Understanding the Holocaust
The Holocaust has been called the most terrible catastrophe in modern
history: a hideous nightmare that came true, a hell on Earth, the hidden
battlefront of World War II, and the War against the Jews. People have
also given it the name Shoah, a Hebrew word, meaning "a whirlwind of
The Holocaust was the systematic murder of 6 million Jews during World
War II. Before the Holocaust, 9 million Jews lived in Europe. They made
their homes in about twenty European countries. Some were artists,
playwrights, architects, writers, and musicians. Others were wealthy
bankers, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers.
However, most European Jews were average people with average incomes. By
the end of World War II, two thirds of them were dead.
German scientists, businesspeople, industrialists, and civil servants
contributed to the killing effort. With this support, the Nazis were
able to set up an organization devoted to mass murder. It worked with
fast and brutal efficiency.
The Jews were not the only victims of Nazi hatred. The Nazis also
murdered 5 to 6 million Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), people with handicaps,
Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, labor unionists, Slavic
people, political prisoners, and prisoners of war.
The Jews, however, suffered such staggering losses that a new word was
created to describe what happened to them: genocide. Genocide means the
systematic murder of a whole group of people because of their race,
religion, or nationality.
Who was Adolf Hitler?
Adolph Hitler has been called a monster, the devil, the Antichrist, a
demonic dictator, a megalomaniac, a spellbinder, and the most evil
genius of the twentieth century. He was elected as chancellor of Germany
on January 30, 1933. For twelve years, he led his country on a rampage
of war, destruction, and death.
A hypnotic speaker, Hitler used fear, hate, lies, and violence to grab
and hold attention and power. He understood the value of propaganda, the
use of lies and half-truths to get people to go along with certain ideas
or attitudes. To build support, Hitler held huge parades and rallies.
Nazi party members waved giant swastikas, the Nazi symbol. They raised
their right arms in the Nazi salute and chanted Heil Hitler, "Hail,
Hitler's rise to power came during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
After being defeated in World War I, the Germans had struggled without
success to get on course again. Their government was divided and weak.
By the time of the Depression, millions of Germans were already
unemployed. German factories were silent. Masses of hungry people waited
in breadlines with buckets of currency that were nearly worthless. At
this time, Hitler gave the Germans a scapegoat: mostly, the Jews. Now
the Germans had somebody to blame for their troubles.
Excerpted from "The Holocaust: Never Forget" by Helen C Strahinich. Copyright © 2015 by Helen C Strahinich. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.