In the late 20th century, the term Holocaust
(Greek, "a completely (holos
) burnt (kaustos
offering") was introduced to refer to the attempt of the Nazi Party of
Germany to "exterminate" those groups of people found "undesirable" by
the Third Reich. The term is primarily used to refer exclusively to the
extermination of a large portion of Europe's Jewish population, of which
between 5 and 7 million were systematically killed according to the extensive
documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves.
In some circles, the term holocaust is used to describe the systematic
murder of the other groups which were "exterminated" in the same circumstances
by the Nazis, including homosexuals, political dissidents, communists and
pacifists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some members of churches who opposed Nazism,
ethnic Roma and Sinti (also known as gypsies), Russians, Poles, and other
Slavs, raising the total number of victims of Nazi atrocities to between
ten and fourteen million civilians, and up to 4 million POWs. Today, the
term is also sometimes used to describe many other attempts at genocide,
both before and after World War II.
Shoa, also spelled Shoah and Sho'ah, Hebrew for
"Destruction", is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. It is used by many
Jews and a growing number of Christians due to theological discomfort with
the literal meaning of the word Holocaust; it is considered theologically
offensive to imply that the Jews of Europe were a sacrifice to God. It
is nonetheless recognized that most people who use the term Holocaust
do not intend such a meaning. Similarly, the Roma (Gypsy) people use the
word Porajmos, meaning "Devouring" to describe the Nazi attempt
to exterminate that group.
One feature of the Nazi Holocaust that distinguishes it from the many
previous (and later) attempts at genocide was the systematic method with
which the mass killings were conducted. Detailed lists of present, and
future, potential victims were made and meticulous records of the killings
have been found at some sites. At other sites, records have been destroyed
or lost, leading to speculation between scholars as to actual numeric figures.
In addition, considerable effort was expended over the course of the Holocaust
to find increasingly efficient means of killing more people faster, for
example by switching from carbon monoxide poisoning to the use of zyklon
Concentration and Extermination Camps
Concentration camps for "undesirables" were spread throughout Europe, with
new camps being created near centers of dense "undesirable" populations,
often focusing on heavily Jewish, communist, or Roma groups.
Concentration camps for Jews and other "undesirables" also existed in
Germany itself, and while not specifically designed for systematic extermination,
many concentration camp prisoners died because of harsh conditions or were
Some camps, such as Auschwitz, combined slave labor with systematic
extermination. Upon arrival in these camps, prisoners were divided into
two groups: those too weak for work were immediately murdered in gas chambers
(which were sometimes disguised as "showers") and their bodies burned,
while others were first used for slave labor in factories or industrial
enterprises located in the camp or nearby. The Nazis also forced some prisoners
to work in the removal of the corpses and to harvest elements of the bodies.
Gold teeth were extracted from the corpses and women's hair (shaved from
the heads of victims before they entered the gas chambers) was recycled
for use in products such as rugs and socks.
Three camps--Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II--were used exclusively
for extermination. Only a small number of prisoners were kept alive to
work at the task of disposing of the bodies of people murdered in the gas
The transport was often carried out under horrifying conditions using
rail freight cars.
See also: Concentration camp, Extermination camp
Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s (though its history
extends far back throughout many centuries during the course of Judaism).
Adolf Hitler's fanatical anti-Semitism was laid out in his 1925 book Mein
Kampf, which became popular in Germany once he acquired political power.
On April 1, 1933 the recently elected Nazis under Julius Streicher organized
a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany, ushering in
the series of anti-Semitic acts that would eventually culminate in the
In many cities throughout Europe, Jews had been living in concentrated
areas. During the first years of World War II, the Nazis formalized the
borders of these areas and restricted movement, creating modern ghettos
to which Jews were confined. The ghettos were in effect prisons, in which
many Jews died from hunger and disease; others were executed by the Nazis
and their collaborators. Concentration camps for Jews existed in Germany
itself. During the invasion of the Soviet Union over 3,000 special killing
units (Einsatzgruppen) followed the Armed Forces and conducted mass
killings of the Jewish population that lived on Soviet territory. Entire
communities were wiped out by being rounded up, robbed of their possessions
and clothing, and shot at the edges of ditches.
In January of 1942, during the Wannsee conference, Nazi leaders agreed
on what Nazi ideologists called the "final solution of the Jewish question"
(Endlösung der Judenfrage). They began to systematically deport
the Jewish populations of the ghettos and from all occupied territories
to extermination camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka II.
See also : Judenrat, genocide
Homosexuals were another of the groups targeted during the time of the
Holocaust. However, the Nazi party made no attempt to exterminate all homosexuals;
according to Nazi law, being homosexual itself was not grounds for arrest.
Some prominent members of the Nazi leadership were known to other Nazi
leaders to be homosexual, which may account for the fact that the leadership
offered mixed signals on how to deal with homosexuals. Some leaders clearly
wanted homosexuals exterminated; others wanted them left alone, while others
wanted laws against homosexual acts enforced, but otherwise allowed homosexuals
to live as other citizens did.
Estimates vary wildly as to the number of homosexuals killed. They range
from as low as 10,000 to as high as 600,000. The large variance is partly
dependent on how researchers tally those who were Jewish and homosexual,
or even Jewish, homosexual and communist. In addition, records as to the
reasons for internment remain non-existent in many areas. See Homosexuals
in Nazi Germany for more information.
Main article: Porajmos
Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Roma people of Europe was
seen by many as a particularly bizarre application of Nazi racial science.
German anthropologists were forced to contend with the fact that Gypsies
were descendants of the original Aryan invaders of India, who made their
way back to Europe. Ironically, this made them no less Aryan than the German
people itself, in practice if not in theory. This dilemma was resolved
by Professor Hans Gunther, a leading racial scientist, who wrote:
"The Gypsies have indeed retained some elements from their Nordic home,
but they are descended from the lowest classes of the population in that
region. In the course of their migration, they absorbed the blood of the
surrounding peoples, thus becoming an Oriental, West-Asiatic racial mixture
with an addition of Indian, mid-Asiatic, and European strains."
As a result, however, and despite discriminatory measures, some groups
of Roma, including the Sinti and Lalleri tribes of Germany, were spared
deportation and death. Remaining Gypsy groups suffered much like the Jews
(and in some instances, were degraded even more than Jews). In Eastern
Europe, Gypsies were deported to the Jewish ghettoes, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen
in their villages, and deported and gassed in Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Please complete information about the way the campaigns against the
other groups were carried out. They were each unique in some ways.
Slavic people have been targeted by holocaust, mostly intellectuals
and prominent people, although there were some mass murders and instances
of genocide (Croatian Ustashe as the most notorious example).
Extent of the Holocaust
The exact number of people killed by the Nazi regime is still subject further
research. However, the following estimates are considered to be highly
5 - 7 million Jews
3.5 - 6 million Slavic civilians
2.5 - 4 million POWs
1 - 1.5 million political dissidents
200,000 - 800,000 Roma & Sinti
200,000 - 300,000 Handicapped
10,000 - 250,000 Homosexuals
To identify prisoners in the camps according to their "offense", they were
required to wear colored triangles on their clothing. Although the colors
used differed from camp to camp, the colors most commonly were:
Yellow: Jews -- two overlaid to form a Star of David, with the word
Red: political dissidents, including communists
Green: ordinary criminals
Purple: Jehovah's Witnesses
Brown: Roma and Sinti, i.e., "Gypsies"
Black: Lesbians and "anti-socials"
Pink: Gay men
As with any historical event, scholars continue to argue over what, exactly,
happened, and why. Among the major questions historians have sought to
how many people were killed in the Holocaust?
who was directly involved in the killing?
who authorized the killing?
who knew about the killing?
why did people directly participate in, authorize, or tacitly accept the
The sections above reflect a general consensus among historians, although
the Holocaust remains a subject of ongoing historical research. One major
issue in contemporary Holocaust studies is the question of functionalism
. Intentionalists argue that the Holocaust
was planned by Hitler from the very beginning. Functionalists hold that
the Holocaust was started in 1942 as a result of the failure of the Nazi
deportation policy and the impending military losses in Russia. They claim
that extermination fantasies outlined in Hitler's Mein Kampf
other Nazi literature were mere propaganda and did not constitute concrete
Another controversy was started by the historian Daniel Goldhagen, who
argues that ordinary Germans were knowing and willing participants in the
Holocaust, which he claims had its roots in a deep eliminative German anti-Semitism.
Others claim that while anti-Semitism undeniably existed in Germany, the
extermination was unknown to many and had to be enforced by the dictatorial
Revisionists and Deniers
Some groups, usually branded as neo-Nazi, deny that the Holocaust occurred
at all. They are commonly referred to as "Holocaust deniers".
Holocaust revisionism claims that far fewer than 6,000,000 Jews were
killed, and that the killing was not a result of deliberate Nazi policy.
Although Holocaust revisionists claim to present documentary evidence to
support their claims, critics argue that the research is politically motivated
and the conclusions pre-determined. Many claim that such revisionism is
a form of Anti-Semitism and tantamount to denial. Holocaust revisionism
is not supported by any respected historians of the period.
In light of the magnitude of evil seen in the Holocaust, many people have
re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions
in the world. How can people still have any faith after the Holocaust?
For the theological responses to questions raised by the Holocaust, see
Origin and use of the term
The word 'Holocaust', from the Greek word holokauston
burnt sacrifice offered to God", originally referred to a sacrifice Jews
were required to make by the Torah, and later to large scale catastrophes
or massacres. Due to the theological meaning that this word carries, many
Jews find the use of this word problematic, as it could imply that Jews
were a sacrifice. Instead of holocaust
many Jews prefer the Hebrew
, which means "desolation".
While nowadays the term 'Holocaust' usually refers to the above-mentioned
large-scale genocide of Jews and murder of other groups, it is also sometimes
used to refer to other occurrences of genocide, especially the Armenian
Holocaust, the murder of over a million Armenians by the Young Turk government
in 1915. However, the Turkish government officially denies that there was
any genocide, claiming that most of the Armenian deaths resulted from armed
conflict, disease and famine during the turmoil of World War I.
Auschwitz, Historical revisionism, Anti-Semitism, Genocide, Final solution,
Holocaust memorials, eugenics, Bohdan Chmielnicki, Rhineland Bastard
John V. H. Dippel, Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire: Why so many German Jews
made the tragic decision to remain in Nazi Germany, Basic Books, 1996,
hardback, ISBN 0465091032.
Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, Henry Holt and Company,
1982, hardback, ISBN 0030592844. A devastating account of how the Allies
responded to the news of Hitler's mass-murder.
Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans
and the Holocaust, New York: Knopf, 1996, hardback, ISBN 0679446958.
Norman G. Finkelstein, Ruth Bettina Birn, A nation on trial: the Goldhagen
thesis and historical truth, Owl books, 1998, hardback, ISBN 0929087755.
Criticizes Goldhagen's methods and theses.
Raul Hilbert, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe
1933-1945, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992, hardcover, ISBN 0060190353.
Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth
and Memory, Plume (The Penguin Group), 1994, hardback, ISBN 0029192358.
Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward
German Jews, 1933-1939. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1990, hardback,
ISBN 0252000927. An argument for functionalism.
Art SpiegelmanMaus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History,
Pantheon Books, New York, 1991, hardback, ISBN 0394541553
Art Spiegelman, Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here my Troubles Began,
Pantheon Books, New York, 1991, hardback, ISBN 0-394-55655-0. Comic book
format; story is of author's father, a survivor.
John Weiss, Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany,1997,
paperback, ISBN 1566631742.
Shoah is a nine-hour documentary completed by Claude Lanzmann in
1985. The film, unlike most historical documentaries, does not feature
reenactments or historical photos; instead it consists of interviews with
people who were involved in various ways in the Holocaust, and visits to
different places they discuss.