Where Did the Holocaust Take Place?

Where Did the Holocaust Take Place?

The Holocaust began in Germany in the 1930s and later expanded to all areas of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two.

The majority of killings occurred after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union two years into the war, with approximately 6 million European Jews murdered between 1941 and 1945. But the Nazis’ persecution of Jews and other minorities began long before that.

Such persecution was initially confined to Germany. After Hitler was sworn in as the country’s chancellor in January 1933, he immediately set about implementing policies that targeted Jews and other minority groups.

Laurence Rees has spent twenty-five years meeting survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust. In this podcast, he reveals to Dan what he has discovered and how it has led him to create the first accessible and authoritative account of the Holocaust in more than three decades.

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A focus on Poland

The camps were usually set up close to areas with large populations of so-called “undesirables”, primarily Jews, but also Communists, Roma and other minority groups. Most of the camps were established in Poland, however; not only was Poland itself home to millions of Jews, but its geographical location meant that Jews from Germany could also be easily transported there.

A distinction is generally drawn today between these concentration camps and the killing centres or extermination camps that would be established later in the war, where the sole goal was the efficient mass murder of Jews.

But these concentration camps were still death camps, with many prisoners dying due to starvation, disease, maltreatment or exhaustion from forced labour. Other prisoners were executed after being deemed unfit for labour, while some were killed during medical experiments.

The Nazis’ invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 also marked a turning point in the Holocaust. The concept of certain actions being taboo was thrown out the window with women and children killed and death squads sent out to commit massacre after massacre of Jews in the streets.

Gross-Rosen concentration camp was a Nazi German network of Nazi concentration camps built and operated during World War 2.

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The “Final Solution”

The event seen by some as marking the start of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” — a plan to kill all Jews within reach — took place in the previously Soviet-controlled Polish city of Białystok, when one of these death squads sets fire to the Great Synagogue while hundreds of Jewish men are locked inside.

Following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis also increased the number of prisoner of war camps. The Soviet Union’s Bolsheviks had been conflated with Jews in the Nazi narrative and the Soviet POWs were shown little mercy.

At the end of 1941, the Nazis moved towards establishing killing centres in order to facilitate their Final Solution plan. Six such centres were set up in present-day Poland, while another two were set up in present-day Belarus and Serbia. Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were deported to these camps to be killed in either gas chambers or gas vans.

The Holocaust and World War II: Key Dates

The mass murder of Europe’s Jews took place in the context of World War II. As German troops invaded and occupied more and more territory in Europe, the Soviet Union, and North Africa , the regime’s racial and antisemitic policies became more radical, moving from persecution to genocide. Explore a timeline of key events during the Holocaust and World War II.

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January 30, 1933
President Hindenburg appoints Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

March 20, 1933
SS opens the Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich.

April 1, 1933
Boycott of Jewish-owned shops and businesses in Germany.

April 7, 1933
Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service.

July 14, 1933
Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases.

March 16, 1935
Germany introduces military conscription.

March 7, 1936
German troops march unopposed into the Rhineland.

August 1, 1936
Summer Olympics begin in Berlin.

March 11-13, 1938
Germany incorporates Austria in the Anschluss (Union).

November 9/10, 1938
Kristallnacht (nationwide pogrom in Germany).

May 13, 1939
The St. Louis sails from Hamburg, Germany.

September 29, 1938
Munich Agreement. Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and France sign the Munich agreement, by which Czechoslovakia must surrender its border regions and defenses (the so-called Sudeten region) to Nazi Germany.

September 17, 1939
The Soviet Union occupies Poland from the east.

October 8, 1939
The Germans establish a ghetto in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland.

April 9, 1940
Germany invades Denmark and Norway.

May 10, 1940
Germany attacks western Europe (France and the Low Countries).

July 10, 1940
Battle of Britain begins.

April 6, 1941
Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece.

July 6, 1941
Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) shoot nearly 3,000 Jews at the Seventh Fort, one of the 19th-century fortifications surrounding Kovno.

August 3, 1941
Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Muenster denounces the “euthanasia” killing program in a public sermon.

September 29-30, 1941
Einsatzgruppen shoot about 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, outside Kiev.

November 7, 1941
Einsatzgruppen round up 13,000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto and kill them in nearby Tuchinki (Tuchinka).

November 30, 1941
Einsatzgruppen shoot at least 11,000 Jews from the Riga ghetto in the Rumbula Forest.

December 6, 1941
Soviet winter counteroffensive.

December 7, 1941:
Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and the United States declares war the next day.

December 8, 1941
The first killing operations begin at Chelmno in occupied Poland.

December 11, 1941
Nazi Germany declares war on the United States.

January 16, 1942
Germans begin the mass deportation of Jews from Lodz to the Chelmno killing center.

January 20, 1942
Wannsee Conference held near Berlin, Germany.

March 27, 1942
Germans begin the deportation of more than 65,000 Jews from Drancy, outside Paris, to the east (primarily to Auschwitz).

June 28, 1942
Germany launches a new offensive towards the city of Stalingrad.

July 15, 1942
Germans begin mass deportations of nearly 100,000 Jews from the occupied Netherlands to the east (primarily to Auschwitz).

July 22, 1942
Germans begin the mass deportation of over 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka killing center.

September 12, 1942
Germans complete the mass deportation of about 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka.

November 23, 1942
Soviet troops counterattack at Stalingrad, trapping the German Sixth Army in the city.

April 19, 1943
Warsaw ghetto uprising begins.

July 5, 1943
Battle of Kursk.

October 1, 1943
Rescue of Jews in Denmark.

November 6, 1943
Soviet troops liberate Kiev.

May 15, 1944
Germans begin the mass deportation of about 440,000 Jews from Hungary.

June 6, 1944
D-Day: Allied forces invade Normandy, France.

June 22, 1944
The Soviets launch an offensive in eastern Belorussia (Belarus).

July 25, 1944
Anglo-American forces break out of Normandy.

August 1, 1944
Warsaw Polish uprising begins.

August 15, 1944
Allied forces land in southern France.

August 25, 1944
Liberation of Paris.

January 12, 1945
Soviet winter offensive.

January 18, 1945
Death march of nearly 60,000 prisoners from the Auschwitz camp system in southern Poland.

January 25, 1945
Death march of nearly 50,000 prisoners from the Stutthof camp system in northern Poland.

January 27, 1945
Soviet troops liberate the Auschwitz camp complex.

March 7, 1945
US troops cross the Rhine River at Remagen.

April 16, 1945
The Soviets launch their final offensive, encircling Berlin.

April 29, 1945
American forces liberate the Dachau concentration camp.

April 30, 1945
Adolf Hitler commits suicide.

May 7, 1945
Germany surrenders to the western Allies.

Adolph Hitler and Nazi Ideology

Adolph Hitler was born to an Austrian family in 1889 and moved to Germany in 1913. He served in the German army during WWI and soon after became heavily involved in German politics. He was attracted to ideas of German-Nationalism, antisemitism, anti-capitalism, and anti-marxism.

Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on from 1933-1945, and Fuhrer from 1934-1945.

Nazi ideology was based on a set of racial ideals which were founded on the “scientific” principles of “Social Darwinism.” This Nazi ideology ranked society through purity of blood, establishing a hierarchy wherein the top were the “purest,” and all others were increasingly polluted through years of race mixing. Utilizing this hierarchical structure, Jews were least ideal and were placed on the bottom, labeled the enemy of the “State.” The Nazis put forth ideas based on centuries-old concepts of antisemitism, including religious and economic forms of discrimination. They connected these historical ideas with contemporary concerns, blaming the Jewish people for German and European societal problems, including Germany’s defeat in WWI.

Remembering the Holocaust

In the midst of World War II, a mass genocide , known as the Holocaust, took place. The lives of millions and millions of innocent people, children and adults, were destroyed through senseless violence orchestrated by Nazi Germany. Their primary goal was to achieve racial “purity” by eradicating anyone not of the Aryan “master race.” The total number of documented casualties surpasses 10 million, but it is estimated that Jews comprised at least half of this figure.

Tikkun Olam co-presidents, Sofia Wagner and Mikhal Ben-Joesph, invited one of the few Holocaust survivors remaining, Simon Chevlin, to share his experience of the Holocaust.

“[Chevlin] never went through a concentration camp, but he did face many hardships during the war,” Wagner said. “He was only 11 when the war broke out, and he lived in a ghetto as well as in the woods. He struggled for many months with little food or water [and] escaped to America [where he] now shares his many stories of running from the Nazis.”

Depressing stories such as Chevlin’s are important to hear not just because we should feel sorry for what they have gone through, but also to prevent our forgetting what was done to millions of innocent people. For this reason, Tikkun Olam has invited Holocaust survivors to share their stories the past eight years.

“We feel it is important for Holocaust speakers such as [Chevlin] to continue to share stories at schools because they lived through an important part of history,” Wagner said. “They have firsthand experience of what we learn about in textbooks, and their stories help us gain a better understanding of it. It’s from their unique perspectives that we, as students, can learn from history and make sure that we don’t allow it to repeat itself.”

After Chevlin’s appearance Friday, his message seemed to be coming through loud and clear. “It is important Holocaust survivors continue to share their stories,” F reshman Elliot Starkman said. “There are so few [survivors] left , and their stories need to be told so that a tragic incident like the Holocaust never happens again. It is important that their story is not forgotten so that future generations understand the horrific events that occurred.”

For Starkman, Chevlin’s story hits especially close to home as his great-grandfather was one of the survivors, but died four years ago. “The fact that he was able to endure such hardships throughout his time, serves as a major inspiration to me to this day,” he said.

Although the stories may be difficult to hear, Friday, Jan 26 served as a wake up call to all attendees. Soon, there will no longer be any survivors left, and it is up to younger generations to continue telling their stories. If the few survivors left such as Simon Chevlin continue to spread their stories and we, students, continue to listen, remember and pass them forward, then the approximate 10 million victims will not have died in vain, but instead pave a pathway to ensure safety for future generations.


In the summer of 1940, there were around 700,000 Jews living in French-ruled territory, of which 400,000 lived in French Algeria, then an integral part of France, and in the two French protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Metropolitan France had a population of about 150,000 Jewish nationals during the Interwar period. [4] In addition, France hosted a large population of foreign Jews who had fled persecutions in Germany. By 1939, the Jewish population had increased to 330,000 due to the refusal of the United States and the United Kingdom to accept any more Jewish refugees following the Évian Conference. After the occupation of Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940, France hosted a new wave of Jewish immigrants and Jewish population peaked at 340,000 individuals. [4]

At the declaration of World War II, French Jews were mobilized into the French military like their compatriots, and as in 1914, a significant number of foreign Jews enlisted in regiments of foreign volunteers. [5] Jewish refugees from Germany were interned as enemy aliens. In general, the Jewish population of France was confident in the ability of France to defend them against the occupiers, but some, particularly from Alsace and the Moselle regions, fled westwards into the unoccupied zone from July 1940. [6]

The armistice of 22 June 1940, signed between the Third Reich and the government of Marshal Philippe Pétain, did not contain any overtly anti-Jewish clauses, but it did indicate that the Germans intended the racial order existent in Germany since 1935 to spread to Metropolitan France and its overseas territories:

  • Article 3 warned that in the regions of France occupied directly by the Germans, the French administration must "by all means facilitate the regulations" relating to the exercise of the rights of the Reich
  • Articles 16 and 19 warned that the French government had to proceed to repatriate refugees from the occupied territory and that "The French government is required to deliver on demand all German nationals designated by the Reich and who are in France, in French possessions, colonies, protectorates and territories under mandate."

Under the terms of the armistice, only part of Metropolitan France was occupied by Germany. From the city of Vichy, the government of Marshal Pétain governed a new French State (l'État français) in southern France and the departments of French Algeria, together with France's overseas territories such as Morocco, Tunisia, Indochina, the Levant, etc. The Vichy regime saw its empire as an integral part of non-occupied France, and its anti-Jewish decrees were immediately implemented there, because of the Vichy vision of the empire as a territorial continuation of metropolitan France [7]

From the Armistice to the invasion of the Zone libre Edit

From the summer of 1940, Otto Abetz, the German ambassador in Paris, organized the expropriation of rich Jewish families. [8] The Vichy regime took the first anti-Jewish measures slightly after the German authorities in the autumn of 1940. On 3 October 1940, Vichy passed the Law on the status of Jews to define who was a Jew, and to issue a list of occupations prohibited to Jews. [9] Article 9 of the law stated that it applied to France's possessions of French Algeria, the colonies, the Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco, and mandates territories. The October 1940 law was prepared by Raphaël Alibert. A 2010 document makes it clear that Pétain personally made the law even more aggressively antisemitic than it initially was, as can be seen by annotations made on the draft in his own hand. [10] The law "embraced the definition of a Jew established in the Nuremberg Laws", [11] deprived the Jews of their civil rights, and fired them from many jobs. The law also forbade Jews from working in certain professions (teachers, journalists, lawyers, etc.) while the law of 4 October 1940 provided authority for the incarceration of foreign Jews in internment camps in southern France such as Gurs. These internees were joined by convoys of Jews deported from regions of France, including 6,500 Jews who had been deported from Alsace-Lorraine during Operation Bürckel.

During Operation Bürckel, Gauleiters Josef Bürckel and Robert Heinrich Wagner oversaw the expulsion of Jews into unoccupied France from their Gaues and the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed in the summer of 1941 to the Reich. [12] Only those Jews in mixed marriages were not expelled. [12] The 6,500 Jews affected by Operation Bürckel were given at most two hours warning on the night of 22–23 October 1940, before being rounded up. The nine trains carrying the deported Jews crossed over into France "without any warning to the French authorities", who were not happy with receiving them. [12] The deportees had not been allowed to take any of their possessions with them, these being confiscated by the German authorities. [12] The German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop treated the ensuing complaints by the Vichy government over the expulsions in a "most dilatory fashion". [12] As a result, the Jews expelled in Operation Bürckel were interned in harsh conditions by the Vichy authorities at the camps in Gurs, Rivesaltes and Les Milles while awaiting a chance to return them to Germany. [12]

The General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, created by the Vichy State in March 1941, supervised the seizure of Jewish assets and organized anti-Jewish propaganda. [13] At the same time, the Germans began compiling registers of Jews in the occupied zone. The Second Statut des Juifs of 2 June 1941 systematized this registration across the country and in Vichy-North Africa. Because the yellow star-of-David badge was not made compulsory in the unoccupied zone, these records would provide the basis for the future round-ups and deportations. In the occupied zone, a German order enforced the wearing of the yellow star for all Jews aged over 6 on 29 May 1942. [14]

In order to more closely control the Jewish community, on 29 November 1941, the Germans created the Union générale des israélites de France (UGIF) in which all Jewish charitable works were subsumed. The Germans were thus able to learn where the local Jews lived. Many of the leaders of the UGIF was also deported, such as René-Raoul Lambert and André Baur. [15]

Drancy camp Edit

The arrests of Jews in France began in 1940 for individuals, and general round ups began in 1941. The first raid (rafle) took place on 14 May 1941. The Jews arrested, all men and foreigners, were interned in the first transit camps at Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande in the Loiret (3,747 men). The second round-up, between July 20–1 August 1941, led to the arrest of 4,232 French and foreign Jews who were taken to Drancy internment camp. [16]

Deportations began on 27 March 1942, when the first convoy left Paris for Auschwitz. [17] Women and children were also targeted, for instance during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup on 16–17 July 1942, in which 13,000 Jews were arrested by the French police. In the occupied zone, the French police were effectively controlled by the German authorities. They carried out the measures ordered by the Germans against Jews, and in 1942, delivered non-French Jews from internment camps to the Germans. [18] They also contributed to the sending of tens of thousands from those camps to extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, via Drancy. [19]

In the unoccupied zone, from August 1942, foreign Jews who had been deported to refugee camps in south-west France, in Gurs, Récébédou, and elsewhere, were again arrested and deported to the occupied zone, from where they were sent to extermination camps in Germany and occupied Poland. [20]

From the invasion of the Zone libre to 1945 Edit

In November 1942, the whole of France came under direct German control, apart from a small sector occupied by Italy. In the Italian zone, Jews were generally spared persecution, until the fall of the Fascist regime in Italy led to the establishment of the German-controlled Italian Social Republic in northern Italy in September 1943. [ citation needed ]

The German authorities took increasing charge of the persecution of Jews, while the Vichy authorities were forced towards a more sensitive approach by public opinion. However, the Milice, a French paramilitary force inspired by Nazi ideology, was heavily involved in rounding up Jews for deportation during this period. The frequency of German convoys increased. The last, from the camp at Drancy, left the Gare de Bobigny on 31 July 1944, just one month before the Liberation of Paris. [21]

In French Algeria, General Henri Giraud and later Charles de Gaulle, the French exile government restored (de jure) French citizenship to Jews on 20 October 1943. [22]

About 75,000 Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps and death camps and 72,500 of them died, [2] but 75% of the approximately 330,000 Jews in metropolitan France in 1939 escaped deportation and survived the Holocaust, which is one of the highest survival rates in Europe. [3] France has the third highest number of citizens who were awarded the Righteous Among the Nations, an award given to "non-Jews who acted according to the most noble principles of humanity by risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust". [23]

For decades the French government declined to apologize for the role of French policemen in the roundup or for any other state complicity. Its argument was that the French Republic had been dismantled when Philippe Pétain instituted a new French State during the war and that the Republic had been re-established when the war was over. It was not for the Republic, therefore, to apologise for events that happened while it had not existed and which had been carried out by a state which it did not recognise. For example, former President François Mitterrand had maintained this position. The claim was more recently reiterated by Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front Party, during the 2017 election campaign. [24] [25]

On 16 July 1995, President Jacques Chirac stated that it was time that France faced up to its past and he acknowledged the role that the state had played in the persecution of Jews and other victims of the German occupation. [24] Those responsible for the roundup, according to Chirac, were "4,500 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders [who] obeyed the demands of the Nazis." [26]

To mark the 70th anniversary of the roundup, President François Hollande gave a speech at a monument to the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup on 22 July 2012. The president recognized that this event was a crime committed "in France, by France," and emphasized that the deportations in which French police participated were offenses committed against French values, principles, and ideals. He continued his speech by remarking on French tolerance towards others. [27]

In July 2017, also in commemoration of the victims of the roundup at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, President Emmanuel Macron denounced his country's role in the Holocaust and the historical revisionism that denied France's responsibility for 1942 roundup and subsequent deportation of 13,000 Jews. "It was indeed France that organised this [roundup]", he said, French police collaborating with the Nazis. "Not a single German took part," he added. Neither Chirac nor Hollande had specifically stated that the Vichy government, in power during WW II, actually represented the French State. [28] Macron on the other hand, made it clear that the Government during the War was indeed the French State. "It is convenient to see the Vichy regime as born of nothingness, returned to nothingness. Yes, it's convenient, but it is false. We cannot build pride upon a lie." [29] [30]

Macron did make a subtle reference to Chirac's 1995 apology when he added, "I say it again here. It was indeed France that organized the roundup, the deportation, and thus, for almost all, death." [31] [32]

Germany remembers 'Holocaust by bullets' in Ukraine

Between 1941 and 1944, German soldiers and police shot and killed more than 1 million Jews in Ukraine. The German government now wants to raise awareness of this chapter in history.

They are sites of horror that many in Germany have even never heard of: Samhorodok, Ljubar, Plyskiv.

In each of these places, more than 500 Jews were executed by the Wehrmacht, SS soldiers and the German police. Hundreds of mass executions were carried out by Nazi death squads in Ukraine.

"The Holocaust by bullets deserves a place in our memory. However, that it is yet to happen," said Uwe Neumärker, director of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The German government now wants to raise awareness of the so-called Holocaust by bullets. This week, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas opened an exhibition in Berlin called "Protecting Memory" to commemorate the murdered Jews, Romas, prisoners of war and the mentally ill in what is nowadays Ukraine.

"Until this day, despite the incomprehensible dimensions of these crimes, we see that this chapter of the Holocaust has received too little attention," said Maas.

The exhibition features places in Ukraine where for decades there has been nothing demarcating sites where mass executions took place. Memorials are now gradually being set up: This can be a stone plaques bearing an inscription or just a group of benches, where people can meet to sit and remember the past.

These are places of remembrance and "symbols of our responsibility, our crimes," as Uwe Neumärker puts it. His foundation has been working with Ukrainian organizations to design the monuments collaboratively.

Living on mass graves

Ukrainian photographer Anna Voitenko has been documenting progress at the new memorials with her camera. She has experienced the transformation of bucolic landscapes into monuments first hand: "Sometimes, the places were so beautiful with blooming meadows and fields, and then you remember what happened there."

She said that conversations with victims' relatives were often traumatic: "Sometimes by the end, everyone would be crying," Voitenko told DW. She recalled a time where she stood alongside a Ukrainian Jew on a wildly overgrown picturesque hilltop. Then she realized they were standing on a mound of bones and skulls . And her companion said to her, "I could have ended up here."

It is important that these monuments are set up, says Voitenko.

"Otherwise people might end up living on gravesites unaware of what happened there."

The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, sees the exhibition and the new monuments as part of a project "explicitly supporting the Ukrainian people."

Melnyk is well aware of the fact that almost every Ukrainian family was affected by the Holocaust: "Every third Jewish citizen who was exterminated by the Nazis lived on the territory of today's Ukraine." As few people in Germany seem to know that, Melnyk sees an "urgent need for action."

Students must learn of the Holocaust in Ukraine

The Ukrainian ambassador also spoke of his son, who went to a German highschool where he learned nothing about the Ukrainian victims of the Nazi regime — something that left him "perplexed and disappointed." Melnyk asked the German foreign minister that appropriate changes be made to German schools' curricula.

He is also calling for a monument to be set up in Berlin to commemorate the Ukranian victims of the Nazi regime.

As a first step, the German Foreign Ministry has pledged close to €2 million ($2.2 million) to support the "Protecting Memory" project and its plans for new monuments, educational programs, and further historical research.

In times of increasing anti-Semitism and the rise of right-wing populists, Maas believes remembering German history is more important than ever.

The exhibition, which will initially be on show at the Foreign Ministry, will then go on tour to educate as many people as possible about the Holocaust in Ukraine.

The twin experiments of the Angel of Death

Whenever new prisoners would come into Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele and his assistants would be posted up at the entrance, waiting and watching. Among the things they were looking for? Twins. According to the BBC, there are records that suggest Mengele experimented on 732 pairs of twins at Auschwitz (although other estimates place the number at around 1,500). Some survived (like those pictured), and many gave testimony later as to what was done to them. and it's pretty horrible.

History says that often, one twin would be used as a control subject, while the other was the subject of experimentation. When the twin who was being experimented on died, the other was killed and they were both autopsied, in the hopes they could unlock new knowledge about nature vs. nurture and genetics.

What kind of experiments? There were some that remembered being given injections that were supposed to change a person's eye color, while others were deliberately infected with various diseases and substances selected for the severe reactions they would cause. Twins would be measured and documented, their reactions — sometimes to things like surgery without anesthetic, and forced sterilizations — would be recorded, all with one goal in mind: to find new ways to advance the development of Hitler's Aryan master race (via The New York Times).

The Holocaust: An Introductory History

The Holocaust (also called Ha-Shoah in Hebrew) refers to the period from January 30, 1933 - when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany - to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe officially ended. During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to progressively harsher persecution that ultimately led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews (1.5 million of these being children) and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry.

The Jews who died were not casualties of the fighting that ravaged Europe during World War II. Rather, they were the victims of Germany&rsquos deliberate and systematic attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe, a plan Hitler called the &ldquoFinal Solution&rdquo (Endlosung).


After its defeat in World War I, Germany was humiliated by the Versailles Treaty, which reduced its prewar territory, drastically reduced its armed forces, demanded the recognition of its guilt for the war, and stipulated it pay reparations to the allied powers. With the German Empire destroyed, a new parliamentary government called the Weimar Republic was formed. The republic suffered from economic instability, which grew worse during the worldwide depression after the New York stock market crash in 1929. Massive inflation followed by very high unemployment heightened existing class and political differences and began to undermine the government.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party, was named chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg after the Nazi party won a significant percentage of the vote in the elections of 1932. The Nazi Party had taken advantage of the political unrest in Germany to gain an electoral foothold. The Nazis incited clashes with the communists and conducted a vicious propaganda campaign against its political opponents &ndash the weak Weimar government and the Jews whom the Nazis blamed for Germany&rsquos ills.

Propaganda: &ldquoThe Jews Are Our Misfortune&rdquo

A major tool of the Nazis&rsquo propaganda assault was the weekly Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer (The Attacker). At the bottom of the front page of each issue, in bold letters, the paper proclaimed, &ldquoThe Jews are our misfortune!&rdquo Der Stürmer also regularly featured cartoons of Jews in which they were caricatured as hooked-nosed and ape-like. The influence of the newspaper was far-reaching: by 1938 about a half million copies were distributed weekly.

Soon after he became chancellor, Hitler called for new elections in an effort to get full control of the Reichstag, the German parliament, for the Nazis. The Nazis used the government apparatus to terrorize the other parties. They arrested their leaders and banned their political meetings. Then, in the midst of the election campaign, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building burned. A Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested for the crime, and he swore he had acted alone. Although many suspected the Nazis were ultimately responsible for the act, the Nazis managed to blame the Communists, thus turning more votes their way.

The fire signaled the demise of German democracy. On the next day, the government, under the pretense of controlling the Communists, abolished individual rights and protections: freedom of the press, assembly, and expression were nullified, as well as the right to privacy. When the elections were held on March 5, the Nazis received nearly 44 percent of the vote, and with 8 percent offered by the Conservatives, won a majority in the government.

The Nazis moved swiftly to consolidate their power into a dictatorship. On March 23, the Enabling Act was passed. It sanctioned Hitler&rsquos dictatorial efforts and legally enabled him to pursue them further. The Nazis marshaled their formidable propaganda machine to silence their critics. They also developed a sophisticated police and military force.

The Sturmabteilung (S.A., Storm Troopers), a grassroots organization, helped Hitler undermine the German democracy. The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police), a force recruited from professional police officers, was given complete freedom to arrest anyone after February 28. The Schutzstaffel (SS, Protection Squad) served as Hitler&rsquos personal bodyguard and eventually controlled the concentration camps and the Gestapo. The Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (S.D., Security Service of the SS) functioned as the Nazis&rsquo intelligence service, uncovering enemies and keeping them under surveillance.

With this police infrastructure in place, opponents of the Nazis were terrorized, beaten, or sent to one of the concentration camps the Germans built to incarcerate them. Dachau, just outside of Munich, was the first such camp built for political prisoners. Dachau&rsquos purpose changed over time and eventually became another brutal concentration camp for Jews.

By the end of 1934 Hitler was in absolute control of Germany, and his campaign against the Jews in full swing. The Nazis claimed the Jews corrupted pure German culture with their &ldquoforeign&rdquo and &ldquomongrel&rdquo influence. They portrayed the Jews as evil and cowardly, and Germans as hardworking, courageous, and honest. The Jews, the Nazis claimed, who were heavily represented in finance, commerce, the press, literature, theater, and the arts, had weakened Germany&rsquos economy and culture. The massive government-supported propaganda machine created a racial anti-Semitism, which was different from the long­standing anti-Semitic tradition of the Christian churches.

The superior race was the &ldquoAryans,&rdquo the Germans. The word Aryan, &ldquoderived from the study of linguistics, which started in the eighteenth century and at some point determined that the Indo-Germanic (also known as Aryan) languages were superior in their structures, variety, and vocabulary to the Semitic languages that had evolved in the Near East. This judgment led to a certain conjecture about the character of the peoples who spoke these languages the conclusion was that the &lsquoAryan&rsquo peoples were likewise superior to the &lsquoSemitic&rsquo ones&rdquo

The Jews Are Isolated from Society

The Nazis then combined their racial theories with the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin to justify their treatment of the Jews. The Germans, as the strongest and fittest, were destined to rule, while the weak and racially adulterated Jews were doomed to extinction. Hitler began to restrict the Jews with legislation and terror, which entailed burning books written by Jews, removing Jews from their professions and public schools, confiscating their businesses and property and excluding them from public events. The most infamous of the anti-Jewish legislation were the Nuremberg Laws, enacted on September 15, 1935. They formed the legal basis for the Jews&rsquo exclusion from German society and the progressively restrictive Jewish policies of the Germans.

Many Jews attempted to flee Germany, and thousands succeeded by immigrating to such countries as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, England, France and Holland. It was much more difficult to get out of Europe. Jews encountered stiff immigration quotas in most of the world&rsquos countries. Even if they obtained the necessary documents, they often had to wait months or years before leaving. Many families out of desperation sent their children first.

In July 1938, representatives of 32 countries met in the French town of Evian to discuss the refugee and immigration problems created by the Nazis in Germany. Nothing substantial was done or decided at the Evian Conference, and it became apparent to Hitler that no one wanted the Jews and that he would not meet resistance in instituting his Jewish policies. By the autumn of 1941, Europe was in effect sealed to most legal emigration. The Jews were trapped.

On November 9-10, 1938, the attacks on the Jews became violent. Hershel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jewish boy distraught at the deportation of his family, shot Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary in the German Embassy in Paris, who died on November 9. Nazi hooligans used this assassination as the pretext for instigating a night of destruction that is now known as Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass). They looted and destroyed Jewish homes and businesses and burned synagogues. Many Jews were beaten and killed 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Jews Are Confined to Ghettos

Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, beginning World War II. Soon after, in 1940, the Nazis began establishing ghettos for the Jews of Poland. More than 10 percent of the Polish population was Jewish, numbering about three million. Jews were forcibly deported from their homes to live in crowded ghettos, isolated from the rest of society.

This concentration of the Jewish population later aided the Nazis in their deportation of the Jews to the death camps. The ghettos lacked the necessary food, water, space, and sanitary facilities required by so many people living within their constricted boundaries. Many died of deprivation and starvation.

The &ldquoFinal Solution&rdquo

In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and began the &ldquoFinal Solution.&rdquo Four mobile killing groups were formed called Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D. Each group contained several commando units. The Einsatzgruppen gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits dug earlier, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. The dead and dying would fall into the pits to be buried in mass graves. In the infamous Babi Yar massacre, near Kiev, 30,000-35,000 Jews were killed in two days. In addition to their operations in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen conducted mass murder in eastern Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. It is estimated that by the end of 1942, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered more than 1.3 million Jews.

On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, &ldquomarked the beginning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended.&rdquo

While the Nazis murdered other national and ethnic groups, such as a number of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals, and gypsies, only the Jews were marked for systematic and total annihilation. Jews were singled out for &ldquoSpecial Treatment&rdquo (Sonderbehandlung), which meant that Jewish men, women and children were to be methodically killed with poisonous gas. In the exacting records kept at the Auschwitz death camp, the cause of death of Jews who had been gassed was indicated by &ldquoSB,&rdquo the first letters of the two words that form the German term for &ldquoSpecial Treatment.&rdquo

By the spring of 1942, the Nazis had established six killing centers (death camps) in Poland: Chelmno (Kulmhof), Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maidanek and Auschwitz. All were located near railway lines so that Jews could be easily transported daily. A vast system of camps (called Lagersystem) supported the death camps. The purpose of these camps varied: some were slave labor camps, some transit camps, others concentration camps and their subcamps, and still others the notorious death camps. Some camps combined all of these functions or a few of them. All the camps were intolerably brutal.

In nearly every country overrun by the Nazis, the Jews were forced to wear badges marking them as Jews, they were rounded up into ghettos or concentration camps and then gradually transported to the killing centers. The death camps were essentially factories for murdering Jews. The Germans shipped thousands of Jews to them each day. Within a few hours of their arrival, the Jews had been stripped of their possessions and valuables, gassed to death, and their bodies burned in specially designed crematoriums. Approximately 3.5 million Jews were murdered in these death camps.

Many healthy, young strong Jews were not killed immediately. The Germans&rsquo war effort and the &ldquoFinal Solution&rdquo required a great deal of manpower, so the Germans reserved large pools of Jews for slave labor. These people, imprisoned in concentration and labor camps, were forced to work in German munitions and other factories, such as I.G. Farben and Krupps, and wherever the Nazis needed laborers. They were worked from dawn until dark without adequate food and shelter. Thousands perished, literally worked to death by the Germans and their collaborators.

In the last months of Hitler&rsquos Reich, as the German armies retreated, the Nazis began marching the prisoners still alive in the concentration camps to the territory they still controlled. The Germans forced the starving and sick Jews to walk hundreds of miles. Most died or were shot along the way. About a quarter of a million Jews died on the death marches.

Jewish Resistance

The Germans&rsquo overwhelming repression and the presence of many collaborators in the various local populations severely limited the ability of the Jews to resist. Jewish resistance did occur, however, in several forms. Staying alive, clean, and observing Jewish religious traditions constituted resistance under the dehumanizing conditions imposed by the Nazis. Other forms of resistance involved escape attempts from the ghettos and camps. Many who succeeded in escaping the ghettos lived in the forests and mountains in family camps and in fighting partisan units. Once free, though, the Jews had to contend with local residents and partisan groups who were often openly hostile. Jews also staged armed revolts in the ghettos of Vilna, Bialystok, Bedzin-Sosnowiec, Krakow, and Warsaw.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest ghetto revolt. Massive deportations (or Aktions) had been held in the ghetto from July to September 1942, emptying the ghetto of the majority of Jews imprisoned there. When the Germans entered the ghetto again in January 1943 to remove several thousand more, small unorganized groups of Jews attacked them. After four days, the Germans withdrew from the ghetto, having deported far fewer people than they had intended. The Nazis reentered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover, to evacuate the remaining Jews and close the ghetto. The Jews, using homemade bombs and stolen or bartered weapons, resisted and withstood the Germans for 27 days. They fought from bunkers and sewers and evaded capture until the Germans burned the ghetto building by building. By May 16, the ghetto was in ruins and the uprising crushed.

Jews also revolted in the death camps of Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz. All of these acts of resistance were largely unsuccessful in the face of the superior German forces, but they were very important spiritually, giving the Jews hope that one day the Nazis would be defeated.


The camps were liberated gradually, as the Allies advanced on the German army. For example, Maidanek (near Lublin, Poland) was liberated by Soviet forces in July 1944, Auschwitz in January 1945 by the Soviets, Bergen-Belsen (near Hanover, Germany) by the British in April 1945, and Dachau by the Americans in April 1945.

At the end of the war, between 50,000 and 100,000 Jewish survivors were living in three zones of occupation: American, British and Soviet. Within a year, that figure grew to about 200,000. The American zone of occupation contained more than 90 percent of the Jewish displaced persons (DPs). The Jewish DPs would not and could not return to their homes, which brought back such horrible memories and still held the threat of danger from anti-Semitic neighbors. Thus, they languished in DP camps until emigration could be arranged to Palestine, and later Israel, the United States, South America and other countries. The last DP camp closed in 1957

Below are figures for the number of Jews murdered in each country that came under German domination. They are estimates, as are all figures relating to Holocaust victims. The numbers given here for Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania are based on their territorial borders before the 1938 Munich agreement. The total number of six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, which emerged from the Nuremberg trials, is also an estimate. Numbers have ranged between five and seven million killed. The exact number will never be known because of the many people whose murders were not recorded and whose bodies have still not be found.

Anti-Jewish Legislation

In the weeks that followed, the German government promulgated dozens of laws and decrees designed to deprive Jews of their property and of their means of livelihood. Many of these laws enforced “Aryanization” policy—the transfer of Jewish-owned enterprises and property to “Aryan” ownership, usually for a fraction of their true value. Ensuing legislation barred Jews, already ineligible for employment in the public sector, from practicing most professions in the private sector. The legislation made further strides in removing Jews from public life. German education officials expelled Jewish children still attending German schools. German Jews lost their right to hold a driver's license or own an automobile. Legislation restricted access to public transport. Jews could no longer gain admittance to “German” theaters, movie cinemas, or concert halls.

A Holocaust Survival Tale of Sex and Deceit

In 1942, Marie Jalowicz, a Jewish girl hiding in Berlin, watched as a barkeep sold her for 15 marks to a man mysteriously nicknamed "the rubber director." As Marie recounts in the recently published Underground in Berlin, a riveting chronicle of her story told in her words, she was desperate for a place to sleep. The barkeep pulled Marie aside before she left with the man. Her fabricated backstory was simple she just couldn't bear to live with her in-laws anymore. But, the barkeep added, her new patron was also "a Nazi whose fanaticism bordered on derangement."

Marie had reasons to be alarmed beyond the man’s avowed Nazism. The "rubber director" earned his nickname from his wobbly gait, and Marie once heard that people in the late stages of syphilis "walked as if their legs were made of rubber, and they could no longer articulate properly." The man walking her to his house was stumbling over his words. And she was to sleep with this man, just to have a place to hide.

They arrived at his apartment, and the man showed off his wall-to-wall collection of aquarium tanks. He recalled the time when he was in a sanatorium and made a matchstick model of Marienburg, dedicating it to the Führer. He showed her an empty picture frame. Marie recalls:

"Any idea what that is?" he asked me, pointing at it.

"No idea at all."

Even if I'd guessed, I would never have said so. Finally, he revealed the secret: he had acquired this item by complicated means and at some expense, as he told me, closing his eyes. It was a hair from the Führer's German shepherd.

They sat together and Marie listened to his Nazi rants, growing increasingly uncomfortable until she changed the subject back to the fish. And then she got extraordinarily lucky: "With bowed head and tears in his eyes, he said he was afraid he must disappoint me: he was no longer capable of any kind of sexual relationship. I tried to react in a neutral, friendly manner, but I was overcome by such relief and jubilation that I couldn't sit still, and fled to the toilet."

Underground in Berlin

A thrilling piece of undiscovered history, this is the true account of a young Jewish woman who survived World War II in Berlin.

Underground in Berlin is filled with similar stories that illustrate the sexual politics of being a young Jewish girl in need of protection during World War II. For 50 years, Marie kept quiet about her experience, but just before her death in 1998, she recorded her memories on 77 cassette tapes. In the 15 years since her death, Marie's son, Hermann, has been transcribing and fact-checking the tapes, and found that his mother remembered with near-perfect clarity the wealth of names and details of her life in Berlin.

For eight years Marie and her family had witnessed Hitler's rise to power: Jews, wearing the legally mandated yellow stars on their coats, were first excluded from many professions and public places, and then many were sent to do forced labor. Marie’s mother, who had been sick with cancer for a long time, died in 1938 her weary, lonely father in early 1941. Before her father’s death, Marie worked with 200 other Jewish women at Siemens, bent over lathes, making tools and weapon parts for the German army. She befriended some of the girls, and they rebelled when they could: singing and dancing in the restroom, sabotaging screw and nut manufacturing. When her father died, she convinced her supervisor to fire her, since Jews weren’t allowed to quit. She lived off the small sum she received from her father’s pension.

The temporary passport Marie used to reenter Germany from Bulgaria, in Johanna Koch's name. The German embassy in Sofia made this passport, and added a comment on another page: "The holder of this passport has not proved her citizenship of the Reich. It is valid only for her return to Germany by the Danube route." (Courtesy of Hermann Simon)

In the fall of 1941, about a year before her incident with the “rubber director,” Marie watched her remaining family and friends receive deportation orders to concentration camps for certain death. Her Aunt Grete, one of the first to be sent, begged Marie to come with her. "Sooner or later everyone will have to go," Grete reasoned. With much difficulty, Marie said no. "You can't save yourself. But I am going to do everything imaginable to survive," she told her aunt.

And so she went to great lengths to protect herself. Marie removed her yellow star and assumed the identity of a close friend, Johanna Koch, 17 years older than Marie. Marie doctored Koch’s papers with ink-erasing fluid and forged an approval stamp by hand, exchanged the photo on the ID card, and called herself Aryan. Sometimes, her deception also led her to take lovers and boyfriends as a means of survival.

On the eve of World War II in 1938, Marie and her father were living with friends, the Waldmanns. Marie's father and Frau Waldmann had a fling, and 16-year-old Marie took it upon herself to sleep with Herr Waldmann, to lessen the chance that he would turn Marie and her father out on the street in anger.

Later, hoping to emigrate to Shanghai, she found a Chinese man living in Berlin who agreed to marry her: "Privately I thought: if I can get a Chinese passport through him, that would be excellent, but this isn't a relationship that will come to anything." But even after applying for marriage, and making up a story about being pregnant, she couldn’t get permission from the mayor’s office to marry him.

While hiding in the apartment of a friend's cleaning lady, Marie met a Bulgarian named Mitko, a neighbor who came by to paint the place. The two instantly became fond of each other and planned to marry. Marie makes it to Bulgaria with Mitko, and he finds a corrupt lawyer who might be able to make her stay in the country legal.

"You are here with this enchanting lady from Germany?" [the lawyer] asked my lover.

"I could use her as a governess for my little boy! The papers wouldn't cost anything, if you take my meaning?," he winked in a vulgar manner.

Mitko, a naive but decent character, was indignant at this improper suggestion. "We can do without your services," he said brusquely, and he stood up and left.

"As you like," the lawyer called after him. "We'll see what comes of this."

The lawyer turned them in to the Bulgarian police, and Marie was sent back to Berlin alone. Mitko stayed behind with family, weary from weeks of going to great lengths to protect Marie and himself. Upon her return, she was asked to wait for the Gestapo to approve her “unusual passport.” She narrowly escaped the Gestapo by pretending to run after a thief. That night, with nowhere to stay and in need of a bathroom "for the full works," she relieves herself on the doormat of a family with a "Nazi ring" to its name.

Marie and her husband Heinrich Simon in 1948, soon after their wedding (Courtesy of Hermann Simon)

Marie's gripping, suspenseful story captures the gloom and anxiety of being alone in wartime Berlin and the struggle to survive on her own. Her will and wit echo the determination and optimism of other accounts of the Holocaust, like those of diarists Viktor Frankl and Anne Frank. But the scenes of sexual commerce and gender politics illuminate an untold reality of surviving as a Jewish woman in the Berlin underground. Marie relays these stories, in which sex is a means of staying alive, a transaction, with evenhandedness, with a sense that it was all worth it.

It's not just bedfellows who help her. Marie finds refuge with non-Jewish friends committed to protecting her, with people her father knew, and with other Jews struggling to live in Berlin. One friend introduces her to Gerritt Burgers, a "crazy Dutchman" who brought Marie to his apartment and tells his landlady, a Nazi supporter named Frau Blase, that

"he had found a woman who was coming to live with him at once. I would keep house for him, and he said I was also ready to lend Frau Blase a hand at any time. Since I was not racially impeccable, it would be better not to register me with the police, he added casually. That didn't seem to both the old woman, but she immediately began haggling over the rent with Burgers."

So begins another situation in which Marie is treated as a good to barter. When the landlord gets mad at Burgers for making a mess, she threatens to call the Gestapo on Marie. When Burgers sees Marie reading, he hits her with his shoe, and tells her, "You're not to read when I'm at home. You're supposed to be here just for me." She's angry, but she sticks it out she must. They get used to each other.

For as long as Marie lived in the apartment, the supposed wife of a near-stranger, her life is semi-normal, and she benefits from the exchange of her work and pretend love for the company and safety. Frau Blase and Marie share food, and Marie runs errands. Blase shares her life story, talks about her difficult marriage, the death of her son. Marie develops an ambivalent attachment: "I hated Frau Blase as a repellent, criminal blackmailer with Nazi opinions, yet I loved her as a mother figure. Life is complicated."

Hermann, Marie’s son, shares his mother’s post-war story in an afterword. After a long journey of extreme luck, happening upon sympathetic, generous strangers, including a Communist gynecologist and a circus performer, Marie survives the war, poor and with nowhere to go. She went on to teach at the Humboldt University of Berlin and raise a family. She made good on her promise to her aunt Grete, to survive. She knew all along that "other days would come" and she "ought to tell posterity what was happening."