This page cannot adequately speak of the horrors of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis systematically murdered over six million Jews and five million people from other groups.
The persecution of the Jews began after the Nazi party gained power in 1933. Jews were forced out of public life (universities, civil service, etc.), and from the late 1930s were increasingly segregated: forbidden to attend state schools, cinemas, and other areas where they might mingle with 'Aryan' Germans. In November 1938 Jewish synagogues and businesses were attacked and Jews were beaten or killed. This 'riot' (actually an orchestrated programme of anti-Jewish violence) is known as Kristallnacht.
During this same period, the Germans also legislated against other groups, such as the Rom (the Gypsies), those who were considered mentally defective or genetically impure, political subversives (socialist, liberals, Communists), and homosexual men. Lesbians were also persecuted, but were included within 'anti-social' or 'mentally disturbed' classifications to hide the fact that they even existed.
However, the persecution of the Jews was more than a contempt for a people considered less than genetically 'pure'. The German attitude was that Jews were a malignant growth that ought to be expunged wherever it was found. The Nazi persecutions of the other groups can be seen as forms of 'ethnic cleansing', but it is right to distinguish the anti-Semitic persecution as a specific, despicable, evil.
Many Jews fled Nazi Germany and Austria through the 1930s (by 1939, about half the German Jewish population). When the war began they were no longer able to leave, save by secret and dangerous means. Their possessions and money were wrested from them and used by the Nazis to fund the war, via the banks of Switzerland.
After the beginning of the war in 1939, the German State began its programme of resettling Germans on conquered land, removing the native populations (Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and so on) to concentration camps and slave labour camps. Jews, where they were not transported to camps, were confined to ghettos in the larger cities of the occupied countries, where they lived a precarious and doomed existence. The German State also began the systematic slaughter of 'defectives' at home.
Mass killings of Jews and Roma in the concentration camps began in 1941, but became widespread and systematic after January 1942, when the Nazis embarked upon the Final Solution. These mass murders were carried out in specially constructed camps such as Belsen, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ashes from the furnaces that destroyed the millions of bodies of German victims are still present in the soil.
The people of the Allied nations knew of the Holocaust, although most did not realise its extent. As the invading Allied armies advanced and Hitler realised that defeat was certain, he ordered the evacuation of the death camps. Not soon enough; the films and photographs taken of the camps by army camera crews and by war correspondents were shown around the world.
The words 'never again' were solemnly sworn by the western powers after the war, yet hundreds of political exterminations and 'ethnic cleansings' have happened since, in Cambodia, in China, during various wars in Africa, in the Balkans, where Milosevic decided to use mediaeval history as his justification to wipe out the Kosovan Albanians, and currently in the Sudan. The evil of 'ethnic cleansing', based on lies of innate superiority, the greed for power, the hatred of the Other, and on self-serving historical myths that support a sense of deservedness, combine as easily today as they did for the Nazis, and are as easily accepted as the regrettable right of nations to do as they will within their own borders by other countries now as Germany's 'solution' to her 'inferior' and 'alien' peoples was accepted in the 1930s.
Further sources of information about the Holocaust can be found in "Resources". I urge everyone to find out about the Holocaust, so that you will want to raise your voices against atrocities happening right now, even though it would be easier not to care about those people, dying right now, whom you never would have known and, now, never will know.
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