The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. The victims included 1.5 million children and represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe.
Some definitions of the Holocaust include the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to about 11 million. Killings took place throughout Nazi Germany, German-occupied territories, and territories held by allies of Nazi Germany.
Let’s see some more facts about it.
1. The term holocaust comes from the Greek word holókauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole (olos) animal is completely burnt (kaustos).
2. The biblical word shoah (שואה; also transliterated sho’ah and shoa), meaning “calamity” became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s, especially in Europe and Israel. Shoah is preferred by some Jews for several reasons including the theologically offensive nature of the word “holocaust” which they take to refer to the Greek pagan custom.
3. The Nazis used the phrase “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” and the formula “Final Solution” has been widely used as a term for the genocide of the Jews.
4. The term “Nazi” is an acronym for “Nationalsozialistishe Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (“National Socialist German Worker’s Party”).
5. From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in the deadliest genocide in history, which was part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime.
6. Under the coordination of the SS, following directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide.
7. Other victims of Nazi crimes included ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet citizens and Soviet POWs, Romanis, communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled.
8. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories was used to concentrate victims for slave labor, mass murder, and other human rights abuses.
9. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
10. The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what Nazis termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage), an agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe.
11. Initially the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.
12. Nazis established a network of concentration camps starting in 1933 and ghettos following the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
13. In 1941, as Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen murdered around two million Jews, partisans, and others often in mass shootings.
14. By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. This continued until the end of World War II in Europe in April–May 1945.
15. Jewish armed resistance was limited. The most notable exception was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, when thousands of poorly-armed Jewish fighters held the Waffen-SS at bay for four weeks.
16. An estimated 20,000–30,000 Jewish partisans actively fought against the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe.
17. French Jews took part in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities. Over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings took place.
18. The most intensive Holocaust killing took place in September 1941 at the Babi Yar Ravine just outside of Kiev, Ukraine, where more than 33,000 Jews were killed in just two days. Jews were forced to undress and walk to the ravine’s edge. When German troops shot them, they fell into the abyss. The Nazis then pushed the wall of the ravine over, burying the dead and the living. Police grabbed children and threw them into the ravine as well.
19. Young children were particularly targeted by the Nazis to be murdered during the Holocaust. They posed a unique threat because if they lived, they would grow up to parent a new generation of Jews. Many children suffocated in the crowded cattle cars on the way to the camps. Those who survived were immediately taken to the gas chambers.
20. Although many people refer to all Nazi camps as “concentration camps,” there were actually a number of different kinds of camps, including concentration camps, extermination camps, labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and transit camps.
21. One of the first concentration camps was Dachau, which opened on March 20, 1933.
22. In a number of Nazi concentration camps, Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on prisoners against their will.
23. Those who survived Dr. Josef Mengele’s experiments were almost always murdered and dissected. Many children were maimed or paralyzed and hundreds died. He was known by children as “Onkel Mengele” and would bring them candy and toys before personally killing them. He later died in a drowning accident in Brazil in 1979.
24. While concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death, extermination camps (also known as death camps) were built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently.
25. The Nazis built six extermination camps: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. (Auschwitz and Majdanek were both concentration and extermination camps.)
26. Prisoners transported to these extermination camps were told to undress to take a shower. Rather than a shower, the prisoners were herded into gas chambers and killed. (At Chelmno, the prisoners were herded into gas vans instead of gas chambers.)
27. Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz.
28. Unlike other genocides in which victims are often able to escape death by converting to another religion, those of Jewish descent could be spared only if their grandparents had converted to Christianity before January 18, 1871 (the founding of the German Empire).[5
29. The 1940 Nazi pseudo-documentary The Eternal Jew attempted to justify the extermination of Jews from Europe. The movie claimed that Jews were genetically destined to be wandering cultural parasites.
30. As Jews fled Europe under Hitler’s rule, representatives from 32 countries met in Evian, France, in 1938 to discuss the growing refugee crisis in Europe. Representatives from Great Britain said it had no room to accommodate Jewish refugees. The Australians said, “We don’t have a racial problem and we don’t want to import one.” Canada said of the Jews that “none was too many.” Holland and Demark offered temporary asylum, but only for a few refugees. Only the Dominican Republic offered to take 100,000 Jews, but their relief agencies were so overwhelmed that only a few Jews could take advantage of the offer. A German foreign officer wrote a letter essentially saying that, in light of such responses, the world could not blame them [the Nazis] for not wanting the Jews.
31. Soviet soldiers were the first to liberate the death camps. On July 23, 1944, they liberated Majdanek. Most of the world initially refused to believe the Soviet reports of the horrors they found there.
32. The chambers at Auschwitz/Birkenau could kill 6,000 people a day.
33. More than half of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were women. Most women with small children were immediately sent to the gas chambers as children were nearly useless to the Nazis and the commotion that separating the women and children might have caused would have jeopardized the efficiency of the killing process. Women were also singled out for experiments in contraception and fertility. Additionally, mothers with babies and other children too young to control their crying had trouble finding hideouts during round-ups to avoid being sent to the camps.
34. After the Holocaust, the U.N. formed the Commission of Human Rights in June 1946. In December 1948, the Commission approved two historic agreements: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
35. After WWII, the Allies grappled with whether to hold only the Nazi leaders accountable for the Holocaust or the whole German nation
36. After the war, the Allies felt that the German people should know the crimes committed during the Holocaust. Many citizens were forced to view bodies found at the concentration camps.
37. During the de-Nazification of Germany after the war, the three Western powers (U.S., Great Britain, Russia), sentenced over 3.4 million former Nazis to some type of punishment. They also revoked race laws and other repressive measures, disbanded Nazi organizations, and eliminated “racial science” instruction from school.