*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- the Holocaust

The Holocaust

Dutch Jews relocation
Figure 1.--An important NAZI strategy in the Holocaust was to keep families together until they reached the death camps. Thus able bodied men who could have offered resiatance or at least escape, meekly followed orders in the desire to protect their children, wives, and elderly parents. Here Dutch families are reporting as ordered for "relocation" to the East. For most this meant murder at one of the NAZI death camp located in Poland. Notice the little boy with hs Star of David who has brought along his most precious possessions--two wooden toys. Dutch Jews were concentrated in holding camps--especially Westerbork beforing being deported. This boy and his sisters were almost cerainly was killed within hours of reaching one of the death camps, probably Auschwitz. Click on the image for a fuller discussion of this scene. Source: Metherlands State Institute for War Documentation

The Holocaust was a crime without precedent in modern history. The NAZIs targeted the Jews for death camps. Many were killed by SS Einsatzgruppen in large-scale actions at first in Poland and than on a larger scale in the Soviet Union. Others Jews were concentrated in Ghettos for slave labor and eventual dispatch to the death camps. Tragically it was not just the Germans involved, but in many countries the local population led by Fascist groups were all to willing to participate in the robbery and killing. Jewish children were among the first to be killed by the NAZIs. They had no economic value which could be exploited. They also were the seed for the future of the Jewish people. The NAZIs also saw them as a force for future retribution if they were not killed. The NAZIs are estimated to have murdered over a million Jewish children. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Ghetto whose parents had been killed. A great body of literature exists on the Holocaust including the experiences of the children.

NAZI World View: Weltanschauung

Axis partners Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy like NAZI Germany wanted to fundamentally change the world order. Neither would have launched a world war without Germany and its massive industrial economy and technological capability. Invading Ethiopia and China was one thing. War with modern industrial countries was a whole other matter. The same was true of the Soviet Union. Even for Hitler, possessing and expanded Reich with his successful territorials acquisitions (1935-38), war was a huge gamble. One has to ask, what were his objectives? Many have view him as basically one in a long line of extreme German nationalists. That is certainly how British Prime-Minister Neville Chamberlain and the other Appeasers saw him. This is also how the Anti-Appeasers, the tea with Hitler crowd, viewed him. Hitler was far more than a German nationalist. At Munich, he assured Chamberlain that he wanted 'no Czechs', only the Germans in the Sudetenland (September 1938). Only 6 months later, he ordered the German Army into what was left of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). By that time he had largely achieved the goal of uniting areas with majority German populations. And Chamberlain had agreed that Germany would pursue further minor border adjustments if done peacefully. Clearly more was involved in Hitler's mind than German nationalism. Which was on display only another 6 months later when he ordered the German Army to invade Poland, launching World War II (September 1939). This was also a major step in the Holocaust, the mass murder of the Jewish people. Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe. Many World War II historians have viewed the Holocaust as a footnote, something largely separate from World War II. Some have even described the acquisition of Polish Jews as an inconvenience. In fact the destruction of the Jewish people was at the heart of Hitler's and thus the NAZI Weltanschauung (World View). Hitler had come to believe that the Jews were part of an international, conspiracy to destroy Germany. This is such an absurd idea, that we wondered if he really could have actually believe this. We thought for a long time that he cynically was attacking the Jews to gain popularity. There is every reason to believe, however, that he truly believed what he was saying. We have wondered how he came to believe such absolute nonsense. Before the War, Hitler does not seem to have exhibited anything more than run of the mill German antisemitism. We think his virulent antisemitism was largely the result of the War--his inability to accept that his beloved Germany Army could have been defeated militarily in World War I. A scapegoat was needed to explain Germany's surrender. And as so often in history -- it was the Jews. An international Jewish conspiracy was not an original thought with Hitler. German generals after the War needed an excuse for their failure and the suffering that they put Germany through. he Jews becasme their chiosen excuse. German Jews were involved in the Armistice and accepting the Versailles Diktat -- who were described as the November Criminals. Then Jews were involved in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the Communist (Sparticist and Munich) insurgency in Germany. All of this coalesced in Hitler's twisted mind into the belief that an international Jewish conspiracy was a very real threat. It confirmed the fiction of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other antisemitic texts. And the fact that Western powers opposed him, convinced him that Jews must be behind their opposition.


Historians differ on how to address the Holocaust. Some historians believe that it should be treated as a normal aspect of history. Thus it should be studied like other historical events such as the Renaissance, Reformation, American Revolution, French Revolution, etc. Other historians see the Holocaust as an abnormal, singular event. These historians argue that as a singular event that the Holocaust requires its own distinct methodologies. [Kershaw]

Important Questions

We have received quite a range of questions from readers on the Holocaust. Many are issues addressed on many of the pages in the Holocaust section. Some are not and are important enough to be addressed. Some of these questions come from students working on school projects. Often these basic question cut the central issues involved. We will try to answer some of these questions and readers are encouraged to submit additional questions as well as to comment on the questions already addressed.

German Jews

The first European Jews to be victimized by the NAZIs were the German Jews. Hitler and the NAZI's first approach to what they termed "the Jewish question" was to drive then out of Germany, first stealing their possessions. A steady stream of harsh, discriminatory laws, assaults by SA Stormtroopers, random arrests and murders were designed to isolate German Jews, steal their property, and hound then out of the country. Many Jews did leave. Many more would have, but had trouble finding countries willing to accept impoverished immigrants. The NAZIs had planned forced expulsions, but this was complicated again by the unwillingness of other countries to accept German Jews.

Basic Time Line

The Holocaust was a huge undertaking on the part of Hitler and the NAZIs. It involved millions of people, scores of countries, and transpired over more than a decade. And it evolved over time as NAZI successes eliminated any constraints that may have initially been held. The whole process is very complicated and difficult to follow because their are so many actors involved making decisions that killed so many people. And as the decisions were taken in secret, the process is especially difficult to historians. Hitler himself seems to have taken pains to disassociate himself from the whole process. Stalin did much the same in the Soviet Union. The paper trail is uneven, but we know when key meetings took place and can infer what transpired because major actions began within days. We thought it might be helpful to create a basic chronology to set out just who did what and when. This bare bones outline may help clarify the whole process. We encourage readers to add important meetings and actions to the time line we have begun to develop.


The primary target of the NAZI Holocaust was the Jews of Europe. And it was the Jews that were killed in horrifying numbers where ever the NAZI armies entered. The Jews, however, were not the only targets. There were also the Gypsies (Roma). The NAZIs begin arresting German gypsies and confining them to the Dachau concentration camp (July 12, 1936). The SS transported German gypsies and those from German-occupied countries to Auschwitz-Birkenau, to the so-called 'gypsy camp' (March 1942). The SS liquidated the gypsy camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau (August 1, 1944). All 6,000 gypsies at Auschwitz were gassed. This was one of the last actions at Auschwitz before the SS began destroying it before the Red Army arrived. Homosexuals were another NAZI target. It did not stop here. While Blacks were not an immediate target, NAZI attitudes toward Blacks suggest that they would have become so. The same is true of the Slavs who populated large areas in the East which the NAZIs wanted to use for lebensraum.

World War II

The outbreak of World War II gave the NAZIs the ability to begin the large-scale killing of Jews and mask it with the War. The stunning German victories in Poland and then in the West left the NAZIs in control of millions of Jews, including many of the German Jews they had driven out of the country. Expulsion was no longer possible given the number of Jew involved. No one knows precisely when the decision was taken, but before Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, was launched (June 1941), Hitler had ordered Himmler to organize the murder of European Jewry--over 11 million men, women, and children. The War enabled the NAZIs to apply their racial theories, against the "sub-human" Poles, Slavs, Gypsies, and Jews with savage barbarity.

NAZI Propaganda

NAZI propaganda attacked Jews on many fronts. They took up all the old canards about Jews that had been rife in Christian Europe for more than a millennium. The NAZIs added new lies. One of the most effective was the lie that Germany had not been defeated in World War I, but rather stabbed in the back by Communists and Jews--often linking the two. The NAZIs also attempted to wrap their anti-Semitism with a scientific basis based on genetics. This was an effort to make anti-Semitism modern and justified. The NAZIs eagerly embraced eugenics. As the NAZI rearmament program expanded and the military grew in strength--war became an increasing possibility for Hitler. As war approached, the NAZIs increasingly brought to the fore the idea that the Jews were linked with an internationalist capitalist conspiracy to destroy Germany. This idea was widely reported as fact by the NAZI-controlled Germany media. Thus when NAZI Germany went to war in 1939, large numbers of German soldiers believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to destroy their country.

Financing the War

Many of wondered how Germany, a country of only 70 million, could have financed a war against first the British and French and then America and the Soviet Union. The Holocaust played a role in this. The tax imposed upon the Jews and the property looted was a factor in this. Here there was Jewish victim property. There was also non-Jewish looted gold and property from the conquered nations. Germany field an armed forces of approximately 17 million men. This was made possible by about 10 million slave laborers brought to the Reich to toil on farms and in factories. [Eizenstat] Britain and America dealt with this problem by employing women in war industries. The NAZIs generally refrained from doing this, desiring to keep German women at home to produce future soldiers for the Führer. Instead they decided to conscript, often forcibly, civilians from the captive countries.


The destruction of the Jews was a major NAZI war aim. As the War turned against the NAZIs, it became the only war goal that Hitler was able to achieve. The Holocaust is usually approached understandably on moral grounds. But there are other dimensions to the Holocaust. And one of those dimensions is economics. What were the economics of the Holocaust to the NAZI war effort? There were some economic benefits to the NAZIs. One step in the Holocaust was to impoverish Jews. This was not only a lucrative undertaking, but once destitute the Jews were made even more vulnerable. Confiscating the property of Jews provided valuables that could be used to reward the party faithful or German soldiers and officials during the War. The money and valuables stolen from the Jews was supposed to go to the Government. Golden and other valuables collected by the SS was deposited in the Reich Bank. Often SA, SS, and other NAZI Party members kept valuables for their own personal use. Some SS men were even prosecuted for this during the war. We have never seen an accounting as to how much loot taken from the Jews was actually used to finance the NAZI war effort. We are not sure if such a calculation has ever been made. It is clear that the NAZIs desperately needed gold and hard currency. This was not necessary countries they occupied, even ostensible allies like Romania where they simply seized the oil and other resources. This was not possible for unoccupied countries (Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland). Critical materials like wolfram and iron ore had to be purchased from those countries. And as German industry was fully committed to the war, goods were not available for export. The NAZIs needed gold or cash. There was, however, a major economic downside to killing Jews. The Germans needed labor for the war effort. As the War went against Germany, every reasonably healthy German male of military age, including workers, was conscripted. German war industries , however, required labor to maintain production, let alone expand production to meet the emergency. The NAZIs killed about 6 million Jews. This meant roughly about 4 million productive workers (discounting children and the elderly), many with skills that could have been productively utilized. This was an enormously valuable resource and some NAZI officials wanted to utilize it. The Jews trapped in NAZI ghettos were hopeful that the usefulness of their labor would save them. Only Hitler could have resolved the competing proposals among his subordinates and made the decision for murder. The murder of 4 million productive workers was a major detriment to the NAZI war effort. Germany began the War with an industrial capacity far below that of its adversaries. The murder of 6 million Jews, in addition to the barbarity of the act, is one of the ways in which the NAZIs failed to fully capitalize on the potential industrial strength of the occupied countries.

Concentration Camps

A necessary step in both Hitler's consolidating his hold on the German people and eventually the Holocaust was the creation of concentration camps. Concentration camps were an integral part of the NAZI regime. The first camp, Dachau, near Munich was established within days of Hitler's appointments as Chancellor. Hitler had secured only a few ministerial post for his NAZI associates, but they included the Ministry of Interior giving him control over the police. The NAZIs began arresting Communists and other opponents and there just was not room for them in German jails and prisons. In addition, prisons when the NAZIs first seized power were much too open an environment for what Hitler and his close associates wanted to do. Dachau was only the first camp, but it became the blue print for subsequent camps of an enormous system that would eventually extend over much of Europe. Dachau was run by both the SA and SS, but the SS soon took over control of the camps. The camps at first were an instrument of political repression. Germany in 1933 had a wide range of political parties and a free and very vocal press. Within weeks the NAZIs effectively silenced both the political opposition and free press. Recalcitrant critics were arrested and interned in the camps where there was no limits on what the SA and SS could do to the prisoners. The camps were also a convenient place to dispose of political enemies without fear of embarrassing questions being asked. As the NAZI concentration camp system developed it came to serve other purposes as well. There were work camps which made valuable contributions to the war effort. The slave labor in these camps would eventually make everything from uniforms and pots and pans to V-2 ballistic missiles--one of the most complex weapons systems of the War. Other camps once the War began were constructed as death camps, opened almost entirely in occupied Poland.. The death camps were intended primarily for the Jews, but many other people besides Jews were killed there.

Reports Reaching Allied Countries

From the very beginning of World War II, with German the invasion of Poland (September 1939), news reports began to appear about NAZI atrocities against the Jews. (Unreported at the time was the NAZI killing of Polish intellectuals as part of the program to obliterate Polish national consciousness.) The reports were commonly printed on the back pages of major newspapers like the New York Times and not at all in smaller papers. No journalists that we know of at any time tied these reports into a high level program aimed at killing all European Jews and others deemed undesirable. It was widely believed that the NAZIs were killing people, but most Americans believed it was political opponents, not an entire people including women and children. Many discounted these reports. It was not generally believed that any country, even NAZI Germany, was capable of the brutalities being reported. Some Americans remembered British World War I propaganda and thought that the British were again exaggerating German operations. Gradually increasingly credible stories reached Allied leaders, including first hand accounts. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), deciphered Enigma messages provided Churchill actual accounts of Einsatzgruppen killing actions against the Jews. Churchill spoke out, although at first in guarded terms leery of giving out the Ultra secret. Jewish agents reached the West with reports of what was happening with Operation Reinhard. These reports were published in Jewish papers and magazines, but never were picked up by the mainstream media. Even less appeared in the broadcast reports or the movie newsreels. Mrs. Roosevelt spoke out, but never the President. For most people, a understanding of just what the NAZIs were doing did not come until Allied armies entered Germany in 1945 and began liberating the concentration camps (April 1945). Of course by this time the Death Camps had long been close and dismantled.


We have begun to collect biographies of the people involved in the Holocaust. This includes perpetrators, victims, and heroes. The perpetrators included both planners and those who carried out the instructions given them with varying degrees of commitment. The planners were a small numbers. The primary planners are: Eichmann, Göring, Heydrich, Himmler, and Hitler. Those who actually carried out the Holocaust were a much larger number. This included both the killers and those who to a varying degree made the killing possible or facilitated it. And there were many others who benefited from the Holocaust and who participated as well those who did not participate, but who had no real qualms about what was being done to the Jews. Then there was the vast number of victims. There are believed to be about 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. About half of European Jews survived., most in countries not occupied by the NAZIs or those who managed to reach unoccupied areas. A tragically small number survived to tell their experiences. Less well understood is that the Jews were just the group most reviled by the NAZIs. Other groups were targeted in the Holocaust such as the Gypsies. And there were other groups such as Slavs and Blacks that only the defeat of the NAZIs prevented a similar horrific fate for them and others. The smallest group were the heroes, the people who did what they could to save the Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Many heroes did not survive the Holocaust as helping Jews could result in death sentences.

The Decision

No one knows when Hitler made the decision to kill 11 million European Jews. Nor do we know precisely when the orders were given to Himmler to carry it out. Hitler had made inflammatory speeches against the Jews for years. He stated in a speech just before he launched World War II, "... if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" As late as 1940, NAZI officials were toying with various schemes. One scheme was deporting all European Jews to Madagascar. It was, however, discarded as being completely impractical. Limited killing of Jews during the Polish invasion was followed by massive killing conducted by well equipped and organized by SS Einsatzgruppen. The first actual order we know of was given by Göring to Heydrich on July 31, 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union was well underway. Heydrich was ordered to make "all necessary preparations with regard with regard to the organizational and financial matters for bringing about a complete solution to the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe". [Noakes and Pridham, pp. 485-489.]

NAZI Occupied Poland

The Holocaust was largely carried out in NAZI occupied Poland which after June 1941 included the area of pre-World War II Poland which had been seized by the Soviets at the onset of the War. The NAZI occupation of Czechoslovakia had been brutal. The occupation of Poland was savage. The NAZIs were determined to destroy every vestige of Polish national culture in an effort to wipe out the very idea of Poland. Their plan was to destroy the entire Polish intelligentsia and reduce Poland to a kind of ignorant labor pool of manual laborers for German industry and agriculture. The NAZIs began the process even while fighting was still going on. Some children were actually shot, but many more died in the mass expulsions of Poles and Jews living in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich. Most of the Death Camps were built in NAZI occupied Poland. Some argue that this was because of the anti-Semitic feelings of many Poles. More practical matters were probably involved. Poland was under complete control of the NAZIs. The seizure of Danzig meant that that Poland was completely cut off from the outside world. Thus the killing could be done with little information leaking out, both to the international press as well as making it easy to keep details of the fate of the Jews from the German public. Also as large numbers of Jews were located in Poland, logistically it made sense locating the Death Camps in Poland.

NAZI Strategy

The NAZIs employed a variety of strategies to make the process of mass murder as efficient as possible. The most important was secrecy. Jews even before being rounded up were not allowed to have radios. Many rumors circulated, but no one knew for sure. The first deportees were made to send cards home reassuring relatives before they were gassed. The next strategy was to keep families together until they reached the death camps. This able bodied men who could have offered resistance or at least escape meekly followed orders in the desire to protect their children and elderly parents. In most cases resistance would have been futile and met with vicious reprisals, but it would have also complicated the efficient workings of the German death machine. Other parents were reluctant to put their children in hands of people who could have hidden them even if such people could be found.

The Process

The procedure adopted by the NAZI to murder Jews varied from country to country. The basic goal was to steal as much of their property as possible before killing them. The process included keeping the families together until arrival at the camps. This helped keep the process orderly which made the killing process efficient. At the death camps the victims were separated by gender, boys stayed with the women. This was to kill the men first so as to minimize any potential resistance. At Auschwitz there was a selection process to separate the healthy for work. The children and elderly were killed immediately after the selection process. Some NAZIs wanted to use the healthy Jews as slave labor to support the NAZIs. Hitler made it clear with Operation Reinhard that the primary purpose was to kill, including workers that could have been used in war plants. The Germans became increasingly efficient at killing as the War progressed. In Poland it began with with public humiliations and beatings, pressing them in labor forced slave-labor gangs, stealing their property, confining them in Ghettos where they would be readily available for transport in cattle cars to the death camps. The pace of this process varied. In Germany itself the process was slow as the population had to be gradually brought about to accept the NAZI view of the Jews and time was available. The citizenship of the Jews were rescinded in 1935 and slowly new regulations deprived them of their livelihood and property. The NAZIs also sought to involve the public in the process by replacing Jews with Aryan workers or by seizing Jewish shops, homes, and property under various legal and illegal expedients and then making it available at bargain prices. NAZI thugs often just stole Jewish property, but many non-Party members also benefited by buying the property stolen from Jews. After the War began the NAZIS operated with greater ruthlessness, beginning the killing process in the East. The killing took place in basically three stages. The first stage began with Barbarossa. Here the NAZIs suspended even the appearance of legal processes. Heavily armed Einsatzgruppen followed the front line troops and simply shot large number of Jews, often in hastily dug pits. Here about a third of the NAZI jewish victims perished. [Snyder] The second major step was Operation Reinhard, the killing of the Polish Jews. Here the Germans used a new innovation--death camps, essentially death factories: Belzec, Chelmo, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. These were not labor camps, the purpose was purely to kill. The third phase was to kill the smaller Jewish populations in Western and Central Europe. In the West, the process was slower and less open, but in the end no less lethal. Here both the Death Camps and Auschwitz was used. Auschwitz was primarily an immense work camp, but the especially chilling part of Auschwitz was the killing facility at Birkenau.


The Holocaust is commonly see as the work of Himmler and the SS. Early on, one might have thougt it was the SA that would have been the orimary killing vehicle, but it provd to be the SS--largly because it was the force tiotally loyal to Hitler ahd could be relied on to carry out orders. But the vast enterprise that has come to be known as the Holocaust involved far more than Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. In fact many German government agencies and Party formations were involved in different ways. The killing was mostly done buy the SS aided by the Wehrmacht, but many other agencies played important roles in the process of the Holocaust. Quite a number of German givernment ministerie played various roles in the Holocaust. Göring's powerful Four Year Plan controlled the economy and as part of that control, aange of actions were taken against Jews. The Interior Ministry and the regular police, not NAZI formations, for example, were responsible for collecting information on Jews and issuing deportation orders. Information was shared with the SA and SS. Both Wehrmacht personnel and the rehulr police were at the trainstations to supervise the deportation process. The Financ Munistry was involved with stripping Jews of their property before they were killed. The Reich Bank received huge shipments of gold fillings and looted property. The Agricukture Ministry played a key role in the Hunger Plan which involved starving Jews once they were concentrated in ghettoes. The Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft was responsible for transport. There were also institutions in foreign countries that participated in tgheHolcaust. It was the Germans, however, that were the driving force.

Wannsee Conference (January 1942)

Himmler saw the mass killing of Jews in the Soviet Union in the summer and fall of 1941 as being conducted in a disjointed and uncoordinated fashion. Himmler became concerned about the psychological impact on SS members of personally killing Jews, especially women and children. Now that the NAZIs controlled virtually all of western Europe and millions of Jews, it was felt that a coordinated plan was needed to efficiently execute the "Final Solution". The SS was the principal tool, but the killing of millions necessitated the cooperation of many different Government agencies. The was originally scheduled for December 9, 1941, but had to be postponed because of the stunningly 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 session attended by 15 senior NAZI officials. The purpose was to coordinate the "Final Solution" -- the murder of 11 million European Jews. that had already began in Poland and the Soviet Europe. The decision to murder the Jews had already been taken. The Conference was to coordinate and efficiently implement that decision.


The Holocaust varied greatly from country to country. Many countries cooperated with the NAZIs, especially in Western Europe, the Bulgarians being a notable exception. Franco refused to hand over Spanish Jews. Local populations also differed. Some were more anti-Semitic than the Germans and actively aided the NAZI round-ups and mass killings. People in some other countries actively assisted the Jews, putting their own lives in great danger. There were brave individuals in every occupied country. The Danes managed to spirit most of their Jews away to safety in Sweden. The Italian people managed to hide most of their Jews from the NAZIs and Fascists. Many Dutch citizens hid Jews. In most other countries, however, the NAZIs found many enthusiastic, willing collaborators. The actual process in each country varied depending on when the NAZIs took control, the relationship (ally or occupied country), the attitude of the local population, and a variety of other factors.

The Allies

A large number of countries eventually joined the crusade against NAZI Germany and contributed to its defeat. Many countries were occupied in the early years of the War and thus their contributions were as a result of the occupation limited. The three principal countries were Britain, the Soviet Union (initially a virtual NAZI ally), and the United States. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand played important subordinate roles. The question has to be asked as to why the Allies did not do more to stop the Holocaust. Certainly there were limits as to what they could do given the German military dominance in the early years of the War. Much of the killing was done in 1941-43 when Allied military alternatives were limited. The deafening silence on the Holocaust from the Allied camp, however, seems hard to understand. In addition, by 1944 military capabilities were increasing to the point that some actions were possible. None were, however, ever employed.

Special Situations

The NAZIs treated a small number of Jews differently because they were perceived of value for a variety of reasons. Some of the individuals as a result survived while other experienced horrific deaths. Some Jews received special treatment because of the passports they held. Others were not killed because the NAZIs though they had exchange value. The NAZIs established the so-called 'residence camp' of Bergen-Belsen on a portion of the site of the prisoner-of-war camp (1943). This enclosure housed several thousand Jewish prisoners under the pretext that they would be exchanged for German nationals held by the western Allies. The NAZIs hoped that such exchanges would facilitate peace negotiations with American and British officials. By July 1944, over 4,000 of these 'exchange' Jews were detained in Bergen-Belsen. In December 1944 the Germans re-designated Bergen-Belsen a concentration camp. Few of the Jewish detainees were ever actually exchanged. [Bülow] Some Jews were treated differently because they were used for medical experiments. The experiments were in many cases horrendous and included children.


Readers have asked, why didn't the Jews hide. Actually that is what many did. About half of European Jews survived. Many in the Soviet Union, but many hid in NAZI-occupied countries. But hiding was very difficult even f one did not look Jewish. This differed a bit depending n where you lived. People in many countries cooperated with the Germans. Here Bulgaria, Denmark, and Italy were notable exceptions. There were a range of problems that people going into hiding faced. 1, An individual might be able to hide, but hiding an entire family was more difficult. 2. Your neighbors usually knew who you were. 3. Government records identified you as Jewish. There were also Synagogue records. 4. Many Jews looked Jewish. A problem for the NAZIs is that many did not. That is why the NAZIs came up with the idea of required Jewish badges. 5. Jewish males were circumcised. 6. Many Jews especially in Poland dressed Jewish and had beards. 7. Many names were obviously Jewish or suggested Jewish origins. 8. When the War broke out, the NAZI required people in occupied countries needed identify papers. This would identify them. To evade this, forged identity documents were needed which created other problems. 8. Once the War began, food was rationed. That made it difficult to hide because ration coupons were needed to get food. And to get ration books you had to be registered. 9. To survive you needed a jobs. Many Jews employees were fired once the NAIs occupied a country. If they were not fired, their colleagues usually knew who they were. And to get a new job you needed forged identity papers. 10. The NAZIs rewarded people who turned in Jews. 11. The NAZIs punished people who hid Jews. You were putting yourself and your family in danger. It could mean death or being sent to a concentration camp. 12. Mezzusas on doorways.

The Children

Jewish children were the most vulnerable of all and died in the greatest proportion. They were the most vulnerable and had no economic value which the NAZIs could exploit. Even more importantly, they also were the seed for the future of the Jewish people. The NAZIs also saw them as a force for future retribution if they were not killed. The NAZIs are estimated to have murdered over a million Jewish children. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Ghetto whose parents had been killed. A great body of literature exists on the Holocaust including the experiences of the children. some of the children were killed by SS Einsatzgruppen in mass executions with their parents in Poland and on a larger scale in the Soviet Union. Most were forced into ghettos where those without parents often starved. Then they were deported and died in the various NAZI transit, labor, or death camps. Some Jewish children managed to survive the Holocaust by hiding, emigrating (often without their family), or concealing the fact that they were Jewish. When asked after the War why they killed the children, a ranking SS officer told his interviewers that was a stupid question. Of course it was a question from an American that had not yet full come to terms with the evil of the Holocaust. The children were not a messy consequence of killing the adults, Killing the children was the heart and soul of the NAZI effort to destroy the Jewish people. And the NAZIs were terrifyingly effective. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the Jewish children in the occupied were killed by the NAZIs. Survival was not random. Survival depended on who you were, where you were from, gender, age, health, appearance and other factors.


Many ask why the Jews did not resist more and instead resigned themselves to their fate. We find this this question is most commonly asked by those who are incredulous about the Holocaust itself and those who do not understand how difficult resistance was. It is also commonly asked by anti-Semites who have convinced themselves that Jews among other characteristics are cowardly. In answering this question, first it must be mentioned that there was resistance. Resistance was made difficult by the fact that except in Poland, Jews were a very small part of the population making any kind of effective resistance difficult. It must also be understood that the Holocaust was very well planned. It was often carefully staged, designed to create the impression a every stage that conditions could not get worse. In the end the Holocaust played on the strength of the Jewish family. As bad as conditions thought, many Jews felt that at least the family was together. Only when the transports reached the death camps were the families separated.

Berlin Führerbunker (April 1945)

Hitler emerged from his Berlin bunker for the last time on his birthday to urge on Hitler Youth boys battling the Red Army (April 20, 1945). The final chapter of the Holocaust occurred deep under bombed-out Berlin in Hitler's bunker. He dictated his last will and testament to his secretary Traudl Junge (April 29). This was the same day that he and Eva Braun married. It consisted of two separate documents, both a personal will and a political testament. Here for the the final time he returned to the prophecy to the Reichstag of January 30, 1939. (Hitler often misdated his prophecy to a speech that he delivered to the Reichstag after setting World War II in motion when he invaded Poland (September 1, 1939). Presumably changing the date made the connection to the War stronger.) Hitler denied responsibility for the War and repeated the charge that it was the Jews who were responsible for the War. He wrote, "It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted the war in 1939. It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who were either of Jewish descent or worked for Jewish interests. I have made too many offers for the control and limitation of armaments, which posterity will not for all time be able to disregard for the responsibility for the outbreak of this war to be laid on me. I have further never wished that after the first fatal world war a second against England, or even against America, should break out. Centuries will pass away, but out of the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred against those finally responsible whom we have to thank for everything, international Jewry and its helpers, will grow. Three days before the outbreak of the German-Polish war I again proposed to the British ambassador in Berlin a solution to the German-Polish problem, similar to that in the case of the Saar district, under international control. This offer also cannot be denied. It was only rejected because the leading circles in English politics wanted the war, partly on account of the business hoped for and partly under influence of propaganda organized by international Jewry. I have also made it quite plain that, if the nations of Europe are again to be regarded as mere shares to be bought and sold by these international conspirators in money and finance, then that race, Jewry, which is the real criminal of this murderous struggle, will be saddled with the responsibility. I further left no one in doubt that this time not only would millions of children of Europe's Aryan peoples die of hunger, not only would millions of grown men suffer death, and not only hundreds of thousands of women and children be burnt and bombed to death in the towns, without the real criminal having to atone for this guilt, even if by more humane means." [Hitler, "Final ...".] Ironically he also expelled Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler from the NAZI Party--the two men still alive most responsible for carrying out his orders to kill Jews. Hitler and his new wife committed suicide the following day as the Red Army neared the Bunker (April 30).

Germany Surrenders (May 7-8, 1945)

Hitler in his political testament designated Gross admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor. At the time Wehrmacht soldiers were fleeing west in an effort to surrender to the western Allies. Keitel attempted to surrender to the Western Allies. Eisenhower required that Germany also surrender to the Soviets. Jodl and Keitel complied and signed the surrender documents at Reims (May 7). The unconditional surrender that President Roosevelt had insisted on was achieved. Eisenhower cables Marshall. "The mission of this Allied command was achieved May 7, 1945".

Displaced Persons

Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were among the many displaced person (DPs) scattered throughout Europe at the end of the War. The Holocaust, the German slave labor program, and the widespread destruction meant that there were millions of displaced The DPs found temporary shelter in displaced persons camps. Their needs had been anticipated by the United States, which established in 1943 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide services for the postwar refugees and to help repatriate them to their own countries. UNRRA was in place when Germany surrendered in May 1945, and organized the homeward journey of most of the refugees.


The trials of NAZI war criminals begin at Nuremberg, the scene of the annual NAZI Party Congress. Hitler and Himmler committed suicide. Heydrich was killed by partisans in 1942. The other major NAZI leaders are tried at Nuremberg (November 1945). There were 22 defendants accused, including military commanders, government officials, and party functionaries. They are accused of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The tribunal sentences 12 to death. Goring takes poison before he can be hanged. The British arrested commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss. He is convicted at a tribunal in Warsaw and hanged at Auschwitz. A group of 23 former SS-doctors and scientists were tried at a Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. There were 16 NAZIs found guilty and 7 of those were hanged. Another Military Tribunal tries 21 Einsatzgruppen commanders at Nuremberg. The tribunal sentences 14 to death, but only 4 are actually executed. An Israeli intelligence group captures Adolf Eichmann in Argentina (May 11, 1960). The Israelis try Eichmann in Jerusalem for crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. He was found is found guilty and sentenced to death (April 11-August 14). He was hanged (May 31, 1962). Trials of death camp personnel are conducted during the 1960s.

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 others whose lives were crippled 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 wasted. 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 physicists 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 pot-War economic miracle has clouded the impact on Germany. German before 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 cutting 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 craftsmanship 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, etc. Nor has the German fashion industry, movie studios, artists, etc approached 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.


There were efforts after World War II to make restitution to the survivors. Huge amounts of property had been looted, including personal affects, jewelry, god and other precious metals, art work, homes and other property, bank accounts, securities, insurance, businesses and shops, and other valuables. Here the Germans did make an effort. Some countries like the Swiss made an effort to hide their complicity. Swiss bankers even attempted to essentially steal the bank accounts of victims and their descendents. One problem was that restitution was attempted through governments. Communist Governments in Eastern Europe were not prepared to turn over assets to survivors. Additionally,the onset of the Cold War complicated the problem. The Western Allies found it difficult to deal with the new Stalinist Governments in Eastern Europe. The Cold War also brought about an early end to the de-NAZIfication process in Germany and Austria. [Eizenstat] A State Department historian oversaw a massive 2 volume study that led to $8 billion in belated compensation, mostly to the survivors of Holocaust victims. He exposed the methodical theft of Jewish property. The stolen assets included real estate, homes, shops, stocks, insurance policies, art, jewelry, even the gold teeth of the death camp and concentration camp victims. Perhaps even more appalling was the theft of assets by Swiss and other bankers. Many German and other European Jews entrusted assets to Swiss bankers. Many of these banks refused to turn over these assets to surviving relatives. For years these actions were unreported. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-New York) urged on by the World Jewish Council launched hearings before the Senate Banking Committee. As a result, President Clinton chose Undersecretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat to serve as a special envoy for property claims in Central and Eastern Europe. Eizenstat picked Dr. William Slany, a State Department historian, to oversee the research effort. Slany found that much of the property was located in neutral countries (Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey), largely because NAZI officials sold the items to help finance the war effort. The report found that, "The massive and systematic plundering of gold and other assets from conquered nations and NAZI victims was no rogue operation. It was essential to the financing of the German war machine." [Slany] Switzerland was found to have $ 0.4 billion in looted gold. Eventually Swiss banks paid a $1.25 billion settlement to Holocaust survivors and their family. Other governments pursued efforts to return stolen art and unpaid insurance claims.

Holocaust Deniers and Apologists

One of the interesting aspects of working on HBC is the opportunity to exchange ideas with people all over the world. This has been a wonderful learning experience exposing me to information and views that help broaden my parochial American views. Much of the material received has been used in the various pertinent HBC pages. We also receive eMail messages that reflect hateful thought and prejudices. Much of this material is anti-Semitic thought, largely from Muslim readers. The outright hate thought I simply ignore. We encourage wide-ranging discussion of historical issues on HBC and I often include material criticizing our pages or my point of view. The one thing I will not tolerate is hate speech. Some of this material is pure and simple hate speech written my people who are both ignorant and evil. They continually spout proven lies. In other cases we receive messages from students and young people who are not evil people, but influences by the extensive anti-Semitic literature circulating in the Muslim world. Some of this correspondence with our assessment is perhaps worth considering.


Some of the books best describing the experiences of children include the following:

Anne Frank

The best known book about the Holocaust is of course The Diaries of Anne Frank. This is a moving journal of a young Jewish Dutch girl whose family went into hiding when the Germans invaded in 1940. She was about 12 at the time. They hid up for about 3 years till they were betrayed and sent to a concentration camp. This unfortunately is where the diary ends. The claustrophobic atmosphere and the misery of an adolescence spent in such circumstances are described. Anne Frank died but her father survived the war and later returned to find the secret diary and bring it to the world. It has also been made into a film, the book should be read first.

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel is the most prominent of the children who survived NAZI atrocities determined to tell the story of what had to his family and friends.

Survivor Testimony

Steven Spielberg's survivor testimony project is the best known of several important efforts to create an audio or videotape a record for future generations.

Flares of Memory

Child survivors certainly have unique stories to tell and this book provides numerous accounts of survivors looking back on their horrendous childhood experiences. ting workshops. Of course the true horror can never be understood. But the accounts documented here provide chilling accounts of what these children experienced. [Anita Brostoff and Sheila Chamovitz, eds. Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) 384 pp.]


Jan Gross in Neighbors raises issues of the brutality of bystanders, especially in eastern Europe.


Hollywood was very late to come to the anti-NAZI. Once it began, NAZIs and evil-Germans became a staple in Hollywood films. This would eventually include films that had very little, if anything to do with World War II, such as the Indiana Jones series. The World War II films often depicted atrocities against civilians, but usually they did not deal on the Jews. This in part because it was only after the War that the general public became aware of the Holocaust mean the effort to completely destroy European Jewry. Articles appeared in American newspapers, but nothing was ever published in the popular press describing the dimensions and organization of the Holocaust. This continued after the War. Only in the 1970s do we begin to see movies that actually attempt to address the Holocaust in its full breath, including mass shootings and gas chambers. This varied from country to country. Many American and German films have addressed the topic. The French rarely do. And although there are many Soviet World war II films, the Holocaust was as far as we know not addressed. The heart rending human drama involved with the Holocaust has now been the subject of many films. The most exhaustive presentation was a TV-miniseries 'The Holocaust'. The Holocaust was such a massive undertaking that the movie format has to focus on an individual or group. The most haunting film is 'Schindler's List'. There is now a sizable number of movies dealing with the Holocaust. Even so, many of topics remain untouched or poorly addressed, including the Romanian Army killing Jews, the topic of knowledge and complicity, Einsatzgruppen, NAZI plans for the Slavs, the role of German academics and industrialists, Allied knowledge, the participation of non-Germans, and other topics. Here we list Holocaust films with a special focus on films involving children. Ann Frank

HBC and the Holocaust

Some readers have asked why HBC has given such attention to the Holocaust. The primary reason is that the NAZI Holocaust targeted children. The children were the first to be killed when they arrived in the NAZI death camps. We also cannot help but think what Jewish children must have experienced growing up under a regime in which they were told that they were sub-human. The Holocaust is also a matter of some interest to me personally. I am of German ancestry. As a boy about 12 years old I began reading history books and was astonished as to what I read about Germany during World War II. I was struck by the fact that the Germans had done this. It occurred to me that if my ancestors had stayed in Germany that I could very well have been one of the persons doing the killing. I was also amazed by what this meant concerning human nature. I was raised in a comfortable suburban community with no real social problems. I have no idea until I began reading history as to the evil which existed in this world. It colored by entire outlook on life.

U.S. Holocaust Museum

A major source of information about the Holocaust is the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The Museum is not only a facility which can be visited by the public, but an important center for Holocaust research. The Museum has an enormous collection of documents and images on the Holocaust. In addition to the Permanent Exhibition there are exhibits and speakers addressing a wide range of issues about the Holocaust.


Bülow, Louis. 'Tsvi Nussbaum', accessed October 10, 2002.

Eizenstat, Stuart. Imperfect Justice. Eizenstat had acces to state Deoartnment historian, William Slany's meticulous research effort.

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

Gumble, Peter.

Hitler, Adolf. "Final Political Testament", in Office of United States Chief of Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, 8 vols. and 2 suppl. vols. (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1946-1948), VI, 259-263, Doc. No. 3569-PS.

Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution.

Michaelis, Herbert and Enst Schraepler. eds. Ursachen und Folgen, Vol. 18. (Belin Dokumenten-Verlag Dr. Herbert Wendler & Co, undated).

Neitzel, Sönke. Ed. Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-45 (2008).

Noakes, Jeremy and Geoffrey Pridham. ed. Documents on Nazism, 1919-1945.

Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic: 2010), 524p.

Slany, Willam Z. Head State Department historian leading a study of NAZI World War II looting (1990s).

CIH -- World War II Holocaust

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Created: February 7, 2002
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Last updated: 3:00 PM 11/18/2022