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The Holocaust A Brief Introduction


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Title: The Holocaust A Brief Introduction

The Holocaust A Brief Introduction
  • You can make any amount of money and not be
    remembered for the right reasons.
  • But if you can influence a change of attitude in
    someone and through it stop one case of
    persecution, however small, you will always be

The Holocaust
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic,
state-sponsored persecution and murder of
approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime
and its collaborators. "Holocaust" is a word of
Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire."
The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in
January 1933, believed that Germans were
"racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed
"inferior," were "life unworthy of life."
During the era of the Holocaust, the Nazis also
targeted other groups because of their perceived
"racial inferiority" Roma (Gypsies), the
handicapped, and some of the Slavic peoples
(Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were
persecuted on political and behavioural
grounds,aamongathema Communists,aSocialists,
Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.
In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe stood at
over nine million. Most European Jews lived in
countries that the Third Reich would occupy or
influence during World War II.
The Germans regarded the establishment of ghettos
as a provisional measure to control and segregate
Jews. In many places ghettoization lasted a
relatively short time.
With the implementation of the "Final Solution"
in 1942, the Germans systematically destroyed the
ghettos and deported the Jews to extermination
camps where they killed them.
Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the
Germans. A complex of camps, Auschwitz included a
concentration, extermination, and forced-labour
camp. It was located 37 miles west of Krakow
(Cracow), near the pre-war German-Polish border.
The three large camps established near the Polish
town of Oswiecim were Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II
(Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz).
Location of the three main camps at Auschwitz
Auschwitz I
Map showing Auschwitz I Concentration Camp
Auschwitz I, the main camp, was the first camp
established near Oswiecim. Construction began in
May 1940 in a suburb of Oswiecim, at an artillery
barracks formerly used by the Polish army. The SS
continuously expanded the physical contours of
the camp with forced labour.
The first prisoners were German criminals
deported from the Sachsenhausen concentration
camp in Germany and Polish political prisoners
from Tarnow.
Although Auschwitz I was primarily a
concentration camp, serving a penal function, it
also had a gas chamber and crematorium. An
improvised gas chamber was located in the
basement of the prison, Block 11, and a larger,
more permanent gas chamber was later constructed
in the crematorium.
SS physicians carried out medical experiments in
the hospital, Barrack (Block) 10. They conducted
pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and
dwarfs, and performed forced sterilizations,
castrations, and hypothermia experiments on
Between the crematorium and the
medical-experiments barrack stood the "Black
Wall," where SS guards executed thousands of
prisoners. A prisoner who did not follow the
rules, as set out by the camp commandant faced
the possibility of being tried and executed.
Thousands of people were put to death in this
courtyard, by means of a single bullet into the
back of the head.
Today within the courtyard there is a memorial to
all those who were executed.
If your crime did not result in your execution,
you could be confined in a number of different
cells depending on the wishes of the commandant.
These included small cells with windows, dark
cells which had no windows or ventilation.
Cells, 1-yard square, with no windows. Entry was
through a door in the bottom. 5 people could be
in each cell at any time, spending between 5 days
and 8 weeks in the cell. They had no toilet
facilities and little food. They were still
expected to work for 12 hours each day before
returning to the cell. Not surprisingly a lot of
people died whilst in these cells.
Auschwitz II (Birkenau)
Ariel Photograph of Auschwitz II (Birkenau)
Construction of Auschwitz II, or
Auschwitz-Birkenau, began in the vicinity of
Brzezinka in October 1941. Of the three camps
established near Oswiecim, the Auschwitz-Birkenau
camp had the largest total prisoner population.
It was divided into nine sections separated by
electrified barbed-wire fences and, like
Auschwitz I, was patrolled by SS guards and some
dog handlers. The camp included sections for
women, men, Roma (Gypsies), and families deported
from the Theresienstadt ghetto.
Trains arrived almost daily with Jews from
virtually every country in Europe occupied by or
allied to Germany. Some of these trains would
have been travelling for up to 17 days, without
the people inside having any food, water or
sanitation facilities. Many died on the way to
the camps.
New arrivals at Auschwitz-Birkenau underwent
selection. The SS staff determined the majority
to be unfit for forced labour and sent them
immediately to the gas chambers, which were
disguised as shower installations to mislead the
The newly arriving persons, who were allowed to
live, were driven to special buildings so-called
wash-rooms. They had to undress completely then
"Barbers" shaved off the hair on their head and
Women suffered most from this first humiliation -
being naked and losing all their hair. At the
end, the inmates were registered and received a
number, tattooed on their left arm.
Up to 700 people could be living in each
building, 6 to a bunk. The wooden building were
designed as stables for 15 Horses!!
If you were one of the weak ones your bunk would
be at the bottom. No one wanted to be there
because the people above, due to ill health,
often fouled themselves which then flowed through
the bunks to the bottom. Match that with the cold
and rats. Not a nice place to be.
Sanitation in the camp was very bad. There was
never the time for everyone to use the
facilities. This led to many illnesses including
in July 3, 1942 a typhus epidemic which resulted
in 184 male prisoners and an unknown number of
female prisoners dying. Those who did not die of
illness, died of starvation, or were sent to the
gas chambers.
In September 1941, in Auschwitz I, the SS first
tested Zyklon B Gas as an instrument of mass
The ones regarded as "unable to work were sent
straight to the gas chambers.
Four large crematorium buildings were constructed
between March and June 1943. Each had three
components a disrobing area, a large gas
chamber, and crematorium ovens.
Here they undressed, in an underground room,
believing they were going to have a shower. They
were told to put their clothes on a peg and
remember the number. They were even told to tie
their shoes together, so they did not get lost.
All in the name of deceiving the people into
Each chamber has the capacity to gas about 8,000
people daily. At least 1.1 million Jews were
killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included
between 70,000 and 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, and
about 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.
The SS considered the extermination camps top
secret. To obliterate all traces of gassing,
special prisoner units (Sonderkommandos) were
forced to remove the corpses from the gas
chambers and cremate them. They in turn were then
gassed, so they could not pass on their
Into this pond were dumped the ashes of many tens
of thousands of people, mostly Jews.
The belongings of those gassed were confiscated
and sorted in the "Kanada" (Canada) warehouse for
shipment back to Germany. Canada symbolized
wealth to the prisoners.
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On October 7, 1944, several hundred prisoners
rebelled after learning that they were going to
be killed. The prisoners killed three guards and
blew up the crematorium. The Germans crushed the
revolt and killed all of the prisoners. The
Jewish women who had smuggled the explosives into
the camp was publicly hanged.
Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, escaped from
Auschwitz and fled to Slovakia. They reported to
the Allied governments and the Vatican how they
had seen people stripped and shot. Much was
already known about the German killing of
Europe's Jews, this report presents detailed
information about how it was possible for the
Germans to kill millions of people.
In November 1944 the SS disabled the gas chambers
that still functioned and the remaining gassing
installations as Soviet forces approached in
January 1945.
As Soviet forces approached the SS evacuated the
prisoners. 60,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were
forced on a death march. During the march, SS
guards shot anyone who could not continue. More
than 15,000 died during the marches. Thousands
more were killed in the days before the
The Soviet army entered Auschwitz in January 1945
and liberated the few thousand prisoners
remaining in the camp.
When Germany surrendered Rudolf Hess, the
commandant of Auschwitz, managed to avoid
capture. He was eventually captured on a farm and
was found guilty of war crimes. He was executed
at Auschwitz on 15th April 1947.
Today we can visit the camps and through these
visits gain some greater understanding of what
happened. We can see memorials to those who
perished, whilst viewing the whole complex as a
Have We Learnt The Lessons Of The Past?
Pol Pot in Cambodia  1975-1979 - 2,000,000
Deaths Bosnia-Herzegovina  1992-1995 - 200,000
Deaths Rwanda  1994 - 800,000 Deaths
The one who does not remember history is bound to
live through it again. George Santayana