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The Holocaust, also known as Ha-Shoah (Hebrew), Khurbn (Yiddish: or Halokaust, is the term generally used to describe the killing of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, as part of a program of deliberate extermination planned and executed by the National Socialist regime in Germany led by Adolf Hitler.
Other groups were also persecuted and killed by the regime, including 220,000 Sinti and Roma (see Porajmos), as well as the disabled (see Action T4), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet POWs, Polish citizens, and political prisoners.
Many scholars do not include these groups in the definition of the Holocaust, defining it as the Genocide of the Jews, or what the Nazis called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" ("Die Endlösung der Judenfrage"). Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the death toll rises considerably; estimates generally place the total number of victims at nine to 11 million.
Etymology and usage of the term
The term holocaust originally derived from the Greek word halekaustann, meaning a "completely (holos) burnt (kaustos)" sacrificial offering to a god. Since the late 19th century, "holocaust" has primarily been used to refer to disasters or catastrophes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used to describe Hitler's treatment of the Jews from as early as 1942, though it did not become a standard reference until the 1950s. By the late 1970s, however, the conventional meaning of the word became the Nazi genocide. The term is also used by many in a narrower sense, to refer specifically to the unprecedented destruction of European Jews in particular. Some historians credited Elie Wiesel with giving the term 'Holocaust' its present meaning. The biblical word Shoa, also spelled Shoah and Sho'ah, meaning "calamity" in Hebrew, became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the early 1940s. Shoa is preferred by many Jews and a growing number of others for a number of reasons, including the potentially theologically offensive nature of the original meaning of the word holocaust.
The word "genocide" was coined during the Holocaust. In 1944, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published Raphael Lemkin's most important work, entitled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, in the United States. This book included an extensive legal analysis of German rule in countries occupied by Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, along with the definition of the term genocide.
The Holocaust was characterized by the efficient and systematic attempt on an industrial scale to assemble and kill as many people as possible, using all of the resources and technology available to the Nazi state. Germany was, at the time, one of the world's leading nations in terms of technology, industry, infrastructure, research, education, bureaucratic efficiency, and many other fields.
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 (the issuing of receipts also helped to lull the victims into a false sense of security, as it made them believe that they would later be reunited with their property and luggage).
In addition, considerable effort was expended over the course of the Holocaust to find increasingly efficient means of killing more people. Early mass murders by German soldiers of thousands of Jews in Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, by shooting, had caused widespread reports of discomfort and demoralization among the German troops. Commanders had complained to their superiors that the face-to-face killings had a severely negative psychological impact on soldiers. Committed to destroying the Jewish population, the German Nazi government decided to pursue more mechanical methods, beginning with experiments in explosives and poisons.
In his book, Russia's War, British historian Richard Overy describes how the Nazis 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 a 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
In the spring of 1942, the Aktion Reinhard camps began operating. Carbon monoxide was used in the gas chambers at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, whereas Zyklon B,a cyanide-based insecticide, was employed at Majdanek and Auschwitz.
The disposal of large numbers of bodies presented a logistical problem as well. The Nazis were constantly studying ways to improve fuel efficiency, using a combination of different fuels, such as coke, wood and body fat. According to surviving Sonderkommandos, multiples bodies were added to the furnaces to obtain optimal fuel efficiency and speed, particularly when the demand was higher.
Corporate involvement in the Holocaust has created significant controversy in recent years. Rudolf Höß, 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. Technology developed by IBM also played a role in the categorization of prisoners, through the use of punched card machines.
The Holocaust was geographically widespread and systematically conducted in virtually all areas of Nazi-occupied territory, where Jews and other victims were targeted in what are now 35 separate European countries, and sent to labor camps in some countries or extermination camps in others. The mass killing was at its worst in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than 7 million Jews in 1939; about 5 million Jews were killed there, including 3 million in occupied Poland and over 1 million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
Documented evidence suggests that the Nazis planned to carry out their "final solution" in other regions if they were conquered, such as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The extermination 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 Holocaust was carried out without any reprieve even for children or babies, and victims were often tortured before being killed. Nazis carried out 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 medical and eugenical experiments, e.g., trying to change people's eye color by injecting dye into their eyes. Aribert Heim, another doctor who worked at Mauthausen, was known as "Doctor Death".
The guards in the concentration camps carried out beatings and acts of torture on a daily basis. Women were forced into brothels for the SS guards. Russian prisoners of war were used for experiments, such as being immersed in ice water or being put into pressure chambers in which air was evacuated to see how long they would survive as a means to better protect German airmen.
Homosexual men suffered unusually cruel treatment in the concentration camps. They faced persecution not only from German soldiers but also from other prisoners, and many homosexual men were beaten to death. Additionally, homosexuals in forced labor 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 homosexuals for target practice, aiming their weapons at the pink triangles their human targets were forced to wear.
During the selection process, children were divided into two groups: those who were fit for work, and those who were not. Those who were deemed healthy enough to work had their prisoner ID tattooed on them, and were given a uniform. The children who were sent to work, most often in munitions factories, were not anticipated to survive for much longer than a few weeks. This was due to the workload, placed on them by the Nazis and due to the lack of food and unhygienic conditions within the camp.
Those children deemed unfit for work, mostly young children, were immediately taken to the gas chambers. These children were often very dependant on their mothers. However, some very small children, particularly twins, were kept by the camp "doctor" for medical experimentation
At the Auschwitz concentration camp, Dr. Josef Mengele was infamous for carrying out medical experiments on human subjects. These included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing various drugs on them, freezing them to death, and various other usually fatal traumas. Of particular interest to Mengele were twins, Gypsies, dwarves and infants. Beginning in 1943, twins were selected and placed in special barracks.
Almost all of Mengele's experiments were of little scientific value, including attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations and other brutal surgeries, and in at least one case attempting to surgically transform normal twins into Siamese twins.
The full extent of Mengele's work will never be known because the two truckloads of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were destroyed by the latter. Subjects who survived Mengele's experiments were almost always killed after the experiments for dissection.
While Mengele's experiments were the most notorious, his behavior was not an isolated aberration. Other Nazi physicians also engaged in human experimentation at several concentration camps, including Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.
While the victims of the Holocaust were primarily Jews, the Nazis also persecuted and slaughtered the members of other groups they considered inferior, undesirable or dangerous, including Poles and other Slavic peoples such as Russians, Belarusians and Serbs, Roma (also known as Gypsies), and some Africans, Asians and others who did not belong to the "Aryan race"; the mentally ill and the physically disabled; homosexuals; and political opponents and religious dissidents such as communists, trade unionists, Freemasons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The victims of the Holocaust were generally described by the Nazis as "undesirables," "enemies of the state", "asocial elements," and "moral degenerates," labels that went hand-in-hand with their term Untermensch ("sub-human").
The exact number of people killed by the Nazi regime may never be known, but scholars, using a variety of methods, including documentation from the Nazis of determining the death toll, have generally agreed upon common range of the number of victims. Recently declassified British and Soviet documents have indicated the total may be somewhat higher than previously believed. The following estimates provide a range of the number of victims:
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. Hilberg estimates the death toll in Poland at "up to 3,000,000". Hilberg's numbers are generally considered to be a conservative estimate, as they generally include only those deaths for which some records are available, avoiding statistical adjustment. British historian Martin Gilbert used a similar approach in his Atlas of the Holocaust, but arrived at a number of 5.75 million Jewish victims, since he estimated higher numbers of Jews killed in Russia and other locations.
Lucy S. Dawidowicz used pre-war census figures to estimate that 5.934 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 listing of deaths by country of origin is available in the article about her book, The War Against the Jews.
One of the most authoritative German scholars of the Holocaust, Prof. Wolfgang Benz of the Technical University of Berlin, cites between 5.3 and 6.2 million Jews killed in Dimension des Volksmords (1991), while Yisrael Gutman and Robert Rozett estimate between 5.59 and 5.86 million Jewish victims in the Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust (1990).
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
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.
Additionally, the Ustaa regime, the Nazis' allies in Croatia, conducted its own campaign of mass extermination against the Serbs in the areas which it controlled, resulting in the deaths of 500,000-1.2 million Serbs.
The summary of various sources' estimates on the number of Nazi regime victims is given in Matthew White's online atlas of 20th century history.
In his article "Assaults on Truth and Memory: Holocaust Denial in Context", which appears in A Little Matter of Genocide (1997), Ward Churchill addresses Holocaust scholarship that claims for the Jews "the status of an 'unparalleled' victimization". He argues that the suffering of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust (as well as victims of other genocides) "is correspondingly downgraded or shunted into historical oblivion." With that in mind, Churchill counts all the Slavic peoples as targets for Nazi genocide, partly based on their being classified, like the Jews and Gypsies, as Untermenschen (subhumans). But the crux of his argument for including the Slavs (other than the Poles, who were more directly targeted) lies in "the Hitlerian vision of Lebensraumpolitik-the conquest of vast expanses of Slavic territory in eastern Europe for 'resettlement' by a tremendously enlarged Germanic population.... The 45 million human beings constituting the difference between the existing population and its projected diminishment were to be dispensed with through a combination of massive expulsion and a variety of killing programs." Churchill goes on to calculate the total number of Slavic victims of the Holocaust as roughly 20 million, a number that includes the 3.5 million Soviet POWs, 3 million Soviet slave laborers, 7 million Ukrainian civilians over the course of Nazi invasion and occupation, 1.2 million Yugoslav civilians, and 3 million Christian Poles, among others. In addition, he estimates the number of Sinti and Roma victims at over one million.
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 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).
Execution of the Holocaust
Concentration and labor camps (1933-1945)
After the 1932 elections it became clear to the Nazi leaders that they would never be able to secure a majority of the votes and that they would have to rely on other means to gain power. Leading up to the 1933 elections, the Nazis began intensifying acts of violence to wreak havoc among the opposition. At the same time, with cooperation from local authorities, they set up camps as concentration centers within Germany. One of the first was Dachau, which opened in March 1933. These early camps were meant to hold, torture, or kill only political prisoners, such as Communists and Social Democrats. Eventually, the Nazis imprisoned Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, critical journalists, and other undesirables.
These early prisons-usually basements and storehouses-were eventually consolidated into full-blown, centrally run camps outside of the cities and somewhat removed from the public eye. By 1942, six large extermination camps, located in Nazi-occupied Poland, had been established.After 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, the concentration camps increasingly became places where the non-political enemies of the Nazis, including Jews and POWs, were either killed or forced to act as slave laborers, and kept undernourished and tortured.
During the War, concentration camps for Jews and other "undesirables" were spread throughout Europe, with new camps being created near centers of dense "undesirable" populations, often focusing on areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communist, or Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) populations. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself. Most of the camps were located in the area of General Government in occupied Poland, but there were camps in every country occupied by the Nazis. The transportation of prisoners was often carried out under horrifying conditions using rail freight cars, in which many died before they reached their destination.
While not specifically designed as a method for systematic extermination, many concentration camp prisoners died because of harsh conditions or were eventually executed.
Upon admission, some camps tattooed prisoners with a prisoner ID. Those fit for work were dispatched for 12 to 14 hour shifts. Before and after, there were roll calls that could sometimes last for hours; sometimes, prisoners would die of exposure.
Between the time of registration into the camp and death, prisoners were subjected to a number of demeaning and torturous ordeals. Prisoners were often beaten, whipped, or hung from beams with their hands behind them. This ordeal was done with their feet just inches from the ground. Prisoners were also shot arbitrarily.
These dreadful ordeals combined to create a miserable experience within the camps. As a result, many inmates embraced or welcomed death.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Freemasonry had "succumbed" to the Jews and has become an "excellent instrument" to fight for their aims and to use their "strings" to pull the upper strata of society into their alleged designs. He continues, "The general pacifistic paralysis of the national instinct of self-preservation begun by Freemasonry is then transmitted to the masses of society by the Jewish press".
Many scholars date the beginning of the Holocaust itself to the anti-Jewish riots of the Night of Broken Glass ("Kristallnacht") of November 9, 1938, in which Jews were attacked and Jewish property was vandalized across Germany. Approximately 100 Jews were killed, and another 30,000 sent to concentration camps, while over 7,000 Jewish shops and 1,574 synagogues (almost every synagogue in Germany) were damaged or destroyed. Similar events took place in Vienna at the same time.
A number of deadly pogroms by local populations occurred during the Second World War, some with Nazi encouragement, and some spontaneously. This included the Iasi pogrom in Romania on June 30, 1941, in which as many 14,000 Jews were allegedly killed by Romanian residents and police, and the Jedwabne pogrom in which between 380 and 1,600 Jews were allegedly killed by local Poles.
The preserved records of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) show the persecution of the Freemasons. RSHA Amt VII, Written Records-overseen by Professor Franz Six-was responsible for "ideological" tasks, by which was meant the creation of anti-semitic and anti-masonic propaganda. While the number is not accurately known, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons were exterminated under the Nazi regime. Freemasonic Concentration Camp inmates were graded as "political" prisoners, and wore an inverted (point down) red triangle.
In 1938, a forget-me-not badge-made by the same factory as the Masonic badge, and first used by the Grand Lodge Zur Sonne, in 1926-was chosen for the annual Nazi Party Winterhilfswerk. Winterhilfswerk was a supposed charitable organization, which actually collected money used for rearmament. This coincidence enabled Freemasons to wear forget-me-not badge as a secret sign of membership
The T-4 Euthanasia Program was established to "maintain the genetic purity" of the German population by systematically killing German citizens who were physically deformed, disabled, handicapped, or suffering from mental illness. Between 1939 and 1941, over 200,000 people were killed.
After the invasion of Poland, the Nazis created ghettos to which Jews (and some Roma and Sinti) were confined, until they were eventually shipped to death camps and killed. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people and the Lódz Ghetto, the second largest, holding about 160,000, but ghettos were instituted in many cities (list). The ghettos were established throughout 1940 and 1941, and were immediately turned into immensely crowded prisons; though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of the population of Warsaw, it occupied only about 2.4% of city's area, averaging 9.2 people per room. From 1940 through 1942, disease (especially typhoid fever) and starvation killed hundreds of thousands of Jews confined in the ghettos.
On July 19, 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered the start of the deportations of Jews from the ghettos to the death camps. On July 22, 1942, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants began; in the next 52 days (until September 12, 1942) about 300,000 people were transported by train to the Treblinka extermination camp from Warsaw alone. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated. The first ghetto uprising occurred in September 1942 in the small town of Lachwa in southeast Poland. Though there were armed resistance attempts in the larger ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Bialystok Ghetto Uprising, in every case they failed against the Nazi military, and the remaining Jews were either slaughtered or sent to the extermination camps.
Death squads (1941-1943)
As many as 1.6 million Jews were murdered in open-air shootings by Nazis and their collaborators, especially in 1941 before the establishment of the concentration camps. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, over 3,000 special killing units (organized into the four Einsatzgruppen) followed the Wehrmacht, conducting mass murders of Poles, Communist officials, and the Jewish population that lived in Soviet territory.
Poles were an early target in the AB Action, in which 30,000 Polish intellectual and political figures were rounded up, and 7,000 eventually murdered. By the summer of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen turned to targeting Jews, starting with the extermination of 2,200 Jews in Bialystok on June 27, 1941, and quickly increased in scale. 1,500 Jews were murdered in Kaunas on June 26 by the German SS forces. 4,000 Jews murdered in Lviv on June 30-July 3, 1941 by Ukrainian collaborators. From September to the end of 1941, a series of mass murders took place throughout Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Latvia: over 33,000 Jews were killed at Babi Yar, 25,000 at Rumbula by Latvian Nazis (Arajs Commando), over 36,000 at Odessa by Romanian forces, 19,000 at the Ninth Fort of Kaunas, and 40,000 (up to 100,000 by 1944) at Paneriai by the German SS forces. These, and similar slaughters throughout Europe, murdered around 100,000 Jews per month for five months. By the end of 1943, another 900,000 Jews would be murdered in this manner, but the pace was not fast enough for the Nazi leadership, who, at the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, began the implementation of the Final Solution, the complete extermination of the Jews of Europe.
Serbs were victims of an extermination policy of Croat NDH since this Nazi puppet state was formed in 1941. The murders took many forms: burning of live Serbs forced into churches; slaughter of Serbs by small death squads, often numbering only three, called "black threes", who rampaged by night through villages in which dogs were first poisoned. The squads filled foiba pits with still-living Serbs, often connected by barbed wire, and practiced extremely cruel methods of torture and execution such as gouging eyes and cutting salted necks. They also nailed guts of slaughtered victims to the roofs. Extermination in Jasenovac camp existed since its onset in 1941, at the time when Germans had not yet started their systematic genocide, and it has appalled even the SS, though soon enough they were organizing systematic extermination in their camps too.
Since 2004, the Ukraine Project led by Father Patrick Desbois has uncovered over 500 mass graves in the Ukrainian countryside with the remains of Jews shot by the Einsatzgruppen. More 1,700 mass graves are believed to existe only in Ukraine
Extermination camps (1942-1945)
In December 1941, the Nazis opened Chelmno, the first of what would soon be seven extermination camps, dedicated entirely to mass extermination on an industrial scale, as opposed to the labor or concentration camps. Over three million Jews would die in these extermination camps. The method of killing at these camps was by poison gas (Zyklon B or Carbon monoxide), usually in "gas chambers", although many prisoners were killed in mass shootings and by other means. The bodies of those killed were destroyed in crematoria (except at Sobibór where they were cremated on outdoor pyres), and the ashes buried or scattered.
In 1942, the Nazis began this most destructive phase of the Holocaust, with Aktion Reinhard, opening the extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. More than 1.7 million Jews were killed at the three Aktion Reinhard camps by October 1943. The largest death camp built was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which had both a labor camp (Auschwitz) and an extermination camp (Birkenau); the latter possessing four gas chambers and crematoria. This camp was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million Jews (including about 438,000 Jews from Hungary in the course of a few months), 75,000 Poles and gay men, and some 19,000 Roma. At the peak of operations, Birkenau's gas chambers killed approximately 8,000 a day.
Upon arrival in these camps, all valuables were taken from the prisoners, and the women had to have their hair cut off. According to a Nazi document, the hair was to be used for the manufacture of stockings. 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. Shoes, stockings, and anything else of value was recycled for use in products to support the war effort, regardless of whether or not a prisoner was sent to death. Some prisoners were forced to work in the collection and disposal of corpses, and to extract gold teeth from the dead.
Death marches and liberation (1944-1945)
As the armies of the Allies closed in on the Reich at the end of 1944, the Nazis decided to abandon the extermination camps, moving or destroying evidence of the atrocities they had committed there. The Nazis marched prisoners, already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, for tens of miles in the snow to train stations; then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in freight trains with open carriages; and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Prisoners who lagged behind or fell were shot. The largest and most well known of the death marches took place in January 1945, when the Soviet army advanced on Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at the death camp at Auschwitz, the SS guards marched 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzislaw, 56 km (35 mi) away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way. In total, around 100,000 Jews died during these death marches.
In July 1944, the first major Nazi camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets, who eventually liberated Auschwitz in January 1945. In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, the prisoners had already been transported away by death marches, leaving only a few thousand prisoners alive. Concentration camps were also liberated by American and British forces, including Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at the camp, but 10,000 died from disease or malnutrition within a few weeks of liberation.
Resistance and rescuers
Due to the 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 cases of attempts at resistance in one form or another, and over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings.
The largest instance of organized Jewish resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from April to May of 1943, as the final deportation from the Ghetto to the death camps was about to commence, the ZOB and ZZW fighters rose up against the Nazis. Most of the resistors were killed, but the few who did survive the war are currently residing in Israel. There were also other Ghetto Uprisings, though none were successful against the German military.
There were also major resistance efforts in three of the extermination camps. 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 Sobibór extermination camp. This uprising was more successful; 11 SS men and a number of Ukrainian 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.
There were a number of Jewish partisan groups operating in many countries (see Eugenio Calò for the story of a Jewish Italian partisan). Also, Jewish volunteers from the Palestinian Mandate, most famously Hannah Szenes, parachuted into Europe in a failed attempt to organize resistance.
Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany were persecuted between 1933 and 1945. They were scorned by the name Ernste Bibelforscher (Earnest Bible Students) at that time, because Jehovah's Witnesses would not give allegiance to the Nazi party, and refused to serve in the military, they were detained, put in concentration camps, or imprisoned during the Holocaust. Unlike Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies, who were persecuted for racial, political and social reasons, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted on religious ideological grounds. The Nazi government gave detained Jehovah's Witnesses the option: if they were to renounce their faith, submit to the state authority, and support the German military, they would be free to leave prison or the camps. Approximately 12,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps where they were forced to wear a purple triangle that specifically identified them as Jehovah's Witnesses. In the end, about 2,000 of their members who were incarcerated perished under the Nazi system. All lost their employment. Dr. Detlef Garbe Historian and director at the Neuengamme (Hamburg) Memorial stated: "Taking everything into consideration, it has been established that no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."
In three cases, entire countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population. King Christian X of Denmark and his subjects saved the lives of most of the 7,500 Danish Jews by spiriting them to safety in Sweden via fishing boats in October 1943. See Rescue of the Danish Jews.
Moreover, the Danish government continued to work to protect the few Danish Jews captured by the Nazis. When the Jews returned home at war's end, they found their houses and possessions waiting for them, exactly as they left them. In the second case, the Nazi-allied government of Bulgaria, led by Bogdan Filov, did not deport its 50,000 Jewish citizens, after yielding to pressure from the parliament deputy speaker Dimitar Peshev and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, saving them as well, though Bulgaria did not prevent Germany from deporting Jews to concentration camps from areas in occupied Greece and Macedonia. The government of Finland refused repeated requests from Germany to deport its Finnish Jews to Germany. German requirements for the deportation of Jewish refugees from Norway was largely refused. In Rome, some 4,000 Italian Jews and prisoners of war avoided deportation. Many of these were hidden in safe houses and evacuated from Italy by a resistance group that was organised by an Irish priest, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty of the Holy Office. Once a Vatican ambassador to Egypt, O' Flaherty used his political connections to great effect in helping to secure sanctuary for dispossessed Jews.
Another example of someone who assisted Jews during the Holocaust is Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes. It was in clear disrespect of the Portuguese state hierarchy that Sousa Mendes issued about 30,000 visas to Jews and other persecuted minorities from Europe. He saved an enormous number of lives, but risked his career for it. In 1941, Portuguese dictator Salazar lost political trust in Sousa Mendes and forced the diplomat to quit his career. He died in poverty in 1954.
In April, 1943, a few members of the Belgian resistance stopped the Twentieth convoy train to Auschwitz, and freed 231 people (115 of whom escaped the Holocaust).
Some towns and churches also helped hide Jews and protect others from the Holocaust, such as the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which sheltered several thousand Jews. Similar individual and family acts of rescue were repeated throughout Europe, as illustrated in the famous cases of Anne Frank, often at great risk to the rescuers. In a few cases, individual diplomats and people of influence, such as Oskar Schindler or Nicholas Winton, protected large numbers of Jews. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the Italian Giorgio Perlasca, Chinese diplomat Ho Feng Shan and others saved tens of thousands of Jews with fake diplomatic passes. Chiune Sugihara saved several thousands of Jews by issuing them with Japanese visas against the will of his Nazi-aligned government.
There were also groups, like members of the Polish Zegota organization, that took drastic and dangerous steps to rescue Jews and other potential victims from the Nazis. Witold Pilecki, member of Armia Krajowa (the Polish Home Army), organized a resistance movement in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940, and Jan Karski tried to spread word of the Holocaust.
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
Perpetrators and collaborators
Who was directly involved in the mass murder?
A wide range of German soldiers, officials, and civilians were in some way involved in the Holocaust, from clerks and officials in the government to units of the army, the police, and the SS. Many ministries, including those of armaments, interior, justice, railroads, and foreign affairs, had substantial roles in orchestrating the Holocaust; similarly, German physicians participated in medical experiments and the T-4 euthanasia program. And, though there was no single military unit in charge of the Holocaust, the SS under Himmler was the closest. From the SS came the Totenkopfverbände concentration camp guards, the Einsatzgruppen killing squads, and many of the administrative offices behind the Holocaust. The Wehrmacht, or regular German army, participated directly far less than the SS in the Holocaust (though it did directly take part in the massacre of some Jews in Russia, Serbia, Poland, and Greece), but it supported the Einsatzgruppen, helped form the ghettos, ran prison camps, occasionally provided concentration camp guards, transported prisoners to camps, had experiments performed on prisoners, and substantially used slave labor.
German police units, all under the control of the Nazis during the war, also directly participated in the Holocaust; for example, Reserve Police Battalion 101, in just over a year, shot 38,000 Jews and deported 45,000 more to the extermination camps. Even private firms helped in the machinery of the Holocaust. Nazi bankers at the Paris branch of Barclays Bank volunteered the names of their Jewish employees to Nazi authorities, and many of them ended up in the death camps.
Bulgaria, mainly through the influence of the Bulgarian East Orthodox Church, saved all of its own Jewish population from deportation and certain death. However, although civil and military administration for parts of Northern Greece and Macedonia had been turned over to Bulgaria by Germany, Bulgaria did not prevent the deportation by German authorities of the Jews from those territories to the concentration camps, after the personal intervention of Haj Iman Al-Husseni Mufti of Jerusalem.
In Fascist Italy, a law from 1938 restricted civil liberties of Jews. This effectively reduced the country's Jews to second-class status, though Mussolini never made it official policy to deport Jews to concentration camps. After the fall of Mussolini and his creation, the Italian Social Republic, 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 2,000 to 5,000 people were killed in San Sabba, only a few of whom were Jews.
The Romanian Antonescu regime was responsible for the deaths of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews. An official report released by the Romanian government concluded:
In cooperation with German Einsatzgruppen and Ukrainian auxiliaries, Romanians killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria. Some of the larger massacres included 54,000 Jews killed in Bogdanovka, a Romanian concentration camp along the Bug River in Transnistria, between 21 and 31 December 1941. Nearly 100,000 Jews were killed in occupied Odessa and over 10,000 were killed in the Iasi pogrom. The Romanians also massacred Jews in the Domanevka and Akhmetchetka concentration camps.
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. However Horthy resisted German demands for mass deportation of Hungarian Jews (pop. 725,000}}), and most survived until March 1944 when Nazis occupied Hungary. By the end of June 1944, half of the Jews in Hungary (381,661) arrived at Auschwitz. In October 1944, Nazis seized control of the Hungarian puppet government, then resumed deporting Jews, which had temporarily ceased due to international political pressure to stop Jewish persecutions. The Horthy regime was replaced by the Arrow Cross Party led by Ferenc Szálasi. At this late date in the war, with German defeat appearing very likely, Hungarian police nevertheless participated fully with SS in the roundup of 437,000 Jews for deportation to the extermination camps. Moreover, 20,000 Budapest Jews were shot by the banks of the Danube by Hungarian forces under the direct orders of The Arrow Cross, the Hungarian version of the German Nazi Party. 70,000 Jews were forced on a death march to Austria-thousands were shot and thousands more died of starvation and exposure.
Tiso regime deported approximately 70,000 Jews, of whom 65,000 were killed.
European occupied countries
In addition to the direct involvement of Nazi forces, the collaborationist governments of occupied European countries helped 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 France, Philippe Pétain, who became premier after Paris had fallen to the German Army, arranged the surrender to Germany. He then became the head of the Vichy government, which collaborated with Nazism, claiming that it would soften the hardships of occupation. Opposition to the German occupation of northern France and the collaborationist Vichy government was left to the French Resistance within France and the Free French Forces led by Charles de Gaulle outside of France. The police, the Milice ("militia", which worked as the Gestapo's aid), as well as members of Jacques Doriot's Parti Populaire Français (PPF) rounded up 75,000 Jews for deportation to concentration camps. The Vichy regime attracted all of the far-right counterrevolutionary sectors of French society, monarchists and other pseudo-fascist movements. La Cagoule, a terrorist group and Eugène Schueller, the founder of L'Oréal, are examples of such groups. Antisemitism, as the Dreyfus Affair had shown at the end of the 19th century, was widespread in France, especially among anti-republican sympathizers. The Vichy government eagerly participated in the Holocaust, for example with the July 16, 1942 rafle du Vel'd'Hiv, in which 12,884 Jews were arrested, including 4,051 children which the German authorities had not asked for. They were all sent to Drancy transit camp anyway.
Klaus Barbie, "the Butcher of Lyon", captured and deported 44 Jewish children hidden in the village of Izieu, killed Resistance leader Jean Moulin and was in total responsible for the deportation of 7,500 people, 4,342 murders, and the arrest and torture of 14,311 resistance fighters were in some way attributed to his actions or commands.
Maurice Papon was the number two official in the Bordeaux region and supervisor of its "Service for Jewish Questions". In 1997, following revelations from Le Canard Enchaîné newspaper, he was finally charged with complicity of crimes against humanity. Papon was accused of ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,560 Jews, including children and the elderly, between 1942 and 1944; most of his victims were sent to Auschwitz. As during Adolf Eichmann's trial, one of the main issue was to determine to what extent an individual should be held responsible in a chain of responsibility. In 1998, he was given a ten-year prison term. However, he was released on grounds of poor health in 2002. Many people thought both the relatively light sentence and his release were scandalous, especially when it was known to all that following the war, Papon went on to enjoy a civil service career, which led him to be the chief of the Paris police, held by historian Luc Einaudi as being directly responsible for the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian War (1954-62); Papon even became budget minister of president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s. He was finally arrested because of the Canard Enchaîné 's revelations, which themselves followed a fiscal control ordered by Papon with the aim of intimidating the satirical newspaper.
The Croatian Ustae regime killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs (estimates vary widely, but by all sources more than 330,000-390,000, and possibly well over a million), over 20,000 Jews and 26,000 Roma, primarily in the Ustase's Jasenovac concentration camp near Zagreb. The Ustase also deported 7,000 more Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Croats were also victims of the Nazi regime and those who opposed it ended in concentration camps. Many Croats risked their lives during the Holocaust in order to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis (Croatian Righteous Among the Nations).
Serbia was set up as a Nazi puppet state under Serbian army general Milan Nedic, which was known as Nedic's Serbia. The internal affairs of the Serbian puppet state were moderated by German racial laws, that were introduced in all occupied territories with immediate effects on Jews, Roma people, as well as imprisonment of left oriented persons. The two major concentration camps in Serbia were: Sajmite and Banjica. Of 40,000 Serbian Jews around one half lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps both in Serbia and German Reich, where most of the captured Serbian Jews were transferred. Under Nedic, Belgrade was declared to be Judenfrei in 1942. Serbs were also victims of the Nazi regime, and most of the victims in Banjica were Serbian. Nazis had a policy of killing 100 Serbs for each killed German soldier and 50 killed Serbs for each wounded, resulting in widespread taking of hostages and executions such as Kragujevac massacre. Despite these represive measures, Serbs rebelled, and most Serbs saw Jews as their fellow victims in World War II, dying together in Nazi represion and Genocide in Sajmite, Banjica and Jasenovac. Legends about Serbs saving the Jews in WWII are widespread in Serbia, and 152 Serbs have been honored as righteous Gentiles.
The Jews of Greece mainly lived in the area around Thessaloniki, where there had been occasional conflicts between Jews and Greeks. In Thessaloniki, from 1927 until 1935, there was a minor anti-Semitic nationalist party called National Union of Greece (Ethniki Enosis Ellados, EEE), which was revived by Nazi authorities in the city. Members of the EEE assisted occupying forces to identify Jews and collaborated on the deportation of local Jews with remarkable efficiency, either for ethnic hatred or for more prosaic reasons such as obtaining profits. By the time of the German withdrawal from Greece in 1944, nearly 90% of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki had been annihilated.
Athenian Jews, on the other hand, went through a different experience. They were a minor part of the city's population and in the city there had not been an anti-Semitic atmosphere, and most Jews eluded deportation by either being helped by Greeks into hiding or joining the Greek Resistance in the mountains. This, however, did not exempt Athenian Jews from organized crime against them. Just like the Nazi authorities had restored the EEE in Thessaloniki, in Athens the German occupation authorities created the ESPO (Ethniko-Socialistike Patriotike Organosis), whose members attacked or assisted Germans to locate local Jews. The ESPO's most notorious action was the ransacking the synagogue on Melidoni Street, Athens. Other ESPO members were recruited as guards in the Haïdari internment camp, just outside Athens.
In any case, the three quisling governments headed by Georgios Tsolakoglou, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos and Ioannis Rallis to different extents were unable to stop (or participated) in the deportation or prosecution of Greek Jews. Rallis, for instance, was known to hold the point of view that the houses left by deported Jews in Thessaloniki would be very welcome for the Greek Pontian refugees who came to Greece after the 1922 Asia Minor catastrophe.
German-occupied Soviet territories
In the German-occupied Soviet territories, local Nazi collaborationist units represented over 80% of the available German forces providing a total of nearly 450,000 personnel organised in so-called "Schutzmannschaften" formations. Practically all of these units participated in the round-ups and mass-shootings. The overwhelming majority were recruited in the western Ukraine and the Baltic region, areas recently occupied by the Soviets for which the Jews were typically scapegoated, which exacerbated pre-Nazi anti-Semitic attitudes. Thus, for instance, 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. Nazi 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.
After Norway was invaded, the Nazis took control of the government and the true government went into exile. Power was given to the German Reichskommisioner Josef Terboven and the Norwegian Fascist leader Vidkun Quisling. Quisling had attempted to establish himself as the leader of occupied Norway, but the Nazis only used him as leader of a puppet government. The Nazis, as well as some Norwegian police units, rounded up 750 Jews. However, the Nazis and their collaborators were very unpopular in Norway, causing a strong resistance movement, so the German government's aims for Norway were never fulfilled. Many Jews and other people were saved by the actions of Norwegians, including Norwegian police. Still, detailed lists of Jews (and assumingly most other persons as well) existed at the time of the occupation. This caused the rounding-up of Jews in Norway to be much more efficient than in similar countries (like Denmark). Quisling and other Norwegians, who collaborated with the Nazis, were executed as traitors after the war.
Also, 245 Sinti and Roma were deported to the Nazi extermination camps, of whom 190 were murdered.
Some Lithuanian and Latvian auxiliary military units (Schutzmannschaft) with Nazi Einsatzgruppen detachments participated in the extermination of the Jewish population in their countries, as well as assisting the Nazis elsewhere, such as deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto. The Arajs Commando, a Latvian volunteer police unit, for example, shot 26,000 Latvian Jews, at various locations after they had been brutally rounded-up for this purpose by the regular police and auxiliaries, and was responsible for assisting in the killing of 60,000 more Jews.
About 75% of Estonia's Jewish community, aware of the fate that otherwise awaited them, managed to escape to the Soviet Union; virtually all the remainder (between 950 and 1,000 people) were killed by Einsatzgruppe A and local collaborators before the end of 1941.
Of the 140,000 Dutch Jews, the German occupiers deported about 107,000 of which 101,800 were murdered. This death toll of 73% is the highest in Western Europe. Reasons that have been suggested to explain this phenomenon are: the occupation regime in the Netherlands was formed by fanatic Austrian Nazis; the degree of efficiency and the high level of administrative organization of the pre-war Dutch civilian administration; the typical Dutch landscape without mountains or woods made it practically impossible to find shelter; the majority of the Dutch Jews lived in the larger cities and thus they formed relatively easy targets for persecution and segregation; the Jewish leaders chose, "in order to prevent worse", a policy of collaboration with the Nazis; the Dutch pre-war society can be characterized as a conglomerate of different groups, which lived separately from another and this fact made it easy for the Germans to segregate and persecute the Jewish section of society; because the Jews were cut off from public life, they lost almost all of the support that could have been provided by other groups in society; active assistance by Dutch collaborators, such as the Henneicke Column group that hunted and "delivered" 8,000 to 9,000 Jews for deportation. All of these circumstances made it relatively easy for the SS, regularly aided by Dutch police officers, to round up the Jewish population.
Who authorized the killings?
Hitler authorized the mass killing of those labelled by the Nazis as "undesirables" in the T-4 Euthanasia Program. Hitler encouraged the killings of the Jews of Eastern Europe by the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a speech in July, 1941, though he almost certainly approved the mass shootings earlier. A mass of evidence suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on the complete mass extermination of the Jews of Europe by gassing, with Hitler explicitly ordering the "annihilation of the Jews" in a speech on December 12, 1941 (see Final Solution). 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 Jew" to his closest associates. However despite many years of investigating the documentation the third reich were so thorough in producing, there has never been any written proof that any order was given by Hitler at this or any other meeting or conference.
Arguments that no documentation links Hitler to "the Holocaust" ignore the records of his speeches kept by Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels and 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?
Some claim that the full extent of what was happening in German-controlled areas was not known until after the war. However, even though Hitler did not talk about the camps in public, numerous rumors and eyewitness accounts from escapees and others gave 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. By early 1941, the British had received information via an intercepted Chilean memo that Jews were being targeted, and by late 1941 they had intercepted information about a number of large massacres of Jews conducted by German police. In an entry in the Friedrich Kellner Diary dated October 28, 1941, the German justice inspector Friedrich Kellner recorded a conversation he had in Laubach with a German soldier who had witnessed a massacre in Poland. Churchill, who was privy to intelligence reports derived from decoded German transmissions, first began mentioning "mass killings" in public at the same time. In the summer of 1942, a Jewish labor organization (the Bund) got word to London that 700,000 Polish Jews had already died, and the BBC took the story seriously, though the United States State Department did not. In the United States, in November of 1942, a telegram from Europe which contained word about Hitler's plans was released by Stephen Wise of the World Jewish Congress, after a long wait for permission from the government. This led to attempts by Jewish organizations to put Roosevelt under pressure to act on behalf of the European Jews, many of whom had tried in vain to enter either Britain or the U.S.
On December 17, 1942, however, after receiving a detailed eyewitness account from Jan Karski, the Allies issued a formal declaration confirming and condemning Nazi extermination policy toward the Jews. The US State Department was aware of the use and the location of the gas chambers of extermination camps, but refused pleas to bomb them out of operation. On May 12, 1943, Polish government-in-exile and Bund leader Szmul Zygielbojm committed suicide in London to protest the inaction of the world with regard to the Holocaust, stating in part in his suicide letter:
The death camps were discussed between American and British leaders at the Bermuda Conference in April of 1943. The large camps near Auschwitz were finally surveyed by plane in April of 1944, many months after the German air force ceased to be a serious danger. While all important German cities and production centers were bombed by Allied forces until the end of the war, no attempt was made to collapse the system of mass annihilation by destroying pertinent structures or train tracks, even though Churchill was a proponent of bombing parts of the Auschwitz complex. Throughout the war, Britain also pressed European leaders to prevent "illegal" Jewish immigration and sent ships to block the sea-route to Palestine (from which Britain withdrew in 1948), turning back many refugees.
Debate also continues on how much average Germans knew about the Holocaust. Recent historical work suggests that the majority of Germans knew that Jews were being indiscriminately killed and persecuted, even if they did not know of the specifics of the death camps. Robert Gellately, a historian at Oxford University, conducted a widely-respected survey of the German media before and during the war, concluding that there was "substantial consent and active participation of large numbers of ordinary Germans" in aspects of the Holocaust, and documenting that the sight of columns of slave laborers were common, and that the basics of the concentration camps, if not the extermination camps, were widely known
Historical and philosophical interpretations
The Holocaust and the historical phenomenon of Nazism, which has since become the dark symbol of the 20th century's crimes, is the subject of numerous historical, psychological, sociological, literary, and philosophical studies. All types of scholars have tried to give an answer to what appears as the most irrational act of the Western World, which, until at least World War I, had been so sure of its eminent superiority to other civilizations. Frankfurt school philosopher Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer thus began the Dialectic of Enlightenment:
Theodor Adorno went as far as ceasing to work as a composer, declaring: "writing any more poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" (Nach Ausschwitz noch ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch). Thus, Auschwitz became the metonymic name for the Holocaust and the Nazi barbarity. Although Adorno later retracted this statement, declaring that "Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as the tortured have to scream...", the concepts of civilization and of progress themselves were severely called into question, and in a much greater manner than had happened due to World War I's massive killings. Germany, which was considered one of the most enlightened European countries, radiant with literature and philosophy (Goethe, Hegel, etc.), art (Bach, Bauhaus, etc.), and which had quickly followed in Great Britain's and France's steps during the competition induced during the New Imperialism period (starting in 1860s), had made itself guilty of one of the biggest crimes against humanity ever committed. Thus, the juridical concept of crimes against humanity was created to qualify what could not be qualified. It was left to literature, such as Primo Levi's If This Is a Man (1947) or Robert Antelme's The Human Race (1947) to describe what poetry, according to Adorno, could not describe.
Thus, until this day, many different people have tried to explain what many deemed unexplainable due to its horror. One important philosophical question, addressed as early as 1933 by Wilhelm Reich in Mass Psychology of Fascism, was the mystery of the obedience of the German people to such an "insane" operation. Hannah Arendt, in her 1963 report on Adolf Eichmann, presented him as a symbol of dull obedience to authority in what was at first seen as a scandalous book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), which has since become a classic of political philosophy. Thus, Arendt opposed herself to the first, immediate, explanation, which accused the Nazis of "cruelty" and of "sadism". Later, the historians' debate concerning functionalism and intentionalism also demonstrated that the question could not be simplified to a question of cruelty. Many people who participated in the Holocaust were normal people, according to Arendt, and that is the real scandal. This led Stanley Milgram's to conduct psychological experiences on obedience, opening up the way to understanding the psychological experiences of "authority" and charisma. The question of charisma was renewed by Gustave Le Bon's 19th century studies about crowd psychology. Thus, his work acquired new force, although Hitler himself had been inspired by Le Bon's description of propaganda techniques to write Mein Kampf. Furthermore, Hannah Arendt and some authors such as Sven Lindqvist and Olivier LeCour Grandmaison tried to point toward a relative continuity between the crimes committed against "primitive" people during colonialism and the Holocaust. They most notably argued that many techniques that the Nazis industrialized had been experimented on in other continents, starting with the concentration camps invented during the Second Boer War if not before. This thesis was met with fierce opposition by some groups who argued that nothing could be compared to the Holocaust, not even other genocides: although the Herero Genocide (1904-07) and the Armenian Genocide (1915-17) are commonly considered as the first genocides in history, many argued that the Holocaust had taken proportions that even these crimes against humanity had not achieved.
The Holocaust was indeed characterized by an industrial project of extermination; compared to it, other genocides seemed to lack "professionalism". This led authors such as Enzo Traverso to argue in The Origins of Nazi Violence that Auschwitz was "an authentic product of Western civilization". Beginning his book with a description of the guillotine, which according to him marks the entry of the Industrial Revolution into capital punishment, and writes: "Through an irony of history, the theories of Frederick Taylor" (taylorism) were applied by a totalitarian system to serve "not production, but extermination." (see also Heidegger's comments). In the wake of Hannah Arendt, Traverso describes the colonial domination during the New Imperialism period through "rational organization", which lead in a number of cases to extermination. However, this argument, which insists on the industrialization and technical rationality through which the Holocaust itself was carried out (the organization of trains, technical details, etc. - see Adolf Eichmann's bureaucratic work), was in turn opposed by other people. These point out that the 1994 Rwandan Genocide only used machetes.
Others have presented the Holocaust as a product of German history, analyzing its deep roots in German society: "German authoritarianism, feeble liberalism, brash nationalism or virulent anti-Semitism. From A. J. P. Taylor's The Course of German History fifty-five years ago to Daniel Goldhagen's recent Hitler's Willing Executioners, Nazism is understood as the outcome of a long history of uniquely German traits", writes Russell Jacoby. Furthermore, while many pointed out that the specificity of the Holocaust was also rooted in the constant Antisemitism from which Jews had been the target since the foundation of Christianity (and the myth of the "deicide people"), others underlined that in the 19th century, pseudo-scientific racist theories had been elaborated in order to justify, in a general way, white supremacy. In his works on "biopolitics", philosopher Michel Foucault also traced the origins of "state racism" to the eugenicist policies invented during the 19th century (it is one of the few praise that Foucault accorded to Freud's psychoanalysis, that he adamantly opposed himself to such a project of "racial hygiene").
Why did people participate in, authorize, or tacitly accept the killing?
Stanley Milgram was one of a number of post-war psychologists and sociologists who tried to address why people obeyed immoral orders in the Holocaust. Milgram's findings demonstrated that reasonable people, when instructed by a person in a position of authority, obeyed commands entailing what they believed to be the death or suffering of others. These results were confirmed in other experiments as well, such as the Stanford prison experiment. In his book Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), Wilhelm Reich also tried to explain this obedience. The work became known as the foundation of Freudo-Marxism. Nobel prize winner Elias Canetti also addressed the problem of mass obedience in Masse und Macht (1960 - "Crowds and Power"), developing an original theory of the consequences of commandments orders both in the obedient person and in the commander, who may well become a "despotic paranoiac". Two recent "experiments", one called The Third Wave and one conducted by Jane Elliott, tried answer the question of: "How can a people be a part of something terrible and then claim at the demise that they were not really involved?"
The Holocaust is a clear example of two factors at work. One is described by the "boiling frog" theory, which says that an enormous change will not be noticed if it occurs in gradual steps. The other factor is the primal and powerful mechanism of herding, which has its home in the limbic system and ensures that individuals conform to the group. This mechanism has evolved through natural selection to ensure that human groups survive. Together, these factors make conforming to the group a stronger impulse than breaking out, even if the individual does not agree with what the group is doing. So long as the gradual changes in group behaviour are small, herding can eventually take the group towards a state that is far removed from past behavior and is more and more extreme. Thus, participants in the Holocaust may have privately felt horror or disgust at what they were ordered to do but stayed in line with the group. These effects have been exploited many times in history by demagogues and revolutionaries; they are also seen in bullying.
Studies of mass psychology, kick-started by Carl Jung but currently being developed under various labels, suggest that the causal mechanism for crowd behaviour is the reverse of what is commonly believed. The socionomic perspective says that, rather than persecution making people fearful and downtrodden, fearful and downtrodden people look for someone to persecute.
The Jungian-socionomic analysis says that after the humiliation of World War I, the economic ruin of the Weimar Republic, being forced to pay war reparations and the Great Depression, it was natural for the German people to become angry and look for someone on whom to vent their anger; herding behaviour amplifed this anger and the Holocaust was the result.
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 Dawidowicz argue that the Holocaust was planned by Hitler from the very beginning of his political career, at very least from 1919 on, if not earlier. Later, Dawidowicz was to date the decision for Genocide back to November 11, 1918. Other Intentionalists like Andreas Hillgruber, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Gerhard Weinberg and Klaus Hildebrand suggested that Hitler had decided upon the Holocaust sometime in the early 1920s. More recent intentionalist historians like Eberhard Jäckel continue to emphasize the relative earliness of the decision to kill the Jews, although they are not willing to claim that Hitler planned the Holocaust from the beginning. Saul Friedländer has argued that Hitler was an extreme anti-Semite from 1919 on, but he did not decide upon Genocide until the middle of 1941. 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, Götz Aly, Raul Hilberg 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 repeatedly states his inexorable hatred of the Jewish people, but nowhere 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. Adolf Eichmann was in charge of facilitating Jewish emigration by whatever means possible from 1937 until October 3, 1941, when German Jews were forbidden to leave, Reinhard Heydrich issuing an order to that effect. 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 in May 1939 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 gigantic "Jewish Reservation" in the Lublin, Poland area, but the so-called "Lublin Plan" was vetoed by Hans Frank, the Governor-General of occupied Poland who refused to allow the SS to ship any more Jews to the Lublin area after November, 1939. The reason why Frank vetoed the "Lublin Plan" was not due to any humane motives, but rather because he was opposed to the SS "dumping" Jews into the Government-General. In 1940, the SS and the German Foreign Office had the so-called "Madagascar Plan" to deport the entire Jewish population of Europe to a "reservation" on Madagascar. The "Madagascar Plan" was cancelled because Germany could not defeat the United Kingdom 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 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 an effort to meet Hitler's perceived wishes.
Another controversy was started by the sociologist 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 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.
Religious hatred and racism
The German Nazis considered their duty to overcome natural compassion and execute orders for what they believed to be higher ideals. Much research has been done to explain how ordinary people could have participated in such heinous crimes, but there is no doubt that, like in some religious conflicts in the past, some people poisoned with racial and religious ideology of hatred committed the crimes with sadistic pleasure. Crowd psychology has attempted to explain such heinous acts, although Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) was also a major influence of Mein Kampf, in particular relating to the propaganda techniques described in it. Sadistic acts were perhaps most notable in the case of the Genocide committed by members of the Ustae, whose enthusiasm and sadism in their killings of Serbs appalled Germans, Italians, and even German SS officers, who even acted to restrain the Ustashe. However, concentration camp literature, such as the one written by Primo Levi or Robert Antelme, described numerous individual sadistic acts, including ones committed by Kapos.
Martin Luther (a German leader of the Protestant Reformation) made a specific written call for harsh persecution of the Jewish people, including that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, prayerbooks destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. Luther argued that Jews should be shown no mercy or kindness, should have no legal protection, and that these "poisonous envenomed worms" should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. "Martin Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies" American historian Lucy Dawidowicz, concluded that the line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Luther to Hitler is "easy to draw," in her book "The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945". Adolf Hitler wrote of his admiration of Martin Luther in Mein Kampf "Mein Kampf".
Some authors, such as liberal philosopher Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist or French historian Olivier LeCour Grandmaison have also linked the Holocaust to colonialism. They argue that techniques put in place during the New Imperialism period (first of all, concentration camps during the Boer War), as well as the pseudo-scientific theories elaborated during this period (e.g. Arthur de Gobineau's 1853 Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races) had been fundamental in preparing the conditions of possibility of the Holocaust. Others authors have adamantly opposed these views, on behalf of the "unicity" of the Holocaust, compared to any other type of genocide. Philosopher Michel Foucault also traced the origins of the Holocaust and of "racial policies" to what he called "state racism", which is a part of "biopolitics".
Finally, many have pointed the ancient roots of Antisemitism, which has been present in the Western world since the foundation of Christianity. These sentiments were not different in pre-war Germany than elsewhere, but the Nazis were the first political party to organize, promote, and officialize antisemitism, while withdrawing legal protection from Jews. Modern ecumenism efforts, in particular by the Roman Chatholic Church who asked pardon to the Jews, are being done in order to avoid any repetition of such acts.
Until recently, Germany refused to allow access to massive Holocaust-related archives located in Bad Arolsen due to, among other factors, privacy concerns. However, in May 2006, a 20-year effort by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum led to the announcement that 30-50 million pages would be made accessible to historians and survivors
Displaced Persons and the 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 original plan of the Allies was to repatriate these "Displaced Persons" to their country of origin, but many refused to return, or were unable to as their homes or communities had been destroyed. As a result, more than 250,000 languished in DP camps for years after the war ended.
While Zionism had been prominent before the Holocaust, afterwards it became almost universally accepted among Jews. 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. With the rise of Zionism, Palestine became the destination of choice for Jewish refugees, but local Arabs opposed the immigration, the United Kingdom refused to allow Jewish refugees into the Mandate, and many countries in the Soviet Bloc made any emigration illegal. Former Jewish partisans in Europe, along with the Haganah in Palestine, organized a massive effort to smuggle Jews into Palestine, called Berihah, which eventually transported 250,000 Jews (both DPs and those who hid during the war) to the Mandate. By 1952, the Displaced Persons camps were closed, with over 80,000 Jewish DPs in the United States, about 136,000 in Israel, and another 20,000 in other nations, including Canada and South Africa.
Legal proceedings against Nazis
The juridical notion of crimes against humanity was developed following the Holocaust. The sheer number of people murdered and the transnational nature of the slaughter shattered any notion of national sovereignty taking precedence over international law when prosecuting these crimes. There were a number of legal efforts established to bring Nazis and their collaborators to justice. Some of the higher ranking Nazi officials were tried as part of the Nuremberg Trials, presided over by an Allied court; the first international tribunal of its kind. In total, 5,025 Nazi criminals were convicted between 1945-1949 in the American, British and French zones of Germany . Other trials were conducted in the countries in which the defendants were citizens - in West Germany and Austria, many Nazis were let off with light sentences, with the claim of "following orders" ruled a mitigating circumstance, and many returned to society soon afterwards.
An ongoing effort to pursue Nazis and collaborators resulted, famously, in the capture of Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann in Argentina (an operation led by Rafi Eitan) and to his subsequent trial in Israel in 1961. Simon Wiesenthal became one of the most famous Nazi hunters. Some former Nazis, however, escaped any charges. Thus, Reinhard Gehlen a former intelligence officer of the Wehrmacht, managed to turn around and work for the CIA, and created in 1956 the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German intelligence agency, which he directed until 1968.
Klaus Barbie, known as "the Butcher of Lyon" for his role at the head of the Gestapo, was protected from 1945 to 1955 by the MI-5 and the CIA, before fleeing to South America where he had a hand in Luis García Meza Tejada's 1980 Cocaine Coup in Bolivia. Barbie was finally arrested in 1983 and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in 1987.
In October 2005, Aribert Heim (aka "Doctor Death") was found to be living for twenty years in Spain, protected by ODESSA.
Legal action against genocide
The Holocaust also galvanized the international community to take action against future genocide, including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. While international human rights law moved forward quickly in the wake of the Holocaust, international criminal law has been slower to advance; after the Nuremberg trials and the Japanese war crime trials it was over forty years until the next such international criminal procedures, in 1993 in Yugoslavia. In 2002, the International Criminal Court was set up.
Although the Holocaust is often cited as the canonical example of genocide, none of its perpetrators were tried for that crime, as the crime of Genocide had not been established at that stage. The first-ever convictions for Genocide under the 1948 Convention were handed down on September 2, 1998, when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of a small town in Rwanda, guilty of nine counts of Genocide committed during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. No state has as yet been convicted of genocide. Only one inter-state case has so far been brought before the International Court of Justice, that of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, which has yet to be resolved .
As of 2005, of the nearly 400,000 Holocaust survivors residing in Israel, 40% live below the poverty line, increasing significantly since 1999 and resulting in heated and dramatic protests on the part of survivors against the Israeli government and related agencies. The average rate of cancer among survivors is nearly two and a half times that of the national average. The average cases of colon cancer among survivors are nine times higher than the national average, which is attributed to the conditions of starvation experienced by survivors as well as extreme stress.
Impact on culture
On account of the magnitude of the Holocaust, many theologians have re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions in the world. Some believers and former believers question whether people can still have any faith in God after the Holocaust, and some of the theological responses to these questions are explored in Holocaust theology. In it orthodox Jews state their reasons for why they believe the Holocaust happened and, to a more extreme degree, why they felt the Jews of Europe deserved to die.
Art and literature
German philosopher Theodor Adorno famously commented that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," and the Holocaust has indeed had a profound impact on art and literature, for both Jews and non-Jews. Some of the more famous works are by Holocaust survivors or victims, such as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl and Anne Frank, but there is a substantial body of literature and art in many languages. Indeed, Paul Celan wrote his poem Todesfuge as a direct response to Adorno's dictum.
The Holocaust has also been the subject of many films, including Oscar winners Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful. With the aging population of Holocaust survivors, there has been increasing attention in recent years to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. The result has included extensive efforts to document their stories, including the Survivors of the Shoah project and Four Seasons Documentary, as well as institutions devoted to memorializing and studying the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem in Israel and the US Holocaust Museum.
After World War II, the blue forget-me-not flower was used again as a masonic emblem at the 1948, first Annual Convention of the United Grand Lodges of Germany, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons. The badge is now worn in the coat lapel by freemasons around the world to remember all those that have suffered in the name of Freemasonry, and specifically those during the Nazi era.
Holocaust Memorial Days
In a unanimous vote, the United Nations General Assembly voted on November 1, 2005, to designate January 27 as the "International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust." January 27, 1945 is the day that the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. Even before the UN vote, January 27 was already observed as Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom since 2001, as well as other countries, including Sweden, Italy, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Estonia. Israel observes Yom HaShoah vea hagvora, the "Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the courage of the Jewish people ," on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which generally falls in April. This memorial day is also commonly observed by Jews outside of Israel.
Holocaust denial is the belief or assertion that the Holocaust did not occur, or that far fewer than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis; that there never was a centrally planned attempt to exterminate the Jews; or that there were no mass killings at the extermination camps. Those who hold this position often claim that Jews or Zionists know that the Holocaust did not occur and are engaged in a conspiracy to further their political agenda. As the Holocaust is considered by historians to be one of the most documented events in recent history, these views are not accepted as credible, with organizations such as the American Historical Association stating that Holocaust denial is "at best, a form of academic fraud." Public espousal of Holocaust denial is a crime in ten European countries, including France, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Romania, and Germany.
Holocaust deniers often prefer to be called Holocaust "revisionists." Most scholars contend that the term is misleading. Historical revisionism is a mainstream part of the study of history; it is the reexamination of accepted history, with an eye towards updating it. In contrast, negationists may willfully misuse historical records; as Gordon McFee writes: "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." Public Opinion Quarterly summarized that: "No reputable historian questions the reality of the Holocaust, and those promoting Holocaust denial are overwhelmingly anti-Semites and/or neo-Nazis."
Holocaust denial has become popular among Muslim opponents of Israel. The doctoral dissertation of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority since 2005, raised doubts that gas chambers were used for the extermination of Jews and suggested that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was less than a million. Abbas has not espoused this position since his appointment as Palestinian Prime Minister in 2003, and has denied being a Holocaust denier. In late 2005 Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the Holocaust as "the myth of the Jews' massacre." An underlying reason for the increase of this view among Israel critics is that the legitimacy of Israel as a state is seen as associated to the persecution of Jews over the centuries, and more particularly, to the Nazi Holocaust. Therefore, challenging the very existence of the Holocaust would also question the legitimacy of the creation of the State of Israel.
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