The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
The Holocaust was the effort of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany to exterminate the Jews and other people that they considered to be inferior. As a result about 12,000,000 people - about half of them Jews - were murdered. The murders were done by every means imaginable but most of the victims perished as a result of shooting, starvation, disease, and poison gas. Others were tortured to death or died in horrible medical experiments.
During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived "racial inferiority": Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.
As Nazi tyranny spread across Europe, the Germans and their collaborators persecuted and murdered millions of other people. Between two and three million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or died of starvation, disease, neglect, or maltreatment. The Germans targeted the non-Jewish Polish intelligentsia for killing, and deported millions of Polish and Soviet civilians for forced labor in Germany or in occupied Poland, where these individuals worked and often died under deplorable conditions. From the earliest years of the Nazi regime, German authorities persecuted homosexuals and others whose behavior did not match prescribed social norms. German police officials targeted thousands of political opponents (including Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists) and religious dissidents (such as Jehovah's Witnesses). Many of these individuals died as a result of incarceration and maltreatment.
Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 and almost immediately began the chain of events that led to the Holocaust. This first phase was the persecution of Jews in Germany and the other countries invaded by Hitler. It lasted until 1941. During this period, while Hitler built his power, Jews were persecuted and brutalized but there was no organized effort to systematically murder them.
In 1935, he stripped them of their German citizenship and forbid them to marry non-Jewish people. By 1938 over 1000 synagogues were burned, Jewish businesses were ruined, and 30,000 Jews were arrested. As Germany conquered and occupied surrounding countries, Jews throughout Europe were in danger. In Eastern Europe the Germans began their most horrible persecution of the Jews. They took Jews from their homes and moved them into a poor section of the city called ghettos. Living conditions in the ghettos were horrible. There were too many people living in a small area and there was never enough food.
In late 1939 Hitler invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War. In mid-1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. At about the same time - historians do not agree on exactly when - Hitler also decided that there should be a "Final Solution" to "the Jewish question."
The "Final Solution" was the murder of the Jews and was mainly carried out by a military group known as the SS and a security service known as the SD. The Gestapo was part of the SD. They arrested Jews and other victims, ran the concentration camps and organized the murder squads. It was decided that Jews would be taken to concentration camps where they would work so hard they died or were murdered in gas chambers. The genocide of the Jews and the Holocaust had begun.
During the first part of this extermination...