Sometime in 1944 it became obvious to most Nazi leaders (excepting Hitler) that they would soon be defeated and put on trial for what they had done. Several, including one of the worst of the criminals, Heinrich Himmler, tried to make deals with the Allies closing in on Nazi Germany. As a result the actual extermination stopped in November 1944, although thousands of people continued to die in the concentration camps. By that time most of the Jews who lived in Europe before the war, and millions of other innocent people, were dead. The war in Europe ended six months later, in May 1945.
It is important to note that the success of the Nazi machine could not have been so great were it not for the cooperation of the local populations of the conquered territories such as Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, and even western countries such as France. On the other hand, there were cases of governments and individuals who did their best at risk to their own lives to save the Jews. One such example was the organized evacuation from Denmark of the Jewish population to Sweden.
Following the war, many have asked why the Jews succumbed to the Nazis like "sheep to the slaughter." One cannot ignore the many shows of resistance among the Jews to their fate: The Jewish Partisans who fought in the forests of Eastern Europe, the Jews who joined forces with the local underground resistance, and the uprisings in ghettos and in concentration camps.
There is no doubt that the Holocaust accelerated the establishment of the State of Israel. As a result of the great catastrophe which occurred to the Jewish people, many nations realized that establishing a state was a necessary step for the protection of and the expiation for the Jewish people.
With the end of the war and unconditional surrender of Germany, international military courts were set up for the quick trials and sentencing of the Nazis for their war crimes against the Jewish people and against all humanity. (One of the better known is the Nurnberg Trials.) In 1960, the Israeli Mossad captured one of the greatest war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, in Argentina. He was brought to Jerusalem where he was tried and sentenced to death.
In 1951, the Knesset declared that the 27th day of Nissan is to be Holocaust Day, a day of commemoration of the Jews who perished and for those who showed resistance and heroism. In 1959, the Knesset passed the law of Holocaust Day.
Resistance against the Nazis--planned and spontaneous, armed and unarmed--took many forms throughout WWII and the Holocaust. For many, the resistance was a struggle for physical existence. Some escaped through legal or illegal emigration. Others hid. Those who remained, struggled to obtain life's essentials by smuggling the food, clothing, and medicine necessary to survive.
Resistance was very hazardous. In addition to the direct threat to those engaged in resistance, there was a great risk of immediate retaliation by the Nazis to the larger population after an insurrection.
As the war continued and conditions for Jews throughout Europe worsened, their resistance intensified. With a growing awareness of the "Final Solution," resistance turned to forms of guerrilla warfare . In addition to widespread partisan movements across Europe, armed rebellions occurred in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps. It was clear that the insurgents did not have a real chance to stop the Nazis, but their efforts were an affirmation of the determination to prevail. Secretly participating in Jewish rituals was also a form of spiritual resistance, which helped to sustain a sense of dignity and heritage for Jews in ghettos and camps. Printing underground newspapers, hiding written accounts of daily life, and holding concerts or plays in the ghettos were other ways that some defied the Nazi authorities. A few Jews were able to escape the ghettos and join existing partisan forces.
1933-1939: The aim of the Nazis during this time was to "cleanse" Germany of her Jewish population (Judenrein). By making the lives of the Jewish citizenry intolerable, the Germans indirectly forced them to emigrate. The Jewish citizens were excluded from public life, were fired from public and professional positions, and were ostracized from the arts, humanities, and sciences. The discrimination was anchored in German anti-Jewish legislation such as the Nurnburg Laws of 1935. At the end of 1938, the government initiated a pogrom against the Jewish inhabitants on a particular night which came to be known as Kristallnacht. This act legitimized the spilling of Jewish blood and the taking of Jewish property. The annexation of Austria in 1938 (Anschluss) subjected the Jewish population there to the same fate as that in Germany.
The foundation for genocide in the Nazi-controlled “sphere of influence” began long before the infamous Wannsee Conference was held in January 1942, when the plan to implement the “Final Solution” was finalised. There was already a complex machinery of death that encompassed removing Jews and other so-called “undesirables” from the framework of society. As early as 1933, the Nazis began an extensive propaganda campaign with the object of acquainting the German people with the benefits of “euthanasia.”
In late 1939 Hitler invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War. In mid-1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. At about the same time - historians do not agree on exactly when - Hitler also decided that there should be a "Final Solution" to "the Jewish question."
The "Final Solution" was the murder of the Jews and was mainly carried out by a military group known as the SS and a security service known as the SD. The Gestapo was part of the SD. They arrested Jews and other victims, ran the concentration camps and organized the murder squads.
During the first part of this extermination 1,500,000 Jews and other people were murdered by military groups which rounded them up and shot them. Gradually the emphasis changed to concentration camps, where the prisoners were worked to death as slave laborers, and extermination camps, where they were murdered in the gas chambers. The most famous of these was Auschwitz, which was both a labor camp and an extermination camp. About 1,300,000 people perished at Auschwitz; approximately 1,000,000 of those died in the gas chambers
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, head of Nazi Germany's Security Police, dispatched a secret message. It went to the chiefs of special task forces (Einsatzgruppen), whose responsibilities covered Polish territory controlled by Nazi Germany after its successful invasion of Poland on September 1. The subject of the message was the "Jewish Question in Occupied Territory," and Heydrich wrote about the final and intermediate goals.
Heydrich did not define the Endziel (final goal), but his memo was clear about many of the intermediate stages. Jews should be concentrated; that is, moved from the countryside and villages into large cities, where railroad transportation was readily available. Certain parts of Occupied Poland would become judenrein (cleansed of Jews) to facilitate the resettlement of ethnic Germans. Jewish councils (Judenräte) were to be appointed and held responsible for carrying out "the exact and prompt implementation of directives."
Heydrich also ordered his Einsatzgruppen chiefs to give him updates on the number and location of Polish Jews as well as their property. These orders contained an ambitious demographic plan. Specifically, it was an order to start the ghettoization of Polish Jewry, a deadly decision that would eventually doom millions of Jewish children, women, and men. Under the cover of conventional war, a different war--one against all of Europe's Jews--was beginning.
The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939. By October of 1940, they had confined nearly 400,000 Jews in a 3.5 square mile area of Warsaw which normally housed about 160,000. The area was surrounded by a wall 10 feet high and was sealed off on November 15, 1940. Jews were forbidden to go outside the area on penalty of being shot on sight. No contact with the outside world was allowed.
Hans Frank, the Nazi Gauleiter (governor) of occupied Poland, declared in 1941, "I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear."
Thus the Nazis refused to allow enough food into the ghetto to keep the Jews healthy, forcing them to survive on a bowl of soup a day. Soon, 300 to 400 persons died each day in the ghetto from starvation and disease. By July of 1942, about 80,000 Jews had perished.
On July 22, 1942, the SS, on orders from Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, began a massive "resettlement" of the Jews, taking them out of the ghetto to extermination camps (mainly Treblinka) where they were to be gassed. The Jewish Council in the ghetto was ordered to deliver 6000 persons a day for deportation. In just two months, a total of 310,322 Jews were sent to their deaths in Nazi extermination camps. By the end of September only 60,000 Jews remained.
Hitler's threats about annihilating European Jewry were not especially credible in early 1939 because a comparatively small number of Europe's Jews--fewer than 400,000--were directly under Nazi domination as 1939 began. With time's passage, however, those numbers soared. As they did, Hitler's Reichstag threats, though still far from being implemented, became more plausible. Steps in that direction took place on March 15, when Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map of Europe.
Already in the autumn of 1938, Nazi Germany had annexed parts of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Six months later Hitler engineered Slovakian secession from Czechoslovakia and the establishment of a Nazi puppet government in the new state of Slovakia. Then, on March 15, he sent the German Army into the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, declaring them a protectorate whose ethnic German inhabitants would become Reich citizens. Two days later British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain publicly proclaimed that his government would resist any further German aggression. Unfortunately, that vow came too late for the 118,000 Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, who were now subject to German control. Another 90,000 Jews lived in the highly antisemitic puppet state of Slovakia.
Germany’s persecution of Jews began almost immediately after Hitler assumed power in 1933, and escalated without pause until the collapse of the Nazi regime in 1945. Nazi efforts to safeguard the "purity of blood" by classifying racial distinction affected Jewish life in Germany at every turn. The precise terminology of the Nürnberg Laws defined "degrees of Jewishness" based on one's number of Jewish grandparents. Intensified Nazi propaganda about the evils of race defilement poisoned relations between "Aryans" and Jews.
After its defeat in World War I, Germany was humiliated by the Versailles Treaty, which reduced its prewar territory, drastically reduced its armed forces, demanded the recognition of its guilt for the war, and stipulated it pay reparations to the allied powers. With the German Empire destroyed, a new parliamentary government called the Weimar Republic was formed. The republic suffered from economic instability, which grew worse during the worldwide depression after the New York stock market crash in 1929. Massive inflation followed by very high unemployment heightened existing class and political differences and began to undermine the government.
On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party, was named chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg after the Nazi party won a significant percentage of the vote in the elections of 1932. The Nazi Party had taken advantage of the political unrest in Germany to gain an electoral foothold. The Nazis incited clashes with the communists and conducted a vicious propaganda campaign against its political opponents - the weak Weimar government and the Jews whom the Nazis blamed for Germany's ills.
The Holocaust (also called Ha-Shoah in Hebrew) refers to the period from January 30, 1933 - when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany - to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe officially ended. During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to progressively harsher persecution that ultimately led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews (1.5 million of these being children) and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry.
The Jews who died were not casualties of the fighting that ravaged Europe during World War II. Rather, they were the victims of Germany's deliberate and systematic attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe, a plan Hitler called the “Final Solution” (Endlosung).