The Holocaust

The Holocaust
Part of World War II
Selection Birkenau ramp.jpg
From the Auschwitz Album: Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz II-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, May 1944. Most were "selected" to go to the gas chambers.[1]
DescriptionGenocide of the European Jews
LocationNazi Germany and German-occupied Europe
Date1941–1945[2]
Attack type
Genocide, ethnic cleansing
DeathsAround 6 million Jews[a]
PerpetratorsNazi Germany and its collaborators
MotiveAntisemitism
TrialsNuremberg trials, Subsequent Nuremberg trials, Trial of Adolf Eichmann, and others

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah,[b] was the World War II genocide of the European Jews. Between 1941 and 1945, across German-occupied Europe, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews, around two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population.[a][c] The murders were carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination through labour in concentration camps; and in gas chambers and gas vans in German extermination camps, chiefly Auschwitz, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, and Treblinka in occupied Poland.[4]

Germany implemented the persecution in stages. Following Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor on 30 January 1933, the regime built a network of concentration camps in Germany for political opponents and those deemed "undesirable", starting with Dachau on 22 March 1933.[5] After the passing of the Enabling Act on 24 March,[6] which gave Hitler plenary powers, the government began isolating Jews from civil society, which included a boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933, and enacting the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. On 9–10 November 1938, eight months after Germany annexed Austria, Jewish businesses and other buildings were ransacked, smashed or set on fire throughout Germany and Austria during what became known as Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass"). After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, triggering World War II, the regime set up ghettos to segregate Jews from the rest of the population. Eventually thousands of camps and other detention sites were established across German-occupied Europe.

The segregation of Jews in ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", discussed by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. As German forces captured territories in the East, all anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings were committed within Germany itself, throughout occupied Europe, and within territories controlled by Germany's allies. Paramilitary death squads called Einsatzgruppen, in cooperation with the German Army and local collaborators, murdered around 1.3 million Jews in mass shootings and pogroms between 1941 and 1945. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from ghettos across Europe in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were worked to death or gassed. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.

The European Jews were targeted for extermination as part of a larger event during the Holocaust era, usually defined as beginning in January 1933,[7] in which Germany and its collaborators persecuted and murdered other groups, including Slavs (chiefly ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, and Soviet prisoners of war), the Roma, the "incurably sick", political and religious dissenters, and gay men.[d] The death toll of these groups is thought to rise to 11 million.[8]

Terminology and scope

Terminology

The term holocaust, first used in 1895 to describe the massacre of Armenians,[9] comes from the Greek: ὁλόκαυστος, romanizedholókaustos; ὅλος hólos, "whole" + καυστός kaustós, "burnt offering".[10][e] The Century Dictionary defined it in 1904 as "a sacrifice or offering entirely consumed by fire, in use among the Jews and some pagan nations".[f]

The biblical term shoah (Hebrew: שׁוֹאָה), meaning "destruction", became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of the European Jews, first used in a pamphlet in 1940, Sho'at Yehudei Polin ("Sho'ah of Polish Jews"), published by the United Aid Committee for the Jews in Poland.[13] On 3 October 1941 the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", apparently to refer to the situation in France,[14] and in May 1943 the New York Times, discussing the Bermuda Conference, referred to the "hundreds of thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi Holocaust".[15] In 1968 the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)".[16] The term was popularized in the United States by the NBC mini-series Holocaust (1978), about a fictional family of German Jews,[17] and in November 1978 the President's Commission on the Holocaust was established.[18] As non-Jewish groups began to include themselves as Holocaust victims too, many Jews chose to use the terms Shoah or Churban instead.[14][g] The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage).[20]

Definition

Most Holocaust historians define the Holocaust as the enactment, between 1941 and 1945, of the German state policy to exterminate the European Jews.[a] In Teaching the Holocaust (2015), Michael Gray, a specialist in Holocaust education,[29] offers three definitions: (a) "the persecution and murder of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945", which views the events of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938 as an early phase of the Holocaust; (b) "the systematic mass murder of the Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1941 and 1945", which acknowledges the shift in German policy in 1941 toward the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe; and (c) "the persecution and murder of various groups by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945", which includes all the Nazis' victims. The third definition fails, Gray writes, to acknowledge that only the Jewish people were singled out for annihilation.[30]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the Holocaust as the "systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators",[31] distinguishing between the Holocaust and the targeting of other groups during "the era of the Holocaust".[32] According to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, most historians regard the start of the "Holocaust era" as January 1933, when Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany.[7] Other victims of the Holocaust era include those viewed as inferior (such as the Roma, ethnic Poles, Russians, and the disabled); and those targeted because of their beliefs or behavior (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and homosexuals).[32] Hitler came to see the Jews as "uniquely dangerous to Germany", according to Peter Hayes, "and therefore uniquely destined to disappear completely from the Reich and all territories subordinate to it". The persecution and murder of other groups was much less consistent. For example, he writes, the Nazis regarded the Slavs as "sub-human", but their treatment consisted of "enslavement and gradual attrition", while "some Slavs—Slovaks, Croats, Bulgarians, some Ukrainians—[were] allotted a favored place in Hitler's New Order".[22]

Dan Stone, a specialist in Holocaust historiography, defines the Holocaust as the genocide of the Jews, whom the Nazis regarded not as racially inferior, deviant, or enemy nationals, as they did other groups, but as a "Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race', that is to say, not really human at all". But he writes that the Holocaust can only be understood as part of the "'Nazi empire' with its grandiose demographic plans".[d] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favor a definition that focuses on the Jews, Roma, and Aktion T4 victims: "The Holocaust—that is, Nazi genocide—was the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity. This applied to Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped."[34]