Describe the background, course, and consequences of the Holocaust, including its roots in the long tradition of Christian anti-Semitism, 19th century ideas about race and nation, and Nazi dehumanization of the Jews.

The image to the right shows wedding rings taken from Jews who were to be exterminated. Photos like this highlight the personal realities of the horrors of the Holocaust

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Topics on the Page

History of the Holocaust
Concentration and Labor Camps
Extermination Camps
  • Victims
  • Anne Frank
Heroes of the Holocaust
  • Oskar Schindler
Women of the Holocaust
LGBTQ History
Teaching Resources and Lesson Plans
  • The Voyage of the St. Louis

Focus Question: What was the background, course and consequences of the Holocaust?

Overview (See also WHII.21 and USII.15)

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Links from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This website has a wealth of resources. It contains informational pages, oral histories, ID cards and personal histories of Holocaust victims, timelines, maps, and more.

Read an overview of the Holocaust here
Read about the concentration camps here
Read about the genocide of Roma/Gypsies here
Read about the genocide of the disabled here
Read about the genocide of homosexuals here
Read about the genocide of the Polish here

6 million Jews and 5 million people of other groups were killed during the Holocaust, making it one of the worst genocides ever witnessed by mankind. Advances in the technology of execution set a precedent for other genocides in the second half of the 20th century and today

Eternal Flame and Concentration Camp Victims Memorial
Eternal Flame and Concentration Camp Victims Memorial

History of the Holocaust

The beginning of the Holocaust is commonly pinpointed to an event called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass."
  • On November 9, 1938, Nazi officials authorized a pogrom (an organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group [10]) against Jews throughout Germany.
    • The name derives from the broken windows of synagogues, homes and business of Jewish people that characterized the pogrom and forced Jewish people out of their communities.
    • Although efforts are made by the Nazi Party to "control" the violence, they were only trying to control it in the sense of guiding it in the right direction of violence rather than protect Jews from said violence.

The course of the Holocaust can be broken down into different techniques of expulsion and extermination that the Nazis used (categories appear in red below. They are borrowed from Wikipedia):

Concentration and Labor Camps (1933-1945)

Because of its extreme xenophobia, Nazi Germany established concentration camps throughout its territories to intern those it believed threatened the regime. These camps were in place well before Kristallnacht, but after 1938 the number of inmates quadrupled from 25,000 to about 100,000 in 1942. By 1945, there were more than 700,000 inmates in Nazi camps [11].

picture provided by history1900's.about.com

The following are the names of the major concentration camps, although the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that there were close to 15,000 camps in total:
  • Bergen-Belsen
  • Bogdanovka
  • Buchenwald
  • Dachau
  • Gross-Rosen
  • Herzogenbusch
  • Janowska
  • Jasenovac
  • Kaiserwald
  • Maly Trostenets
  • Mauthausen-Gusen
  • Neuengamme
  • Ravensbrück
  • Sachsenhausen
  • Sajmiste
  • Salaspils
  • Stutthof
  • Thereisienstadt
  • Uckermarck
  • Warsaw

Many of these camps were labor camps, where prisoners were forced to do hard physical labor under conditions of starvation, dehydration, disease and psychological abuse. These camps did not have the explicit goal of extermination; however, many died due to such harsh treatment.

Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel are two Holocaust survivors who described their experiences in German concentration camps in powerful memoirs. Levi, who is Jewish-Italian, described the time he spent in Auschwitz in his memoir If This Is a Man (also known as Survival in Auschwitz), while Wiesel, who is Jewish-Romanian, chronicled his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald in his memoir Night. These two novels provide a great deal of insight into the physical and mental anguish experienced by inmates of Nazi concentration camps.

Entrance to Auschwitz, 1945 and today

Extermination Camps

Some of the camps had the sole purpose of killing Jews and other "undesirables." The following six camps were those designated by the Nazi party as extermination, or death, camps:
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Chelmno
  • Belzec
    Guide to Prisoner Badges in Concentration Camps, translated into English
    Guide to Prisoner Badges in Concentration Camps, translated into English
  • Majdanek
  • Sobibor
  • Treblinka

The most common method of extermination was death by poison gas, provided by German chemical company IG Farben. Directors of IG Farben were tried for war crimes at the Nuremburg trials following WWII [12].


  • The Nazis targeted Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, twins, and the disabled.
  • Some of these people tried to hide from the Nazis, like Anne Frank and her family.
    • A few were successful; most were not.
  • Those that were captured suffered sterilization, forced resettlement, separation from family and friends, beatings, torture, starvation, and/or death.
  • Learn more about the victims of Nazi cruelty, both the children and the adults here

Click here for an oral history of Leo Schneiderman and his arrival at Auschwitz
Click here for an interactive map of Auschwitz

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust -Victims

Ghettos (1940-1945)

Multimedia.png Children of the Ghetto presents life during the Holocaust from the viewpoints of children who lived in a ghetto. Features an interactive re-creation of a Ghetto street that students can enter and explore.

Pogroms (1939-1942) & Death Squads (1941-1943)

Many of the victims of the Holocaust were killed systematically outside of extermination camps. Einsatzgruppen were SS troops that carried out mass killings throughout eastern Europe, primarily by firing squad.

For more information on the Einsatzgruppen, check out this essay from the Holocaust History Project.

Anne Frank

Statue Anne Frank in Utrecht, the Netherlands
Statue Anne Frank in Utrecht, the Netherlands

Female_Rose.pngAnne Frank Museum Amsterdam has interactive resources and virtual tour of Anne Frank's living quarters

Multimedia.pngSee also Anne Frank: The Secret Annex Online for more explorations.

Multimedia.pngAnne Frank Biography offers biography of Anne Frank, as well as multiple videos and quotes with further information.

Holocaust Heroes

Rotating_globe-small.gifThe 'Iranian Schindler' Who Saved Jews from the Nazis from BBC Magazine describes the efforts of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, a diplomat in Paris who arranged for Iranian Jews to gain safety

Rotating_globe-small.gifZegota, a Polish organization dedicated to providing aliases and hiding places for Jews in non-German territories saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi death camps. A movie detailing their work can be found here

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who issued certificates of protection to Jewish people and helped evacuate them into neutral territories.

Huberman's List: How a Violinist Saved Jews in World War II from NPR

womens history.jpgMultimedia.pngClick here for information on Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who helped save about 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto. Life in a Jar was created to remember Sendler and her work during the Holocaust.

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Oskar Schindler is probably the most well-known Holocaust Hero. He owned factories and would save Jewish people from being sent to Auschwitz by recruiting them to work for him. He saved over 1000 Jewish people from being killed in concentration camps. Click here for more information on Schindler.
  • Click here to see the list of people he saved.

Sir Nicholas Winton was honored in October 29 for saving an estimated 669 Czech children during the Holocaust

Female_Rose.pngWomen of the Holocaust
  • Click here for personal stories of women during the Holocaust.
  • An account of a woman who was taken to the Velodrome and eventually is able to escape.
  • Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest-known Holocaust survivor, died on February 23, 2014. She was 110 years old. Herz-Sommer was sent to a concentration camp in Terezin, a Czech city with her husband and son.
    • Click here to read about her life from ABC News.
  • This website is a great resource about women in the holocaust. This page is specifically about women's hair in concentration camps but also has links to other topics pertaining to women including food, caring for children and more personal stories of women during the Holocaust.

Rotating_globe-small.gifMulticultural Resources

  • Anonymous No Longer presents the names of men, women and children identified in the photographic display in the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial
    • A short article mentioning the struggles of French Jews being rounded up by French police to eventually be sent to Auschwitz
      • Philippe Petain offers brief biography of the figure head in France who collaborated with Germany during their occupation of France.

Click here and here for information regarding the Nazi persecution of homosexual men under the infamous Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code

Teaching Resources and Lesson Plans:

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  • A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust from the University of South Florida presents an overview of the people and events of the Holocaust through photographs, documents, art, music, movies, and literature

  • Click here for an Introductory Packet for Teachers on teaching the Holocaust.

The Voyage of the St. Louis, 1939

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 10.27.35 AM.pngThis is a link to an interactive resource in which students can trace the journeys of passengers on the St. Louis. The St. Louis was a ship filled with 937 refugees fleeing Germany in 1939. The ship was headed for Cuba but Cuba denied the majority of the passengers entry. The passengers then tried to seek refuge in the United States but were denied one again and were returned to Europe. The story of the St. Louis demonstrates Cuban and American sentiments about Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. This also highlights 19th century ideas of antisemitism that existed outside of Germany as well.

A Ship full of Refugees Fleeing the Nazis Once Begged the U.S. for Entry. They Were Turned Back

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngSee the book //IBM and the Holocaust//: //The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation// by Edwin Black (Crown, 2001) that describes how Nazi officials used IBM's punch card technology to support persecution of the Jews, and how the corporation continued to provide technology to Germany.

primary_sources.PNGRobert Jackson's Opening Address for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials

Additional Background

Since the beginning of Christianity there has been tension between that faith and its forebear, Judaism. In the Middle Ages, Christian anti-Semitism became rampant, as many Christians blamed the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Coming out of the Middle Ages when investment as a means of making money was becoming more prevalent, Christians were forbidden by the Church to partake in such activities, leaving Jews as the primary investors, thus giving the root of modern day stereotypes of Jewish people as bankers and moneylenders. Until 1871, what we call "Germany" was actually a loose confederation of what historians call "hometowns." These towns were each populated by particular guilds and families and were very exclusive. "Undesirable" citizens like Jews, Gypsies and other "outsider" groups were cast out of the towns, making them peripheral to German society. Germans at that time used the term Judensau to describe what they called "the Jewish pig," a term that was later revitalized by the Nazi party and an image used frequently in anti-Semitic art.

Anti-Semitic graffiti
Anti-Semitic graffiti

primary_sources.PNGA brief history and some images of the Judensau here.

The American Stock Market crash in 1929 affected many European countries that were economically involved with the United States. Coupled with the steep reparations owed to other European nations post-WWI, Germany was suffering greatly. Poor, hungry and upset, it was all too easy for Germans who already disliked Jews to blame them for the depression, as they held the majority of financial positions in the country. Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist or Nazi party rose to power by promising the German people that he would protect them against what they saw as a Jewish threat to their well-being. He ensured them that he would bring a renewed economy and renewed spirit to Germany. After coming to power in 1933 Hitler instituted legislation that limited the rights of Jewish citizens and protected the rights of gentile citizens.

Central to the platform of the Nazi party was the belief in Nationalism, defined as "excessive patriotism; the desire for national advancement or independence; the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one's own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations." [7] The brand of nationalism employed by the Nazi includes two key elements:
  • Jingoism: extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism [8] and
  • Xenophobia: an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange. [9]
Hitler's domestic policy was based on the elimination of those deemed "foreign" or "undesirable" in German society. In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler describes extensively why he felt that Jews were a disgrace and a threat to civilization.

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This is a chart titled "Biology of Human Growth- Stages of Growth for the Nordic Race." It was displayed in public by the Nazis. These type of public images were used to spread Nazi ideas of race.

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The Nazis used measures like this ear measuring technique to determine race. The people who did this work are called racial hygienists.

Speeches and Propaganda
One of the central concepts to Adolf Hitler's success was how he spoke. He was extremely persuasive and electric, as seen in his speeches throughout the course of his reign. This skill helped bring him to popularity and power. On the people, Hitler said:

"The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered." (source)

Click here for a short excerpt from one of Adolf Hitler's speeches against the Jewish people.

Click here for a transcript of Hitler's speech on January 30th, 1939, speaking to the Reichstag on the Jewish Question.

primary_sources.PNGNazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels made his career disseminating materials that presented Jewish people as a menace to society and the embodiment of all evil. Visit here for anti-semitic literature and here for anti-semitic film and posters. Visit here for an essay on Goebbels and his Ministry.

Click here for an interactive map depicting the extent of the Holocaust.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngVisit here for a detailed timeline detailing the Holocaust and here for a timeline of America's reaction to the Holocaust.

Multimedia.pngClick here for the website sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research called "Jewish Life in Poland"


Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.

Roberts, J.M. (1996). The Penguin History of Europe. London: Penguin Books.

Huny, Lynn. The Making of the West. 2nd ed. Vol. II. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007.