration camp
, was opened on March 22, 1933
, only six weeks after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany
. Camps housed political prisoners
at first - communists and social democrats
, and later housed also those considered inferior
- Jews, gypsies, handicapped. The camps were known for their sadism
, and from the beginning, inmates were brutally murdered
In some concentration camps, such as Dachau, 'medical' experiments were cruelly practiced on inmates; experiments such as testing the reaction of the body to extremely low temperature, or Josef Mengele's famous twin studies in Auschwitz. After annexing Austria in 1938, the Nazis began rounding up Jews and imprisoning them in Dachau, Buchenwald and Saschsenhausen. Part of the concentration camps were labour camps. In fact, Nazis forced Jews (and others) to do work for them even before the war. Jews, POWs and others were forced to work inside and outside the camps. Many were literally (and officially) worked to death. For example, in Mauthausen, prisoners were forced to run up the 186 steps of the stone quarry carrying boulders. In the Lodz ghetto, the Nazis opened no less than 96 factories, run by forced labour.
The ability to work temporarily saved men. When the Final Solution was implemented, all those unable to work were often immediately executed. Upon arrival at the death camps, those unable to do work - the old, the ill and children were often taken immediately to the gas chambers, while those who could work did, until they died or became too weak, when they, too were executed.
Prisoners in concentration camps wore patches on their clothes to indicate what they were: Jews wore yellow Stars of David, homosexuals wore pink triangles, political prisoners wore red triangles, and others wore other triangles of designated colors. Prisoners breaking any of the camp rules were flogged, had rations withheld, were beaten or shot. Some resistance groups formed, and revolts broke out in some camps. Notable are the uprisings in Sobibor and Treblinka (both extermination camps - see next section). Still, most of the revolters and escapers in both cases were shot.
The Final Solution and Extermination Camps
The Final Solution is the name given to the Nazis' plan to exterminate all European Jews. It is uncertain exactly when the Nazis decided on the Final Solution
, but on July 31, 1941
, Hermann Goering
authorized Reinhard Heydrich
to make preparations for the implementation of a "complete solution of the Jewish question." On January 20, 1942, fifteen high-ranking Nazi party and German government leaders gathered for the Wannsee Conference
, a meeting to discuss the implementation of the Final Solution. No one at the conference objected to the idea.
The mass murder of Jews began much earlier than the conference. After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units, began to systematically murder the Jewish population.
Chelmno was the first extermination camp. The first method by which the Nazis mass murdered the Jews (other than shooting) was with gas vans. Gas vans had been used in the T4 euthanasia program, in which mental patients were murdered by lethal injection or by gas vans. The Nazis decided to use them for the Jews too. Later, 5 more extermination camps were opened, each with its own gas chambers, and most with crematoriums. They were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
When the final solution was implemented, ghettos were closed and Jews shipped to the extermination centres. They were sent by train and many died during the journey, as they were too weak and the trains were too crowded. Each camp was slightly different, but upon arrival to the extermination camps, most would be sent to the gas chambers (some would be selected for labour). The prisoners would be told to strip naked, and their belongings would be taken. They were then sent to the gas chambers. Usually, they were told that they would be taking a shower, in order to prevent resistance. Bodies would then either be cremated or buried in mass graves.
Auschwitz-Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II), was the biggest extermination camp. Between September 1941 and November 1944, over one million Jews were killed in the gas chambers, which on some days killed as many as 8,000 men.
Death Marches and Liberation
As Germany was coming close to being defeated
, they wanted to hide their atrocities
from the allies
. They started evacuating the concentration camps, and marching the prisoners deeper
into Germany. These marches were done at the end of 1944 and the start of 1945, during the winter, and many prisoners literally froze to death. Many others died of fatigue
. SS guards
were authorized to shoot those who could not keep up, and they left a trail of bodies
. These marches lasted until virtually the last day of the war. Nine days before the soviets arrived at Auschwitz
, the Germans marched 60,000 prisoners to Wodzislaw
, thirty five miles away, to be put on trains to other camps, further from the front. About 15,000 died during the march.
As the Nazis realized that soon the camps would be reached, they attempted to destroy the evidence. They set fire to crematoriums and gas chambers, and attempted to destroy evidence of the mass graves. Also, through the death marches, they managed to largely empty many camps. When the Soviets reached Auschwitz, they liberated only about 7,000 prisoners. The liberators of the camps were unprepared for the horrors that lay before them - prisoners in terrible physical conditions, piles of unburied bodies, piles of clothing, bones and hair from the victims.
After liberation, many liberated prisoners died in the weeks that followed from the effects of malnutrition and from disease. It was only after liberation that the true horror of the Nazis' actions was exposed to the world.
After the Holocaust
After liberation, anti-semintism persisted in Europe. The worst pogrom was in Kielce
, where 42 Jews were killed. Many Jews refused to return to their homes because of the anti-semitism. Many had no homes, and no family, as two thirds of the European Jewish population had been killed in the war. Many Jews emigrated to Palestine
, and later, to Israel
War trials began for war criminals. Between October 18, 1945 and October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal tried 22 major war criminals on charges including war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The most famous of the trials were the Nuremberg Trials. In 1947, Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Hess (or Hoess) was sentenced to death by a Polish court. Most Nazis, however, received much lighter sentences, or none at all.
Another world-famous trial was the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who was tried in Jerusalem in 1961, after being captured in Argentina by the mossad and brought to Israel. Eichmann was sentenced to death.
Although the Holocaust is over, its echoes are still heard today. Some Nazi hunters
haven't given up the fight and are still looking for Nazis in hiding. The most famous nazi hunter is Simon Wiesenthal
All victims of the Holocaust still bear the scars. There are many great museums and books dedicated to the subject. The most famous museum is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. There are a lot of rememberance activities in the world, and a notable one is the March of the Living, which brings together world teens for various activities, including a walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau - the same march that thousands made on their way to be murdered.
For the sake of completeness, a list of people who were prominent
during the Holocaust or were made famous during or because of it.
Films / Books / Plays
The following list is incomplete, as so many books have been written and movies and short movies made about the Holocaust. I will try to bring forth the most famous / influential ones.
The following are mostly E2 links that are directed related to the Holocaust, yet do not belong anywhere above:
Links of topics related to the Holocaust, that will be of good background reading.
Due to the massive amounts of information related to this w/u, I may have forgotten some important information / links. Message me with suggestions, corrections and additions. Thanks.
Other than my own knowledge of the Holocaust, I used the following:
- The Pillar Of Fire
- Yad Vashem