inmates during the Holocaust
Concentration camp inmates during the Holocaust

The Holocaust was Nazi Germany's systematic genocide (ethnic cleansing) of various ethnic, religious, national, and secular groups during World War II. Early elements include the Kristallnacht pogrom and the T-4 Euthanasia Program established by Hitler that killed some 200,000 people.

The Jews of Europe were the main victims of the Holocaust in what the Nazis called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". The commonly used figure for the number of Jewish victims is six million, so much so that the phrase "six million" is now almost universally interpreted as referring to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, though mainstream estimates by historians of the exact number range from five million to over six million. Other groups deemed "undesirable", especially Slavs (Poles, Russians and others), Roma, Sinti, the mentally or physically disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and political dissidents, were also persecuted and murdered. Taking all these other groups into account, the total death toll rises considerably. Estimates place the total number of Holocaust victims at up to 26 million men, women, and children, although the number 11 million is usually held as more reliable.


Etymology and usage of the term

The word holocaust originally derived from the Greek word holokauston, meaning "a completely (holos) burnt (kaustos) sacrificial offering", or "a burnt sacrifice offered to God". In Greek and Roman pagan rites, gods of the earth and underworld received dark animals, which were offered by night and burnt in full. Holocaust was later used to refer to a sacrifice Jews were required to make by the Torah. But since the mid-19th century, the word has been used by a large variety of authors to reference large catastrophes and massacres.

The biblical word Shoa (שואה), also spelled Shoah and Sho'ah, meaning "calamity" in Hebrew (and also used to refer to "destruction" since the Middle Ages), became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the early 1940s.Template:Ref Churban Europa, meaning "European Destruction" in Hebrew (as opposed to simply Churban, the destruction of the Second Temple), is also used. Many Roma (or 'Gypsy') people, who were also targeted during the Holocaust, use the word Porajmos, meaning "Devouring".

Shoa is preferred by many Jews and a growing number of Christians and other people due to the theologically offensive nature of the original meaning of the word holocaust as a reference to a sacrifice to God and also due to scholarly insistence that this largely archaic meaning somehow tilts the present meanings. There is also concern that the particular significance of the Holocaust would be lessened as use of the term becomes increasingly widespread in the latter half of the 20th century to refer generically to any mass killings such as the Rwandan Genocide and the actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as 'holocausts'. The Armenians have long used the term in reference to their persecution by the Ottoman empire during World War I.

The term has been frequently used to reference nuclear war, and in the US of the early 1960s, this sense was much more prevalent than its current meanings.

Features of the Nazi Holocaust

There were several characteristics to the Nazi Holocaust which taken together distinguish it from other genocides in history.


In 1904, Alfred Ploetz founded the German Eugenics Society. Sixteen years later, a work seminal to the development of the German eugenics movement, The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, was published. Written by Karl Binding, a widely respected judge, and renowned psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, the work was key to the formulation of Nazi ideology, rhetoric and practice:

[It] defended the theory which stated that the elimination of "worthless people" should be legalized. Thus the concepts of "worthless life" or "life unworthy of life" used by the Nazis come from that book. Binding and Hoche speak in that book about "worthless human beings". [Binding and Hoche] plead for "the elimination of those who cannot be saved, ... whose death is an urgent need" ... [and] about those who are below the beast[s] [with] "neither the will to live nor to die". [The book also refers] to those who are "mentally dead" and who form "a foreign body to the human society".Template:Ref

The work of Ploetz and the words of Binding and Hoche were the foreshadowings of Hitler's "final solution" two decades later.

The Holocaust was an intentional and meticulously planned attempt to entirely eradicate the target groups based on ethnicity. It is estimated that die Endl?g der Judenfrage (the Final Solution of the Jewish Question), as the Nazis called it during the Wannsee conference of January 1942, saw the murder of 60 percent of all the Jews in Europe, and 35 percent of the world's Jewish population. In a speech in October 1943, Heinrich Himmler, the [[Reichsf?] of the Schutzstaffel (SS), told a group of senior SS men and Nazi party leaders: "What about the women and children? I decided to find an absolutely clear solution here too. I regard myself as having no right to exterminate (ausrotten) the men—in other words, to kill them or have them killed—and to let the avengers in the form of the children grow up for our sons and grandsons to deal with. The difficult decision had to be taken to make these people disappear from the earth."

The Holocaust was justified by claiming that the victims were Untermenschen, i.e., 'underlings' or 'subhumans', who were seen as both biologically inferior and (in the case of Jews) a potential challenge to the superiority of the 'Aryans'. Its perpetrators saw it as a form of eugenics—the creation of a better race by eliminating the designated "unfit"—along the same lines as their programs of compulsory sterilization, compulsory euthanasia, and "racial hygiene".


The Holocaust was characterized by the efficient and systematic attempt on an industrial scale to assemble and murder as many victims as possible, using all of the resources and technology available to the Nazi German state.

For example, detailed lists of potential victims were made and maintained using Dehomag statistical machinery, and meticulous records of the killings were produced. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property to the Nazis, which was then precisely catalogued and tagged, and for which receipts were issued. In addition, considerable effort was expended over the course of the Holocaust to find increasingly efficient means of killing more people; for example, by switching from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Aktion Reinhard death camps of Belzec, [[Sobib󲠥xtermination camp|Sobib󲝝, and Treblinka to the use of Zyklon B at Majdanek and Auschwitz.

In his book Russia's War, British historian Richard Overy describes how the Germans sought more efficient ways to kill people. In 1941, after occupying Belarus, they used mental patients from Minsk asylums as guinea pigs. Initially, they tried shooting them by having them stand one behind the other, so that several people could be killed with one bullet, but it was too slow. Then they tried dynamite, but few were killed and many were left wounded with hands and legs missing, so that the Germans had to finish them off with machine guns. In October 1941, in Mogilev, they tried the Gaswagen or "gas car". First they used a light military car, and it took more than 30 minutes for people to die. Then they used a larger truck exhaust and it took only eight minutes to kill all the people inside.

Alleged corporate involvement in the Holocaust has created significant controversy in recent years. Rudolf Hoess, Auschwitz camp commandant, said that far from having to advertise their slave labour services, the concentration camps were actually approached by various large German businesses, some of which are still in existence.


The Holocaust was geographically widespread and methodically conducted in virtually all areas of Nazi-occupied territory, where Jews and other victims were targeted in what are now 35 separate European nations, and sent to labor camps in some nations or extermination camps in others.

Documented evidence suggests that the Nazis planned to carry out their 'final solution' in Britain, North America, and Palestine if these regions were conquered. The murders continued in different parts of Nazi-controlled territory until the end of World War II, only completely ending when the Allies entered Germany itself and forced the Nazis to surrender in May 1945.


The Nazis carried out cruel and deadly medical experiments on prisoners, including children. Dr. Josef Mengele, medical officer at Auschwitz and chief medical officer at Birkenau, was known as the "Angel of Death" for his sadistic and bizarre medical and eugenics experiments including trying to change peoples eye colour and other horrific things. Many of these experiments were intended to produce 'racially pure' babies and as research into weapons and techniques of war. Many of these prisoners did not survive. Day to day life in the concentration camps was also brutal, with the Nazis regularly carrying out beatings and acts of torture.


The victims of the Holocaust were Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti (also known as gypsies), the mentally ill and the physically disabled, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish, Russian and other Slavic intelligentsia, political activists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some Catholic and Protestant clergy, trade unionists, psychiatric patients, common criminals and people labeled as "enemies of the state". These victims all perished alongside one another in the camps, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (written and photographed), eyewitness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders), and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation.


Missing image
Nazis in uniform in Vienna, Austria 1938 mock Jewish men scrubbing streets

Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s (though its history extends far back throughout many centuries during the course of Judaism). Adolf Hitler's fanatical anti-Semitism was laid out in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, which, though largely ignored when it was first printed, became popular in Germany once Hitler acquired political power.

On April 1, 1933, the recently elected Nazis, under Julius Streicher, organized a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. This policy helped to usher in a series of anti-Semitic acts that would eventually culminate in the Holocaust. The last remaining Jewish enterprises in Germany were closed on July 6, 1939. In many cities throughout Europe, Jews had been living in concentrated areas. During the first years of World War II, the Nazis formalized the borders of these areas and restricted movement, creating modern ghettos to which Jews were confined. The ghettos were, in effect, prisons in which many Jews died from hunger and disease; others were executed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Concentration camps for Jews existed in Germany itself. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, over 3,000 special killing units (Einsatzgruppen) followed the Wehrmacht, conducting mass killings of Communist officials and of the Jewish population that lived on Soviet territory. Entire communities were wiped out by being rounded up, robbed of their possessions and clothing, and shot at the edges of ditches.

 (left), leader of the  (responsible for rounding up Jews), with  (right).
Heinrich Himmler (left), leader of the SS (responsible for rounding up Jews), with Adolf Hitler (right).

In December 1941, Hitler finally decided to exterminate European Jews. In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (Endl?g der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Buhler urged Reinhard Heydrich to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, [[Sobib󲠥xtermination camp|Sobib󲝝 and Treblinka II.


Poles were one of the first targets of extermination by Hitler, as outlined in the speech he gave the Wehrmacht commanders before the invasion of Poland in 1939. The intelligentsia and socially prominent or powerful people were primarily targeted, although there were some mass murders and instances of genocide (notoriously, the Croatian Ustashe). The Nazi occupation of Poland (General Government, Reichsgau Wartheland) was one of the most brutal episodes of World War II, resulting in over 6 million Polish deaths (over 20% of the country's inhabitants), including the mass murder of 3 million Polish Jews in extermination camps like Auschwitz.

During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Red Army POWs were arbitrarily executed in the field by the invading German armies (in particular by the notorious Waffen SS), or were shipped to extermination camps for execution simply because they were of Slavic extraction. Thousands of Soviet peasant villages were annihilated by German troops for more or less the same reason. During World War II, every fourth person was killed in Belarus (and according to the latest data, some researchers say up to 30%). The Jewish population of Belarus was almost totally exterminated.

The Nazis provided various gradations of Slavs, e.g., it was thought that Russians were inferior to Ukrainians and Belarusians, and that the latter were inferior to Poles.

Romany ('Gypsies')

Main article: Porajmos

Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Roma and Sinti people of Europe was seen by many as a particularly bizarre application of Nazi "racial hygiene". German anthropologists were forced to contend with the fact that Romany were descendants of the original Aryan invaders of India, who made their way back to Europe. Ironically, this made them no less Aryan than the German people itself, in practice if not in theory. This dilemma was resolved by Professor Hans Gunther, a leading racial scientist, who wrote:

"The Gypsies have indeed retained some elements from their Nordic home, but they are descended from the lowest classes of the population in that region. In the course of their migration, they absorbed the blood of the surrounding peoples, thus becoming an Oriental, West-Asiatic racial mixture with an addition of Indian, mid-Asiatic, and European strains."

As a result, however, and despite discriminatory measures, some groups of Roma, including the Sinti and Lalleri tribes of Germany, were spared deportation and death. Remaining Romany groups suffered much like the Jews (and in some instances, were degraded even more than Jews). In Eastern Europe, Gypsies were deported to the Jewish ghettoes, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen in their villages, and deported and gassed in Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Gay men

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1945 drawing by gay Holocaust survivor, depicting Nazi guards torturing a gay man

Gay men were one more group targeted during the time of the Holocaust. More specifically, homosexuality was deemed incompatible with National Socialism as long as gays did not reproduce and perpetuate the master race, which was seen as a threat to the Reich. Indeed, [[Ernst R?], the leader of the SA, who was one of the most responsible for Hitler's rise to power, was homosexual.

Some leaders clearly wanted gays exterminated, while others wanted enforcement of laws banning sex between gay men or lesbians. More than one million gay German men were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as convicted gay men. An additional unknown number were institutionalized in state-run mental hospitals. Hundreds of European gay men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order.

The deaths of at least an estimated 15,000 gay men in concentration camps were officially documented. Larger numbers include those who were Jewish and gay, or even Jewish, gay and Communist. In addition, records as to the specific reasons for internment are non-existent in many areas, making it hard to put an exact number on just how many gay men perished in death camps. See History of Gays during the Holocaust for more information.

Conditions for gay men in the camps were especially difficult. They faced persecution not only from German soldiers but also from other prisoners, and many gay men were beaten to death. Additionally, gay men in forced labour camps routinely received more grueling and dangerous work assignments than other non-Jewish inmates, under the policy of "Extermination Through Work". German soldiers also were known to use gay men for target practice, aiming their weapons at the pink triangles their human targets were forced to wear.

Lesbians were not treated as harshly as gay men. They were labeled "anti-social," but not sent to camps.


Around 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses perished in concentration camps, where they were held for political and ideological reasons. They refused involvement in politics, would not say "Heil Hitler", and did not serve in the German army. See Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust.

Several hundred thousand mentally and physically disabled people also were exterminated. The Nazis believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed to be cared for by others, but first and foremost, the mentally and physically handicapped were considered an affront to Nazi notions of a society peopled by a perfect, superhuman Aryan race. Around 400,000 individuals were sterilized against their will for having mental deficiencies or illnesses deemed as hereditary in nature.

The T-4 Euthanasia Program was established in 1939 in order to maintain the "purity" of the so-called Aryan race by systematically killing children and adults born with physical deformities or suffering from mental illness.

On August 18, 1941, Hitler ordered a temporary halt to T-4. Graduates of the Aktion T4 program then were transferred to the concentration camps, where they continued in their trade.

Euthanasia did not end in 1941, however; it still took place in hospitals around Germany and Austria, and crept east into a few of the occupied territories.

Maximilian Kolbe, venerated as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, was one member of the clergy killed in Auschwitz. He volunteered for starvation in place of another prisoner with a family and died in 1941.

Death toll

Missing image
General (later US President) Dwight Eisenhower inspecting prisoners' corpses at a liberated concentration camp, 1945

The exact number of people killed by the Nazi regime is still subject to further research. Recently declassified British and Soviet documents have indicated the total may be somewhat higher than previously believed Template:Ref. However, the following estimates are considered to be highly reliable.

The Nazis persecuted many groups of people deemed inferior to the Nazi Aryan ideal. The following estimates refer to groups that were actively singled out in Nazi ideology as being 'unfit for life' and were part of the Nazi's planned and systematic genocide. The estimates:

  • 5.1–6.0 million Jews, including 3.0–3.5 million Polish JewsTemplate:Ref
  • 2.5–3.5 million Gentile Poles
  • 200,000–800,000 Roma & Sinti
  • 200,000–300,000 people with disabilities
  • 10,000–25,000 gay men
  • 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses

Raul Hilberg, in the third edition of his ground-breaking three-volume work, [[The Destruction of the European Jews]], estimates that 5.1 million Jews died during the Holocaust. This figure includes "over 800,000" who died from "Ghettoization and general privation;" 1,400,000 who were killed in "Open-air shootings;" and "up to 2,900,000" who perished in camps. It is difficult to determine whether Hilberg's numbers are conservative or liberal because he does not provide point estimates; rather, he rounds his figures. Hilberg estimates the death toll in Poland at "up to 3,000,000."

Lucy Davidowicz used prewar census figures to estimate that 5.85 million Jews died. Using official census counts may cause an underestimate since many births and deaths were not recorded in small towns and villages. Another reason some consider her estimate too low is that many records were destroyed during the war. (Her book, The War Against the Jews, has detailed listings by country of the number of Jews killed.)

The following groups of people were also killed by the Nazi regime, but there is little evidence that the Nazis planned to systematically target them for genocide as was the case for the groups above.

  • 3.5–6 million other Slavic civilians
  • 2.5–4 million Soviet POWs
  • 1–1.5 million political dissidents


Most European countries allied with or occupied by the Axis Powers collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust. Collaboration took the form of either rounding up of the local Jews for deportation to the German extermination camps or a direct participation in the killings.

In Italy a law from 1938 restricted civil liberties of Jews, but after the fall of Mussolini and his creation of the Sal򠒥public, Jews started being deported to German camps. The deported numbered about 8,369, and only about a thousand survived. Several small camps were built in Italy and the so called Risiera di San Sabba hosted a crematorium; from 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed in San Sabba, only a part of whom were Jews.

Bulgaria deported 11,000 Jews from occupied Greek and Yugoslavian territories. The Vichy French government and French police in Nazi-occupied France participated in the roundups of 75,000 Jews. The Netherlands civilian administration and police participated in the roundups of 100,000 Jews. A Dutch group, Henneicke Column, hunted and "delivered" 9,000 Jews for deportationTemplate:Ref. Norwegian police rounded up 750 Jews. Slovakia's Tiso regime deported approximately 60,000 Jews.Template:Ref

The Hungarian Horthy regime deported 20,000 Jews from annexed Transcarpathian Ukraine in 1941 to Kamianets-Podilskyi in the German-occupied Ukraine, where they were shot by the German Einsatzgruppen detachments. Hungarian army and police units killed several thousand Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in January 1942. In 1944, during the Arrow Cross regime, 20,000 Budapest Jews were shot by the banks of the Danube by Hungarian forces. 70,000 Jews were forced on a death march to Austria—thousands were shot and thousands more died of starvation and exposure. Hungarian police participated fully with SS in the roundups of 440,000 Jews for deportation to the extermination camps.

The Croatian Ustase regime killed 20,000 Jews (mostly in 1942) in the Jasenovac concentration camp near Zagreb, and deported 7,000 more to German extermination camps. The Romanian Iron Guard regime, in cooperation with German Einsatzgruppen and Ukrainian auxiliaries, killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria. 50,000 Jews were killed in Bogdanovka, a Romanian concentration camp along the Bug River in Transnistria, 39,000 in occupied Odessa and 8,000 in Iasi. The Romanians also massacred Jews in the Domanevka and Akhmetchetka concentration camps.

Ukrainian nationalists killed 4,000 Lviv Jews in July 1941, and an additional 2,000 in late July 1941 during the so-called Petliura Days pogrom. German Einsatzgruppen, together with Ukrainian auxiliary units, killed 33,000 Kievan Jews in Babi Yar in September 1941. Ukrainian auxiliaries participated in a number of killings of Jews, among them in Romanian concentration camps in Bogdanovka and in Latvia.

Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian auxiliary military units with German Einsatzgruppen detachments participated in the extermination of the Jewish population in their countries (4,500 in Estonia, 94,000 in Latvia). (source: Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, USHMM)


Due to the careful organization and overwhelming military might of the Nazi German state and its supporters, few Jews and other Holocaust victims were able to resist the killings. There are, however, many documented eyewitness reports and published books about passive and active resistance, which led local partisan groups to join forces with former ghetto fighters. The most famous instance of organized resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Witold Pilecki, member of Armia Krajowa (Home Army), organized a resistance movement in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940. Pilecki organized an underground Union of Military Organizations (Związek Organizacji Wojskowych, ZOW). ZOW's tasks were to improve inmates' morale, provide them news from outside, distribute extra food and clothing to members, set up intelligence networks, and train detachments to take over the camp in the event of a relief attack by the Home Army, arms airdrops, or an airborne landing.

In August 1943 an uprising also took place at the Treblinka extermination camp. Many buildings were burnt to the ground, and seventy inmates escaped to freedom, but 1,500 were killed. Gassing operations were interrupted for a month. In October 1943 another uprising took place at Sobib󲠥xtermination camp. This uprising was more successful; 11 SS guards were killed, and roughly 300 of the 600 inmates in the camp escaped, with about 50 surviving the war. The escape forced the Nazis to close the camp.

On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those prisoners kept separate from the main camp and involved in the operation of the gas chambers and crematoria) at Auschwitz staged an uprising. Female prisoners had smuggled in explosives from a weapons factory, and Crematorium IV was partly destroyed by an explosion. The prisoners then attempted a mass escape, but all 250 were killed soon after.

Some Gentiles, like members of Zegota, took drastic and dangerous steps to rescue Jews and other potential victims from the Nazis. Since 1963, a commission headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice has been charged with the duty of awarding such people the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations.

Searching for records of victims

Initially after World War II, there were millions of members of families broken up by the war or the Holocaust searching for some record of the fate and/or whereabouts of their missing friends and relatives. These efforts became much less intense as the years went by. More recently, however, there has a been a resurgence of interest by descendants of Holocaust survivors in researching the fates of their lost relatives. Yad Vashem provides a searchable database of three million names, about half of the known direct Jewish victims. Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims Names is searchable over the Internet at yadvashem.org (http://www.yadvashem.org) or in person at the Yad Vashem complex in Israel.

Other databases and lists of victims' names, some searchable over the Web, are listed in Holocaust (resources).

Concentration and extermination camps

Main articles: Concentration camp, Extermination camp.

Mass grave at Bergen Belsen concentration camp 1945
Mass grave at Bergen Belsen concentration camp 1945

Concentration camps for "undesirables" were spread throughout Europe, with new camps being created near centers of dense "undesirable" populations, often focusing on heavily Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communists, or Roma groups. Most of the camps were located in the area of General Government. The transportation of prisoners was often carried out under horrifying conditions using rail freight cars, in which many died before their destination.

Concentration camps for Jews and other "undesirables" also existed in Germany itself, and while not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many concentration camp prisoners died because of harsh conditions or were executed.

Some camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, combined slave labour with systematic extermination. Upon arrival in these camps, prisoners were divided into two groups: those too weak for work were immediately executed in gas chambers (which were sometimes disguised as showers) and their bodies burned, while others were first used for slave labor in factories or industrial enterprises located in the camp or nearby. The Nazis also forced some prisoners to work in the collection and disposal of corpses, and to mutilate them when required. Gold teeth were extracted from the corpses, and women's hair (shaved from the heads of victims before they entered the gas chambers) was recycled for use in products such as rugs and socks.

Four camps — Belzec, Chelmno, [[Sobib󲝝, and Treblinka II — were used exclusively for extermination. Only a small number of prisoners were kept alive to work at the task of disposing of the bodies of people murdered in the gas chambers.

The triangles

Main article: Nazi concentration camp badges

To identify prisoners in the camps according to their "offense", they were required to wear colored triangles on their clothing. Although the colors used differed from camp to camp, the colors most commonly used were:

Yellow  inscribed with the word "Jude" (Jew)
Yellow Star of David inscribed with the word "Jude" (Jew)

Historical interpretations

As with any historical event, scholars continue to argue over what exactly happened and why.

Who was directly involved in the killings?

Who authorized the killings?

Hitler authorized the mass killing of those labelled by the Nazis as "undesireables" in the T-4 Euthanasia Program. A mass of evidence suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on mass murder by gassing. To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20 1942, with the participation of fifteen senior officials, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, the records of which provide the best evidence of the central planning of the Holocaust. Just five weeks later on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying "We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews" to his closest associates.

Hitler approved of the work of the Einsatzgruppen, where Jews throughout Russia were shot naked in front of ditches. Most historians believe he not only knew of the Holocaust and the gas chambers, but ordered Himmler to carry it out — certainly it was entirely consistent with his lifelong beliefs.

Arguments that no documentation links Hitler to "the Holocaust" rely on artificially limiting the Holocaust to exclude what we do have documentation on, such as the T-4 Euthanasia Program and the Kristallnacht pogrom.

Who knew about the killings?

The full extent of what was happening in German-controlled areas was not known until after the war. However, numerous rumors and eyewitness accounts from escapees and others did give some indication that Jews were being killed in large numbers. Since the early years of the war the Polish government-in-exile published documents and organised meetings to spread word of the fate of the Jews. Some protests were also held, for example, on October 29/30, 1942, in the United Kingdom, leading clergymen and political figures held a public meeting to register outrage over Germany's persecution of Jews. It has also been suggested that the Reichbahn (German Rail Company used for deportations and transit to the various concentration camps), who had over one million employees, was far more aware of the Holocaust than previously known, and that Germans working on the rails must have known of the reality of life in the camps.

In 1943, 43% of Americans polled believed that Hitler was systematically murdering the Jews.

Why did people participate in, authorize, or tacitly accept the killing?


Though possibly irrelevant--when considering the egregiousness of the acts, in Stanley Milgram's Experiment which sought the answer to the above question, reasonable people, when instructed by, preferably a respectably suited, person in the United States, obeyed commands entailing what they believed to be death.

Functionalism versus intentionalism

A major issue in contemporary Holocaust studies is the question of functionalism versus intentionalism. The terms were coined in a 1981 article by the British Marxist historian Timothy Mason to describe two schools of thought about the origins of the Holocaust. Intentionalists hold that the Holocaust was the result of a long-term masterplan on the part of Hitler's and that Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust. Functionalists hold that Hitler was anti-Semitic, but that he did not have a masterplan for genocide. Functionalists see the Holocaust as coming from below in the ranks of the German bureaucracy with little or no involvement on the part of Hitler. Functionalists stress that the Nazi anti-Semitic policy was constantly evolving in ever more radical directions and the end product was the Holocaust.

Intentionalists like Lucy Davidowicz argue that the Holocaust was planned by Hitler from the very beginning, at very least from 1919 on, if not earlier. Other Intentionalists like Andreas Hillgruber and Klaus Hildebrand suggested that Hitler had decided upon the Holocaust sometime in the early 1920s. More moderate recent intentionalist historians like Eberhard J䣫el continue to emphasize the relative earliness of the decision to murder the Jews, although they are not willing to claim that Hitler planned the Holocaust from the beginning. Yet another group of intentionalist historians such as the American Arno J. Mayer claimed Hitler only ordered the Holocaust in December 1941.

Functionalists like Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat and Christopher Browning hold that the Holocaust was started in 1941-1942 as a result of the failure of the Nazi deportation policy and the impending military losses in Russia. They claim that what some see as extermination fantasies outlined in Hitler's Mein Kampf and other Nazi literature were mere propaganda and did not constitute concrete plans. In Mein Kampf Hitler repeatly states his inexorable hatred of the Jewish people, but no-where does he proclaim his intention to exterminate the Jewish people.

Furthermore, Functionalists point to the fact that in the 1930s, Nazi policy aimed at trying to make life so unpleasant for German Jews that they would leave Germany. Not until October 1941 were German Jews forbidden to leave. Adolf Eichmann was in charge of faciliating Jewish emigration by whatever means possible. Functionalists point to the SS's support for a time in the late 1930s for Zionist groups as the preferred solution to the "Jewish Question" as another sign that there was no masterplan for genocide. The SS only ceased their support for German Zionist groups when Joachim von Ribbentrop informed Hitler of this, and Hitler ordered Himmler to cease and desist as the creation of Israel was not a goal Hitler thought worthy of German foreign policy.

In particular, Functionalists have noted that in German documents from 1939 to 1941, the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was clearly meant to be a "territorial solution", that is the entire Jewish population was to be expelled somewhere far from Germany and not allowed to come back. At first, the SS planned to create a giantic "Jewish Reservation" in the Lublin, Poland area, but that plan was vetoed by Hans Frank, the Governor-General of Poland who refused to allow the SS to ship any more Jews to the Lublin area after November, 1939. In 1940, the SS had the so-called "Madagascar Plan" to deport the entire Jewish population of Europe to "reservation" on Madagascar. The "Madagascar Plan" was cancelled because Germany could not defeat Britain and until the British blockade was broken, the "Madagascar Plan" could not be put into effect. Finally, Functionalist historians have made much of a memorandum written by Himmler in May, 1940 explicitly rejecting extermination of the entire Jewish people as "un-German" and going on to recommend to Hitler the "Madagascar Plan" as the preferred "territorial solution" to the "Jewish Question". Not until July 1941 did the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" come to mean extermination.

Recently, a synthesis of the two schools has emerged that has been championed by such diverse historians such as the Canadian historian Michael Marrus, the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer and the British historian Ian Kershaw that contends that Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust, but that he did not have a long-term plan and that much of the initiative for the Holocaust came from below in a effort to meet Hitler's perceived wishes.

Another controversy was started by the historian Daniel Goldhagen, who argues that ordinary Germans were knowing and willing participants in the Holocaust, which he claims had its roots in a deep eliminationist German anti-Semitism. Most other historians have disagreed with Goldhagen's thesis, arguing that while anti-Semitism undeniably existed in Germany, Goldhagen's idea of a uniquely German "eliminationist" anti-Semitism is untenable, and that the extermination was unknown to many and had to be enforced by the dictatorial Nazi apparatus.

Revisionists and deniers

Holocaust denial, also called Holocaust revisionism, is the belief that far fewer than the 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis (numbers below 1 million, most often around 300,000 are typically cited). Adherents of this position claim that there never was a Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews, and that many other minorities were persecuted as severely or worse than the Jews, particularly Ukrainians under Stalin (the latter persecutions are often attributed to Jews). Many people who hold this position further claim that Jews and/or Zionists know that the Holocaust never occurred, yet that they nonetheless disingenuously use the Holocaust to further their political agenda. These views are not accepted as credible by mainstream historians.

Holocaust deniers almost always prefer to be called Holocaust revisionists. However, many people contend that the latter term is misleading. Historical revisionism is a well-accepted and mainstream part of the study of history; it is the reexamination of accepted history, with an eye towards updating it with newly discovered, more accurate, and/or less biased information, or viewing known information from a new perspective.

Holocaust deniers maintain that they apply proper revisionist principles to Holocaust history, and therefore the term Holocaust revisionism is appropriate for their point of view. However, mainstream historians strongly disagree. Gordon McFee writes in his essay "Why Revisionism isn't" that

"'Revisionists' depart from the conclusion that the Holocaust did not occur and work backwards through the facts to adapt them to that preordained conclusion. Put another way, they reverse the proper methodology [...], thus turning the proper historical method of investigation and analysis on its head."Template:Ref

New historical studies of the Holocaust may in theory be referred to as Holocaust revisionism. However, because the latter term has become associated with Holocaust deniers, mainstream historians today now avoid using it to describe such work.

Holocaust denial, aka Holocaust revisionism, is most commonly associated with neo-Nazis or anti-Semites, and has become popular among the Palestinian national movement and many Islamic fundamentalists. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian national authority, asserted in his doctoral thesis (i) that no more than a million Jews were actually killed—the rest is Jewish exaggeration and (ii) that the Holocaust itself was the result of a conspiracy between the Nazis and the Zionists. However, Abbas' supporters claim out that "in order to earn a PhD from a Soviet university, [Abbas] had to write what the Communists wanted."Template:Ref

The public advocacy of theories denying the Holocaust is a crime in some European countries (including France, Poland, Austria and Germany).

Holocaust theology

On account of the magnitude of the Holocaust, many people have re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions in the world. Some believers and apostates question whether people can still have any faith after the Holocaust, and some of the theological responses to these questions are explored in Holocaust theology.

Missing image
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, writer and spokesman on Holocaust issues, addressing the US Congress

Political ramifications

The Holocaust has had a number of political and social ramifications which reach to the present.

State of Israel

The Holocaust and its aftermath left millions of refugees, including many Jews who had lost most or all of their family members and possessions, and often faced persistent anti-Semitism in their home countries. The need to find a homeland for the Jewish refugees led to many of them fervently joining the Zionist movement. Many Zionists, pointing to the fact that Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied lands had been turned away by other countries, argued that if a Jewish state had existed at the time, the Holocaust could not have occurred on the scale it did. The sudden rapid growth of Zionism and the post-Holocaust displacement resulted in the emigration of a great many Jews to Palestine, about 25% of which became the modern State of Israel soon after. This immigration had a direct effect on the regional Arabs, many of whom firmly opposed a Jewish state in the Middle East. The ongoing unrest between Jews and Arabs is perhaps the most tragic legacy of the Holocaust, further discussed in the articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in other related articles linked to them.

While the Holocaust stands as a reminder that modern, "civilized" nations can engage in the most horrific of organized group behavior, it is also important to remember that during the Holocaust, many Gentiles risked (and often lost) their lives attempting to aid Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution, for no conceivable gain other than to satisfy their own consciences. In order to recognize these examples of the most noble of human behaviors among the most debased, the Israeli government through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial set up a Righteous gentiles program to honor and memorialize as many of these heroic individuals as can be found.

Other events of WWII

The Final Solution has largely overshadowed all other atrocities committed during World War II. The military and paramilitary forces of the other members of the Axis were notorious for regularly and methodically committing all manner of atrocities against both combatants and civilian populations, including extensive use of slave labour and large scale massacres (to name but a few instances, refer to the Death Railway and the Nanjing massacre). For example, the Japanese expansionist regime of the time treated Manchukuo, its puppet state in Manchuria, as a kind of lebensraum and worked much of the local population to death. Although it is unclear to what extent such atrocities were influenced by the Holocaust in Europe, they too were comparable in scale. Also, though it is rarely documented, in Malaya and Singapore, which Japan had occupied from 1942 until the end of the Pacific War, the Japanese forces systematically exterminated ethnic Chinese in what is known as the Sook Ching Massacre. Certainly, those which occurred in Europe, including the deportation of Jews from Mussolini's Italy, were often committed under the influence of, or in cooperation with the Nazis.

Under the totalitarian Stalinist regime, the Soviet Union, a member of the Allies, committed many atrocities (e.g., the Katyn Massacre) and used slave labour, both within its own territory and within the territories it occupied around the time of World War II. Certain Allied bombing attacks have also been described as atrocities, in particular the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed more than 100,000 civilians and the firebombing attacks on Dresden, Hamburg, and Tokyo, each of which resulted in many tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

By the account of Chalmers Johnson, "The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians; the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese."Template:Ref


  1. Template:Note"The Holocaust: Definition and Preliminary Discussion (http://www1.yadvashem.org/Odot/prog/index_before_change_table.asp?gate=0-2)," Yad Vashem (accessed June 8, 2005)
  2. Template:Note Euthanasia and Eugenics (http://www.trdd.org/EUGBR_4E.HTM), trdd.org (accessed June 8, 2005)
  3. Template:NoteDouglas Davis, "7 million died in Holocaust (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/jpost/abstract/64152996.html?did=64152996&FMT=ABS&FMTS=FT&date=May+20%2C+1997&author=DOUGLAS+DAVIS&desc=7+million+died+in+Holocaust)," Jerusalem Post, May 20, 1997 (accessed June 8, 2005).
  4. Template:Note "How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust? How do we know? Do we have their names? (http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/faqs/answers/faq_3.html)," Yad Vashem (accessed June 8, 2005).
  5. Template:NoteAd van Liempt, A Price on Their Heads, Kopgeld, Dutch bounty hunters in search of Jews, 1943 (http://www.nlpvf.nl/Book/NLPVF_BooktxtDB.php?Book=84), NLPVF (accessed June 8, 2005).
  6. Template:Note"Victims and Perpetrators, Michal Kab᣺ Slovak Hlinka Guard (http://www.pbs.org/auschwitz/40-45/victims/perps.html#kabac)," PBS (accessed June 8, 2005).
  7. Template:NoteGord McFee, "why 'Revisionism' isn't (http://www.holocaust-history.org/revisionism-isnt/)," The Holocaust History Project (accessed June 8, 2005).
  8. Template:NoteMyron Love, "Muslim?s criticism of Abbas rebuffed by Jewish journalist (http://www.cjnews.com/viewarticle.asp?id=5978)," Canadian Jewish News (accessed June 8, 2005).
  9. Template:NoteChalmers Johnson, review of Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold (http://lrb.veriovps.co.uk/v25/n22/john04_.html), by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave, London Review of Books 25, no. 22, November 2003 (accessed June 8, 2005).

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