The Holocaust (Ha-shoah in Hebrew) took place between 1933 and 1945 and is associated with the persecution and murder of over 6,000,000 Jews and other people, including gays and Roma people. During the Holocaust, two thirds of all Jews in Europe were killed and one third of the world’s Jewish population.
They were killed in concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazis opened around 20,000 concentration camps in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries to deal with the numbers of people arrested as enemies of the state. The camps were run by the SS and inmates faced harsh, insanitary conditions, poor diet, forced hard labour and ad hoc punishments.
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|30th January 1933||Hitler Chancellor of Germany||Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany|
|22nd March 1933||First concentration camp opened||The first concentration camp was opened at Dachau in Germany|
|1st April 1933||Jewish shops boycotted||Germans were told not to buy from Jewish shops or businesses|
|24th November 1933||‘Undesirables’ sent to camps||Homeless, alcoholic and unemployed people were sent to concentration camps|
|17th May 1934||Jewish persecution||An order was issued which prohibited Jewish people from having health insurance|
|15th September 1935||Nuremberg Laws||The Nuremberg Laws were introduced. These laws were designed to take away Jewish rights of citizenship and included orders that: |
Jews are no longer allowed to be German citizens.
|13th March 1938||Austrian Jews persecuted||Following Anschluss which joined Germany and Austria, Jews in Austria were persecuted and victimised.|
|8th July 1938||Munich synagogue destroyed||The Jewish synagogue in Munich was destroyed|
|5th October 1938||Jewish passports stamped with ‘J’||The passports of all Austrian and German Jews had to be stamped with a large red letter ‘J’|
|9th November 1938||Kristallnacht|| A night of extreme violence. |
Approximately 100 Jews were murdered,
|12th November 1938||Jews fined||Jews were made to pay one billion marks for the damage caused by Kristallnacht.|
|15th November 1938||Jewish children expelled from schools||An order was issued that stated that Jewish children should not be allowed to attend non-Jewish German schools|
|12th October 1939||Austrian and Czech Jews deported||Jews living in Austria and Czechoslovakia were sent to Poland|
|23rd November 1939||Yellow Star introduced||Jews in Poland were forced to sew a yellow star onto their clothes so that they could be easily identified.|
|Early 1940||European Jews persecuted||Jews in German occupied countries were persecuted by the Nazis and many were sent to concentration camps.|
|20th May 1940||Auschwitz||A new concentration camp, Auschwitz, opened|
|15th November 1940||Warsaw Ghetto||The Warsaw Ghetto was sealed off. There were around 400,000 Jewish people inside|
|July 1941||Einsatzgruppen||The Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) began rounding up and murdering Jews in Russia. 33,000 Jews are murdered in two days at Babi Yar near Kiev.|
|31st July 1941||‘Final Solution’||Reinhard Heydrich chosen to implement ‘Final Solution’|
|8th December 1941||First ‘Death Camp’||The first ‘Death Camp’ was opened at Chelmno.|
|January 1942||Mass-gassing||Mass-gassing of Jews began at Auschwitz-Birkenau|
|Summer 1942||European Jews gassed||Jews from all over occupied Europe were sent to ‘Death Camps’|
|29th January 1943||Gypsies sent to camps||An order was issued for gypsies to be sent to concentration camps.|
|19th April – 16th May 1943||Warsaw Ghetto Uprising|| An order was issued to empty the Warsaw Ghetto and deport the inmates to Treblinka. Following the deportation of some Warsaw Jews, news leaked back to those remaining in the Ghetto of mass killings. |
A group of about 750 mainly young people decided that they had nothing to lose by resisting deportation. Using weapons smuggled into the Ghetto they fired on German troops who tried to round up inmates for deportation.
They held out for nearly a month before they were taken by the Nazis and shot or sent to death camps.
|Late 1943||‘Death Camps’ closed||With the Russians advancing from the East, many ‘Death Camps’ were closed and evidence destroyed.|
|14th May – 8th July 1944||Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz||440,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz|
|30th October 1944||Auschwitz||The gas chambers at Auschwitz were used for the last time|
|27th January 1945||‘Death Marches’||Many remaining camps were closed and evidence of their existence destroyed. Those who had survived the camps so far were taken on forced ‘Death Marches’.|
|30th April 1945||Hitler committed suicide||Faced with impending defeat, Hitler committed suicide|
|7th May 1945||German surrender||Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over|
|20th November 1945||Nuremberg war trial began||Surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial at Nuremberg|
The Beginning of the Holocaust
Anti-Semitism in Germany existed for quite some time before the Nazi rule and the ethnic cleansing plan that they called the “Final Solution” developed gradually, making it hard to tie a set date to the start of the Holocaust. Most historians however agree that the 30th January 1933 when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, was the main turning point that set everything in motion, marking this date as the start of the Holocaust.
Some Important Early Holocaust Dates
After Hitler came to power, there were however also certain other early events that can be seen as important starting points to what became the Holocaust:
- April 1, 1933 – only 3 months after Hitler was appointed chancellor, the boycott of Jewish-owned businesses and shops in Germany started.
- September 15, 1935 – The famous Nuremberg Race Laws were passed, providing a legal basis for the exclusion of Jews from German society and implementing a very restrictive Jewish policy.
- November 9, 10 1938 – Attacks on the Jews become violent for the first time after the Jewish Hershel Grynszpan assassinates Ernst vom Rath in Paris. In what is now known as Kristallnacht, Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues are looted and destroyed. Many Jews are beaten and killed and 30,000 Jewish people are arrested and taken to concentration camps.
There were obviously other important Holocaust dates, such as the invasion of Poland and establishment of Jewish ghettos, the brutal murder of Jews in the U.S.S.R and the final mass killings at the Nazi death camps, but by that time the Holocaust was already in full swing.
Concentration Camp Overview
A concentration camp is when, often during war, a large amount of people are imprisoned in a small area without adequate facilities. People in concentration camps were often required to do forced labor or kept there to wait for execution. The word “concentration camp” is usually associated with the Nazi camps in Germany, among which the most infamous were Auschwitz, Belsen and Dachau. Nazi Germany was however not the first to make use of the concentration camp system and the term, “concentration camp” was actually derived from the word the British used for the camps they used during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Other Concentration Camps Prior To Nazi Germany
* The U.S. often used to keep Native Americans in concentration camps
* The British kept prisoners of war, as well as the wives and children of South African Boers in their concentration camps, where many people died from illness due to the lack of proper facilities.
* The Imperial Schutztruppe used concentration camps in Namibia (then German South-West Africa) in their genocide program of the Namaqua and Herero peoples. Luderitz had the biggest, harshest camp, the Shark Island Concentration Camp.
Types of Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany
Although Germany had a lot of concentration camps, many of them served different purposes, which is why the Nazis gave them different names. They had regular concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, extermination camps, transit camps and labor camps. In all of these camps, conditions were harsh and illnesses broke out all the time.
Holocaust: Overview of Concentration Camps
The first camp was opened at Dachau on 22nd March 1933. It was built to detain 5000 political opponents of the Nazi Party, mainly Communists.
In 1934 the Nazis began using inmates of concentration camps as forced labour for personal or camp projects. The work was hard and physically demanding and without sufficient food rations the mortality rate of concentration camp inmates rose dramatically. In 1943 a concentration camp detainee would have had a life expectancy of six weeks.
All concentration camp inmates had to wear a coloured badge to show the nature of their ‘crime’.
Holocaust Killing Centers
The Nazis operated five main purpose-built killing centres, sometimes referred to as death camps or extermination camps.
Chelmno began operating as a killing centre in December 1941. Victims were put into sealed container trucks which had been specially configured to allow carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust to be pumped inside. The bodies were buried in mass graves. It is estimated that at least 150,000 Jews and gypsies died at this camp.
Belzec opened in March 1942. Victims were brought to the camp by trains, unloaded and taken to gas chambers disguised as showers. Carbon monoxide was them pumped into the chamber. The bodies were buried in mass graves. Around 500,000 Jews perished in this camp together with an unknown number of Poles and gypsies.
Sobibor opened in May 1942. It was constructed and operated in the same manner as Belzec. In the spring of 1943 around 300 prisoners managed to escape. In November 1943 all remaining prisoners in the camp were shot. In total around 167,000 Jews were killed in this camp.
Treblinka II was built next to the Treblinka I concentration camp and opened in July 1942. It was constructed and operated in the same manner as Belzec and Sobibor. The bodies were initially buried in mass graves but later were burned in huge ovens. Around 925,000 Jews were killed in this camp.
Auschwitz-Birkenau (pictured above) was the largest killing centre and was designed to be used as a mass extermination camp for Jews as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. The first gas chamber was operational by March 1942 and by mid 1943 there were a total of four gas chambers. Trains arrived on a daily basis bringing Jews from all German-occupied countries and victims were taken straight to gas chambers disguised as showers. Zyklon B pellets were dropped into the chambers and the bodies were burned in crematoria. It is estimated that between 1 and 2 million Jews were killed in this camp.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp was first established in 1940 on the outskirts of the Polish town Oswiecim (changed by the Nazis to Auschwitz).
The camp was divided into three sections: Auschwitz I; Auschwitz II and around forty labour camps of which Auschwitz III was the largest.
Auschwitz I was founded in 1940 as a concentration camp for the internment of Polish and Soviet dissidents, resistance members and prisoners of war. During its first two years of existence it also housed homosexuals and some Jews. The mortality rate was high as inmates were given hard labour and poor nutrition. During the later months of 1941 trials using Zyklon B were carried out at an extermination chamber in Auschwitz I. Having deemed the trials successful the Nazi’s ordered the enlargement of the camp.
Auschwitz II (Birkenau)
Work began on this camp in October 1941. It was designed to be used as a mass extermination camp for Jews as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. The first gas chamber was operational by March 1942 and by mid 1943 four gas chambers were operational. Cattle trucks containing Jews arrived on a daily basis from all German-occupied countries. Upon disembarkation they were told to form two lines, one containing men, the other women and children. The two lines of people were then subjected to the infamous selection process whereby those deemed fit to work were sent to Auschwitz I or III and those unfit – the elderly, sick, children and mothers of young children were sent straight to the gas chambers.
Those selected as unfit – usually around 60% – 70% of each train – were told to undress as they were to take a shower. The gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms and had dummy shower heads in the ceiling. Once all were inside Zyklon B pellets were dropped inside which killed all inside in about 20 minutes.
Those selected as fit for work were dehumanized – their heads were shaved, their arms were tattooed with a number and they were given striped uniforms to wear.
Auschwitz III (Monowitz)
There were around 40 labour camps associated with the Auschwitz complex. Auschwitz II, Monowitz, was the largest of these. It became operational in 1942 and most of the inmates were sent to work at the I G Farben factory which produced synthetic fuel and rubber.
Some of those deemed fit were selected for medical experimentation. Prisoners were used as human guinea pigs for sterilization experiments, testing of drugs and human reactions to various stimuli. The doctor Josef Mengele was given the nickname Angel of Death.
The Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw ghetto was established on October 12th 1940 when it was announced that all Jews living in Warsaw were to be segregated in a designated area.
Almost immediately after Warsaw fell to the Germans on 29th September 1939, a census of Jews living in the city was ordered. The number was around 350,000. Over the following year a further 90,000 Jews were relocated to Warsaw and Jewish people faced increasing restrictions on their lives. On October 12th all Jews in Warsaw had to move to the ghetto.
The ghetto covered an area of approximately 1.3 square miles, surrounded by a 3.5 metre wall topped with barbed wire and broken glass. The area contained around 1,500 houses to accommodate the 400,000 Jews. The average number of people occupying each room was 7.2.
On November 16th 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was sealed off from the rest of Warsaw. Conditions inside the ghetto were harsh, the food ration allocated to the Jewish population was around 200 calories per day. Food purchased as an official ration was reasonably priced but food purchased to supplement the ration was very expensive. In addition the ration allocated to the Jews was of poor nutritional value and did not include meat, fruit or vegetables. Consequently, many people died from starvation and disease. Others risked their lives trying to smuggle food into the ghetto. By April 1941 the death rate of those living in the Warsaw ghetto was around 6,000 per month.
In July 1942 the Germans began deporting people from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka death camp. Between July and September 1942 around 265,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka. Inside the ghetto it soon became clear that those being deported were going to their deaths and many of those remaining became determined to resist the Nazis and defend those in the ghetto against further deportations. They called themselves the Z O B Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa which translates as Jewish Combat Organisation.
In January 1943 when German troops arrived at the ghetto to deport a further 80,000 Jews, they met organised and armed resistance from the Z O B who had armed themselves with a small number of weapons smuggled into the ghetto. The German soldiers were forced to retreat. Following this small victory the Z O B began making preparations for further resistance. Bunkers and hiding places were prepared and plans were made detailing tactics to use against the Germans.
On 19th April 1943 German soldiers arrived to liquidate the ghetto. They found the central area deserted and many had gone into hiding and also faced serious resistance from the Z O B. This action became known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Street battles took place and in a bid to flush Jews out into the open houses were set alight. Despite the resistance German soldiers flushed people out of the bunkers by using tear gas or poison gas and on 8th May 1943 the command bunker of the Z O B was located bringing the Uprising to an end. Around 13,000 Jews were killed during the uprising, many of those burnt or died from smoke inhalation. Those that were left alive were deported to concentration camps or the Treblinka death camp.
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust – Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
Auschwitz-Birkenau History – Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
The Final Solution – Lenin Imports
I Survived the Holocaust – Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project
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