Transcript The Holocaust
A Turning Point in Jewish History
What was the Holocaust
The Holocaust (Shoah) was a unique event in 20th century history.
It evolved slowly between 1933 and 1945. It began with discrimination; then the
Jews were separated from their communities and persecuted; and finally they
were treated as less than human beings and murdered.
During the Second World War the Nazis sought to murder the entire Jewish
population of Europe and to destroy its culture. In 1941 there were about 11
million Jews living in Europe; by May 1945 the Nazis had murdered six million of
them. One-and-a-half million of these were children.
We now call these events the Holocaust.
Whilst the Jews of Europe were the Nazis’ primary target, many millions of other
people were also imprisoned, enslaved and murdered. These people
included Roma, those with mental or physical disabilities, homosexuals,
Jehovah's Witnesses, trade unionists, political opponents, Poles and Soviet
prisoners of war.
The Nazis did not act alone. They were supported and assisted by people from
within the countries they occupied across Europe. Most countries stood by while
the Nazis and their accomplices carried out the mass murder of the Jewish
How did it happen?
The First World War left Germany in ruins. People
were very upset that Germany had lost the war
and needed someone to blame for the defeat. As
a result, there was much violence across the
country in the years after the war.
Many blamed the politicians who had negotiated
the peace. Many wanted strong leadership.
Others merely wanted a solution to Germany's
economic, political and social problems.
The Nazis gained a great deal from Germany’s
economic and political difficulties.
Why didn’t anyone stop them?
By 1928 the Nazis were a well-organized political party with over 100,000 members. Local leaders
organized meetings with important speakers to attract new members. The Nazis
used propaganda to increase their support and appeal. They spent huge sums of money on
newspapers, leaflets and poster campaigns with simple slogans encouraging people to support
The military style of the Nazis involved using large political ‘rallies’ to gain support. These were
vast, highly organized events with banners and marching bands. The rallies were broadcast on
radio and had audiences of many thousands. Joseph Goebbels, who was excellent at propaganda,
began to build an image of Hitler as a great leader. Goebbels used people’s fear of uncertainty and
instability to portray Hitler as a man with a great vision for prosperity and stability.
Hitler used his own skills of oratory to appeal to the patriotism of the German people by promising
to break free of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. His aim of ending the payment
of reparations was especially popular.
Hitler’s plans to re-arm Germany were also popular. By recruiting a large army and building a
whole new navy and air force, he would be able to reduce unemployment. With so many people
out of work, this was an appealing prospect.
Germany’s economy was in such a poor state that Hitler’s promise of strong government and
stability was widely supported and not least by industrialists. By attacking Jews in the world of
business, Hitler appealed to their non-Jewish rivals.
Anti-semitism was at the core of Nazi ideology. Until 1941, the aim of
the Nazi Party was the gradual social, legal and physical exclusion of the
Jews from German society. It wanted to make life so difficult for the
Jews that they would leave Germany.
On assuming power, the Nazi Party’s first priority was taking over the
state. However, even as early as March 1933 the SA increased their
attacks on Jews. Mobs of locally organized Nazis attacked Jews on the
streets, beating them up and sometimes killing them. Many hundreds of
Jews were rounded up by local SA groups and sent to concentration
Hitler saw that these attacks and arrests were random and out of
control. He believed they needed to be regulated. On 1 April 1933 the
state organised a boycott of all Jewish shops and offices. The SA stood
outside Jewish-owned properties in order to intimidate customers. Shop
doors and windows were broken or had the Star of David painted on
them. As part of the boycott libraries were raided and books written by
Jewish authors burned in the streets.
At the beginning of April 1933, the Nazis passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil
Service, which began the exclusion of Jews from professions. Under this law people who had at
least one Jewish grandparent were classed as Jewish. It took the Nazi Party over five years to
completely expel the Jews from professional and business life in Germany.
Encouraged by centrally organized discrimination, local people, employers and organizations in
towns and villages all over Germany began to victimize Jews and expel them from employment
and to deny them membership of cultural and leisure organizations. Shops, hotels and restaurants
began to put up ‘Jews not welcome’ signs. Local councils also placed signs on park gates and
benches informing Jews that they couldn’t use them.
The Nazi government legalized its anti-Jewish policies with the passing two laws: the Law for the
Protection of German Blood and Honour and also the Reich Citizenship Law (the Nuremberg Laws)
on 15 September 1935.
The first law forbade inter-marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Aryans, the second
robbed the Jews of their citizenship and all legal rights.
These laws were based on the premise that Jews were a racial group rather than a religion. Those
who had three Jewish grandparents were classed as full Jews; those who had fewer Jewish
grandparents were labelled ‘Mischlinge’ (half-breeds).
Gradually the civil rights of Jews across Germany were taken away – from being banned from
being members of sports clubs in April 1933 to not being able to buy milk or eggs in July 1942.
Education in Nazi Germany
During April 1933, very soon after the Enabling Act had been passed, Jewish
teachers were dismissed from German schools and universities. During the same
year the proportion of Jewish students at universities was decreased to less than
1 per cent, to correspond to the proportion of Jews in Germany.
However, although in some areas many Jewish children were removed from
schools, it was not until 1938 that all Jewish children were finally banned from
attending German schools. Discrimination and isolation within education, as in
all other areas of society, was gradual.
In Germany education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were
promoted and implemented. Initially, many teachers ignored the political
changes. However, very soon, those German teachers who supported the Nazis
or had been converted to Nazism began to develop new daily rituals and
routines. Many of the 32 per cent of teachers who became Nazi Party members
would wear their uniform to school.
Once teachers began to show their support for the Nazi Party in schools, the
atmosphere within the classroom became very different from the one students
had known previously. The teacher would enter the classroom and welcome the
group with a ‘Hitler salute’, shouting “Heil Hitler!” Students would have to
respond in the same manner, often eight times each day – at the start and end of
the day, in addition to the beginning and end of each lesson.
Education of Jewish Children
It became common for Jewish children to be subjected to verbal and physical
abuse by fellow students and teachers. Textbooks were rewritten in line with
Nazi ideology, leading to Jews becoming the subject of increased anti-semitism.
For example, teachers would begin to pick out Jewish students in classrooms to
use as examples of ‘non-Aryans’ during biology lessons about racial purity.
Jewish children would be told to stand at the front of the class, whilst teachers
pointed to their eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair; comparing these to
characteristics on Nazi propaganda sheets. They measured skull size and nose
length, and recorded features to determine whether students belonged to the
true Aryan race. During history lessons, whilst the class was taught about the
First World War, Jews would be ridiculed and branded as traitors in front of their
The process of denying Jews a state education was a gradual one. Jewish
children would be sent to the back of the classroom, before their eventual
isolation from the school. But the Nazi laws did not fully exclude Jews from
education; they allowed Jewish teachers to set up separate schools for Jewish
In Hitler’s manifesto of 1920 he had promised to expel Polish-born Jews living in Germany. Beginning in August
1938 the Nazis rounded up 60,000 Jews and expelled them over the Polish border.
The son of one of the expelled families was studying in Paris. On 7 November 1938 he went to the German
Embassy and shot a diplomat, Ernst Von Rath. Back in Germany, the Nazi leadership used this as an excuse to
begin a national press campaign against the Jews. On 8 November Nazi thugs attacked Jews, smashed up Jewishowned buildings and daubed the Star of David on them.
On 9 November the diplomat died. That afternoon Joseph Goebbels gave a speech attacking the Jews and calling
for an organized pogrom, or attack against the Jews. The SA were used to organize further attacks against Jews
and their shops, homes and synagogues. The night became known as 'Kristallnacht' or 'The night of the broken
glass' due to the number of windows broken during the attacks.
The police were instructed not to intervene to stop the attacks. The fire brigade were called out to protect nonJewish businesses and homes, but not to put out the fires in Jewish-owned buildings.
During the night of 9 November, 91 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured. Many hundreds of Jewish males
over the age of 14 were taken away to prisons or concentration camps. Over the days, weeks and months that
followed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to concentration camps.
More and more laws were enacted that effectively banished Jews from most areas of public life. Hard-line antisemitism was now being followed through into ruthless legislation, expelling Jews from Germany’s social and
Germany was now an extremely dangerous place for Jews to live in and many sought to leave the country by any
means possible. Reacting to public opinion, some countries allowed limited immigration of Jews, but in the main a
tight quota system was enforced.
Within a few days of the German army invading Poland, on 1 September 1939, it had succeeded in
taking over a large part of Western Poland. The Eastern half of the country was invaded by
the Soviet Union as part of a pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
From the beginning the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the German army was appalling and
many atrocities occurred.
On 21 September 1939 Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office of the SS,
issued an order that Jews were to be concentrated in separate areas within cities (ghettos). This
was to be a short-term measure to contain and control Jews. The Nazi leadership would then
decide their long-term policy towards the Jews.
Jewish communities living in small towns and villages across Nazi-occupied Poland were to be
transferred to ghettos set up within the cities. Each of these communities were governed by a
Jewish council (Judenraat), who in turn took their orders from the SS.
The first ghetto in Poland was set up during October 1939. Very soon ghettos had been set up all
over Poland, with the largest in the capital, Warsaw. Over the next four years, the Nazis
established ghettos in the major cities of many of the countries they invaded. They established
over 1,000 ghettos in Poland and the Soviet Union alone.
Once a ghetto had been established, people were moved into them very quickly. They could take
with them only those possessions they were able to carry. Living conditions were abysmal; often
there were several families living where before there had been one.
Initially many ghettos were open, but very soon barbed wire fences or walls were built around
them. Jews were then not allowed to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Food
rations were at starvation level and disease was rife though lack of clean water and sanitation.
Hundreds of thousands of people died in the ghettos.
Map of Ghetto System
Move to Camps
Types of Camps
Arriving at Camp
On arrival at concentration camps prisoners had their clothing taken away, often to
be replaced by a striped uniform (now known as striped pajamas). Men would wear a
vest, trousers, hat and coat. Women would be supplied a smock type dress. Everyone
was required to shave their head and surrender all their possessions
On their feet prisoners wore wooden or leather clogs. As socks were not supplied,
clogs would rub on feet and ankles, causing foot sores. This could be very dangerous,
as the conditions in barracks and around the camp were extremely poor. Prisoners
could very easily get an infection, which could then lead to death.
Clothes would be changed approximately every six weeks. As prisoners would have to
work and sleep in the same clothes, they would be very dirty.
Prisoners were identified by a number printed on their clothing and also an inverted
triangle with lettering to signify the reason for imprisonment. Criminals were marked
with a green triangle, political prisoners with red, homosexuals with pink,
whilst Jehovah’s Witnesses wore a purple triangle and anti-socials (including Roma)
wore a black triangle.
In some camps, Jews were usually marked by a yellow triangle over a red triangle to
form the Star of David. However, in others a yellow star identified them as being
Meals in the Concentration
For prisoners, meal times were the most important event of each
day. After morning roll call the prisoners would be given their
morning ‘meal’ – imitation coffee or herbal ‘tea’. For lunch
prisoners may have been given watery soup. If they were lucky,
they might find a piece of turnip or potato peel.
In the evening prisoners may have been given a small piece of
black bread; they may also have received a tiny piece of sausage,
or some marmalade or cheese. The bread was supposed to last
the prisoners for the morning also, so prisoners would try to hide
it on their person whilst they slept.
Hunger was one of the greatest problems. The meagre rations
were merely intended to keep the prisoners alive. The Nazis did
not provide prisoners with sufficient nutrition to carry out heavy
manual work. Many thousands died from starvation or illnesses
brought on by lack of nutrition.
Work in the Concentration
Depending on the type of camp, prisoners were assigned to a whole range of different duties.
Some remained inside the camp working on a variety of jobs, from administration tasks to heavy
Most prisoners worked outside the camps in one the many factories, construction projects, farms
or coal mines. They would quite often have to walk several kilometres to their place of work.
The Sonderkommando (Special Work Unit) consisted of Jewish prisoners who were selected to
work in the crematoriums in camps. They were selected due to their strength and fitness. The lifeexpectancy of a Sonderkommando was about four months in the camp.
While the prisoners were being processed after their arrival, their belongings were taken away. A
group of prisoners was assigned to collecting the valuables, while others sifted through the
possessions. These were then transported back to Germany.
The prisoners working on this task were in a privileged position. They were able to ‘organize’
(steal) extra food on which to survive, a pair of shoes or extra clothing to protect themselves from
the severe winter weather.
There were examples of prisoners smuggling valuables which could be used to bribe guards.
However, if caught, they risked death.
During the summer of 1941, the Nazis broke their agreement and
invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler believed that Jews had
created communism. The war in the East was aimed not merely at
conquest but at the destruction of millions of Jews and Slavs.
By the end of the summer of 1941, the Nazi leadership had made plans
to six extermination camps on Polish soil. Their sole purpose was
These six extermination camps were:
Chelmno (December 1941-January 1945)
Belzec (March-December 1942)
Sobibor (May-July 1942 and October 1942-October 1943)
Treblinka (July 1942-August 1943)
Majdanek (September 1941-July 1944)
Auschwitz-Birkenau (March 1942-January 1945)
Righteous Among the Nations
In telling the story of the Holocaust, there is a group of people known as
‘the righteous’. The term ‘Righteous among the Nations’ is used by the State of
Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from
extermination by the Nazis.
These men and women of all ages and from 44 countries around the world were
of different beliefs, social background, level of education, nationality, and from
all walks of life. Their common goal was to save life. Many of the righteous
became rescuers as a result of having Jews ask them for help. Others simply
witnessed the actions of the Nazis and their collaborators and decided to act.
Rescuers lived in constant fear of the consequences of their actions. In Eastern
Europe the penalty paid for being caught helping or sheltering Jews was not only
the death of the individual, but also of their entire family. The Nazis would post
notices to this effect in order to deter locals from providing assistance to Jews.
The righteous helped Jews in many ways. Some provided shelter for Jews for just
a night; others hid them in or around their homes or property for some time and
would often take care of every need of those they rescued. Help might take the
form of providing false papers and identities, smuggling Jews out of the country
or assisting escape in some other practical way.
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