What was the Holocaust?



TOPSHOTS A woman walks through snow near the entrance to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau with the lettering ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (‘Work makes you free’) in Oswiecim, Poland on January 25, 2015, days before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Russian forces. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET


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The term “genocide” is a very simple yet extremely intense term; people define it as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.”(Dictionary.com). To put this definition into simpler words, a genocide is a mass murder, usually aimed at a certain group of people. The Nazi Holocaust of the Jewish people and other targeted minorities was one of the most infamous genocides during the 20th century.

Unfortunately the Holocaust was made possible because Jews were widely hated and disrespected throughout Germany and Europe

The first thing to  know is that the word “Holocaust” comes from Greek origin meaning “to sacrifice by fire”. The Holocaust was the mass killing of millions of European Jews lead by the German Nazis during the years 1933 to 1945. It is hard to understand how someone could hate the Jews so much. “How could a group of people be so hated and seen as so dangerous for who they were that one had to come to the conclusion that they had to be eliminated from the face of the earth?” (Dr. Peter Black). Many people wonder why the Holocaust happened and how it started. It is simple; Adolf Hitler had been elected as chancellor for Germany and as soon as he came into the position, he took supreme power over Germany. Hitler blamed the Jewish people for Germany’s defeat in World War I and wanted them to be exterminated. So that’s exactly what he did.

1935: Nazi definition of Jew, Mischling, and G...
1935: Nazi definition of Jew, Mischling, and German and legal consequences as per the Nuremberg Laws, simplified in a 1935 chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Hitler took power over Germany, he immediately took action. His first steps were creating the the Nuremberg laws. These laws consisted of the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. These laws categorized Jewish people by genetics, not by religious affiliation, and banned marriage between Jews and non-Jews. The Nazis took over Germany and forced the German people to follow in their steps. Soon enough, Jews were sent to concentration camps and death camps. The concentration camps were places where Jews were imprisoned and forced to do intense labor. The death camps or extermination camps were places where the Jews were annihilated. The Germans portrayed these camps as nice places for the Jews to live together. The Nazis would put the Jews on trains that were sent straight to the camps. The Jews were greeted kindly by German guards when they arrived. Sometimes the Nazis would be so respectful and kind to the Jews when they got off of the trains that the Jews were tricked into thinking the concentration camps would be nice. “Sometimes they (the Jews) clapped ‘bravo’ the Germans talked so nicely” (Holocaust survivor). The Jews were instructed to leave their luggage (which they were promised they would get back), shower, and cut their hair. They were then lead to start their work.

Sobibór death camp in Sobibór, Poland.

The living situations were absolutely terrible for the Jewish people in the concentration camps. People had to sleep on top of each other because there was no room, they received barely any food, the living places were filthy, and people carried many diseases. The Jews had to work all day doing pointless labor in horrible conditions. This is what happened in the exterminations camps as well but the Jews sent to the death camps did not know whether they would be sent straight to the gas chamber or to work in the camp. The main death camps were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...
Yellow badge Star of David called “Judenstern”. Part of the exhibition in the Jewish Museum Westphalia, Dorsten, Germany. The wording is the German word for Jew (Jude), written in mock-Hebrew script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over 6 million Jews were killed in the death camps. Holocaust survivor Meta Doran described her hard life in the concentration camps. She described how the Nazis showed no mercy, they would kill any Jew that even stepped in the wrong direction. “We had no choice. That was all that was there for us. Every hour that we survived was found life, because we could have just as easily been killed by somebody.” (Meta Doran).

    The Holocaust was more complex than can be described in even one book. It is hard to understand what went through the Nazis minds and how someone could want all these innocent people dead. Many people still are scarred by what happened during the holocaust and it is near impossible to grasp the idea that this group of people was hated so much that they had to be tortured and murdered. There have been many terrifying events in history but the Holocaust is one that the world will never get over and it will never be forgotten.

Auschwitz concentration camp, arrival of Hunga...
Auschwitz concentration camp, arrival of Hungarian Jews, Summer 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)