It is estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews. Nazis killed approximately two-thirds of all Jews living in Europe, including an estimated 1.1 million children.
The term “Holocaust,” originally from the Greek word “holokauston” which means “sacrifice by fire,” . It refers to the persecution and slaughter of the Jewish people by German Nazis.
In addition to Jews, the Nazis targeted Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disabled for persecution. Anyone who resisted the Nazis was sent to forced labor or murdered.
The Hebrew word “Shoah,” which means “devastation, ruin, or waste,” is also used to describe the genocide.
On April 1, 1933, the Nazis instigated their first action against German Jews by announcing a boycott of all Jewish-run businesses.
In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were introduced and began to exclude Jews from public life by stripping them of citizenship and prohibiting marriages between Jews and Germans.
Jews were forced out of their homes and moved into smaller apartments, often shared with other families in specific areas of big cities called ghettos.
Some ghettos started out as “open,” meaning that Jews could leave during the daytime but had to be back by a curfew. Later, all ghettos became closed and Jews were not allowed to leave.
The largest ghetto was in Warsaw, Poland with its population reaching 445,000 in March 1941.
Nazis would then started deportations from the ghettos. 1,000 people per day were loaded up in trains and sent to either a concentration or a death camp.
When the Nazis attempted to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on April 13, 1943, the remaining Jews fought back in what has become known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Jewish resistance fighters held out against the entire Nazi regime for 28 days, longer than many European countries had been able to withstand Nazi conquest.
One of the first concentration camps was Dachau, which opened on March 20, 1933.
In 1938, the persecution of Jews became more organised and this led to a greater number of Jews sent to concentration camps. Life within Nazi concentration camps was horrible. Prisoners were forced to do hard physical labor and given tiny rations. Prisoners slept three or more people per crowded wooden bunk (no mattress or pillow). Torture within the concentration camps was common and deaths were frequent.
Concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death. But there were also extermination camps (also known as death camps), built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently.
Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed there.
Prisoners transported to these extermination camps were told to undress to take a shower. However, the prisoners were herded into gas chambers and killed.