The Holocaust in Germany: World War II

Figure 1.--This is where the initial NAZI efforts to repress and isolate German Jews ultimately led. Almost all the Jews who did not get out of Germany by the time Hitler and Stalin launched the War, were murdered. The NAZIs began exporting Jews even before the War, mostly Jews with foreign (Polish) citizenship (1938). After invading and seizing Poland (September 1939), the NAZIs began forcibly deporting German Jews. Here deportee German Jews are assembled at the Hanau train station. The Jews were from Hanau and the surrounding area (May 30, 1942). Hanau is a town in Main-Kinzig-Kreis, Hessen. It is located near Frankfurt am Main. The Hanau rail station is a major railway junction. This photograph was dated, but we know it wa taken in the middle of the war because the Jews are wearing the Star of David Jude badges. At this time the NAZI horific death camps in occupied Poland were fully operational. Notice that the deportation is being supervised by Wehrmacht officers, not the SS.

World War II changed everything. Jews in Germany lived under increasingly difficult conditions. The Nuremberg Laws deprioved them from citzenship and subsequent regulations made it virtually impossible for Jews to make a living in German. By the time of World war II. modt Jews had been reduced to poverty. Until the War approached, Jews were allowed to emigrate. They had to forfet their property, but they could leave if they obtained entry visas from foreign countries. As the War approsched, it becme inreasingly difficult for Jews to obtain exit visas from NAZI authorities. Very few German Jews were actually killed until Kristalnacht (November 1938). The Kindertransport was the last chance for many Jewish children. Even with the widespread brutality of Kristallnacht (November 1938), the numbers of Jews actually killed was limited in relation as to what was to come. We know from Mein Kampf that Hitler planned a new war from the very beginning. It also suggests that the extermination of Jews was also on Hitler's mind from the onset, but this is not entirely clear. The strteling success of German arms at the onset of the War, gave Hitler control over not only German Jews, but most of the Jews of Europe. The invasion and occupation of Poland massively increased the Jews under his control (September 1939)He now had the ability and the means to kill Jews in massive numbers. It was not until the victory in the West over France (June 1940), however, that plans for the the industrial killing of Jews were set in motion. And that killing began from the moment that Germn armies entered the Soviet Union (June 1941). The War also changed the lives of German Jews. As bad as it had been before the War, conmditions steadily deteriorated for Reich Jews. The final step was deportation to ghettos and death camps in the East. When the Allies finally entered the Reich, very few Jews had managed to survive.

Repression and Isolation (1033-39)

It is not know with any certainty if Hitler conceived the murder of European Jews from the onset of his political career or if the Holocaust evolved over time after he seized power in 1933. We do know that Hitler spoke of the "extermination" of the Jews and described them as "racially unfit". This was not, however, widely seen in Germany as meaning he planned to murder German, let alone European Jews. President Hindenburg named NAZI leader Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany (January 1933). The first steps taken by Hitler was against the Cmmunists and Socialists, but actions against the Jews followed soon after. Hitler in his actions against Jews proceeded carefully, but relentlessy. There were three basic stages in NAZI policy. It is unclear to what extent these policies were conceived from the beginning as opposed to evolving overtime. The first stage was to restrict Jews ability to make a living in an effort to incourage them to emmigrate. Steps were taken to remove Jews from position of influence. The second stage was to segregate the Jews by denying their citzenship. Here the repressionn of Jewish children began when they were expelled from schools. The NAZIs also began confiscating Jewish property. The third stage was to deport Jews and incklude a more severe repression beginning with Kristallnacht. The fourth stage was the murder of the Jews. It is not precisely when Hitler made this decession.

World War II (1939-45)

Even the NAZIs, before World War II, hesitted at genocide. World War II changed this and removed the last inhibitions. The swift conquest of Poland left the NAZIs in control of Poland's large Jewish population (September/October 1939). The collpase of the Fench Army esentially left the NAZIs in contriol of Western Europe (June 1940). The NAZIs and much of the ret of Europe thought that the Germans had won the War. Reservations and inhibitions that some Germns might have felt had been reduced or eliminted by NAZI anti-semetic propaganda and education and the belief that NAZIism was Europe's future for th next 1,000 years.

Poland (1939-44)

Poland had one of the world's largest and most vibrant Jewish communities dateing back to the medieval era. Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe with the exception of the Soviet Union. Poland was the center of the NAZI Holocaust of the Jewish people. The German invasion and seizure of western and central Poland made it possible to perfect the process of killing Jews. There were some if limited constraints on the NAZIS in German. There were no constraints in Poland. Heydrich in September 1939 layed out the NAZI plan for the Jews to SS officers. The NAZIs proceeded to concentrate the Jews into ghettos, a medieval institution, where they were easily accssible fortransport to the death camps built nearby. The death camps were located in Poland not Germany. And in Poland the Germans found many willing to help them and few Poles intersted in protecting the Jews. Einsatzgruppen began killing Polish Jews with the German invasion (September 1939). This was done, however, in relatively small numbers. Most Polish Jews were forced into the new ghettos which after the viloence directed at them semed almost a haven. It also gave the NAZIs the opportunity tocompletely strip threm of their property and restrict consumtion of food and other consumer products as well as to force them into slave labor. The impetus for murder outweighed the benefits of slave labor. The SS largely liquidated the ghettos (meaning murdered the Jews in them) during 1942 following the Wannsee Conference: Lublin (March 1942); ghettos of Eastern and Western Poland (Spring 1942); and the Warsaw Ghetto (July-September 1942). Hitler had largely succeeded by 1943 in destroying the once vibrant Jewish community of Poland. The death camps in Poland were also used to kill the Jews in NAZI occupied western and southern Europe.

New Regulations September 1939-40)

With the War, new regulations were issued concerning Jews. Jews had to turn their radios in to the police (September 23, 1939). Jews were prohibited from having telephones (July 29, 1940).

Stolen Art

Alfred Rosenberg was the leading NAZI Party therotician and was made Minister of the Occupied Easter terriories. He established atask force to seize and bring cultural trasures to Germany. More than 5,000 imporant paintings including works by most of the great masters (Fragonard, Gainsborough Goya, Rembrandt, Rubens, and many others) were taken from museums and homes. Many other items including coins, porcelin, sculpture, and other treasures were taken. There was also much "pwnerless Jewish property. Mostitems of value had already been divested by 1940 from German Jews, but the German conquests in Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France had opened up new avenues for plunder. [Gilbert, p. 344.]

Institute for the Investigation of the Jewish Question (1940)

Alfred Rosenberg during 1940 established the Institute for the Investigation of the Jewish Question in Frankfurt. When he opened the Institute he declared, "Germany will regard the Jewish Question as solved only after the last Jew has left te Greater German living space. [Gilbert, p. 344.] One of Rosenberg's principal difficulties in sloving the Jewish Question (meaning robbing and killing Jews) was a juridictional dispute with Himmler and the SS.

Opperation Barbarossa (June 22, 1941)

The Wegrmact on Hitler's commnd the invassion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). Hitler commanded that it would be war like none other, a war of exterination. From the onset, especially trained killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen, begin murdering Jews in mass executons, mostly by shooting. This had occured on a smaller scale in Poland. Now there ws no limit to the killings. In many cases there was no effort to heard the Jews into ghettos, but were killed immediatly or within days.

Decission (July 21, 1941)

Reinhard Heydrich received authorisation to begin the implementation of the Endlösung the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ (July 31, 1941). The order was given by Güring. It must have followed an oral order by Hitler who declined to put such orders in writing. To most ranking NAZIs as the Panzers drove deep into the Sovirt Union, it looked like Germany had won the War and that they were masters of Europe. Most believed that there would be no consequemnces for what ever they did in the East. The NAZIs begin the construction of Birkenau at Auschwitz as a killing center for gassing Jews. Construction of other specially designed Death Camps in Poland are begun.

Reich Chancellery Meeting (December 12, 1941)

Hitler a day after declaring war on America summoned his Gauletiers and other NAZI leaders to the Reich chancellery (December 12). It was here in the private room that he announced that European Jews were to be killed. The killkng in fact had already begun, primsrily un the Soviet Union. This was not the decesion to kill. It was the announcement to the leading NAZI officials that the official state policy was to kill. As the meeting was held in the private room, there is nonofficial records. Participants have left reports on what was said. And some horific follow up meetings were held. Two days later, Himmler met the man who in Chancellery officisls responsible for the T-4 killings of the mentally ill (December 14). This was overseen by Victor Brack. This was not conducted by the SS. The mentally ill and handicapped were killed in gas chambers. This had become knon as the 'Brack remedy'. Himmler noted the speaking points as 'course in east ministry, euthanasia'. Brack's surpervisor, Reichsleiter Phillip Bouhler, met with Hitler twice. The issue in these meetings were the transfer of the "well practiced personnel" that had run the T-4 gas chambers to the death camps that to be built and built in occupied Poland for murdering Jews. Bouhler described it as the transfer of his people 'to a definitive solution of the Jewish question'.

More Restrictions (1941-42)

German Jews were in 1941, despite the NAZI Einsatzgruppen actions in Poland were not yet being murdered in large numbers, but repressiin continued with more and more regulations. German authorities also ordered Jews to turn over property 'essential to the war effort' such as radios, cameras, bicycles, electrical appliances, and other valuables. Authorities prohibited Jewd from using public transportation (September 1941). The NAZIs ordered German Jews to wear the Star of David badge (Magen David) on their outermost garmen when in public (September 1, 1941). It applied to all Jews over age 6 years. It was not necessary fir young children because they would be accompsnied by adults. Jews were forbidden to have dogs, cats, and birds (October 15, 1941). Authorities did not generally set up ghettoes in the Reich. They did establish strict residence regulations which forced many Jewsish families to move to designated city areas. Msny were concentrated in 'Jewish houses' (Judenhäuser). Many Jews by this time had lost their jobs or shops. Authorities issued ordinances requiring healty Jews to perform compulsory forced labor. The NAZIs begin issuing German Jews deportation orders to Poland. Many believed what they are told that they were going to be resettled in the East (October 1941). I do not know if actual deportations began in 1941. Part of the reason may have been the deteriorating military situation in Russia. I do not yet have the completre account on this. The military situation in the East had stabilized (mid-April 1942) and the the NAZIs could proceed with mass murder at their new death camps in Poland. Reich Jews in 1942 were included in the mass murder. Many were sent directly to the darth camps rather than the Polish ghettos. Many Reich Jews were killed at Chelmo and Maly Trostinez. Blind and deaf Jews were prohibited from wearing armbands identifying their condition in traffic (July 17, 1942).

Wansee Conference (January 1942)

NAZI officials saw the mass killing of Jews in the Soviet Union in the summer and fall of 1941 as being conducted in a disjointed and uncoordinate fashion. Himmler became concerned about the psychological impact on SS members of personally killing Jews, especially women and children. Now that the NAZIs contolled virtually all of western Europe and millions of Jews, it was felt that a coordinated plan was needed to efficently execute the "Final Sollution". The SS was the principal tool, but the killing of millions necesitated the cooperation of many different Government agencies. The was originally scheduled for December 9, 1941, but had to be postponed because of the stuningly successful Russian offensive in front of Moscow and after Pearl Harbor, Hitler's declaration of war on America. The meeting was finally held on January 20, 1942 in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. The meeting was a secret sesion attended by 15 senior NAZI officials. The purpose was to coordinate the "Final Sollution"-the murder of 11 million Europen Jews. that had already began in Poland and the Soviet Europe. The decission to murder the Jew had already been taken. The Conference was to coordinate and immplement that decission.

Deportations (1938-44)

German Jews were not forced together in Ghettos, they were however, gradually forced out of small towns all over Gernmay and gradually deprived of their property and unable to find work forced to live in squalor and deplorable conditions. Gradually they were deported to Poland. This began even before the German invasion in 1939, but the early deportations were Jews who were found to be Polish Jews. Some Polish Jews living in Germany after World War I obtained Polish passports, but continued living in Germany. NAZI authorities studied the individual records and identified Jews born in Poland. These Polish Jews the first to be deported. The Polish authorities often did not cooperate with the NAZIs. Several incidents occurred where deported Jews suffered terribly during all kinds of weather caught between Polish and German border guards. The suffering of one youth's family promted a Jewish youth in Paris to shoot a German diplomat thus launching Kristallnacht. Once Poland had been conquered, the process became easier. German Jews would receive notification of deportation and would have to report at a specified time. Most of the deportations were to Poland. The NAZIs beginning October 22, 1940 began deporting 6,500 German Jews from the Western Landen of Baden, the Saar, and the Plaatinate to internment camps in the French Pyrenees (Gurs, Noé, Récébédou, and Rivesaltes) which were controlled by Vichy guards. These were some of the oldest Jewish families in Germany. Some came from Mannheim where the first synagogue was built in 1664. A few were from Alt Breisach where the first Jew which arrived in 1301. All their himes, shops, and property were seized by local NAZI authorities. The lack of even the most basic facilities at these camps made then more deadly than deportment to Poland, at least in 1940. [Gilbert, p. 347.] The deportation of German Jews began in an organized fashion (October 1941). At first the deportations carried the German Jews to the ghettos established in Poland. After the Death Camps opened in June-July 1942 the transports begin to be routed directlyn to these camps.

Final Decrees (1943)

The number of German Jews was sharply reduced as aresult of the deportations by 1943. The last major deportations were organized at this time. Most went to Theresienstadt or Auschwitz. German authorities desiring to ensure the legality of the dusposition of property enacted a number of new laws and ordinances legalizing the seizure of 'abandoned' property. Authoruities were authorized to seize abandioned Jewidh property and spelled out how it ws to be distributed. The final step was an ordinance completely removing Jews from the protection of German law (July 1943). They were placed under the jurisdiction of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauuptamt-RSHA) which could deal with them without any legal restrictions.

Rosensrasse (February 1943)

The Gestapo in an action against Berlin Jews arrested 5,000 and detained them at a collection point on Rosenstrasse (February 27, 1943). One of the few successful public demonstrations against the NAZIs occurred in 1943. Aryan wives of detained Jews demonstrated on Rosenstrasse against the detention of their husbands. Apprentlt they were not joined by thw Aryan husbands of detained female Jews. Presumably because they would have been attacked by SA bully boys, but authorities did not want to order an attack on German women. Other arrests and deportions of Berlin Jews had met no public resistance. This time it was different because among those arrested were Jews married to Aryans. Here we do not fully understand NAZI law. The Nuremburg Laws made marriage and exual relations between Jews and Sryans illegal. Many Aryans as a result divorced their Jewish partners. This does not appear to have been a legal requirement, although Aryans married to Jews and their children faced many problems. Among those detained in February were Jews who had been officially categorized "Aryans by marriage". Here I am not sure if all Jews married to Aryans. I am not sure to what extent these married partners were husbands or wives, but there appear to have been more husbands than wives. The day following the arrests, Aryan wives appeared outside the Risenstrasse detention center and the numbers increased until several hundred showed up there. They did not demonstrate, but just stood silently outside the detention center. The full details of what occurred including Hitler's involvement are unknown. It is known that Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels, was also the Berlin Gailetier, saw it as a public relations nightmare. One week later the Jews were released. Some who had been deported were even brought back from Auschwitz. I assume the Jew released were only those married to Aryans, but do not yet have full details.

Marriage to Aryans

NAZI regulations outlawed Aryans from marrying Jews as well as sexual relations between ryans and Jews. The regulations did not force mixed couples to separate, but great pressure was put on them to do so. Many spouses married to Jews divorced or simply left them. Some separated voluntarily for the sake of the children as Mischlings were not subject to the same repressive regulations as Jews. Some mixed families stayed togtger despite all the consequences. Generally authorities avoided Jews in these mixed marriages in the deportation orders. Finally as the Jewish population declined in Germany, they moved against the Jews in these mixed marriages. This is when the the Rosensrasse incident occurred in Berlin (Februry 1943). This of course did not mean that Jewish spouces were safe. Victor Klemperer, a noted professor of Romance literature living in Dresden explains that he had been spared, because of his Protestant wife. Towards the end of the war, this protection was apparently no longer working. He knew that his privileged status was ending. There were mo longer deporations as the Red Army had driven the Germans out of Poland, but there were still concentration camps in the Reich. He felt his arrest and murder was eminant. Only the confusion of the Dresden bombing allowed him to escape to Bavaria and survive the end of the war in a small village. [Klemperer] A Miscling girl in her war time memory reports how her Jewish father was about to be killed at the enbd of the War, but went into hiding

Jews in the Wehrmacht

As strange as it may seem, a substantial number of men of Jewish descent fought in the Wehrmacht. One estimate suggests that about 150.000 men of Jewish descent served in the German military. A few wwere Jews who had long careers in the German military before the NAZIs seized power. A smller number were Aryanized. A much larger number were men who considered themselves Germans first and had no association with Judaism, their parents or other zancestors having convered to Christianity. They grew up thinking of themselves as German Christians. Some did not even know they had Jewish ancestors. The Nuremberg Laws reddefined Judaism biologically (1935). Most were Mischlinge (mixed) with two Jewish granparents. While Mischlinge were disadvantage in NAZI Germany, they were not arrested and deported. But relatives, including parents were. Those who survived the War had deeply conflicted consciouness. One of the nen involved, Ruchard Reiss, explains that he, 'felt guilty, but logically I had no other choice. But I now think I shouldn't have done. .... We wre not allowed to think under Hitler.' [Riggs]

Knowledge and Complicity

The question of how much the average German knew about the Holocast and to what extent they were complicit in it is a much debated topic. It is one that few Germans have wanted to discuss. An American historian, Daniel Goldhagen has raised the issue and maintains that there was wide knowledge and that a kind of willing comoplicity. His books speaking engagements have attracted considerable interest, but many Germans are deeply resentful at him for raising the issue. There are some obvious facts. Most of the actual killing was done in Poland, the Soviet Union, and other Eastern Euroopean countries. In Poland where the death camps were located, most of the killing was done behind barbed wire where the SS carried out the murders without public scrutiny. Many of the Jews that arrived had no idea as to the fate that awaited them. Others while they did not know the details had few illusions about the NAZIs. NAZI controlled media in Germany never published accounts of the killings. Even the Allied propaganda did not provide details on the Holocaust and what claims were mentioned were dismissed by many Germans as war propaganda. (The Allies, especially the British, had during World War I fabricated many lurid accounts of German attricities, specially in Belgium.) While all this is true. There are other clear facts suggesting that many Germans knew. Public statements by Hitler, Goebbels, and other NAZIs while not specific made it very clear as to the regimes plans for the Jews. The NAZI Stromtroopers (SA) and Hitler Youth had songs and chants with the words, "Death to the Jews". The NAZI pogrom of Kristallnacht was conducted in Germany in the full view of the German people. While the actual number of deaths were minimal compared to the later killings, there were killings and vicius beatings carried out in publiv view. After the War began, not only the SS but Wehrmacht units were involved in mass roundups and killings of Jews. Many must have talked about their experiences in the East. Jews were used as slave labor by large numbers of German companies and employees there would have been exposed to what was happening. The German railway system organized thetransport of large numbers of Jews east. Many would have know about where they were being transported and the fate that awaited them. The subject is difficult to reserach, because interviews with Germans living at the time cannot be taken at face value. Many Germans benefitted by the NAZI anti-Jewing campaign in the 1930s. Many got jobs that the Jews were dismissed from. Many got homes, shops, and other property that was stollen from the Jews. Many participated in small ways such as avoiding Jewish shoops and ignoring or reporting on Jewish neighbors. School children ostraicized or even physically asaulted their Jewish school mates. These are painful memories that few Germans want to admit and most want to forget.

Impact on Germany

We know what the impact of the Holocaust was on the Jews, both those murdered and those that survived. There were 6 million precious lives lost and lived cripped by the loss of family and friends. Less well examined was the cost to Germany. The NAZIs argued that Jews and other non-Aryan influences weakened Germany. There was never any assessment done, but rather a resort to prejudice and pseudo science. Actually the NAZI campaign against the Jews significantly impaired the German war effort. There was some benefit in terms of slave labor, but this was a net loss because the talents and abilities of German Jews was essentially waisted. Jews in World War I like other citizens had supported the war effort. Many received military commendations and played notable rolls in war industries. The most obvious loss was the nuclear phyiists that fled Germany and NAZI-occupied Europe. Not only did this weaken NAZI science, but played a major role in the Manhattan project. Germany in 1939 was to believed to be 2-years ahead of America and Britain in nuclear physics, but was unable to build a nuclear weapon. After the War the impact on Germany was also significant. The Jews and others who fled the NAZIs played a major role in America's emergence as a world leader, not only in science but the arts as well. The German post-War economic miracle has clouded the impact on Germany. German befofe the NAZIs was a world leader in many areas. This was true of many scientific disciplines as can be assessed by noting the number of nobel prizes won by German scientists. Germany had a leadership position in many areas like television, color film, and taking movies. Germany had a dynamic fashion industry. German film studios were some of the most important in the world. German artists were at the cuttig edge of modern art. Look at Germany after the War. Many of these were areas in which Jews, before the NAZIs, played an important role. German industry staged an impressive recovery, but German companies were largely involved in craftmanship and building goods with basically old technology. None of the major advances in the world economy have come from Germany, such as transistors, computers, the internet, digital recording, ect. Nor has the German fashion industry, movie studios, artists, ect approched the status that they had before the NAZIs. There are a range of factors involved here. But surely the loss of a small, but educated, creative minority is one of the factors involved.


We have found information about several individuald drawn up in the Holocaust. Here we focus primarly on the experiences of children. Too often accounts of the Holocaust deal with statistics and numbers. The numbers are so large to be overwealming. Behind every single one of those numbers are individuals. Looking at these individuals it seems almost unbelievable the fate awaiting them. We are interested in how the Holocaustvaffected individual families. We are collecting information about some families. With many we do not have a full account, but these accounts provide details on how the Holocaust affect individuals and families. We will also include here photographs we have found of individuals even though we may not be able to identify them.

Erich Rosenberg (1924-41)

Erich Rosenberg was born in 1924 at Rotherbaum, Hamburg, Germany. We are not sure what happened to his parents, but Erich was orphaned. Erich at the time of World War II lived at an orphanage at Hamburg and was deported in 1941 with other Jewish orphans to Riga, Latvia. The NAZIs after the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941) set up a ghetto there for Jews. Erich and the other orphans soon after their arrival were murdered by the NAZIs.


Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness (1998, 2001).

Koehn, Ilse. Mischling Second Degree: My Childhood in NAZI Germany (Puffin: 1981).

Riggs, Bryan Mark. Lives of Hitler's German Soldiers: Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich.

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Created: 3:27 AM 9/2/2011
Last updated: 6:58 PM 7/29/2015