The Holocaust

WarsawGhettoUprising

This photo of Jews being forcibly rounded up during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April/May 1943 is perhaps the best known and most iconic photo of the Holocaust.

The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, held political power in Germany from 1933 until the end of the 2nd World War in May 1945 (‘Nazi’ is an abbreviation for the full name of the Party which – in English – was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party). Nazi policies were antisemitic and spoke of the need to rid Germany of Jews. Initial Nazi policies  in 1933 concerning Jews introduced discrimination against Jews and quickly moved on to persecuting them (at least in part with the hope of encouraging them to emigrate); later, Jews were actively killed and/or forced to live in conditions (such as in ghettos and slave labour camps) which killed a high proportion of the ghetto or camp inmates. As Germany successfully took control of other European countries in the years from 1938 onward, these policies were implemented in those countries as well, leading to the death of some 6 million Jews across Europe, including women and children.

On 20 January 1942 a group of high-ranking Nazi officials met at a conference in Berlin known as the Wannsee Conference to discuss and plan the Endlösung (in English, the ‘Final Solution’) of the ‘Jewish problem’ – in other words, the extermination of the estimated 11 million Jews living in Europe at that time.

Historians debate whether it had always been the Nazis’ intention to exterminate the Jewish people, or whether their policy evolved to that point over time. Undeniably, this was their policy by January 1942, and the reality is that by that time a large number of Jews had already been killed under cover of the 2nd World War (the purpose of the Wannsee Conference was to arrange a more efficient and systematic way to kill Jews). Usually, the Holocaust is considered to have lasted from September 1939 (the start of the 2nd World War) to May 1945 (the end of the War in Europe), but some people consider that it started with the Nazi rise to power in 1933. Certainly the years from 1933 to 1939 cannot be overlooked as they laid the foundation for what came afterwards in terms of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.

Holocaust victims by percentage

A pie chart showing a break-down of victims of the Nazi Holocaust by percentage. (Chart courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – click chart to see enlarged version)

It is important to note that Jews were not the only group persecuted, or whose members were murdered, by the Nazis (however, Jews were the single largest group targeted by the Nazis and about 40% of all Holocaust victims were Jewish). In the years 1933-1945 large numbers of non-Jews were also persecuted and/or killed by the Nazis. In general, any person or group whose attitudes or lifestyle did not conform with Nazi ideals was subject to subject to persecution; such people included (but certainly were not limited to) the disabled (whether physically or mentally), gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, communists, Soviet POWs, trade unionists, clergy, Jehovah’s Witnesses (a pacifist Christian group suspected by the Nazis of collaborating with Jews), the Roman Catholic Church, clergy, Freemasons, and Slavs (ethnic East-Europeans, including Poles, whom the Nazis considered to be ‘sub-human’).

The Hebrew name for the Holocaust is the Shoah (pronounced sho-ah), which means ‘whirlwind’. The term the Sho’ah, like the term ‘The Final Solution’, refers specifically to the fate of Jews, whereas the term the Holocaust has come to be applied more broadly to include all victims, irrespective of religious, ethnic or political background.

This site does not include detailed information about the Holocaust – instead, we provide a timeline of selected events and links to some of the many excellent website which deal with the Sho’ah in detail.

Timeline of Events Related to the Sho’ah
YearDay/MonthEvent
193330 JanuaryAdolf Hitler appointed as Chancellor [= Prime Minister] of Germany
27 FebruaryAn arsonist sets fire to the Reichstag [Germany's Parliament House] leading to declaration of a state of emergency
5 MarchReichstag [parliament] elections - Nazis receive 44% of the vote
22 MarchThe first Nazi concentration camp (Dachau) is established
24 MarchEnabling Act (passed in consequence of the Reichstag fire) - Hitler is given emergency powers
1 AprilPublic boycott of Jewish businesses
7 AprilReform of the civil service - restrictions on Jews being employed as civil servants
21 AprilShechitah (Jewish ritual slaughter of meat) banned - kosher meat no longer legally available
25 AprilLaw against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Institutions of Higher Learning - quotas set limiting Jews to 1.5% of all high school and university places
10 MayThousands of 'degenerate' books by Jewish authors are publicly burned
14 JulyGermany declared a one-party state (> other political parties are not allowed to operate)
14 JulyJewish immigrants from Eastern Europe are stripped of their German citizenship
13 SeptemberCompulsory teaching of Nazi racial in theory starts in schools
22 SeptemberReich Chamber of Culture Law - persons are allowed to work professionally in the arts, media, literature, theatre or music only if they belong to the relevant 'chamber' but all Jews are denied chamber membership
OctoberJewish doctors allowed to treat only Jewish patients; Jews forbidden to own land
19342 AugustPresident Hindenburg dies > Hitler effectively has absolute power
193531 MayJews are forbidden to serve in the German Army (general conscription - compulsory military service - was already in effect for men)
15 SeptemberNuremburg Laws - Jews forbidden to marry or have sexual relations with Aryans, Jews forbidden to employ Aryan females under 45 years old, Jews stripped of German citizenship
14 NovemberAdditions made to the Nuremburg Laws - all remaining Jewish public servants dismissed, Jews no longer entitled to vote
1937JanuaryJews banned from the professions of dentistry, teaching and accounting
193813 MarchThe Anschluss - Austria is annexed by Germany and all German anti-Jewish measures come into effect in Austria
JuneFailure of the Evian Conference in France - no countries are willing to take Jewish refugees from Germany
6 JulyFurther restrictions on which occupations Jews may undertake
27 SeptemberJews banned from working as lawyers, except for a small number allowed to work for Jewish clients only
30 SeptemberMunich Agreement - England agrees to allow Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia
5 OctoberAll Jews have the letter 'J' added to their passports to clearly identify them as Jewish
6 OctoberGermany annexes the Sudetenland (another part of Czechoslovakia), a clear breach of the Munich Agreement
28 October17,000 Jews holding Polish passports are forcibly deported from Germany and abandoned at the Polish border (Poland refused to accept them back, thus stranding them with nowhere to go)
7 NovemberIn desperation, the son of stranded deported Polish Jews shoots a Nazi official in Paris to call attention to the plight of his parents and others. The official dies on 9 November, triggering Kristallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass), a large-scale pogrom across Germany.
15 NovemberJewish children are banned from attending Jewish schools
193915 MarchGermany occupies Bohemia and Moravia (the last remaining parts of Czechoslovakia not under German rule)
1 SeptemberGermany invades Poland
3 SeptemberGreat Britain and assorted allied countries declare war on Germany > the start of the 2nd World War
SeptemberPoland is conquered by Germany in less than 4 weeks and the first ghettos are established in Poland. German Jews are forbidden to own radios.
23 NovemberAll Jews in Poland are ordered to wear the Jewish badge (yellow star) making them readily identifiable as Jews
2 DecemberThe Nazis start using gas vans to kill mental patients - the technology will later be applied to death camps.
1940JanuaryPolish Jewish youth movements begin the first underground movements against the Germans
5 MayGermany invades Belgium and the Netherlands
26 MayFacing defeat, the Allies evacuate their forces via Dunkirk
MayThe concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland is established
JuneGermany occupies most of France and Paris falls on 14 June
14 JulyThe Vichy government is formed and controls southern France; it collaborates with Germany.
OctoberThe Vichy government passes anti-Jewish laws. The Warsaw ghetto is established.
16 NovemberThe Warsaw ghetto is sealed (Jews in it are no longer able to leave)
19411 MarchConstruction of Auschwitz II (Birkenau Death Camp) begins
June'Operation Barbarossa' - Germany invades the Soviet Union. German Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) begin mass executions by shooting in what had been Soviet-occupied Poland.
JulyEinsatzgruppen move into Lithuania (which also has a high Jewish population). 160,000 Romanian Jews are killed with the assistance of Romanian troops.
31 JulyGoering orders Heydrich to prepare a plan for the 'Final Solution' of the 'Jewish Question'.
3 SeptemberThe first experimental gassings are conducted at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
19 SeptemberGerman Jews are ordered to wear the Jewish Star when out in public
OctoberThe Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp starts operation
15 OctoberGerman & Austrian Jews start being deported to ghettos in Eastern Europe
DecemberJapan attacks Pearl Harbour; USA declares war on Japan; Germany & Italy declare war on USA.
194214 JanuaryDutch Jews start to be rounded up and deported
JanuaryHitler states "the war will end with the complete annihilation of the Jews."
20 JanuaryWannsee Conference to plan the destruction of European Jewry on an industrial scale
early 1942Einsatzgruppen operate in the Crimea. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Jews are killed in newly established death camps throughout eastern Europe.
28 MarchThe deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz begins
JuneA second gas chamber starts operating at Auschwitz. The New York Times reports that over 1 million Jews have been killed, but there is wide-spread disbelief and incredulity.
JulyThe first medical experiments take place at Auschwitz.
NovemberThe US State Department confirms the existence of Nazi death camps and the deaths of 2 million Jews so far
1943MarchA second crematorium starts operating at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
19 AprilThe Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins; 7,000 Jews will be killed in street fighting resisting German troops
21 JuneHimmler orders the liquidation of all ghettos in occupied Soviet territory
JuneYet more crematoria are built at Auschwitz-Birkenau and put into operation
OctoberThe deportation of Danish Jews is ordered, but the Danish underground successfully helps most to escape to neutral Sweden.
194418 MarchGerman troops enter Hungary, setting the stage for the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz
15 MayHungarian Jews start being deported to Auschwitz
JulyThe Russians liberate the Majdanek death camp
23 AugustRomania (a German ally) surrenders to the USSR
7 OctoberThe Sonderkommando at Auschwitz revolt.
OctoberPrisoners at Auschwitz revolt; 1 crematorium is blown up.
25 NovemberGassings at Auschwitz stop. Germans start trying to hide evidence of the death camps. Prisoners are sent into German territory.
1945mid-JanuaryThe Soviets relieve Warsaw and part of Budapest.
18 JanuaryThe Germans abandon Auschwitz and force surviving prisoners who are not bed-ridden on a death march to Germany
27 JanuaryThe Soviets liberate Auschwitz, finding only 7,600 survivors.
AprilThe Americans liberate Buchenwald concentration camp; the British liberate Bergen-Belsen. The Allies become aware of the full horror of the Holocaust.
25 AprilAdvancing American and Soviet troops meet at the River Elbe.
30 AprilHitler commits suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
7 MayGermany surrenders
8 MayVE (Victory in Europe) Day - the war in Europe is over (the war against Japan continued until VJ Day on 2 September).
Links to Other Sites

Yad VaShem – Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Centre and arguably the world’s leading centre for research into and documentation of the Holocaust.

Aish – Timeline of the Holocaust

Aish – Holocaust FAQs

ADL – Children of the Holocaust. This site tells the story of 3 child survivors of the Holocaust.

Danish Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies – The Night of Broken Glass

History.com – The Holocaust

History.com – The Night of Broken Glass

History Learning Site – Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany

Holocaust Encyclopedia – Children during the Holocaust

Holocaust Learning. This website is run by a group based in Leeds (England). It is designed for school students and focuses on the human side of the Holocaust; its excellent resources include a number of testimonies by a variety of Holocaust survivors who later settled in Yorkshire (the part of England where Leeds is located).

Holocaust Research Project – Nazi Propaganda (deals with antisemitic Nazi propaganda)

Jewish Virtual Library – The Holocaust

Jewish Virtual Library – An Introductory History of the Holocaust

Jewish Virtual Library – Jewish Victims of the Holocaust: Hidden Children

Jewish Virtual Library – History & Overview of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ (deals with non-Jews who helped Jews to survive or escape the Holocaust)

Remember.org – Witnesses to the Holocaust – Survivors and Liberators.  Testimonies by individuals with a variety of experiences.

Remember.org – Adolf Hitler

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Introduction to the Holocaust (with list of related pages)

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – The Nuremburg Race Laws

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – The ‘Night of Broken Glass’

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Armed Jewish Resistance: Partisans

Yad VaShem – The Holocaust – Overview

Yad VaShem – Children and the Holocaust

Video

Holocaust Survivors tell the Stories of their Childhood (11 minutes)

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