The Holocaust


Broken Shop Window, Kristallnacht, Nov. 10, 1938

Broken Shop Window, Kristallnacht, Nov. 10, 1938

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and WWII began. German armies marched into Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and the Soviet Union. Hitler was faced with the addition of millions of Jews to the German “Empire.” The Nazis regarded Jews as a threat to the purity and strength of the Aryan race. They must, argued Hitler, devise a “final solution” to the Jewish problem. This “solution,” agreed upon by German government officials in 1942, was the systematic slaughter of European Jewry using showers of poison gas in designated death camps.

While the Nazis devised and implemented the final solution, they also needed to control existing Jewish communities. Beginning in 1939, Nazis quarantined Jews into ghettos, located in large Polish cities like Warsaw and Lodz, where a Jewish Council (Judenrat), established by the Nazis but staffed by Jews, was responsible for transmitting and enforcing Nazi decrees.

Various forms of Jewish resistance existed in the ghettos and the camps, including armed revolts and more subtle, culturally-based, forms of defiance, like writing cookbooks and celebrating Jewish holidays.

This systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and attempted annihilation of European Jewry by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945–in which approximately six million Jews were killed–is known as the Holocaust.

Excerpted from The Story: 1914-1948,

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