1941 to 1945
Germany and EuropeThe Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, 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. The murders were carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination through work 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.
After World War I (1914–1918), many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated, which gave birth to the stab-in-the-back myth. This insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, who had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. Jews were disbarred from practicing law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms.
The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.
On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, known as the Nuremberg Laws. The former said that only those of "German or kindred blood" could be citizens. Anyone with three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jew. The second law said: "Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden." Sexual relationships between them were also criminalized; Jews were not allowed to employ German women under the age of 45 in their homes.
On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Austrian Nazis broke into Jewish shops, stole from Jewish homes and businesses, and forced Jews to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets. Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed.
The Évian Conference was held in France in July 1938 by 32 countries, as an attempt to help the increased refugees from Germany, but aside from establishing the largely ineffectual Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, little was accomplished and most countries participating did not increase the number of refugees they would accept.
On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris, in retaliation for the expulsion of his parents and siblings from Germany.
When vom Rath died on 9 November, the government used his death as a pretext to instigate a pogrom against the Jews. The government claimed it was spontaneous, but in fact, it had been ordered and planned by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, although with no clear goals, according to David Cesarani. The result, he writes, was "murder, rape, looting, destruction of property, and terror on an unprecedented scale".
Between 9 and 16 November, 30,000 Jews were sent to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Many were released within weeks; by early 1939, 2,000 remained in the camps. German Jewry was held collectively responsible for restitution of the damage; they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of over a billion Reichmarks. Insurance payments for damage to their property were confiscated by the government.
By the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left, among them the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany; his citizenship was revoked and he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and Prussian Academy of Sciences. Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country.
In 1939 that marked the transition in Nazi racial antisemitism toward genocide. To justify the murder of the Jews both to the perpetrators and to bystanders in Germany and Europe, the Nazis used not only racist arguments but also arguments derived from older negative stereotypes, including Jews as communist subversives, as war profiteers and hoarders, and as a danger to internal security because of their inherent disloyalty and opposition to Germany.
The German army, the Wehrmacht, was accompanied by seven SS Einsatzgruppen ("special task forces") and an Einsatzkommando, numbering altogether 3,000 men, whose role was to deal with "all anti-German elements in the hostile country behind the troops in combat". Most of the Einsatzgruppen commanders were professionals; 15 of the 25 leaders had PhDs.
When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering a declaration of war from France and the UK, it gained control of an additional two million Jews, reduced to around 1.7 – 1.8 million in the German zone when the Soviet Union invaded from the east on 17 September.
According to a letter dated 21 September 1939 from SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA or Reich Security Head Office), to the Einsatzgruppen, each ghetto had to be run by a Judenrat, or "Jewish Council of Elders", to consist of 24 male Jews with local influence.
In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary euthanasia. After the war this program came to be known as Aktion T4, named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940, during Operation Weserübung. Denmark was overrun so quickly that there was no time for a resistance to form. Consequently, the Danish government stayed in power and the Germans found it easier to work through it. Because of this, few measures were taken against the Danish Jews before 1942.
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. After Belgium's surrender, the country was ruled by a German military governor, Alexander von Falkenhausen, who enacted anti-Jewish measures against its 90,000 Jews, many of them refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe.
The Polish government-in-exile in London learned about Auschwitz from the Polish leadership in Warsaw, who from late 1940 "received a continual flow of information" about the camp, according to historian Michael Fleming.
In early 1941, the Warsaw ghetto contained 445,000 people, including 130,000 from elsewhere, while the second-largest, the Łódź ghetto, held 160,000. Although the Warsaw ghetto contained 30 percent of the city's population, it occupied only 2.5 percent of its area, averaging over nine people per room. The massive overcrowding, poor hygiene facilities, and lack of food killed thousands. Over 43,000 residents died in 1941.
In the Netherlands, the Germans installed Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar, who began to persecute the country's 140,000 Jews. Jews were forced out of their jobs and had to register with the government. In February 1941, non-Jewish Dutch citizens staged a strike in protest that was quickly crushed.
Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941 and surrendered before the end of the month. Germany and Italy divided Greece into occupation zones but did not eliminate it as a country. The key areas of Central Macedonia, Athens, and Thessaloniki were occupied by Germany while others by Italians and parts by Bulgarian forces.
In June 1941, Romania joined Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union. Jews were forced from government service, pogroms were carried out, and by March 1941 all Jews had lost their jobs and had their property confiscated.
In July 1941 Mihai Antonescu, Romania's deputy prime minister, said it was time for "total ethnic purification, for a revision of national life, and for purging our race of all those elements which are foreign to its soul, which have grown like mistletoes and darken our future".
In August 1941, after protests from Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, Hitler canceled the T4 program, although the handicapped continued to be killed until the end of the war. The medical community regularly received bodies for research; for example, the University of Tübingen received 1,077 bodies from executions between 1933 and 1945.
On 3 October 1941, the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", appears to refer to the situation in France, 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".
Hitler "announced his decision in principle" to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, One day after he declared war on the United States. on that day, Hitler gave a speech in his private apartment at the Reich Chancellery to senior Nazi Party leaders: the Reichsleiter, the most senior, and the Gauleiter, the regional leaders.
Himmler and his subordinates in the field feared that the murders were causing psychological problems for the SS, and began searching for more efficient methods. In December 1941, similar vans, using exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced into the camp at Chełmno, Victims were asphyxiated while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests.
On 6 January 1942, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, sent out diplomatic notes about German atrocities. The notes were based on reports about mass graves and bodies surfacing from pits and quarries in areas the Red Army had liberated, as well as witness reports from German-occupied areas.
The following month, Szlama Ber Winer escaped from the Chełmno concentration camp in Poland and passed information about it to the Oneg Shabbat group in the Warsaw Ghetto. His report, known by his pseudonym as the Grojanowski Report, had reached London by June 1942.
From July 1942, over 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported; only 5,000 survived the war. Most were sent to Auschwitz; the first transport of 1,135 Jews left Holland for Auschwitz on 15 July 1942. Between 2 March and 20 July 1943, 34,313 Jews were sent in 19 transports to the Sobibór extermination camp, where all but 18 are thought to have been gassed on arrival.
Raul Hilberg accounted for this by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: compliance might avoid inflaming the situation until the onslaught abated. Timothy Snyder noted that it was only during the three months after the deportations of July–September 1942 that agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached.
At the end of 1941 in occupied Poland, the Germans began building additional camps or expanding existing ones. Auschwitz, for example, was expanded in October 1941 by building Auschwitz II-Birkenau a few kilometers away. chambers had been installed in these new facilities, except for Chełmno, which used gas vans.
Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942; an estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor.
On 26 November 1942, 532 Jews were taken by police officers, at four o'clock in the morning, to Oslo harbor, where they boarded a German ship. From Germany, they were sent by freight train to Auschwitz. According to Dan Stone, only nine survived the war.
On 10 December 1942, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Raczyński, addressed the fledgling United Nations on the killings; the address was distributed with the title The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. He told them about the use of poison gas; about Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór; that the Polish underground had referred to them as extermination camps; and that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed in Bełżec in March and April 1942.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the 1943 act of Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II to oppose Nazi Germany's final effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Majdanek and Treblinka death camps.
In a speech on 6 October 1943 to party leaders, Heinrich Himmler said he had ordered that women and children be shot, but Peter Longerich and Christian Gerlach write that the murder of women and children began at different times in different areas, suggesting local influence.
On 14 October, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór attempted an escape, killing 11 SS officers, as well as two or three Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. According to Yitzhak Arad, this was the highest number of SS officers killed in a single revolt.
As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the SS closed down the camps in eastern Poland and made efforts to conceal what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and corpses cremated. From January to April 1945, the SS sent inmates westward on "death marches" to camps in Germany and Austria.
The British 11th Armoured Division found around 60,000 prisoners (90 percent Jews) when they liberated Bergen-Belsen, as well as 13,000 unburied corpses; another 10,000 people died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The BBC's war correspondent Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen, in a report so graphic the BBC declined to broadcast it for four days, and did so, on 19 April, only after Dimbleby threatened to resign.
The government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany in March 1951 to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews.