Holocaust Holocaust, originally, a religious rite in which an offering was entirely consumed by fire. In current usage, holocaust refers to any widespread human disaster, but as the term Holocaust it means the almost complete destruction of European Jews by Nazi Germany When the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in 1933, it immediately began to take systematic measures against Jews. The Nazi Party, government agencies, banks, and business enterprises made concerted efforts to eliminate Jews from economic life, and from German life in general. In 1938, following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Jew, all synagogues in Germany were set on fire, windows of Jewish shops were smashed, and thousands of Jews were arrested. This “Night of Broken When World War II began in 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland, bringing almost 2 million more Jews under Germany’s control.
Polish Jews were forced to move into ghettos surrounded by walls and barbed wire. Unemployment, malnutrition, and poverty were widespread; housing was overcrowded; and typhus was common. In June 1941 German armies invaded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and soldiers in special units were dispatched to kill all Soviet Jews on the spot. A month after operations began in the USSR, Hermann Gring, the second in command of Nazi Germany, sent a directive to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office, charging him with the task of organizing a “final solution to the Jewish question” in all of German-dominated Europe. Jews in Germany were then forced to wear badges or armbands marked with a yellow star. Soon the Nazis deported tens of thousands to ghettos in Poland and to occupied Soviet cities.
Death camps, or concentration camps, equipped with gas chambers were erected in occupied Poland. People were deported from the ghettos; although their destinations were not disclosed, reports of mass deaths eventually reached surviving Jews, as well as the governments of the United States and Britain. Wherever possible, the Germans confiscated the deportees’ belongings and bank accounts. Auschwitz, near Krakw, was the largest concentration camp, with inmates from all over Europe. Many Jewish and non-Jewish inmates performed industrial labor.
The Nazis subjected some prisoners to medical experiments and gassed Jews and Roma (Gypsies). They also shot thousands of inmates, while others died from starvation or disease. Large crematories were constructed to incinerate bodies. By the end of the war in 1945, millions of Jewsas well as Slavs, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, and others targeted by the Nazishad been killed or had died in the Holocaust. The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., opened in 1993 to commemorate the Holocaust.