The Holocaust



The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators during World War II. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community, and therefore needed to be eliminated.

The Extermination of Jews and the “Final Solution”

The Nazis frequently used euphemistic language to disguise the true nature of their crimes. They used the term “Final Solution” to refer to their plan to annihilate the Jewish people. The genocide, or mass destruction, of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of increasingly severe discriminatory measures. Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, the persecution and segregation of Jews was implemented in stages. After the Nazi party achieved power in Germany in 1933, its state-sponsored racism led to anti-Jewish legislation, economic boycotts, and the violence of the Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) pogroms, all of which aimed to systematically isolate Jews from society and drive them out of the country. After the beginning of World War II, anti-Jewish policy escalated to the imprisonment and eventual murder of European Jewry. The Nazis first established ghettos (enclosed areas designed to isolate and control the Jews), deporting Polish and western European Jews to these ghettos where they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions with inadequate food. In the autumn of 1941, the implementation of a plan to systematically murder the Jews began. Nazi leaders established Death Camps with the sole purpose of the mass murder of Jews. German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the “Final Solution” called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust—two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.

Other Nazi Victims

In addition to the six million Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust, it is estimated that there were an additional five million victims of Nazi persecution. This included Poles, Slavs, Communists, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals, and physically and mentally disabled individuals, all of whom the Nazis targeted because they were deemed “unfit” for racial or ideological reasons. However, it is crucial to remember that the Jews were specifically sought out and the goal for the Jewish population of Europe was complete removal and total destruction.

Death Camps

The Nazis killed Jews in countless locations during World War II, however they specifically built a number of sites known as Extermination or Death Camps, where the systematic murders of the Jews of Europe, in addition to other Nazi victims, were carried out. The camps listed on the right gatepost when entering the memorial is just a small sampling of the locations where mass exterminations of Jews took place.

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

For further resources about the Holocaust, visit the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center.