|Part of World War II|
|Location||Europe, primarily German-occupied Poland and the Soviet Union|
|Genocide, mass shooting, poison gas|
|Deaths||Around 6 million Jews|
|Perpetrators||Nazi Germany along with its collaborators and allies|
The Holocaust was the genocide of European Jews during World War II. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews across German-occupied Europe, around two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population. The murders were carried out primarily in mass shootings and by poison gas in extermination camps, chiefly Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, and Chełmno in occupied Poland.
The Nazis developed their ideology based on previous politics of racism and German colonization of Eastern Europe and seized power in early 1933. In an attempt to force all German Jews to emigrate, the regime passed anti-Jewish laws and orchestrated a nationwide pogrom in November 1938. After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, occupation authorities began to establish ghettos to segregate Jews. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, around 1.5 to 2 million Jews were shot by German forces and local collaborators.
Later in 1941 or early 1942, the highest levels of the German government decided to murder all Jews throughout Europe. Victims were deported by rail to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were killed with poison gas. Other Jews continued to be employed in forced labor camps where many died from starvation or exhaustion. Although many Jews tried to escape, surviving in hiding was very difficult due to factors such as the lack of money to pay helpers and the risk of denunciation. The property, homes, and jobs belonging to murdered Jews were redistributed to the German occupiers and other non-Jews. Although the majority of Holocaust victims died in 1942, the killing continued at a lower rate until the end of the war in May 1945.
Many Jewish survivors emigrated outside of Europe after the war. A few Holocaust perpetrators faced criminal trials. Billions of dollars in reparations have been paid, although falling short of the Jews' losses. The Holocaust has also been commemorated in museums, memorials, and culture. It has become central to Western historical consciousness as a symbol of the ultimate human evil.
Terminology and scope
The term Holocaust, derived from a Greek word meaning "burnt offering", has become the most common word used to describe the Nazi extermination of Jews in English and many other languages. The term Holocaust was occasionally used after WW2 to refer also to all victims of Nazi genocidal policies, including other groups that the Nazis targeted,. With the proliferation of studies, by the 1970s, the qualifying adjective 'Jewish' holocaust was dropped as redundant and holocaust was capitalized, and as 'Holocaust' became the default term for the destruction of European Jews. The Hebrew word Shoah ("catastrophic destruction") exclusively refers to Jewish victims. The perpetrators used the phrase "Final Solution" to describe their actions towards Jews.
Jews have lived in Europe for more than two thousand years. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. In the nineteenth century many European countries granted full citizenship rights to Jews in hopes that they would assimilate. By the early twentieth century, most Jews in central and western Europe were well integrated into society, while in eastern Europe, where emancipation had arrived later, many Jews still lived in small towns, spoke Yiddish, and practiced Orthodox Judaism. Political antisemitism positing the existence of a Jewish question and usually an international Jewish conspiracy emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth century due to the rise of nationalism in Europe and industrialization that increased economic conflicts between Jews and non-Jews. Some scientists began to categorize humans into different races and argued that there was a life or death struggle between them. Many racists argued that Jews were a separate racial group alien to Europe.
The around 500,000 German Jews made up less than 1 percent of the country's population in 1933. They were wealthier on average than other Germans and largely assimilated, although a minority were recent immigrants from eastern Europe. The turn of the twentieth century saw a major effort to establish a German colonial empire overseas, leading to the Herero and Nama genocide and subsequent racial apartheid regime in South West Africa. World War I (1914–1918) intensified nationalist and racist sentiments in Germany and other European countries. Jews in eastern Europe were targeted by widespread pogroms. Germany lost two million war dead and substantial territory; opposition to the postwar settlement united Germans across the political spectrum. The military promoted the untrue but compelling idea that, rather than being defeated on the battlefield, Germany had been stabbed in the back by socialists and Jews.
The Nazi Party was founded in the wake of the war, and its ideology is often cited as the main factor explaining the Holocaust. The Nazis defined the German nation as a racial community unbounded by Germany's physical borders and sought to purge it of racially foreign and socially deficient elements. The Nazi Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, were also obsessed with reversing Germany's territorial losses and acquiring additional Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe for colonization. These ideas appealed to many Germans. The Nazis promised to protect European civilization from the Soviet threat. Hitler believed that Jews controlled the Soviet Union, as well as the Western powers, and were plotting to destroy Germany.
Rise of Nazi Germany
Amidst a worldwide economic depression and political fragmentation, the Nazi Party rapidly increased its support, reaching a high of 37 percent in mid-1932 elections, by campaigning on issues such as anticommunism and economic recovery. Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933 in a backroom deal supported by right-wing politicians. Within months, all other political parties were banned, the regime seized control of the media, tens of thousands of political opponents—especially communists—were arrested, and a system of camps for extrajudicial imprisonment was set up. The Nazi regime cracked down on crime and social outsiders—such as Roma and Sinti, homosexual men, and those perceived as workshy—through a variety of measures, including imprisonment in concentration camps. The Nazis forcibly sterilized 400,000 people and subjected others to forced abortions for real or supposed hereditary illnesses.
Although the Nazis sought to control every aspect of public and private life, Nazi repression was directed almost entirely against groups perceived as outside the national community. Most Germans had little to fear provided they did not oppose the new regime. The new regime built popular support through economic growth and a relatively quick recovery from the Great Depression, which partly occurred through state-led measures such as rearmament. The annexations of Austria (1938), Sudetenland (1938), and Bohemia and Moravia (1939) also increased the Nazis' popular support. Germans were inundated with propaganda both against Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
Persecution of Jews
Various German government agencies, Nazi Party organizations, and local authorities instituted about 1,500 anti-Jewish laws. In 1933, Jews were banned or restricted from several professions and the civil service. After hounding the German Jews out of public life by the end of 1934, the regime passed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. The laws reserved full citizenship rights for those of "German or related blood", restricted Jews' economic activity, and criminalized new marriages and sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jewish Germans. Jews were defined as those with three or four Jewish grandparents; many of those with partial Jewish descent were classified as Mischlinge, with varying rights. The regime also sought to segregate Jews with a view to their ultimate disappearance from the country. Jewish students were gradually forced out of the school system. Some municipalities enacted restrictions governing where Jews were allowed to live or conduct business. In 1938 and 1939, Jews were barred from additional occupations, and their businesses were expropriated to force them out of the economy.
Anti-Jewish violence, largely locally organized by members of Nazi Party institutions, took primarily non-lethal forms from 1933 to 1939. Jewish stores, especially in rural areas, were often boycotted or vandalized. As a result of local and popular pressure, many small towns became entirely free of Jews and as many as a third of Jewish businesses may have been forced to close. Anti-Jewish violence was even worse in areas annexed by Nazi Germany. On 9–10 November 1938, the Nazis organized Kristallnacht, a nationwide pogrom. Over 7,500 Jewish shops (out of 9,000) were looted, more than 1,000 synagogues were damaged or destroyed, at least 90 Jews were murdered, and as many as 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, although many were released within weeks. German Jews were levied a special tax that raised more that 1 billion Reichsmarks (RM).[a]
The Nazi government wanted to force all Jews to leave Germany. By the end of 1939, most Jews who could emigrate had already done so; those who remained behind were disproportionately elderly, poor, or female and could not obtain a visa. The plurality, around 110,000, left for the United States, while smaller numbers emigrated to South America, Shanghai, Mandatory Palestine, and South Africa. Germany collected emigration taxes of nearly 1 billion RM,[a] mostly from Jews. The policy of forced emigration continued into 1940.
Besides Germany, many other European countries abandoned democracy for some kind of authoritarian or fascist rule. Many European countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, passed antisemitic legislation in the 1930s and 1940s. In October 1938, Germany deported many Polish Jews in response to a Polish law that enabled the revocation of citizenship for Polish Jews living abroad.
Start of World War II
The German Wehrmacht (armed forces) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering declarations of war from the United Kingdom and France. During the invasion of Poland as many as 16,000 civilians, hostages, and prisoners of war may have been shot by the German invaders; there was also a great deal of looting. Special units known as Einsatzgruppen followed the army to eliminate any possible resistance. Around 50,000 Polish leaders and intellectuals were arrested or executed; Polish Jewish intellectuals and community leaders were not spared. Around 400,000 Poles were expelled from the Wartheland in western Poland to the General Governorate occupation zone from 1939 to 1941, and the area was resettled by ethnic Germans from eastern Europe.
The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland from the east on 17 September pursuant to the German–Soviet pact. The Soviet Union deported hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to the Soviet interior, including as many as 260,000 Jews who largely survived the war. Although most Jews were not communists, some accepted positions in the Soviet administration, contributing to a pre-existing perception among many non-Jews that Soviet rule was a Jewish conspiracy. In 1940, Germany invaded much of western Europe including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Denmark and Norway. In 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. Some of these new holdings were fully or partially annexed into Germany while others were placed under civilian or military rule.
The war provided cover for the murder of around 70,000 institutionalized Germans with mental or physical disabilities at specialized killing centers using poison gas. The victims included all 4,000 to 5,000 institutionalized Jews. Despite efforts to maintain secrecy, knowledge of the killings leaked out and Hitler ordered a halt to the centralized killing program in August 1941. Decentralized killings via denial of medical care, starvation, and poisoning caused an additional 120,000 deaths by the end of the war. Many of the same personnel and technologies were later used for the mass murder of Jews.
Ghettoization and resettlement
Germany gained control of 1.7 million Jews in Poland. The Nazis tried to concentrate Jews in the Lublin District of the General Governorate. 45,000 Jews were deported by November and left to fend for themselves, causing many deaths. Deportations stopped in early 1940 due to the opposition of Hans Frank, the leader of the General Governorate, who did not want his fiefdom to become a dumping ground for unwanted Jews. After the conquest of France, the Nazis considered deporting Jews to French Madagascar, but this proved impossible. The Nazis planned that harsh conditions in these areas would kill many Jews.
During the invasion, synagogues were burned and thousands of Jews fled or were expelled into the Soviet occupation zone. Various anti-Jewish regulations were soon issued. In October 1939, adult Jews in the General Governorate were required to perform forced labor. In November 1939 they were ordered to wear white armbands. Laws decreed the seizure of most Jewish property and the takeover of Jewish-owned businesses. When Jews were forced into ghettos, they lost their homes and belongings.
The first Nazi ghettos were established in the Wartheland and General Governorate in 1939 and 1940 on the initiative of local German administrators. The largest ghettos, such as Warsaw and Łódź, were established in existing residential neighborhoods and closed by fences or walls. In many smaller ghettos, Jews were forced into poor neighborhoods but with no fence. Forced labor programs provided subsistence to many ghetto inhabitants, and in some cases protected them from deportation. Workshops and factories were operated inside some ghettos, while in other cases Jews left the ghetto to work outside it. Because the ghettos were not segregated by sex some family life continued. A Jewish community leadership (Judenrat) exercised some authority and tried to sustain the Jewish community while following German demands. As a survival strategy, many tried to make the ghettos useful to the occupiers as a labor reserve. Jews in western Europe were not forced into ghettos but faced discriminatory laws and confiscation of property.
Rape and sexual exploitation of Jewish and non-Jewish women in eastern Europe was common.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Germany and its allies Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Italy invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, carrying out a war of extermination with complete disregard for the laws and customs of war. A quick victory was expected and was planned to be followed a massive demographic engineering project to remove 31 million people and replace them with German settlers. To increase the speed of conquest the Germans planned to feed their army by looting, exporting additional food to Germany, and to terrorize the local inhabitants with preventative killings. The Germans foresaw that the invasion would cause a food shortfall and planned the mass starvation of Soviet cities and some rural areas. Although the starvation policy was less successful than planners hoped, the residents of some cities, particularly in Ukraine, and besieged Leningrad, as well as the Jewish ghettos, endured man-made famine, during which millions of people died of starvation.
Soviet prisoners of war in the custody of the German Army were intended to die in large numbers. Sixty percent—3.3 million people—died, primarily of starvation. Jewish prisoners of war and commissars were systematically executed. About a million civilians were killed by the Nazis during anti-partisan warfare, including more than 300,000 in Belarus. From 1942 onwards, the Germans and their allies targeted villages suspected of supporting the partisans, burning them and killing or expelling their inhabitants. During these operations, nearby small ghettos were liquidated and their inhabitants shot. By 1943, anti-partisan operations aimed for the depopulation of large areas of Belarus. Jews and those unfit for work were typically shot on the spot with others deported. Although most of those killed were not Jews, anti-partisan warfare often led to the deaths of Jews.
Mass shootings of Jews
During the invasion, many Jews were conscripted into the Red Army. Out of 10 or 15 million Soviet civilians who fled eastwards to the Soviet interior, 1.6 million were Jews. Local inhabitants killed as many as 50,000 Jews in pogroms in Latvia, Lithuania, eastern Poland, Ukraine, and the Romanian borderlands. Although German forces tried to incite pogroms, their role in causing violence is controversial. Romanian soldiers killed tens of thousands of Jews from Odessa by April 1942.
Prior to the invasion, the Einsatzgruppen were reorganized in preparation for mass killings and instructed to shoot Soviet officials and Jewish state and party employees. The shootings were justified on the basis of Jews' supposed central role in supporting the communist system, but it was not initially envisioned to kill all Soviet Jews. The occupiers relied on locals to identify Jews to be targeted. The first German mass killings targeted adult male Jews who had worked as civil servants or in jobs requiring education. Tens of thousands were shot by the end of July. The vast majority of civilian victims were Jews. In July and August Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, made several visits to the death squads' zones of operation, relaying orders to kill more Jews. At this time, the killers began to murder Jewish women and children too. Executions peaked at 40,000 a month in Lithuania in August and September and in October and November reached their height in Belarus.
The executions often took place a few kilometers from a town. Victims were rounded up and marched to the execution site, forced to undress, and shot into previously dug pits. The favored technique was a shot in the back of the neck with a single bullet. In the chaos, many victims were not killed by the gunfire but instead buried alive. Typically, the pits would be guarded after the execution but sometimes a few victims managed to escape afterwards. Executions were public spectacles and the victims' property was looted both by the occupiers and local inhabitants. Around 200 ghettos were established in the occupied Soviet Union, with many existing only briefly before their inhabitants were executed. A few large ghettos such as Vilna, Kovno, Riga, Białystok, and Lwów lasted into 1943 because they became centers of production.
Victims of mass shootings included Jews deported from elsewhere. Besides Germany, Romania killed the largest number of Jews. Romania deported about 154,000–170,000 Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina to ghettos in Transnistria from 1941 to 1943. Jews from Transnistria were also imprisoned in these ghettos, where the total death toll may have reached 160,000. Hungary expelled thousands of Carpathian Ruthenian and foreign Jews in 1941, who were shortly thereafter shot in Ukraine. At the beginning of September, all German Jews were required to wear a yellow star, and in October, Hitler decided to deport them to the east and ban emigration. Between mid-October and the end of 1941, 42,000 Jews from Germany and its annexed territories and 5,000 Romani people from Austria were deported to Łódź, Kovno, Riga, and Minsk. In late November, 5,000 German Jews were shot outside of Kovno and another 1,000 near Riga, but Himmler ordered an end to such massacres and some in the senior Nazi leadership voiced doubts about killing German Jews. Executions of German Jews in the Baltics resumed in early 1942.
After the expansion of killings to target the entire Soviet Jewish population, the 3,000 men of the Einsatzgruppen proved insufficient and Himmler mobilized 21 battalions of Order Police to assist them. In addition, Wehrmacht soldiers, Waffen-SS brigades, and local auxiliaries shot many Jews. By the end of 1941, more than 80 percent of the Jews in central Ukraine, eastern Belarus, Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania had been shot, but less than 25 percent of those living farther west where 900,000 remained alive. By the end of the war, around 1.5 to 2 million Jews were shot and as many as 225,000 Roma. The murderers found the executions distressing and logistically inconvenient, which influenced the decision to switch to other methods of killing.
Systematic deportations across Europe
Most historians agree that Hitler issued an explicit order to kill all Jews across Europe, but there is disagreement when. Some historians cite inflammatory statements by Hitler and other Nazi leaders as well as the concurrent mass shootings of Serbian Jews, plans for extermination camps in Poland, and the beginning of the deportation of German Jews as indicative of the final decision having been made before December 1941. Others argue that these policies were initiatives by local leaders and that the final decision was made later. On 5 December 1941, the Soviet Union launched its first major counteroffensive. On 11 December, Hitler declared war on the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day, he told leading Nazi party officials, referring to his 1939 prophecy, "The world war is here; the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence."
It took the Nazis several months after this to organize a continent-wide genocide. Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), convened the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. This high-level meeting was intended to coordinate anti-Jewish policy. The majority of Holocaust killings were carried out in 1942, with 20 or 25 percent of Holocaust victims dying before early 1942 and the same number surviving by the end of the year.
Gas vans developed from those used to kill mental patients since 1939 were assigned to the Einsatzgruppen and first used in November 1941; victims were forced into the van and killed with engine exhaust. The first extermination camp was Chełmno in the Wartheland, established on the initiative of the local civil administrator Arthur Greiser with Himmler's approval; it began operations in December 1941 using gas vans. In October 1941, Higher SS and Police Leader of Lublin Odilo Globocnik began work planning Belzec—the first purpose-built extermination camp to feature stationary gas chambers—amid increasing talk among German administrators in Poland of large-scale murder of Jews in the General Governorate. In late 1941 in East Upper Silesia, Jews in forced-labor camps operated by the Schmelt Organization deemed "unfit for work" began to be sent in groups to Auschwitz where they were murdered.
The camps were located on rail lines to make it easier to transport Jews to their deaths, but in remote places to avoid notice. The stench caused by mass killing operations was noticeable to anyone nearby. Except in the deportations from western and central Europe, people were typically deported to the camps in overcrowded cattle cars. As many as 150 people were forced into a single boxcar. Many died en route, partly because of the low priority accorded to these transports. Shortage of rail transport sometimes led to postponement or cancellation of deportations. Upon arrival, the victims were robbed of their remaining possessions, forced to undress, had their hair cut, and were chased into the gas chamber. Death from the gas was agonizing and could take as long as 30 minutes. The gas chambers were primitive and sometimes malfunctioned. Some prisoners were shot because the gas chambers were not functioning. At other extermination camps, nearly everyone on a transport was killed on arrival, but at Auschwitz around 20-25 percent were separated out for labor, although many of these prisoners died later on.
Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka reported a combined revenue of RM 178.7 million from belongings stolen from their victims, far exceeding costs. Combined, the camps required the labor of less than 3,000 Jewish prisoners, 1,000 Trawniki men (largely Ukrainian auxiliaries), and very few German guards. About half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust died by poison gas. Thousands of Romani people were also murdered in the extermination camps. Prisoner uprisings at Treblinka and Sobibor meant that these camps were shut down earlier than envisioned.
|Camp||Location||Number of Jews killed||Killing technology||Planning began||Mass gassing duration|
|Chełmno||Wartheland||150,000||Gas vans||July 1941||8 December 1941–April 1943 and April–July 1944|
|Belzec||Lublin District||450,000||Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust||October 1941||17 March 1942–December 1942|
|Sobibor||Lublin District||250,000||Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust||Late 1941 or March 1942||May 1942–October 1942|
|Treblinka||Warsaw District||800,000–900,000||Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust||April 1942||23 July 1942–October 1943|
|Auschwitz II–Birkenau||East Upper Silesia||900,000–1,000,000||Stationary gas chamber, hydrogen cyanide||September 1941
(built as POW camp)
|February 1942–October 1944|
Liquidation of the ghettos in Poland
Plans to kill most of the Jews in the General Governorate were affected by various goals of the SS, military, and civil administration to reduce the amount of food consumed by Jews, enable a slight increase in rations to non-Jewish Poles, and combat the black market. In March 1942, killings began in Belzec, targeting Jews from Lublin who were not capable of work. This action reportedly reduced the black market and was deemed a success to be replicated elsewhere. By mid-1942, Nazi leaders decided to allow only 300,000 Jews to survive in the General Governorate by the end of the year for forced labor; for the most part, only those working in armaments production were spared. The majority of ghettos were liquidated in mass executions nearby, especially if they were not near a train station. Larger ghettos were more commonly liquidated during multiple deportations to extermination camps. During this campaign 1.5 million Polish Jews were murdered in the largest killing operation of the Holocaust.
In order to reduce resistance the ghetto would be raided without warning, usually in the early morning, and the extent of the operation would be concealed as long as possible. Trawniki men would cordon off the ghetto while the Order Police and Security Police carried out the action. In addition to local non-Jewish collaborators, the Jewish councils and Jewish ghetto police were often ordered to assist with liquidation actions, although these Jews were in most cases murdered later. Chaotic, capriciously executed selections determined who would be loaded onto the trains. Many Jews were shot during the action, often leaving ghettos strewn with corpses. Jewish forced laborers had to clean it up and collect any valuables from the victims.
The Warsaw Ghetto was cleared between 22 July and 12 September. Of the original population of 350,000 Jews, 250,000 were killed at Treblinka, 11,000 were deported to labor camps, 10,000 were shot in the ghetto, 35,000 were allowed to remain in the ghetto after a final selection, and around 20,000 or 25,000 managed to hide in the ghetto. Misdirection efforts convinced many Jews that they could avoid deportation until it was too late. During a six-week period beginning in August, 300,000 Jews from the Radom District were sent to Treblinka.
At the same time as the mass killing of Jews in the General Governorate, Jews who were in ghettos to the west and east were targeted. Tens of thousands of Jews were deported from ghettos in the Warthegau and East Upper Silesia to Chełmno and Auschwitz. 300,000 Jews—largely skilled laborers—were shot in Volhynia, Podolia, and southwestern Belarus. Deportations and mass executions in the Bialystok District and Galicia killed many Jews. Although there was practically no resistance in the General Governorate in 1942, some Soviet Jews improvised weapons, attacked those attempting to liquidate the ghetto, and set it on fire. These ghetto uprisings were only undertaken when the inhabitants began to believe that their death was certain. In 1943, larger uprisings in Warsaw, Białystok, and Glubokoje necessitated the use of heavy weapons. The uprising in Warsaw prompted the Nazi leadership to liquidate additional ghettos and labor camps in German-occupied Poland with their inhabitants shot or deported to extermination camps for fear of additional Jewish resistance developing. Nevertheless, in early 1944 more than 70,000 Jews were performing forced labor in the General Governorate.
Deportations from elsewhere
Unlike the killing areas in the east, the deportation from elsewhere in Europe was centrally organized from Berlin, although it depended on the outcome of negotiations with allied governments and popular responses to deportation. Beginning in late 1941, local administrators responded to the deportation of Jews to their area by massacring local Jews in order to free up space in ghettos for the deportees. If the deported Jews did not die of harsh conditions, they were killed later in extermination camps. Jews deported to Auschwitz were initially entered into the camp; the practice of conducting selections and murdering many prisoners upon arrival began in July 1942. In May and June, German and Slovak Jews deported to Lublin began to be sent directly to extermination camps.
In Western Europe, almost all Jewish deaths occurred after deportation. The occupiers often relied on local policemen to arrest Jews, limiting the number who were deported. In 1942, nearly 100,000 Jews were deported from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Only 25 percent of the Jews in France were killed; most of them were either non-citizens or recent immigrants. The death rate in the Netherlands was higher than neighboring countries, which scholars have attributed to difficulty in hiding or increased collaboration of the Dutch police.
The German government sought the deportation of Jews from allied countries such as Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. The first non-German state to hand over its Jewish population was Slovakia, which arrested and deported about 58,000 Jews to Poland from March to October 1942. The Independent State of Croatia had already shot or killed in concentration camps the majority of its Jewish population (along with a larger number of Serbs), and later deported several thousand Jews in 1942 and 1943. Bulgaria deported 11,000 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Greece and Yugoslavia, who were murdered at Treblinka, but declined to allow the deportation of Jews from its prewar territory. Romania and Hungary did not send any Jews, which were the largest surviving populations after 1942. Prior to the German occupation of Italy in September 1943, there were no serious attempt to deport Italian Jews, and Italy refused to allow the deportation of Jews in many Italian-occupied areas. Although Nazi Germany did not attempt the destruction of the North African Jews living under French or Italian rule, some were subjected to forced labor causing around 2,000 deaths. There was no effort to deport the Finnish Jews.
Perpetrators and beneficiaries
An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 Germans were directly involved in killing Jews and including all those involved in the organization of extermination the number rises to 500,000. Genocide required the active and tacit consent of millions of Germans and non-Germans. The motivation of Holocaust perpetrators varied and has led to historiographical debate. Studies of the SS officials who organized the Holocaust have found that most had strong ideological commitment to Nazism. In addition to ideological factors, many perpetrators were motivated by the prospect of material gain and social advancement. German SS, police, and regular army units rarely had trouble finding enough men to shoot Jewish civilians, even though punishment for refusal was absent or light.
Non-German perpetrators and collaborators included Dutch, French, and Polish policemen, Romanian soldiers, foreign SS and police auxiliaries, Ukrainian Insurgent Army partisans, and some civilians. Some were coerced into committing violence against Jews, but others killed for entertainment, material rewards, the possibility of better treatment from the occupiers, or ideological motivations such as nationalism and anti-communism. According to Christian Gerlach, non-Germans "not under German command" caused 5 to 6 percent of the Jewish deaths, and their involvement was crucial in other ways.
Millions of Germans and others benefited from the genocide. Many workers were able to obtain better jobs vacated by murdered Jews. Businessmen benefitted from eliminating their Jewish competitors or taking over Jewish-owned businesses. Others took over housing and possessions that had belonged to Jews. Some Poles living near the extermination camps later dug up human remains in search of valuables. The plunder disproportionately benefited those who were already well off. The property of deported Jews was also appropriated by Germany's allies and collaborating governments. Even puppet states such as Vichy France and Norway were able to successfully lay claim to Jewish property. In the decades after the war, Swiss banks became notorious for harboring gold deposited by Nazis who had stolen it during the Holocaust, as well as profiting from unclaimed deposits made by Holocaust victims.
Beginning in 1938—especially in Germany and its annexed territories—many Jews were drafted into forced-labor camps and segregated work details. These camps were often of a temporary nature and typically overseen by civilian authorities. Initially, mortality did not increase dramatically. After mid-1941, conditions for Jewish forced laborers drastically worsened and death rates increased; even private companies deliberately subjected workers to murderous conditions. Beginning in 1941 and increasingly as time went on, Jews capable of employment were separated from others—who were usually killed. They were typically employed in non-skilled jobs and could be replaced easily if non-Jewish workers were available, but those in skilled positions had a higher chance of survival. Although conditions varied widely between camps, Jewish forced laborers were typically treated worse than non-Jewish prisoners and suffered much higher mortality rates.
In mid-1943, Himmler sought to bring surviving Jewish forced laborers under the control of the SS in the concentration camp system.[b] Some of the forced-labor camps for Jews and some ghettos, such as Kovno, were designated concentration camps, while others were dissolved and surviving prisoners sent to a concentration camp. Despite many deaths, as many as 200,000 Jews survived the war inside the concentration camps. Although most Holocaust victims were never imprisoned in a concentration camp, the image of these camps is a popular symbol of the Holocaust.
Including the Soviet prisoners of war, 13 million people were brought to Germany for forced labor. The largest nationalities were Soviet and Polish and they were the worst-treated groups except for Roma and Jews. Soviet and Polish forced laborers endured inadequate food and medical treatment, long hours, and abuse by employers. Hundreds of thousands died. Many others were forced to work for the occupiers without leaving their country of residence. Some of Germany's allies, including Slovakia and Hungary, agreed to deport Jews to protect non-Jews from German demands for forced labor.
Escape and hiding
Historian Christian Gerlach estimates that 200,000 Jews survived in hiding across Europe. Knowledge of German intentions was essential to take action, but many struggled to believe the news. Many attempted to jump from trains or flee ghettos and camps, but successfully escaping and living in hiding was extremely difficult and often unsuccessful.
The support, or at least absence of active opposition, of the local population was essential but often lacking in Eastern Europe. Those in hiding depended on the assistance of non-Jews. Having money, social connections with non-Jews, a non-Jewish appearance, perfect command of the local language, determination, and luck played a major role in determining survival. Jews in hiding were hunted down with the assistance of local collaborators and rewards offered for their denunciation. The death penalty was sometimes enforced on people hiding them, especially in eastern Europe. Rescuers' motivations varied on a spectrum from altruism to expecting sex or material gain; it was not uncommon for helpers to betray or murder Jews if their money ran out. Gerlach argues that hundreds of thousands of Jews may have died because of rumors or denunciations, and many others never attempted to escape because of a belief it was hopeless.
Jews participated in resistance movements in most European countries, and often were overrepresented. Jews were not always welcome, particularly in nationalist resistance groups—some of which killed Jews. Particularly in Belarus, with its favorable geography of dense forests near the Minsk Ghetto, many Jews joined the Soviet partisans—an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 across the Soviet Union. An additional 10,000 to 13,000 Jewish non-combatants lived in family camps in Eastern European forests, of which the most well known was the Bielski partisans.
The Nazi leaders knew that their actions would bring international condemnation. On 26 June 1942, BBC services in all languages publicized a report by the Jewish Social-Democratic Bund and other resistance groups and transmitted by the Polish government-in-exile, documenting the killing of 700,000 Jews in Poland. In December 1942, the United Nations adopted a joint declaration condemning the systematic murder of Jews. Most neutral countries in Europe maintained a pro-German foreign policy during the war. Nevertheless, some Jews were able to escape to neutral countries, whose policies ranged from rescue to non-action.
During the war the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) raised $70 million and in the years after the war it raised $300 million. This money was spent aiding emigrants and providing direct relief in the form of parcels and other assistance to Jews living under German occupation, and after the war to Holocaust survivors. The United States banned sending relief into German-occupied Europe after entering the war, but the JDC continued to do so. From 1939 to 1944, 81,000 European Jews emigrated with the JDC's assistance.
Second half of the war
After German military defeats in 1943, it became increasingly evident that Germany would lose the war. In early 1943, 45,000 Jews were deported from German-occupied northern Greece, primarily Salonica, to Auschwitz, where nearly all were killed. After Italy switched sides in late 1943, Germany deported several thousand Jews from Italy and the former Italian occupation zones of France, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece, with limited success. Attempts to continue deportations in Western Europe after 1942 often failed because of Jews going into hiding and the increasing recalcitrance of local authorities. Most Danish Jews escaped to Sweden with the help of the Danish resistance in the face of a half-hearted German deportation effort in late 1943. Additional killings in 1943 and 1944 eliminated all remaining ghettos and most surviving Jews in eastern Europe. Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were shut down and destroyed.
The largest murder action after 1942 was that against the Hungarian Jews. After the German invasion of Hungary in 1944, the Hungarian government cooperated closely in the deportation of 437,000 Jews in eight weeks, mostly to Auschwitz. The expropriation of Jewish property was useful to achieve Hungarian economic goals and sending the Jews as forced laborers avoided the need to send non-Jewish Hungarians. Those who survived the selection were forced to provide construction and manufacturing labor as part of a last-ditch effort to increase the production of fighter aircraft. Although the Nazis' goal of eliminating any Jewish population from Germany had largely been achieved in 1943, it was reversed in 1944 as a result of the importation of these Jews for labor.
Death marches and liberation
Following Allied advances, the SS deported concentration camp prisoners to camps in Germany and Austria, starting in mid-1944 from the Baltics. Weak and sick prisoners were often killed in the camp and others were forced to travel by rail or on foot, usually with no or inadequate food. Those who could not keep up were shot. The evacuations were ordered partly to retain the prisoners as forced labor and partly to avoid allowing any prisoners to fall into enemy hands. In October and November 1944, 90,000 Jews were deported from Budapest to the Austrian border. The transfer of prisoners from Auschwitz began in mid-1944, the gas chambers were shut down and destroyed after October, and in January most of the remaining 67,000 Auschwitz prisoners were sent on a death march westwards.
In January 1945, more than 700,000 people were imprisoned in the concentration camp system, of whom as many as a third died before the end of the war. At this time, most concentration camp prisoners were Soviet and Polish civilians, either arrested for real or supposed resistance or for attempting to escape forced labor. The death marches led to the breakdown of supplies for the camps that continued to exist, causing additional deaths. Although there was no systematic killing of Jews during the death marches, around 70,000 to 100,000 Jews died in the last months of the war. Many of the death march survivors ended up in other concentration camps that were liberated in 1945 during the Western Allied invasion of Germany. The liberators found piles of corpses that they had to bulldoze into mass graves. Some survivors were freed there and others had been liberated by the Red Army during its march westwards.
The neutrality of this section is disputed. (May 2023)
Around six million Jews were killed. Most of those killed were from Eastern Europe, and half were from Poland alone. Around 1.3 million Jews who had once lived under Nazi rule or in one of Germany's allies survived the war. One-third of the Jewish population worldwide, and two-thirds of European Jews, had been wiped out. Death rates varied widely due to a variety of factors and approached 100 percent in some areas. Some reasons why survival chances varied was the availability of emigration and protection from Germany's allies—which saved around 600,000 Jews. Jewish children and the elderly faced even lower survival rates than adults. Gerlach estimates that 6–8 million non-Jews were killed by Germany and its allies. In Hungary, Belgium, and Czechia, although not the Soviet Union, France, Greece, and Yugoslavia, Jews were a majority of the total non-combat war deaths. In Poland, the 3 million Polish Jews killed represented approximately half of that country's death toll.[cleanup needed]
Aftermath and legacy
Return home and emigration
After liberation, many Jews attempted to return home. Limited success in finding relatives, the refusal of many non-Jews to return property, and violent attacks such as the Kielce pogrom convinced many survivors to leave eastern Europe. Antisemitism was reported to increase in several countries after the war, in part due to conflicts over property restitution. When the war ended, there were less than 28,000 German Jews and 60,000 non-German Jews in Germany. By 1947, the number of Jews in Germany had increased to 250,000 owing to emigration from eastern Europe allowed by the communist authorities; Jews made up around 25 percent of the population of displaced persons camps. Although many survivors were in poor health, they attempted to organize self-government in these camps, including education and rehabilitation efforts. Due to the reluctance of other countries to allow their immigration, many survivors remained in Germany until the establishment of Israel in 1948. Others moved to the United States around 1950 due to loosened immigration restrictions.
Most Holocaust perpetrators were never put on trial for their crimes. During and after World War II, many European countries launched widespread purges of real and perceived collaborators that affected possibly as much as 2–3 percent of the population of Europe, although most of the resulting trials did not emphasize crimes against Jews. Nazi atrocities led to the United Nations' Genocide Convention in 1948, but it was not used in Holocaust trials due to the non-retroactivity of criminal laws.
In 1945 and 1946, the International Military Tribunal tried 23 Nazi leaders primarily for waging wars of aggression, which the prosecution argued was the root of Nazi criminality; nevertheless, the systematic murder of Jews came to take center stage. This trial and others held by the Allies in occupied Germany—the United States Army alone charged 1,676 defendants in 462 war crimes trials—were widely perceived as an unjust form of political revenge by the German public. West Germany later investigated 100,000 people and tried more than 6,000 defendants, mainly low-level perpetrators. The high-level organizer Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and tried in Israel in 1961. Instead of convicting Eichmann on the basis of documentary evidence, Israeli prosecutors asked many Holocaust survivors to testify, a strategy that increased publicity but has proven controversial.
Historians estimate that property losses to Jews of Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Hungary amounted to around 10 billion in 1944 dollars, or $150 billion in 2021. This estimate does not include the value of labor extracted. Overall, the amount of Jewish property looted by the Nazis was about 10 percent of the total stolen from occupied countries. Efforts by survivors to receive reparations for their losses began immediately after World War II. There was an additional wave of restitution efforts in the 1990s connected to the fall of Communism in eastern Europe.
Between 1945 and 2018, Germany paid $86.8 billion in restitution and compensation to Holocaust survivors and heirs. In 1952, West Germany negotiated an agreement to pay DM 3 billion (around $714 million) to Israel and DM 450 million (around $107 million) to the Claims Conference. Germany paid pensions and other reparations for harm done to some Holocaust survivors. Other countries have paid restitution for assets stolen from Jews from these countries. Most Western European countries restored some property to Jews after the war, while communist countries nationalized many formerly Jewish assets, meaning that the overall amount restored to Jews has been lower in those countries. Poland is the only member of the European Union that never passed any restitution legislation. Many restitution programs fell short of restoration of prewar assets, and in particular, large amounts of immovable property was never returned to survivors or their heirs.
Remembrance and historiography
In the decades after the war, Holocaust memory was largely confined to the survivors and their communities. The popularity of Holocaust memory peaked in the 1990s after the fall of Communism, and became central to Western historical consciousness as a symbol of the ultimate human evil. Holocaust education, which its advocates argue promotes citizenship while reducing prejudice generally, became widespread at the same time. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated each year on 27 January, while some other countries have set a different memorial day. The Holocaust has been commemorated in memorials, museums, and speeches, as well as works of culture such as novels, poems, films, and plays. Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in some countries.
Although many are convinced that there are lessons or some kind of redemptive meaning to be drawn from the Holocaust, whether this is the case and what these lessons are is disputed. Communist states marginalized the persecution of Jews while eliding their nationals' collaboration with Nazism, a tendency that continued into the post-communist era. In West Germany a self-critical memory of the Holocaust developed in the 1970s and 1980s, and spread to some other western European countries. The national memories of the Holocaust were extended to the European Union as a whole, in which Holocaust memory has provided both shared history and a narrative for committing to human rights. Participation in this memory is required of countries seeking entry. In contrast to Europe, in the United States the memory of the Holocaust tends to be more abstract and universalized. Whether Holocaust memory actually promotes human rights is disputed. In Israel, the memory of the Holocaust has been used at times to justify the use of force and violation of international human rights norms.
The scholarly literature on the Holocaust is massive, encompassing thousands of books. The tendency to see the Holocaust as a unique or incomprehensible event continues to be popular among the broader public after being largely rejected by historians. Another debate concerns whether the Holocaust emerged from Western civilization or was an aberration of it.
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- ^ Rosenfeld 2015, p. 93.
- ^ Bartov 2023, pp. 190–191.
- ^ Rosenfeld 2015, p. 22.
- ^ Bartov 2023, p. 191.
- ^ Kansteiner 2017, pp. 306–307.
- ^ a b Kansteiner 2017, p. 308.
- ^ Assmann 2010, pp. 100, 102–103.
- ^ Assmann 2010, p. 103.
- ^ Kansteiner 2017, p. 305.
- ^ Stone 2010, p. 6.
- ^ Stone 2010, pp. 206–207.
- ^ Rosenfeld 2015, p. 119.
- ^ Sutcliffe 2022, p. 2.
- ^ Stone 2010, pp. 163, 219, 239.
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