The Holocaust Memorial – Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial – Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an installation commemorating the genocide of the Jewish people perpetrated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

A place of contemplation, remembrance and warning, close to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, this site is a monument to the six million European Jews who died in the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Memorial Berlin history

After lengthy debates, in 1999, the German parliament decided to establish a central memorial site, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

A competition was held to design the memorial which was won by New York architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial was ceremonially opened in 2005 in Mitte on a stretch of the former “death strip” where the Wall once stood near Brandenburg Gate.

The area is open day and night and from all four sides you can fully immerse yourself in the fully accessible spatial structure. The memorial comprises of 2711 concrete slabs of different heights that stand on a site covering 19,000 square metres.

The slabs are arranged on a slight slope and the configuration’s wave-like form is different wherever you stand.

The structure’s openness and abstractness give onlookers space to confront the topic in their own personal way. The sheer size of the installation and its lack of a central point of remembrance call into question the conventional concept of a memorial. This creates a place of remembrance, but not with the usual means.

The memorial to the Shoah is supplemented by the underground information centre, also designed by Eisenman. In a space covering 800 square metres you can find information on the victims and the locations. Themed rooms such as the Room of Dimensions, the Room of Families, the Room of Names and the Room of Sites deal with the fates of individuals, with photographs, diaries and farewell letters. Short biographies take the victims out of their anonymity. Historical photographs and film footage show the sites of persecution and extermination.

The Holocaust Memorial Berlin today

Many people felt that the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe should include inscriptions, artifacts, and historical information. This was achieved with the underground information centre that was not part of Eisenman’s original vision for the memorial yet is now a significant part of the visitor experience of the site.

The last entrance to the memorial 45 mins before closing each day and it is not suitable for under 14s.

Getting to the Holocaust Memorial Berlin

Visitors can reach the memorial by S-Bahn train, Underground or Bus.

By Gretchen Kistenmacher '17

LAS-410: The Future of the Past

Gretchen’s paper on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin impressed me because of its clear, organized writing, thorough and objective approach to the topic and effective appeal to and integration of scholarly sources. A unique feature of Gretchen’s paper was the incorporation of personal photographs from her visit to the Memorial. I like the idea that her lived experience informs her writing without being the focus of the piece.

The horrific and inconceivable events of the Holocaust are engraved in Germany’s past. The mass murder of more than 6 million Jews tarnished every aspect of what it meant to be German and put the country on a long road to recovery. The Holocaust left behind a void and a culture of guilt. In an attempt to fill this absence and generate a positive national identity, Germany commissioned a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe located in Berlin, Germany. The German Parliament intended: “To honor the murdered victims, keep alive the memory of… inconceivable events in German history and admonish all future generations never again to violate human rights, to defend the democratic constitutional state at all times, to secure equality before the law for all people and to resist all forms of dictatorships and regimes based on violence” (Chin). In this paper, I will analyze how well the memorial achieved these intentions and the controversies surrounding the memorial in order to demonstrate how the memorial has allowed Germany to overcome guilt and to generate a positive national identity for modern Germany.

First and foremost, it is important to identify the difference between a memorial and monument and to define the fundamental function of a memorial. Both a memorial and a monument are designed to recognize and preserve memories. However, a monument celebrates life while a memorial commemorates death or loss (Doss 7). In recent years, there has been an expansion in memorials. This is a result of “a highly successful public art industry and increased expectations of rights and representation of diversity” (Doss 9). Lisa Mahlum argues that “physical structures engage visitors in the present, connect them with the historical truths of the past, and instill a memory of the Holocaust in the future” (281). The aim of a memorial is to strike a balance between the horrors of the past, engage visitors in the context of the present, and inspire memory for the future.

Commemoration through a permanent structure allows the past and present to co-exist in a social relationship. However, creating an accurate representation of the past in the present is much easier said than done. The problem is that any past can be distorted by the context of the present. The act of “claiming a particular history as a method of persuasion modifies the art of memory” (Grenzer 96). Memorials possess enormous influence and power over collective memory.

Designing the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was no easy task. It took 17 years of debate before the memorial was finally opened in May of 2005 (Chin). Designer Peter Eisenman constructed an abstract memorial which avoided all symbolism with the intention of allowing the visitors to create their own interpretation from the absence of the structure. According to Eisenman, “enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that an attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate” (qtd. in Mahlum 282). The lack of representation and symbolism of this memorial makes it much different than most memorials, which tend to give the viewer a strong sense of identification. The absence of “symbolism reduces it to pure presence” (Marzynski). This memorial is not about what is seen but instead what is felt by the viewer.

Evoking a ‘feeling’ at the site was achieved by the grand scale of the memorial. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs, or stelae, arranged in a grid pattern over 4.7 acres (Brody). The concrete slabs are rectangular in shape with sharp lines. Marian Marzynski, a Holocaust survivor, suggests that the slabs resemble architecture of the Hitler regime. The slabs plunge out of the ground vertically. A wavelike appearance is achieved by the uneven ground and varied heights of the slab blocks. Around the perimeter of the concrete field, the slabs are very low to the ground, but as one walks down the narrow alleys between the slabs, towards the center of the memorial, the slabs reach a height higher than one’s head.

Commemorating the six million Jewish victims collectively in this way allows for a highly personal experience and interpretation of memorialization. Nothing is suggested to the viewer. Eisenman’s original design was just that detailed above however, many felt that German Holocaust education was needed at the site. Marzynski argues, “art cannot express the content of the Holocaust, education is needed.” As a result, the design was altered to includean underground information center located below the concrete slab field. In order to preserve the aesthetic of Eisenman’s design, the entrance is simply a staircase going down with minimal signage, not immediately visible to a passer-by. The exit is located in the middle of the concrete field, hidden from sight due to the height of the blocks. The structure above ground was integrated into the information center in two ways: the ceiling is structured with a grid of the rectangular concrete blocks and the form of the concrete blocks is imitated in the information panels (Mugge). The exhibit is not a museum. It does not contain any artifacts from the Holocaust. Instead, the center details the fate of the victims and sites of destruction through non-fiction stories of Jewish victims accompanied with pictures of families and concentration camp scenes (Young). Through the information provided, Germany takes ownership of its role in producing the final solution while also providing history and context of the Holocaust. The information center “takes the abstract nature of the field of concrete above it and breaks it down to the level of the individual victim,” acting as a link between the abstract architecture and personal narratives of Jewish victims (Chin).

The reality of the Holocaust is also present in the significance of the memorial’s location, at the political and social heart of Germany. The memorial is placed near the geographical center of Berlin, the capital of Germany (Magge 718). At this location, it is a part of everyday life. It embodies a social relationship with society in a way that Germans cannot ignore its presence. Many feel that the memorial enriches the aesthetic of the city (Chin). Furthermore, the memorial stands as a sign of the productivity of Berlin: “A modern city is reflected in representing the past as a demonstration of its progress” (Grenzer 98). The mere physical presence of the memorial is an indication that Germany has chosen to deal with its past and acknowledge its role as perpetrator. In addition, the field of stelae is located at the political center of Berlin. Current German government, the Reichstag and Bundesrat, are just meters away, and the memorial is on the very site that was Hitler’s ministry gardens (Chin). The death of the Jews is being memorialized on the very site where their death was planned. This allows for a deeply reflective memory experience for visitors. Lisa Mahlum explains this phenomenon very well: “It is the perfect juxtaposition of perpetration and victimization with culpability and responsibility” (300). This location displays the willingness of Germans to publicly accept responsibility for the Holocaust.

There are many interpretations of the abstract Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There is no right or wrong explanation of the memorial because this was the goal of the design: to nurture individual experience. Some believe the stelae resemble headstones forming a graveyard for victims unburied or thrown into unmarked graves (Brody). The absence of writing expresses the silence of the victims (Grenzer 102). Another interpretation is that the memorial mimics the experience of a Jew. The perimeter of the memorial is very open, with blocks low to the ground. It acts somewhat like a park, with people sitting and taking in the city around them. This represents the carefree life Jews lived before the Holocaust (Brody). As one walks into the interior of the memorial, the blocks get higher and higher. The view of other visitors and the surrounding cityscape is cut off. Feelings of claustrophobia, desolation, and confusion set in (Brody). Each concrete block is set at a different angle, which generates feelings of disorientation. The contrast between the perimeter and the interior of the memorial imitates the journey of a Jew “going from the world they knew to a lost and lonely environment” (Young).

Visitors are confronted face to face with the memory and feelings of the Holocaust. Visitors are an integral part of the memorial because they ultimately define how the memorial is experienced. It can be entered from all four sides in multiple spots, offering different viewpoints. Visitors who stay only on the perimeter of the memorial will have a different experience than those who enter the interior. The path through the memorial is not defined by a beginning or end “the memorial is not frozen in time or static in space…it resists closure” (Young). In the same way, the Holocaust itself resists closure, never to be ignored or forgotten. The information center adds context to the space above it however, the path inside the center is defined and fixed. The effect of no beginning and no end is somewhat lost, which takes away from Eisenman’s design of the memorial.

Germany’s goal with this memorial was to honor the victims of the Holocaust, keep alive the memory to educate future generations, and warn future generations to never violate human rights (Mahlum 281). Does the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe achieve this goal? Some believe the memorial was successful in realizing this goal while others believe it falls short. Those that feel the memorial did not reach its full potential believe that the abstract design and the lack of signs pointing direction leave people confused. Visitors are merely fascinated by the aesthetic impression of the memorial and leave having only achieved a superficial understanding of what the memorial stands for (Brody). In addition, it is argued that the memorial came too late. It was opened 60 years after WWII ended (Brody). Since the end of WWII, Germany has worked to overcome the negativity and create positive nationalism for modern Germans. However, some citizens believe focusing on the Holocaust represents negative nationalism which threatens to reverse the efforts towards a unified Germany (Grenzer 97).

On the contrary, German politicians believe the memorial was a success just based on the sheer number of visitors it has attracted. Attendance to the memorial each year has been much higher than was originally anticipated (Mugge 717). The discussion spurred by the memorial building process and the continued dialogue of its presence has generated more individual memory work than there would have been otherwise. Its existence brings the lessons of the Holocaust into public mind and consciousness, acting as a permanent promise to stop human rights violations. The notion of representing the past in the present was achieved. Grenzer classifies “the memorial as a demonstration of the past [which] prepares the ground in the present for a future that will be mastered” (102). The existence of the memorial indicates the success of Germany accepting responsibility for the past and commemorating the largest targeted group of the Holocaust. Mahlum argues that the memorial does not represent negative nationalism but rather encourages the reunification of Germany by solidifying a collective memory for a nation of perpetrators (304). Additionally, Chin argues that it did not come too late because the memorial is intended for young Germans, the third generation. The earlier generations had their own personal memories and connections to the events. It is for future generations that this site is imperative.

So far the success of the memorial has been defined in terms of Germany, but how does the Jewish community view the memorial? The site is named Memorial ‘to’ the Murdered Jews of Europe. This insinuates that it was constructed for the Jewish community, but the Jewish community argues that it provides greater benefit to Germans (Marzynski). Furthermore, the title – ‘Murdered Jews’ – fails to indicate who did the murdering. Germany has taken a passive voice by focusing on the recipients of the apology and ignoring those doing the apologizing. Marian Marzynski, a Holocaust survivor, speaks for the Jewish community, saying, “We did not ask for it. We do not need it.” The proposal and design of the memorial was conceived by non-Jewish Germans therefore, it does not reflect the true sentiments of the Jewish population (Chin). This suggests that the memorial was not meant to commemorate the Jews, but rather meant to flatter the Germans. Mahlum summarizes it best by stating, “Remembrance of the Holocaust becomes a negotiation between the historical records of the past and the political agenda of the present” (305). It has been suggested that Germany strategically used the memorial politically on a national and international level to wash their hands clean (Chin). It provided Germany with a convenient opportunity to re-establish itself as an ethical country. This is an example of the past being shaped by the affairs of the future.

The decision to dedicate the memorial to only the Jewish victims of the Holocaust initiated controversy. Some argue that this is discrimination against non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust: homosexuals, Gypsies, Slavic people and the mentally disabled (Chin). Partial history of the Holocaust is ignored by only focusing on the Jewish victims. On the other hand, the murdering of European Jewry was the central matter within Nazi policy and ideology. This put the Jewish community as the top priority for Germany to commemorate. Germany chose to be specific due to the large volume of Jewish victims compared to other groups targeted during the Holocaust. However, setting a hierarchy of victimization indicates a national position on who suffered the most. Mahlum reasons that the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe “contributes to the ignorance regarding the full history of the Holocaust…creating division just like before” (305). Failure to recognize the whole past and honor all the victims of the Holocaust could lead to a portion of history being forgotten.

The construction of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe has allowed Germany to take collective responsibility for the event. The guilt that Germany has carried for so long has been transformed into a public apology and display of accountability. Every society “sets up images of the past…it is not enough for a certain past to be selected” (Mahlum 307). Germany’s ability to accept its past and acknowledge its wrongdoings as a country is in some ways unique. For example, America has no memorials constructed to recognize our crimes (Marznski). One could argue that America is still hindered by our past because we have failed to fully confess our acts of perpetration, whereas Germany has been able to overcome a great deal of relatively recent history as a result of how well they deal with the past. Germany has provided a template for dealing with the past that other countries could follow.

The memorial now stands as an everlasting symbol of German national identity. The Holocaust is now a permanent memory of Germany’s history and landscape. Since the memorial was funded by the state, it is also a sign of political representation (Mugge 713). This was Germany’s first national effort to recognize the systematic murder of European Jews. A political and social conviction has been made to never let this happen again. The memorial indicates that Germany is on a path toward a more positive sense of national identity.

The memorial provides memory and hope for the future of German society. The concrete blocks could quite literally be called the “foundation stones” for a new society (Marzyski). For the past 60 years, Germany has dealt with the Holocaust through guilt however, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe presents the opportunity for liberation from that guilt. Confronting the past has allowed it to move on into the future. By making the memory of the Holocaust permanent, Germany runs the risk of the memory becoming frozen or buried as new generations become further removed from the horrors of the Holocaust. Future generations are now obligated to keep the memory alive: “The responsibility for preserving the past becomes increasingly bestowed upon 10 the hands of the present” (Mahlum 306). Nevertheless, the presence of the memorial has broken Germany from the shackles of the past and allowed freedom to pursue the future of a modern Germany.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was overall successful in accomplishing the German parliament’s goal to honor Jewish victims, educate, and admonish future generations. Memorialization of the Holocaust provides a memory tool for future generations to understand the significance of the Holocaust. Through a field of stelae, the past has been immortalized in the present.

Works Cited

Brody, Richard. “The Inadequacy of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” The New Yorker, 12 July 2012. Accessed 02 Oct. 2016.

Chin, Sharon, Fabian Franke, and Sheri Halpern. “A Self-Serving Admission of Guilt: An Examination of the Intentions and Effects of Germany’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” Humanity in Action. Humanity in Action Inc., n.d. Accessed 02 Oct. 2016.

Doss, Erika. Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. UChicago Press, 2010.

Grenzer, Elke. “The Topographies of Memory In Berlin: The Neue Wache And The Memorial For The Murdered Jews Of Europe.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research, vol. 11, no. 1, 2002, pp. 93-110.

Mahlum, Lisa. “The Similarities and Difference: A Comparative Analysis of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin,” Intersections, vol. 10, no. 1, 2009, pp. 279-308.

Marzynski, Marian. “A Jew among the Germans: Germany’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” Frontline, May 31, 2005.

Mugge, Maike. “Politics, Space and Material: The ‘Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe’ In Berlin As A Sign Of Symbolic Representation.” European Review of History, vol. 15, no. 6, 2008, pp. 707-725.

Young, James E. At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture. Yale UP, 2000.

Virtual Jewish World: Berlin, Germany

Berlin is the largest city and capital of Germany. The history of Jews in Berlin can be traced all the way back to the 13th century.

Early History

Jews first arrived in Berlin at some point in the 13th century. Prior to this period, German Jews had lived primarily in southern Germany, in communities along the Rhine. But in the 13th century, the Jews began to migrate to the cities of the north, to escape the persecution and expulsions that had become a constant since the Crusades began in 1096.

Unfortunately, the Jews would not find matters much better in Berlin. In fact, the first time they are mentioned in any city documents is in an ordinance enacted in 1295, forbidding wool merchants to sell yarn to Jews. In the following centuries, they continued to be the target of oppression. In 1349, the Jews were accused of starting the Black Plague that was sweeping through Europe, and were expelled &ndash but not before many were killed, and had their houses burned down. The Jews were allowed back in 1354, but were expelled once again in 1446. In 1510 and 1571, the Jews were again expelled en masse, after having been allowed to return in between. The motivations behind these expulsions varied: in 1510, the exile followed an unfounded accusation of host desecration in 1446 and 1571, the Jews were simply told to leave so the government could confiscate their property.

Between expulsions, the Jews of Berlin were primarily engaged in money-lending and petty trade. They lived in a ghetto in the Grosser Judenhof (&ldquoJew&rsquos Court&rdquo) area, and on Juddenstrasse (&ldquoJew Street&rdquo).

The Return & Growth of the Jews

Following the expulsion in 1571, virtually no Jews inhabited Berlin for a century. This changed in 1663, when the elector of Bradenburg allowed Israel Aaron to enter Berlin as a Court Jew. Soon afterwards, in 1671, 50 prominent Jewish Viennese families were allowed into the city as Schutzjuden, protected Jews who paid for a residence permit allowing them to engage in certain businesses and worship in private homes. The Jewish families were also given a cemetery, a mikveh (ritual bath), and a hospital. In 1714, the first synagogue, known later as the Old Synagogue, was established at Heidereutergasse in Mitte.

This community grew despite the restrictions on residence and family size, and by the beginning of the 18th century there were approximately 1,000 residents of the Jewish ghetto. The community paid a great deal of its income in taxes: a protection tax, a residence tax, a head tax and a payment required to work in certain professions were all used at one point or another to extract money from the community.

Nonetheless, the Jews excelled as merchants, mainly selling precious metals and stones, and as bankers. Soon, they were among the richest people in Berlin, and by the halfway point of the 18th century the Jewish population of Berlin totaled 2,000 people.

Philosopher and scholar Moses Mendelssohn arrived in Berlin in 1743, and urged Jews to integrate into secular society. Mendelssohn was involved in the founding of the Juedische Freischule (Jewish Free School), that combined religious learning with a general education. Today, the private Jewish High School located at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 27 is open to both Jews and non-Jews alike, and is in the same building the Free School occupied from 1906 to 1942. Mendelssohn was laid to rest in Berlin in Vestpocket Park, which was used as the Jewish cemetery from 1672 to 1827.

In 1845, the Society for Reform in Judaism (originally begun in private homes), was founded in Berlin. The Society boasted a revised liturgy, organ music and Sunday services. The Berlin Reform Temple was built in 1854 at Johannistrasse 16 and survived until the aerial bombing of the city during World War II. In 1866, a third synagogue that featured this new type of modern Judaism, the New Synagogue, was established at Oranienburgerstrasse, and included an organ, a choir, and services in German. It became the center of liberal Judaism.

As a reaction to this liberalization of the religion, a neo-Orthodox synagogue, Adass Jisroel, opened in 1869 under Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer. The congregation survived at Tucholskystrasse until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The newly renovated &ldquoNew Synagogue&rdquo in east Berlin

As the 18th century drew to a close, Berlin became the center of the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment, which came to advocate Jewish equality and secularism. Internal communal authority subsequently broke down, and many Berlin Jews moved out of the ghetto, and became unaffiliated with traditional Judaism. In 1815, the Jews succeeded in attaining Prussian citizenship and the various regulations and taxes that had unfairly targeted the Jews were rescinded, although full equality came in 1850 with Prussia&rsquos updated constitution. By this time, there were 9,500 Jews in Berlin, mostly involved in finance, commerce, and transportation.

As Berlin&rsquos Jews continued to infiltrate the social and economic elite, their ranks continued to grow, despite skyrocketing intermarriage and apostasy. By the turn of the century, there were more than 110,000 Jews in Berlin, comprising more than 5% of the total population. Most settled in the center of the city, but by 1900, had started to move to the outer districts of Spandau and Stralauer, and then to Charlottenburg, Schoeneberg, and Wilmersdorf.

Communal institutions thrived as well: between 1880 and 1930, eight elaborate new synagogues were constructed, rasing Berlin&rsquos total to sixteen. Numerous Jewish newspapers were founded, and organizations such as B'nai B'rith, Poalei Zion, and Hibbat Zion attracted many new members.

The Weimer years (1919-1933) were the golden age of the German and Berlin Jewry. Plays by Max Reinhardt took the stage, Arnold Schoenberg amd Kurt Weill composed music, artists Max Liebermann and Lesser Ury created beautiful paintings, and Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter conducted concerts to huge audiences. Also, Vicki Baum authored her novel Menschen im Hotel, which was later turned into the 1932 film Grand Hotel. The population grew as well, and by 1933, 160,000 Jews called Berlin home

At the same time, however, anti-Semitism was on the rise, and, in the years leading up to the Nazi&rsquos ascendence to power in 1933, attacks on Jews increased.

Toward the Holocaust

In the years between 1933 and 1939, as Jews in Berlin had their social and economic rights systematically eliminated, Jewish communal life increased dramatically: Jews could only send their children to Jewish schools, and could not interact with any citizens other than their own kind. In June 1938, the round-up of Jews began, as thousands were arrested without reason. On the evenings of the 9th and 10th of November, now known as Kristallnacht, Jewish synagogues and shops were vandalized and burned throughout Berlin. One of the synagogues set ablaze was the New Synagogue. The building was saved when a police officer, Wilhelm Krützfeld intervened and convinced the fire department to put out the fire because the building was an officially protected monument. The synagogue was later damaged in 1943 during Allied air raids.

In the months that followed, more and more Jews were arrested or put to work at forced labor camps. Jewish communal life, however, remained vibrant.

Memorial marking the spot where Berlin's 55,000 Jews were gathered for deportation

For two weeks in August 1936, the treatment of the Jews and other persecuted minorities in Germany was hidden while the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. In an attempt to legitimize his rule, Hitler cleansed the city of incriminating evidence, so that the international community saw no sign of wrongdoing. Of course no German Jews were allowed to participate in the events, and as soon as the Olympics ended the mistreatment accelerated. By 1939, the Jewish population of Berlin had dwindled to 75,000.

In 1941, things changed even more dramatically. Many more areas of the city were declared off-limits for Jews, and laws were enacted requiring Jews to wear the infamous yellow badge. Between 1941 and 1943, all the city&rsquos Jews were deported to camps throughout Europe, and, on June 16, 1943, Berlin was declared Judenrein (&ldquoclean of Jews&rdquo). By 1945, only 8,000 Jews remained in Berlin. Those who survived were either in hiding or were married to non-Jews.

Post-Holocaust Developments

In the aftermath of the war, some Jews came out of hiding and others returned to their homes. Berlin was universally considered a &ldquoliquidation city&rdquo &ndash no one expected the Jews to have a future in Berlin, and thus it was assumed that all the residents would quickly emigrate. About 1,500 Jews survived the war by hiding out in Berlin.

This assumption proved to be partially incorrect. While East Germany had few Jews among its inhabitants, West Germany, particularly the American zone, maintained a sizable community, bolstered by an influx of displaced persons, mostly from Eastern Europe, after the war&rsquos conclusion. The Jewish community&rsquos growth stagnated, then declined steadily until 1989. Then, the city received a &ldquoshot in the arm&rdquo when the Berlin Wall fell, and the Jews of East and West Berlin were unified into one community. They were joined by thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who, for the first time since the war, reinforced the traditional elements of the community and settled in areas with affordable housing like Wilmersdorf and Steglitz.

Sights & Culture Today

Today, signs of Berlin&rsquos Jewish history are everywhere. There are streets named after such famous Jews as Moses Mendelsohn, Baruch Spinoza, Rosa Luxemberg, Heinrich Heine and Gustave Mahler. There are numerous Holocaust memorials throughout the city, with the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the center of Berlin recognized as the official German Holocaust memorial. An underground information center documents the Holocaust.

A total of seven synagogues are in operation and there are Jewish preschools and a high school. In 2003, the first Jewish-oriented college was opened by NewYork-based Touro College.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Jewish Cemetery

Berlin is home to Germany's official memorial to the Holocaust, Cora-Berliner-Strasse. The memorial was opened in 2005 and includes 2,700 concrete blocks of varying heights, representing the coffins of those individuals murdered in Nazi concentration camps. The memorial rests on a large open piece of land in the center of the city, adjacent to the mound underneath which Adolf Hitler spent his last days and committed suicide in his underground bunker.

Included in the many Holocaust Memorials scattered throughout Berlin are the Missing House graphic at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 15/16, which lists the names of former residents a red sandstone monument at Rosenstrasse 2/4, which pays tribute to the protests of non-Jewish women over the capture of their Jewish husbands and the Abadoned Room at Koppenplatz, which depicts an overturned bronze chair to remember those Jews taken on Kristallnacht.

Other areas of interest include Bebelplatz, site of the May 10, 1933, book burnings Track 17 in the Wilmsersdorf district, a commemoration to the more than 50,000 Jews that were deported from Grunewald Station, which features plaques next to the railroad tracks that list every transport between 1941 and 1945, the number of people, and their destination and the Israeli Embassy, which hosts six stone pillars at its entrance to symbolize the 6 million Jews that perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Also in Berlin, more that 5,000 Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) have been set in the city's sidewalks and streets. Each plaque commemorates a victims of the Holocaust at that person's last known address. The stone lists the victim's name, date of birth, deportation date, and death date (if known). The idea and the stones are the work of artist Gunter Demnig, who says that &ldquoa person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.&rdquo The first small memorial, embedded in the sidewalk, appeared in Berlin&rsquos Kruezberg district in 1996. Today, the stones can be found in 916 places in Germany and more than 45,000 have been planted in more than 1,100 locations in 17 European countries.

In what was East Berlin, Oranienburgerstrasse is emerging as a new center of Jewish life. The &ldquoNew Synagogue&rdquo &ndash which was constructed in 1866, and left in ruins after Kristallnacht and the Allied bombing of Berlin &ndash has been completely renovated. The building&rsquos gold dome and towers have been restored to their pre-war condition rather than being restored to its original purpose, the huge main sanctuary now houses a museum of Berlin Jewish history, Centrum Judaicum, and is used as a cultural center.

The tombstone of Moses Mendelsohn is the only one still standing in Berlin&rsquos Jewish cemetery

Down the road from the New Synagogue is the East Berlin Jewish community headquarters, which has also undergone renovations. Several kosher restaurants flank the building. The community center is located in Charlottenburg, and hosts a tourist desk for visitors.

Further down Oranienburgerstrasse is a Jewish cemetery, in which Moses Mendelsohn is buried. On nearby Poststrasse, the &ldquoEphraim Palais&rdquo remains standing. The building was erected in the mid-19th century by Veitel Heine Ephraim, a Jewish banker who celebrated the granting of Jewish equality by building what was then the city&rsquos most magnificent mansion.

Another historic East Berlin synagogue is that on Rykestrasse 53, which is near the historic Juddenstrasse where the Jewish ghetto was located in the 16th century. The Liberal-Conservative Rykestrasse synagogue was well preserved during World War II, and is still in use today. It was originally built in 1904. The synagogue has a beautiful towering ceiling and a massive arched roof.

There is also a Chabad in Berlin, at Muensterschestrasse 6, which houses the Jewish Educational Center. The Center provides programming that includes services, a kindergarten and grade school, programs for adults and children, and also a kosher restuarant.

These sights aside, the main center of Jewry in Berlin continues to be in the western part of the city. Notable synagogues include the Liberal congregation on Pestalozzistrasse, a Romanesque building restored after the war with stained glass and four large alcoves. The Orthodox shul on Joachimstalerstrasse, built in 1902, is also known for its beauty.

On the site of the former Beit Zion Synagogue destroyed in the November pogroms, at Brunnenstrasse 33, sits the Orthodox Yeshivas Beis Zion which currently educates a number of young Orthodox men. In addition, Congregation Adass Jisroel was reestablished in 1989 at Tucholskystrasse 40, and includes a kosher Beth Cafe (coffeeshop), and a kosher market, Kolbo, that specializes in prepared foods and Israeli wines.

Holocaust memorial in Berlin

The Jewish Museum Berlin in the Kreuzberg district, a division of the Berlin museum, officially opened in 2001 and is notable both for its location and its contents. It is located on Lindenstrasse and contains a stirring Holocaust exhibit, as well as a myriad of Judaic items and artifacts some more than 800 years old. The museum also features the Libeskind Building, designed and built by architect Daniel Libeskind. His design was modeled after a deconstructed Magen David (Star of David), and in Fall 2007, Libeskind&rsquos Glass Courtyard, based on a sukkah opened, whose roof spans the 7,000-square-foot inner courtyard of the Old Building. The museum also awards an annual prize for Understanding and Tolerance to individuals promoting these virtues.

Jewish cultural events are easy to find. Theaters in Berlin often feature shows with Jewish content, and Israeli troupes and orchestras regularly tour in the city. The community center on Oranienburgerstrasse, and a second one on Fasanenstrasse, also sponsor numerous cultural events. There are Jewish Culture Days that feature theater, concerts, films, lectures, and exhibitions, as well as the annual Jewish Film Festival Berlin. Bimah, the Jewish theater troupe, also performs traditional East European plays as well as contemporary Israeli drama pieces.

The Berlinische Galerie, located adjacent to the Jewish Museum at Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128, houses works by Jewish artists, including Max Beckmann, Max Libermann, El Lissitsky, Felix Nussbaum, Else Neulander Simon, and Erich Salomon.

Near the Brandenburg Gate and the new American Embassy lies the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, built by architect Peter Eisenman, which consists of 2,711 slabs of gray concrete, some rising as high as 13 feet. Under the memorial is the &ldquoOrt der Erinnerung,&rdquo a small museum dedicated to the Holocaust.

One of the most haunting and significant places of Jewish interest in Berlin is the Wannsee Conference House. It was in this house in January 1942 that Reinhardt Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann and others engineered their "Final Solution", making their plans to rid the world of Jews and Jewish culture. The house today is a memorial and an educational center.

Berlin is home to the the Weissensee Cemetary, the largest Jewish Cemetary in Europe. The cemetary is home to over 115,000 graves of Jewish individuals and was in use from the mid 1800's until the advent of the Holocaust.

The growth of the Jewish community resuscitated Jewish education in Berlin. In 1999, the German government supplied funding to train rabbis and cantors. The first seminary since the Holocaust was established at the University of Potsdam's Abraham Geiger College. In 2006, three rabbis were ordained at the college, the first time that had occurred since the war. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the event was &ldquospecial because many did not believe that after the Holocaust Jewish life would flourish in Germany.&rdquo

Jewish immigration to Berlin increased in 2005, especially for Soviet Jews. In the summer of 2005, the German government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany decided to allow Jews into the country only if they will be an asset to the pre-existing Jewish community. Until 2005, the German government considered an immigrant to be a Jew if at least the immigrant&rsquos father was Jewish. Under the new restrictions, half of the annual amount of Soviet Jewish immigrants were not welcomed into Germany.

Also, Dieter Graumann, a member of the Central Council, declared that Soviet Jews will not be considered &ldquorefugees.&rdquo Because of Israel&rsquos law of automatic citizenship for Jews, the Soviet Jews who cannot immigrate to Germany also have the option of immigration to Israel. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, there has always been a place for Jews fleeing the Diaspora. Therefore, no Jew can qualify as a refugee, and Germany is not required to take them in.

A Jewish individual was attacked in Berlin on November 25, 2014, while leaving a synagogue. He sustained a black eye and multiple fractured fingers during the attack, which was perpetrated by a man who spoke German with an Arabic accent. According to the victim there is no doubt that they were attacked because they looked like they were Jewish.

Two Berlin-born Palestinian men were charged with planning attacks on the Israeli embassy and other Jewish institutions by a public prosecutor in Berlin, in December 2015. Mohamed El-N and Ali El-I, both 21 years old, were charged with &ldquoplanning a massive act of violence,&rdquo after their plans to bomb local synagogues and the Israeli embassy were reported to police. The men were arrested in July 2015, and the trial began on December 15, 2015.

A Syrian Jewish man was assaulted by a group of young adults in a Berlin park on July 7, 2018, after the youths recognized that he was wearing a Jewish Star necklace. The man had asked members of the group of young people for a light for his cigarette prior to the attack. When one of the youths realized that the victim was wearing a Jewish Star necklace, he began shouting anti-Semitic insults and punched the victim in the face.

Jewish Contacts

The Jewish Community of Berlin
Oranienburgerstrasse 28/30

Jewish Community Center Information Desk
Fasanenstrasse 79/80

Topography of Terror
Niederkirchnerstraße 8

Anne Frank Center & Museum Otto Weidt's Workshop for the Blind
Rosenthaler Straße 39

Judisches Gymnasium Moses Mendelssohn

Kahal Adass Jisroel e.V.
Brunnenstraße 33

Rykestrasse Synagogue
Rykestrasse 53
Open to the public on Thurs. from 2-6pm & Sun. 12-4pm.

Chabad & Jewish Educational Center
Muensterschestrasse 6

Orthodox Yeshivas Beis Zion
Brunnenstrasse 33

Adass Jisroel Synagogue
Tucholskystrasse 40
[email protected]

Jewish Culture Days

Jewish Film Festival Berlin

Bimah, the Jewish theater group
Jonasstrasse 22

Judisches Berlin (a monthly guide to Jewish events in Berlin)
[email protected]

Jewish Theater Berlin

Jewish Museum Berlin
Lindenstrasse 9-14

Berlinische Galerie
Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Information Center
Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1 (underground)

Gunter Demnig&rsquos Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks)

New Synagogue Berlin-Centrum Judaicum
Oranienburgerstrasse 28/30

Israeli Embassy
Auguste-Viktoria-Strasse 74/76

Jewish Cemetery Schonhauser Allee
Oranienberger Strasse 28-31

Kosher Restaurants

Beth Cafe
Tucholskystrasse 40

Nürnberger Strasse 45A

Gabriels at the JCC
Fasanenstrasse 79/80

Sources: Jewish man assaulted in Berlin for wearing a Star of David, JTA (July 9, 2018)
&ldquoBerlin.&rdquo Encyclopaedia Judaica
Tigay, Alan. The Jewish Traveler. Jason Aronson, Inc. Northvale, NJ, 1994
John Burgess, &ldquoCollege Gives Berlin&rsquos Jews a New Home,&rdquo The Washington Post, (February 9, 2004)
The Jerusalem Report. &ldquoDateline&rdquo
Gilman, Lois. &ldquoBerlin.&rdquo Hadassah Magazine, August/September 2007. pp. 21-27
&ldquoStolpersteine-Stumbling Into History,&rdquo
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Washington, D.C.

Photo Credits:
New Synagogue photo courtesy of David Navarro.
Mendelsohn&rsquos grave, Berlin monuments, and Reichstag photos courtesy of Philip Greenspun at
Holocaust Memorial in Jewish Cemetery in Berlin photos courtesy of Sue Arns at Jewish Touring Berlin.

Download our mobile app for on-the-go access to the Jewish Virtual Library

Under Construction

The federal government made 1.9 acres of land adjacent to the National Mall in Washington available for the Museum site. The entire cost of construction—nearly $200 million—was paid for by private donations. During groundbreaking ceremonies on October 16, 1985, two milk cartons containing soil and ashes from a number of concentration camps and killing centers were buried on the site to symbolize the Museum's mission and the history it would convey.

One year later, 15th Street, which bordered one of the planned Museum's main entrances, was officially renamed Raoul Wallenberg Place—honoring the Swedish diplomat who led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan spoke at a special ceremony held when the cornerstone of the Museum was laid.

During the years of construction, which began in July 1989 and ended in April 1993, a vast amount of work had to be accomplished regarding the Museum's content. This work entailed extensive exhibition planning artifact acquisition designing every aspect of the Museum's Permanent Exhibition in a manner that both fulfilled the Museum's mission and presented Holocaust history in a truly educational, unfiltered manner creating community programs planning special exhibitions, and much more. The Museum's founding director, Jeshajahu (Shaike) Weinberg led this crucial exhibition planning phase and served as its director during the first stages of the Museum's daily operation.

The Inadequacy of Berlin’s “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”

Just south of the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, with its two thousand, seven hundred and eleven gray concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise rectilinear array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them, along which the ground undulates. The installation is a living experiment in montage, a Kuleshov effect of the juxtaposition of image and text. The text in question is the title of the memorial: in German, Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas—a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Without that title, it would be impossible to know what the structure is meant to commemorate there’s nothing about these concrete slabs that signifies any of the words of the title, except, perhaps, “memorial”—insofar as some of them, depending on their height, may resemble either headstones or sarcophagi. So it’s something to do with death. And as for the title itself—which murdered Jews? When? Where? Does the list include Rosa Luxemburg, who was killed in Berlin by rightist thugs in 1919, or the foreign minister Walther Rathenau, also killed here by rightist thugs, in 1922? Or Isaac Babel and Osip Mandelstam, who died in Soviet captivity? Or, pardon my sarcasm, Claude Lanzmann’s uncle, who was (as Lanzmann writes in his autobiography) killed in Paris by his jealous mistress?

The title doesn’t say “Holocaust” or “Shoah” in other words, it doesn’t say anything about who did the murdering or why—there’s nothing along the lines of “by Germany under Hitler’s regime,” and the vagueness is disturbing. Of course, the information is familiar, and few visitors would be unaware of it, but the assumption of this familiarity—the failure to mention it at the country’s main memorial for the Jews killed in the Holocaust—separates the victims from their killers and leaches the moral element from the historical event, shunting it to the category of a natural catastrophe. The reduction of responsibility to an embarrassing, tacit fact that “everybody knows” is the first step on the road to forgetting.

The omission is all the stranger inasmuch as the experience of traversing the field of stelae, which was designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman, is, in itself, strong and complex. In the shallow corner of the plaza, tourists sit and chat on bench-high stelae, children climb, all enjoy wide-open and thrillingly grand perspectives on the surroundings, including the Tiergarten to the west, and the installation takes on the cast of an austerely modern yet pleasantly welcoming park. But, upon entering the narrow alleys and plunging between higher and higher slabs, perspectives are sliced to a ribbon, other visitors are cut off from view, and an eerie claustrophobia sets in—even as some visitors (not just kids) play little games of hide-and-seek in the rectilinear maze. And the title, striking against the experience, creates sparks of metaphorical extrapolation: The Jews of Europe lived carefree, as in a park, until they wandered into frightening canyons of shadows from which the escape routes were narrow and distant. Yet, even then, amidst terrors and dangers, children played and families cohered, citizens from whose midst neighboring Jews were deported and slaughtered continued to frolic with indifference, exactly as many living in relative comfort do nowadays while political depravities are inflicted daily on far too many in places around the world. When my family and I got back to the bench-high stelae, I, too, sat down and checked messages.

The memorial also evokes a graveyard for those who were unburied or thrown into unmarked pits, and several uneasily tilting stelae suggest an old, untended, or even desecrated cemetery. The metaphorical possibilities are varied—too much so. The play of imagination that the memorial provokes is piously generic: something to do with death. It contrasts unfavorably with, for instance, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The latter is, in its details, an imperfect exhibit there’s a little too much information dispensed with encyclopedic authority, a little bit of kitschy curatorial cleverness but it is a true and specific memorial. It recreates the persecution, the flight, the refuge, the life in danger and in hiding, the arrest, and the murder of Anne Frank as well as of other members of her family and their fellow-refugees in the secret annex. It’s a memorial to one of the murdered Jews of Europe. Eisenman’s installation commemorates the six million murdered Jews collectively but there is no more a collective death than there is a collective life an appropriate memorial would commemorate six million times one.

I was astonished to find that the exhibit didn’t even offer the names of those who died in the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, in Israel, has a record of the names. It would have been fitting for six million names to be engraved, individually, into the stelae—maybe individual Germans could have volunteered to take part in the engraving. (After the visit, I learned, while reading a guidebook, that the list of names from Yad Vashem is in fact present at the exhibit—in a separate information center, located under the field of stelae, that is also said to contain a diverse and generous measure of historical documentation. It’s not marked prominently, it’s not easy to find, and it’s not integral to the display.) And if abstraction were deemed absolutely necessary, why not six million stelae to convey that there were six million individual people who were treated with savage contempt by Germany and its satellites? The very act of manufacturing, counting, and placing them would embody something of the scale of the crimes.

The passive voice of the title—“murdered Jews”—elides the question that wafts through the exhibit like an odor: murdered by whom? At the Anne Frank House, persecution was incarnated, and, together with the sad celebration of the lives of its victims came another thought: How fucking dare they—“they” being the Germans, who elected a violently anti-Semitic government and participated or acquiesced in its exactions. Certainly Germany looks hard, elsewhere, at its poisoned heritage, yet it would be morally fitting to add another emotional component to the commemoration—to link the evocation of a general grief in the face of haphazard fortune with an enduring historical anger at the murderers of the murdered Jews of Europe.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Completed on December 15, 2004, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was built in remembrance of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust. By pairing aesthetic minimalism and a massive scope, the memorial generates an incredibly powerful tension for its visitors.

Altogether 2,711 unmarked grey concrete “stelae” or slabs cover a city block situated just south of the Brandenberg Gate. Each and every one of the stelae is identical in dimension ( 7’ 10” by 3’ 1”) and eerily reminiscent of coffins, though they vary from eight inches to over 15 feet in height. As a whole, they create a labyrinth where visitors are easily lost, contributing to a pervasive feeling of bewilderment while walking amidst the memorial’s network of open-air corridors.

Since its debut, both praise and criticism have been directed at the memorial. Critics of the work at once find fault in its commemoration of a single demographic victimized by the Nazis rather than the multitude of those affected including large numbers of Europe’s Roma and homosexual populations. Still, others find the vagueness of the monument’s title disturbing, in that it avoids any assignation of blame for who, exactly, took these individual human lives.

Meanwhile, architectural scholars praise its stylistic execution. As Nicolai Ouroussoff noted, Berlin’s monument avoids sentimentality in the face of an internationally affecting event, instead, “showing how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexities of human emotion.” All scholarly debate aside, finding a visitor who emerges unmoved by the visual impact of the installation seems unlikely.



The term holocaust, first used in 1895 by The New York Times to describe the massacre of Armenian Christians by Ottoman Muslims, [10] comes from the Greek: ὁλόκαυστος , romanized: holókaustos ὅλος hólos, "whole" + καυστός kaustós, "burnt offering". [d] The biblical term shoah (Hebrew: שׁוֹאָה ‎), meaning "destruction", became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of the European Jews. According to Haaretz, the writer Yehuda Erez may have been the first to describe events in Germany as the shoah. Davar and later Haaretz both used the term in September 1939. [12] [e] Yom HaShoah became Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1951. [14]

On 3 October 1941 the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", apparently to refer to the situation in France, [15] and in May 1943 the New York Times, discussing the Bermuda Conference, referred to the "hundreds of thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi Holocaust". [16] In 1968 the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)". [17] The term was popularised in the United States by the NBC mini-series Holocaust (1978) about a fictional family of German Jews, [18] and in November that year the President's Commission on the Holocaust was established. [19] As non-Jewish groups began to include themselves as Holocaust victims, many Jews chose to use the Hebrew terms Shoah or Churban. [20] [f] The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage). [22]


Holocaust historians commonly define the Holocaust as the genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1941 and 1945. [a] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favor a definition that includes the Jews, Roma, and the disabled: "the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity." [31] [g]

Other groups targeted after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 [34] include those whom the Nazis viewed as inherently inferior (chiefly Slavs, the Roma, and the disabled), and those targeted because of their beliefs or behavior (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and homosexuals). [35] Peter Hayes writes that the persecution of these groups was less uniform than that of the Jews. For example, the Nazis' treatment of the Slavs consisted of "enslavement and gradual attrition", while some Slavs were favored Hayes lists Bulgarians, Croats, Slovaks and some Ukrainians. [24] In contrast, Hitler regarded the Jews as what Dan Stone calls "a Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race' . not really human at all." [9]

Genocidal state

The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state". [36] Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out. [h] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated, [38] and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds"). [39] Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners other companies built the crematoria. [36] As prisoners entered the death camps, they surrendered all personal property, [40] which was cataloged and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling. [41] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims. [42]


According to Dan Stone, it became increasingly clear after the fall of former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, and the opening of their archives to historians, that the Holocaust was a pan-European phenomenon, a series of "Holocausts" impossible to conduct without local collaborators and Germany's allies. [43] Stone writes that "many European states, under the extreme circumstances of World War II, took upon themselves the task of solving the 'Jewish question' in their own way." [44] Nearly three million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5 million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more died in the rest of Europe. [45]

Medical experiments

At least 7,000 camp inmates were subjected to medical experiments most died during them or as a result. [46] The experiments, which took place at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, involved the sterilization of men and women, treatment of war wounds, ways to counteract chemical weapons, research into new vaccines and drugs, and survival of harsh conditions. [46]

After the war, 23 senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg with crimes against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors, and biomedical researchers. [47] The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943. [48] Interested in genetics, [48] and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects on the ramp from the new arrivals during "selection" (to decide who would be gassed immediately and who would be used as slave labor), shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!). [49] The twins would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem. [50] [i]

Antisemitism and the völkisch movement

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and expulsions. [52] The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence, in the German empire and Austria-Hungary, of the völkisch movement, developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. [53] These ideas became commonplace throughout Germany the professional classes adopted an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. [54] The Nazi Party (the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers' Party) originated as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism. [55]

Germany after World War I, Hitler's world view

After World War I (1914–1918), many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated. A stab-in-the-back myth developed, insinuating that disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism. [56]

Early antisemites in the Nazi Party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving force behind communism. [57] Central to Hitler's world view was the idea of expansion and Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe for German Aryans, a policy of what Doris Bergen called "race and space". Open about his hatred of Jews, he subscribed to common antisemitic stereotypes. [58] From the early 1920s onwards, he compared the Jews to germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany. [59]

Dictatorship and repression (January 1933)

With the appointment in January 1933 of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the Nazi's seizure of power, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). [61] Nazi policies divided the population into two groups: the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the "racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists, liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades" and moral opponents, such as gay men, the work-shy, and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft they were to be removed from society. [62]

Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents, [63] setting up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. [64] One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 22 March 1933. [65] Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. [66] Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. [67] The camps served as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not support the regime. [68]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. [69] On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses. [70] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. [71] Jews were disbarred from practicing law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms. [72] In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials. [73] Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities. [71] Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers, [74] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions. [75] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only." [76]

Sterilization Law, Aktion T4

The economic strain of the Great Depression led Protestant charities and some members of the German medical establishment to advocate compulsory sterilization of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled, [78] people the Nazis called Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). [79] On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed. [80] [81] The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". [82] There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. [83] Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000. [84]

In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary euthanasia. After the war this program came to be known as Aktion T4, [85] named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered. [86] T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the euthanasia of children was also carried out. [87] Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. There were also dedicated killing centers, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp. [88] Overall, the number of mentally and physically disabled people murdered was about 150,000. [89]

Although not ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions were involved in the planning and carrying out of Aktion T4. [90] In August 1941, after protests from Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, Hitler canceled the T4 program, [91] although disabled people continued to be killed until the end of the war. [89] The medical community regularly received bodies for research for example, the University of Tübingen received 1,077 bodies from executions between 1933 and 1945. The German neuroscientist Julius Hallervorden received 697 brains from one hospital between 1940 and 1944: "I accepted these brains of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was really none of my business." [92]

Nuremberg Laws, Jewish emigration

On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, known as the Nuremberg Laws. The former said that only those of "German or kindred blood" could be citizens. Anyone with three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jew. [94] The second law said: "Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden." Sexual relationships between them were also criminalized Jews were not allowed to employ German women under the age of 45 in their homes. [95] [94] The laws referred to Jews but applied equally to the Roma and black Germans. Although other European countries—Bulgaria, Independent State of Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, and Vichy France—passed similar legislation, [94] Gerlach notes that "Nazi Germany adopted more nationwide anti-Jewish laws and regulations (about 1,500) than any other state." [96]

By the end of 1934, 50,000 German Jews had left Germany, [97] and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left, [98] among them the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. [99] Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany his citizenship was revoked and he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and Prussian Academy of Sciences. [100] Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country. [101]

Anschluss (12 March 1938)

On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Ninety percent of Austria's 176,000 Jews lived in Vienna. [102] The SS and SA smashed shops and stole cars belonging to Jews Austrian police stood by, some already wearing swastika armbands. [103] Jews were forced to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets while wearing tefillin. [104] Around 7,000 Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed in Austria. [105] The Évian Conference was held in France in July 1938 by 32 countries, to help German and Austrian Jewish refugees, but little was accomplished and most countries did not increase the number of refugees they would accept. [106] In August that year, Adolf Eichmann was appointed manager (under Franz Walter Stahlecker) of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien). [107] Sigmund Freud and his family arrived in London from Vienna in June 1938, thanks to what David Cesarani called "Herculean efforts" to get them out. [108]

Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938)

On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris, in retaliation for the expulsion of his parents and siblings from Germany. [109] [j] When vom Rath died on 9 November, the synagogue and Jewish shops in Dessau were attacked. According to Joseph Goebbels' diary, Hitler decided that the police should be withdrawn: "For once the Jews should feel the rage of the people," Goebbels reported him as saying. [111] The result, David Cesarani writes, was "murder, rape, looting, destruction of property, and terror on an unprecedented scale". [112]

Known as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), the pogrom on 9–10 November 1938 saw over 7,500 Jewish shops (out of 9,000) looted and attacked, and over 1,000 synagogues damaged or destroyed. Groups of Jews were forced by the crowd to watch their synagogues burn in Bensheim they were made to dance around it and in Laupheim to kneel before it. [113] At least 90 Jews died. The damage was estimated at 39 million Reichmarks. [114] Contrary to Goebbel's statements in his diary, the police were not withdrawn the regular police, Gestapo, SS and SA all took part, although Heinrich Himmler was angry that the SS had joined in. [115] Attacks took place in Austria too. [116] The extent of the violence shocked the rest of the world. The Times of London stated on 11 November 1938:

No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults upon defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday. Either the German authorities were a party to this outbreak or their powers over public order and a hooligan minority are not what they are proudly claimed to be. [117]

Between 9 and 16 November, 30,000 Jews were sent to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. [118] Many were released within weeks by early 1939, 2,000 remained in the camps. [119] German Jewry was held collectively responsible for restitution of the damage they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of over a billion Reichmarks. Insurance payments for damage to their property were confiscated by the government. A decree on 12 November 1938 barred Jews from most remaining occupations. [120] Kristallnacht marked the end of any sort of public Jewish activity and culture, and Jews stepped up their efforts to leave the country. [121]


Before World War II, Germany considered mass deportation from Europe of German, and later European, Jewry. [122] Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine and, after the war began, French Madagascar, [123] Siberia, and two reservations in Poland. [124] [k] Palestine was the only location to which any German resettlement plan produced results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government. Between November 1933 and December 1939, the agreement resulted in the emigration of about 53,000 German Jews, who were allowed to transfer RM 100 million of their assets to Palestine by buying German goods, in violation of the Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott of 1933. [126]

Invasion of Poland (1 September 1939)


Between 2.7 and 3 million Polish Jews died during the Holocaust out of a population of 3.3 – 3.5 million. [127] More Jews lived in Poland in 1939 than anywhere else in the world another 3 million lived in the Soviet Union. When the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering declarations of war from the UK and France, Germany gained control of about two million Jews in the territory it occupied. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland from the east on 17 September 1939. [128]

The Wehrmacht in Poland was accompanied by seven SS Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolitizei ("special task forces of the Security Police") and an Einsatzkommando, numbering 3,000 men in all, whose role was to deal with "all anti-German elements in hostile country behind the troops in combat". [129] German plans for Poland included expelling non-Jewish Poles from large areas, settling Germans on the emptied lands, [130] sending the Polish leadership to camps, denying the lower classes an education, and confining Jews. [131] The Germans sent Jews from all territories they had annexed (Austria, the Czech lands, and western Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. [132] Jews were eventually to be expelled to areas of Poland not annexed by Germany, but in the meantime they would be concentrated in ghettos in major cities to achieve "a better possibility of control and later deportation", according to an order from Reinhard Heydrich dated 21 September 1939. [133] [l] From 1 December, Jews were required to wear Star of David armbands. [132]

The Germans stipulated that each ghetto be led by a Judenrat of 24 male Jews, who would be responsible for carrying out German orders. [135] These orders included, from 1942, facilitating deportations to extermination camps. [136] The Warsaw Ghetto was established in November 1940, and by early 1941 it contained 445,000 people [137] the second largest, the Łódź Ghetto, held 160,000 as of May 1940. [138] The inhabitants had to pay for food and other supplies by selling whatever goods they could produce. [137] In the ghettos and forced-labor camps, at least half a million died of starvation, disease, and poor living conditions. [139] Although the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30 percent of the city's population, it occupied only 2.4 percent of its area, [140] averaging over nine people per room. [141] Over 43,000 residents died there in 1941. [142]


Peter Hayes writes that the Germans created a "Hobbesian world" in Poland in which different parts of the population were pitted against each other. [144] A perception among ethnic Poles that the Jews had supported the Soviet invasion [145] contributed to existing tensions, which Germany exploited, redistributing Jewish homes and goods, and converting synagogues, schools and hospitals in Jewish areas into facilities for non-Jews. [146] The Germans announced severe penalties for anyone helping Jews, and Polish informants (Szmalcowniki) would point out who was Jewish [147] during the Judenjagd (hunt for the Jews). [148] Despite the dangers, thousands of Poles helped Jews. [149] Nearly 1,000 were executed for having done so, [144] and Yad Vashem has named over 7,000 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations. [150]

There had been anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland before the war, including in around 100 towns between 1935 and 1937, [151] and again in 1938. [152] David Cesarani writes that Polish nationalist parties had "campaigned for Polonization of the economy and encouraged a boycott of Jewish businesses. [153] Pogroms continued during the occupation. During the Lviv pogroms in Lwów, eastern Poland (later Ukraine) [m] in June and July 1941—the population was 157,490 Polish 99,595 Jewish and 49,747 Ukrainian [154] —some 6,000 Jews were murdered in the streets by the Ukrainian People's Militia, aided by Polish and Ukrainian locals. [155] Jewish women were stripped, beaten, and raped. [156] There were also mass shootings, most likely by Einsatzgruppe C. [157] During the Jedwabne pogrom, on 10 July 1941, a group of 40 Polish men killed several hundred Jews around 300 were burned alive in a barn. [158] According to Hayes, this was "one of sixty-six nearly simultaneous such attacks in the province of Suwalki alone and some two hundred similar incidents in the Soviet-annexed eastern provinces". [145]

Extermination camps

At the end of 1941, the Germans began building extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz II, [159] Bełżec, [160] Chełmno, [161] Majdanek, [162] Sobibór, [163] and Treblinka. [164] Gas chambers had been installed by the spring or summer of 1942. [165] The SS liquidated most of the ghettos of the General Government area in 1942–1943 (the Łódź Ghetto was liquidated in mid-1944), [166] and shipped their populations to these camps, along with Jews from all over Europe. [167] [n] The camps provided locals with employment and with black-market goods confiscated from Jewish families who, thinking they were being resettled, arrived with their belongings. According to Hayes, dealers in currency and jewellery set up shop outside the Treblinka extermination camp (near Warsaw) in 1942–1943, as did prostitutes. [146] By the end of 1942, most of the Jews in the General Government area were dead. [169] The Jewish death toll in the extermination camps was over three million overall most Jews were gassed on arrival. [170]

Invasion of Norway and Denmark

Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940, during Operation Weserübung. Denmark was overrun so quickly that there was no time for a resistance to form. Consequently, the Danish government stayed in power and the Germans found it easier to work through it. Because of this, few measures were taken against the Danish Jews before 1942. [171] By June 1940 Norway was completely occupied. [172] In late 1940, the country's 1,800 Jews were banned from certain occupations, and in 1941 all Jews had to register their property with the government. [173] On 26 November 1942, 532 Jews were taken by police officers, at four o'clock in the morning, to Oslo harbor, where they boarded a German ship. From Germany they were sent by freight train to Auschwitz. According to Dan Stone, only nine survived the war. [174]

Invasion of France and the Low Countries

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. After Belgium's surrender, the country was ruled by a German military governor, Alexander von Falkenhausen, who enacted anti-Jewish measures against its 90,000 Jews, many of them refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe. [175] In the Netherlands, the Germans installed Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar, who began to persecute the country's 140,000 Jews. Jews were forced out of their jobs and had to register with the government. In February 1941, non-Jewish Dutch citizens staged a strike in protest that was quickly crushed. [176] From July 1942, over 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported only 5,000 survived the war. Most were sent to Auschwitz the first transport of 1,135 Jews left Holland for Auschwitz on 15 July 1942. Between 2 March and 20 July 1943, 34,313 Jews were sent in 19 transports to the Sobibór extermination camp, where all but 18 are thought to have been gassed on arrival. [177]

France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied north and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas in Vichy France (named after the town Vichy). The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas. [178] In July 1940, the Jews in the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany were expelled into Vichy France. [179] Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. [180] Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942 an estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor. [181]

Madagascar Plan

The fall of France gave rise to the Madagascar Plan in the summer of 1940, when French Madagascar in Southeast Africa became the focus of discussions about deporting all European Jews there it was thought that the area's harsh living conditions would hasten deaths. [182] Several Polish, French and British leaders had discussed the idea in the 1930s, as did German leaders from 1938. [183] Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to investigate the option, but no evidence of planning exists until after the defeat of France in June 1940. [184] Germany's inability to defeat Britain, something that was obvious to the Germans by September 1940, prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, [185] and the Foreign Ministry abandoned the plan in February 1942. [186]

Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece

Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941 and surrendered before the end of the month. Germany, Italy and Bulgaria divided Greece into occupation zones but did not eliminate it as a country. The pre-war Greek Jewish population had been between 72,000 and 77,000. By the end of the war, some 10,000 remained, representing the lowest survival rate in the Balkans and among the lowest in Europe. [187]

Yugoslavia, home to 80,000 Jews, was dismembered regions in the north were annexed by Germany and Hungary, regions along the coast were made part of Italy, Kosovo and western Macedonia were given to Albania, while Bulgaria received eastern Macedonia. The rest of the country was divided into the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), an Italian-German puppet state whose territory comprised Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the Croatian fascist Ustaše party placed in power and German occupied Serbia, governed by German military and police administrators [188] who appointed the Serbian collaborationist puppet government, Government of National Salvation, headed by Milan Nedić. [189] [190] [191] In August 1942 Serbia was declared free of Jews, [192] after the Wehrmacht and German police, assisted by collaborators of the Nedić government and others such as Zbor, a pro-Nazi and pan-Serbian fascist party, had murdered nearly the entire population of 17,000 Jews. [193] [194] [195]

In the NDH the Nazi regime demanded that the Ustaše adopt antisemitic racial policies, persecute Jews and set up several concentration camps. Ante Pavelić and the Ustaše accepted Nazi demands. The state broke away from Nazi antisemitic policy by promising honorary Aryan citizenship, and thus freedom from persecution, to Jews who were willing to contribute to the "Croat cause". Marcus Tanner states that the "SS complained that at least 5,000 Jews were still alive in the NDH and that thousands of others had emigrated, by buying ‘honorary Aryan’ status". [196] Nevenko Bartulin, however posits that of the total Jewish population of the NDH, only 100 Jews attained the legal status of Aryan citizens, 500 including their families. In both cases a relatively small portion out of a Jewish population of 37,000. [197] By the end of April 1941 the Ustaše required all Jews to wear insignia, typically a yellow Star of David. [198] The Ustaše confiscated Jewish property in October 1941. [199] During the same time as their persecution of Serbs and Roma, the Ustaše took part in the Holocaust, and killed the majority of the country's Jews [200] the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 30,148 Jews were murdered. [201] According to Jozo Tomasevich, the Jewish community in Zagreb was the only one to survive out of 115 Jewish religious communities in Yugoslavia in 1939–1940. [202]

In the Bulgarian annexed zones of Macedonia and Thrace, upon demand of the German authorities, the Bulgarians handed over the entire Jewish population, about 12,000 Jews to the military authorities, all were deported. [203]


Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, a day Timothy Snyder called "one of the most significant days in the history of Europe . the beginning of a calamity that defies description". [204] German propaganda portrayed the conflict as an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism, and as a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish, Romani, and Slavic Untermenschen ("sub-humans"). [205] The war was driven by the need for resources, including, according to David Cesarani, agricultural land to feed Germany, natural resources for German industry, and control over Europe's largest oil fields. [206]

Between early fall 1941 and late spring 1942, Jürgen Matthäus writes, 2 million of the 3.5 million Soviet POWs captured by the Wehrmacht had been executed or had died of neglect and abuse. By 1944 the Soviet death toll was at least 20 million. [207]

Mass shootings

As German troops advanced, the mass shooting of "anti-German elements" was assigned, as in Poland, to the Einsatzgruppen, this time under the command of Reinhard Heydrich. [208] The point of the attacks was to destroy the local Communist Party leadership and therefore the state, including "Jews in the Party and State employment", and any "radical elements". [o] Cesarani writes that the killing of Jews was at this point a "subset" of these activities. [210]

Typically, victims would undress and give up their valuables before lining up beside a ditch to be shot, or they would be forced to climb into the ditch, lie on a lower layer of corpses, and wait to be killed. [211] The latter was known as Sardinenpackung ("packing sardines"), a method reportedly started by SS officer Friedrich Jeckeln. [212]

According to Wolfram Wette, the Germany army took part in these shootings as bystanders, photographers, and active shooters. [213] In Lithuania, Latvia and western Ukraine, locals were deeply involved Latvian and Lithuanian units participated in the murder of Jews in Belarus, and in the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews. Some Ukrainians went to Poland to serve as guards in the camps. [214]

Einsatzgruppe A arrived in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) with Army Group North Einsatzgruppe B in Belarus with Army Group Center Einsatzgruppe C in the Ukraine with Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D went further south into Ukraine with the 11th Army. [215] Each Einsatzgruppe numbered around 600–1,000 men, with a few women in administrative roles. [216] Traveling with nine German Order Police battalions and three units of the Waffen-SS, [217] the Einsatzgruppen and their local collaborators had murdered almost 500,000 people by the winter of 1941–1942. By the end of the war, they had killed around two million, including about 1.3 million Jews and up to a quarter of a million Roma. [218]

Notable massacres include the July 1941 Ponary massacre near Vilnius (Soviet Lithuania), in which Einsatgruppe B and Lithuanian collaborators shot 72,000 Jews and 8,000 non-Jewish Lithuanians and Poles. [219] In the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre (Soviet Ukraine), nearly 24,000 Jews were killed between 27 and 30 August 1941. [207] The largest massacre was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev (also Soviet Ukraine), where 33,771 Jews were killed on 29–30 September 1941. [220] [221] The Germans used the ravine for mass killings throughout the war up to 100,000 may have been killed there. [222]

Toward the Holocaust

At first the Einsatzgruppen targeted the male Jewish intelligentsia, defined as male Jews aged 15–60 who had worked for the state and in certain professions. The commandos described them as "Bolshevist functionaries" and similar. From August 1941 they began to murder women and children too. [224] Christopher Browning reports that on 1 August 1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade passed an order to its units: "Explicit order by RF-SS [Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS]. All Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamps." [225]

Two years later, in a speech on 6 October 1943 to party leaders, Heinrich Himmler said he had ordered that women and children be shot, but according to Peter Longerich and Christian Gerlach, the murder of women and children began at different times in different areas, suggesting local influence. [226]

Historians agree that there was a "gradual radicalization" between the spring and autumn of 1941 of what Longerich calls Germany's Judenpolitik, but they disagree about whether a decision—Führerentscheidung (Führer's decision)—to murder the European Jews had been made at this point. [227] [p] According to Browning, writing in 2004, most historians say there was no order, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, to kill all the Soviet Jews. [229] Longerich wrote in 2010 that the gradual increase in brutality and numbers killed between July and September 1941 suggests there was "no particular order". Instead it was a question of "a process of increasingly radical interpretations of orders". [230]

Germany first used concentration camps as places of terror and unlawful incarceration of political opponents. [232] Large numbers of Jews were not sent there until after Kristallnacht in November 1938. [233] After war broke out in 1939, new camps were established, many outside Germany in occupied Europe. [234] Most wartime prisoners of the camps were not Germans but belonged to countries under German occupation. [235]

After 1942, the economic function of the camps, previously secondary to their penal and terror functions, came to the fore. Forced labor of camp prisoners became commonplace. [233] The guards became much more brutal, and the death rate increased as the guards not only beat and starved prisoners, but killed them more frequently. [235] Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("extermination through labor") was a policy camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or to physical exhaustion, at which point they would be gassed or shot. [236] The Germans estimated the average prisoner's lifespan in a concentration camp at three months, as a result of lack of food and clothing, constant epidemics, and frequent punishments for the most minor transgressions. [237] The shifts were long and often involved exposure to dangerous materials. [238]

Transportation to and between camps was often carried out in closed freight cars with little air or water, long delays and prisoners packed tightly. [239] In mid-1942 work camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be placed in quarantine for four weeks. [240] Prisoners wore colored triangles on their uniforms, the color denoting the reason for their incarceration. Red signified a political prisoner, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple triangles, "asocials" and criminals wore black and green, and gay men wore pink. [241] Jews wore two yellow triangles, one over another to form a six-pointed star. [242] Prisoners in Auschwitz were tattooed on arrival with an identification number. [243]


According to Dan Stone, the murder of Jews in Romania was "essentially an independent undertaking". [244] Romania implemented anti-Jewish measures in May and June 1940 as part of its efforts towards an alliance with Germany. By March 1941 all Jews had lost their jobs and had their property confiscated. [245] In June 1941 Romania joined Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union. [246]

Thousands of Jews were killed in January and June 1941 in the Bucharest pogrom and Iași pogrom. [247] According to a 2004 report by Tuvia Friling and others, up to 14,850 Jews died during the Iași pogrom. [248] The Romanian military killed up to 25,000 Jews during the Odessa massacre between 18 October 1941 and March 1942, assisted by gendarmes and the police. [249] In July 1941, Mihai Antonescu, Romania's deputy prime minister, said it was time for "total ethnic purification, for a revision of national life, and for purging our race of all those elements which are foreign to its soul, which have grown like mistletoes and darken our future." [250] Romania set up concentration camps in Transnistria, reportedly extremely brutal, where 154,000–170,000 Jews were deported from 1941 to 1943. [251]

Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary

Bulgaria introduced anti-Jewish measures between 1940 and 1943 (requirement to wear a yellow star, restrictions on owning telephones or radios, and so on). [252] It annexed Thrace and Macedonia, and in February 1943 agreed to a demand from Germany that it deport 20,000 Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. All 11,000 Jews from the annexed territories were sent to their deaths, and plans were made to deport 6,000–8,000 Bulgarian Jews from Sofia to meet the quota. [253] When this became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III canceled the plans. [254] Instead, Jews native to Bulgaria were sent to the provinces. [253]

Stone writes that Slovakia, led by Roman Catholic priest Jozef Tiso (president of the Slovak State, 1939–1945), was "one of the most loyal of the collaborationist regimes". It deported 7,500 Jews in 1938 on its own initiative introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and by the autumn of 1942 had deported around 60,000 Jews to Poland. Another 2,396 were deported and 2,257 killed that autumn during an uprising, and 13,500 were deported between October 1944 and March 1945. [255] According to Stone, "the Holocaust in Slovakia was far more than a German project, even if it was carried out in the context of a 'puppet' state." [256]

Although Hungary expelled Jews who were not citizens from its newly annexed lands in 1941, it did not deport most of its Jews [257] until the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between 15 May and early July 1944, 437,000 Jews were deported, mostly to Auschwitz, where most of them were gassed there were four transports a day, each carrying 3,000 people. [258] In Budapest in October and November 1944, the Hungarian Arrow Cross forced 50,000 Jews to march to the Austrian border as part of a deal with Germany to supply forced labor. So many died that the marches were stopped. [259]

Italy, Finland, and Japan

Italy introduced antisemitic measures, but there was less antisemitism there than in Germany, and Italian-occupied countries were generally safer for Jews than those occupied by Germany. [260] Most Italian Jews, over 40,000, survived the Holocaust. [261] In September 1943, Germany occupied the northern and central areas of Italy and established a fascist puppet state, the Republica Sociale Italiana or Salò Republic. [262] Officers from RSHA IV B4, a Gestapo unit, began deporting Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. [263] The first group of 1,034 Jews arrived from Rome on 23 October 1943 839 were gassed. [264] Around 8,500 Jews were deported in all. [261] Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Italian-controlled Libya almost 2,600 Libyan Jews were sent to camps, where 562 died. [265]

In Finland, the government was pressured in 1942 to hand over its 150–200 non-Finnish Jews to Germany. After opposition from both the government and public, eight non-Finnish Jews were deported in late 1942 only one survived the war. [266] Japan had little antisemitism in its society and did not persecute Jews in most of the territories it controlled. Jews in Shanghai were confined, but despite German pressure they were not killed. [267]

Pearl Harbor, Germany declares war on the United States

On 7 December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, and on 11 December, Germany declared war on the United States. [268] According to Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Hitler had trusted American Jews, whom he assumed were all powerful, to keep the United States out of the war in the interests of German Jews. When America declared war, he blamed the Jews. [269]

Nearly three years earlier, on 30 January 1939, Hitler had told the Reichstag: "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 be not the Bolshevising of the earth, and thus a victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" [270] In the view of Christian Gerlach, Hitler "announced his decision in principle" to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, one day after his declaration of war. On that day, Hitler gave a speech in his apartment at the Reich Chancellery to senior Nazi Party leaders: the Reichsleiter and the Gauleiter. [271] The following day, Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, noted in his diary:

Regarding the Jewish question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. [s]

Christopher Browning argues that Hitler gave no order during the Reich Chancellery meeting but made clear that he had intended his 1939 warning to the Jews to be taken literally, and he signaled to party leaders that they could give appropriate orders to others. [273] According to Gerlach, an unidentified former German Sicherheitsdienst officer wrote in a report in 1944, after defecting to Switzerland: "After America entered the war, the annihilation (Ausrottung) of all European Jews was initiated on the Führer's order." [274]

Four days after Hitler's meeting with party leaders, Hans Frank, Governor-General of the General Government area of occupied Poland, who was at the meeting, spoke to district governors: "We must put an end to the Jews . I will in principle proceed only on the assumption that they will disappear. They must go." [275] [t] On 18 December 1941, Hitler and Himmler held a meeting to which Himmler referred in his appointment book as "Juden frage | als Partisanen auszurotten" ("Jewish question / to be exterminated as partisans"). Browning interprets this as a meeting to discuss how to justify and speak about the killing. [277]

Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942)

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), convened what became known as the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a villa in Berlin's Wannsee suburb. [278] The meeting had been scheduled for 9 December 1941, and invitations had been sent between 29 November and 1 December, [279] but on 8 December it had been postponed indefinitely, probably because of Pearl Harbor. [280] On 8 January, Heydrich sent out notes again, this time suggesting 20 January. [281]

The 15 men present at Wannsee included Heydrich, SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, head of Reich Security Head Office Referat IV B4 ("Jewish affairs") SS Major General Heinrich Müller, head of RSHA Department IV (the Gestapo) and other SS and party leaders. [u] According to Browning, eight of the 15 had doctorates: "Thus it was not a dimwitted crowd unable to grasp what was going to be said to them." [283] Thirty copies of the minutes, the Wannsee Protocol, were made. Copy no. 16 was found by American prosecutors in March 1947 in a German Foreign Office folder. [284] Written by Eichmann and stamped "Top Secret", the minutes were written in "euphemistic language" on Heydrich's instructions, according to Eichmann's later testimony. [285]

Discussing plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question" ("Endlösung der Judenfrage"), and a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" ("Endlösung der europäischen Judenfrage"), [286] the conference was held to coordinate efforts and policies ("Parallelisierung der Linienführung"), and to ensure that authority rested with Heydrich. There was discussion about whether to include the German Mischlinge (half-Jews). [287] Heydrich told the meeting: "Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Fuehrer gives the appropriate approval in advance." [286] He continued:

Under proper guidance, in the course of the Final Solution, the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival. (See the experience of history.)

In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east. Germany proper, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, will have to be handled first due to the housing problem and additional social and political necessities.

The evacuated Jews will first be sent, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, from which they will be transported to the East. [286]

The evacuations were regarded as provisional ("Ausweichmöglichkeiten"). [288] [w] The final solution would encompass the 11 million Jews living in territories controlled by Germany and elsewhere in Europe, including Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, "dependent on military developments". [288] According to Longerich, "the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder." [290]

Extermination camps

At the end of 1941 in occupied Poland, the Germans began building additional camps or expanding existing ones. Auschwitz, for example, was expanded in October 1941 by building Auschwitz II-Birkenau a few kilometers away. [5] By the spring or summer of 1942, gas chambers had been installed in these new facilities, except for Chełmno, which used gas vans.

Camp Location
(occupied Poland)
Deaths Gas
Mass gassing
Auschwitz II Brzezinka 1,082,000
(all Auschwitz camps
includes 960,000 Jews)
4 [y] Oct 1941
(built as POW camp) [294]
c. 20 Mar 1942 [295] [z] [159]
Bełżec Bełżec 600,000 [160] N 1 Nov 1941 [296] 17 Mar 1942 [296] [160]
Chełmno Chełmno nad Nerem 320,000 [161] N 8 Dec 1941 [297] [161]
Majdanek Lublin 78,000 [298] N 7 Oct 1941
(built as POW camp)
Oct 1942 [300] [162]
Sobibór Sobibór 250,000 [163] N Feb 1942 [301] May 1942 [301] [163]
Treblinka Treblinka 870,000 [164] N May 1942 [302] 23 July 1942 [302] [164]
Total 3,218,000

Other camps sometimes described as extermination camps include Maly Trostinets near Minsk in the occupied Soviet Union, where 65,000 are thought to have died, mostly by shooting but also in gas vans [303] Mauthausen in Austria [304] Stutthof, near Gdańsk, Poland [305] and Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück in Germany. [306]

Gas vans

Chełmno, with gas vans only, had its roots in the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. [308] In December 1939 and January 1940, gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment had been used to kill disabled people in occupied Poland. [309] As the mass shootings continued in Russia, Himmler and his subordinates in the field feared that the murders were causing psychological problems for the SS, [310] and began searching for more efficient methods. In December 1941, similar vans, using exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced into the camp at Chełmno, [296] Victims were asphyxiated while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. [311] The vans were also used in the occupied Soviet Union, for example in smaller clearing actions in the Minsk ghetto, [312] and in Yugoslavia. [313] Apparently, as with the mass shootings, the vans caused emotional problems for the operators, and the small number of victims the vans could handle made them ineffective. [314]

Gas chambers

Christian Gerlach writes that over three million Jews were murdered in 1942, the year that "marked the peak" of the mass murder. [315] At least 1.4 million of these were in the General Government area of Poland. [316] Victims usually arrived at the extermination camps by freight train. [317] Almost all arrivals at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka were sent directly to the gas chambers, [318] with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. [319] At Auschwitz, about 20 percent of Jews were selected to work. [320] Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. [40] They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. [321]

At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, [322] releasing toxic prussic acid. [323] Those inside died within 20 minutes the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. [324] Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." [325] The gas was then pumped out, and the Sonderkommando—work groups of mostly Jewish prisoners—carried out the bodies, extracted gold fillings, cut off women's hair, and removed jewelry, artificial limbs and glasses. [326] At Auschwitz, the bodies were at first buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, 100,000 bodies were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers. [327]

Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka became known as the Operation Reinhard camps, named after the German plan to murder the Jews in the General Government area of occupied Poland. [328] Between March 1942 and November 1943, around 1,526,500 Jews were gassed in these three camps in gas chambers using carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of stationary diesel engines. [5] Gold fillings were pulled from the corpses before burial, but unlike in Auschwitz the women's hair was cut before death. At Treblinka, to calm the victims, the arrival platform was made to look like a train station, complete with fake clock. [329] Most of the victims at these three camps were buried in pits at first. From mid-1942, as part of Sonderaktion 1005, prisoners at Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were forced to exhume and burn bodies that had been buried, in part to hide the evidence, and in part because of the terrible smell pervading the camps and a fear that the drinking water would become polluted. [330] The corpses—700,000 in Treblinka—were burned on wood in open fire pits and the remaining bones crushed into powder. [331]

Jewish resistance

There was almost no resistance in the ghettos in Poland until the end of 1942. [333] Raul Hilberg accounted for this by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: compliance might avoid inflaming the situation until the onslaught abated. [334] Timothy Snyder noted that it was only during the three months after the deportations of July–September 1942 that agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached. [335]

Several resistance groups were formed, such as the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) and Jewish Military Union (ŻZW) in the Warsaw Ghetto and the United Partisan Organization in Vilna. [336] Over 100 revolts and uprisings occurred in at least 19 ghettos and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, when the Germans arrived to send the remaining inhabitants to extermination camps. Forced to retreat on 19 April from the ŻOB and ŻZW fighters, they returned later that day under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop (author of the Stroop Report about the uprising). [337] Around 1,000 poorly armed fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks. [338] Polish and Jewish accounts stated that hundreds or thousands of Germans had been killed, [339] while the Germans reported 16 dead. [340] The Germans said that 14,000 Jews had been killed—7000 during the fighting and 7000 sent to Treblinka [341] —and between 53,000 [342] and 56,000 deported. [340] According to Gwardia Ludowa, a Polish resistance newspaper, in May 1943:

From behind the screen of smoke and fire, in which the ranks of fighting Jewish partisans are dying, the legend of the exceptional fighting qualities of the Germans is being undermined. . The fighting Jews have won for us what is most important: the truth about the weakness of the Germans. [343]

During a revolt in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, inmates killed five or six guards and set fire to camp buildings several managed to escape. [344] In the Białystok Ghetto on 16 August, Jewish insurgents fought for five days when the Germans announced mass deportations. [345] On 14 October, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór attempted an escape, killing 11 SS officers, as well as two or three Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. According to Yitzhak Arad, this was the highest number of SS officers killed in a single revolt. [346] Around 300 inmates escaped (out of 600 in the main camp), but 100 were recaptured and shot. [347] On 7 October 1944, 300 Jewish members, mostly Greek or Hungarian, of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz learned they were about to be killed, and staged an uprising, blowing up crematorium IV. [348] Three SS officers were killed. [349] The Sonderkommando at crematorium II threw their Oberkapo into an oven when they heard the commotion, believing that a camp uprising had begun. [350] By the time the SS had regained control, 451 members of the Sonderkommando were dead 212 survived. [351]

Estimates of Jewish participation in partisan units throughout Europe range from 20,000 to 100,000. [352] In the occupied Polish and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, [353] although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. [354] An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 joined the Soviet partisan movement. [355] One of the famous Jewish groups was the Bielski partisans in Belarus, led by the Bielski brothers. [353] Jews also joined Polish forces, including the Home Army. According to Timothy Snyder, "more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943." [356] [aa]

Polish resistance and flow of information

The Polish government-in-exile in London received information about the extermination camp at Auschwitz from the Polish leadership in Warsaw from 1940 onwards, and by August 1942 there was "a continual flow of information to and from Poland", according to Michael Fleming. [362] This was in large measure thanks to Captain Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army, who was sent to the camp in September 1940 after allowing himself to be arrested in Warsaw. An inmate until he escaped in April 1943, his mission was to set up a resistance movement (ZOW), prepare to take over the camp, and smuggle out information. [363]

On 6 January 1942, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, sent out diplomatic notes about German atrocities, based on reports about mass graves and bodies surfacing in areas the Red Army had liberated, as well as witness reports from German-occupied areas. [364] According to Fleming, in May and June 1942, London was told about the extermination camps at Chełmno, Sobibór, and Bełzėc. [365] Szlama Ber Winer escaped from Chełmno in February and passed information to the Oneg Shabbat group in the Warsaw Ghetto [161] his report was known by his pseudonym as the Grojanowski Report. [366] Also in 1942, Jan Karski sent information to the Allies after being smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto twice. [367] By c. July 1942, Polish leaders in Warsaw had learned about the mass killing of Jews in Auschwitz. [ab] The Polish Interior Ministry prepared a report, Sprawozdanie 6/42, [369] which said at the end:

There are different methods of execution. People are shot by firing squads, killed by an "air hammer" /Hammerluft/, and poisoned by gas in special gas chambers. Prisoners condemned to death by the Gestapo are murdered by the first two methods. The third method, the gas chamber, is employed for those who are ill or incapable of work and those who have been brought in transports especially for the purpose /Soviet prisoners of war, and, recently Jews/. [370]

Sprawozdanie 6/42 had reached London by 12 November 1942, where it was translated into English to become part of a 108-page report, "Report on Conditions in Poland", on which the date 27 November 1942 was handwritten. This report was sent to the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. [371] On 10 December 1942, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Raczyński, addressed the fledgling United Nations on the killings the address was distributed with the title The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. He told them about the use of poison gas about Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór that the Polish underground had referred to them as extermination camps and that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed in Bełżec in March and April 1942. [372] One in three Jews in Poland were already dead, he estimated, from a population of 3,130,000. [373] Raczyński's address was covered by the New York Times and The Times of London. Winston Churchill received it, and Anthony Eden presented it to the British cabinet. On 17 December 1942, 11 Allies issued the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations condemning the "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination". [374]

The British and American governments were reluctant to publicize the intelligence they had received. A BBC Hungarian Service memo, written by Carlile Macartney, said in 1942: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all." The British government's view was that the Hungarian people's antisemitism would make them distrust the Allies if Allied broadcasts focused on the Jews. [375] In the United States, where antisemitism and isolationism were common, the government similarly feared turning the war into one about the Jews. [376] Although governments and the German public appear to have understood what was happening to the Jews, it seems the Jews themselves did not. According to Saul Friedländer, "[t]estimonies left by Jews from all over occupied Europe indicate that, in contradistinction to vast segments of surrounding society, the victims did not understand what was ultimately in store for them." In Western Europe, he writes, Jewish communities failed to piece the information together, while in Eastern Europe they could not accept that the stories they had heard from elsewhere would end up applying to them too. [377]

The Holocaust in Hungary

By 1943 it was evident to the armed forces leadership that Germany was losing the war. [379] Rail shipments of Jews were still arriving regularly from western and southern Europe at the extermination camps. [380] Shipments of Jews had priority on the German railways over anything but the army's needs, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942. [381] Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and the killing of skilled Jewish workers, [382] but Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations. [383]

The mass murder reached a "frenetic" pace in 1944 [384] when Auschwitz gassed nearly 500,000 people. [385] On 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary and dispatched Adolf Eichmann to supervise the deportation of its Jews. [386] Between 15 May and 9 July, 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, almost all sent directly to the gas chambers. [387] A month before the deportations began, Eichmann offered through an intermediary, Joel Brand, to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks from the Allies, which the Germans would agree not to use on the Western front. [388] The British thwarted the proposal by leaking it. The Times called it "a new level of fantasy and self-deception". [389]

Death marches

As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the SS closed down the camps in eastern Poland and tried to conceal what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and corpses cremated. [390] From January to April 1945, the SS sent inmates westward on death marches to camps in Germany and Austria. [391] [392] In January 1945, the Germans held records of 714,000 inmates in concentration camps by May, 250,000 (35 percent) had died during these marches. [393] Already sick after exposure to violence and starvation, they were marched to train stations and transported for days without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Some went by truck or wagons others were marched the entire distance. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. [394]


The first major camp encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets, along with its gas chambers, on 25 July 1944. [395] Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Germans in 1943. [396] On 17 January 1945, 58,000 Auschwitz inmates were sent on a death march westwards [397] when the camp was liberated by the Soviets on 27 January, they found just 7,000 inmates in the three main camps and 500 in subcamps. [398] Buchenwald was liberated by the Americans on 11 April [399] Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April [400] Dachau by the Americans on 29 April [401] Ravensbrück by the Soviets on 30 April [402] and Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May. [403] The Red Cross took control of Theresienstadt on 3 May, days before the Soviets arrived. [404]

The British 11th Armoured Division found around 60,000 prisoners (90 percent Jews) when they liberated Bergen-Belsen, [400] [405] as well as 13,000 unburied corpses another 10,000 people died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. [406] The BBC's war correspondent Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen, in a report so graphic the BBC declined to broadcast it for four days, and did so, on 19 April, only after Dimbleby threatened to resign. [407] He said he had "never seen British soldiers so moved to cold fury": [408]

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which. . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live. A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms. . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Table from David M. Crowe [45]
Country Jews
Albania 200–591
Austria 185,000–192,000 48,767–65,000
Belgium 55,000–70,000 24,000–29,902
and Moravia
92,000–118,310 78,150–80,000
Bulgaria 50,000 7,335
Denmark 7,500–7,800 60–116
Estonia 4,500 1,500–2,000
Finland 2,000 7–8
France 330,000–350,000 73,320–90,000
Germany (1933) 523,000–525,000 130,000–160,000
Greece 77,380 58,443–67,000
Hungary 725,000–825,000 200,000–569,000
Italy 42,500–44,500 5,596–9,000
Latvia 91,500–95,000 60,000–85,000
Lithuania 168,000 130,000–200,000
Luxembourg 3,800 720–2,000
Netherlands 140,000 98,800–120,000
Norway 1,700–1,800 758–1,000
Poland 3,300,000–3,500,000 2,700,000–3,000,000
Romania (1930) 756,000 270,000–287,000
Slovakia 136,000 68,000–100,000
Soviet Union 3,020,000 700,000–2,500,000
Yugoslavia 78,000–82,242 51,400–67,438
Total 9,702,930–10,169,332 4,707,056–7,442,390

The Jews killed represented around one third of world Jewry [410] and about two-thirds of European Jewry, based on a pre-war figure of 9.7 million Jews in Europe. [411] Most heavily concentrated in the east, the pre-war Jewish population in Europe was 3.5 million in Poland 3 million in the Soviet Union nearly 800,000 in Romania, and 700,000 in Hungary. Germany had over 500,000. [45]

The most commonly cited death toll is the six million given by Adolf Eichmann to SS member Wilhelm Höttl, who signed an affidavit mentioning this figure in 1945. [412] [ac] Historians' estimates range from 4,204,000 to 7,000,000. [413] According to Yad Vashem, "[a]ll the serious research" confirms that between five and six million Jews died. [ac]

Much of the uncertainty stems from the lack of a reliable figure for Jews in Europe in 1939, border changes that make double-counting of victims difficult to avoid, lack of accurate records from the perpetrators, and uncertainty about whether to include post-liberation deaths caused by the persecution. [414] Early postwar calculations were 4.2–4.5 million from Gerald Reitlinger, [414] 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, and 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. [415] In 1990, Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett estimated 5.59–5.86 million, [416] and in 1991, Wolfgang Benz suggested 5.29 to just over 6 million. [417] [ac] The figures include over one million children. [419]

The death camps in occupied Poland accounted for half the Jews killed. At Auschwitz, the Jewish death toll was 960,000 [420] Treblinka 870,000 [164] Bełżec 600,000 [160] Chełmno 320,000 [161] Sobibór 250,000 [163] and Majdanek 79,000. [162]

Death rates were heavily dependent on the survival of European states willing to protect their Jewish citizens. [421] In countries allied to Germany, the state's control over its citizens, including the Jews, was seen as a matter of sovereignty. The continuous presence of state institutions thereby prevented the Jewish communities' complete destruction. [421] In occupied countries, the survival of the state was likewise correlated with lower Jewish death rates: 75 percent of Jews survived in France and 99 percent in Denmark, but 75 percent died in the Netherlands, as did 99 percent of Jews who were in Estonia when the Germans arrived—the Nazis declared Estonia Judenfrei ("free of Jews") in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference. [422]

The survival of Jews in countries where states were not destroyed demonstrates the "crucial" influence of non-Germans (governments and others), according to Christian Gerlach. [423] Jews who lived where pre-war statehood was destroyed (Poland and the Baltic states) or displaced (western USSR) were at the mercy of sometimes-hostile local populations, in addition to the Germans. Almost all Jews in German-occupied Poland, the Baltic states and the USSR were killed, with a 5 percent chance of survival on average. [421] Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. [424]

Soviet civilians and POWs

The Nazis regarded the Slavs as Untermenschen. [24] German troops destroyed villages throughout the Soviet Union, [425] rounded up civilians for forced labor in Germany, and caused famine by taking foodstuffs. [426] In Belarus, Germany imposed a regime that deported 380,000 people for slave labor, killed 1.6 million, and destroyed at least 5,295 settlements. [427] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 3.3 million of 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody. [428] The death rates decreased when the POWs were needed to help the German war effort by 1943, half a million had been deployed as slave labor. [429]

Non-Jewish Poles

In a memorandum to Hitler dated 25 May 1940, "A Few Thoughts on the Treatment of the Ethnically Alien Population in the East", Himmler stated that it was in German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to an elementary-school education that would teach them how to write their names, count up to 500, work hard, and obey Germans. [430] The Polish political class became the target of a campaign of murder (Intelligenzaktion and AB-Aktion). [431] An estimated 1.8–1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed by Germans during the war. [432] At least 200,000 died in concentration camps, around 146,000 in Auschwitz. Others died in massacres or in uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising, where 120,000–200,000 were killed. [433]

Germany and its allies killed up to 220,000 Roma, around 25 percent of the community in Europe. [434] [435] Robert Ritter, head of Germany's Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit, called them "a peculiar form of the human species who are incapable of development and came about by mutation". [436] In May 1942, they were placed under similar laws to the Jews, and in December Himmler ordered that they be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. [437] He adjusted the order on 15 November 1943 to allow "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies" in the occupied Soviet areas to be viewed as citizens. [438] In Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the Roma were subject to restrictions on movement and confinement to collection camps, [439] while in Eastern Europe they were sent to concentration camps, where large numbers were murdered. [440]

Political and religious opponents

German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the first to be sent to concentration camps. [441] Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog"), a directive issued by Hitler on 7 December 1941, resulted in the disappearance, torture and death of political activists throughout German-occupied Europe the courts had sentenced 1,793 people to death by April 1944, according to Jack Fischel. [442] Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. [443] Between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died. [444] According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness." [445]

Gay men, Afro-Germans

Around 100,000 gay men were arrested in Germany and 50,000 jailed between 1933 and 1945 5,000–15,000 are thought to have been sent to concentration camps. [446] Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. [447] In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. [448] The police closed gay bars and shut down gay publications. [446] Lesbians were left relatively unaffected the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. [449] There were 5,000–25,000 Afro-Germans in Germany when the Nazis came to power. [450] Although blacks in Germany and German-occupied Europe were subjected to incarceration, sterilization and murder, there was no program to kill them as a group. [451]


The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held after the war by the Allies in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the German leadership. The first was the 1945–1946 trial of 22 political and military leaders before the International Military Tribunal. [452] Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels had committed suicide months earlier. [453] The prosecution entered indictments against 24 men (two were dropped before the end of the trial) [ad] and seven organizations: the Reich Cabinet, Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), Gestapo, Sturmabteilung (SA), and the "General Staff and High Command". [454]

The indictments were for participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. [454] Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'." [455]

The subsequent Nuremberg trials, 1946–1949, tried another 185 defendants. [456] West Germany initially tried few ex-Nazis, but after the 1958 Ulm Einsatzkommando trial, the government set up a dedicated agency. [457] Other trials of Nazis and collaborators took place in Western and Eastern Europe. In 1960 Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial on 15 indictments, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people. He was convicted in December 1961 and executed in June 1962. Eichmann's trial and death revived interest in war criminals and the Holocaust in general. [458]


The government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany in March 1951 to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews. Israelis were divided about the idea of taking money from Germany. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) was opened in New York, and after negotiations the claim was reduced to $845 million . [459] [460]

West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations in 1988. Companies such as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Ford, Opel, Siemens, and Volkswagen faced lawsuits for their use of forced labor during the war. [459] In response, Germany set up the "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" Foundation in 2000, which paid €4.45 billion to former slave laborers (up to €7,670 each). [461] In 2013 Germany agreed to provide €772 million to fund nursing care, social services, and medication for 56,000 Holocaust survivors around the world. [462] The French state-owned railway company, the SNCF, agreed in 2014 to pay $60 million to Jewish-American survivors, around $100,000 each, for its role in the transport of 76,000 Jews from France to extermination camps between 1942 and 1944. [463]

Historikerstreit and the uniqueness question

In the early decades of Holocaust studies, scholars approached the Holocaust as a genocide unique in its reach and specificity. [464] This was questioned in the 1980s during the West German Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute"), an attempt to re-position the Holocaust within German historiography. [465] [ae]

Ernst Nolte triggered the Historikerstreit in June 1986 with an article in the conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but no longer delivered." [467] [af] The Nazi era was suspended like a sword over Germany's present, he wrote, rather than being studied as an historical event like any other. Comparing Auschwitz to the Gulag, he suggested that the Holocaust was a response to Hitler's fear of the Soviet Union: "Did the Gulag Archipelago not precede Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the 'racial murder' of National Socialism? . Was Auschwitz perhaps rooted in a past that would not pass?" [ag]

Nolte's arguments were viewed as an attempt to normalize the Holocaust. [471] [ah] In September 1986 in Die Zeit, Eberhard Jäckel responded that "never before had a state, with the authority of its leader, decided and announced that a specific group of humans, including the elderly, women, children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, then carried out this resolution using every possible means of state power." [h] Despite the criticism of Nolte, the Historikerstreit put "the question of comparison" on the agenda, according to Dan Stone in 2010. [465] Stone argued that the idea of the Holocaust as unique was overtaken by attempts to place it within the context of Stalinism, ethnic cleansing, and the Nazis' intentions for post-war "demographic reordering", particularly the Generalplan Ost, the plan to kill tens of millions of Slavs to create living space for Germans. [473] Jäckel's position continued nevertheless to inform the views of many specialists. Richard J. Evans argued in 2015:

Thus although the Nazi "Final Solution" was one genocide among many, it had features that made it stand out from all the rest as well. Unlike all the others it was bounded neither by space nor by time. It was launched not against a local or regional obstacle, but at a world-enemy seen as operating on a global scale. It was bound to an even larger plan of racial reordering and reconstruction involving further genocidal killing on an almost unimaginable scale, aimed, however, at clearing the way in a particular region – Eastern Europe – for a further struggle against the Jews and those the Nazis regarded as their puppets. It was set in motion by ideologues who saw world history in racial terms. It was, in part, carried out by industrial methods. These things all make it unique.

  1. ^ abc Matt Brosnan (Imperial War Museum, 2018): "The Holocaust was the systematic murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War." [23]

Yad Vashem (undated): "The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jew under their domination." [30]

SS General Reinhard Heydrich (chief of the Reich Security Main Office) SS Major General Heinrich Müller (Gestapo) SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Referat IV B4) SS Colonel Eberhard Schöngarth (commander of the RSHA field office for the Government General in Krakow, Poland) SS Major Rudolf Lange (commander of RSHA Einsatzkommando 2) and SS Major General Otto Hofmann (chief of SS Race and Settlement Main Office).

Roland Freisler (Ministry of Justice) Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (Reich Cabinet) Alfred Meyer (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories-German-occupied USSR) Georg Leibrandt (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories) Martin Luther (Foreign Office) Wilhelm Stuckart (Ministry of the Interior) Erich Neumann (Office of Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan), Josef Bühler (Office of the Government of the Governor General-German-occupied Poland) Gerhard Klopfer (Nazi Party Chancellery). [282]

Translation, Avalon Project: "These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question." [286]

The speech that could not be delivered referred to a lecture Nolte had planned to give to the Römerberg-Gesprächen (Römerberg Colloquium) in Frankfurt he said his invitation had been withdrawn, which the organisers disputed. [469] At that point, his lecture had the title "The Past That Will Not Pass: To Debate or to Draw the Line?". [470]


  1. ^"Deportation of Hungarian Jews". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 25 November 2017 . Retrieved 6 October 2017 .
  2. ^ abLandau 2016, p. 3.
  3. ^Bloxham 2009, p. 1.
  4. ^
  5. "Remaining Jewish Population of Europe in 1945". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018.
  6. ^ abc
  7. "Killing Centers: An Overview". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017.
  8. ^ For the date, see Marcuse 2001, p. 21.
  9. ^Stackelberg & Winkle 2002, pp. 141–143.
  10. ^Gray 2015, p. 5.
  11. ^ abStone 2010, pp. 2–3.
  12. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1.
  13. ^
  14. "Holocaust". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 October 2017 . Retrieved 4 October 2017 .
  15. ^
  16. Gilad, Elon (1 May 2019). "Shoah: How a Biblical Term Became the Hebrew Word for Holocaust". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 1 December 2019.
  17. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1
  18. "Holocaust" (PDF) . Yad Vashem. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 February 2018.

Knowlton & Cates 1993, pp. 18–23 partly reproduced in "The Past That Will Not Pass" (translation), German History in Documents and Images.

Holocaust museums in North America and elsewhere

Beginning in the 1960s, survivors outside of Europe and Israel also took steps to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust—the first of such institutions in the United States—was founded by a group of survivors who met in an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) class in Hollywood in 1961. The museum’s first exhibit consisted of survivors’ own mementos, written records, and photographs. In the 1970s and ’80s other museums were founded in El Paso, Texas Farmington Hills, Michigan San Francisco, California and Buffalo, New York as well as in Montreal, Canada and Melbourne, Australia. In the 1990s, at the approach of the 50-year anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, there was renewed interest in establishing institutions to memorialize, research, and educate. Around the world several more Holocaust museums were founded, including the Fundación Memoria del Holocausto (1993) in Buenos Aires, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (1993) in Washington, D.C., the Cape Town Holocaust Centre (1999) in South Africa, and the Holocaust Education Center (1995) in Fukuyama, Japan. Later constructions include the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center (2002) and, near Chicago, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (2009).

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green provokes outrage with 'Holocaust selfie'

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Danny Green has sparked controversy over an ill-advised caption on a selfie he posted on Wednesday morning.

The Spurs are currently in Berlin to play an exhibition game, and Green took the time to visit the Holocaust Memorial – where he took the selfie, captioned: “You know I had to do it one time lol #Holocaust”.

Danny Green’s insensitive selfie at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. Photograph: Twitter

The 27-year-old has since altered the caption to “A lot of history here, more than you could imagine. very sad/tragic things happened #holocaust #berlin” but that has failed to stem the tide of criticism on social media for his ill-thought out words.

Green also sought to diffuse the situation on Twitter with an apology.

I want to sincerely apologize for the insensitivity of my post!

&mdash Danny Green (@DGreen_14) October 8, 2014

I have great respect n understanding for this country's history n wanted to continue chronicling my experience in Berlin

&mdash Danny Green (@DGreen_14) October 8, 2014

But showed poor judgement. sorry once again

&mdash Danny Green (@DGreen_14) October 8, 2014

The Spurs lost the game to Alba Berlin 94-93, with James McLean scoring at the buzzer, but the NBA champion’s dramatic defeat was overshadowed by the furore surrounding Green – who scored nine points in the match.

The New Synagogue

When the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse was first consecrated in 1866 it was considered the largest and most magnificent synagogue in Germany. The only one of Berlin's 13 synagogues to survive the Kristallnacht pogroms, it later burned down due to Allied bombs. It was reconstructed and opened again in 1995. Since then, the 50-meter-high golden dome once again dominates Berlin's cityscape.

'Tasteless, tactless and irreverent'

The so-called "Resistance Column," which contained soil samples from the sites where "Nazis perfected and industrialized mass murder," had received a barrage of criticism, not least from Jewish communities.

"From a Jewish perspective, the Center for Political Beauty's latest campaign is problematic because it violates Jewish religious law about not disturbing the dead," President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster told DW in a statement. He said it would have been wise for the group to consult with a rabbi before taking the soil samples.

The president of the Munich Israel Cultural Society, Charlotte Knobloch, said the action "was meant to be provocative but is in fact only tasteless, tactless and irreverent."

The ZPS also claimed in their statement to have heard from many relatives of those murdered by the Nazis and members of the Jewish community who welcomed the artwork and the message they were trying to impart.

The column of ashes while it was still in front of the German parliament

How was the memorial created?

The Center for Political Beauty previously said it collected over 240 samples from 23 locations across Germany as well as in previously Nazi-occupied areas in Poland and Ukraine.

Lab results found traces of human remains in over 70% of the samples, the group said in a statement.

The samples were taken from areas near Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and other sites of Nazi German concentration camps where the ashes and remains of victims were spread in nearby fields and rivers.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, over 1.1 million victims — including some 1 million Jewish prisoners — were killed. The ashes of hundreds of thousands of bodies were disposed of in the lakes and grounds surrounding the camp.

The artists' collective is known for its headline-grabbing protest pieces — particularly for setting up a replica of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial outside the house of AfD politician Björn Höcke in 2017.

Earlier that year Höcke dubbed the memorial in Berlin as a "monument of shame" and has called for a reversal of Germany's culture of remembrance surrounding the Holocaust.

Watch the video: Chapter 7: Visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin