The Holocaust was a part of World War Two and took place mainly between year 1939 and 1945 in Nazi Germany and German occupied territories, including today’s Poland. During this period of time at least six million Jews and five million non-Jewish people were killed by the Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler.
After the First World War, Germany was experiencing great economic and social difficulties. Germany was defeated in the war and was forced to pay huge reparation costs to the Allies, which consisted of a lot of countries, amongst others the Great Britain and France. As a result of this, Germany suffered from a mass unemployment and inflation. Adolf Hitler blamed the loss of the First World War and the recession on the Jewish population. The anti-semitic policies he conveyed eventually resulted in an intricate plan to eradicate the Jewish people.
Hitler brainwashed the Germans and other Europeans into thinking that Jews were evil or animal-like by calling them things like unhuman, wicked and hideous. By saying all these bad things and blaming the loss in World War One on the Jews, he started a lot of hatred towards the Jewish people among the German population. Posters were even put up all over Germany saying bad things about Jews and many Jews experienced sabotage and vandalism of their stores and other businesses. To separate the Jews from the rest of the Europeans, badges with a Star of David were created and the Jews were forced to wear them.
After the Second World War broke out in September year 1939, the Nazi regime wanted to separate the Jews from the ”normal” population even more. They quickly established rules that made the polish Jews leave their homes and move to a certain area dedicated only for Jews. These areas were called ghettos, which basically means Jewish quarter. But not only polish Jews were sent there, Jews from all over Germany and even Austria were sent to the polish ghettos. The first ghettos were established in the beginning of 1940. Soon hundreds of ghettos in different sizes appeared all over Poland and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw ghetto in Poland was the largest, with more than 400 000 Jews living there.
The conditions and the living standards in the ghettos were miserable. An important reason to that is that these ghettos were really crowded. A lot of families lived about 15 people in a single room, and sometimes even more. The big lack of food became a major struggle for the residents in the ghettos, and many starved to death. In the Warsaw ghetto, every person was assigned food containing 200 calories a day, which a person barely can survive on. People that smuggled or hid food were often shot immediately.
Due to these terrible conditions, avoiding diseases was impossible. The death-rate increased drastically, and a lot of people died from starvation and different diseases. Also, a lot of people were shot if they would try to break any of the many rules in the ghetto.
The establishment of ghettos turned out to be the beginning of the concentration- and gathering process of the Jewish people in Europe. This would later on favor the next steps in the Holocaust; deportation and execution.
Jews from all over Europe were deported to different types of camps mainly in Germany and Poland, but also a few in the baltic countries, Belgium, France and Norway. There were several types of camps, and different Jews were sent to different camps depending on age, gender and other factors. First of all there were extermination camps, also known as death camps. Old people, children, the majority of women, disabled people and other people not suited for work were sent to these camps to be executed. Mostly young men were sent to the so called work camps, where they were forced to work long days without much food and without getting paid. When their time at these work camps was over, they were sent to the extermination camps to get killed. The well developed railway system made it possible and easier to arrange transports from all over Europe to the Polish and German camps, where people mysteriously disappeared.
The Jews in the west, southern and northern parts of Europe could not be killed in their own countries, due to the fact that the german occupiers depended on the support from the civilian population. Also, Hitler and other leaders made it clear that these executions had to happen secretly. Because of these reasons, it was decided that the Jews should be transported to certain death camps in mainly Poland. They also realized that it would be way more effective than shooting them one by one.
In the beginning of the Holocaust when the bigger mass executions were not yet invented, people were basically shot in mass shootings or starved to death in the ghettos or the concentration camps. But then the Nazi regime came up with the idea that they could fill busses full with Jews, saying that they were going to a work camp or similar. They would drive these busses far away from the cities and into the woods somewhere, and then blow them up, killing all the Jews inside.
But later, the regime thought that this method was not very effective, and that more Jews needed to be killed in a shorter period of time. Also, the mass shootings attracted a lot of attention when other countries heard about this. The mass shootings could not continue. Extermination camps were built all over Nazi Germany, whose only purpose was to execute people as efficiently as possible. After a lot of experimenting, a new and way more discreet way to murder a big amount of people was found; gas.
The largest extermination camp was Auschwitz, which also was a concentration camp, and was situated in the southern parts of today’s Poland. More than a million Jews and about 105 000 non- Jewish people such as romani people, ethnic poles and soviet prisoners of war were killed there. Other big extermination camps were Treblinka and Be??ec.
The extermination camps were equipped with gas chambers with room for more than a thousand people. The dead bodies were put in mass graves and then burned. In Auschwitz, year 1943, the gas chambers were upgraded and replaced with four new chambers and crematories. Each one of these could fit and kill almost 4500 people each day. Even though this was very effective, the capacity could be increased to 8000 per day by shortening the cremation time. The gas used to kill the people was the exhaust from engines, and in some camps like Treblinka they used the exhaust from soviet tanks.
Victims of the Holocaust
Even though the Jews are the victims of the Holocaust that seem to get the most attention and that the Holocaust started off as a plan to eradicate the Jewish race, far from all people murdered in the Holocaust were actually Jews. More than eleven million people were murdered during the Holocaust, and about five million of them were non-Jewish people. These people were humans that the Nazi regime thought stood out and were not as good as “normal” humans, according to the regime they did not deserve to live. Among those people were humans who were seen as sick or crazy, like disabled people, mentally ill people and homosexuals. Then there were the people of other ethnicities that the regime did not want living in their territories. For example romani people, ethnic poles, slavs and people of colour from other parts of the world. Lastly, there were the kind of people that because of political or religious reasons did not deserve to live in their country. Among those people there were Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's witnesses and the political left.
What did we learn and why is the Holocaust an important happening in history?
Although it was terrible, and an awful amount of people died, we could still learn from this. As horrible as it was, The Holocaust was an eye-opener at the time and made a lot of people realize that things such as racism and discrimination existed. But to this day, some people keep denying the existence of the Holocaust. They say that such a big genocide would not be possible and keep denying the fact that millions of people were murdered.
By informing and teaching people about this event in history and being aware of what actually happened, we could prevent something like this happening again. But it could not only prevent something big to happen, it would give people the ability to prevent everyday discrimination.
Lastly, since a lot of people died, most of them innocent, they are worth being remembered. Therefore there are several remembrance days, and the International Holocaust remembrance day is January 27.