Of all the examples of injustice against humanity in history, the
Jewish Holocaust has to be one of the most prominent. In the period
of 1933 to 1945, the Nazis waged a vicious war against Jews and other
“lesser races”. This war came to a head with the “Final Solution” in
1938. One of the end results of the Final Solution was the horrible
concentration and death camps of Germany, Poland, and other parts of
Nazi-controlled Europe. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, people
around the world were shocked by final tallies of human losses, and
the people responsible were punished for their inhuman acts. The
Holocaust was a dark time in the history of the 20th century.

One can trace the beginnings of the Holocaust as far back as 1933,
when the Nazi party of Germany, lead by Adolf Hitler, came to power.
Hitler’s anti-Jew campaign began soon afterward, with the “Nuremberg
Laws”, which defined the meaning of being Jewish based on ancestry.
These laws also forced segregation between Jews and the rest of the
public. It was only a dim indication of what the future held for
European Jews.

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Anti-Jewish aggression continued for years after the passing of the
Nuremberg Laws. One of these was the “Aryanization” of Jewish
property and business. Jews were progressively forced out of the
economy of Germany, their assets turned over to the government and the
German public. Other forms of degradation were pogroms, or organized
demonstrations against Jews. The first, and most infamous, of these
pogroms was Krystallnacht, or “The night of broken glass”. This
pogrom was prompted by the assassination of Ernst von Rath, a German
diplomat, by Herschel Grymozpan in Paris on November 7th, 1938. Two
days later, an act of retaliation was organized by Joseph Gobbels to
attack Jews in Germany. On the nights of November 9th and 10th, over
7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed, 175 synagogues demolished,
nearly 100 Jews had been killed, and thousands more had been injured,
all for the assassination of one official by a Jew (“Holocaust, the.”
Microsoft Encarta 96). In many ways, this was the first major act of
violence to Jews made by the Nazis. Their intentions were now clear.
The Nazi’s plans for the Jews of Europe were outlined in the “Final
Solution to the Jewish question” in 1938. In a meeting of some of
Hitler’s top officials, the idea of the complete annihilation of Jews
in Europe was hatched. By the time the meeting was over, the Final
Solution had been created. The plans included in the Final Solution
included the deportation, exploitation, and eventual extermination of
European Jews.
In September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Most, if not all
Jews in German-occupied lands were rounded up and taken to ghettos or
concentration camps. The ghettos were located inside cities, and were
a sort of city/prison to segregate Jews from the rest of the public.
Conditions in the ghettos included overcrowding, lack of food, and
lack of sanitation, as well as brutality by Nazi guards. Quality of
life in a ghetto was probably not much above that in a concentration
camp. In June 1941, Germany continued it’s invasion of Europe by
attacking and capturing some of the western U.S.S.R. By this time,
most of the Jews in Europe now lived in lands controlled by Nazi
Germany. The SS deployed 3000 death squads, or “Einstagruppen”, to
dispatch Jews in large numbers (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta
1996). In September 1941, all Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars
of David on their arms or coats. A Jew could be killed with little
repercussions for not displaying the Star of David in public. Some of
the first Jewish resistance to the Final Solution came in 1943, when
the process of deportation to concentration and death camps was in
full swing. The Warsaw ghetto in Poland, once numbering over 365,000,
had been reduced to only 65,000 by the continuing removal of Jews to
camps in other lands (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). When
the Nazis came to round up the remaining inhabitants of the ghetto,
they were met with resistance from the small force of armed Jews. The
revolt lasted for almost three weeks before being subdued.


Between the years of 1941 to 1945, the main destination for Jews to be
transported was a concentration camp or death camp somewhere in Poland
or Germany. In these camps, innocent Jews, along with Gypsies, Slavs,
Jehova’s Witnesses, Communists, and P.O.W.s, were brutally beaten and
abused, fed meager rations of poor food, worked to death, or simply
shot. The first of these camps were established in the mid 1930s and
were originally designed for prisoners. But, numbers of concentration
and death camps grew steadily for years until nearing the end of the
World War II. Quality of life in a concentration camp was substandard,
to say the absolute least. Jews and other deportees were transported
via railroad boxcars similar to those used for cattle. Some of these
cars were so crowded that people actually died standing up, there
being no place for them to fall. Once at the camps, the prisoners
were unloaded and stripped of everything of value. Clothing, jewelry,
eyeglasses, shoes, and even gold teeth were confiscated from the
arriving captives. After unloading, the people were separated into
two groups. One of these groups would be lead to firing squads or, in
some camps, gas chambers, to be dispatched as soon as possible. These
people were usually women, children, and the elderly. The second
group would be lead to the barracks or used for slave labor. This
group was usually comprised of able-bodied men. The prisoners were
given little food and forced to live and sleep in filthy, overcrowded
bunks where disease ran rampant. Thousands of prisoners in
concentration camps died simply of exposure, starvation, or disease.

As the war progressed, more and more concentration camps were
transformed into extermination or death camps, some of which were
equipped with gas vans or gas chambers and crematoria for quick and
easy extermination and disposal of the bodies of the captives. Some
of these camps also had facilities for scientific research, where men
like Josef Mengle, also known as “The Angel of Death”, preformed
barbaric medical experiments on twins, dwarves, and other genetically
different subjects in hopes of advancing and breeding the so-called
“Aryan” race of perfect Germans for Hitler. Some of the most notorious
of the death camps were located in Poland. Some of these include
Auschwitz (1 million Jews killed), Treblinka (700,000-800,000 Jews
gassed), Belzec (600,000 Jews gassed), and Sobibor (250,000 Jews
gassed). These camps were the major centers for the slaughter of Jews
and other groups (The Holocaust: An Historical Summary. Article on the
Internet).


In 1945, the great World War in Europe came to an end, with the Axis
powers surrendering before the Allied invasion of Europe. When the
concentration camps were liberated and the body counts tallied, the
resulting numbers appalled people the world over. Millions of people
lay dead, and dozens of top Nazis faced punishment for unspeakable war
crimes. When the allied powers liberated the concentration camps in
Germany, Poland, and other areas of Europe, what they found there was
beyond belief. Piles of bodies lay rotting in pits and sheds. The
gaunt, sickly prisoners wandered about, barely alive after the ordeal
they had faced. Some of the camps had few prisoners remaining, the
majority of the others led on a final death march to Germany
(“Concentration Camps.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996).
Those who remained at the camps were rescued and taken to hospitals or
to shelters to recuperate from their terrifying experience at the
hands of the Nazis.

All told, the toll that the Holocaust took on the people of Europe,
especially Jews, was staggering. By the time it was all over, an
estimated 12 million people lay dead, nearly 6 million of which were
Jews (“Jewish Holocaust.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996).
It is believed that 3 million of these Jews died in concentration and
death camps, such as Auschwitz, alone (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft
Encarta 1996). An additional 1.5 million died by the bullets of the
mobile death squads, and over 600,000 died in the ghettos of the
cities (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). I find it
incredible that such a loss of human life could have occurred in a
period of just 12 years. For the vicious atrocities carried out by
some of the top men in Hitler’s Nazi regime, dozens were killed or
imprisoned. In the trials at Nuremberg, Germany in 1946-47, a
multinational allied commission called 22 of Hitler’s highest ranking
Nazis. The end result of these trials were eleven men being sentenced
to hang, one of which committed suicide in his cell, seven men were
imprisoned for life, and only three were acquitted of the crimes they
were accused with. Other trials were held in subsequent years that
successfully convicted hundreds of Nazis for atrocities carried out in
wartime.


The Holocaust is one of the most famous events in modern history. The
senseless slaughter of millions upon millions of innocent people at
the hands of Nazi butchers was incited when a man by the name of Adolf
Hitler came to power in 1933. The Nazis wrought terrible death and
destruction on Europe in the following years, beginning with
Aryanization and ending with the Final Solution in a maniacal plot to
exterminate and purify the human race. The Holocaust should be
remembered by all as a dark point in modern history.