The Holocaust was a planned and purposeful extermination of Jews, conducted between 1933 and 1945 by the authorities of Nazi Germany (Crowe 14). It was a part of a much larger extermination campaign aimed at removing the “undesirables” based on their political stance, racial makeup, physical and mental infirmities, and sexual orientation (Crowe 17). Over 6 million Jews were murdered during this time period, either killed outright or worked and starved to death (Edelheit 5). The total number of victims of concentration camps stands at 17 million. Concentration camps, though at first organized as prisons and labor camps, were quickly and purposefully reformed to become death factories, with the sole purpose of quick and terrifyingly efficient means of disposing of the human population. In the 21st century, the memory of the terrors of WW2 and the Nazi regime begins to fade. Apologetics and deniers of the events crop up all over the world. The purpose of this presentation is to inform the viewers about the Holocaust, the concentration camps, and to never forget the lessons of the past.
This presentation seeks to provide a conclusive overview of the subject. First, we will start with the Holocaust, what it was, and the reasons and motivations of Nazi Germany for extermination. Then, the concept of concentration camps would be covered. The individuals behind the doctrine and the most notorious figures behind the ordeal will be mentioned. After that, the largest concentration camps will be named and placed in the context of the overall effort. The most frequently-used and widespread methods of murdering people will be highlighted as well. The presentation will conclude with the number of Jews and other nationalities killed in the process, and what happened to the most notorious Nazi criminals.
What was the Holocaust?
The Holocaust was the largest single targeted genocide carried out by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. It went in line with Hitler’s and the NSDAP’s (Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party) policy of Aryan purity, which proclaimed the German race to be superior to others, western European nations close enough to be “Aryanized”, and Jews, Slavs, Roma, and others to be exterminated as “subhuman (Landau 34).” The result of their efforts was 18 million dead in total, out of which 6 million were Jews (Edelheit 5). Although the active phase of mass extermination started in 1939, the oppression and murders began much earlier. Jewish businesses and homes were ransacked, their family members attacked and often murdered by crowds and individual assailants, and humiliating segregation was imposed. The mass use of concentration camps started in 1942, with the enactment of the Final Solution to the Jewish question (Landau 45).
What Were Concentration Camps?
Concentration camps were essential prison-like facilities, which were equipped with various means of carrying out their function (Crowe 50). They were typically built near small settlements and towns, which acted as supply stations and transit points for various materials, personnel, and equipment traveling to and from the camp. Security of such places was enforced by armed guards, electrified barbed wide, trained dogs, and other means at Nazi disposal. Although initially used to contain various “undesirables”, concentration camps soon played a critical role in Nazi Germany’s economy as well as in the facilitation of the Final Solution (Crowe 55). There were different types of camps, based on their function. Forced labor camps were used to produce various goods required by the state, and utilized exhausting manual labor. Annihilation camps were used to kill people on an industrial scale. Holding camps, prevalent during the early years of the Nazi administration, were utilized as temporary facilities and transportation nods before sending prisoners to other places (Crowe 57).
Who Was Responsible?
The Holocaust is considered to be one of the greatest crimes in the history of humankind, for which Germany and its allies bore collective as well as personal responsibility. The inventor of the Holocaust was Adolf Hitler, who had plans for conducting such an atrocity since at least 1918 (Edelheit 49). However, he was not alone. His views were shared by the senior members of the NSDAP, such as Himmler (Reichsfuhrer of the Schutzstaffel), Reinhard Heydrich (Chief of Police and Security), Heinrich Muller (chief of Gestapo), Joseph Goebbels (chief of Propaganda), and Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Chief of the SS), among others, were instrumental in carrying out the orders and providing ideological and administrative support to the effort (Edelheit 90). The Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS were guilty of undertaking the task at the ground level, either exterminating Jews and other “undesirables” on sight or facilitating their delivery to concentration camps. The German people at large were guilty of participation and consent to the Holocaust during the various stages of its implementation (Edelheit 101). Surveys conducted before the fall of Germany showed that the majority of Germans felt that Nazism was a “good idea, badly applied” and that the mass murders were justified by security concerns for Germany and its allies (Edelheit 108).
The Most Notorious Camps in Nazi Germany
Between 1939 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies operated over 44,000 concentration camps (Edelheit 75). Their purposes varied from elimination to forced labor, to transition camps on the way to some of the larger ones. Auschwitz-Birkenau was actually a series of several camps in close proximity to one another. It had a dual purpose of forced labor and gradual elimination of inmates. Buchenwald was a forced labor camp operating between 1937 and 1945, one of the first to be liberated by the US forces (Edelheit 75). Dachau was the first concentration camp, operating from 1933, also a forced labor camp. Majdanek was an annihilation camp, used primarily for polish and soviet prisoners of war. It was later converted to assist in the execution of the Final Solution. Sobibor was an annihilation camp in Poland, which was closed in 1943 after a Jewish rebellion broke out. Ravensbruck was another forced labor camp. Oranienburg was a rare example of a large holding center, which operated between 1933 to 1935 before a cohesive net of concentration camps was established (Edelheit 77).
Methods of Murder
As part of the Holocaust doctrine, all Jews were to be exterminated as part of the Aryan race. Slavs and other “subhuman races” were to be exterminated at a rate of 40-70%, as part of the Lebensraum plan( Crowe 23). The rest were to become slaves and worked to death until completely replaced by the German people on the occupied territories. These considerations explained the choices of murder. Initial executions were conducted using weapons, such as rifles and machine guns, but it was quickly discovered that such was costly and time-consuming. The bullets “wasted” on prisoners were needed at the front (Crowe 24). Working to death and malnourishment were the primary causes of death at labor camps, as the conditions there were meant to keep prisoners “barely alive,” enough to perform arduous labor. Gassing and cremation of the bodies thereafter became the most “efficient” way of killing Jews and other prisoners, enabling camps such as Auschwitz to achieve an industrial scale of murder. Other methods, such as burning, were less common and attributed to Einsatzgruppen operating in the Eastern Front (Crowe 61).
How Many People Were Killed
Europe’s Jewish population, before the start of the Holocaust, was estimated at approximately 9.7 million people (Edelheit 5). By the end of the Second World War, it was at about 3.7 million, many of whom were resettled, deported, or liberated from concentration camps by Allied forces. About 2/3 of the entire Jewish population of Europe was murdered between 1939 and 1945 (Edelheit 6). The extermination orders were facilitated even during the ending days of the war when Nazis tried to hide evidence of their crimes by burning the bodies and killing entire populations of concentration camps in the wake of their retreat. The largest annihilation camps were Auschwitz, Belzec, and Treblinka, responsible for almost half of the entire killings (Edelheit 49; Crowe 71).
Justice for the victims of the Holocaust was one of the major points of the Nuremberg trials, with punishments for participation in these crimes being especially harsh. The majority of individuals, no matter the rank, that were behind the establishment and perpetuation of murders in concentration camps were sentenced to death by hanging. These included prominent Nazi leadership, concentration camp leaders, and staff. Additional criminals included individuals that performed medical experiments on prisoners. Ten Nazi leaders to have received the penalty of death were Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Julius Streicher (Edelheit 93). The number of non-leadership personnel executed by allies with or without a trial is uncertain. Compensations and reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have been paid out between 1951 to the present day, estimated at appr. 7 billion dollars (Landau 137).
The Holocaust is an example of how good, civilized, well-natured, and well-educated people could commit one of the greatest collective crimes in humanity’s history, the likes of which were not seen since Genghis Khan. It is a warning of what happens when the state with an evil agenda is given unlimited power and is not opposed by anyone. It is true that evil happens when good people stand idly by and do nothing. In the 21st century, there are many who laugh and make fun of history’s grim lessons. At the same time, totalitarian regimes continue their work. In China, over a million Muslims are being held in concentration camps much like those of Nazi Germany. In Europe, refugees of war are being held and guarded in “relocation camps,” which often do not have even the most basic of necessities. We must never forget history, for it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
Crowe, David M. The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Routledge, 2018.
Edelheit, Abraham. History of the Holocaust: a Handbook and Dictionary. Routledge, 2018.
Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust: Its History and Meaning. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.