The Holocaust

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
The Holocaust (Phases)
Early elements
Racial policy · Euthanasia
Concentration camps (List)
Nazi Germany, 1933 to 1939
Pogroms: Kristallnacht · Iasi pogrom
Jedwabne pogrom · Lviv pogrom...
Ghettos: Warsaw, Lodz
Krakow, Theresienstadt...
Einsatzgruppen: Babi Yar, Rumbula
Paneriai, Odessa Massacre...
Final Solution: Wannsee conference
Aktion Reinhard
Death camps: Chelmno, Belzec
Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz
Resistance: ZOB · ZZW
Ghetto uprising (Warsaw)
End of war: Death marches
Berihah· DP Camp
Other Victims
Slavs and Poles, (A-B Aktion) · Romany
German dissidents · Communists
Gay men · Jehovah's Witnesses
Responsible parties
Nazi Germany: Hitler · Eichmann
Himmler · SS · Gestapo
Collaborators: Romania · I.S. Croatia
Hungary · Vichy France · Slovakia
Italy· Ukrainian/Latvian/Lithuanian units
Functionalism vs intentionalism
Nuremberg Trials · Other trials
Survivors, Victims, and Rescuers
Famous survivors · Rescuers
Famous victims
Children survivors of the Holocaust before their liberation
Children survivors of the Holocaust before their liberation

The Holocaust is the name applied to the systematic state-sponsored persecution and genocide of various ethnic, religious and political groups during World War II by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Early elements of the Holocaust include the Kristallnacht pogrom and the T-4 Euthanasia Program, progressing to the later use of killing squads and extermination camps in a massive and centrally-organized effort to murder every possible member of the populations targeted by the Nazis.

The Jews of Europe were the main victims of the Holocaust in what the Nazis called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". The commonly used figure for the number of Jewish victims is six million, so much so that the phrase "six million" is now almost universally interpreted as referring to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, though mainstream estimates by historians of the exact number range from five million to over six million. In addition to the Jews, the Roma and Sinti were targets of the Holocaust; about 220,000 Sinti and Roma died in the Holocaust (some estimates are as high as 800,000), between a quarter and a half of the European population. Other groups deemed "undesirable", especially Poles, Soviet prisoners of war including Russians and other Slavs, the mentally or physically disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists and political dissidents, were also persecuted and murdered. Taking all these other groups into account, the total death toll rises considerably. Estimates place the total number of Holocaust victims at up to 26 million people, although the number 9 to 11 million is usually held as more reliable.


Etymology and usage of the term

The word holocaust originally derived from the Greek word holokauston, meaning "a completely (holos) burnt (kaustos) sacrificial offering", or "a burnt sacrifice offered to God". In Greek and Roman pagan rites, gods of the earth and underworld received dark animals, which were offered by night and burnt in full. Holocaust was later used to refer to a sacrifice Jews were required to make by the Torah. But since the mid-19th century, the word has been used by many authors to refer to large catastrophes and massacres, particularly those caused by immolation. Referring to the Second World War in the years following, writers in English tended to use the term in relation to events such as the bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima, rather than the Nazi genocide; it was not until the 1970s that the latter began to become the conventional meaning of the word, when used unqualified, and with a capital letter.

The biblical word Shoa (שואה), also spelled Shoah and Sho'ah, meaning "calamity" in Hebrew (and also used to refer to "destruction" since the Middle Ages), became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the early 1940s.[1] Churban Europa, meaning "European Destruction" in Hebrew (as opposed to simply Churban, the destruction of the Second Temple), is also used. Many Roma (or 'Gypsy') people, who were also targeted during the Holocaust, use the word Porajmos, meaning "devouring".

Shoa is preferred by many Jews and a growing number of Christians and other people due to the theologically offensive nature of the original meaning of the word holocaust as a reference to a sacrifice to God and also due to scholarly insistence that this largely archaic meaning somehow tilts the present meanings. There is also concern that the particular significance of the Holocaust would be lessened as use of the term becomes increasingly widespread in the latter half of the 20th century to refer generically to any mass killings such as the Rwandan Genocide and the actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as 'holocausts'. The Armenians have long used the term in reference to their persecution by the Ottoman empire during World War I.

Features of the Nazi Holocaust

There were several characteristics to the Nazi Holocaust which, taken together, distinguish it from other genocides in history.


In 1904, Alfred Ploetz founded the German Eugenics Society. Sixteen years later, a work seminal to the development of the German eugenics movement, The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, was published. Written by Karl Binding, a widely respected judge, and renowned psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, the work was key to the formulation of Nazi ideology, rhetoric and practice:

[It] defended the theory which stated that the elimination of "worthless people" should be legalized. Thus the concepts of "worthless life" or "life unworthy of life" used by the Nazis come from that book. Binding and Hoche speak in that book about "worthless human beings". [Binding and Hoche] plead for "the elimination of those who cannot be saved, ... whose death is an urgent need" ... [and] about those who are below the beast[s] [with] "neither the will to live nor to die". [The book also refers] to those who are "mentally dead" and who form "a foreign body to the human society".[2]

The work of Ploetz and the words of Binding and Hoche were the foreshadowings of Hitler's "final solution" two decades later.

Locations of mass killings carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squads in Eastern Europe.
Locations of mass killings carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squads in Eastern Europe.

The Holocaust was an intentional and meticulously planned attempt to entirely eradicate the target groups based on ethnicity. It is estimated that die Endlösung der Judenfrage (the Final Solution of the Jewish Question), as the Nazis called it during the Wannsee conference of January 1942, saw the murder of 60 percent of all the Jews in Europe, which represented 35 percent of the world's Jewish population.

In a speech in October 1943, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), told a group of senior SS men and Nazi party leaders: "What about the women and children? I decided to find an absolutely clear solution here too. I regard myself as having no right to exterminate (ausrotten) the men—in other words, to kill them or have them killed—and to let the avengers in the form of the children grow up for our sons and grandsons to deal with. The difficult decision had to be taken to make these people disappear from the earth."

The Holocaust was justified by claiming that the victims were Untermenschen, i.e., 'underlings' or 'subhumans', who were seen as both biologically inferior and (in the case of Jews) a potential challenge to the superiority of the 'Aryans'. Its perpetrators saw it as a form of eugenics—the creation of a better race by eliminating the designated "unfit"—along the same lines as their programs of compulsory sterilization, compulsory euthanasia, and "racial hygiene".


Ghettos established in Europe in which Jews were confined, and later shipped to concentration camps.
Ghettos established in Europe in which Jews were confined, and later shipped to concentration camps.

The Holocaust was characterized by the efficient and systematic attempt on an industrial scale to assemble and murder as many victims as possible, using all of the resources and technology available to the Nazi state.

For example, detailed lists of potential victims were made and maintained using Dehomag statistical machinery, and meticulous records of the killings were produced. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property to the Nazis, which was then precisely catalogued and tagged, and for which receipts were issued. In addition, considerable effort was expended over the course of the Holocaust to find increasingly efficient means of killing more people; for example, by switching from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Aktion Reinhard death camps of Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka to the use of Zyklon B at Majdanek and Auschwitz.

In his book Russia's War, British historian Richard Overy describes how the Nazis sought more efficient ways to kill people. In 1941, after occupying Belarus, they used mental patients from Minsk asylums as guinea pigs. Initially, they tried shooting them by having them stand one behind the other, so that several people could be killed with one bullet, but it was too slow. Then they tried dynamite, but few were killed and many were left wounded with hands and legs missing, so that the Germans had to finish them off with machine guns. In October 1941, in Mogilev, they tried the Gaswagen or "gas car". First they used a light military car, and it took more than 30 minutes for people to die. Then they used a larger truck exhaust and it took only eight minutes to kill all the people inside.

Alleged corporate involvement in the Holocaust has created significant controversy in recent years. Rudolf Hoess, Auschwitz camp commandant, said that far from having to advertise their slave labour services, the concentration camps were actually approached by various large German businesses, some of which are still in existence. IBM also played a role in the categorization of prisoners, through the use of index machines.


Major deportation routes to the extermination camps in Europe.
Major deportation routes to the extermination camps in Europe.

The Holocaust was geographically widespread and methodically conducted in virtually all areas of Nazi-occupied territory, where Jews and other victims were targeted in what are now 35 separate European nations, and sent to labor camps in some nations or extermination camps in others. The mass killing was at its worst in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than 7 million Jews in 1939; about 5 million Jews were murdered there, including 3 million in Poland and over 1 million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.

Documented evidence suggests that the Nazis planned to carry out their 'final solution' in Britain, North America, and Palestine if these regions were conquered. The murders continued in different parts of Nazi-controlled territory until the end of World War II, only completely ending when the Allies entered Germany itself and forced the Nazis to surrender in May 1945.


The Holocaust was carried out without any mercy or reprieve for children or babies, and victims were often made to suffer before finally being killed. Nazis carried out cruel and deadly medical experiments on prisoners, including children. Dr. Josef Mengele, medical officer at Auschwitz and chief medical officer at Birkenau, was known as the "Angel of Death" for his sadistic and bizarre medical and eugenics experiments, e.g., trying to change people's eye colour by injecting dye into their eyes. Many of these experiments were intended to produce 'racially pure' babies and as research into weapons and techniques of war. Many of these prisoners did not survive. Day to day life in the concentration camps was also brutal, with the Nazis regularly carrying out beatings and acts of torture.


The victims of the Holocaust were Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti (also known as gypsies), the mentally ill and the physically disabled, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish, Russian and other Slavic intelligentsia, political activists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some Catholic and Protestant clergy, trade unionists, psychiatric patients, some Africans [3], common criminals and people labeled as "enemies of the state". These victims all perished alongside one another in the camps, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (written and photographed), eyewitness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders), and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation.


Nazis in uniform in Vienna, Austria 1938 mock Jews forced to scrub streets
Nazis in uniform in Vienna, Austria 1938 mock Jews forced to scrub streets

Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s (though its roots go back much further). Adolf Hitler's fanatical brand of racial anti-Semitism was laid out in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, which, though largely ignored when it was first printed, became popular in Germany once Hitler acquired political power.

On April 1, 1933, shortly after Hitler's accession to power, the Nazis, led mainly by Julius Streicher, and the Sturmabteilung, organized a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. A series of increasingly harsh racist laws were soon passed in quick succession. Under the “Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service”, passed by the Reichstag on April 7, 1933, all Jewish civil servants at the Reich, Länder, and municipal levels of government were fired immediately. This was followed by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 that prevented marriage between any Jew and non-Jew, and stripped all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, of German citizenships (their official title became "subject of the state"). This meant that they had no basic civil rights, e.g., to vote. In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them having any influence in education, politics, higher education and industry. On 15 November of 1938, Jewish children were banned from going to normal schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been forced to sell out to the Nazi-German government.

Heinrich Himmler (left), leader of the SS (responsible for rounding up Jews), with Adolf Hitler (right).
Heinrich Himmler (left), leader of the SS (responsible for rounding up Jews), with Adolf Hitler (right).

As the war started, massive massacres of Jews took place, and, by December 1941, Hitler decided to completely exterminate European Jews. In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Bühler urged Reinhard Heydrich to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór and Treblinka II. Sebastian Haffner published the analysis in 1978 that Hitler from December 1941 accepted the failure of his goal to dominate Europe forever on his declaration of war against the United States, but that his withdrawal and apparent calm thereafter was sustained by the achievement of his second goal—the extermination of the Jews.

By the end of the war, much of the Jewish population of Europe had been killed in the Holocaust. Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in the world before the war, had had over 90% of its Jewish population, or about 3,000,000 Jews, murdered. Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Latvia each had over 70% of their Jewish population destroyed. Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia lost around half of their Jewish population, the Soviet Union over one third of its Jews, and even countries such as France and Italy had each seen around a quarter of their Jewish population killed.


Poles were one of the first targets of extermination by Hitler, as outlined in the speech he gave the Wehrmacht commanders before the invasion of Poland in 1939. The intelligentsia and socially prominent or influential people were primarily targeted, although there were some mass murders committed against the general population, as well as against other groups of Slavs. The Nazi occupation of Poland (General Government, Reichsgau Wartheland) was one of the most brutal episodes of World War Two, resulting in over six million Polish deaths (over twenty percent of the country's inhabitants), including the mass murder of three million Polish Jews, many in extermination camps like Auschwitz.

During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Red Army prisoners of war were arbitrarily executed in the field by the invading German armies (in particular by the notorious Waffen SS), died under inhuman conditions in German prisoner-of-war camps, or were shipped to extermination camps for execution simply because they were of Slavic extraction. Thousands of Soviet peasant villages were annihilated by German troops for more or less the same reason. During World War Two, every fourth person was killed in Belarus (and according to the latest data, some researchers say up to thirty percent). The Jewish population of Belarus was almost totally exterminated.

The Nazis considered various ranks of Slavic peoples, e.g., it was thought that Russians were inferior to Ukrainians and Belarusians, and that the latter were inferior to Poles.

Romany ('Gypsies')

Main article: Porajmos

Proportional to their population, the death toll of Romany in the Holocaust was the worst of any group of victims. Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Roma and Sinti people of Europe involved a particularly bizarre application of Nazi "racial hygiene". Although, despite discriminatory measures, some groups of Roma, including the Sinti and Lalleri tribes of Germany, were spared deportation and death, the remaining Romany groups suffered much like the Jews. Between a quarter and a half of the Romany population was killed, upwards of 220,000 people.[4] In Eastern Europe, Gypsies were deported to the Jewish ghettoes, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen in their villages, and deported and gassed in Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Gay men

Main article: History of Gays during the Holocaust
1945 drawing by gay Holocaust survivor, depicting Nazi guards torturing a gay man
1945 drawing by gay Holocaust survivor, depicting Nazi guards torturing a gay man

Gay men were another group targeted during the period of the Holocaust. Homosexuality was deemed incompatible with National Socialism and its desire for the rapid population growth of the master race Some leaders clearly wanted gays exterminated, while others wanted enforcement of laws banning sex between gay men or lesbians. More than one million German men who were or were believed to be gay were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 served prison terms. An additional unknown number were institutionalized in state-run mental hospitals. Hundreds of European gay men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order.

The deaths of at least an estimated 15,000 gay men in concentration camps were officially documented. Larger numbers include those who were Jewish and gay, or even Jewish, gay and Communist. In addition, records as to the specific reasons for internment are non-existent in many areas, making it hard to put an exact number on just how many gay men perished in death camps.

Conditions for gay men in the camps were especially difficult, as they were reviled not only by the German soldiers but also by the other prisoners, and many gay men were beaten to death. Additionally, gay men in forced labour camps routinely received more grueling and dangerous work assignments than other non-Jewish inmates, under the policy of "Extermination Through Work". German soldiers also were known to use gay men for target practice, aiming their weapons at the pink triangles their human targets were forced to wear. Lesbians were not treated as harshly as gay men. They were labeled "anti-social," but not sent to camps.


The Nazis also targeted some religious groups. Around 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses perished in concentration camps, where they were held for political and ideological reasons. They refused involvement in politics, would not say "Heil Hitler", and did not serve in the German army. See Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust.

Several hundred thousand mentally and physically disabled people also were exterminated. The Nazis believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed to be cared for by others, but first and foremost, the mentally and physically handicapped were considered an affront to Nazi notions of a society peopled by a perfect, superhuman Aryan race. Around 400,000 individuals were sterilized against their will for having mental deficiencies or illnesses deemed to be hereditary in nature. People with disabilities were among the first to be killed, and the United States Holocaust Memorial museum notes that the T-4 Program became the "model" for future exterminations by the Nazi regime.[5] The T-4 Euthanasia Program was established in 1939 in order to maintain the "purity" of the so-called Aryan race by systematically killing children and adults born with physical deformities or suffering from mental illness.

Black and Asian residents in Germany, and black prisoners of war, were also victims; often being singled out in internment camps. [6]

About 100,000 communists were killed. There had earlier been attempts at sterilising them using x-rays.

Death toll

General (later US President) Dwight Eisenhower inspecting prisoners' corpses at a liberated concentration camp, 1945
General (later US President) Dwight Eisenhower inspecting prisoners' corpses at a liberated concentration camp, 1945

The exact number of people killed by the Nazi regime will never be known, but scholars, using a variety of methods of determining the death toll, have generally agreed upon common range of the the number of victims. Recently declassified British and Soviet documents have indicated the total may be somewhat higher than previously believed[7]. However, the following estimates are considered to be highly reliable. The estimates:

  • 5.1–6.0 million Jews, including 3.0–3.5 million Polish Jews[8]
  • 2.5–3.5 million Gentile Poles
  • 200,000–800,000 Roma & Sinti
  • 200,000–300,000 people with disabilities
  • 10,000–25,000 gay men
  • 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses

Raul Hilberg, in the third edition of his ground-breaking three-volume work, The Destruction of the European Jews, estimates that 5.1 million Jews died during the Holocaust. This figure includes "over 800,000" who died from "Ghettoization and general privation;" 1,400,000 who were killed in "Open-air shootings;" and "up to 2,900,000" who perished in camps. It is difficult to determine whether Hilberg's numbers are conservative or liberal because he does not provide point estimates; rather, he rounds his figures. Hilberg estimates the death toll in Poland at "up to 3,000,000."

Lucy Davidowicz used prewar census figures to estimate that 5.85 million Jews died. Using official census counts may cause an underestimate since many births and deaths were not recorded in small towns and villages. Another reason some consider her estimate too low is that many records were destroyed during the war. (Her book, The War Against the Jews, has detailed listings by country of the number of Jews killed.)

One of the most authoritative German scholar of victims of the Holocaust, Prof. Wolfgang Benz of the Technical University of Berlin, cites between 5.3 and 6.2 million Jews killed in Dimension des Volksmords (1991), while Yisrael Gutman and Robert Rozett estimate between 5.59 and 5.86 million Jewish victims in their Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990).

The following groups of people were also killed by the Nazi regime, but there is little evidence that the Nazis planned to systematically target them for genocide as was the case for the groups above.

  • 3.5–6 million other Slavic civilians
  • 2.5–4 million Soviet POWs
  • 1–1.5 million political dissidents

Additionally, the Nazi's allies, the Ustaša regime in Croatia conducted its own campaign of mass murder against the Serbs in the areas in which in controlled, resulting the deaths of at least 330,000–390,000 Serbs.

The summary of various sources' estimates on the number of Nazi regime victims is given in Matthew White's online atlas of 20th century history

Searching for records of victims

Initially after World War II, there were millions of members of families broken up by the war or the Holocaust searching for some record of the fate and/or whereabouts of their missing friends and relatives. These efforts became much less intense as the years went by. More recently, however, there has a been a resurgence of interest by descendants of Holocaust survivors in researching the fates of their lost relatives. Yad Vashem provides a searchable database of three million names, about half of the known direct Jewish victims. Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims Names is searchable over the Internet at or in person at the Yad Vashem complex in Israel.

Other databases and lists of victims' names, some searchable over the Web, are listed in Holocaust (resources).

Execution of the Holocaust

Concentration and Labor Camps (1933-1945)

Main article: Concentration camp. See also: Nazi concentration camp badges

Concentration camp inmates during the Holocaust
Concentration camp inmates during the Holocaust
Major concentration camps in Europe, 1944.
Major concentration camps in Europe, 1944.

Starting in 1933, the Nazis set up concentration camps within Germany, many of which were established by local authorities, to hold political prisoners and "undesirables". These early concentration camps were eventually consolidated into centrally-run camps, and by 1939, six large concentration camps had been established. After 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, the concentration camps increasingly became places where the enemies of the Nazis, including Jews and POWs, were either murdered or forced to act as slave laborers, and kept undernourished and tortured.

During the War, concentration camps for Jews and other "undesirables" were spread throughout Europe, with new camps being created near centers of dense "undesirable" populations, often focusing on areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communist, or Roma populations. Most of the camps were located in the area of General Government in Poland, but there were camps in every country occupied by the Nazis. The transportation of prisoners was often carried out under horrifying conditions using rail freight cars, in which many died before they reached their destination. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many concentration camp prisoners died because of harsh conditions or were executed.

Pogroms (1938-1941)

Many scholars date the beginning of the Holocaust itself to the anti-Jewish riots of the Night of Broken Glass ("Kristallnacht") of November 9, 1938, in which Jews were attacked and Jewish property were vandalized across Germany. Approximately 100 Jews were killed, and another 30,000 sent to concentration camps, while over 7,000 Jewish shops and 1,574 synagogues (almost every synagogue in Germany) were damaged or destroyed. Similar events took place in Vienna at the same time.

A number of deadly pogroms by local, non-German populations followed in the wake of German conquest, such as the Iaşi pogrom in Romania on June 30, 1941 in which as many 14,000 Jews were killed by Romanian residents and police and the Jedwabne pogrom in which between 380 and 1,600 Jews were killed by their Polish neighbors.

Euthanasia (1939-1941)

Main article: T-4 Euthanasia Program

The T-4 Euthanasia Program was established to "maintain the genetic purity" of the German population by systematically killing citizens who were physically deformed, disabled, handicapped, or suffering from mental illness. Between 1939 and 1941, over 200,000 people were killed.

Ghettos (1940-1945)

Main articles: Ghetto, Warsaw Ghetto

A child dying in the streets of the crowded Warsaw Ghetto, where hunger and disease was endemic.
A child dying in the streets of the crowded Warsaw Ghetto, where hunger and disease was endemic.

After the invasion of Poland, the Nazis created ghettos to which Jews (and some Roma) were confined, until they were eventually shipped to concentration camps and killed. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people and the Łódź Ghetto, the second largest, holding about 160,000, but ghettos were instituted in many cities (list). The ghettos were established throughout 1940 and 1941, and were immediately turned into immensely crowded prisons; though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of the population of Warsaw, it occupied only about 2.4% of city's area, averaging 9.2 people per room. From 1940 through 1942, disease (especially typhoid) and starvation killed hundreds of thousands of Jews confined in the ghettos.

On July 19, 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered the start of the deportations of Jews from the ghettos to the death camps. On July 22, 1942, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants began; in the next 52 days (until September 12, 1942) about 300,000 people were transported by train to the Treblinka extermination camp from Warsaw alone. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated. Though there were armed resistance attempts in the ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, but in every case they failed against the Nazi military, and the remaining Jews were either slaughtered or sent to the extermination camps.

Death Squads (1941-1943)

Main article: Einsatzgruppen

The 1941 massacre at Babi Yar was similar to many other mass killings of Jews.  Over 33,000 Jews were shot in the course of two days by Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local Ukrainian forces.
The 1941 massacre at Babi Yar was similar to many other mass killings of Jews. Over 33,000 Jews were shot in the course of two days by Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local Ukrainian forces.

As many as 1.6 million Jews were killed in open-air shootings by Nazis and their collaborators, especially in 1941 before the establishment of the concentration camps. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, over 3,000 special killing units (Einsatzgruppen) followed the Wehrmacht, conducting mass killings of Poles, Communist officials, and the Jewish population that lived in Soviet territory.

Poles were an early target in the AB Action, in which 30,000 Polish intellectual and political figures were rounded up, and 7,000 eventually killed. By the summer of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen turned to targeting Jews, starting with the murder of 2,200 Jews in Bialystock on June 21, 1941, and quickly increased in scale. From September to the end of 1942, a series of mass killings took place throughout Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Latvia: over 33,000 Jews were killed at Babi Yar, 25,000 at Rumbula, over 36,000 at Odessa by Romanian forces, 9,000 at the Ninth Fort, and 40,000 (up to 100,000 by 1944) at Paneriai. These, and similar slaughters throughout Europe, killed around 100,000 Jews per month for five months. By the end of 1943, another 900,000 Jews would be murdered in this manner, but the pace was not fast enough for the Nazi leadership, who, at the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, began the implementation of the Final Solution, the complete extermination of the Jews of Europe.

Extermination camps (1942-1945)

Main article:Extermination camp.

In December, 1941, the Nazis opened Chelmno the first of what would soon be seven extermination camps, dedicated entirely to mass murder on an industrial scale, as opposed to the labor or concentration camps. Over three million Jews would die in these extermination camps. The method of killing at these camps was by poison gas, usually in "gas chambers", although many prisoners were killed in mass shootings and by other means. The bodies of those killed were destroyed in crematoria (except at Sobibór where they were cremated on outdoor pyres), and the ashes buried or scattered.

In 1942, the Nazis began this most destructive phase of the Holocaust, with Aktion Reinhard, opening the extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. More than 1.7 million Jews were killed at the Aktion Reinhard camps by October 1943. The largest facility was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which had both a labor camp (Auschwitz) and an extermination camp (Birkenau); the latter possessing four gas chambers and crematoria. This camp was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1,000,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles and gay men, and some 19,000 Roma, for an approximate total of 1,094,000 deaths. At the peak of operations, Birkenau's gas chambers killed approximately eight thousand a day.

Upon arrival in these camps, prisoners were divided into two groups: those too weak for work were immediately executed in gas chambers (which were sometimes disguised as showers) and their bodies burned, while others were first used for slave labor in factories or industrial enterprises located in the camp or nearby. The Nazis also forced some prisoners to work in the collection and disposal of corpses, and to mutilate them when required. Gold teeth were extracted from the corpses, and women's hair (shaved from the heads of victims before they entered the gas chambers) was recycled for use in products such as rugs and socks.

Death Marches and liberation (1944-1945)

Main article:Death marches (Holocaust).

As the armies of the Allies closed in on the Reich at the end of 1944, the Germans decided to abandon the extermination camps, moving or destroying evidence of the atrocities they had committed there. The Nazis marched prisoners, already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, for tens of miles in the snow to train stations; then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in freight trains with open carriages; and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Prisoners who lagged behind or fell were shot. The largest and best known of the death marches took place in January 1945, when the Soviet army advanced on Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at the death camp at Auschwitz, the Germans marched 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzislaw, thirty-five miles away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way.

In July, 1944, the first major Nazi camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets, who eventually liberated Auschwitz in January 1945. In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, the prisoners had already been transported by death marches, leaving only a few thousand prisoners alive. More concentration camps were liberated by the United States and Britain, including Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 15. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at the camp, but 10,000 died from disease or malnutrition within a few weeks of liberation.

Resistance and Rescuers


 SS soldiers walking through the destroyed Ghetto after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
SS soldiers walking through the destroyed Ghetto after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Due to the careful organization and overwhelming military might of the Nazi German state and its supporters, few Jews and other Holocaust victims were able to resist the killings. There are, however, many cases of attempts at resistance in one form or another.

The largest instance of organized Jewish resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from April to May of 1943, as the final deportation from the Ghetto to the death camps was about to commence. The ZOB and smaller organizations held out against the Nazis for 27 days, before all were killed. There were also other Ghetto Uprisings, though none was successful against the German military.

There was also major resistance efforts in three of the extermination camps. In August 1943 an uprising also took place at the Treblinka extermination camp. Many buildings were burnt to the ground, and seventy inmates escaped to freedom, but 1,500 were killed. Gassing operations were interrupted for a month. In October 1943 another uprising took place at Sobibór extermination camp. This uprising was more successful; 11 SS guards were killed, and roughly 300 of the 600 inmates in the camp escaped, with about 50 surviving the war. The escape forced the Nazis to close the camp. On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those prisoners kept separate from the main camp and involved in the operation of the gas chambers and crematoria) at Auschwitz staged an uprising. Female prisoners had smuggled in explosives from a weapons factory, and Crematorium IV was partly destroyed by an explosion. The prisoners then attempted a mass escape, but all 250 were killed soon after.

There were a number of Jewish partisan groups operating in many countries (see Eugenio Calò for the story of a Jewish Italian partisan). Also, Jewish volunteers from the Palestinian Mandate, most famously Hannah Szenes, parachuted into Europe in an attempt to organize resistance.


See also: List of people who helped Jews during the Holocaust
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and his colleagues saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews by providing them with diplomatic passes.
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and his colleagues saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews by providing them with diplomatic passes.

In two cases, entire countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population. The King of Denmark and his subjects saved the lives of most of the 7,500 Danish Jews by spiriting them to safety in Sweden via fishing boats in October 1943. When the Jews returned home at war's end, they found their houses and possessions waiting for them, exactly as they left them. In the second case, the Nazi-allied government of Bulgaria, led by Dobri Bozhilov, refused to deport its 50,000 Jewish citizens, saving them as well, though Bulgaria did deport Jews to concentration camps from areas in conquered Greece and Macedonia.

Some towns and churches also helped hide Jews and protect others from the Holocaust, such as the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which sheltered several thousand Jews. Similar individual and family acts of rescue were repeated throughout Europe, as illustrated in the famous cases of Anne Frank, often at great risk to the rescuers. In a few cases, individual diplomats and people of influence, such as Oskar Schindler, protected large numbers of Jews. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Italian Giorgio Perlasca, and others saved tens of thousands of Jews with fake diplomatic passes. Chiune Sugihara is also known to have saved many Jews by issuing them with Japanese visas against the will of his Nazi-aligned government.

There were also groups, like members of the Polish Zegota organization, that took drastic and dangerous steps to rescue Jews and other potential victims from the Nazis. Witold Pilecki, member of Armia Krajowa (the Polish Home Army), organized a resistance movement in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940, and Jan Karski tried to spread word of the Holocaust.

Since 1963, a commission headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice has been charged with the duty of awarding such people the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations.

Historical interpretations

As with any historical event, scholars continue to argue over what exactly happened and why.

Who was directly involved in the killings?

In addition to the direct involvemnt of Nazi forces, most European countries allied with or occupied by the Axis Powers collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust. Collaboration took the form of either rounding up of the local Jews for deportation to the German extermination camps or a direct participation in the killings.

The Romanian Antonescu regime was directly responsible for the deaths of at least 280,000 to 380,000 Jews. An official report released by the Romanian government concluded, "Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself. The murders committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust."[9] In cooperation with German Einsatzgruppen and Ukrainian auxiliaries, Romanian killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria. Some of the larger massacres included 54,000 Jews killed in Bogdanovka, a Romanian concentration camp along the Bug River in Transnistria, between 21 and 31 December 1941. Nearly 100,000 Jews were murdered in occupied Odessa and over 10,000 were killed in the Iasi pogrom. The Romanians also massacred Jews in the Domanevka and Akhmetchetka concentration camps.

In Italy a law from 1938 restricted civil liberties of Jews, but after the fall of Mussolini and his creation of the Italian Social Republic, Jews started being deported to German camps. The deported numbered about 8,369, and only about a thousand survived. Several small camps were built in Italy and the so-called Risiera di San Sabba hosted a crematorium; from 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed in San Sabba, only a few of whom were Jews.

Bulgaria, despite saving its own Jewish population, deported 11,000 Jews from occupied Greek and Yugoslavian territories. The Vichy French government and French police in Nazi-occupied France participated in the roundups of 75,000 Jews. The Netherlands civilian administration and police participated in the roundups of 100,000 Jews. A Dutch group, Henneicke Column, hunted and "delivered" 9,000 Jews for deportation[10]. Norwegian police rounded up 750 Jews. Slovakia's Tiso regime deported approximately 70,000 Jews, of whom 65,000 were killed.[11]

The Hungarian Horthy regime deported 20,000 Jews from annexed Transcarpathian Ukraine in 1941 to Kamianets-Podilskyi in the German-occupied Ukraine, where they were shot by the German Einsatzgruppen detachments. Hungarian army and police units killed several thousand Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in January 1942. However Horthy resisted German demands for mass deportation of Hungarian Jews, and most survived until 1944, when the Horthy fell from power and was replaced by the Arrow Cross regime. At this late date in the war with German defeat appearing likely, Hungarian police nevertheless participated fully with SS in the roundups of 440,000 Jews for deportation to the extermination camps. Moreover, 20,000 Budapest Jews were shot by the banks of the Danube by Hungarian forces. 70,000 Jews were forced on a death march to Austria—thousands were shot and thousands more died of starvation and exposure.

Killing of 5,000 Jews in Kovno by Lithuanian nationalists in June 1941. The SS urged anti-communist partisan leader Klimatis to attack the Jews to show that "the liberated population had resorted to the most severe measures against the ... Jewish enemy."
Killing of 5,000 Jews in Kovno by Lithuanian nationalists in June 1941. The SS urged anti-communist partisan leader Klimatis to attack the Jews to show that "the liberated population had resorted to the most severe measures against the ... Jewish enemy."

The Croatian Ustase regime killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs (estimates vary widely, but a minimum of 330,000-390,000 is generally accepted), over 20,000 Jews and 26,000 Roma, primarily in the Ustase's Jasenovac concentration camp near Zagreb. The Ustase also deported 7,000 more Jews to German extermination camps.[12]

Ukrainian nationalists killed 4,000 Lviv Jews in July 1941, and an additional 2,000 in late July 1941 during the so-called Petliura Days pogrom. German Einsatzgruppen, together with Ukrainian auxiliary units, killed 33,000 Kievan Jews in Babi Yar in September 1941. Ukrainian auxiliaries participated in a number of killings of Jews, among them in Romanian concentration camps in Bogdanovka and in Latvia.

Lithuanian and Latvian auxiliary military units with German Einsatzgruppen detachments participated in the extermination of the Jewish population in their countries, as well as assisting the Nazis elsewhere, such as deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto. The Arajs Commando, a Latvian police unit, for example, killed 26,000 Latvian Jews and was responsible for assisting in the murder of 60,000 more Jews. (source: Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, USHMM)

About 75% of Estonia's Jewish community, aware of the fate that otherwise awaited them, managed to escape to the Soviet Union; virtually all the remainder (between 950 and 1000 people) were killed by Einsatzgruppe A and local collaborators before the end of 1941. (source: Max Jakobson Commission Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity)

Who authorized the killings?

Hitler authorized the mass killing of those labelled by the Nazis as "undesirables" in the T-4 Euthanasia Program. Hitler encouraged the killings of the Jews of Eastern Europe by the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a speech in July, 1941, though he almost certainly approved the mass shootings earlier. A mass of evidence suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on the complete mass murder of the Jews of Europe by gassing, with Hilter explicitly ordering the "annihilation of the Jews" in a speech on December 12, 1941 (see Final Solution). To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with the participation of fifteen senior officials, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, the records of which provide the best evidence of the central planning of the Holocaust. Just five weeks later on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying "We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews" to his closest associates.

Arguments that no documentation links Hitler to "the Holocaust" ignore the records of his speeches kept by Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels and rely on artificially limiting the Holocaust to exclude what we do have documentation on, such as the T-4 Euthanasia Program and the Kristallnacht pogrom.

Who knew about the killings?

Some claim that the full extent of what was happening in German-controlled areas was not known until after the war. However, numerous rumors and eyewitness accounts from escapees and others gave some indication that Jews were being killed in large numbers. Since the early years of the war the Polish government-in-exile published documents and organised meetings to spread word of the fate of the Jews. By early 1941, the British had received information via an intercepted Chilean memo that Jews were being targeted, and by late 1941 they had intercepted information about a number of large massacres of Jews conducted by German police. In the summer of 1942 a Jewish labor organization (the Bund) got word to London that 700,000 Polish Jews had already died, and the BBC took the story seriously, though the United States State Department did not take the news seriously[13]. By the end of 1942, however, the evidence of the Holocaust had become clear and on December 17, 1942 the Allies issued a statement that the Jews were being transported to Poland and killed.

Debate also continues on how much average Germans knew about the Holocaust. Recent historical work suggests that the majority of Germans knew that Jews were being indescriminately killed and persecuted, even if they did not know of the specifics of the death camps. Robert Gellately, a historian at Oxford University, conducted a widely-respected survey of the German media before and during the war, concluding that there was "substantial consent and active participation of large numbers of ordinary Germans" in aspects of the Holocaust, and documenting that the sight of columns of slave laborers were common, and that the basics of the concentration camps, if not the extermination camps, were widely known[14].

Why did people participate in, authorize, or tacitly accept the killing?


Stanley Milgram was one of a number of post-war psychologists and sociologists who tried to address why people obeyed immoral orders in the Holocaust. Milgram's findings demonstrated that reasonable people, when instructed by a person in a position of authority, obeyed commands entailing what they believed to be the death or suffering of others. These results were confirmed in other experiments as well, such as the Stanford prison experiment.

Functionalism versus intentionalism

Main article: Functionalism versus intentionalism

A major issue in contemporary Holocaust studies is the question of functionalism versus intentionalism. The terms were coined in a 1981 article by the British Marxist historian Timothy Mason to describe two schools of thought about the origins of the Holocaust. Intentionalists hold that the Holocaust was the result of a long-term masterplan on the part of Hitler's and that Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust. Functionalists hold that Hitler was anti-Semitic, but that he did not have a masterplan for genocide. Functionalists see the Holocaust as coming from below in the ranks of the German bureaucracy with little or no involvement on the part of Hitler. Functionalists stress that the Nazi anti-Semitic policy was constantly evolving in ever more radical directions and the end product was the Holocaust.

Intentionalists like Lucy Davidowicz argue that the Holocaust was planned by Hitler from the very beginning, at very least from 1919 on, if not earlier. Other Intentionalists like Andreas Hillgruber, Karl Dietrich Bracher and Klaus Hildebrand suggested that Hitler had decided upon the Holocaust sometime in the early 1920s. More recent intentionalist historians like Eberhard Jäckel continue to emphasize the relative earliness of the decision to murder the Jews, although they are not willing to claim that Hitler planned the Holocaust from the beginning. Yet another group of intentionalist historians such as the American Arno J. Mayer claimed Hitler only ordered the Holocaust in December 1941.

Functionalists like Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat, Götz Aly, Raul Hilberg and Christopher Browning hold that the Holocaust was started in 1941-1942 as a result of the failure of the Nazi deportation policy and the impending military losses in Russia. They claim that what some see as extermination fantasies outlined in Hitler's Mein Kampf and other Nazi literature were mere propaganda and did not constitute concrete plans. In Mein Kampf Hitler repeatly states his inexorable hatred of the Jewish people, but no-where does he proclaim his intention to exterminate the Jewish people.

Furthermore, Functionalists point to the fact that in the 1930s, Nazi policy aimed at trying to make life so unpleasant for German Jews that they would leave Germany. Not until October 3, 1941 were German Jews forbidden to leave, when Reinhard Heydrich issued a order to that effect . Adolf Eichmann was in charge of faciliating Jewish emigration by whatever means possible from 1937 on. Functionalists point to the SS's support for a time in the late 1930s for Zionist groups as the preferred solution to the "Jewish Question" as another sign that there was no masterplan for genocide. The SS only ceased their support for German Zionist groups in May 1939 when Joachim von Ribbentrop informed Hitler of this, and Hitler ordered Himmler to cease and desist as the creation of Israel was not a goal Hitler thought worthy of German foreign policy.

In particular, Functionalists have noted that in German documents from 1939 to 1941, the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was clearly meant to be a "territorial solution", that is the entire Jewish population was to be expelled somewhere far from Germany and not allowed to come back. At first, the SS planned to create a gigantic "Jewish Reservation" in the Lublin, Poland area, but the so-called "Lublin Plan" was vetoed by Hans Frank, the Governor-General of Poland who refused to allow the SS to ship any more Jews to the Lublin area after November, 1939. The reason why Frank vetoed the "Lublin Plan" was not due to any humane motives, but rather because he was opposed to the SS "dumping" Jews into the Government-General. In 1940, the SS had the so-called "Madagascar Plan" to deport the entire Jewish population of Europe to a "reservation" on Madagascar. The "Madagascar Plan" was cancelled because Germany could not defeat Britain and until the British blockade was broken, the "Madagascar Plan" could not be put into effect. Finally, Functionalist historians have made much of a memorandum written by Himmler in May, 1940 explicitly rejecting extermination of the entire Jewish people as "un-German" and going on to recommend to Hitler the "Madagascar Plan" as the preferred "territorial solution" to the "Jewish Question". Not until July 1941 did the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" come to mean extermination.

Recently, a synthesis of the two schools has emerged that has been championed by such diverse historians such as the Canadian historian Michael Marrus, the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer and the British historian Ian Kershaw that contends that Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust, but that he did not have a long-term plan and that much of the initiative for the Holocaust came from below in a effort to meet Hitler's perceived wishes.

Another controversy was started by the historian Daniel Goldhagen, who argues that ordinary Germans were knowing and willing participants in the Holocaust, which he claims had its roots in a deep eliminationist German anti-Semitism. Most other historians have disagreed with Goldhagen's thesis, arguing that while anti-Semitism undeniably existed in Germany, Goldhagen's idea of a uniquely German "eliminationist" anti-Semitism is untenable, and that the extermination was unknown to many and had to be enforced by the dictatorial Nazi apparatus.

Revisionists and deniers

Main article: Holocaust denial

Holocaust denial, also called Holocaust revisionism, is the belief that the Holocaust did not occur, or, more specifically: that far fewer than around six million Jews were killed by the Nazis (numbers below one million, most often around 300,000 are typically cited); that there never was a centrally-planned Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews; and/or that there were not mass killings at the extermination camps. Those who hold this position often further claim that Jews and/or Zionists know that the Holocaust never occurred, yet that they are engaged in a massive conspiracy to maintain the illusion of a Holocaust to further their political agenda. These views are not accepted as credible by historians, as summarized in Public Opinion Quarterly: "No reputable historian questions the reality of the Holocaust, and those promoting Holocaust denial are overwhelmingly anti-Semites and/or neo-Nazis."[15]

Holocaust deniers almost always prefer to be called Holocaust revisionists. Most scholars contend that the latter term is misleading. Historical revisionism is a well-accepted and mainstream part of the study of history; it is the reexamination of accepted history, with an eye towards updating it with newly discovered, more accurate, and/or less biased information, or viewing known information from a new perspective. In contrast, Holocaust deniers typically willfully misuse or ignore historical records in order to attempt to prove their conclusions, as Gordon McFee writes:

"'Revisionists' depart from the conclusion that the Holocaust did not occur and work backwards through the facts to adapt them to that preordained conclusion. Put another way, they reverse the proper methodology [...], thus turning the proper historical method of investigation and analysis on its head."[16]

Holocaust denial is most commonly associated with neo-Nazis or anti-Semites; it has become popular in recent years among Islamic fundamentalists. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian national authority, asserted in his doctoral thesis (i) that no more than a million Jews were actually killed—the rest is Jewish exaggeration and (ii) that the Holocaust itself was the result of a conspiracy between the Nazis and the Zionists. Abbas' supporters say that "in order to earn a PhD from a Soviet university, he had to write what the Communists wanted."[17]

The public advocacy of theories denying the Holocaust is a crime in some European countries (including France, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Germany).


Displaced Persons and the State of Israel

The Holocaust and its aftermath left millions of refugees, including many Jews who had lost most or all of their family members and possessions, and often faced persistent anti-Semitism in their home countries. The original plan of the Allies was to repatriate these "Displaced Persons" to their country of origin, but many refused to return, or were unable to as their homes or communities had been destroyed. As a result, more than 250,000 languished in DP camps for years after the war ended.

Jews were smuggled into Palestine by Berihah using a number of routes.
Jews were smuggled into Palestine by Berihah using a number of routes.

While Zionism had been prominent before the Holocaust, afterwards it became almost universally accepted among Jews. Many Zionists, pointing to the fact that Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied lands had been turned away by other countries, argued that if a Jewish state had existed at the time, the Holocaust could not have occurred on the scale it did. With the rise of Zionism, Palestine became the destination of choice for Jewish refugees, but local Arabs opposed the immigration, Britain refused to allow Jewish refugees into the Mandate, and many countries in the Soviet Bloc made any emigration illegal. Former Jewish partisans in Europe, along with the Haganah in Palestine, organized a massive effort to smuggle Jews into Palestine, called Berihah, which eventually transported 250,000 Jews (both DPs and those who hid during the war) to the Mandate. By 1952, the Displaced Persons camps were closed, with over 80,000 Jewish DPs in the United States, about 136,000 in Israel, and another 20,000 in other nations, including Canada and South Africa.

Legal proceedings against Nazis

Defendants at the Nuremberg Trials - Front row: Göring, Heß, von Ribbentrop, and Keitel. Second row: Dönitz, Raeder, Schirach, Sauckel.
Defendants at the Nuremberg Trials - Front row: Göring, Heß, von Ribbentrop, and Keitel. Second row: Dönitz, Raeder, Schirach, Sauckel.

There were a number of legal efforts established to bring Nazis and their collaborators to justice. Some of the higher ranking Nazi officials were tried as part of the Nuremberg Trials, presided over by an Allied court; the first international tribunal of its kind. In total, 5,025 Nazi criminals were convicted between 1945-1949 in the American, British and French zones of Germany. Other trials were conducted in the countries in which the defendants were citizens -- in West Germany and Austria, many Nazis were let off with light sentences, with the claim of "following orders" ruled a mitigating circumstance, and many returned to society soon afterwards. An ongoing effort to pursue Nazis and collaborators resulted, famously, in the trial of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961.

Legal action against genocide

The Holocaust also galvanized the international community to take action against future genocide, including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. While international human rights law moved forward quickly in the wake of the Holocaust, international criminal law has been slower to advance; after the Nuremberg trials and the Japanese war crime trials it was over forty years until the next such international criminal procedures, in 1993 in Yugoslavia.

Impact on culture

Holocaust theology

On account of the magnitude of the Holocaust, many theologians have re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions in the world. Some believers and apostates question whether people can still have any faith after the Holocaust, and some of the theological responses to these questions are explored in Holocaust theology.

Art and literature

See The Holocaust in Art and Literature

German philopsopher Theodor Adorno famously commented that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," and the Holocaust has indeed had a profound impact on art and literature, for both Jews and non-Jews. Some of the more famous works are by Holocaust survivors or victims, such as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, and Anne Frank, but there is a substantial body of literature and art in many languages.

The Holocaust has also been the subject of many films, including Oscar winners Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful. With the aging population of Holocaust survivors, there has been increasing attention in recent years to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. The result has included extensive efforts to document their stories, including the Survivors of the Shoah project, as well as institutions devoted to memorializing and studying the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem in Israel and the US Holocaust Museum.

Holocaust Memorial Day

In a unanimous vote, the United Nations General Assembly voted on November 1, 2005, to designate January 27 as the "International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust." January 27, 1945 is the day that the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. Even before the UN vote, January 27 was already observed as Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom since 2001, as well as other countries, including Sweden, Italy, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Estonia. Israel observes Yom Hashoah, the "Day of Rememberence of the Holocaust," on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which generally falls in April.


  1. ^ "The Holocaust: Definition and Preliminary Discussion," Yad Vashem (accessed June 8, 2005)
  2. ^  Euthanasia and Eugenics, (accessed June 8, 2005)
  3. ^ "Jewish Response to the Porrajmos (The Romani Holocaust)," Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota (accessed June 24, 2005). Death tolls given at United States Holocaust Museum
  4. ^  Blacks during the Holocaust
  5. ^ Douglas Davis, "7 million died in Holocaust," Jerusalem Post, May 20, 1997 (accessed June 8, 2005).
  6. ^  "How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust? How do we know? Do we have their names?," Yad Vashem (accessed June 8, 2005). A detailed breakdown of various estimates of the victims is available from the Online Library of the United States Holocaust Museum (accessed August 10, 2005)
  7. ^ "Romania: Facing the Past" available in Romanian and English, published online March, 2005.
  8. ^ Ad van Liempt, A Price on Their Heads, Kopgeld, Dutch bounty hunters in search of Jews, 1943, NLPVF (accessed June 8, 2005).
  9. ^ "Victims and Perpetrators, Michal Kabác: Slovak Hlinka Guard," PBS (accessed June 8, 2005).
  10. ^ "Jansenovac" at the Jewish Virtual Library
  11. ^ Richard Breitman, "What Diplomats Learned about the Holocaust," US National Archives (accessed August 30, 2005).
  12. ^  John Ezard, "Germans knew of Holocaust Horror about Death Camps," Guardian, February 17, 2001.
  13. ^  Tom Smith, "The Polls--A Review: The Holocaust Denial Controversy." Public Opinion Quarterly 59 (Summer 1995): 269-295.
  14. ^ Gord McFee, "why 'Revisionism' isn't," The Holocaust History Project (accessed June 8, 2005).
  15. ^ Myron Love, "Muslim’s criticism of Abbas rebuffed by Jewish journalist," Canadian Jewish News (accessed June 8, 2005).
  16. ^ Chalmers Johnson, review of Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold, by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave, London Review of Books 25, no. 22, November 2003 (accessed June 8, 2005).

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


Due to the length of this article, External links, Bibliography and other resources are recorded in a separate article.

Resources are listed in Holocaust (resources).

Personal tools