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The Holocaust was the persecution and mass murder of as many as 11 million people by
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. Learn about the people they targeted,
the progression of events leading up to the Final Solution and the end of the genocide in
this lesson.
Targets of the Holocaust
The term Holocaust typically refers to the persecution and mass murder of as many as
11 million people by the Nazis, or German fascists, between 1933 and 1945. Though
history cannot hold just one person responsible for all of the atrocities carried out, the
Holocaust corresponds with the political rise of one man: Adolf Hitler. He became
Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. By the middle of the next year, he was
dictator with the title of Fuhrer.
Hitler had started cleansing, what he called, 'the master race' almost as soon as he took
office. In addition to the nearly six million Jews he targeted, there were more than five
million non-Jewish victims as well. The Nazi regime tried to eliminate anyone who might
pose a political threat, including communists, journalists and various Christians who
opposed Hitler, those who would 'dilute' the Aryan gene pool, such as Romani, Jews,
blacks and the handicapped, and criminals and others who drained the economic system,

in addition to people they just didn't like, such as homosexuals.

Depending on the offense, victims might find themselves subject to heavy labor, forced
abortions and sterilization. They were very likely to have their assets stolen and then be
imprisoned in a concentration camp anywhere in the Third German Empire, or Reich,
where they were often executed or worked to death. The exact number of camps varies,

depending on the definition, but there were dozens of main camps, with many sub-units,
serving different functions. Current estimates total about 20,000 camps.

Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany

But since at least the end of WWI, Hitler had specifically blamed Jews for his nation's
problems. Anti-Semitism wasn't a new phenomenon in Europe, but the Nazis ramped up
the prejudice to a murderous level. First, Jews were identified by voluntary registration,
and then other research, like census and immigration records and synagogue
membership rolls, and through informants who were paid bounties. Then, beginning in

1933, a series of increasingly strict laws stripped away Jewish rights, including land
ownership. They were barred from many professions like law, medicine, journalism and
the military. By 1935, they had lost their citizenship, and even more personal, business
and property restrictions and regulations were enacted in the coming years.
But the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, in November 1938 marked a turning point
in Jewish persecution. As retribution for the murder of a German embassy employee in
Paris by a German-born Jewish student, more than 9,000 Jewish-owned businesses,
homes and synagogues were destroyed or vandalized.
As many as 91 Jewish men were murdered, and upwards of 30,000 were arrested and
sent to concentration camps. Within days, the German government eliminated Jews from
the economy, most remaining Jewish-owned property was seized and Jewish children
were expelled from public schools. To add insult to injury, the Jewish community as a
whole was fined one billion marks to pay for the damage of Kristallnacht.
Nazi Persecution Extends Beyond Germany
After invading Poland in 1939, Hitler started separating the 'undesirable' citizens from the
rest of the population. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were relocated into ghettos near
railroad lines. Within months, Polish Jews became slaves and had to wear a white Star of
David on their arms. Eventually, Jews throughout the Reich were required to wear the

recognizable yellow Star of David on their chests.

But as the Nazis conquered more and more territory, they encountered more and more of
what they called 'sub-humans,' including Allied POWs who fit their description. Germany
began deporting Jews to concentration camps. Those who were allowed to remain at
home for the time being became slave labor in the war industries. In newly-occupied

lands, the easiest solution for the Nazis was to simply kill as many Jews as possible on
the spot, or pay locals to do it for them, but many others were also sent to camps.
Meanwhile, Hitler's allies started their own cleansing programs.
Auschwitz and Other Death Camps

By the summer of 1941, the Fuhrer ordered the systematic extermination of all Jewish
people in Europe. Called the Final Solution, this genocide program began at Auschwitz,
but ultimately included six death camps, all in Poland, specially equipped for mass
murder. European Jews, plus some other 'undesirables,' were typically deported by

freight and cattle cars, packed shoulder to shoulder for days without room to sit, without
protection from weather and without food, water or bathroom facilities. Those who
survived the train ride were separated upon arrival.
Useful prisoners were tattooed with a number, stripped of their clothes and belongings,
shaved and hosed down. They were often allowed to live as long as they were productive
workers for the German war machine. Those who weren't useful enough were killed
immediately, including almost all children and the elderly. A number of execution
methods were tested, but by January of 1942, Zyklon-B gas became the preferred method.
The earliest victims were buried in mass graves, but cremation soon became the only
sustainable option. There are very few known cases of resistance or rebellion in the
camps or even the ghettos, and the Nazis suppressed all uprisings successfully.
However, a few individuals did manage to escape to safety.