Holocaust

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Holocaust victims at Nordhausen concentration camp.

The Holocaust refers to the industrialised mass-murder of ethnic Jews, homosexuals, transgender people, ethnic Slavs, Roma, non-whites and the handicapped by the Nazi Party during World War II. The intention was to eliminate these so-called "undesirables" not just from Germany but also a wider Europe.

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[edit] Origin of term

The term Holocaust ("burnt offering; sacrifice by fire") came into widespread usage during the mid-1970s after it was popularized in writings and through a TV miniseries of the same name. It had been known in Hebrew as the Shoah ("catastrophe") since it happened in the 1940s. The term "final solution" or "Hitler's final solution" also refers to the Holocaust and was widely used before Holocaust became the best-known term for it.

[edit] Methods

The Holocaust was initially carried out by military death squads' (Einsatzgruppen or "task forces") sweeping through newly-occupied Polish and, later, Soviet territory during World War II. These squads would round up the Jewish population and shoot them. This was eventually regarded as wasteful of military resources, damaging to the soldiers' morale, and inefficient, leading to innovations such as gassing in mobile vans and concentration camps. The largest and most infamous was the Auschwitz camp near the town of Oświęcim in Poland, although Treblinka (also in Poland) and Bergen-Belsen (Germany) are also well known. It involved systematic use of gas chambers using the gas Zyklon B (a form of the poison, cyanide) as the most common means of mass murder. These camps are also sometimes called extermination camps. There were also widespread deaths in them from systematic starvation and from disease exacerbated by a system of forced labour intended to wring the last bit of useful work from the victims. Horrific forced medical experiments were also conducted on prisoners.

[edit] History

Entrance to Auschwitz I

The Nazis began setting up concentration camps as early as 1933, such as the Dachau camp in southern Germany. At the time they were used for forced labor and imprisonment of political dissidents and other "undesirables." Death tolls from starvation, disease, exposure, and the guards' cruelty were high (and similar to those in similar camps set up by the British during the Boer War, when the term concentration camp was coined), but initially there was no systemized programme of extermination carried out there, and some inmates were released. Some of those original concentration camps did switch over to being used as extermination camps. During this period many Jews, homosexuals, Roma and others were sent to the camps. The large-scale systematic relocation of Jews and others to the camps for mass extermination in gas chambers began about 1942 and lasted until the camps were liberated by Soviet and Allied forces at the end of World War II in 1945. The scope and scale of this genocide once it was seen first hand shocked even a world already weary of several years of world war.

The Auschwitz camp is now a United Nations World Heritage Site, and has been transformed into a museum commemorating the horrors perpetrated there. Famous tenants of Auschwitz include Anne Frank, Primo Levi, Witold Pilecki and Leo Bretholz.

[edit] Other participants

The Nazis found that the local citizenry in parts of eastern Europe such as Lithuania and the Ukraine were quite willing to aid in the extermination of local Jews. In Croatia the Ustaše party, which ruled under Axis protection between 1941 and 1945 carried out its own extermination campaign against ethnic Serbs and Jews in conjunction with the Nazis, doing so on their own initiative. Vichy France also actively collaborated with the Nazis in rounding up Jews. Other Axis-aligned countries however (Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) did not comply except in a few cases when they were compelled to by their Nazi allies.

[edit] Death toll

Among the number of people killed are counted 6 million Jews[1], nearly 3 million non-Jewish Poles,[2] 600,000 Serbs and close to 500,000 Roma (Gypsies).[3] Further groups of victims include 1-1.5 million political activists, 2-3 million Soviet POWs, 7,000-16,000 Spanish POWs, 80,000-200,000 Freemasons, 75,000-250,000 disabled[4] and 2,500-5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, 5,000-15,000 gay men were gathered in concentration camps[5] with an estimated death rate around 60%.[6] All in all, this accounts for about 12 million deaths.[7] An estimated one million died at Auschwitz alone.

[edit] Functionalism vs Intentionalism

A major debate in the history of the Holocaust is that between functionalism and intentionalism. Intentionalists believe that the Holocaust was planned, ordered and directed by Hitler -- that he devised it and put it into place, and had even been secretly planning it before he came to power. Functionalists believe that the Holocaust was not directly planned but organically evolved in response to bureaucratic pressures within the Nazi state.

Intentionalists believe that Hitler personally ordered the murder of millions of Jews -- although, we are lacking the "smoking gun" of a direct order or plan from him stating the same. For example, intentionalists believe that Hitler ordered the deportation of Jews to Eastern Europe as a prelude to killing them, and that his cryptic phrase "the final solution of the Jewish question" was code for extermination. Functionalists believe that Hitler gave the order for deportation with no particular end goal in mind; but when the Jews arrived in Poland, local Nazi officials did not know what to do with them and decided that killing them was the simplest solution of their problem. Functionalists do not deny that Hitler had a major moral responsibility for the Holocaust, by helping to create and maintain the climate of anti-Semitism which made it possible and by authoring or approving some of the decisions which produced it -- but they see the origin of the Holocaust as more a process of bottom-up innovations than top-down designs. Even if Hitler did not originate the idea for the Holocaust, he would have become aware of it, yet having so become aware he did nothing to stop it.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/faqs/answers/faq_3.html
  2. Wikipedia: Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/secondworldwar/story/0,14058,1361751,00.html
  4. Lifton, Robert J. "The Nazi Doctors": Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. London: Papermac, 1986 (reprinted 1990) p. 142.
  5. The Holocaust Chronicle, Publications International Ltd., p. 108.
  6. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/gaycomp.html
  7. Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime, 1933-1945: Social Disinterest, Governmental Disinformation, Renewed Persecution, and Now Manipulation of History? p. 251.
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