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The Holocaust, also referred to as the Shoah,[b] was a genocide during World War II in which Adolf

Hitler's Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European
Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish community in Europe.[5][c] From 1941 to 1945, Germany
targeted European Jewry for extermination as part of a larger event that included the persecution and
murder of other groups. A broader definition of the Holocaust includes the murder of the Roma and the
"incurably sick".[7] A broader definition still includes ethnic Poles, other Slavic groups, Soviet citizens
and prisoners of war, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, and political opponents.

Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings
were committed throughout German-occupied Europe, as well as within Germany itself, and across all
territories controlled by the Axis powers.

Germany implemented the persecution in stages. Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the
government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws in
1935. Starting in 1933 the Nazis built a network of concentration camps in Germany for political
opponents and people deemed "undesirable". After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the regime set up
ghettos to segregate Jews. Over 42,000 camps, ghettos, and other detention sites were established.[8]

The deportation of Jews to the ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the
"Final Solution to the Jewish Question". In 1941, as German forces captured territories in the East, all
anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen murdered around two
million Jews in mass shootings in less than a year. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from the
ghettos in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were
killed in gas chambers. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in AprilMay 1945.


Main article: Names of the Holocaust

The term holocaust comes from the Greek holkaustos: hlos, "whole" and kausts, "burnt
offering", "a sacrifice or offering entirely consumed by fire".[9][10][d] Later it came to denote large-scale
destruction or slaughter.[11][12] The biblical term shoah ( ;also transliterated sho'ah and shoa),
meaning "destruction", became the standard Hebrew term, first used in a pamphlet in 1940, for the
murder of the European Jews.[13][14][e]

The term Holocaust was used by historians in the 1950s as a translation of Shoah,[4] and in 1968 the
Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (19391945)".[16] The NBC television
mini-series Holocaust (1978) is credited with having helped to popularize the term in the United
States.[17] As accounts of the Holocaust expanded to include non-Jewish victims, Shoah retained its
meaning as the Nazi genocide of the Jews.[18] The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish
Question" (die Endlsung der Judenfrage).[19]

In Teaching the Holocaust (2015), Michael Gray offers three definitions of the Holocaust. The first refers
to the persecution and murder of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945; this
definition views, for example, the events of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938 as an early phase of the
Holocaust. The second focuses on the systematic mass murder of Jews by the Nazis and their
collaborators between 1941 and 1945; this acknowledges the shift in German policy in 1941 toward the
extermination of the Jewish people. The third and broadest definition embraces the persecution and
murder of several groups by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945; this includes all
the Nazis' victims, but it fails, Gray writes, to acknowledge that only the Jewish people were singled out
for annihilation.[2][f]

Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favour a definition
that focuses on the Jews, Roma, and Aktion T4 victims: "the systematic, state-sponsored murder of
entire groups determined by heredity. This applied to Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped."[30]

Distinctive features

Genocidal state

Further information: List of Nazi concentration camps

German-occupied Europe, 1942

Territories of the Axis Powers, olive green. Jews were confined in ghettos before being deported to
extermination camps.

Concentration and extermination camps

The logistics of the mass murder turned the country into what Michael Berenbaum called "a genocidal
state". Bureaucrats were involved in identifying who was a Jew, confiscating property, and scheduling
trains that deported Jews. Companies fired Jewish employees and later employed Jews as slave labour.
Universities dismissed Jewish students and faculty. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on
camp prisoners; other companies built the crematoria.[31] As prisoners entered the death camps, they
were ordered to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before it was sent to
Germany to be reused or recycled.[32] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped
launder valuables stolen from the victims.[33]

The industrialization of murder was unprecedented. Victims were transported in sealed freight trains
from all over Europe to extermination camps equipped with gas chambers.[34] These stationary
facilities grew out of Nazi experiments with poison gas during the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme
against the disabled and mentally ill, which began in 1939.[35] The Germans set up six extermination
camps in occupied Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau (established October 1941); Majdanek (October 1941);
Chemno (December 1941); and in 1942 the three Operation Reinhard camps at Belzec, Sobibor, and

Saul Friedlnder writes: "Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly
institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the
Jews." Some Christian churches "declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock,
but even then only up to a point". He argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because
antisemitic policies were able to "unfold to their most extreme levels without the interference of any
major countervailing interests".[38]

Ideology and scale

Yehuda Bauer argued in 2002 that other genocides have had some apparently pragmatic basis, such as a
battle for territory, whereas the Holocaust was purely ideological, "rooted in an illusionary world of Nazi
imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel
Aryan quest. No genocide to date had been based so completely on myths, on hallucinations, on
abstract, nonpragmatic ideologywhich was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means."[39]

Vlkisch mysticism, pseudoscience and ethnonationalism were combined, writes David Bloxham, "in a
terrifying agenda for unmixing the peoples under German dominion and breeding a race 'worthy' of
European mastery". While groups such as the Roma and disabled were viewed as inferior and targeted
by Nazi euthanasia and sterilization policies, the Nazis saw the Jews as an "anti-race", writes Bloxham, "a
parasitical, polluting people".[40] Eberhard Jckel writes that it was the first time a state had thrown its
power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out.[g] Anyone with three or four Jewish
grandparents was to be exterminated,[42] and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge (half
and quarter Jews, or "mixed breeds").[43]

The killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of German-occupied territory in more
than 20 occupied countries.[44] Close to 3 million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5
million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more Jews died in the rest of
German-occupied Europe.[45] Discussions at the Wannsee Conference make it clear that the German
"final solution of the Jewish question" included Britain and all the neutral states in Europe, such as
Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.[46] Over 200,000 people are estimated to
have been Holocaust perpetrators.[47] Without the help of local collaborators, the Germans would not
have been able to extend the Holocaust across most of Europe.[48]

Medical experiments

Main articles: Nazi human experimentation and Doctors' trial

The 23 defendants during the Doctors' trial, Nuremberg, 9 December 1946 20 August 1947

The SS's medical experiments on camp inmates were another distinctive feature.[49][50] Twenty-three
senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg, after the war, with crimes
against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors,
and biomedical researchers.[51]

The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor
on 30 May 1943.[52] Interested in genetics[52] and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out
subjects from the new arrivals during "selection" on the ramp, shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step
forward!).[53] They would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946
that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-
Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar von Verschuer, director from
October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-

Menegele's experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing
them, attempting to change their eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and amputations
and other surgeries.[57] Other experiments took place at Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler,
Neuengamme, Ravensbrck, Sachsenhausen, and elsewhere. Some dealt with sterilization of men and
women, the treatment of war wounds, ways to counteract chemical weapons, research into new
vaccines and drugs, and survival of harsh conditions. At least 7000 prisoners were subjected to these
experiments; most died during them or afterwards.[58]


Antisemitism and racism

See also: History of the Jews in Germany, Christianity and antisemitism, Martin Luther and antisemitism,
Religious antisemitism, and Racial antisemitism

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian
theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism
continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and
expulsions.[59][60] The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in the German empire and
Austria-Hungary of the vlkisch movement, which was developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart
Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews
as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination.[61]
These ideas became commonplace throughout the Germany,[62] with the professional classes adopting
an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value.[63] Although the
vlkisch parties had support in elections at first, by 1914 they were no longer influential. This did not
mean that antisemitism had disappeared; instead it was incorporated into the platforms of several
mainstream political parties.[62]

Germany after World War I

Further information: Treaty of Versailles

The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I (19141918) contributed
to the rise of virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated,
which gave birth to the stab-in-the-back myth. This insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly
Jews and communists, who had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment
was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary
governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria.
This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.[64]

The economic strains of the Great Depression led some in the German medical establishment to
advocate the euthanasia of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure to
free up funds for the curable.[65] By the time the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi
Party,[i] came to power in 1933, there was already a tendency to seek to save the racially "valuable",
while ridding society of the racially "undesirable".[67] The party had originated in 1920[66] as an
offshoot of the vlkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism.[68] Early antisemites
in the party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Vlkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and
Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive
Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving
force behind communism.[69]

Hitler's world view

Main article: Political views of Adolf Hitler

The origin and first expression of Hitler's antisemitism remain a matter of debate.[70] Central to his
world view was the idea of expansion and lebensraum (living space) for Germany.[71] Open about his
hatred of Jews, he subscribed to the common antisemitic stereotypes.[72] From the early 1920s
onwards, he linked the Jews with germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed
Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had
created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany.[73]

Rise of Nazi Germany

Dictatorship and repression (19331939)

Further information: Anti-Jewish legislation in prewar Nazi Germany, Racial policy of Nazi Germany,
Haavara Agreement, and Jews escaping from German-occupied Europe to the United Kingdom

With the establishment of the Third Reich in 1933, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the
Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community").[74] Nazi policies divided the population into two groups:
the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the
Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the
"racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma; political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists,
liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades"; and moral
opponents, such as homosexuals, the "work-shy", and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to
be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the
Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be
removed from society.[75]

Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses: SA troopers urge a national boycott outside Israel's Department Store
in Berlin, 1 April 1933. All signs read: "Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews."[76]

Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence
against opponents.[77] They set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment.[78] One of the
first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933.[79] Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and
Social Democrats.[80] Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps
outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS.[81] The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a
deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not conform.[82]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted.[83] On 1
April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses.[84] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of
the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil
service.[85] Jews were disbarred from practising law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, or
joining the Journalists' Association. Jews were not allowed to own farms.[86] In Silesia, in March 1933, a
group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers; Friedlnder writes that, in Dresden,
Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials.[87] Jewish students were
restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities.[85] Jewish businesses were targeted for
closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans; of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned
businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish
composers,[88] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and
exhibitions.[89] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches rzteblatt (a medical
journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only."[90]