Section: What was the Holocaust?

What was the Holocaust?

Nazi occupied countries complied with, and in some cases willingly implemented, Nazi policies and laws. Here two women wear yellow “Jude” badges in Paris, France.
This map indicates the number of Jews murdered by the Einsatzgruppen (killing squads which followed the German army) in each country. The map shows modern day Belarus, at the bottom, then continuing clockwise, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia. 

This map featured as part of the Stahlecker report and was used in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
German Wehrmacht soldiers capture on film the massacre of Jews in the Lvov Pogroms of July 1941, carried out by the Einsatzgruppe C and the Ukrainian National Militia.
Three young Roma women walk together along a road in 1930s Europe. Roma were judged to be racially ‘undesirable’ and therefore were also highly persecuted under Nazi rule.

The Holocaust is the term for the genocide of around six million Jews by the Nazi regime and their collaborators during the Second World War. The Holocaust is also sometimes referred to as the Shoah, the Hebrew word for catastrophe.   

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis sought to eliminate the entire Jewish community of Europe. Jews were murdered by death squads called Einsatzgruppen or transported to extermination camps . Six million of the eleven million European Jews in Europe perished. The Holocaust mainly occurred in Eastern Europe, in places such as occupied Poland and Ukraine.  

The term ‘Holocaust’ is sometimes also used to refer to the orchestrated murder of Roma in Europe. As many as 500,000 Roma and Sinti individuals were murdered by the Nazis. 

Other groups were also targeted by the Nazi regime. People with disabilities, Soviet Prisoners of War and Soviet and Polish civilians were persecuted and targeted for mass murder because of their perceived racial inferiority. Gay people, socialists, communists and trades unionists, Freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were oppressed and imprisoned in concentration camps , where many died from starvation and disease.  

The Nazis did not act alone. Countries which were occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, such as Lithuania, Ukraine and Hungary collaborated with the perpetrators . 



The Holocaust Explained

The Holocaust Explained is a website which aims to answer common questions about how the Nazis were able to plan and carry out the mass murder of over six million Jews, and millions of non-Jews.

The truth is that there are no easy answers to these questions, and there is no way to ‘explain’ the Holocaust in a single page of text.

We encourage learners to move through the website section by section, starting with the concept of genocide itself.

We hope that when people reach the last section, Survival and Legacy, they will have learned a great deal about what the Holocaust was and why it is essential that we all continue to learn about it.

The Holocaust Explained is run by The Wiener Holocaust Library.


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What is Genocide?
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Life before the Holocaust

Life before the Holocaust

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