About the Holocaust

What was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews (two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of world Jewry) by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.

During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived “racial inferiority”: Roma, the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Although the Jews’ plight was mostly met with a range of attitudes from indifference to hostility, some righteous individuals came to the aid of the persecuted. Children were given new identities and taken to live in orphanages. Men, women, and children were smuggled out of Europe or hidden in plain sight. Jewish resistance also took many forms. But ultimately, approximately 13 million people met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. These horrific crimes were finally stopped when U.S., British, Canadian, and USSR troops liberated the camps in 1945 and ended the regime. Some of the survivors remained in Europe; others made their way to Palestine and to the United States and other countries.

Sources: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, Neil Leifert, Holocaust Studies at Penn State Harrisburg

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