The Holocaust is one of the most notorious acts of genocide in modern history. The many atrocities committed by Nazi Germany before and during World War II destroyed millions of lives and permanently altered the face of Europe.
INTRODUCTION TO THE HOLOCAUST
The Holocaust began in 1933 when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and ended in 1945 when the Nazis were defeated by the Allied powers.
It refers to the Nazi persecution and planned slaughter of the Jewish people and others considered inferior to "true" Germans. In addition to Jews, the Nazis targeted Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the disabled for persecution.
The Nazis sometimes used the term "Final Solution" to refer to their plan to exterminate the Jewish people.
It is estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews. The Nazis killed approximately two-thirds of all Jews living in Europe. An estimated 1.1 million children died in the Holocaust.
THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLOCAUST
On April 1, 1933, the Nazis instigated their first action against German Jews by announcing a boycott of all Jewish-run businesses.
The Nuremberg Laws, issued on Sept. 15, 1935, were designed to exclude Jews from public life. They stripped German Jews of their citizenship.
Nazis issued numerous anti-Jewish laws over the next several years. Jews were banned from public parks, fired from civil service jobs, and forced to register their property. Other laws barred Jewish doctors from treating anyone other than Jewish patients, expelled Jewish children from public schools and placed severe travel restrictions on Jews.
After World War II started in 1939, the Nazis ordered Jews to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing so they could be easily recognized. Homosexuals were also targeted and forced to wear pink triangles.
After the beginning of World War II, Nazis began ordering all Jews to live within small, segregated areas of big cities, called ghettos.
Over time, all ghettos were closed, so that Jews were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. The largest ghetto was in Warsaw. In March 1941, some 445,000 Jews were crammed into an area just 1.3 square miles in size.
The Nazis routinely ordered deportations from the ghettos to concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis told the Jews they were being transported to labor camps.
As World War II turned against the Nazis, they began a systematic plan to eliminate the ghettos. When the Nazis attempted to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on April 13, 1943, the remaining Jews fought back. The Jewish resistance fighters held out against the entire Nazi regime for 28 days, longer than many European countries had been able to withstand Nazi conquest.
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMPS
There were a number of different kinds of camps, including concentration camps, extermination camps, labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and transit camps.
From 1933 until 1938, most of the people held in concentration camps were political prisoners and people the Nazis labeled as "asocial." These included the disabled, the homeless, and the mentally ill. Then the persecution of Jews became more organized, leading to a significant increase in the number of Jews sent to concentration camps.
Life within Nazi concentration camps was cruel. Prisoners were forced to do hard physical labor and given little food. Prisoners slept three or more to a crowded wooden bunk with no bedding. Torture within the concentration camps was common and deaths were frequent. At a number of concentration camps, Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on prisoners.
While concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death, extermination camps were built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently. The Nazis built six extermination camps, all in Poland.
Prisoners transported to these extermination camps were told to undress so they could shower. The prisoners were then herded into gas chambers and killed. Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed there.
Source: Details You Should Know about the Holocaust
By Jennifer Rosenberg © ThoughtCo.com