On the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, we have this special report – Remember the Holocaust for us to learn about the history of the Holocaust and to remember the victims and learn never to do or support or stay silent in the face of something like that ever.

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Holocaust, the almost complete destruction of Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II (1939-1945). The leadership of Germany’s Nazi Party ordered the extermination of 5.6 million to 5.9 million Jews. Jews often refer to the Holocaust as Shoah (from the Hebrew word for “catastrophe” or “total destruction”). The word holocaust derives from the Greek holo (whole) and caustos (burned) and originally referred to a burnt offering, or a religious sacrifice that is totally consumed by fire.

The Holocaust was the worst genocide in history. Those who carried it out methodically created the means to efficiently round up and kill millions of people. The Holocaust led to the establishment of international laws against human rights violations.

Jews were not the only victims of the Nazis during World War II. The Nazis also imprisoned and killed people who opposed their regime on grounds of ideology; Roma (Gypsies); Germans who were mentally impaired or physically disabled; homosexuals; and captured Soviet soldiers.


For many centuries Christians in Europe discriminated against Jews. Many harbored a prejudice against Jews that is known as anti-Semitism. Some scholars view anti-Semitism as a religious prejudice. Others regard it as an anti-Jewish variety of a general hatred directed against ethnic minorities.

In the minds of anti-Semites, Jews represent mysterious, mythical, and evil forces; are all-powerful; and play a sinister role in world history. In the Middle Ages, Christian anti-Jewish preaching sought to prevent contacts with Jews, and many Christians believed that Jews were in league with the Devil. Christians blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Many believed that Jews were not human and that they used magic to appear like other people. All these beliefs merged with popular superstitions about the magical power of human blood, sorcery, and perversity, giving rise to the blood libel—the false accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their rituals. Such stereotypes of the Jews interacted in the minds of many Europeans with fear of foreigners and combined with economic and social frictions. As a result, anti-Jewish violence frequently erupted. The Christian church and various governments enacted laws that prohibited Jews from engaging in certain occupations, forced them to live in certain areas, kept them from attending universities, or even expelled them from various countries.

For many centuries the Roman Catholic Church taught anti-Jewish beliefs and attitudes. The anti-Jewish teachings of the Catholic Church did not advocate the killing of Jews. However, the propagation of hatred, insults, degradation, and often demonization of Jews induced many Catholics to accept anti-Semitic measures when the Nazis and their collaborators introduced them in the 20th century.

The same was true of Protestant churches. The pamphlet “On the Jews and their Lies,” written by German religious reformer Martin Luther in 1542, used extremely violent language. It called on Christians to set synagogues on fire, to destroy Jewish houses, and to put Jews in stables, and it advised rulers to banish Jews from their countries. Luther’s writings had a significant influence on German Protestant theologians and also contributed to a climate of opinion that condoned or approved persecution of Jews.

In the 19th century, Jews in most European countries were emancipated—that is, they were granted rights equal to those of the Christian citizens or subjects of those countries. The Industrial Revolution was under way, and Jews began playing a significant role as entrepreneurs in the newly developing industries and businesses. The rapid social and economic mobility and cultural advancement of European Jews during this period made them one of the most visible symbols of modernization. Individuals who opposed 19th-century modernization—ranging from aristocrats to peasants—perceived the Jews as a destructive force. Traditional attitudes that persisted after Jewish emancipation and new images of the Jews both merged with contemporary frustrations and angers resulting from the social changes brought on by capitalism.

In the second half of the 19th century, modern anti-Semitism penetrated Catholic political circles and parties. The Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, published in Rome, continuously spread anti-Semitic prejudices whose influence ranged far beyond Italy. In Austria the Christian Social Party, which enjoyed the backing of the Catholic Church, had strong anti-Semitic elements and revived the blood libel. In France the Catholic press propagated anti-Jewish sentiments, especially at the time of the Dreyfus affair, a controversy involving a Jewish officer in the French army who was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894.

By the mid-19th century a new social theory had emerged in Europe: the theory of race. According to this theory, humanity was divided into “higher” and “lower” races. In the view of those who believed in this theory, the Jews were a mongrel race—and a mortal threat to the “purity” of the “higher” races.

The appearance of anti-Jewish parties and organizations, whether they were based on economic, religious, or racist principles, or a combination of all of these, constitutes the most important distinguishing feature of modern political anti-Semitism. Such parties came to the fore especially in Germany in the 1880s. In the Russian Empire anti-Semitism became an official policy of the government, which in 1881 and 1882 encouraged anti-Jewish mob attacks, or pogroms. The first international congress of anti-Semites convened in 1882 in the German city of Dresden. By the start of the 20th century there were many committed anti-Semites throughout Europe, particularly in France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Romania. Although anti-Semitic parties did not receive many votes, anti-Semitism was not only widespread but also socially acceptable.

The emergence of nation-states in eastern Europe following the collapse of the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian empires after World War I (1914-1918) brought an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism. Both individuals and governments carried out acts of hostility against Jews. Many of the leaders of Russia’s Communist-led Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 were Jewish, supplying anti-Communist conservatives in many countries with new anti-Semitic ammunition. In the period between the end of World War I and the start of World War II, anti-Semitic measures became official state policy in some countries. In countries such as Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, traditional anti-Judaism merged with new views of Jews as carriers of Communism.


Many Germans blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I, some even claiming that German Jews had betrayed the nation during the war. In addition, at the end of the war a Communist group attempted to carry out a Bolshevik-type revolution in the German state of Bavaria. Most of the leaders of that failed attempt were Jews. As a result, some Germans associated Jews with Bolsheviks and regarded both groups as dangerous enemies of Germany. After the war, a republic known as the Weimar Republic was set up in Germany. Jewish politicians and intellectuals played an important role in German life during the Weimar Republic, and many non-Jews resented their influence.

On the basis of his anti-Semitic views, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler attacked the impressive role Jews played in German society during the Weimar Republic, especially in the intellectual world and in left-wing politics. He referred to them as a plague and a cancer. In his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle, translated 1939), which was published in 1926, Hitler blamed the plight of Germany at the end of World War I on an international Jewish conspiracy and used terms such as extirpation and extermination in relation to the Jews. He claimed that the Jews had achieved economic dominance and the ability to control and manipulate the mass media to their own advantage. He wrote of the need to eradicate their powerful economic position, if necessary by means of their physical removal.


The linking of anti-Semitic accusations to race struggle is what made Nazism so genocidal. The Nazis believed the Jews were responsible for what they regarded as the degeneracy of modern society. Hitler viewed modern ideologies that stressed equality and emancipation as a revolt of inferior classes and peoples led by the Jews. The Nazis viewed Bolshevism as the most radical recent form of the ancient Jewish conspiracy that would lead to national dissolution and disintegration. For Hitler, Nazism was thus a doctrine of world salvation to redeem humanity from the Jewish-Bolshevik doctrine. He believed that the German race had to acquire and maintain total supremacy through total war against the Jews. Such a war would be a fight in which the only alternatives, for either side, were victory or extinction.


Until 1929 the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP), as the Nazi Party was officially called, was a small political party. Then, in the parliamentary elections of 1930, the party received more than 18 percent of the total votes cast, compared to about 2.5 percent in 1928. The bulk of the votes for the Nazis came from the middle classes and the well-to-do rather than from workers and unemployed people. The major factors in the Nazis’ electoral success were lingering anger at Germany’s military collapse toward the end of World War I; resentment toward the Versailles treaty, which had ended the war and imposed harsh conditions on Germany; the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s; fear of the spread of Communism; and Hitler’s charismatic personality.

By 1930 German society was unable to forge a political consensus. The fact that no party was able to establish a majority government created a vacuum of power and a political stalemate in the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament. Most Germans wanted to replace the republic and its multitude of competing parties with an authoritarian system that promised stability and employment. Hence the Nazis gained in popularity in the 1930 elections. In the parliamentary elections of September 1932, the Nazis did even better, receiving about 38 percent of the votes. They did not win a majority of the seats in the Reichstag, but the support Hitler received from the Conservative Party provided the necessary basis for a coalition government. And so on January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor (prime minister).


As soon as the Nazis assumed power, they made racism and anti-Semitism central components of their regime. During its first months in power the Nazi Party instigated anti-Semitic riots and campaigns of terror that climaxed on April 1, 1933, in a countrywide boycott of Jewish-owned shops and Jewish professionals, such as physicians and lawyers. In addition, the new government issued regulations and ordinances to deprive Jews of their civil rights and economic means of survival. On April 7, 1933, the Reichstag enacted a law that allowed the government to dismiss Jews from the German civil service. Later, quotas were adopted to limit the numbers of Jewish students. However, Hitler and the other Nazi leaders viewed these piecemeal regulations as insufficient, and so they decided to implement a comprehensive legal framework for their anti-Semitic policies.

One early decree was a definition of the term Jew. Crucial in that determination was the religion of one’s grandparents. Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was automatically a Jew, regardless of whether that individual was a member of the Jewish community. Those with two Jewish grandparents, known as half-Jews, were considered Jewish only if they themselves belonged to the Jewish religion or were married to a Jewish person. All other half-Jews, and persons who had one Jewish grandparent, were classified as Mischlinge (half-breeds). Jews and Mischlinge were “non-Aryans,” in contrast to “pure” Germans, who were “Aryans.” In Nazi doctrine, such emphasis on descent was regarded as an affirmation of race, but the principal purpose of these categorizations was the clear delimitation of a target for discriminatory laws and directives.

On September 15, 1935, the Reichstag met in Nürnberg and passed two laws, known as the Nürnberg Laws. The first, the Reich Citizenship Law, declared that only individuals of “German blood” could be citizens of the German Reich (state), thus depriving German Jews of their citizenship. The second, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, formalized barriers between Jews and Germans, forbidding marriage and sexual relations between Jews and “Aryans.” Thus, the Nazis deprived German Jews of all civil rights and effectively excluded them from social and cultural life. Their policy was then aimed at expropriating Jewish property with a view to compelling Jews to emigrate from Germany.

In 1938 Jews were barred from the medical and legal professions and were forced to register their property as a preliminary measure for its confiscation and “aryanization,” or forcible sale to Germans. As a practical matter, the government compelled Jews to accept payments representing only a fraction of the property’s true value from “Aryan” buyers.

When the Nazis took power in Germany, the German Catholic bishops believed that Hitler would protect Europe’s Christian civilization from Bolshevism. As a result, they accommodated the Nazi regime, supporting its nationalistic foreign policy. Despite their opposition to Hitler’s racial doctrine, Catholic and other Christian church leaders failed to take a public stand against his anti-Semitic policies. The major Christian churches gave pastoral care to Jewish converts to Christianity who were persecuted by the Nazis, but they failed to react when the Nazis introduced racial legislation, instigated physical attacks on Jews, or began the deportation and extermination of Jews.

The attitude of the top leadership of the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII largely paralleled that of the German Catholic bishops. The pope never criticized the persecution of the Jews in an encyclical, nor did he ever threaten to excommunicate Hitler, nominally a Catholic, or other Catholics involved in the Holocaust. Moreover, although the pope and his advisers were fully informed about the extermination of the Jews during World War II, they refused to condemn it on the grounds that Vatican City, the tiny independent state under the authority of the pope, had to maintain strict neutrality in international affairs.

After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, all the same anti-Semitic measures were implemented there. A year later, these measures were implemented in Bohemia and Moravia, which the Germans occupied following their dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

By 1938 two-thirds of German Jews had left the country, and 60 percent of those who stayed had lost their livelihood. The anti-Semitic actions of the Nazis culminated in the Kristallnacht (“night of broken glass”) pogrom, which occurred all over Germany and Austria on the night of November 9, 1938. During that night, Nazi mobs murdered more than 90 Jews, beat hundreds more, demolished 76 synagogues and set fire to 191 more, and destroyed and looted thousands of shops and businesses owned by Jews. The authorities arrested 30,000 Jews and sent them to concentration camps, where they were severely mistreated. The Kristallnacht pogrom marked a crucial milestone in the Nazis’ actions against the Jews, for it was the first occasion in the modern era in which widespread violence was directed against Jews in a western European country. At a meeting held two days after the pogrom, top Nazi leaders decided that the Jews of Germany should bear the cost of the destruction regardless of insurance coverage.


On January 30, 1939, Hitler delivered a chilling threat in an address to the Reichstag: “In my life I have often been a prophet and … today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will be not the Bolshevization of the world and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Nazis searched for what they termed a “final solution to the Jewish question.” The top leaders contemplated a “territorial solution” for European Jews. Leaders of the SS, an elite section of the Nazi Party, were put in charge of solving the “Jewish question.” They proposed two options. The first option was the establishment in southeastern Poland of a reservation to which Jews would be deported. The second option, which was proposed as the Germans anticipated an imminent victory over Britain following their defeat of France in July 1940, was the deportation to the island of Madagascar of all 4 million Jews in the countries then occupied or controlled by Germany. At that time, Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, was a colony of France.

Neither of these proposals was adopted. In late 1940 the Nazis began planning an invasion and conquest of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). That planning led them to abandon the idea of a reservation in Poland, because such a reservation would be in the center rather than on the periphery of an enlarged German empire. The Nazis abandoned their Madagascar plan because Britain did not surrender, and continued British control of the Suez Canal closed the route to Madagascar to German ships.

Before these plans were dropped, however, the Germans carried out a preliminary step to future deportations to concentration camps or to the planned Jewish reservation. Jews in Poland were forced to move into ghettos, where they were ordered to set up Jewish councils that would carry out German orders. They were also forced to wear a yellow Jewish star on their clothing and to perform forced labor. Atrocious living conditions, such as overcrowding, lack of proper sanitation and health services, and meager food rations, resulted in a high mortality rate among the inhabitants of the ghettos. In the Warsaw ghetto, for example, 20 percent of the population died in 1941.

While Polish Jews were sealed in ghettos, Jews in western European countries occupied or controlled by the Nazis faced ruthless anti-Semitic measures. From Norway to North Africa all Jews lost their rights and property. They were forced to live in designated neighborhoods or were imprisoned in closed camps.


In the spring of 1941, as preparations were under way for the invasion of the USSR, Hitler proclaimed that a war of destruction was about to start. He called for the annihilation of the Bolshevik leadership, thus laying the foundation for the extermination of what Hitler considered to be the biological source of Bolshevism: the Jews of the USSR. The killings were to be conducted by four mobile SS units called Einsatzgruppen (action squads), each consisting of some 1,000 men. In addition to the Einsatzgruppen, there were other SS and police units commissioned to shoot Jews who were to be assembled in front of mass graves dug by the Jews themselves. On many occasions after the military campaign started in June 1941, the German army was called on to provide support to the SS and police units. Thus, the total number of Germans involved in the mass shootings of Jews was around 30,000.

On July 2, 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, head of Germany’s Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) and an instrumental figure in organizing the extermination of the Jews, issued his Commissars’ Order, according to which all Jews in official positions in the Soviet administration were to be executed. However, the Einsatzgruppen commanders broadly interpreted this order to mean all adult male Jews. Large numbers of them were immediately shot regardless of whether they held official Soviet positions. In August 1941 the killings were expanded to include Jewish women and children. For example, on August 1, 1941, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, issued an order to SS units preparing to comb the Pripet Marshes in Belarus: “All male Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamp.” The SS officer in charge of the operation advised his superiors that “Driving women and children into the swamps did not have the intended success because the swamps were not deep enough for the Jews to drown.” Beginning in late September 1941 German forces carried out large-scale actions in which whole Jewish communities were wiped out. For instance, 33,000 Jews of Kiev, in Ukraine, were killed on September 29 and 30, 1941, in a ravine outside Kiev called Babi Yar.

In the autumn of 1941 a new phase began. Until then the targets had been Soviet Jews, but now the killing was extended to Jews in parts of Poland and Serbia. For these killings the Germans also used gas vans, specially sealed vans in which the exhaust fumes from the engine were piped into a storage compartment filled with victims to asphyxiate them. During the winter of 1941 to 1942 there was a pause in the shootings because, in part, the frozen ground prevented the digging of pits for burying the murdered Jews. In addition, the Germans had to send many Jews to Germany to serve as slave labor for the war effort. However, in the spring of 1942 the intensive campaign of killing resumed. This time even Jewish slave laborers were murdered.

The Einsatzgruppen provided Hitler with reports on the numbers of Jews and others who had been killed. These documents represent the primary source of knowledge about the mass shootings in eastern Europe up to the spring of 1942. It is estimated that from the summer of 1941 to the summer of 1942, the Nazis shot more than a million Jews in front of mass graves.

On December 12, 1941, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for propaganda and national enlightenment, noted in his diary, “As concerns the Jewish question, [Hitler] is determined to make a clean sweep. He had prophesied to the Jews that if they once again brought about a world war they would experience their own extermination. This was not just an empty phrase. The World War is there, the extermination of Jewry must be the necessary consequence.”


In the fall of 1941 the Nazis began deporting all the Jews of occupied Europe to the east (Poland and the western USSR) in order to exterminate them. In the meantime, in Germany they had already carried out their program of exterminating people who were mentally impaired or severely disabled.

In the so-called euthanasia program, which had begun in the fall of 1939, Nazi doctors killed Germans with mental or physical disabilities. Tens of thousands were murdered, mostly by the administration of carbon monoxide gas supplied in large metal bottles. In addition, many were killed in gas vans. Hitler ordered the euthanasia program discontinued in August 1941 because it was causing public disquiet. However, the experience acquired was used in the “final solution,” as the program of killing all the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe came to be known. The gas vans and their personnel from the euthanasia program were moved to eastern Europe and placed at the disposal of Odilo Globocnik, the SS officer in charge of the Lublin area in occupied Poland.

When the euthanasia teams arrived in the east in late 1941, they began planning the construction of killing facilities. From September through December 1941 they tested different types of poison gas. In September 1941 they carried out gassing experiments at Auschwitz, killing 600 Soviet prisoners of war with cyanide gas produced from Zyklon-B, the commercial name of a pesticide based on hydrocyanic acid. In November 1941, 30 prisoners were killed in a gas van at the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin. At the concentration camp of Chelmno, not far from Łódź, the site of a large Jewish ghetto in western Poland, gassing began on December 8, 1941.

As the Nazis improved their gassing techniques, they decided to deport all Jews from occupied Europe to their deaths in the east. The countries from which Jews were deported included countries under German occupation—such as Norway, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Greece—as well as countries allied with Germany—such as Italy and Hungary. On January 20, 1942, a meeting of high-ranking officials chaired by Heydrich was convened in an SS-owned mansion in the Berlin neighborhood of Wannsee. This meeting came to be known as the Wannsee Conference. Attached to the summonses to attend the Wannsee Conference was a directive from Nazi leader Hermann Göring to Heydrich to prepare a European-wide “final solution” to the Jewish question. Heydrich told the conference participants that Jews unfit for work were to be killed and that any Jews who survived forced labor, having thereby shown their physical stamina, were for that very reason to be killed as well. The Wannsee Conference was an important signpost in the evolution of the policy of extermination because it was there that the participants were instructed to coordinate efforts for the extermination of the Jews.

Shortly after the Wannsee Conference the extermination of the European Jews intensified. First in line were the 3 million Polish Jews. In July 1942 Himmler laid down a schedule for their elimination in death camps. For this operation, code-named Operation Reinhard, three main gassing centers were built: Bełżec and Sobibór, in southeastern Poland not far from Lublin, and Treblinka, northeast of Warsaw. Gassing commenced at those three camps in the period from March through July 1942. From 750,000 to 950,000 Jews were gassed at Treblinka; from 500,000 to 600,000 at Bełżec; and about 200,000 at Sobibór.

Other camps were built that combined forced labor and extermination facilities. Two camps were built near Auschwitz (Oświęcim in Polish), a small town in the region of Upper Silesia. The smaller camp was known as Auschwitz I. The larger camp was called Auschwitz II and was also known as Birkenau. Most of the extermination occurred at the larger camp: About 1 million Jews died there as a result of gassing, starvation, or disease.

At the same time that the Polish Jews were being put to death in these camps, the program of deporting Jews from other parts of occupied Europe to the east was put in motion. In various European countries, teams of SS men were sent to direct the roundups and deportation of Jews by train to the killing centers and concentration camps in Poland. These operations were supervised by Adolf Eichmann, who worked under Heydrich and was entrusted with responsibility for carrying out and coordinating the “final solution.” Their task was done in stages: First the poorer members of a Jewish community were rounded up, then foreign Jews and Jewish refugees, and finally the rest of the Jewish community. Some western European Jews were initially transported to ghettos in the east and later to the concentration camps. Others were sent directly to the extermination centers.


Jewish resistance to the Nazis was not widespread, but it did occur. Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were completely disarmed, and the Nazis went to great lengths to convince people that they were merely being deported to work camps. Resistance by Jews was made more difficult because the local population, out of anti-Semitism, fear of Nazi retribution, or callous indifference, did not support or help them. Throughout occupied Europe, people who opposed the Nazis and the occupation of their countries organized resistance movements. These movements received instructions from governments in exile in Britain or other Allied countries, as well as supplies from the Allies, the coalition of nations that was fighting against Germany. However, the Jews had no government in exile, and the Allies did nothing to support them.

Despite the overwhelming odds against the Jews, there were many examples of Jewish armed resistance. In the ghettos of eastern Europe, Jewish fighting groups were formed. Jews who managed to escape from the ghettos joined the partisans (the anti-Nazi resistance movement) in the forests. About 30,000 Jews from eastern Europe fought in the ranks of Soviet partisans. Armed uprisings broke out in several ghettos, the most noteworthy being in Warsaw in April 1943. The majority of the combatants in the Warsaw ghetto uprising died fighting. Even in the death camps of Sobibór, Treblinka, and Auschwitz revolts broke out. In the occupied countries of western Europe, Jews joined all the national resistance organizations. They concentrated their efforts on hiding Jewish children and smuggling Jews across borders to find refuge in neutral countries such as Switzerland and Spain.


In the parts of Europe that were occupied by Germany, Jews were sent to the death camps regardless of the attitudes of the local population. In some occupied countries, such as Belgium, and even in some countries that were allied with Germany, such as unoccupied France under the Vichy government, a few church dignitaries protested when Jews were rounded up. In Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, on the other hand, thousands of people joined the Nazi killers voluntarily, as did many Croats, Ukrainians, and Slovaks. Jews were sometimes protected for economic reasons, as in Hungary until 1944, when Eichmann arrived to supervise the destruction of the Hungarian Jews. Bulgarians protested against the cooperation of their government officials with the Nazis. The Vichy government in unoccupied France sent about 70,000 foreign Jews and Jewish refugees to the concentration camps, but only a few of its own Jewish citizens.

Italy had a fascist government and was allied with Hitler. However, anti-Semitism was rare among Italians, and they did not turn over many Jews to the Nazis. The Italians surrendered to invading Allied troops in 1943, but German forces occupied the northern half of the country. This occupation made it possible for the Germans to round up many Italian Jews. In The Netherlands and Belgium, most citizens were anti-Nazi, and many helped hide Jews. In Norway there was a Nazi puppet government, but the Norwegian resistance helped many Jews escape to neutral Sweden. In Denmark, in spite of the German occupation, Jews were protected by the government. When the Nazis tried to round them up, the Danish people smuggled most of them to safety in Sweden.

A relatively small number of men and women risked their lives to help persecuted Jews. Some 18,000 of them have been honored by the state of Israel with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. They include Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who issued 4,500 protection passports to save Jews in Hungary, and German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who protected Jews working for him in Poland.

Historical documents have shown that the Allied governments were informed of the Nazi extermination policy. As early as November 1941 coded reports sent to Berlin on the mass murders by the Einsatzgruppen in the USSR were intercepted and decoded by British intelligence. In August 1942 reports on the deportation and extermination of Jews in countries occupied by the Nazis were sent from Jewish organizations in Switzerland to top government officials in Britain and the United States. In mid-1944 two Slovak Jews who had escaped from Auschwitz gave accounts of the systematic extermination of Jews at Auschwitz. However, the Allied governments were reluctant to rescue Jews. After the war British government officials said they had not wanted to reveal that their agents were successfully decoding German communications. Allied military leaders said they did not believe that rescue missions so far to the east would succeed. As part of their strategic campaign to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war, the Allies bombed factories at Auschwitz, but they failed to target the gas chambers.


Jews were not the only victims of the Nazis during World War II. Many Germans and people in German-occupied countries who opposed the Nazi regime on grounds of ideology were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Among them were political opponents, particularly Communists and Socialists; dissenting clergy; and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis also singled out Roma, commonly called Gypsies; people with mental retardation, mental illness, and severe disabilities; and German male homosexuals.

Of the non-Jewish victims, two groups were sent to extermination centers: the Roma and the mentally impaired and severely disabled. The Nazis did not appear as determined to wipe out the Roma and the mentally impaired and severely disabled as they were to annihilate the Jews. Nevertheless, their actions against the Roma undoubtedly represented genocide according to the definition of the United Nations’ International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Nazis defined the life experienced by the mentally impaired and severely disabled as “life unworthy of living.” In the fall of 1939 they started their euthanasia program, in which Nazi doctors murdered more than 70,000 mentally and physically disabled persons in six extermination centers. Public disquiet forced Hitler to order a halt to the program in August 1941, but many tens of thousands more were murdered in hospitals after that date despite the official end of the program. The Nazis viewed the bulk of the Roma as racially inferior, a threat to the “purity” of the German race, and a problem to be solved by selective mass murder. Within Germany itself there were some 40,000 Roma at the start of World War II. A few thousand were sterilized, and many thousands were deported to extermination centers in Poland. In various countries of eastern Europe, Roma were rounded up and shot. At the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp there was a special compound for Roma that held 20,000 inmates. In the course of the persecution, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered as many as 200,000 Roma.

Beginning in 1941, the Nazis murdered some 3.5 million captured Soviet soldiers, mainly by starvation but also by shooting and gassing, in prisoner-of-war camps, slave labor facilities, and concentration camps. Poles, who were considered both subhuman and an obstacle to Germany’s expansion, were also killed. To enslave the Polish population, the Nazis killed thousands of Polish intellectuals, political leaders, and clergy. Thousands of Polish children who were considered of Germanic origin were kidnapped and sent to Germany to be raised by German foster parents. About 1.5 million Polish civilians died during World War II as a result of the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland.


When World War II ended in 1945, the entire Jewish secular and religious culture in Europe had been obliterated, and from 5.6 million to 5.9 million Jews had been exterminated. Some 1.5 million of the victims were children.

After the war the Allies established an International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg, Germany, to prosecute the surviving Nazi leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the most important of the war crimes trials, held in 1945 and 1946, 22 top leaders of Nazi Germany were found guilty, and of these 12 were sentenced to death. In addition, military and civilian tribunals in many countries conducted hundreds of trials. The occupation governments set up by the Allies in Germany removed tens of thousands of Nazis from official positions throughout Germany. In Germany alone, close to 90,000 war crimes cases were opened. Later, in 1948, a United Nations (UN) resolution established crimes against humanity as a crime under international law with no limitation period for the prosecution of those accused of such crimes. Based on this resolution, France has convicted a number of former Nazis and the United States has revoked the citizenship of several Nazi collaborators who had immigrated there.

A – Holocaust Survivors and Israel

After the war some 250,000 Jewish survivors made their way to camps for displaced persons that were operated by the Allies in Germany, Austria, and Italy. They pressed the U.S. Army and government to let them immigrate to Palestine, then under British rule, and the U.S. government in turn pressed the British to accept these refugees. The British refused, and thousands of Jewish survivors boarded ships to emigrate illegally to Palestine. The suffering of the survivors, who had nowhere else to go, and the British policy of stopping these ships and sending the survivors to detention camps in Cyprus caused an outcry in world public opinion. Jews in the United States soon mobilized in favor of solving the refugees’ problem by creating a Jewish state in Palestine. Under pressure from Jewish refugees and public opinion, the British were eventually forced to ask the UN to resolve the competing Jewish and Arab claims to Palestine. In 1947 the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Jewish state, Israel, was established in May 1948.

B – Compensation and Reparations for the Holocaust

In the years following World War II, some Jewish property, cash, and other assets seized by the Nazis were returned to Holocaust survivors or their heirs or, when there where no survivors or heirs, to Jewish charitable organizations. Many Jews claimed that the amount returned in no way equaled the actual losses, for there was no way to calculate the measure, economic or otherwise, for the suffering and loss of life. Many observers noted that no restitution could ever be made for the ordeal of the Jews of Europe in the Holocaust.

In the early 1950s negotiators for the government of West Germany and the state of Israel, as well as representatives of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (an umbrella group of 22 Jewish organizations), agreed that material losses would be the sole basis for compensation. These material losses were estimated at $14 billion. As a result of agreements with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims and the state of Israel, the government of West Germany enacted the German Federal Indemnification Law in 1952. According to this law, West Germany consented to deliver goods valued at some $720 million to Israel over a 12-year period and to pay a sum of $100 million for the reconstruction of Jewish communities in Europe. Additional payments were made to Jewish slave laborers. After the reunification of West Germany and East Germany in 1990, the claims conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization began negotiating with the German government and other European governments, as well as with Swiss banks, insurance agencies, and German industries, for the establishment of an additional compensation program for Holocaust survivors. The negotiations concerned the return of Jewish real estate and other property that had been confiscated or forcibly sold during the years of the Nazi regime. The negotiations also dealt with the enactment of restitution legislation in European countries concerning looted bank accounts, thefts in the camps, and looted artwork. In addition, in August 1998 a $1.25-billion settlement with Swiss banks was reached. It established a fund for Holocaust survivors to compensate those whose looted assets had been traced to Swiss banks or who had performed slave labor for Swiss-owned firms or for companies that had deposited assets in Switzerland.

C – Church Actions

In the 1960s, as a result of the initiatives of Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council issued the declaration Nostra Aetate (In Our Age), in which it “deplored the hatred, persecutions and display of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews.” In the 1990s conferences of Catholic bishops in Hungary, Germany, Poland, and France adopted resolutions that censured anti-Semitic teaching and the silence of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. In March 1998, under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican issued the statement “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” which openly asked forgiveness for crimes and errors committed in the name of the church. In March 2000 John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, to pay homage to the millions of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Statements made by the Catholic Church in the 1990s show that the church rejects the charges of historical responsibility for the role anti-Semitic persecution played during World War II. However, by denouncing anti-Semitism, expressing regret over the Holocaust, and apologizing for the silence of Christians who witnessed the mass murder, statements made by the church in the late 20th century broke new ground in improving relations and in the fight against prejudice. Beginning in the 1970s a similar change took place in the German Protestant churches. Many German theologians denounced the anti-Jewish tradition of the Protestant churches and recognized their failure to act during the Holocaust.


Memorials and museums concerning the Holocaust have been established all over the world. In Germany and the European countries that were under Nazi occupation, remnants of many concentration camps and killing centers have been converted into museums and memorials. In countries not involved with the events of the Holocaust, governments and survivors’ organizations have established memorials and museums. Among them are Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, which was established in 1953 in Jerusalem by an act of the Israeli parliament to commemorate the Jews murdered by the Nazis. In the United States two museums opened in 1993: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which is dedicated to presenting the history of the Holocaust, and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California, which is dedicated to opposing prejudice, intolerance, violations of human rights, and genocide.


Scholars began the systematic investigation of the Holocaust in the 1960s. Studies of the role of anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology, the Nazi rise to power, and the structure of the Nazi regime were published in the 1960s and 1970s. Holocaust scholarship in the 1980s was characterized by a debate between so-called intentionalists, who maintain that the “final solution” was the result of a Nazi plan to kill the Jews, and so-called functionalists, who argue that there was no such plan and that the Nazis came to the “final solution” by trial and error. In the 1990s the focus shifted toward the motivations of the perpetrators and the victims’ memory and representation of the Holocaust. The question of the uniqueness and universality of the Holocaust and the politics of genocide were the major focus of research by scholars at the start of the 21st century. These scholars were probing issues such as whether there is a difference between genocide in general and the Holocaust, whether the other victims of the Nazis were also Holocaust victims, and whether there were differences between the Nazi policy toward the Jews and their policies toward their other victims.

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