The name "Holocaust" has its root in a Greek word that means burnt whole or totally consumed by fire. Between 1939 and 1945, approximately six million Jews and five million non-Jews died in the Holocaust as Adolph Hitler sought to create a "perfect nation." All of these deaths were premeditated mass executions.
In September 1939, Hitler started World War II with a rapid air and land attack on an unprepared Poland. He did so without a declaration of war and the world superpowers were aware of this.
Prior to World War II, Hitler attempted to get rid of the Jewish population in Germany by making the German rules so harsh for the Jews that they would leave voluntarily. When this did not work, he decided to expel them from the country. Most historians agree that, at the beginning of WWII, Hitler and his Nazi party had yet to create a plan for the murder of the Jews.
By 1934, Hitler had set up concentration camps to persecute political and religious dissidents, but his Final Solution was most likely decided upon after the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union, the largest German military operation of World War II, occurred in 1941. Hitler had, since its inception, regarded the German-Soviet nonaggression pact as a temporary military tactic. He decided that he would go against the agreement and invade the Soviet Union.
Hitler's army invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, less than two years after the German-Soviet non-aggressive pact was signed. On this day, nearly four million German troops attacked the Soviet Union, achieving nearly complete tactical surprise. The Soviet armies were initially overwhelmed. The German army implemented mass-murder operations at this time.
On July 31, 1941, the Nazis were ordered to prepare a plan for the Final Solution, which was basically the mass execution of all Jews.
In December of 1941, the Soviet Union launched a major counterattack against the Germans, which resulted in German domination of Europe reaching its furthest geographical extension.
In June 1942, Hitler moved from a policy of forced emigration to one of annihilation. At the Wansee Conference, which was held in the Berlin suburb of Wansee, Nazi leaders learned that instead of forcing Jews to leave the country, Nazi officials would deport them to death camps. A death camp would be designed to perform mass murder. Nazi planned to gather all Jews at concentration points in cities on or near railroad lines and take them by train to mass killing centers.
At the start of WWII, the Nazis had developed mobile killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen, that followed the German armies into occupied Poland and the Baltic countries. All Jews were gathered up in towns and driven to the forests or countryside. When stripped of their clothes and any possessions, victims were shot and buried in large pits. However, the Germans feared that this method of murder was too obvious and risked discovery by the outside world, so they started using specially made vans that were used to gas the Jews that were put inside.
These killing vans were effective but the Nazis sought a faster method. At first, they tried gas chambers at small concentration camps in Germany. However after the Wansee Conference, they built death camps in Poland, which were easily accessible by train from any point in occupied Europe.
The Germans started gathering up Jews throughout Europe. The Jews were first put in ghettos, where starvation and deprivation weakened them. Then they were resettled in the concentration camps.
The ghettos were special sections of occupied areas where Jews were forced to live. The conditions of the Nazi ghettos were terrible and unhealthy. Walls were built around the ghetto areas to isolate them from the non-Jewish parts of the city. This isolation was the first step in the mass executions.
In Germany and all other occupied areas, Jews were required to wear distinguishing markings, the Star of David, to identify them as "the other." The onset of war evolved deportations, transit camps, forced labor camps, and concentration camps, which were all used by the Germans to imprison their victims.
Between the years of 1941 and 1945, the Germans built and operated 20 major concentration camps throughout Germany and Eastern Europe. The concentration camps were developed as work camps. The victims usually did not know what was going to happen to them. Victims were often worked to death as slave laborers or used as guinea pigs in medical experiments conducted by Nazi scientists and doctors. In addition, many small concentration camps were built also. These camps did nothing to advance the war but showed the strong commitment of the Nazis to the Final Solution.
Unlike concentration camps, death camps did not have barracks to house prisoners, other than the ones used for workers at the camps. In order to murders Jews in massive numbers, the Nazis tried to deceive their victims so that they would not resist. Jews deported from ghettos and concentration camps to the death camps were not told of their fate.
The Nazis simply told them that they were being resettled for labor, issuing them work permits, and encouraging them to bring along their tools. Food was used to coax starving Jews to get on the trains. Once the trains got to the death camps, the old, sick and weak were transported directly to the gas chambers.
They were told to get in the showers, which were actually the gas chambers. The showerheads in the baths were the inlets for poison gas. With the introduction of a cyanide-based gas called Zyklon B, thousands of victims could be killed in five minutes. Before the bodies were taken away by workers with gas masks and cremated, the teeth of the victims were stripped for gold, which was melted down and shipped to Germany. In these death camps, innocent victims were exploited and desecrated to an incredible degree.
The largest death camp was the one in Auschwitz. In late 1941, Russian captives and Jewish prisoners were forced to build the gas chambers and crematoria, as well as the barracks needed to house slave laborers. German engineers and architects supervised the development. During this time, German doctors and medical researchers were granted permission to conduct medical experiments on humans in laboratories in these camps.
The camp started taking massive numbers of prisoners in 1942. The Germans used some prisoners as slave laborers, but killed most of them. By the middle of 1944, thousands of people were murdered every day. Even as the war brought the Soviet armies into occupied Eastern Europe after 1944, Auschwitz was still in operation.
The trains, packed with Jews, arrived in the death camps many times a day. Prisoners were unloaded from the trains by Nazi soldiers. They were separated by sex and forced to wait in lines to be checked by a Nazi doctor who decided which ones would go to the gas chambers. The young, the healthy, and those with needed skills were sent into the camps, where their heads were shaved and they forced into the overcrowded barracks. Old people, ill people, women with children, and all pregnant women were all sent to the gas chambers.
In late 1944, the Allied armies came into Germany and the Soviet forces freed sections of eastern Poland. The Nazis were afraid that they secret of the death camps would be discovered, so they began destroying them.
Still, as the Allies came nearer to many of the remaining camps, the killing went on, with nearly a half million victims murdered in 1945. The SS forced the surviving prisoners from the death camps in Poland into Germany, where they stayed in concentration camps until the Allies freed them. These final death marches were used to kill massive…