The Holocaust was one of the world’s darkest hours, a mass murder conducted in the shadows of the world’s most deadly war. The German government, controlled by the brutal Nazi Party and its leader Adolf Hitler, killed between five and six million Jews who lived in Europe. These were not the only victims, however. The Germans also tried to exterminate Europe’s Gypsies, or Roma, and they targeted other groups, as well. 2.
When all was said and done, 11 million people were murdered as a result of Germany’s fanatical racial policies. It didn’t matter their age, millions were infants and children. It didn’t matter their social status or educational background, they were doctors and lawyers, laborers and tradesmen. It mattered only that they were considered “enemies of the state”; a threat to the “purity” of the German race and the greatness of the German empire. In addition to Jews and Gypsies, they were Poles, the mentally disabled, the physically handicapped, political opponents, and others deemed “unworthy of life.” Background of Holocaust
The story begins in Germany in 1918 after the country’s devastating defeat in World War I. Although Germany suffered little physical damage, some 1.6 million Germans had died and their nation’s economy lay in ruins. To compound the devastation of losing a war they were sure they’d win, the Germans were humiliated by the treaty that officially ended World War I. The Treaty of Versailles reduced Germany’s beloved military, forced the country to give up territory it had seized from France and Poland before the war, and made it pay billions of dollars in damages to countries where much of the fighting took place. Moreover, German officials had to publicly admit their country’s role in starting the deadliest war the world had ever seen. 4.
Germany’s post-war troubles stabilized for a while and citizens enjoyed a period of prosperity. But things worsened when the New York stock market crashed in 1929, causing a worldwide depression. Germany’s citizens were once again hit hard by rising inflation, unemployment, and an overall feeling of hopelessness. In the midst of these struggles, German citizens began to act out. Lawlessness and disorder were rampant as young and old alike lost faith in the country and its leaders. Not even the Weimar Republic, the government set up in 1919, could fix the problems that continued to plague Germany after World War I.
Role of Adolf Hitler
While Germany’s major political parties stood helpless, a smaller, lesser-known party was rising to the occasion. Its leader, a man named Adolf Hitler, promised to bring political stability, work for millions and greatness to Germany once again. But Hitler also offered something more. He offered a scapegoat. For years, many Germans had been looking for someone to blame for their country’s problems. In Hitler’s mind, the main culprits were the Jews. He blamed them for Germany’s defeat in World War I. He blamed them for the spread of communism in Europe. Hitler also insisted that the Jews had taken over the country’s economy. He even claimed that they were taking over people’s minds by using the press to tell them what to think. Few people took Hitler seriously at first. In fact, many Germans had overcome their prejudices against the Jews and paid little attention to his ratings. But Hitler’s anti-Jewish rallying cry eventually struck a chord with Germany’s beleaguered citizens and he slowly began to get people’s attention for himself and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazis. 6.
In 1923, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis attempted to overthrow the German government. They failed miserably and Hitler and other party leaders landed in jail. His nine months of jail time only strengthened Hitler’s resolve, however. When he was released, Hitler resurrected the Nazi party, put together his own private army called the Storm Troopers, and plotted to take over Germany. As...
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