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Section: What was the Holocaust?

What was the Holocaust?

The infamous gateway at Auschwitz concentration camp. The sign reads: 'Work makes you free'. In fact, Jews and other groups went through this gateway to their death.
The infamous gateway at Auschwitz concentration camp. The sign reads: 'Work makes you free'. In fact, Jews and other groups went through this gateway to their death. Courtesy of The Wiener Library

The Holocaust (or Shoah) is the term for the murder of around six million Jews by the Nazi regime and their collaborators during the Second World War.

Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis sought to eliminate the entire Jewish community of Europe. Jews were murdered by death squads or transported to death camps. Six million of the eleven million European Jews perished. The Holocaust mainly occurred in Eastern Europe, in places such as Poland and Ukraine.

The term ‘Holocaust’ can also refer to the orchestrated murder of other groups targeted by the Nazi regime, including Roma, disabled people, Soviet Prisoners of War and civilians, Polish civilians, homosexuals, socialists, communists and trades unionists, Freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Nazis did not act alone. The perpetrators were supported and assisted by collaborators from within the countries that they occupied across Europe during the Second World War.

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The Holocaust Explained?

This website is called The Holocaust Explained because it aims to answer common and challenging questions about how the Nazis were able to plan and carry out the mass murder of over six million Jews, as well as killing millions of non-Jews who were deemed to be racial or political enemies of the Nazi state. 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 learners 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 was a genocide, but it was also an event quite unlike other genocides in its scale and nature. In this sense, it has no equivalent either before or since in human history.

New content for the ‘What was the Holocaust’ section of this website is currently being developed by The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide.

The Holocaust Explained?

Image: Captured Jews during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. Part of the Stroop Report, 1943.

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Judaism and Jewish life

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