The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews(including one and half million children) by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. It is the sum total of all anti-Jewish actions carried out by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945: from stripping the German Jews of their legal and economic status in the 1930s`; segregating and starvation in the various occupied countries; the murder of close to six million Jews in Europe. Acts of oppression and murder of various ethnic and political groups such as the Roma (Gypsies), Slavs (Russians and other Eastern European nations) and the disabled in Europe by the Nazis is also a part of the Holocaust.
The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust, which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term, originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar. The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events. Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.
The word antisemitism means prejudice against or hatred of Jews. The Holocaust, the state-sponsored persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945, is history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.
Girl in plaid dress, Mukacevo, ca. 1935-38. © Mara Vishniac Kohn, International Center of Photography
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Jews were living in every country of Europe. A total of roughly nine million Jews lived in the countries that would be occupied by Germany during World War II. By the end of the war, two out of every three of these Jews would be dead, and European Jewish life would be changed forever. In 1933 the largest Jewish populations were concentrated in eastern Europe, including Poland, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Romania. They spoke their own language, Yiddish, which combines elements of German and Hebrew. In comparison, the Jews in western Europe—Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium—made up much less of the population and tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbors. They dressed and talked like their countrymen, and traditional religious practices and Yiddish culture played a less important part in their lives. They tended to have had more formal education than eastern European Jews and to live in towns or cities.
In September 1941, the Nazi regime ordered Germany's Jews over the age of 6 to sew on their clothing a yellow Star of David with the word Jude (Jew) in bold, Hebrew-like letters. The following year, the measure was introduced in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and other lands under German control.
Anne Frank was one of over one million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. She was born Annelies Marie Frank on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Otto and Edith Frank. During the first half of July, Anne and her family went into hiding in an apartment which would eventually hide four Dutch Jews as well—Hermann, Auguste, and Peter van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer. On August 4, 1944, the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) discovered the hiding place after being tipped off by an anonymous Dutch caller. Anne and her sister, Margot were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Celle, in northern Germany in late October 1944. Both sisters died of typhus in March 1945, just a few weeks before British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. Only Anne's father, Otto, survived the war. Soviet forces liberated Otto at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. While in hiding, Anne kept a diary in which she recorded her fears, hopes, and experiences. Found in the secret apartment after the family was arrested, the diary was kept for Anne by Miep Gies, one of the people who had helped hide the Franks. It was published after the war in many languages and is used in thousands of middle school and high school curricula in Europe and the Americas. Anne Frank has become a symbol for the lost promise of the children who died in the Holocaust.
The Diary of Anne Frank in available in the LLloyd Sealy Library Collection. It is located under call number DS 135 .N6 F73313 1995
When Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940, the Jewish population was approximately 7,500, accounting for 0.2% of the country's total population. About 6,000 of these Jews were Danish citizens. Unlike in other western European countries, the Danish government did not require Jews to register their property and assets, to identify themselves, or to give up apartments, homes, and businesses.
On September 8, 1943, SS General Werner Best, the German civilian administrator in Denmark, sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler to propose that the Germans make use of the martial law provisions to deport the Danish Jews. Hitler approved the measure nine days later. As preparations proceeded, Best, who had second thoughts about the political consequences of the deportations, informed Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German naval attaché, of the impending deportation operation. Before the final order for deportation came to Copenhagen on September 28, Duckwitz, along with other German officials, warned non-Jewish Danes of the plan. In turn, these Danes alerted the local Jewish community.
In the intervening days, Danish authorities, Jewish community leaders, and countless private citizens facilitated a massive operation to get Jews into hiding or into temporary sanctuaries. When German police began the roundup on the night of October 1, 1943, they found few Jews. In general, the Danish police authorities refused to cooperate, denying German police the right to enter Jewish homes by force, or simply overlooking Jews they found in hiding. Popular protests quickly came from various quarters such as churches, the Danish royal family, and various social and economic organizations. The Danish resistance, assisted by many ordinary Danish citizens, organized a partly coordinated, partly spontaneous rescue operation.
Resistance workers and sympathizers initially helped Jews move into hiding places throughout the country and from there to the coast; fishermen then ferried them to neutral Sweden. The rescue operation expanded to include participation by the Danish police and the government. Over a period of about a month, some 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives traveled to safety in Sweden, which accepted the Danish refugees.
Below are links to detailed timelines that discuss how the Holocaust unfolded.
The Holocaust Timeline from Israel's Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem can be found HERE
The Chronology of Jewish Persecution in the Holocaust from the Jewish Virtual Library Online can be found HERE
The Teacher's Timeline Guide to the Holocaust from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education at the University of South Florida can be found HERE
The Timeline of the Holocaust from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles can be found HERE
Timeline source: “The Holocaust and WWII Timeline” The Holocaust Encyclopedia information retrieved from: and timeline
An online version of the book The Holocaust Chronicle, published by Publications International LTD in April 2000 as a not-for-profit project can be found HERE
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. It is not known when the leaders of Nazi Germany definitively decided to implement the "Final Solution." The genocide, or mass destruction, of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of increasingly severe discriminatory measures.
Crematorium at German Concentration Camp
The term concentration camp refers to a camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy. In Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945, concentration camps (Konzentrationslager; KL or KZ) were an integral feature of the regime. Nazi Germany established about 20,000 camps to imprison its many millions of victims. These camps were used for a range of purposes including forced-labor camps, transit camps which served as temporary way stations, and killing centers built primarily or exclusively for mass murder. From its rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime built a series of detention facilities to imprison and eliminate so-called "enemies of the state."
The Nazis established killing centers for efficient mass murder. Unlike concentration camps, which served primarily as detention and labor centers, killing centers (also referred to as "extermination camps" or "death camps") were almost exclusively "death factories." German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. The first killing center was Chelmno, which opened in December 1941. In 1942 the Nazis opened the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers to systematically murder the Jews. The largest killing center was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which by spring 1943 had four gas chambers (using Zyklon B poison gas) in operation. At the height of the deportations, up to 6,000 Jews were gassed each day at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Above: The United Partisan Organization (refered to as FPO from the Yiddish initials for the group name "Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye") a Jewish resistance group organized in the Vilna Ghetto in what is today Lithuania. In the center of the photo, fourth from the left is the famous Hebrew poet Abba Kovner
The Final Solution was a planned, methodical process of mass murder by the German state.
The Jews were confined to ghettos where conditions were harsh and many subsequently starved. Underground groups were formed, initially engaging in resisting the Nazis by operating illegal schools, printing presses and other clandestine activities. Only as they became aware of the Nazi plans for extermination, which was already in progress, did these groups start to organize armed resistance. Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements developed in approximately 100 ghettos in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe (about one-fourth of all ghettos), especially in Poland, Lithuania, Belorussia, and the Ukraine. Their main goals were to organize uprisings, break out of the ghettos, and join partisan units in the fight against the Germans. Despite numerous difficulties, uprisings against the German authorities broke out in several ghettos. The most famous of which was the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jewish resistance also existed in settings other than the ghettos. In some of the extermination camps, uprisings were organized and carried out; Jews fought the Germans as partisans in the forests, sometimes together with local resistance groups and sometimes in separate units; Jewish soldiers took part in the fighting in all the Allied armies that fought the Nazis.
Most Jewish armed resistance took place after 1942, as a desperate effort, after it became clear to those who resisted that the Nazis had murdered most of their families and their coreligionists. Despite great obstacles (such as lack of armaments and training, conducting operations in a hostile zone, reluctance to leave families behind, and the ever-present Nazi terror), many Jews throughout German-occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans. As individuals and in groups, Jews engaged in opposition to the Germans and their Axis partners. Jewish resistance units operated in France, Belgium, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, and Poland. Jews also fought in general French, Italian, Yugoslav, Greek, and Soviet resistance organizations.
High-ranking U.S. Army officers inspect the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp.
Pictured are: Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley.
Also pictured is Jules Grad, correspondent for the U.S. Army newspaper, "Stars and Stripes" (at the far right).
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they began to encounter tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Many of these prisoners had survived forced death marches into the interior of Germany from camps in occupied Poland. These prisoners were suffering from starvation and disease. Soviet forces were the first to approach a major Nazi camp, reaching Majdanek near Lublin, Poland, in July 1944. Surprised by the rapid Soviet advance, the Germans attempted to hide the evidence of mass murder by demolishing the camp. Camp staff set fire to the large crematorium used to burn bodies of murdered prisoners, but in the hasty evacuation the gas chambers were left standing. In the summer of 1944, the Soviets also overran the sites of the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers. The Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the largest killing center and concentration camp, in January 1945.
US forces liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, on April 11, 1945, a few days after the Nazis began evacuating the camp. On the day of liberation, an underground prisoner resistance organization seized control of Buchenwald to prevent atrocities by the retreating camp guards. American forces liberated more than 20,000 prisoners at Buchenwald. They also liberated Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbürg, Dachau, and Mauthausen. British forces liberated concentration camps in northern Germany, including Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen. They entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, near Celle, in mid-April 1945. Some 60,000 prisoners, most in critical condition because of a typhus epidemic, were found alive. More than 10,000 of them died from the effects of malnutrition or disease within a few weeks of liberation.
After the war, some of those responsible for crimes committed during the Holocaust were brought to trial. Nuremberg, Germany, was chosen as a site for trials that took place in 1945 and 1946. Judges from the Allied powers -- Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States -- presided over the hearings of twenty-two major Nazi criminals.
Twelve prominent Nazis were sentenced to death. Most of the defendants admitted to the crimes of which they were accused, although most claimed that they were simply following the orders of a higher authority. Many more criminals were never tried. Some fled Germany to live abroad. After Nuremberg trials of Nazis continued to take place both in Germany and many other countries. Adolf Eichmann, who had helped plan and carry out the deportations of millions of Jews, was brought to trial in Israel in 1961. The testimony of hundreds of witnesses, many of them survivors, was followed all over the world. Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962
Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem Israel
Righteous Among the Nations is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. When Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust museum and remembrance authority was established in 1953, one of its tasks was to commemorate the "Righteous among the Nations". The Righteous were defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Most rescuers were ordinary people. Some acted out of political, ideological or religious convictions; others were not idealists, but merely human beings who cared about the people around them. In many cases they never planned to become rescuers and were totally unprepared for the moment in which they had to make such a far-reaching decision. The price that rescuers had to pay for their action differed from one country to another. In Eastern Europe, the Germans executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire family as well. Notices warning the population against helping the Jews were posted everywhere. Generally speaking punishment was less severe in Western Europe, although there too the consequences could be formidable and some of the Righteous Among the Nations were incarcerated in camps and killed.
Kristallnacht, literally, "Night of Crystal," is often referred to as the "Night of Broken Glass." The name refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, throughout Germany and Austria.
The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labor. One of them also functioned for an extended period as a killing center. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow in German Occupied Poland.
Auschwitz contained the facilities for a killing center. It played a central role in the German plan to kill the Jews of Europe. During the summer and autumn of 1941, Zyklon B gas was introduced into the German concentration camp system as a means for murder. Gas chamber went into operation in January 1942 and operated through the fall of 1944. Four large crematorium buildings were constructed between March and June 1943. Gassing operations continued at Auschwitz-Birkenau until November 1944.
On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated around 7,000 remaining prisoners, most of whom were ill and dying. It is estimated that the SS and police deported at a minimum 1.3 million people to Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. Of these, the camp authorities murdered 1.1 million.
Many Jews in ghettos across eastern Europe tried to organize resistance against the Germans and to arm themselves with smuggled and homemade weapons. Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements formed in about 100 Jewish groups. The most famous attempt by Jews to resist the Germans in armed fighting occurred in the Warsaw ghetto.
In the summer of 1942, about 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka. When reports of mass murder in the killing center leaked back to the Warsaw ghetto, a surviving group of mostly young people formed an organization called the Z.O.B. (for the Polish name, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which means Jewish Fighting Organization). The Z.O.B., led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz. Another group formed an organization as well called Z.Z.W (for the Polish name, Zydowski Zwaizek Wojskowy, which means Jewish MIlitary Union). Although initially there was tension between the ZOB and the ZZW, both groups decided to work together to oppose German attempts to destroy the ghetto. At the time of the uprising, the ZOB had about 500 fighters in its ranks and the ZZW had about 250.
On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps.
On January 20, 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials gathered at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to discuss and coordinate the implementation of what they called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question." At some still undetermined time in 1941, Hitler authorized this European-wide scheme for mass murder. SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt-RSHA) convened the Wannsee Conference (1) to inform and secure support from government ministries and other interested agencies relevant to the implementation of the “Final Solution,” and (2) to disclose to the participants that Hitler himself had tasked Heydrich and the RSHA with coordinating the operation. The men at the table did not deliberate whether such a plan should be undertaken, but instead discussed the implementation of a policy decision that had already been made at the highest level of the Nazi regime.
A massive Soviet 1944 summer offensive in eastern Belarus annihilated German Army Group Center and permitted Soviet forces to overrun the first of the major Nazi concentration camps Majdanek. Shortly after that offensive, SS chief (Reichsfuehrer SS) Heinrich Himmler ordered that prisoners in all concentration camps and subcamps be evacuated toward the interior of the Reich. SS authorities did not want prisoners to fall into enemy hands alive to tell their stories to Allied and Soviet liberators.
Jews were the main targets of the Holocaust but they were not the only group that the Nazis persecuted in Germany and in German-occupied Europe. Nazis also persecuted and killed members of other groups. The Nazis also acted against Gypsies (also called Roma and Sinti), as well as Slavs, Homosexuals, and the Disabled. Below you can find links to information about the experience of those groups in the Holocaust.
Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959)
"The term “genocide” did not exist prior to 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group. In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word “genocide” by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”"
There are several books available in the John Jay Library collection about Raphael Lemkin and his struggle to have the word "genocide" adopted. In particular there is "Raphael Lemkin and the struggle for the Genocide Convention" by John Cooper (Call Number Stacks - HV6322.7 .C67 2008) and "Lemkin on genocide" by Raphael Lemkin himself (Call Number Stacks - HV6322.7 .L46 2011).