The Holocaust,[b] also referred to as the Shoah,[c] was a genocide in which some six million European Jews were killed by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, and the World War II collaborators with the Nazis. The victims included 1.5 million children, and constituted about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had previously resided in Continental Europe. A broader definition of the Holocaust includes non-Jewish victims, such as the Romani, Poles, members of other Slavic ethnic groups, and Aktion T4 patients who were killed because they were mentally and physically disabled. An even broader definition includes Soviet citizens, prisoners of war, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, blacks, political opponents of the Nazis, and members of other smaller groups.
From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in a genocide, which was part of a larger event that included the persecution and murder of other peoples in Europe. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, every arm of Germany's bureaucracy was involved in both the logistics and the carrying out of the mass murder. Killings were committed throughout German-occupied Europe, as well as within Nazi Germany itself, and they were also committed across all territories controlled by its allies. Other victims of Nazi crimes included ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, and other Slavs; Soviet citizens and Soviet POWs; communists; homosexuals; Jehovah's Witnesses; and others. Some 42,500 detention facilities were utilized in the concentration of victims for the purpose of committing gross violations of human rights. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
The persecution was carried out in stages, culminating in the policy of extermination which was termed the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". Following Hitler's rise to power, the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Starting in 1933 the Nazis began to establish a network of concentration camps. After the outbreak of war in 1939 both German and foreign Jews were herded into wartime ghettos. In 1941, as Germany began to conquer new territory in the East, all anti-Jewish measures radicalized. Specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen murdered around two million Jews in mass shootings in less than a year. By mid-1942, victims were regularly being transported by freight trains to extermination camps. Most who survived the journey were systematically killed in gas chambers. This continued until the end of World War II in Europe in April–May 1945.
Jewish armed resistance was limited. The most notable exception was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, when thousands of poorly-armed Jewish fighters held the Waffen-SS at bay for four weeks. An estimated 20,000–30,000 Jewish partisans actively fought against the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe. French Jews took part in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against both the Nazis and the Vichy French authorities. Over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings took place.
The term holocaust comes from the Greek word holókaustos which refers to an animal sacrifice that is offered to a god in which the whole animal is completely burnt. Later it came to denote a massacre or slaughter of large numbers of people. The word shoah (שואה; also transliterated sho'ah and shoa), meaning "calamity" became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s.
"Holocaust" was used in the 1950s by historians as a translation of the Jewish word shoah to refer specifically to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. The television mini-series Holocaust is credited with making the term the usual one for the Jewish genocide in the United States. As the definition of the victims of the Holocaust has expanded to include more than just Jews, shoah continues to retain its meaning as specifically the genocide of the Jews under the Nazis.[d]
The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" or "Final Solution" to refer to their genocide of the Jews. Historian Peter Longerich writes that the term "final solution" and similar euphemisms, were used by the Germans "as camouflage for mass murder".
The restrictive definition of the Holocaust is that it was a genocide of Jews by the Nazis.[e] A broader definition of the Holocaust includes some or all of the non-Jewish victims of the German mass murder campaigns. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust limits the definition of the Holocaust to Jews, Romani, and the Aktion T4 patients who were mentally and physically disabled. Its authors write "all three groups, but only these groups, were equal victims of Nazi racism and genocide." They also offer three additional definitions which include the viewpoints of historians who identify several additional victim groups. One is that the Holocaust only applied to Jews, a second is that there were several different Holocausts, each affecting a separate group, and a third would include all German racially-motivated crimes. Timothy Snyder wrote: "The term Holocaust is sometimes used in two other ways: to mean all German killing policies during the war, or to mean all oppression of Jews by the Nazi regime".
Broader definitions of so-called "parallel Holocausts" include the Soviet POWs who died as a result of mistreatment due to Nazi racial policies, the non-Jewish ethnic Poles who died from the conditions that resulted from the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Soviet citizens who died due to similar conditions in occupied parts of the Soviet Union, mentally and physically disabled people who were killed in Nazi Germany's eugenics program, the Gypsies, or the Romani and Sinti, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious dissenters.
The entirety of German society was engaged in activities relating to the genocide, turning the Third Reich into what one Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, has called "a genocidal state". Bureaucrats were involved with finding records to identify who was a Jew, the confiscation of property, and the scheduling of 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. 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. Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
Saul Friedländer writes that: "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" He writes that some Christian churches "declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point". Friedländer 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".
Historian Yehuda Bauer argues that the Holocaust was based on ideology and myths rather than on practical considerations. Eberhard Jäckel argues that one distinctive feature of the Holocaust was that it was the first time in which a state put the full power behind its declaration that a whole people would be completely wiped out without exception and as quickly as possible.
The killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of German-occupied territory in more than 20 occupied countries. 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 also died in the rest of German-occupied Europe. Discussions at the Wannsee Conference make it clear that the Nazi "final solution of the Jewish question" included Britain and all the neutral states in Europe, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
The use of extermination camps, or death camps, equipped with gas chambers for the systematic mass extermination of people was an unprecedented feature of the Holocaust. They were built for the systematic purpose of killing millions of people, primarily by gassing. Stationary facilities built for the purpose of mass extermination resulted from earlier Nazi experimentation with poison gas during the secret Action T4 euthanasia programme against mental patients.
Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for rejecting and 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. The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in Germany and Austria-Hungary of the Völkisch movement which was developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement presented a pseudo-scientific, biologically based form of racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination.
In the German Empire, völkisch notions and pseudo-scientific racism had become commonplace and they were accepted throughout Germany, with the professional classes of the country adopting an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. Though the völkisch parties were defeated in the 1912 Reichstag elections, being all but wiped out, antisemitism was incorporated into the platforms of the mainstream political parties.
The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I (1914–1918) also contributed to the rise of virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept the fact that their country had been defeated in battle, giving rise to the Stab-in-the-back myth. The myth insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and Communists, who orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment espoused by the myth was the apparent overrepresentation of ethnic Jews in the leadership of Communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, who was the head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perceived overrepresentation contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
The economic strains of the Great Depression led some in the German medical establishment to advocate the euthanization of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure in order to free up money to care for the curable. By the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, a tendency already existed in the German social policy which advocated the saving of the racially "valuable" while seeking to rid society of the racially "undesirable".
The National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party, was founded in 1920 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement and it adopted that movement's form of antisemitism. Early antisemites in the Nazi Party included Alfred Rosenberg, who in the 1920s wrote antisemitic articles in the Völkischer Beobachter, and Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter. 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.
The origin and first expression of Hitler's antisemitism remain a matter of debate. Central to Hitler's philosophy was the idea of expansion and lebensraum (living space) for Germany. Hitler was open about his hatred of Jews and he subscribed to most of the common antisemitic stereotypes. From the early 1920s onwards, Hitler linked the Jews with germs and claimed that they should be dealt with in exactly the same way. Hitler viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine and proclaimed that he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism". He believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany. In the 1920s, the journalist Joseph Hell claimed that in response to being asked what he would do to the Jews once he gained power, Hitler said that his "first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews".
With the establishment of the Third Reich, Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of a Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). Nazi policies divided the population into two categories, the Volksgenossen ("national comrades"), who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens"), who did not. Nazi policies divided people into three types of enemies, the "racial" enemies such as the Jews and the Romani who were viewed as enemies because of their "blood"; political opponents such as Marxists, liberals, Christians and the "reactionaries" who were viewed as wayward "national comrades"; and moral opponents such as homosexuals, the "work-shy" and habitual criminals, who were also seen as wayward "national comrades". The last two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies such as the Jews could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be totally removed from society.
Leading up to the March 1933 Reichstag elections and after it, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against their opponents. They set up concentration camps for the extrajudicial imprisonment of their opponents. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp primarily contained Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing those Germans who did not conform to social norms.
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. On 1 April 1933, a boycott of Jewish businesses occurred. On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed which excluded all Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. Jewish lawyers were disbarred. Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities, from belonging to the Journalists' Association, and from being owners or editors of newspapers. Jewish businesses were also targeted for either closure or "Aryanisation", the forcible sale to Germans. Of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, only about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Accompanying the removal of the Jews from economic life, they were also gradually restricted from most social activities and public areas. Works by Jewish composers, Jewish authors, and Jewish artists were excluded from publications, performances, or exhibitions.
In September 1935, Hitler introduced the three Nuremberg Laws, which prohibited Germans or those of "kindred blood", from having sexual relations with or marrying Jews. The laws also stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. At the same time the Nazis used propaganda to justify the need for a restrictive law, grouping these "crimes" under the concept of Rassenschande (racial shame).
Nazi racial policy was aimed at forcing Jews to emigrate. Fifty thousand German Jews left Germany by the end of 1934, and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left the country. Among the prominent Jews who left was the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. Albert Einstein, who was abroad when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany. He was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and his citizenship was revoked. Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz and Erwin Schrödinger, lost their teaching positions and left the country.
In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, which exposed the Jews of Austria to Nazi antisemitism. Austrian Nazis broke into Jewish shops, stole from Jewish homes and businesses, and forced Jews to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets. Jewish businesses were "Aryanised" and all of the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed upon Austrian Jews. In August Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration, which centralised the process of emigration and led about 100,000 Austrian Jews to leave the country by May 1939.
On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, assassinated the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris in retaliation for the expulsion of his parents from Germany.[f] When vom Rath died on 9 November, the Nazis used his death as a pretext to instigate a pogrom against the Jews in the Third Reich. Although the Nazis claimed the pogrom was spontaneous, it was actually planned and ordered by Hitler and Goebbels. This event became known as Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night" or the "Night of Broken Glass") and it was carried out by the SS and the SA. Over 7,500 Jewish shops and more than 1,000 synagogues were either damaged or destroyed. The damage was estimated at 39 million Reichmarks.
The death toll was officially given as 91, but it may have been higher. 30,000 men were sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, but many of them were released within weeks. Only 2,000 of them remained in the camps by early 1939. German Jewry was made collectively responsible for restitution of the damage resulting from the pogrom, and they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of more than a billion Reichsmarks. Insurance payments for damages to their property were confiscated by the government. A decree on 12 November barred Jews from most of the remaining occupations that they had not yet been banned from. After Kristallnacht, Jews caught in the Third Reich stepped up their efforts to leave the country. It also marked the end of any sort of public Jewish activity and culture.
Before World War II, the Nazis considered mass deportation of German, and later European, Jewry from Europe. Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine, and French Madagascar. After the war began, Nazi leaders considered the idea of deporting Europe's Jews to Siberia.
Palestine was the only location to which any Nazi relocation plan produced any results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the Nazi government. This agreement resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100 million from Germany to Palestine, but it ended with the outbreak of World War II.
In May 1940, Madagascar became the focus of German deportation efforts because it had unfavorable living conditions that would hasten deaths. Some Nazis began discussing the idea in 1938 and Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to carry out resettlement planning, but no evidence of planning exists until after the fall of France in June 1940. But the inability to defeat Great Britain prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, and the end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10 February 1942.
When Germany invaded Poland, it gained control of about 2 million Jews in the territory it occupied. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which gained control of the rest of Poland's pre-war population of 3.3 to 3.5 million Jews. German plans for Poland included expelling the Poles from large areas, the confining of Jews, and settling Germans on the emptied lands. To help the process along, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office, ordered that the "leadership class" in Poland must be killed and the Jews expelled.
The Germans initiated a policy of sending Jews from all the areas they had recently annexed (Austria, Czechoslovakia, and parts of Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. There the Jews were concentrated in ghettos in major cities. Cities chosen were located on railway lines in order to facilitate later deportation. Food supplies were restricted and public hygiene was difficult. The inhabitants were subjected to forced labour. In the labour camps and ghettos at least half a million Jews died of starvation, diseases, and poor living conditions.
The ghettos were not initially considered a step along the way towards the extermination of the Jews. Instead, they were one step towards a policy of creating a territorial reservation used to contain Jews.
After the invasion of Poland, the Germans set up a "Jewish reservation" in the Lublin area, the Nisko Plan. Adolf Eichmann was assigned the task of removing all Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to this reservation. The first Jews were sent there in October 1939. Although 80,000 Jews were initially planned to be deported, only 4700 were actually transported. In late March 1940, Göring put the Nisko Plan on hold, and it was abandoned completely in April.
Germany invaded Norway in April 1940 and the country was completely occupied by June. There were about 1800 Jews in Norway, and they were initially persecuted by Norwegian Nazis. In late 1940, they were banned from some occupations and in 1941 all Jews had to register their property with the government. Also in 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, and there was no chance of resistance because the country was overrun so quickly. Consequently, the Danish government stayed in place and the Germans found it easier to work through it. Because of this, few measures were taken against the Danish Jews before 1942.
The Germans invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in May 1940. In the Netherlands, the Germans installed Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar, who quickly began to persecute the approximately 140,000 Dutch Jews. Jews were forced out of their jobs and had to register with the government. Non-Jewish Dutch citizens protested these measures and in February 1941 staged a strike that was quickly crushed. After Belgium's surrender at the end of May 1940, it was ruled by a German military governor, Alexander von Falkenhausen, which enacted anti-Jewish measures against the approximately 90,000 Jews in Belgium, many of whom were refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe. France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied northern part of France, and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas under the Vichy regime. The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas.
In October 1940, Gauleiters Josef Bürckel and Robert Heinrich Wagner oversaw Operation Bürckel, the expulsion of the Jews into unoccupied France from their gaues and the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany. Only those Jews in mixed marriages were not expelled. The Jews expelled in Operation Bürckel were interned under harsh conditions by the Vichy authorities at various camps.
Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941, and both countries surrendered before the end of the month. Germany and Italy divided Greece into occupation zones, but did not eliminate it as a country. Yugoslavia was dismembered, with regions in the north being annexed by Germany and regions along the coast were made part of Italy. The rest of the country was divided into a puppet state of Croatia, which was nominally an ally of Germany, and Serbia, which was governed by a combination of military and police administrators. There were approximately 80,000 Jews in Yugoslavia when it was invaded. The ruling party in Croatia, the Ustashe, not only killed Jews, but also murdered and expelled Orthodox Christian Serbs and Muslims. One difference between the Germans and the Croatians was the fact that the Ustashe allowed its Jewish and Serbian victims to convert to Catholicism so they could escape death. Serbia was declared free of Jews in August 1942.
Germany's ally Italy introduced some antisemitic measures, but there was less antisemitism than there was in Germany. Italian-occupied countries were generally safer for Jews than German-occupied territories. In some areas, the Italian authorities even attempted to protect Jews, such as in the Croatian areas of the Balkans. But while Italian forces in Russia were not as vicious towards Jews as the Germans, they did not try to stop German atrocities either. There were no deportations of Italian Jews to Germany while Italy remained an ally.
Finland was pressured to give the Germans its Jews (who numbered around 200) in 1942, but given the opposition among the people and government, this did not happen. Eight non-Finnish Jews were deported in late 1942,[g] but that was the only case. Finnish Jews even fought in the army during the period it was allied with Germany. Japan had little antisemitism in its society, and did not persecute Jews in most of the territories it controlled. Jews in Shanghai were confined, but despite German pressure, they were not killed.
Romania implemented a number of anti-Jewish measures in May and June 1940 as part of its efforts towards an alliance with Germany. These included forcing Jews from government service and relegation to the status of second-class citizens. Pogroms were also carried out and by March 1941, Jewish property had been confiscated and all Jews lost their jobs. After Romania joined the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Romanian troops carried out massacres in Romanian-controlled territory, including the Odessa massacre of 20,000 Jews in Odessa in late 1941. Romania also set up concentration camps under its control in Transnistria, where approximately 154,000 to 170,000 Jews were deported from 1941 to 1943.
Slovakia introduced anti-Jewish measures similar to those in Germany, and would later deport its Jews to German concentration and extermination camps. Bulgaria introduced some anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and 1941, including the requirement to wear a yellow star, the banning of mixed marriages, and the loss of property. Jews in Thrace and Macedonia, which were annexed by Bulgaria, were deported to Treblinka in March 1943. But when plans to deport 6000 Bulgarian Jews became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III banned the deportation of Jews from pre-war Bulgaria.
Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Italian-controlled Libya. Almost 2600 Libyan Jews were sent to camps, where 562 died. Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942. An estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor.
The Third Reich first used concentration camps as places of incarceration, and large numbers of Jews did not get sent there until after Kristallnacht. They were not designed to be killing centers. After the start of the war, new camps were established, and some were located outside Germany in occupied Europe. The number of prisoners also grew, to about 80,000. Most of these prisoners were not Germans, but from other countries under the control of the Germans. It is estimated in the occupied countries that Germans established 30,000 slave labor camps and subcamps, almost 1,000 concentration camps, and another 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps.
After 1942, the economic functions of the camps, previously secondary to their control and terrorism functions, came to the fore. Forced labour of camp prisoners became commonplace and companies utilized cheap prisoner labour. The guards became much more brutal, and the death rate increased markedly as the guards not only beat and starved prisoners, but also killed them more frequently. Extermination through labour was a policy of systematic extermination—camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or worked to physical exhaustion, when they would be gassed or shot. For many prisoners, the Germans estimated the average life span in a concentration camp at three months, mainly due to lack of food and clothing, constant epidemics, and frequent punishments for the most minor transgressions. The shifts were long and often involved exposure to dangerous materials. Safety was neglected.
Prisoner transportation between camps was often carried out in freight cars with the prisoners packed very tightly. Long delays often took place, with the prisoners confined in the cars on sidings for days. In mid-1942 labour camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be put into quarantine for four weeks. Some camps tattooed prisoners with an identification number on arrival, but not all did. Prisoners also had colored triangles on their uniforms, with the color of the triangle denoting the reason for their incarceration.[h]
After invading Poland, the Nazis established ghettos in the incorporated territories and General Government to confine Jews. The ghettos were formed and closed off from the outside world at different times and for different reasons. For example, the Łódź ghetto was closed in April 1940, to force the Jews inside to give up money and valuables; the Warsaw ghetto was closed for health considerations (for the people outside, not inside, the ghetto), but this did not happen until November 1940; and the Krakow ghetto was not established until March 1941. The Warsaw Ghetto contained 380,000 people and was the largest Polish ghetto; the Łódź Ghetto was the second largest, holding between 160,000 to 230,000. Because of the long drawn-out process of establishing ghettos, it is unlikely that they were originally considered part of a systematic attempt to eliminate Jews completely.
The Germans required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat, or Jewish council. Councils were responsible for a ghetto's day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps. The councils' basic strategy was one of trying to minimise losses, by cooperating with Nazi authorities, bribing officials, and petitioning for better conditions or clemency.
Eventually the Germans ordered the councils to compile lists of names of deportees to be sent for "resettlement". Although most ghetto councils complied with these orders, many councils tried to send either outsiders, such as the Roma, or the least useful workers. Leaders who refused these orders were shot. Some individuals or even complete councils committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations. Others, like Chaim Rumkowski, who became the "dedicated autocrat" of Łódź, argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved, and that therefore others had to be sacrificed. The councils' actions in facilitating Germany's persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was important to the Nazis. When cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council's authority, the Germans lost control.
Ghettos were intended to be temporary until the Jews were deported to other locations, which never happened. Instead, the inhabitants were sent to extermination camps. The ghettos were, in effect, immensely crowded prisons serving as instruments of "slow, passive murder." Though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of Warsaw's population, it occupied only 2.5% of the city's area, averaging over 9 people per room. Between 1940 and 1942, starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed many in the ghettos. Over 43,000 Warsaw ghetto residents, or one in ten of the total population, died in 1941; in Theresienstadt, more than half the residents died in 1942.
Himmler ordered the closing of the Polish ghettos in mid-July 1942, with most inhabitants going to extermination camps. Those Jews needed for war production would be confined at concentration camps. The deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began on 22 July; over the almost two months of the Aktion, until 12 September, the Warsaw ghetto went from approximately 350,000 inhabitants to about 65,000. Those deported were transported in freight trains to the Treblinka extermination camp. Similar deportations happened in other ghettos, with many ghettos totally emptied.
The first ghetto uprisings occurred in mid-1942 in small community ghettos. Although there were armed resistance attempts in both the larger and smaller ghettos in 1943, in every case they failed against the overwhelming Nazi military force, and the remaining Jews were either killed or deported to the death camps.
A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the Holocaust. The Nazis encouraged some and others were spontaneous. Some, such as the Iaşi pogrom, were in lands controlled by Germany's allies. In the series of Lviv pogroms committed in occupied Poland, perhaps initiated by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, some 6,000 Polish Jews were murdered in the streets in July 1941, on top of 3,000 arrests and mass shootings by Einsatzgruppe C. During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, in the presence of the Nazi officers, several hundred Jews were murdered by some local Poles, with some being burned alive in a barn.[i]
Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase in the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish, Romani and Slavic Untermenschen ("sub-humans").
Local populations in some occupied Soviet territories actively participated in the killings of Jews and others. Besides participating in killings and pogroms, they helped identify Jews for persecution and rounded up Jews for German actions. German involvement ranged from active instigation and involvement to more generalized guidance. In Lithuania, Latvia, and western Ukraine locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the beginning of the German occupation. Some of these Latvian and Lithuanian units also participated in the murder of Jews in Belarus. In the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews and some went to Poland to serve as concentration and death-camp guards. Military units from some countries allied to Germany also killed Jews. Romanian units were given orders to exterminate and wipe out Jews in areas they controlled. Ustaše militia in Croatia persecuted and murdered Jews, among others. Many of the killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice.
The mass killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was assigned to four SS formations called Einsatzgruppen ("task groups"), which were under Heydrich's overall command. Similar formations had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but the ones operating in the Soviet territories were much larger. The Einsatzgruppen's commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals and most were intellectuals. By the winter of 1941–1942, the four Einsatzgruppen and their helpers had killed almost 500,000 people.
Probably the largest massacre of Jews by the mobile killing squads in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.[j] A mixture of SS and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not actively participate in the killings, men of the 6th Army helped round up the Jews of Kiev and transport them to be shot.
By the end of the war, estimates of the number of victims of the Einsatzgruppen and their helpers in the local population and the German Army are about 2 million. Of those, about 1.3 million were Jews and perhaps as many as quarter million were Roma.
As the mass shootings continued in Russia, the Germans began to search for new methods of mass murder. This was driven by a need to have a more efficient method than simply shooting millions of victims. Himmler also feared that the mass shootings were causing psychological problems in the SS. His concerns were shared by his subordinates in the field. Starting in December 1939, another method besides shooting was tried. Experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment were used to kill the disabled and mentally-ill in occupied Poland, as part of the Action T4. In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, larger vans holding up to 100 people were used from November 1941, using the engine's exhaust rather than tanked gases. Similar vans were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and another 15 were used by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet Union. The vans were used to kill about 500,000 people, primarily Jews but also Romani and others.
Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 in Berlin's Wannsee suburb. It brought together Nazi leaders, from the party and government departments responsible for policies linked to Jewish issues. The conference's initial purpose was to discuss plans for a comprehensive solution to the "Jewish question in Europe." Heydrich was put in overall charge of "final solution" throughout Europe. Heydrich meant for the conference to share information among the officials so they would all share responsibility.
A copy of the minutes survives, but on Heydrich's instructions, they were written in "euphemistic language" so the exact words used are not known. But Heydrich announced that the immigration plan had been replaced by an approach of deporting Jews to the east. This was just a provisional solution leading up to a final solution that would involve some 11 million Jews living not only in territories controlled by Germany, but throughout continental Europe and areas adjacent to it. There was little doubt what the solution was: "Heydrich also made it clear what was understood by the phrase 'Final Solution': the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder."
Killing on a mass scale with gas as the main killing means is the main difference between a death or extermination camp and the rest of the German concentration and labour camps. During 1942 three camps were built as extermination camps for Operation Reinhard.[k] About the same time, two other camps, Chełmno[l] and Majdanek[m] which already existed had extermination facilities added to them. The three new camps were built for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of Jews as quickly as possible – at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. At around the same time, Auschwitz, which was actually three camps, was experimenting with systematic killing. These six camps are generally considered to be death camps or extermination camps. A few other camps are occasionally also named as extermination camps, but there is no scholarly agreement on the additional camps. Commonly mentioned as "other" death camps are Mauthausen in Austria and Stutthof. There may have been plans for camps at Mogilev and Lvov also, but they never progressed past the planning stage.
Usually, victims arrived by train. Almost all arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps of Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were sent directly to the gas chambers, with occasional individuals selected to replace dead workers. At Auschwitz, the camp officials usually subjected individuals to selections and some of new arrivals deemed fit to work were sent to slave labour. Those selected for death at all camps were then told to undress and hand over their valuables to camp workers. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. In order to prevent panic, the victims were often told these were showers or delousing chambers. The procedure at Chełmno was slightly different, as the victims were put into a mobile gas van and asphyxiated while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. There the corpses were unloaded and buried.
At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, releasing toxic prussic acid, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed, gold fillings in their teeth were extracted, and women's hair was cut. The work was done by the Sonderkommando, or work groups of Jewish prisoners. At first at Auschwitz, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.
At the three Reinhard camps the victims were killed by the exhaust fumes of stationary diesel engines. Gold fillings were pulled from the corpses before burial, but the women's hair was cut before death. At Treblinka, in order to calm the arriving victims, the arrival platform was made to look like a train station, complete with fake clock. Majdanek used Zyklon-B gas in its gas chambers. In contrast to Auschwitz, the three Reinhard camps were quite small. At these camps, most of the initial victims were buried in pits, but in 1942 in order to hide the evidence of the extermination, the exhumation of the bodies and cremation of them was begun. Sobibór and Bełżec began the process in late 1942 but Treblinka did not start until March 1943. The bodies were burned in open fireplaces and the remaining bones were crushed into powder.
Peter Longerich observes that in the Polish ghettos by the end of 1942 that "there was practically no resistance." He argues that one of the reasons for this were that there were no organized groups until the early part of 1942. Raul Hilberg accounts for this compliant attitude by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: as had been the case before in history, simply appealing to their oppressors, and complying with orders, would hopefully avoid inflaming the situation and so mitigate the damage until the onslaught abated. They were "caught in the straitjacket of their history", and the realisation that this time was different came too late.
Discussing the case of Warsaw, Timothy Snyder notes in a similar vein that it was only during the three months after the massive deportations of July–September 1942 that general agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached. By the time of the biggest act of armed resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of spring 1943, only a small minority of Polish Jews were still alive.
Henri Michel argues that resistance consisted not only of physical opposition, but of any activity that gave the Jews dignity and humanity in humiliating and inhumane conditions. Yehuda Bauer restricts Michel's definition somewhat, making resistance as actions that opposed somehow the German directives, laws, or conduct.
In every ghetto, in every deportation train, in every labour camp, even in the death camps, the will to resist was strong, and took many forms: fighting with sticks and knives, individual acts of defiance and protest, the courage of obtaining food under the threat of death, the nobility of refusing to allow the Germans their final wish to gloat over panic and despair. Even passivity was a form of courage. ... To die with dignity was in itself courageous. To resist the dehumanizing, brutalizing force of evil, to refuse to be abased to the level of animals, to live through the torment, to outlive the tormentors, these too were courageous. Merely to give a witness by one's own testimony was, in the end, to contribute to a moral victory. Simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit.— Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust
Hilberg cautions against overstating the extent of Jewish resistance, or using all-encompassing definitions of it like that deployed by Gilbert; aruging that by turning isolated incidents into resistance, it obscures the underlying German motivations and elevates the slaughter of innocent people into some kind of battle. He also contends that by ascribing to every European Jew acts of resistance, it diminishes the heroism of those who to active measures to resist the Germans. Finally he asserts that the blending of the passive majority with the active few is a way of deflecting questions about the survival strategies and leadership of the Jewish community.
Organized uprisings took place in at least 19 ghettos as well as some of the camps. Groups such as the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, or the United Partisan Organization in Vilna, were formed to resist through armed revolts or resistance. Over a hundred revolts and uprisings are known to have occurred in ghettos and other locations in Eastern Europe.
The best known example of Jewish armed resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, when around a thousand poorly armed Jewish fighters[n] held the SS off for four weeks before the German's superior forces defeated them. According to Polish and Jewish accounts, hundreds or thousands of Germans were killed, while the Germans reported 16 dead. The Germans reported around 14,000 Jews killed[o] and between 53,000 and 56,000 deported. A revolt in the Treblinka extermination camp occurred on 2 August 1943, when the inmates revolted. They killed five or six guards and set fire to a few camp buildings, Of the approximately 850 prisoners in the camp, only around 350 or so escaped the immediate area of the camp, and 70 of those survived the war.[p] The camp itself was demolished soon after the revolt by the Germans, who used recaptured prisoners for the work before killing them. Another uprising occurred in the Białystok Ghettoon 16 August 1943. The revolt began when the Germans announced mass deportations and a group of Jewish insurgents revolted. The fighting lasted five days, but the fighters were defeated by the superior numbers of the Germans.
On 14 October 1943, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór, including Jewish Soviet prisoners of war, attempted an escape. The prisoners killed 11 German SS officers and a couple of Ukranian camp guards, but the inmates were forced to run. About 300 prisoners escaped, but 100 were recaptured and shot soon after escaping. About 50 survived the war. In October 1944, Jewish Sonderkommandos at Auschwitz attacked their guards and blew up Crematorium IV with explosives that had been smuggled in. Three German guards were killed during the uprising, one of whom was stuffed into an oven. The Sonderkommandos attempted a mass breakout, but all were killed.
While there were no independent Jewish resistance groups during the war, many joined other active partisan groups. Estimates of total Jewish participation in partisan units throughout Europe range from a low of 20,000 to a high of 100,000.
In the occupied Polish and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews joined the Soviet partisan movement. One of the famous Jewish partisan groups was the Bielski partisans in Belarus, which was led by the Bielski brothers. Some of the fighters in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 had participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Jews also joined the Polish Home Army or other Polish forces. According to Timothy Snyder, "more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943". Joining the partisans was an option only for the young and the fit who were willing to leave their families. Many Jewish families preferred to die together rather than be separated.
French Jews were also highly active in the French Resistance, with the percentage of Jews belonging to resistance groups being many times their percentage of the population. Zionist Jews formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, smuggled Jews out of the country, and participated in the liberation of Paris and other cities.
As many as 1.4 million Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies. including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the U.S. Army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army. About 200,000 Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army died in the war. The Jewish Brigade, a unit of 5,000 Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine, fought in the British Army.
The SS used the inmates of both the concentration and extermination camps as subjects of medical experiments. Both Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners were used for a variety of experiments. The most notorious of these physicians was Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. His 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.[q] Other experiments took place at Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and others. Some of the experiments 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. These experiments violated rules requiring consent for human experimentation and were conducted without regard to medical ethics. At least 7000, and likely more, prisoners were subjected to these experiments, and most died either during the experiments or afterwards.
Most of the Jewish ghettos of General Government were liquidated in 1942–1943, and their populations shipped to the camps for extermination.[r] About 42,000 Jews were shot during the Operation Harvest Festival on 3–4 November 1943. At the same time, rail shipments arrived regularly from western and southern Europe at the extermination camps. Few Jews were shipped from the occupied Soviet territories to the camps: the killing of Jews in this zone was mostly left in the hands of the SS, aided by locally recruited auxiliaries.[s]
Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority over anything but the army's needs on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942 Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and at the killing of skilled Jewish workers; however, Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations. In fact, many of the war industries using slave labour were more productive when SS supervision was removed; otherwise their brutality proved counterproductive.
By 1943, it was evident to the armed forces leadership that Germany was losing the war. In October 1943, Himmler gave a speech to senior Nazi Party officials gathered in Poznań. Here he came closer than ever before to stating explicitly his intent to exterminate the Jews of Europe:
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It's one of those things that is easily said: "The Jewish people are being exterminated", says every party member, "this is very obvious, it's in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we're doing it, hah, a small matter." ... The hard decision had to be made that this people should be caused to disappear from earth…Perhaps, at a much later time, we can consider whether we should say something more about this to the German people. I myself believe that it is better for us—us together—to have borne this for our people, that we have taken the responsibility for it on ourselves (the responsibility for an act, not just for an idea), and that we should now take this secret with us to the grave.— Heinrich Himmler, "Secret Address to SS Officers" 10 June 1943, quoted in Berel Lang Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide
The scale of extermination slackened somewhat at the beginning of 1944 once the ghettos in occupied Poland were emptied, but on 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary, and dispatched Eichmann to Budapest to supervise the deportation of Hungarian Jews. More than 470,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped to Auschwitz after the occupation. During the deportations in May and June 1944, up to 6,000 people were being gassed every day at Auschwitz. During the Hungarian deportations, there were efforts to negotiate with the Allies to rescue Jews; at one point there was an attempt by Eichmann to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks—the so-called "blood for goods" proposal was made—but there was no real possibility of such a deal being struck on this scale.
Escapes from the camps were few, but not unknown. Assisting a Jew in any way within Nazi-occupied Poland was life-threatening as a result decrees ordering the death penalty for hiding a Jew, later expanded to include the death penalty for any aid to Jews.
In February 1942, an escapee from Chełmno, Jacob Grojanowski, reached the Warsaw Ghetto, where he gave detailed information about the camp to the Oneg Shabbat group. His report, which became known as the Grojanowski Report, was smuggled out of the ghetto and reached London by June 1942. In the meantime, by 1 February, the United States Office of War Information had decided not to release information about the extermination of the Jews because it was felt that it would mislead the public into thinking the war was simply a Jewish problem.
After being smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto and infiltrating Bełżec, Jan Karski reported to Allies in 1942 on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the mass killings. In December 1942, the Polish Foreign Minister in-exile sent a report to all Allied governments which detailed liquidation of the ghettos and denounced the mass extermination the Jewish population. This report and the Polish Government's lobbying efforts triggered the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations of 17 December 1942 which made public and condemned the mass extermination of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Two Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944, eventually reaching Slovakia. Their document about the mass murder at Auschwitz became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. The New York Times published material from the Vrba-Wetzler report in June and July 1944. The subsequent pressure persuaded Miklós Horthy to bring the deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to a halt on 9 July, saving up to 200,000 Jews from death.
By mid-1944, those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May, Himmler claimed in a speech that "the Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany".
As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, with surviving inmates shipped to camps closer to Germany. Efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened in the camps and in the mass shootings. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches" until the last weeks of the war.[t]
Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, prisoners were forced to march out of the camps. Some were marched to train stations and then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in open freight cars and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Others were marched the entire distance to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.
The first major camp to be encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on 25 July 1944. Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on 27 January 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on 11 April; Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British on 15 April; Dachau was liberated by the Americans on 29 April; Ravensbrück was liberated by the Soviets on 30 April; Mauthausen was liberated by the Americans on 5 May; and the Red Cross took control of Theresienstadt on 4 May, some days before the Soviets arrived.
The Soviets found 7,600 inmates in Auschwitz. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks.
The BBC's Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen:
Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them… Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live… A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms… He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.— Richard Dimbleby, 1945
In his 1965 essay "Command and Compliance", historian Hans Buchheim wrote there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will. Buchheim wrote that the chances to avoid participating in killing Jews were available for perpetrators, although they did not often admit that after the war, and that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were sent to concentration camps or executed. Moreover, SS rules prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism and acts of sadism were taken on the individual initiative of those who were either especially cruel or who wished to prove themselves ardent Nazis. Finally, he argued that those who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group and were afraid of being branded "weak" by their colleagues.
In his 1992 monograph Ordinary Men, the historian Christopher Browning examined the deeds of German Reserve Police Battalion 101, used for massacres and round-ups of Jews as well as deportations to the death camps. The members of the battalion were middle-aged men of working-class background who were too old for regular military duty. They were given no special training for genocide and at first, the commander gave his men the choice of opting out of direct participation in the killing of Jews if they found it too unpleasant. The majority chose not to opt out; fewer than 12 men, out of a battalion of 500 did so on the first occasion. Browning argued that the men of the battalion killed out of peer pressure, not blood-lust.
Historian Sergei Kudryashov studied the guards trained at the Trawniki SS camp division ("Trawniki men" or "Trawniki guards"), who provided personnel for the Operation Reinhard death camps and other concentration camps. Most of them were former Red Army soldiers who volunteered to join the SS in order to get out of the POW camps. The vast majority carried out the SS's expectations of how to treat Jews, and most personally killed Jews. Agreeing with Browning, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of ordinary people becoming willing killers.
Germans usually justified the Einsatzgruppen's massacres on the grounds of anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the historian Andreas Hillgruber aruges that this was merely an excuse for the German Army's considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia. Hillgruber maintained that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying. Jürgen Förster agrees, and argued that the Wehrmacht played a key role in the Holocaust. He said it is wrong to describe the Holocaust as solely the work of the SS with the Wehrmacht as a passive and disapproving bystander.
Army co-operation with the SS in anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and intensive. After a 1941 SS "anti-partisan" operation which killed over 14,000 Jews and only 1000 partisans, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the Army Group Center Rear Area, ordered that all Wehrmacht security divisions should emulate this example when on anti-partisan duty, and organized a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar on how best to kill Jews. The event, that became known as the Mogilev Conference, ended with a German unit killing Jews as a demonstration.
In his 1983 book, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw examined everyday life in Bavaria during the Nazi period. Kershaw argued that the most common viewpoint of Bavarians was indifference towards the persecution of Jews. Kershaw argued that most Bavarians were vaguely aware of the genocide, but were vastly more concerned about the war than the "Final Solution". Kershaw made the analogy that "the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference".
Kershaw's assessment that most Bavarians, and by implication most Germans, were indifferent to the Holocaust faced criticism from historians Otto Dov Kulka and Michael Kater. Kater maintained that Kershaw downplayed the extent of popular antisemitism, and that though admitting that most of the "spontaneous" antisemitic actions of Nazi Germany were staged, argued that because these actions involved substantial numbers of Germans, it is wrong to see the extreme antisemitism of the Nazis as coming solely from above. Kulka argued that most Germans were more antisemitic than Kershaw portrayed them and that rather than "indifference", "passive complicity" would be a better term to describe the reaction of the German people.
In a study focusing only on the views about Jews among Germans opposed to the Nazi regime, historian Christof Dipper in his 1983 essay "Der Deutsche Widerstand und die Juden" argued that the majority of the anti-Nazi national-conservatives were antisemitic. Though Dipper noted no one in the German resistance supported the Holocaust, he also commented that the national-conservatives did not intend to restore civil rights to the Jews after the planned overthrow of Hitler.
Research by the United States Holocaust Museum has established that because the camps were so widespread[u] it is unlikely that the German population could avoid knowing about the persecutions and killings. Robert Gellately has argued that the German civilian population were, by and large, aware of what was happening. According to Gellately, the government openly announced the conspiracy through the media and civilians were aware of its every aspect except for the use of gas chambers.
|Soviet POWs||2–3 million||Berenbaum|
|Ethnic Poles||1.8–1.9 million||Piotrowski|
|Disabled||150,000||Niewyk & Nicosia|
|Romani||90,000–220,000||USHMM / Hancock[v]|
|Jehovah's Witnesses||1,400 to 2,500||USHMM, Milton|
The number of victims depends on which definition of the Holocaust is used. The number of Jewish victims is somewhere over 5 million, with upper estimates ranging from 5.9 million, to 6 million, or even over 6 million. The broadest definition of the Holocaust would raise the death toll to 17 million. A research project conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated that 15 to 20 million people died or were imprisoned during the Holocaust. Rudolph Rummel estimates the total democidal death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million.
|Death toll of Jews|
Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, gave a figure of 6 million Jewish victims. The Yad Vashem Museum writes that "there is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed", but has been able to find documentation of more than three million names of Jewish victims killed.
The early postwar calculations ranged from about 4.2 to 4.5 million in The Final Solution (1953) by Gerald Reitlinger, who was arguing against higher Russian estimates, and 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, to 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust estimate 5.59–5.86 million. A study led by Wolfgang Benz suggests 5.29 to 6.20 million. These estimates derive from comparing census records from before and after the war as well as the surviving German documentation on deportations and killings. Martin Gilbert arrived at a "minimum estimate" of over 5.75 million Jewish victims. Lucy S. Dawidowicz used the pre-war census figures to estimate that 5.934 million Jews died.
The roughly six million killed in the Holocaust represent one third of the entire world population of Jews. The victims were about two-thirds of European Jewry, based on an estimated number of about 9.7 million Jews in Europe at the start of the war. Of those victims, 1.5 million were children. Much of the uncertainty around how many Jews died comes from issues with how many Jews there were in the Soviet Union; compounded by the NKVD practice of claiming foreign nationals as Soviet citizens.
At Auschwitz-Birkenau over 1,000,000 people were killed. At Treblinka 870,000 to 925,000 Jews were murdered. At Bełżec, between 434,000 and 600,000 Jews were slaughtered. At Chełmno, between 152,000 and 320,000 Jews were executed. At Sobibór, between 170,000 and 250,000 Jews were killed. At Majdanek, depending on the various sources, between 79,000 and 235,000 Jews were murdered. For the death camps, 80–90% of the victims are estimated to be Jews. They accounted for half the total number of Jews killed in the entire Holocaust.
Around one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet territories, an approximate figure, since the Einsatzgruppen reports did not always survive the war. Many more died through execution or of disease and malnutrition in the ghettos of Poland before they could be deported.
Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish population of the Baltic States was around 350,000 in total: 250,000 in Lithuania, 95,000 in Latvia, and 4,500 in Estonia. By the end of 1941, close to 230,000 Jews in Latvia and Lithuania had been murdered during the previous six months. Of 4,000 Jews in Estonia before the German invasion, some 3,000 fled to the Soviet Union. The remaining 1,000 were all murdered by the SS killing squads. Finland had about 2000 Jews prior to the outbreak of war, but lost only 7 in the Holocaust.
Soviet figures are problematic because of the uncertainty of how many refugees were in the areas of the Soviet Union occupied by the Germans. There were 3,020,000 Jews living in the Soviet Union in 1939 and the losses were between 1 and 1.1 million. Almost all Jews within the areas occupied by the Germans were killed during the Holocaust.
According to Holocaust Encyclopedia, there were 523,000 Jews in Germany in 1933. Following the Nazi takeover, many left the country. About 202,000 Jews remained in Germany and 57,000 in Austria after the invasion of Poland. The majority died in the Holocaust. The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia had about 118,000 prior to deportations beginning, and 78,150 died during the Holocaust. Slovakia had almost 89,000 Jews at the start of 1942 with losses of between 68,000 and 71,000, with an unknown number of refugees in transit who were caught and died in Slovakia. The exact number of pre-war Hungarian Jews is complicated by the changes in borders during the war as well as no precise figures on those Jews who were considered Jews only by racial definitions. Rough estimates give 825,000 Jews in Hungary during the war, with losses ranging from 550,000 to 569,000. Italy had about 44,500 Jews and 7680 were killed in the Holocaust.
In Western Europe, Belgium lost 28,900 of a pre-war population of 65,700 Jews. There were approximately 7800 Jews in Denmark before the Holocaust,[w] most of whom survived the war. France had approximately 350,000 Jews at the start of deportations, and 77,300 died in the Holocaust.[x] Luxembourg had about 3500 Jews before the occupation and about 1950 died. About 100,000 of 140,000 Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust. Norway had 1700 Jews and lost 762.
In the Balkans, Bulgaria deported none of its Jewish citizens.[y] Greece had about 77,000 Jews prior to the German and Italian invasion, and 60,000 to 67,000 of them died. Romania's changes of borders make it difficult to give precise figures, but the pre-war population of Jews was around 610,000. Between 271,000 and 287,000 lost their lives in the Holocaust. Yugoslavia had about 78,000 Jews prior to the war, and lost between 56,000 to 67,000.
The Nazis considered the Slavs as subhumans, or Untermenschen. Heinrich Himmler in a secret memorandum dated 25 May 1940 expressed his own thoughts and the future plans for the populations in the East. Himmler stated that it was in the German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He also wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to schools which would only teach them how to write their own name, count up to 500 and to obey Germans.
Himmler's General Plan East, or Generalplan Ost, which was agreed to by Hitler in the summer of 1942, involved exterminating, expelling, or enslaving most or all Slavs from their lands so as to make living space for German settlers, something that would be carried out over a period of 20–30 years. Though Generalplan Ost was never fully implemented, historian Rudolph Rummel estimates the number of Slav civilians and POWs murdered by the Nazis to be 10,547,000.
German planners in November 1939 called for "the complete destruction" of all Poles. Poland under German occupation was to be cleared of Poles and settled by German colonists. But Nazi planners decided against a genocide of ethnic Poles on the same scale as against Jews, at least in the short term.
German actions against ethnic Poles were not on the scale of the Jewish genocide. Most Polish Jews perished during the Holocaust, while most Christian Poles survived the occupation. Between 1.8 and 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished at German hands during the course of the war, about four-fifths of whom were ethnic Poles with the rest ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians. At least 200,000 of these victims died in concentration camps with about 146,000 being killed in Auschwitz. Many others died as a result of general massacres or uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising where between 120,000 and 200,000 civilians were killed.
The policy of the Germans in Poland included reducing food rations, deliberate lowering of public hygiene, and the deprivation of medical services. The general mortality rate rose from 13 to 18 per thousand. Overall, about 5.6 million of the victims of World War II were Polish citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and over the course of the war Poland lost 16 percent of its pre-war population. Over 90 percent of the death toll came through non-military losses, through various deliberate actions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Germans had specific orders from Hitler to fight ruthlessly against the Serbs, who, besides being potential allies of the Russians, were considered Untermenschen (sub-humans). The Ustaše collaborators conducted a systematic extermination of large numbers of people for political, religious or racial reasons. The most numerous victims were Serbs, but Bosniaks, Croats and others were also victims.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports that between 77,000 and 99,000 persons were killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp, with estimates ranging from a low of 20,000 to as many as a million. Yad Vashem reports that over 500,000 Serbs were murdered by the Ustaše. Other, Serbian, estimates range from 600,000 to 1 million Serbian deaths during the war. Excluding Slovenes under Italian rule, about 55,000 civilian Slovenes were killed. Estimates of Bosnian Muslims killed during the war range from 75,000 to 100,000.
Albanian collaborationists cooperated with the Nazis in an extensive persecution of non-Albanians. The Albanian SS Skenderbeg Division participated in rounding up Jews as well as the killing and looting of Serbian areas. 3,000 to 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were murdered by the Albanians during the war, and another 30,000 to 100,000 were expelled.
Soviet civilian populations in the occupied areas were also heavily persecuted outside of events taking place in the frontline warfare of the Eastern Front. Villages throughout the Soviet Union were destroyed by German troops. Germans rounded up civilians for forced labour in Germany as well as causing famines by taking foodstuffs.
In 1995 The Russian Academy of Sciences reported that the number of civilian victims in the USSR who were murdered at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals.
In Belarus, Nazi Germany imposed a regime in the country that deported some 380,000 people for slave labour and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. More than 600 villages had their entire populations killed and at least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis. According to Timothy Snyder, of "the nine million people who were on the territory of Soviet Belarus in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians)".
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has estimated that 3.3 million of the 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody. The death rates decreased as the POWs were needed to work as slaves to help the German war effort; by 1943, half a million of them had been deployed as slave labour.
The Romani were subject to discrimination under the Nuremberg racial laws. Because the Romani are traditionally private with a culture based on oral history, less is known about their experience than is known about any other group. Yehuda Bauer writes that the lack of information can be attributed to the Romani's distrust and suspicion, and to their humiliation, because some of the taboos in Romani culture regarding hygiene and sex were violated at Auschwitz.
The treatment of the Romani was not consistent across German-occupied territories, with those in France and the Low Countries subject to restrictions on movement and some confinement to collection camps. Those in Central and Eastern Europe were sent to concentration camps and murdered by soldiers and execution squads. Before being sent to the camps, the victims were herded into ghettos, including several hundred into the Warsaw Ghetto. Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Romani encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims. They were also targeted by the allies of the Germans, such as the Ustaše regime in Croatia, where a large number of Romani were killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp.
In May 1942, the Romani were placed under similar labour and social laws to the Jews. On 16 December 1942, Heinrich Himmler issued a decree that "Gypsy Mischlinge [mixed breeds], Roma Gypsies, and members of the clans of Balkan origins who are not of German blood" should be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. This was adjusted on 15 November 1943, when Himmler ordered that, in the occupied Soviet areas, "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be treated as citizens of the country. Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." Bauer argues that this adjustment reflected Nazi ideology that the Romani, originally an Aryan population, had been "spoiled" by non-Romani blood.
Donald Niewyk and Frances Nicosia write that the death toll was at least 130,000 of the nearly one million Romani in German-occupied Europe. Michael Berenbaum writes that serious scholarly estimates lie between 90,000 and 220,000. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum calculates a death toll of at least 220,000. Ian Hancock has argued in favour of a much higher figure of between 500,000 and 1,500,000.
The number of Afro-Germans in Germany when the Nazis came to power is variously estimated at 5,000–25,000. It is not clear whether these figures included Asians. Although blacks in Germany and German-occupied Europe were subjected to incarceration, sterilization, murder, and other abuse, there was no programme to kill all of them as there was for the Jews.
Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (Life unworthy of life) in reference to their disabled or mentally-ill victims. In July 1933, the Sterilization Law allowing for compulsory sterilization of the "inferior" was passed. In the first year of operation, this eugenics policy had over 80,000 cases, which were decided in favour of sterilization over 90 percent of the time. Estimates for the total number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000. In October 1939 Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out the programme of involuntary euthanasia, known as Action T4.
The Action T4 programme aimed to maintain the racial purity of the German people by killing or sterilizing citizens who were judged to be disabled or suffering from mental disorders. The program was named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered.
Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally-ill adults in institutions were killed; 5,000 children in institutions; and 1,000 Jews in institutions. There were also specialized killing centres, where the deaths are estimated as 20,000, according to Georg Renno, the deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, the commandant of Mauthausen concentration camp. Overall, the number of mentally and physically handicapped murdered was about 150,000. Despite not being formally ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions took part in the planning and carrying out of the Action T4 at every stage, and constituted the connection to the later annihilation of Jews and others in the Holocaust. After strong protests by the German Catholic and Protestant churches in August 1941 Hitler ordered the cancellation of the T4 program, although the disabled and mentally-ill continued to be killed until the end of the war.
Between 5,000 and 15,000 German homosexuals are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. James Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than acts, and the "gesundes Volksempfinden" ("healthy sensibility of the people") became the guiding legal principle. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Homosexuality was declared contrary to "wholesome popular sentiment". The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors.
Tens of thousands were convicted between 1933 and 1944 and sent to camps for "rehabilitation", where they were identified by pink triangles. Hundreds were castrated, sometimes voluntarily in hopes that they could avoid criminal sentences, although in some cases the consent had been forced. They were abused, tortured, used in medical experiments, and killed. Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.
Before the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler issued the Commissar Order, which ordered the execution of all political commissars and Communist Party members captured. Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog") was a directive of Hitler in December 1941, resulting in kidnapping and the disappearance of political activists throughout the German occupied territories.
Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or to serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. They were marked out by purple triangles. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates between 2700 and 3300 were sent to concentration camps, but Sybil Milton states the number in the camps was 10,000. Between 1400 and 2500 died while in the camps. Historian Detlef Garbe writes that "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."
Shimon Samuels says that one debate in Holocaust scholarship is between "specifists" and "universalists". The former regards comparisons of the Holocaust to other genocides to be invidious trivialization, while the latter places the Holocaust alongside other experiences of mass killings as part and parcel of the global context of genocide and human suffering. Proponents of the Holocaust's uniqueness argue that comparing it to other genocides trivializes the Holocaust, with regards to its scope, scale, methods and motivations. Opponents of this view consider it immoral and unjustified to hold any tragedy as unique and beyond comparison. Others believe that debating the Holocaust's uniqueness itself is offensive and misguided.
A 2011 survey by Dan Stone deemed the debate "irrelevant" in genocide scholarship. However specific arguments about the Nazi Holocaust continue to characterize the views of many specialists on the subject. A 2015 view from a historian of the Third Reich, Richard J. Evans:
Thus although the Nazi 'Final Solution' was one genocide among many, it had features that made it stand out from all the rest as well. Unlike all the others it was bounded neither by space nor by time. It was launched not against a local or regional obstacle, but at a world-enemy seen as operating on a global scale. It was bound to an even larger plan of racial reordering and reconstruction involving further genocidal killing on an almost unimaginable scale, aimed, however, at clearing the way in a particular region – Eastern Europe – for a further struggle against the Jews and those the Nazis regarded as their puppets. It was set in motion by ideologues who saw world history in racial terms. It was, in part, carried out by industrial methods. These things all make it unique.— Richard Evans, The Third Reich in History and Memory
The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The first of these trials was the 1945–1946 trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). This tribunal tried 22 political and military leaders of the Third Reich, except for Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide several months before.
The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals[z] and seven organizations—the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command". The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The Tribunal passed out sentences ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. Further trials at Nuremberg took place between 1946 and 1949, which tried a further 185 defendants.
The Holocaust greatly affected Yiddish language and culture. On the eve of World War II, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers in the world. Five-sixths of the Jewish victims spoke Yiddish, which greatly reduced the number of speakers throughout the world.
In March 1951, a request was made by Israel which claimed global recompense to Israel of $1.5 billion based on the financial cost absorbed by Israel for the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer accepted these terms and declared he was ready to negotiate other reparations. A Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany was opened in order to help with individual claims. After negotiations, the claim was reduced to a sum of $720 million in direct and indirect compensation to be paid over a period of 12 years.
In 1988, West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations. In 1999, many German industries such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens or BMW faced lawsuits for their role in the forced labour during World War II. In order to dismiss these lawsuits, Germany agreed to raise $5 billion for reparations. In 2013, Germany agreed to pay a new reparation of €772 million as a result of negotiations with Israel. In 2014, the SNCF, the French state-owned railway company, was compelled to allocate $60 million to American Jewish Holocaust survivors for its role in the transport of deportees to Germany. These reparations were sometimes criticized in Israel where they were seen as "blood money".
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