The Holocaust
The Holocaust was the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews in the time of World War II. In 1939, Germany’s powerful war machine conquered country after country in Europe and thus bringing millions more Jews under their control. They established concentration camps to imprison Jews, Gypsies and other victims of ethnic and racial hatred, and political opponents of Nazism. They killed many of them and sent others to concentration camps. They also moved many Jews from towns and villages into city ghettos and later sent these people to concentration camps as well. Early in 1941, the Nazi leadership finalized a major decision- “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, to destroy every Jew under German rule. The slaughter began with Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Special squads of Hitler’s SS troops shot all those that seemed a threat to the Aryan race one by one. The face-to-face killing became difficult for the killers, and the Nazis soon found a more impersonal and efficient method of genocide. They used sealed vans to travel to burial pits, where they buried the prisoners that had already chocked from fumes on the way.
In January 1942 Nazi leaders decided evacuate Jews into 6 different concentration camps in Poland where they will slave labor and be exterminated. Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka were established with specially constructed gas chambers disguised as showers. For the Jews who had been confined in ghettos, the next step was deportation. During the Holocaust, the Nazis kept their actions as secret as possible, and they deceived their victims in many ways to prevent resistance. Initially, the Jews in the ghettos either were not aware of the slaughter planned for them or simply could not believe it was happening. Some tried to bribe Nazis to be left in peace, others tried sabotage or escape. Anti-Semitism was widespread, and Jewish resistance did not have popular support. Some non-Jewish individuals risked their lives to smuggle Jews to safety. The Nazis herded the Jews into railroad freight cars to be taken to the camps. When the Jews arrived at a camp, an SS physician singled out the young and able-bodied. The others were sent directly to the gas chambers. The guards seized the belongings of those who were to die. Around 2,000 prisoners were sent into the gas chambers at a time where containers of poison gas were poured down on them. The guards shaved the heads of the corpses and removed any gold teeth from their mouths. Then they burned the bodies in crematoriums or open pits.
The able-bodied prisoners had their heads shaved and their belongings seized. Camp personnel tattooed a number on the arm of each person and from then on, the prisoners were identified by numbers. They were forced to work long hours under cruel conditions. When they were too weak to work any longer, they too were killed or left to die. There were hundreds of other concentration camps operated under German rule during the war, but none of these camps was established solely for killing, but the conditions in all of them were so harsh that hundreds of thousands of prisoners died of starvation and disease. In some camps, a number of inmates, many of them children, died after Nazi physicians performed cruel medical experiments on them.
In the last months of the war, the Allied forces swept through Europe. The Nazis hurried to empty some camps to remove witnesses to their cruelty and prevent liberation. They crowded camp inmates into boxcars or forced the prisoners onto death marches that claimed many victims. World War II ended in Europe with the unconditional surrender of German armed forces on May 9, 1945.

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