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, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the disabled.
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 announced a boycott of all Jewish-run businesses. The Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Jews were banned from public parks, fired from civil service jobs, and forced to register their property. Jewish doctors could only treat Jewish patients, Jewish children were expelled from public schools, and their travel was severely restricted.
The Nazis ordered Jews to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing so they could be easily recognized. Homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles.
Nazis ordered all Jews to live within small, segregated areas of big cities, called ghettos. The ghettos were sealed, and Jews were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. The largest ghetto was in Warsaw. In March 1941, 445,000 Jews were crammed into 1.3 square miles.
The Nazis routinely ordered deportations from the ghettos to concentration and extermination camps.
The Nazis systematically eliminated 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 different kinds of camps, including concentration camps, extermination camps, labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and transit camps.
Life in 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 was common and deaths were frequent. Nazi doctors conducted horrific 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 efficiently killing large groups of people. The Nazis built six extermination camps, all in Poland. Prisoners were told to undress and then were herded into gas chambers and murdered. The corpses were burnt in crematoria. Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed there.
Source: Essential Facts About the Holocaust
By Jennifer Rosenberg © ThoughtCo.com