The word itself comes from the Hebrew word Shoah. This was the affliction suffered by Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe from 1933 to 1945. It is usual to divide the ordeal into two periods, before and after 1941.
During the first period various anti-semitic measures were taken in Germany; later in Austria. The Nuremberg Laws were passed in Germany in 1935, by which Jews lost rights to citizenship, any right to hold public office, practise professions (including medicine), get married to Germans, or use public education. Jews’ property and businesses were first registered, later expropriated. There was a general encitement to use violence in the street or in the home against anyone Jewish, of whatever age or sex. Dr. Goebbels’ publicity offices encouraged hatred. ‘True’, that is ‘ethically pure’ Germans were expected to hate the Jews.
The result of these campaigns pleased Nazi German leaders, who had expected it: the German and Austrian Jewish populations were halved by massed emigration, mostly to the United States, but also to ‘safer’ places in Europe. How ‘safe’ these places were, the Jews who emigrated were soon to find.
The second phase was more open, and affected Jews throughout occupied Europe during World War II. It involved open street murder, forced labour in the munitions factories, mass execution by shooting, victims forced to dig their own shallow grave and pay for the munition. Concentration camps were built in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Prussia. They were ‘the Final Solution’ (Endlösung): extermination of the Jews in gas chambers – planned by Adolf Eichmann and others. This final solution was decided upon at a meeting held by the Wannsee in Berlin in 1942.
During the Holocaust some six million Jews died. Out of a population of 3 million Polish Jews, less than ½ million were left in 1945. Roumania, Hungary and Lithuania also suffered tremendous losses in the Jewish population, as well as any non-Jewish citizens who tried to help them.
Here is a horror list of the names of European concentration camps discovered, and their surviving inmates released, by Russian and Allied forces in 1945:
- Ravensbrück (women and children only)
Estimated deaths of Jews by country:
Soviet Union 750,000 (greatly assisted by the Soviets)
France 65,000 (greatly assisted by the Vichy French)
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