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News of Holocaust death camp killings becomes public for first time

News of Holocaust death camp killings becomes public for first time

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On June 1, 1942, a Warsaw underground newspaper, the Liberty Brigade, makes public the news of the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews at Chelmno, a Nazi-operated death camp in Poland—almost seven months after extermination of prisoners began.

A year earlier, the means of effecting what would become the “Final Solution,” the mass extermination of European Jews, was devised: 700 Jews were murdered by channeling gas fumes back into a van used to transport them to the village of Chelmno, in Poland. This “gas van” would become the death chamber for a total of 360,000 Jews from more than 200 communities in Poland. The advantage of this form of extermination was that it was silent and invisible.

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

One month before the infamous Wannsee Conference of January 1942, during which Nazi officials decided to address formally the “Jewish question,” the gas vans in Chelmno were used to kill up to 1,000 Jews a day. The vans provided the “Final Solution” for Adolf Eichmann and other Wannsee attendees. The mass gassings were the most orderly and systematic means of eliminating European Jewry. Eventually, more such vans were employed in other parts of Poland. There was no thought of selecting out the “fit” from the “unfit” for slave labor, as in Auschwitz. There was only one goal: utter extermination.

On June 1, 1942, the story of a young Jew, Emanuel Ringelblum, (who escaped from the Chelmno death camp after being forced to bury bodies as they were thrown out of the gas vans), was published in the underground Polish Socialist newspaper Liberty Brigade. The West now knew the “bloodcurdling news… about the slaughter of Jews,” and it had a name—Chelmno.

READ MORE: The Shocking Liberation of Auschwitz

Germans knew of Holocaust horror about death camps

The mass of ordinary Germans did know about the evolving terror of Hitler's Holocaust, according to a new research study. They knew concentration camps were full of Jewish people who were stigmatised as sub-human and race-defilers. They knew that these, like other groups and minorities, were being killed out of hand.

They knew that Adolf Hitler had repeatedly forecast the extermination of every Jew on German soil. They knew these details because they had read about them. They knew because the camps and the measures which led up to them had been prominently and proudly reported step by step in thousands of officially-inspired German media articles and posters according to the study, which is due to be published simultaneously in Britain and the US early next month and which was described as ground-breaking by Oxford University Press yesterday and already hailed by other historians.

The reports, in newspapers and magazines all over the country were phases in a public process of "desensitisation" which worked all too well, culminating in the killing of 6m Jews, says Robert Gellately. His book, Backing Hitler, is based on the first systematic analysis by a historian of surviving German newspaper and magazine archives since 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor. The survey took hundreds of hours and yielded dozens of folders of photocopies, many of them from the 24 main newspapers and magazines of the period.

Its results, Professor Gellately says, destroy the claim - generally made by Germans after Berlin fell in 1945 and accepted by most historians - that they did not know about camp atrocities. He concludes by indicating that the only thing many Germans may not have known about was the use of industrial-scale gas chambers because, unusually, no media reports were allowed of this "final solution". However, by the end of the war camps were all over the country and many Germans worked in them.

Yesterday OUP said his study exposed "once and for all the substantial consent and active participation of large numbers of ordinary Germans". Its head of historical publishing, Ruth Parr, called it a landmark study of the terror. "He asks and answers some very difficult questions about how much the ordinary German people knew about the Nazi atrocities, and to what degree they supported them," she said.

A leading British-born Holocaust historian, Professor Michael Burleigh, said the book was "original and outstanding, genuinely important". Another authority on the camps, Professor Omer Bartov, of Brown University, Rhode Island, US, described Backing Hitler as "path-breaking - a crucial contribution to our understanding of the relationship between consent and coercion in modern dictatorship".

Conventional wisdom among post war historians has been that - as Lord Dahrendorf, ex-warden of St Antony's College, Oxford, says in his study Society and Democracy in Germany (1966) - "It is certainly true that most Germans 'did not know' about National Socialist crimes of violence nothing precise, that is, because they did not ask any questions_." A common explanation among influential modern German historians, including Hans-Ulrich Thamer in his study Wooing and Violence (1986) is that the Nazis "seduced" an unwilling or passive public.

Gellately, professor in Holocaust history at Clark University, Massachusetts, offers a mass of detail to support the theme of an earlier work, Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, which caused an international sensation in 1995. Goldhagen's theme was that "what the Nazis actually did was to unshackle and thereby activate Germans' pre-existing, pent-up anti-semitism".

Gellately began his inquiry after finding a press report -published as routine - of a woman reported to the Gestapo for "looking Jewish" and allegedly having sex with a neighbour. "For decades my generation had been told that so much of the terror had been carried out in complete secrecy," he writes.

His media trawl, with a research assistant, found that as early as 1933 local papers reported the killing of 12 prisoners by guards at Dachau, the first to be set up as a "model" concentration camp initially for communists. On May 23 the Dachauer Zeitung said the camp was Germany's most famous place and brought "new hope to the Dachau business world". By 1934 the main and widely read Nazi-owned paper Volkische Beobachter was reporting a widening of policy to other "political criminals" including Jews accused of race defilement. By 1936 communist prisoners were no longer mentioned: in a photo-essay in the SS paper Das Schwarze Korps emphasised the camps as places for "race defilers, rapists, sexual degenerates and habitual criminals".

This broadening mission, as Gellately calls it, was reflected in Volkische Beobachter photographs of "typical subhumans" including Jews with "deformed headshapes". For the first time their detention was said to be permanent. In January, 1937 Berliner Borsen Zeitung reported the SS chief Heinrich Himmler as announcing the need for "still more camps" for "those with hydrocephalus, cross-eyed, deformed half-Jews and a whole series of racially inferior types".

In November, 1938 the anti-Jewish pogrom on and after "the night of broken glass" was reported countrywide in papers as heroic. The propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, announced that the "final answer" to the Jewish problem would be by way of government de cree, according to Volkische Beobachter

In late 1939, the year war started, newspapers acting on government orders announced a post-8pm curfew on all Jews in case they "molest Aryan women". That November the first summary executions of "anti-socials" by police without trial were reported. Papers were told to report these clearly and forcefully. In March, 1941 the Hamburger Fremdenblatt reported the first mass auctions of posses sions of detained or killed Jews. Hamburg became the wartime clearing house and Gellately says at least 100,000 citizens bought at the auctions.

After this the focus switched. Most press reports about Jews were about those outside Germany. This was because the official but unpublicised final solution was being implemented. But enthusiastic denunciations by ordinary citizens of Jewish and other "internal enemies" continued to be copiously reported. Backing Hitler discusses 670 cases. By the end of the war Hitler was still getting 1,000 private letters a week, many of them denunciations.

Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (OUP, £19.99) will be published on March 8. Prof Gellately will talk about his research at the Wiener Library, London W1 at 6.30pm on March 6. For invitations ring Coleen Hatrick, OUP at 01865 267240.

First Public Reports on ‘Extermination Camp’ at Auschwitz

The War Refugee Board released a detailed report about mass murder by gassing at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Frame Your Search

Auschwitz, Birkenau, Oswiecim, Brzezinska, extermination camp, extermination, gas chamber, Jews, Nazi, death camp, murder camp, mass killing, massacre, Hungary, Hungarian, deported, Slovak, Swiss, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia

By 1943, Nazi atrocities against Jews in Europe had been widely reported, but it wasn&rsquot until early 1944 that the Allies received increasingly explicit information about the process of mass murder by gassing carried out at Auschwitz-Birkenau .

Between June 18 and June 22, 1944 , media channels in Switzerland began a worldwide press campaign to publicize the Auschwitz Report , originally written by two Slovak Jewish prisoners following their escape from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944. The report provided some of the first reliable eyewitness accounts of the extermination camp , and detailed the process of selection and murder of Jews in the camp&rsquos gas chambers . On November 26, 1944 , the War Refugee Board released the full report to the American press in a deliberate effort to raise awareness and strengthen public support for rescue efforts.

At roughly the same time as the report&rsquos release, between late April and early July 1944, approximately 426,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz, where the SS sent approximately 320,000 of them directly to the gas chambers.

Dates to Check

Typically, daily newspapers reported news the morning after it occurred. However, some papers were printed in multiple editions, including evening news. If you are using an evening paper, begin your search on the same day as the event being researched.

June 1944 - July 1944 News articles, editorials, op-eds, letters to the editor, and cartoons about a German extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

November 26-28, 1944 News articles about the German extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

November 27, 1944 - February 1945 Editorials, op-eds, letters to the editor, and cartoons reacting to news of a German extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Learn More


Berenbaum, Michael, and Yisrael Gutman, eds. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1998.

Cywinski, Piotr, Piotr Setkiewicz, and Jacek Lachendro. Auschwitz from A to Z: An Illustrated History of the Camp . Oswiecim: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2013.

Dlugoborski, Waclaw, et al. Auschwitz, 1940&ndash1945: Central Issues in the History of the Camp . Oswiecim: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2000.

Gilbert, Martin. Auschwitz and the Allies . New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981.

Langbein, Hermann. People in Auschwitz . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity . New York: Collier Books, 1986.

Neufeld, Michael J., and Michael Berenbaum, editors. The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It? New York: St. Martin&rsquos Press, 2000.

Rees, Laurence. Auschwitz: A New History . New York: Public Affairs, 2005.

Swiebocka, Teresa, ed. Auschwitz: A History in Photographs . Bloomington: Indiana University Press Warsaw: Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1993.


After the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the secret Aktion T4 euthanasia programme – the systematic murder of German, Austrian and Polish hospital patients with mental or physical disabilities – was initiated by the SS in order to eliminate "life unworthy of life" (German: Lebensunwertes Leben), a Nazi designation for people who had no right to life. [11] [12] In 1941, the experience gained in the secretive killing of these hospital patients led to the creation of extermination camps for the implementation of the Final Solution. By then, the Jews were already confined to new ghettos and interned in Nazi concentration camps along with other targeted groups, including Roma, and the Soviet POWs. The Nazi Endlösung der Judenfrage (The Final Solution of the Jewish Question), based on the systematic killing of Europe's Jews by gassing, began during Operation Reinhard, [13] after the June 1941 onset of the Nazi-Soviet war. The adoption of the gassing technology by Nazi Germany was preceded by a wave of hands-on killings carried out by the SS Einsatzgruppen, [14] who followed the Wehrmacht army during Operation Barbarossa on the Eastern Front. [15] [a]

The camps designed specifically for the mass gassings of Jews were established in the months following the Wannsee Conference chaired by Reinhard Heydrich in January 1942 in which the principle was made clear that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated. Responsibility for the logistics was to be handled by the programme administrator, Adolf Eichmann. [21]

On 13 October 1941, the SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik stationing in Lublin received an oral order from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler – anticipating the fall of Moscow – to start immediate construction work on the killing centre at Bełżec in the General Government territory of occupied Poland. Notably, the order preceded the Wannsee Conference by three months, [22] but the gassings at Kulmhof north of Łódź using gas vans began already in December, under Sturmbannführer Herbert Lange. [23] The camp at Bełżec was operational by March 1942, with leadership brought in from Germany under the guise of Organisation Todt (OT). [22] By mid-1942, two more death camps had been built on Polish lands for Operation Reinhard: Sobibór (ready in May 1942) under the command of Hauptsturmführer Franz Stangl, and Treblinka (operational by July 1942) under Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl from T4, the only doctor to have served in such a capacity. [24] Auschwitz concentration camp was fitted with brand new gas chambers in March 1942. [25] Majdanek had them built in September. [26]

The Nazis distinguished between extermination and concentration camps. The terms extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) and death camp (Todeslager) were interchangeable in the Nazi system, each referring to camps whose primary function was genocide. Six camps meet this definition, though extermination of people happened at every sort of concentration camp or transit camp the use of the term extermination camp with its exclusive purpose is carried over from Nazi terminology. The six camps were Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz (also called Auschwitz-Birkenau). [28] [29]

Todeslagers were designed specifically for the systematic killing of people delivered en masse by the Holocaust trains. The executioners did not expect the prisoners to survive more than a few hours beyond arrival at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. [30] The Reinhard extermination camps were under Globocnik's direct command each of them was run by 20 to 35 men from the SS-Totenkopfverbände branch of the Schutzstaffel, augmented by about one hundred Trawnikis – auxiliaries mostly from Soviet Ukraine, and up to one thousand Sonderkommando slave labourers each. [31] The Jewish men, women and children were delivered from the ghettos for "special treatment" in an atmosphere of terror by uniformed police battalions from both Orpo and Schupo. [32]

Death camps differed from concentration camps located in Germany proper, such as Bergen-Belsen, Oranienburg, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, which were prison camps set up prior to World War II for people defined as 'undesirable'. From March 1936, all Nazi concentration camps were managed by the SS-Totenkopfverbände (the Skull Units, SS-TV), who operated extermination camps from 1941 as well. [33] An SS anatomist, Dr Johann Kremer, after witnessing the gassing of victims at Birkenau, wrote in his diary on 2 September 1942: "Dante's Inferno seems to me almost a comedy compared to this. They don't call Auschwitz the camp of annihilation for nothing!" [34] The distinction was evident during the Nuremberg trials, when Dieter Wisliceny (a deputy to Adolf Eichmann) was asked to name the extermination camps, and he identified Auschwitz and Majdanek as such. Then, when asked, "How do you classify the camps Mauthausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald?", he replied, "They were normal concentration camps, from the point of view of the department of Eichmann." [35]

Murders were not limited to these camps. Sites for the “Holocaust by Bullets” are marked on the map of The Holocaust in Occupied Poland by white skulls (without the black background), where people were lined up next to a ravine and shot by soldiers with rifles. Sites included Bronna Góra, Ponary and others.

Irrespective of round-ups for extermination camps, the Nazis abducted millions of foreigners for slave labour in other types of camps, [36] which provided perfect cover for the extermination programme. [37] Prisoners represented about a quarter of the total workforce of the Reich, with mortality rates exceeding 75 percent due to starvation, disease, exhaustion, executions, and physical brutality. [36]

In the early years of World War II, the Jews were primarily sent to forced labour camps and ghettoised, but from 1942 onward they were deported to the extermination camps under the guise of "resettlement". For political and logistical reasons, the most infamous Nazi German killing factories were built in occupied Poland, where most of the intended victims lived Poland had the greatest Jewish population in Nazi-controlled Europe. [38] On top of that, the new death camps outside the prewar borders of the Third Reich proper could be kept secret from the German civil populace. [39]

Pure extermination camps

During the initial phase of the Final Solution, gas vans producing poisonous exhaust fumes were developed in the occupied Soviet Union (USSR) and at the Chełmno extermination camp in occupied Poland, before being used elsewhere. The killing method was based on experience gained by the SS during the secretive Aktion T4 programme of involuntary euthanasia. There were two types of death chambers operating during the Holocaust. [13]

Unlike at Auschwitz, where the cyanide-based Zyklon-B was used to exterminate trainloads of prisoners under the guise of "relocation", the camps at Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór, built during Operation Reinhard (October 1941 – November 1943), used lethal exhaust fumes produced by large internal combustion engines. The three killing centres of Einsatz Reinhard were constructed predominantly for the extermination of Poland's Jews trapped in the Nazi ghettos. [40] At first, the victim's bodies were buried with the use of crawler excavators, but they were later exhumed and incinerated in open-air pyres to hide the evidence of genocide in what became known as Sonderaktion 1005. [41] [42]

Whereas the Auschwitz II (Auschwitz–Birkenau) and Majdanek camps were parts of a labor camp complex, the Chełmno and Operation Reinhard death camps (that is, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka) were built exclusively for the rapid extermination of entire communities of people (primarily Jews) within hours of their arrival. All were constructed near branch lines that linked to the Polish railway system, with staff members transferring between locations. These camps had almost identical design: they were several hundred metres in length and width, and were equipped with only minimal staff housing and support installations not meant for the victims crammed into the railway transports. [43] [44]

The Nazis deceived the victims upon their arrival, telling them that they were at a temporary transit stop, and would soon continue to German Arbeitslagers (work camps) farther to the east. [45] Selected able-bodied prisoners delivered to the death camps were not immediately killed, but instead were pressed into labor units called Sonderkommandos to help with the extermination process by removing corpses from the gas chambers and burning them.

Concentration and extermination camps

At the camps of Operation Reinhard, including Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, trainloads of prisoners were destined for immediate death in gas chambers designed exclusively for that purpose. [13] The mass killing facilities were developed at about the same time inside the Auschwitz II-Birkenau subcamp of a forced labour complex, [46] and at the Majdanek concentration camp. [13] In most other camps prisoners were selected for slave labor first they were kept alive on starvation rations and made available to work as required. Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Jasenovac were retrofitted with Zyklon-B gas chambers and crematoria buildings as the time went on, remaining operational until war's end in 1945. [47]

Heinrich Himmler visited the outskirts of Minsk in 1941 to witness a mass shooting. He was told by the commanding officer there that the shootings were proving psychologically damaging to those being asked to pull the triggers. Thus Himmler knew another method of mass killing was required. [48] After the war, the diary of the Auschwitz Commandant, Rudolf Höss, revealed that psychologically "unable to endure wading through blood any longer", many Einsatzkommandos – the killers – either went mad or killed themselves. [49]

The Nazis had first used gassing with carbon monoxide cylinders to kill 70,000 disabled people in Germany in what they called a 'euthanasia programme' to disguise that mass murder was taking place. Despite the lethal effects of carbon monoxide, this was seen as unsuitable for use in the East due to the cost of transporting the carbon monoxide in cylinders. [48]

Each extermination camp operated differently, yet each had designs for quick and efficient industrialized killing. While Höss was away on an official journey in late August 1941 his deputy, Karl Fritzsch, tested out an idea. At Auschwitz clothes infested with lice were treated with crystallised prussic acid. The crystals were made to order by the IG Farben chemicals company for which the brand name was Zyklon-B. Once released from their container, Zyklon-B crystals in the air released a lethal cyanide gas. Fritzsch tried out the effect of Zyklon B on Soviet POWs, who were locked up in cells in the basement of the bunker for this experiment. Höss on his return was briefed and impressed with the results and this became the camp strategy for extermination as it was also to be at Majdanek. Besides gassing, the camp guards continued killing prisoners via mass shooting, starvation, torture, etc. [50]


SS Obersturmführer Kurt Gerstein, of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, told a Swedish diplomat during the war of life in a death camp. He recounted that on 19 August 1942, he arrived at Belzec extermination camp (which was equipped with carbon monoxide gas chambers) and was shown the unloading of 45 train cars filled with 6,700 Jews, many already dead. The rest were marched naked to the gas chambers, where:

Unterscharführer Hackenholt was making great efforts to get the engine running. But it doesn't go. Captain Wirth comes up. I can see he is afraid, because I am present at a disaster. Yes, I see it all and I wait. My stopwatch showed it all, 50 minutes, 70 minutes, and the diesel [engine] did not start. The people wait inside the gas chambers. In vain. They can be heard weeping, "like in the synagogue", says Professor Pfannenstiel, his eyes glued to a window in the wooden door. Furious, Captain Wirth lashes the Ukrainian (Trawniki) assisting Hackenholt twelve, thirteen times, in the face. After 2 hours and 49 minutes – the stopwatch recorded it all – the diesel started. Up to that moment, the people shut up in those four crowded chambers were still alive, four times 750 persons, in four times 45 cubic meters. Another 25 minutes elapsed. Many were already dead, that could be seen through the small window, because an electric lamp inside lit up the chamber for a few moments. After 28 minutes, only a few were still alive. Finally, after 32 minutes, all were dead . Dentists [then] hammered out gold teeth, bridges, and crowns. In the midst of them stood Captain Wirth. He was in his element, and, showing me a large can full of teeth, he said: "See, for yourself, the weight of that gold! It's only from yesterday, and the day before. You can't imagine what we find every day – dollars, diamonds, gold. You'll see for yourself!" — Kurt Gerstein [51]

Auschwitz Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss reported that the first time Zyklon B pellets were used on the Jews, many suspected they were to be killed – despite having been deceived into believing they were to be deloused and then returned to the camp. [52] As a result, the Nazis identified and isolated "difficult individuals" who might alert the prisoners, and removed them from the mass – lest they incite revolt among the deceived majority of prisoners en route to the gas chambers. The "difficult" prisoners were led to a site out of view to be killed off discreetly.

A prisoner Sonderkommando (Special Detachment) effected in the processes of extermination they encouraged the Jews to undress without a hint of what was about to happen. They accompanied them into the gas chambers outfitted to appear as shower rooms (with nonworking water nozzles, and tile walls) and remained with the victims until just before the chamber door closed. To psychologically maintain the "calming effect" of the delousing deception, an SS man stood at the door until the end. The Sonderkommando talked to the victims about life in the camp to pacify the suspicious ones, and hurried them inside to that effect, they also assisted the aged and the very young in undressing. [53]

To further persuade the prisoners that nothing harmful was happening, the Sonderkommando deceived them with small talk about friends or relations who had arrived in earlier transports. Many young mothers hid their infants beneath their piled clothes fearing that the delousing "disinfectant" might harm them. Camp Commandant Höss reported that the "men of the Special Detachment were particularly on the look-out for this", and encouraged the women to take their children into the "shower room". Likewise, the Sonderkommando comforted older children who might cry "because of the strangeness of being undressed in this fashion". [54]

Yet, not every prisoner was deceived by such psychological tactics Commandant Höss spoke of Jews "who either guessed, or knew, what awaited them, nevertheless . [they] found the courage to joke with the children, to encourage them, despite the mortal terror visible in their own eyes". Some women would suddenly "give the most terrible shrieks while undressing, or tear their hair, or scream like maniacs" the Sonderkommando immediately took them away for execution by shooting. [55] In such circumstances, others, meaning to save themselves at the gas chamber's threshold, betrayed the identities and "revealed the addresses of those members of their race still in hiding". [56]

Once the door of the filled gas chamber was sealed, pellets of Zyklon B were dropped through special holes in the roof. Regulations required that the Camp Commandant supervise the preparations, the gassing (through a peephole), and the aftermath looting of the corpses. Commandant Höss reported that the gassed victims "showed no signs of convulsion" the Auschwitz camp physicians attributed that to the "paralyzing effect on the lungs" of the Zyklon-B gas, which killed before the victim began suffering convulsions. [57]

As a matter of political training, some high-ranked Nazi Party leaders and SS officers were sent to Auschwitz–Birkenau to witness the gassings Höss reported that, "all were deeply impressed by what they saw . [yet some] . who had previously spoken most loudly, about the necessity for this extermination, fell silent once they had actually seen the 'final solution of the Jewish problem'." As the Auschwitz Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss justified the extermination by explaining the need for "the iron determination with which we must carry out Hitler's orders" yet saw that even "[Adolf] Eichmann, who certainly [was] tough enough, had no wish to change places with me”. [59]

Corpse disposal

After the gassings, the Sonderkommando removed the corpses from the gas chambers, then extracted any gold teeth. Initially, the victims were buried in mass graves, but were later cremated during Sonderaktion 1005 in all camps of Operation Reinhard.

The Sonderkommando was responsible for burning the corpses in the pits, [60] stoking the fires, draining surplus body fat and turning over the "mountain of burning corpses . so that the draught might fan the flames" wrote Commandant Höss in his memoir while in the Polish custody. [60] He was impressed by the diligence of prisoners from the so-called Special Detachment who carried out their duties despite their being well aware that they, too, would meet exactly the same fate in the end. [60] At the Lazaret killing station they held the sick so they would never see the gun while being shot. They did it "in such a matter-of-course manner that they might, themselves, have been the exterminators" wrote Höss. [60] He further said that the men ate and smoked "even when engaged in the grisly job of burning corpses which had been lying for some time in mass graves." [60] They occasionally encountered the corpse of a relative, or saw them entering the gas chambers. According to Höss, they were obviously shaken by this but "it never led to any incident." He mentioned the case of a Sonderkommando who found the body of his wife, yet continued to drag corpses along "as though nothing had happened." [60]

At Auschwitz, the corpses were incinerated in crematoria and the ashes either buried, scattered, or dumped in the river. At Sobibór, Treblinka, Bełżec, and Chełmno, the corpses were incinerated on pyres. The efficiency of industrialised killing at Auschwitz-Birkenau led to the construction of three buildings with crematoria designed by specialists from the firm J.A. Topf & Söhne. They burned bodies 24 hours a day, and yet the death rate was at times so high that corpses also needed to be burned in open-air pits. [61]

The estimated total number of people who were murdered in the six Nazi extermination camps is 2.7 million, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. [62]

Camp Estimated
Operational Occupied territory Current country of location Primary means for mass killings
Auschwitz–Birkenau 1,100,000 [63] May 1940 – January 1945 Province of Upper Silesia Poland Zyklon B gas chambers
Treblinka 800,000 [64] 23 July 1942 – 19 October 1943 General Government district Poland Carbon monoxide gas chambers
Bełżec 600,000 [65] 17 March 1942 – end of June 1943 General Government district Poland Carbon monoxide gas chambers
Chełmno 320,000 [66] 8 December 1941 – March 1943,
June 1944 – 18 January 1945
District of Reichsgau Wartheland Poland Carbon monoxide vans
Sobibór 250,000 [67] 16 May 1942 – 17 October 1943 General Government district Poland Carbon monoxide gas chambers
Majdanek at least 80,000 [68] 1 October 1941 – 22 July 1944 General Government district Poland Zyklon B gas chambers

The Nazis attempted to either partially or completely dismantle the extermination camps in order to hide any evidence that people had been murdered there. This was an attempt to conceal not only the extermination process but also the buried remains. As a result of the secretive Sonderaktion 1005, the camps were dismantled by commandos of condemned prisoners, their records were destroyed, and the mass graves were dug up. Some extermination camps that remained uncleared of evidence were liberated by Soviet troops, who followed different standards of documentation and openness than the Western allies did. [69] [70]

Nonetheless Majdanek was captured nearly intact due to the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army during Operation Bagration. [69]

In the post-war period the government of the People's Republic of Poland created monuments at the extermination camp sites. These early monuments mentioned no ethnic, religious, or national particulars of the Nazi victims. The extermination camps sites have been accessible to everyone in recent decades. They are popular destinations for visitors from all over the world, especially the most infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz near the town of Oświęcim. In the early 1990s, the Jewish Holocaust organisations debated with the Polish Catholic groups about "What religious symbols of martyrdom are appropriate as memorials in a Nazi death camp such as Auschwitz?" The Jews opposed the placement of Christian memorials such as the Auschwitz cross near Auschwitz I where mostly Poles were killed. The Jewish victims of the Holocaust were mostly killed at Auschwitz II Birkenau.

The March of the Living is organized in Poland annually since 1988. [71] Marchers come from countries as diverse as Estonia, New Zealand, Panama, and Turkey. [72]

The camps and Holocaust denial

Holocaust deniers or negationists are people and organizations who assert that the Holocaust did not occur, or that it did not occur in the historically recognized manner and extent. [73] Holocaust deniers claim that the extermination camps were actually transit camps from which Jews were deported farther east. However, these theories are disproven by surviving German documents, which show that Jews were sent to the camps to be killed. [74]

Extermination camp research is difficult because of extensive attempts by the SS and Nazi regime to conceal the existence of the extermination camps. [69] The existence of the extermination camps is firmly established by testimonies of camp survivors and Final Solution perpetrators, material evidence (the remaining camps, etc.), Nazi photographs and films of the killings, and camp administration records. [75] [76]

Allied forces knew about Holocaust two years before discovery of concentration camps, secret documents reveal

The Allied Powers were aware of the scale of the Jewish Holocaust two-and-a-half years earlier than is generally assumed, and had even prepared war crimes indictments against Adolf Hitler and his top Nazi commanders.

Newly accessed material from the United Nations – not seen for around 70 years – shows that as early as December 1942, the US, UK and Soviet governments were aware that at least two million Jews had been murdered and a further five million were at risk of being killed, and were preparing charges. Despite this, the Allied Powers did very little to try and rescue or provide sanctuary to those in mortal danger.

Indeed, in March 1943, Viscount Cranborne, a minister in the war cabinet of Winston Churchill, said the Jews should not be considered a special case and that the British Empire was already too full of refugees to offer a safe haven to any more.

“The major powers commented [on the mass murder of Jews] two-and-a-half years before it is generally assumed,” Dan Plesch, author of the newly published Human Rights After Hitler, told The Independent.

“It was assumed they learned this when they discovered the concentration camps, but they made this public comment in December 1942.”

Mr Plesch, a professor at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London, said the major powers began drawing up war crimes charges based on witness testimony smuggled from the camps and from the resistance movements in various countries occupied by the Nazis. Among his discoveries were documents indicting Hitler for war crimes dating from 1944.

In late December 1942, after the US, UK and others issued a public declaration about the Jewish slaughter, UK Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the British parliament: “The German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule extends, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people.”

Mr Plesch said that despite the collection of evidence and the prosecution of hundreds of Nazis – a judicial process that has been overshadowed by the trial of the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg – the Allied Powers did little to try and help those in peril. He said efforts by President Franklin D Roosevelt’s envoy to the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), Herbert Pell, were pushed back by anti-semites in the US State Department.

Mr Pell would later claim that individuals within the State Department were concerned that America’s economic relationship with Germany after the war would be damaged if such prosecutions went ahead. After Mr Pell went public with the scandal, the State Department agreed to the prosecution of the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg, something that gathered pace after the highly publicised liberation of the concentration camps in the summer of 1945.

“Among the reason given by the US and British policy makers for curtailing prosecutions of Nazis was the understanding that at least some of them would be needed to rebuild Germany and confront Communism, which at the time was seen as a greater danger,” writes Mr Plesch.

Mr Plesch said the archive on which he based his research was closed to researchers for 70 years. Those wishing to read the UNWCC archive required the permission not only of the person’s own national government, but the UN Secretary General. Even then, researchers were for several years not permitted to make notes.

Former American ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers took the action that made the archive available.

Mr Plesch said the new material provided a further “cartload of nails to hammer into the coffins” of Holocaust denial – not that further evidence was required.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance memorial in Israel, says on its website that “information regarding mass murders of Jews began to reach the free world soon after these actions began in the Soviet Union in late June 1941, and the volume of such reports increased with time”.


It refers to the December 1942 declaration condemning the extermination of Jewish people.

“Notwithstanding this, it remains unclear to what extent Allied and neutral leaders understood the full import of their information,” it adds. “The utter shock of senior Allied commanders who liberated camps at the end of the war may indicate that this understanding was not complete.”

The UNWCC archive is this week being presented to the Wiener Library in London, the world's oldest Holocaust archive and Britain's largest collection on the Nazi era, where it will be available for scholars to access online.

Ben Barkow, the library’s director, said Mr Plesch’s findings may not change the general understanding of the Holocaust, but were interesting and had significance to scholars.

He said Mr Plesch had doggedly continued to search a difficult-to-access archive that most scholars had assumed contained nothing new. “People didn’t recognise the value of it,” he said.

He said the material uncovered by Mr Plesch was particularly interesting because it showed that 70 years ago, the international community was considering the issue of sexual crimes as part of the broader war crimes narrative. He said: “It shows that this was not something that was only thought about after events like Rwanda.”

PICS | Former SS canteen at Auschwitz bears witness to Holocaust history

A Polish foundation hopes to restore a canteen where SS guards ate and sought distraction after long days of killing at the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, to bear witness to a forgotten page of Holocaust history.

Built in March 1942 at Auschwitz - Europe's largest World War II death factory - the massive dining hall could house up to 4 000 people.

After the war it served as a cereal warehouse before it was abandoned and gradually fell into ruin.

The SS "came here to have a bite, find some distraction, have a drink, take part in ceremonies, concerts, parties - all in the shadow of the monstrous crime that was Auschwitz-Birkenau," said Dagmar Kopijasz, one of the project organisers.

"This building was the focal point of the family and personal life of the SS. serving as a place where they came to forget their work which was to kill people," Kopijasz told AFP at the site, where Nazi Germany built its largest death camp.

His organisation, the Foundation of Memory Sites Near Auschwitz-Birkenau (FPMP), was founded eight years ago to save from oblivion items and buildings linked to the former death camp that are outside its bounds and beyond the legal domain of the site's official museum.

"From a historical point of view, the former canteen is interesting in terms of the social life of the camp staff," Auschwitz museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.

Once restored, the building could host official ceremonies or cultural events related to the history of the camp and the Holocaust, according to Kopijasz.

'Wall of shame'

It could also contain a kind of "wall of shame" listing all the SS names, maybe even with photos.

"That would complete the message" of Auschwitz, as it would serve as a reminder of the banality of evil at the former death camp, Kopijasz said.

Although the foundation has already begun its restoration work, Kopijasz said that to complete it they might have to appeal for international crowdfunding.

Nazi Germany built the Auschwitz death camp in the southern town of Oswiecim after occupying Poland during World War II.

The Holocaust site has become a symbol of Nazi Germany's genocide of six million European Jews, one million of whom died at the camp between 1940 and 1945 along with more than 100 000 non-Jews.

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The term holocaust, first used in 1895 by The New York Times to describe the massacre of Armenian Christians by Ottoman Muslims, [10] comes from the Greek: ὁλόκαυστος , romanized: holókaustos ὅλος hólos, "whole" + καυστός kaustós, "burnt offering". [d] The biblical term shoah (Hebrew: שׁוֹאָה ‎), meaning "destruction", became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of the European Jews. According to Haaretz, the writer Yehuda Erez may have been the first to describe events in Germany as the shoah. Davar and later Haaretz both used the term in September 1939. [12] [e] Yom HaShoah became Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1951. [14]

On 3 October 1941 the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", apparently to refer to the situation in France, [15] and in May 1943 the New York Times, discussing the Bermuda Conference, referred to the "hundreds of thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi Holocaust". [16] In 1968 the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)". [17] The term was popularised in the United States by the NBC mini-series Holocaust (1978) about a fictional family of German Jews, [18] and in November that year the President's Commission on the Holocaust was established. [19] As non-Jewish groups began to include themselves as Holocaust victims, many Jews chose to use the Hebrew terms Shoah or Churban. [20] [f] The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage). [22]


Holocaust historians commonly define the Holocaust as the genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1941 and 1945. [a] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favor a definition that includes the Jews, Roma, and the disabled: "the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity." [31] [g]

Other groups targeted after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 [34] include those whom the Nazis viewed as inherently inferior (chiefly Slavs, the Roma, and the disabled), and those targeted because of their beliefs or behavior (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and homosexuals). [35] Peter Hayes writes that the persecution of these groups was less uniform than that of the Jews. For example, the Nazis' treatment of the Slavs consisted of "enslavement and gradual attrition", while some Slavs were favored Hayes lists Bulgarians, Croats, Slovaks, and some Ukrainians. [24] In contrast, Hitler regarded the Jews as what Dan Stone calls "a Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race' . not really human at all." [9]

Genocidal state

The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state". [36] Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out. [h] In total, 165,200 German Jews were murdered. [38] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated, [39] and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds"). [40] Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners other companies built the crematoria. [36] As prisoners entered the death camps, they surrendered all personal property, [41] which was cataloged and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling. [42] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims. [43]


Although the Holocaust was planned and directed by Germans, the Nazi regime found willing collaborators in other countries, or forced others into participation. [44] This included individual collaboration as well as state collaboration. According to Dan Stone, it became increasingly clear after the fall of former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, and the opening of their archives to historians, that the Holocaust was a pan-European phenomenon, a series of "Holocausts" impossible to conduct without local collaborators and Germany's allies. [45] Stone writes that "many European states, under the extreme circumstances of World War II, took upon themselves the task of solving the 'Jewish question' in their own way." [46] Ultimately, as a result of Nazi Germany's policy of extermination, which was imposed on occupied countries or mirrored by its allies, three million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5 million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more were murdered in the rest of Europe, [47] including: 297,621 in Hungary 260,000 in Czechoslovakia 211,214 in Romania 130,000 in Lithuania 102,000 in the Netherlands and 72,900 in France. [48]

Medical experiments

At least 7,000 camp inmates were subjected to medical experiments most died during them or as a result. [49] The experiments, which took place at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, involved the sterilization of men and women, treatment of war wounds, ways to counteract chemical weapons, research into new vaccines and drugs, and survival of harsh conditions. [49]

After the war, 23 senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg with crimes against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors, and biomedical researchers. [50] The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943. [51] Interested in genetics, [51] and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects on the ramp from the new arrivals during "selection" (to decide who would be gassed immediately and who would be used as slave labor), shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!). [52] The twins would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem. [53] [i]

Antisemitism and the völkisch movement

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and expulsions. [56] The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence, in the German empire and Austria-Hungary, of the völkisch movement, developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. [57] These ideas became commonplace throughout Germany the professional classes adopted an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. [58] The Nazi Party (the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers' Party) originated as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism. [59]

Germany after World War I, Hitler's world view

After World War I (1914–1918), many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated. A stab-in-the-back myth developed, insinuating that disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism. [60]

Early antisemites in the Nazi Party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving force behind communism. [61] Central to Hitler's world view was the idea of expansion and Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe for German Aryans, a policy of what Doris Bergen called "race and space". Open about his hatred of Jews, he subscribed to common antisemitic stereotypes. [62] From the early 1920s onwards, he compared the Jews to germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany. [63]

Dictatorship and repression (January 1933)

With the appointment in January 1933 of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the Nazi's seizure of power, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). [65] Nazi policies divided the population into two groups: the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the "racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists, liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades" and moral opponents, such as gay men, the work-shy, and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft they were to be removed from society. [66]

Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents, [67] setting up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. [68] One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 22 March 1933. [69] Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. [70] Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. [71] The camps served as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not support the regime. [72]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. [73] On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses. [74] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. [75] Jews were disbarred from practicing law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms. [76] In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials. [77] Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities. [75] Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers, [78] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions. [79] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only." [80]

Sterilization Law, Aktion T4

The economic strain of the Great Depression led Protestant charities and some members of the German medical establishment to advocate compulsory sterilization of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled, [82] people the Nazis called Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). [83] On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed. [84] [85] The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". [86] There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. [87] Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000. [88]

In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary euthanasia. After the war this program came to be known as Aktion T4, [89] named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered. [90] T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the euthanasia of children was also carried out. [91] Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. There were also dedicated killing centers, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp. [92] Overall, the number of mentally and physically disabled people murdered was about 150,000. [93]

Although not ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions were involved in the planning and carrying out of Aktion T4. [94] In August 1941, after protests from Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, Hitler canceled the T4 program, [95] although disabled people continued to be killed until the end of the war. [93] The medical community regularly received bodies for research for example, the University of Tübingen received 1,077 bodies from executions between 1933 and 1945. The German neuroscientist Julius Hallervorden received 697 brains from one hospital between 1940 and 1944: "I accepted these brains of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was really none of my business." [96]

Nuremberg Laws, Jewish emigration

On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, known as the Nuremberg Laws. The former said that only those of "German or kindred blood" could be citizens. Anyone with three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jew. [98] The second law said: "Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden." Sexual relationships between them were also criminalized Jews were not allowed to employ German women under the age of 45 in their homes. [99] [98] The laws referred to Jews but applied equally to the Roma and black Germans. Although other European countries—Bulgaria, Independent State of Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, and Vichy France—passed similar legislation, [98] Gerlach notes that "Nazi Germany adopted more nationwide anti-Jewish laws and regulations (about 1,500) than any other state." [100]

By the end of 1934, 50,000 German Jews had left Germany, [101] and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left, [102] among them the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. [103] Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany his citizenship was revoked and he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and Prussian Academy of Sciences. [104] Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country. [105]

Anschluss (12 March 1938)

On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Ninety percent of Austria's 176,000 Jews lived in Vienna. [106] The SS and SA smashed shops and stole cars belonging to Jews Austrian police stood by, some already wearing swastika armbands. [107] Jews were forced to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets while wearing tefillin. [108] Around 7,000 Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed in Austria. [109] The Évian Conference was held in France in July 1938 by 32 countries, to help German and Austrian Jewish refugees, but little was accomplished and most countries did not increase the number of refugees they would accept. [110] In August that year, Adolf Eichmann was appointed manager (under Franz Walter Stahlecker) of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien). [111] Sigmund Freud and his family arrived in London from Vienna in June 1938, thanks to what David Cesarani called "Herculean efforts" to get them out. [112]

Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938)

On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris, in retaliation for the expulsion of his parents and siblings from Germany. [113] [j] When vom Rath died on 9 November, the synagogue and Jewish shops in Dessau were attacked. According to Joseph Goebbels' diary, Hitler decided that the police should be withdrawn: "For once the Jews should feel the rage of the people," Goebbels reported him as saying. [115] The result, David Cesarani writes, was "murder, rape, looting, destruction of property, and terror on an unprecedented scale". [116]

Known as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), the pogrom on 9–10 November 1938 saw over 7,500 Jewish shops (out of 9,000) looted and attacked, and over 1,000 synagogues damaged or destroyed. Groups of Jews were forced by the crowd to watch their synagogues burn in Bensheim they were made to dance around it and in Laupheim to kneel before it. [117] At least 90 Jews died. The damage was estimated at 39 million Reichmarks. [118] Contrary to Goebbel's statements in his diary, the police were not withdrawn the regular police, Gestapo, SS and SA all took part, although Heinrich Himmler was angry that the SS had joined in. [119] Attacks took place in Austria too. [120] The extent of the violence shocked the rest of the world. The Times of London stated on 11 November 1938:

No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults upon defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday. Either the German authorities were a party to this outbreak or their powers over public order and a hooligan minority are not what they are proudly claimed to be. [121]

Between 9 and 16 November, 30,000 Jews were sent to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. [122] Many were released within weeks by early 1939, 2,000 remained in the camps. [123] German Jewry was held collectively responsible for restitution of the damage they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of over a billion Reichmarks. Insurance payments for damage to their property were confiscated by the government. A decree on 12 November 1938 barred Jews from most remaining occupations. [124] Kristallnacht marked the end of any sort of public Jewish activity and culture, and Jews stepped up their efforts to leave the country. [125]


Before World War II, Germany considered mass deportation from Europe of German, and later European, Jewry. [126] Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine and, after the war began, French Madagascar, [127] Siberia, and two reservations in Poland. [128] [k] Palestine was the only location to which any German resettlement plan produced results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government. Between November 1933 and December 1939, the agreement resulted in the emigration of about 53,000 German Jews, who were allowed to transfer RM 100 million of their assets to Palestine by buying German goods, in violation of the Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott of 1933. [130]

Invasion of Poland (1 September 1939)


Between 2.7 and 3 million Polish Jews died during the Holocaust out of a population of 3.3 – 3.5 million. [131] More Jews lived in Poland in 1939 than anywhere else in the world another 3 million lived in the Soviet Union. When the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering declarations of war from the UK and France, Germany gained control of about two million Jews in the territory it occupied. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland from the east on 17 September 1939. [132]

The Wehrmacht in Poland was accompanied by seven SS Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolitizei ("special task forces of the Security Police") and an Einsatzkommando, numbering 3,000 men in all, whose role was to deal with "all anti-German elements in hostile country behind the troops in combat". [133] German plans for Poland included expelling non-Jewish Poles from large areas, settling Germans on the emptied lands, [134] sending the Polish leadership to camps, denying the lower classes an education, and confining Jews. [135] The Germans sent Jews from all territories they had annexed (Austria, the Czech lands, and western Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. [136] Jews were eventually to be expelled to areas of Poland not annexed by Germany, but in the meantime they would be concentrated in ghettos in major cities to achieve "a better possibility of control and later deportation", according to an order from Reinhard Heydrich dated 21 September 1939. [137] [l] From 1 December, Jews were required to wear Star of David armbands. [136]

The Germans stipulated that each ghetto be led by a Judenrat of 24 male Jews, who would be responsible for carrying out German orders. [139] These orders included, from 1942, facilitating deportations to extermination camps. [140] The Warsaw Ghetto was established in November 1940, and by early 1941 it contained 445,000 people [141] the second largest, the Łódź Ghetto, held 160,000 as of May 1940. [142] The inhabitants had to pay for food and other supplies by selling whatever goods they could produce. [141] In the ghettos and forced-labor camps, at least half a million died of starvation, disease, and poor living conditions. [143] Although the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30 percent of the city's population, it occupied only 2.4 percent of its area, [144] averaging over nine people per room. [145] Over 43,000 residents died there in 1941. [146]

Pogroms in Poland

Peter Hayes writes that the Germans created a "Hobbesian world" in Poland in which different parts of the population were pitted against each other. [148] A perception among ethnic Poles that the Jews had supported the Soviet invasion [149] contributed to existing tensions, which Germany exploited, redistributing Jewish homes and goods, and converting synagogues, schools and hospitals in Jewish areas into facilities for non-Jews. [150] The Germans announced severe penalties for anyone helping Jews, and Polish informants (Szmalcowniki) would point out who was Jewish and Poles who were helping to hide them [151] during the Judenjagd (hunt for the Jews). [152] Despite the dangers, thousands of Poles helped Jews. [153] Nearly 1,000 were executed for having done so, [148] and Yad Vashem has named over 7,000 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations. [154]

There had been anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland before the war, including in around 100 towns between 1935 and 1937, [155] and again in 1938. [156] David Cesarani writes that Polish nationalist parties had "campaigned for Polonization of the economy and encouraged a boycott of Jewish businesses. [157] Pogroms continued during the occupation. During the Lviv pogroms in Lwów, occupied eastern Poland (later Lviv, Ukraine) [m] in June and July 1941—the population was 157,490 Polish 99,595 Jewish and 49,747 Ukrainian [158] —some 6,000 Jews were murdered in the streets by the Ukrainian nationalists (specifically, the OUN) [159] and Ukrainian People's Militia, aided by local people. [160] Jewish women were stripped, beaten, and raped. [161] Also, after the arrival of Einsatzgruppe C units on 2 July, another 3,000 Jews were killed in mass shootings carried out by the German SS. [162] [163] . During the Jedwabne pogrom, on 10 July 1941, a group of 40 Polish men, spurred on by German Gestapo agents who arrived in the town a day earlier, [164] killed several hundred Jews around 300 were burned alive in a barn. [165] According to Hayes, this was "one of sixty-six nearly simultaneous such attacks in the province of Suwalki alone and some two hundred similar incidents in the Soviet-annexed eastern provinces". [149]

German Nazi Extermination camps in Poland

At the end of 1941, the Germans began building extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz II, [166] Bełżec, [167] Chełmno, [168] Majdanek, [169] Sobibór, [170] and Treblinka. [171] Gas chambers had been installed by the spring or summer of 1942. [172] The SS liquidated most of the ghettos of the General Government area in 1942–1943 (the Łódź Ghetto was liquidated in mid-1944), [173] and shipped their populations to these camps, along with Jews from all over Europe. [174] [n] The camps provided locals with employment and with black-market goods confiscated from Jewish families who, thinking they were being resettled, arrived with their belongings. According to Hayes, dealers in currency and jewellery set up shop outside the Treblinka extermination camp (near Warsaw) in 1942–1943, as did prostitutes. [150] By the end of 1942, most of the Jews in the General Government area were dead. [176] The Jewish death toll in the extermination camps was over three million overall most Jews were gassed on arrival. [177]

Invasion of Norway and Denmark

Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940, during Operation Weserübung. Denmark was overrun so quickly that there was no time for a resistance to form. Consequently, the Danish government stayed in power and the Germans found it easier to work through it. Because of this, few measures were taken against the Danish Jews before 1942. [178] By June 1940 Norway was completely occupied. [179] In late 1940, the country's 1,800 Jews were banned from certain occupations, and in 1941 all Jews had to register their property with the government. [180] On 26 November 1942, 532 Jews were taken by police officers, at four o'clock in the morning, to Oslo harbor, where they boarded a German ship. From Germany they were sent by freight train to Auschwitz. According to Dan Stone, only nine survived the war. [181]

Invasion of France and the Low Countries

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. After Belgium's surrender, the country was ruled by a German military governor, Alexander von Falkenhausen, who enacted anti-Jewish measures against its 90,000 Jews, many of them refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe. [182] In the Netherlands, the Germans installed Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar, who began to persecute the country's 140,000 Jews. Jews were forced out of their jobs and had to register with the government. In February 1941, non-Jewish Dutch citizens staged a strike in protest that was quickly crushed. [183] From July 1942, over 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported only 5,000 survived the war. Most were sent to Auschwitz the first transport of 1,135 Jews left Holland for Auschwitz on 15 July 1942. Between 2 March and 20 July 1943, 34,313 Jews were sent in 19 transports to the Sobibór extermination camp, where all but 18 are thought to have been gassed on arrival. [184]

France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied north and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas in Vichy France (named after the town Vichy). The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas. [185] In July 1940, the Jews in the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany were expelled into Vichy France. [186] Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. [187] Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942 an estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor. [188]

Madagascar Plan

The fall of France gave rise to the Madagascar Plan in the summer of 1940, when French Madagascar in Southeast Africa became the focus of discussions about deporting all European Jews there it was thought that the area's harsh living conditions would hasten deaths. [189] Several Polish, French and British leaders had discussed the idea in the 1930s, as did German leaders from 1938. [190] Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to investigate the option, but no evidence of planning exists until after the defeat of France in June 1940. [191] Germany's inability to defeat Britain, something that was obvious to the Germans by September 1940, prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, [192] and the Foreign Ministry abandoned the plan in February 1942. [193]

Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece

Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941 and surrendered before the end of the month. Germany, Italy and Bulgaria divided Greece into occupation zones but did not eliminate it as a country. The pre-war Greek Jewish population had been between 72,000 and 77,000. By the end of the war, some 10,000 remained, representing the lowest survival rate in the Balkans and among the lowest in Europe. [194]

Yugoslavia, home to 80,000 Jews, was dismembered regions in the north were annexed by Germany and Hungary, regions along the coast were made part of Italy, Kosovo and western Macedonia were given to Albania, while Bulgaria received eastern Macedonia. The rest of the country was divided into the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), an Italian-German puppet state whose territory comprised Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the Croatian fascist Ustaše party placed in power and German occupied Serbia, governed by German military and police administrators [195] who appointed the Serbian collaborationist puppet government, Government of National Salvation, headed by Milan Nedić. [196] [197] [198] In August 1942 Serbia was declared free of Jews, [199] after the Wehrmacht and German police, assisted by collaborators of the Nedić government and others such as Zbor, a pro-Nazi and pan-Serbian fascist party, had murdered nearly the entire population of 17,000 Jews. [200] [201] [202]

In the NDH the Nazi regime demanded that the Ustaše adopt antisemitic racial policies, persecute Jews and set up several concentration camps. Ante Pavelić and the Ustaše accepted Nazi demands. The state broke away from Nazi antisemitic policy by promising honorary Aryan citizenship, and thus freedom from persecution, to Jews who were willing to contribute to the "Croat cause". Marcus Tanner states that the "SS complained that at least 5,000 Jews were still alive in the NDH and that thousands of others had emigrated, by buying ‘honorary Aryan’ status". [203] Nevenko Bartulin, however posits that of the total Jewish population of the NDH, only 100 Jews attained the legal status of Aryan citizens, 500 including their families. In both cases a relatively small portion out of a Jewish population of 37,000. [204] By the end of April 1941 the Ustaše required all Jews to wear insignia, typically a yellow Star of David. [205] The Ustaše confiscated Jewish property in October 1941. [206] During the same time as their persecution of Serbs and Roma, the Ustaše took part in the Holocaust, and killed the majority of the country's Jews [207] the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 30,148 Jews were murdered. [208] According to Jozo Tomasevich, the Jewish community in Zagreb was the only one to survive out of 115 Jewish religious communities in Yugoslavia in 1939–1940. [209]

In the Bulgarian annexed zones of Macedonia and Thrace, upon demand of the German authorities, the Bulgarians handed over the entire Jewish population, about 12,000 Jews to the military authorities, all were deported. [210]


Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, a day Timothy Snyder called "one of the most significant days in the history of Europe . the beginning of a calamity that defies description". [211] German propaganda portrayed the conflict as an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism, and as a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish, Romani, and Slavic Untermenschen ("sub-humans"). [212] The war was driven by the need for resources, including, according to David Cesarani, agricultural land to feed Germany, natural resources for German industry, and control over Europe's largest oil fields. [213]

Between early fall 1941 and late spring 1942, Jürgen Matthäus writes, 2 million of the 3.5 million Soviet POWs captured by the Wehrmacht had been executed or had died of neglect and abuse. By 1944 the Soviet death toll was at least 20 million. [214]

Mass shootings

As German troops advanced, the mass shooting of "anti-German elements" was assigned, as in Poland, to the Einsatzgruppen, this time under the command of Reinhard Heydrich. [215] The point of the attacks was to destroy the local Communist Party leadership and therefore the state, including "Jews in the Party and State employment", and any "radical elements". [o] Cesarani writes that the killing of Jews was at this point a "subset" of these activities. [217]

Typically, victims would undress and give up their valuables before lining up beside a ditch to be shot, or they would be forced to climb into the ditch, lie on a lower layer of corpses, and wait to be killed. [218] The latter was known as Sardinenpackung ("packing sardines"), a method reportedly started by SS officer Friedrich Jeckeln. [219]

According to Wolfram Wette, the Germany army took part in these shootings as bystanders, photographers, and active shooters. [220] In Lithuania, Latvia and western Ukraine, locals were deeply involved Latvian and Lithuanian units participated in the murder of Jews in Belarus, and in the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews. Some Ukrainians went to Poland to serve as guards in the camps. [221]

Einsatzgruppe A arrived in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) with Army Group North Einsatzgruppe B in Belarus with Army Group Center Einsatzgruppe C in the Ukraine with Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D went further south into Ukraine with the 11th Army. [222] Each Einsatzgruppe numbered around 600–1,000 men, with a few women in administrative roles. [223] Traveling with nine German Order Police battalions and three units of the Waffen-SS, [224] the Einsatzgruppen and their local collaborators had murdered almost 500,000 people by the winter of 1941–1942. By the end of the war, they had killed around two million, including about 1.3 million Jews and up to a quarter of a million Roma. [225]

Notable massacres include the July 1941 Ponary massacre near Vilnius (Soviet Lithuania), in which Einsatgruppe B and Lithuanian collaborators shot 72,000 Jews and 8,000 non-Jewish Lithuanians and Poles. [226] In the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre (Soviet Ukraine), nearly 24,000 Jews were killed between 27 and 30 August 1941. [214] The largest massacre was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev (also Soviet Ukraine), where 33,771 Jews were killed on 29–30 September 1941. [227] [228] The Germans used the ravine for mass killings throughout the war up to 100,000 may have been killed there. [229]

Toward the Holocaust

At first the Einsatzgruppen targeted the male Jewish intelligentsia, defined as male Jews aged 15–60 who had worked for the state and in certain professions. The commandos described them as "Bolshevist functionaries" and similar. From August 1941 they began to murder women and children too. [231] Christopher Browning reports that on 1 August 1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade passed an order to its units: "Explicit order by RF-SS [Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS]. All Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamps." [232]

Two years later, in a speech on 6 October 1943 to party leaders, Heinrich Himmler said he had ordered that women and children be shot, but according to Peter Longerich and Christian Gerlach, the murder of women and children began at different times in different areas, suggesting local influence. [233]

Historians agree that there was a "gradual radicalization" between the spring and autumn of 1941 of what Longerich calls Germany's Judenpolitik, but they disagree about whether a decision—Führerentscheidung (Führer's decision)—to murder the European Jews had been made at this point. [234] [p] According to Browning, writing in 2004, most historians say there was no order, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, to kill all the Soviet Jews. [236] Longerich wrote in 2010 that the gradual increase in brutality and numbers killed between July and September 1941 suggests there was "no particular order". Instead it was a question of "a process of increasingly radical interpretations of orders". [237]

Germany first used concentration camps as places of terror and unlawful incarceration of political opponents. [239] Large numbers of Jews were not sent there until after Kristallnacht in November 1938. [240] After war broke out in 1939, new camps were established, many outside Germany in occupied Europe. [241] Most wartime prisoners of the camps were not Germans but belonged to countries under German occupation. [242]

After 1942, the economic function of the camps, previously secondary to their penal and terror functions, came to the fore. Forced labor of camp prisoners became commonplace. [240] The guards became much more brutal, and the death rate increased as the guards not only beat and starved prisoners but killed them more frequently. [242] Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("extermination through labor") was a policy camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or to physical exhaustion, at which point they would be gassed or shot. [243] The Germans estimated the average prisoner's lifespan in a concentration camp at three months, as a result of lack of food and clothing, constant epidemics, and frequent punishments for the most minor transgressions. [244] The shifts were long and often involved exposure to dangerous materials. [245]

Transportation to and between camps was often carried out in closed freight cars with little air or water, long delays and prisoners packed tightly. [246] In mid-1942 work camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be placed in quarantine for four weeks. [247] Prisoners wore colored triangles on their uniforms, the color denoting the reason for their incarceration. Red signified a political prisoner, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple triangles, "asocials" and criminals wore black and green, and gay men wore pink. [248] Jews wore two yellow triangles, one over another to form a six-pointed star. [249] Prisoners in Auschwitz were tattooed on arrival with an identification number. [250]


According to Dan Stone, the murder of Jews in Romania was "essentially an independent undertaking". [251] Romania implemented anti-Jewish measures in May and June 1940 as part of its efforts towards an alliance with Germany. By March 1941 all Jews had lost their jobs and had their property confiscated. [252] In June 1941 Romania joined Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union. [253]

Thousands of Jews were killed in January and June 1941 in the Bucharest pogrom and Iași pogrom. [254] According to a 2004 report by Tuvia Friling and others, up to 14,850 Jews died during the Iași pogrom. [255] The Romanian military killed up to 25,000 Jews during the Odessa massacre between 18 October 1941 and March 1942, assisted by gendarmes and the police. [256] In July 1941, Mihai Antonescu, Romania's deputy prime minister, said it was time for "total ethnic purification, for a revision of national life, and for purging our race of all those elements which are foreign to its soul, which have grown like mistletoes and darken our future." [257] Romania set up concentration camps in Transnistria, reportedly extremely brutal, where 154,000–170,000 Jews were deported from 1941 to 1943. [258]

Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary

Bulgaria introduced anti-Jewish measures between 1940 and 1943 (requirement to wear a yellow star, restrictions on owning telephones or radios, and so on). [259] It annexed Thrace and Macedonia, and in February 1943 agreed to a demand from Germany that it deport 20,000 Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. All 11,000 Jews from the annexed territories were sent to their deaths, and plans were made to deport 6,000–8,000 Bulgarian Jews from Sofia to meet the quota. [260] When this became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III canceled the plans. [261] Instead, Jews native to Bulgaria were sent to the provinces. [260]

Stone writes that Slovakia, led by Roman Catholic priest Jozef Tiso (president of the Slovak State, 1939–1945), was "one of the most loyal of the collaborationist regimes". It deported 7,500 Jews in 1938 on its own initiative introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and by the autumn of 1942 had deported around 60,000 Jews to Poland. Another 2,396 were deported and 2,257 killed that autumn during an uprising, and 13,500 were deported between October 1944 and March 1945. [262] According to Stone, "the Holocaust in Slovakia was far more than a German project, even if it was carried out in the context of a 'puppet' state." [263]

Although Hungary expelled Jews who were not citizens from its newly annexed lands in 1941, it did not deport most of its Jews [264] until the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between 15 May and early July 1944, 437,000 Jews were deported, mostly to Auschwitz, where most of them were gassed there were four transports a day, each carrying 3,000 people. [265] In Budapest in October and November 1944, the Hungarian Arrow Cross forced 50,000 Jews to march to the Austrian border as part of a deal with Germany to supply forced labor. So many died that the marches were stopped. [266]

Italy, Finland, and Japan

Italy introduced antisemitic measures, but there was less antisemitism there than in Germany, and Italian-occupied countries were generally safer for Jews than those occupied by Germany. [267] Most Italian Jews, over 40,000, survived the Holocaust. [268] In September 1943, Germany occupied the northern and central areas of Italy and established a fascist puppet state, the Republica Sociale Italiana or Salò Republic. [269] Officers from RSHA IV B4, a Gestapo unit, began deporting Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. [270] The first group of 1,034 Jews arrived from Rome on 23 October 1943 839 were gassed. [271] Around 8,500 Jews were deported in all. [268] Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Italian-controlled Libya almost 2,600 Libyan Jews were sent to camps, where 562 died. [272]

In Finland, the government was pressured in 1942 to hand over its 150–200 non-Finnish Jews to Germany. After opposition from both the government and public, eight non-Finnish Jews were deported in late 1942 only one survived the war. [273] Japan had little antisemitism in its society and did not persecute Jews in most of the territories it controlled. Jews in Shanghai were confined, but despite German pressure they were not killed. [274]

Pearl Harbor, Germany declares war on the United States

On 7 December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, and on 11 December, Germany declared war on the United States. [275] According to Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Hitler had trusted American Jews, whom he assumed were all powerful, to keep the United States out of the war in the interests of German Jews. When America declared war, he blamed the Jews. [276]

Nearly three years earlier, on 30 January 1939, Hitler had told the Reichstag: "if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will be not the Bolshevising of the earth, and thus a victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" [277] In the view of Christian Gerlach, Hitler "announced his decision in principle" to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, one day after his declaration of war. On that day, Hitler gave a speech in his apartment at the Reich Chancellery to senior Nazi Party leaders: the Reichsleiter and the Gauleiter. [278] The following day, Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, noted in his diary:

Regarding the Jewish question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. [s]

Christopher Browning argues that Hitler gave no order during the Reich Chancellery meeting but made clear that he had intended his 1939 warning to the Jews to be taken literally, and he signaled to party leaders that they could give appropriate orders to others. [280] According to Gerlach, an unidentified former German Sicherheitsdienst officer wrote in a report in 1944, after defecting to Switzerland: "After America entered the war, the annihilation (Ausrottung) of all European Jews was initiated on the Führer's order." [281]

Four days after Hitler's meeting with party leaders, Hans Frank, Governor-General of the General Government area of occupied Poland, who was at the meeting, spoke to district governors: "We must put an end to the Jews . I will in principle proceed only on the assumption that they will disappear. They must go." [282] [t] On 18 December 1941, Hitler and Himmler held a meeting to which Himmler referred in his appointment book as "Juden frage | als Partisanen auszurotten" ("Jewish question / to be exterminated as partisans"). Browning interprets this as a meeting to discuss how to justify and speak about the killing. [284]

Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942)

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), convened what became known as the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a villa in Berlin's Wannsee suburb. [285] The meeting had been scheduled for 9 December 1941, and invitations had been sent between 29 November and 1 December, [286] but on 8 December it had been postponed indefinitely, probably because of Pearl Harbor. [287] On 8 January, Heydrich sent out notes again, this time suggesting 20 January. [288]

The 15 men present at Wannsee included Heydrich, SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, head of Reich Security Head Office Referat IV B4 ("Jewish affairs") SS Major General Heinrich Müller, head of RSHA Department IV (the Gestapo) and other SS and party leaders. [u] According to Browning, eight of the 15 had doctorates: "Thus it was not a dimwitted crowd unable to grasp what was going to be said to them." [290] Thirty copies of the minutes, the Wannsee Protocol, were made. Copy no. 16 was found by American prosecutors in March 1947 in a German Foreign Office folder. [291] Written by Eichmann and stamped "Top Secret", the minutes were written in "euphemistic language" on Heydrich's instructions, according to Eichmann's later testimony. [292]

Discussing plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question" ("Endlösung der Judenfrage"), and a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" ("Endlösung der europäischen Judenfrage"), [293] the conference was held to coordinate efforts and policies ("Parallelisierung der Linienführung"), and to ensure that authority rested with Heydrich. There was discussion about whether to include the German Mischlinge (half-Jews). [294] Heydrich told the meeting: "Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Fuehrer gives the appropriate approval in advance." [293] He continued:

Under proper guidance, in the course of the Final Solution, the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival. (See the experience of history.)

In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east. Germany proper, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, will have to be handled first due to the housing problem and additional social and political necessities.

The evacuated Jews will first be sent, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, from which they will be transported to the East. [293]

The evacuations were regarded as provisional ("Ausweichmöglichkeiten"). [295] [w] The final solution would encompass the 11 million Jews living in territories controlled by Germany and elsewhere in Europe, including Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, "dependent on military developments". [295] According to Longerich, "the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder." [297]

Extermination camps

At the end of 1941 in occupied Poland, the Germans began building additional camps or expanding existing ones. Auschwitz, for example, was expanded in October 1941 by building Auschwitz II-Birkenau a few kilometers away. [5] By the spring or summer of 1942, gas chambers had been installed in these new facilities, except for Chełmno, which used gas vans.

Camp Location
(occupied Poland)
Deaths Gas
Mass gassing
Auschwitz II Brzezinka 1,082,000
(all Auschwitz camps
includes 960,000 Jews)
4 [y] Oct 1941
(built as POW camp) [301]
c. 20 Mar 1942 [302] [z] [166]
Bełżec Bełżec 600,000 [167] N 1 Nov 1941 [303] 17 Mar 1942 [303] [167]
Chełmno Chełmno nad Nerem 320,000 [168] N 8 Dec 1941 [304] [168]
Majdanek Lublin 78,000 [305] N 7 Oct 1941
(built as POW camp)
Oct 1942 [307] [169]
Sobibór Sobibór 250,000 [170] N Feb 1942 [308] May 1942 [308] [170]
Treblinka Treblinka 870,000 [171] N May 1942 [309] 23 July 1942 [309] [171]
Total 3,218,000

Other camps sometimes described as extermination camps include Maly Trostinets near Minsk in the occupied Soviet Union, where 65,000 are thought to have died, mostly by shooting but also in gas vans [310] Mauthausen in Austria [311] Stutthof, near Gdańsk, Poland [312] and Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück in Germany. [313]

Gas vans

Chełmno, with gas vans only, had its roots in the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. [315] In December 1939 and January 1940, gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment had been used to kill disabled people in occupied Poland. [316] As the mass shootings continued in Russia, Himmler and his subordinates in the field feared that the murders were causing psychological problems for the SS, [317] and began searching for more efficient methods. In December 1941, similar vans, using exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced into the camp at Chełmno, [303] Victims were asphyxiated while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. [318] The vans were also used in the occupied Soviet Union, for example in smaller clearing actions in the Minsk ghetto, [319] and in Yugoslavia. [320] Apparently, as with the mass shootings, the vans caused emotional problems for the operators, and the small number of victims the vans could handle made them ineffective. [321]

Gas chambers

Christian Gerlach writes that over three million Jews were murdered in 1942, the year that "marked the peak" of the mass murder. [322] At least 1.4 million of these were in the General Government area of Poland. [323] Victims usually arrived at the extermination camps by freight train. [324] Almost all arrivals at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka were sent directly to the gas chambers, [325] with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. [326] At Auschwitz, about 20 percent of Jews were selected to work. [327] Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. [41] They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. [328]

At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, [329] releasing toxic prussic acid. [330] Those inside died within 20 minutes the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. [331] Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." [332] The gas was then pumped out, and the Sonderkommando—work groups of mostly Jewish prisoners—carried out the bodies, extracted gold fillings, cut off women's hair, and removed jewelry, artificial limbs and glasses. [333] At Auschwitz, the bodies were at first buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, 100,000 bodies were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers. [334]

Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka became known as the Operation Reinhard camps, named after the German plan to murder the Jews in the General Government area of occupied Poland. [335] Between March 1942 and November 1943, around 1,526,500 Jews were gassed in these three camps in gas chambers using carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of stationary diesel engines. [5] Gold fillings were pulled from the corpses before burial, but unlike in Auschwitz the women's hair was cut before death. At Treblinka, to calm the victims, the arrival platform was made to look like a train station, complete with fake clock. [336] Most of the victims at these three camps were buried in pits at first. From mid-1942, as part of Sonderaktion 1005, prisoners at Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were forced to exhume and burn bodies that had been buried, in part to hide the evidence, and in part because of the terrible smell pervading the camps and a fear that the drinking water would become polluted. [337] The corpses—700,000 in Treblinka—were burned on wood in open fire pits and the remaining bones crushed into powder. [338]

Jewish resistance

There was almost no resistance in the ghettos in Poland until the end of 1942. [340] Raul Hilberg accounted for this by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: compliance might avoid inflaming the situation until the onslaught abated. [341] Timothy Snyder noted that it was only during the three months after the deportations of July–September 1942 that agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached. [342]

Several resistance groups were formed, such as the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) and Jewish Military Union (ŻZW) in the Warsaw Ghetto and the United Partisan Organization in Vilna. [343] Over 100 revolts and uprisings occurred in at least 19 ghettos and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, when the Germans arrived to send the remaining inhabitants to extermination camps. Forced to retreat on 19 April from the ŻOB and ŻZW fighters, they returned later that day under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop (author of the Stroop Report about the uprising). [344] Around 1,000 poorly armed fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks. [345] Polish and Jewish accounts stated that hundreds or thousands of Germans had been killed, [346] while the Germans reported 16 dead. [347] The Germans said that 14,000 Jews had been killed—7000 during the fighting and 7000 sent to Treblinka [348] —and between 53,000 [349] and 56,000 deported. [347] According to Gwardia Ludowa, a Polish resistance newspaper, in May 1943:

From behind the screen of smoke and fire, in which the ranks of fighting Jewish partisans are dying, the legend of the exceptional fighting qualities of the Germans is being undermined. . The fighting Jews have won for us what is most important: the truth about the weakness of the Germans. [350]

During a revolt in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, inmates killed five or six guards and set fire to camp buildings several managed to escape. [351] In the Białystok Ghetto on 16 August, Jewish insurgents fought for five days when the Germans announced mass deportations. [352] On 14 October, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór attempted an escape, killing 11 SS officers, as well as two or three Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. According to Yitzhak Arad, this was the highest number of SS officers killed in a single revolt. [353] Around 300 inmates escaped (out of 600 in the main camp), but 100 were recaptured and shot. [354] On 7 October 1944, 300 Jewish members, mostly Greek or Hungarian, of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz learned they were about to be killed, and staged an uprising, blowing up crematorium IV. [355] Three SS officers were killed. [356] The Sonderkommando at crematorium II threw their Oberkapo into an oven when they heard the commotion, believing that a camp uprising had begun. [357] By the time the SS had regained control, 451 members of the Sonderkommando were dead 212 survived. [358]

Estimates of Jewish participation in partisan units throughout Europe range from 20,000 to 100,000. [359] In the occupied Polish and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, [360] although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. [361] An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 joined the Soviet partisan movement. [362] One of the famous Jewish groups was the Bielski partisans in Belarus, led by the Bielski brothers. [360] Jews also joined Polish forces, including the Home Army. According to Timothy Snyder, "more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943." [363] [aa]

Polish resistance and flow of information

The Polish government-in-exile in London received information about the extermination camp at Auschwitz from the Polish leadership in Warsaw from 1940 onwards, and by August 1942 there was "a continual flow of information to and from Poland", according to Michael Fleming. [369] This was in large measure thanks to Captain Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army, who was sent to the camp in September 1940 after allowing himself to be arrested in Warsaw. An inmate until he escaped in April 1943, his mission was to set up a resistance movement (ZOW), prepare to take over the camp, and smuggle out information. [370]

On 6 January 1942, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, sent out diplomatic notes about German atrocities, based on reports about mass graves and bodies surfacing in areas the Red Army had liberated, as well as witness reports from German-occupied areas. [371] According to Fleming, in May and June 1942, London was told about the extermination camps at Chełmno, Sobibór, and Bełzėc. [372] Szlama Ber Winer escaped from Chełmno in February and passed information to the Oneg Shabbat group in the Warsaw Ghetto [168] his report was known by his pseudonym as the Grojanowski Report. [373] Also in 1942, Jan Karski sent information to the Allies after being smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto twice. [374] By c. July 1942, Polish leaders in Warsaw had learned about the mass killing of Jews in Auschwitz. [ab] The Polish Interior Ministry prepared a report, Sprawozdanie 6/42, [376] which said at the end:

There are different methods of execution. People are shot by firing squads, killed by an "air hammer" /Hammerluft/, and poisoned by gas in special gas chambers. Prisoners condemned to death by the Gestapo are murdered by the first two methods. The third method, the gas chamber, is employed for those who are ill or incapable of work and those who have been brought in transports especially for the purpose /Soviet prisoners of war, and, recently Jews/. [377]

Sprawozdanie 6/42 had reached London by 12 November 1942, where it was translated into English to become part of a 108-page report, "Report on Conditions in Poland", on which the date 27 November 1942 was handwritten. This report was sent to the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. [378] On 10 December 1942, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Raczyński, addressed the fledgling United Nations on the killings the address was distributed with the title The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. He told them about the use of poison gas about Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór that the Polish underground had referred to them as extermination camps and that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed in Bełżec in March and April 1942. [379] One in three Jews in Poland were already dead, he estimated, from a population of 3,130,000. [380] Raczyński's address was covered by the New York Times and The Times of London. Winston Churchill received it, and Anthony Eden presented it to the British cabinet. On 17 December 1942, 11 Allies issued the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations condemning the "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination". [381]

The British and American governments were reluctant to publicize the intelligence they had received. A BBC Hungarian Service memo, written by Carlile Macartney, said in 1942: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all." The British government's view was that the Hungarian people's antisemitism would make them distrust the Allies if Allied broadcasts focused on the Jews. [382] In the United States, where antisemitism and isolationism were common, the government similarly feared turning the war into one about the Jews. [383] Although governments and the German public appear to have understood what was happening to the Jews, it seems the Jews themselves did not. According to Saul Friedländer, "[t]estimonies left by Jews from all over occupied Europe indicate that, in contradistinction to vast segments of surrounding society, the victims did not understand what was ultimately in store for them." In Western Europe, he writes, Jewish communities failed to piece the information together, while in Eastern Europe they could not accept that the stories they had heard from elsewhere would end up applying to them too. [384]

The Holocaust in Hungary

By 1943 it was evident to the armed forces leadership that Germany was losing the war. [386] Rail shipments of Jews were still arriving regularly from western and southern Europe at the extermination camps. [387] Shipments of Jews had priority on the German railways over anything but the army's needs, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942. [388] Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and the killing of skilled Jewish workers, [389] but Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations. [390]

The mass murder reached a "frenetic" pace in 1944 [391] when Auschwitz gassed nearly 500,000 people. [392] On 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary and dispatched Adolf Eichmann to supervise the deportation of its Jews. [393] Between 15 May and 9 July, 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, almost all sent directly to the gas chambers. [394] A month before the deportations began, Eichmann offered through an intermediary, Joel Brand, to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks from the Allies, which the Germans would agree not to use on the Western front. [395] The British thwarted the proposal by leaking it. The Times called it "a new level of fantasy and self-deception". [396]

Death marches

As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the SS closed down the camps in eastern Poland and tried to conceal what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and corpses cremated. [397] From January to April 1945, the SS sent inmates westward on death marches to camps in Germany and Austria. [398] [399] In January 1945, the Germans held records of 714,000 inmates in concentration camps by May, 250,000 (35 percent) had died during these marches. [400] Already sick after exposure to violence and starvation, they were marched to train stations and transported for days without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Some went by truck or wagons others were marched the entire distance. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. [401]


The first major camp encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets, along with its gas chambers, on 25 July 1944. [402] Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Germans in 1943. [403] On 17 January 1945, 58,000 Auschwitz inmates were sent on a death march westwards [404] when the camp was liberated by the Soviets on 27 January, they found just 7,000 inmates in the three main camps and 500 in subcamps. [405] Buchenwald was liberated by the Americans on 11 April [406] Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April [407] Dachau by the Americans on 29 April [408] Ravensbrück by the Soviets on 30 April [409] and Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May. [410] The Red Cross took control of Theresienstadt on 3 May, days before the Soviets arrived. [411]

The British 11th Armoured Division found around 60,000 prisoners (90 percent Jews) when they liberated Bergen-Belsen, [407] [412] as well as 13,000 unburied corpses another 10,000 people died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. [413] The BBC's war correspondent Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen, in a report so graphic the BBC declined to broadcast it for four days, and did so, on 19 April, only after Dimbleby threatened to resign. [414] He said he had "never seen British soldiers so moved to cold fury": [415]

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which. . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live. A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms. . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Table from David M. Crowe [47]
Country Jews
Albania 200–591
Austria 185,000–192,000 48,767–65,000
Belgium 55,000–70,000 24,000–29,902
and Moravia
92,000–118,310 78,150–80,000
Bulgaria 50,000 7,335
Denmark 7,500–7,800 60–116
Estonia 4,500 1,500–2,000
Finland 2,000 7–8
France 330,000–350,000 73,320–90,000
Germany (1933) 523,000–525,000 130,000–160,000
Greece 77,380 58,443–67,000
Hungary 725,000–825,000 200,000–569,000
Italy 42,500–44,500 5,596–9,000
Latvia 91,500–95,000 60,000–85,000
Lithuania 168,000 130,000–200,000
Luxembourg 3,800 720–2,000
Netherlands 140,000 98,800–120,000
Norway 1,700–1,800 758–1,000
Poland 3,300,000–3,500,000 2,700,000–3,000,000
Romania (1930) 756,000 270,000–287,000
Slovakia 136,000 68,000–100,000
Soviet Union 3,020,000 700,000–2,500,000
Yugoslavia 78,000–82,242 51,400–67,438
Total 9,702,930–10,169,332 4,707,056–7,442,390

The Jews killed represented around one third of world Jewry [417] and about two-thirds of European Jewry, based on a pre-war figure of 9.7 million Jews in Europe. [418] Most heavily concentrated in the east, the pre-war Jewish population in Europe was 3.5 million in Poland 3 million in the Soviet Union nearly 800,000 in Romania, and 700,000 in Hungary. Germany had over 500,000. [47]

The most commonly cited death toll is the six million given by Adolf Eichmann to SS member Wilhelm Höttl, who signed an affidavit mentioning this figure in 1945. [419] [ac] Historians' estimates range from 4,204,000 to 7,000,000. [420] According to Yad Vashem, "[a]ll the serious research" confirms that between five and six million Jews died. [ac]

Much of the uncertainty stems from the lack of a reliable figure for Jews in Europe in 1939, border changes that make double-counting of victims difficult to avoid, lack of accurate records from the perpetrators, and uncertainty about whether to include post-liberation deaths caused by the persecution. [421] Early postwar calculations were 4.2–4.5 million from Gerald Reitlinger, [421] 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, and 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. [422] In 1990, Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett estimated 5.59–5.86 million, [423] and in 1991, Wolfgang Benz suggested 5.29 to just over 6 million. [424] [ac] The figures include over one million children. [426]

The death camps in occupied Poland accounted for half the Jews killed. At Auschwitz, the Jewish death toll was 960,000 [427] Treblinka 870,000 [171] Bełżec 600,000 [167] Chełmno 320,000 [168] Sobibór 250,000 [170] and Majdanek 79,000. [169]

Death rates were heavily dependent on the survival of European states willing to protect their Jewish citizens. [428] In countries allied to Germany, the state's control over its citizens, including the Jews, was seen as a matter of sovereignty. The continuous presence of state institutions thereby prevented the Jewish communities' complete destruction. [428] In occupied countries, the survival of the state was likewise correlated with lower Jewish death rates: 75 percent of Jews survived in France and 99 percent in Denmark, but 75 percent died in the Netherlands, as did 99 percent of Jews who were in Estonia when the Germans arrived—the Nazis declared Estonia Judenfrei ("free of Jews") in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference. [429]

The survival of Jews in countries where states were not destroyed demonstrates the "crucial" influence of non-Germans (governments and others), according to Christian Gerlach. [430] Jews who lived where pre-war statehood was destroyed (Poland and the Baltic states) or displaced (western USSR) were at the mercy of sometimes-hostile local populations, in addition to the Germans. Almost all Jews in German-occupied Poland, the Baltic states and the USSR were killed, with a 5 percent chance of survival on average. [428] Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. [431]

Soviet civilians and POWs

The Nazis regarded the Slavs as Untermenschen. [24] German troops destroyed villages throughout the Soviet Union, [432] rounded up civilians for forced labor in Germany, and caused famine by taking foodstuffs. [433] In Belarus, Germany imposed a regime that deported 380,000 people for slave labor, killed 1.6 million, and destroyed at least 5,295 settlements. [434] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 3.3 million of 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody. [435] The death rates decreased when the POWs were needed to help the German war effort by 1943, half a million had been deployed as slave labor. [436]

Non-Jewish Poles

In a memorandum to Hitler dated 25 May 1940, "A Few Thoughts on the Treatment of the Ethnically Alien Population in the East", Himmler stated that it was in German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to an elementary-school education that would teach them how to write their names, count up to 500, work hard, and obey Germans. [437] The Polish political class became the target of a campaign of murder (Intelligenzaktion and AB-Aktion). [438] An estimated 1.8–1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed by Germans during the war. [439] At least 200,000 died in concentration camps, around 146,000 in Auschwitz. Others died in massacres or in uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising, where 120,000–200,000 were killed. [440]

Germany and its allies killed up to 220,000 Roma, around 25 percent of the community in Europe. [441] [442] Robert Ritter, head of Germany's Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit, called them "a peculiar form of the human species who are incapable of development and came about by mutation". [443] In May 1942, they were placed under similar laws to the Jews, and in December Himmler ordered that they be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. [444] He adjusted the order on 15 November 1943 to allow "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies" in the occupied Soviet areas to be viewed as citizens. [445] In Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the Roma were subject to restrictions on movement and confinement to collection camps, [446] while in Eastern Europe they were sent to concentration camps, where large numbers were murdered. [447]

Political and religious opponents

German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the first to be sent to concentration camps. [448] Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog"), a directive issued by Hitler on 7 December 1941, resulted in the disappearance, torture and death of political activists throughout German-occupied Europe the courts had sentenced 1,793 people to death by April 1944, according to Jack Fischel. [449] Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. [450] Between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died. [451] According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness." [452]

Gay men, Afro-Germans

Around 100,000 gay men were arrested in Germany and 50,000 jailed between 1933 and 1945 5,000–15,000 are thought to have been sent to concentration camps. [453] Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. [454] In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. [455] The police closed gay bars and shut down gay publications. [453] Lesbians were left relatively unaffected the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. [456] There were 5,000–25,000 Afro-Germans in Germany when the Nazis came to power. [457] Although blacks in Germany and German-occupied Europe were subjected to incarceration, sterilization and murder, there was no program to kill them as a group. [458]


The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held after the war by the Allies in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the German leadership. The first was the 1945–1946 trial of 22 political and military leaders before the International Military Tribunal. [459] Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels had committed suicide months earlier. [460] The prosecution entered indictments against 24 men (two were dropped before the end of the trial) [ad] and seven organizations: the Reich Cabinet, Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), Gestapo, Sturmabteilung (SA), and the "General Staff and High Command". [461]

The indictments were for participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. [461] Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'." [462]

The subsequent Nuremberg trials, 1946–1949, tried another 185 defendants. [463] West Germany initially tried few ex-Nazis, but after the 1958 Ulm Einsatzkommando trial, the government set up a dedicated agency. [464] Other trials of Nazis and collaborators took place in Western and Eastern Europe. In 1960 Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial on 15 indictments, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people. He was convicted in December 1961 and executed in June 1962. Eichmann's trial and death revived interest in war criminals and the Holocaust in general. [465]


The government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany in March 1951 to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews. Israelis were divided about the idea of taking money from Germany. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) was opened in New York, and after negotiations the claim was reduced to $845 million . [466] [467]

West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations in 1988. Companies such as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Ford, Opel, Siemens, and Volkswagen faced lawsuits for their use of forced labor during the war. [466] In response, Germany set up the "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" Foundation in 2000, which paid €4.45 billion to former slave laborers (up to €7,670 each). [468] In 2013 Germany agreed to provide €772 million to fund nursing care, social services, and medication for 56,000 Holocaust survivors around the world. [469] The French state-owned railway company, the SNCF, agreed in 2014 to pay $60 million to Jewish-American survivors, around $100,000 each, for its role in the transport of 76,000 Jews from France to extermination camps between 1942 and 1944. [470]

Historikerstreit and the uniqueness question

In the early decades of Holocaust studies, scholars approached the Holocaust as a genocide unique in its reach and specificity. [471] This was questioned in the 1980s during the West German Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute"), an attempt to re-position the Holocaust within German historiography. [472] [ae]

Ernst Nolte triggered the Historikerstreit in June 1986 with an article in the conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but no longer delivered." [474] [af] The Nazi era was suspended like a sword over Germany's present, he wrote, rather than being studied as an historical event like any other. Comparing Auschwitz to the Gulag, he suggested that the Holocaust was a response to Hitler's fear of the Soviet Union: "Did the Gulag Archipelago not precede Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the 'racial murder' of National Socialism? . Was Auschwitz perhaps rooted in a past that would not pass?" [ag]

Nolte's arguments were viewed as an attempt to normalize the Holocaust. [478] [ah] In September 1986 in Die Zeit, Eberhard Jäckel responded that "never before had a state, with the authority of its leader, decided and announced that a specific group of humans, including the elderly, women, children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, then carried out this resolution using every possible means of state power." [h] Despite the criticism of Nolte, the Historikerstreit put "the question of comparison" on the agenda, according to Dan Stone in 2010. [472] Stone argued that the idea of the Holocaust as unique was overtaken by attempts to place it within the context of Stalinism, ethnic cleansing, and the Nazis' intentions for post-war "demographic reordering", particularly the Generalplan Ost, the plan to kill tens of millions of Slavs to create living space for Germans. [480] Jäckel's position continued nevertheless to inform the views of many specialists. Richard J. Evans argued in 2015:

Thus although the Nazi "Final Solution" was one genocide among many, it had features that made it stand out from all the rest as well. Unlike all the others it was bounded neither by space nor by time. It was launched not against a local or regional obstacle, but at a world-enemy seen as operating on a global scale. It was bound to an even larger plan of racial reordering and reconstruction involving further genocidal killing on an almost unimaginable scale, aimed, however, at clearing the way in a particular region – Eastern Europe – for a further struggle against the Jews and those the Nazis regarded as their puppets. It was set in motion by ideologues who saw world history in racial terms. It was, in part, carried out by industrial methods. These things all make it unique.

  1. ^ abc Matt Brosnan (Imperial War Museum, 2018): "The Holocaust was the systematic murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War." [23]

Yad Vashem (undated): "The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jew under their domination." [30]

SS General Reinhard Heydrich (chief of the Reich Security Main Office) SS Major General Heinrich Müller (Gestapo) SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Referat IV B4) SS Colonel Eberhard Schöngarth (commander of the RSHA field office for the Government General in Krakow, Poland) SS Major Rudolf Lange (commander of RSHA Einsatzkommando 2) and SS Major General Otto Hofmann (chief of SS Race and Settlement Main Office).

Roland Freisler (Ministry of Justice) Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (Reich Cabinet) Alfred Meyer (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories-German-occupied USSR) Georg Leibrandt (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories) Martin Luther (Foreign Office) Wilhelm Stuckart (Ministry of the Interior) Erich Neumann (Office of Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan), Josef Bühler (Office of the Government of the Governor General-German-occupied Poland) Gerhard Klopfer (Nazi Party Chancellery). [289]

Translation, Avalon Project: "These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question." [293]

The speech that could not be delivered referred to a lecture Nolte had planned to give to the Römerberg-Gesprächen (Römerberg Colloquium) in Frankfurt he said his invitation had been withdrawn, which the organisers disputed. [476] At that point, his lecture had the title "The Past That Will Not Pass: To Debate or to Draw the Line?". [477]


  1. ^"Deportation of Hungarian Jews". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 25 November 2017 . Retrieved 6 October 2017 .
  2. ^ abLandau 2016, p. 3.
  3. ^Bloxham 2009, p. 1.
  4. ^
  5. "Remaining Jewish Population of Europe in 1945". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018.
  6. ^ abc
  7. "Killing Centers: An Overview". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017.
  8. ^ For the date, see Marcuse 2001, p. 21.
  9. ^Stackelberg & Winkle 2002, pp. 141–143.
  10. ^Gray 2015, p. 5.
  11. ^ abStone 2010, pp. 2–3.
  12. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1.
  13. ^
  14. "Holocaust". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 October 2017 . Retrieved 4 October 2017 .
  15. ^
  16. Gilad, Elon (1 May 2019). "Shoah: How a Biblical Term Became the Hebrew Word for Holocaust". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 1 December 2019.
  17. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1
  18. "Holocaust" (PDF) . Yad Vashem. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 February 2018.

Knowlton & Cates 1993, pp. 18–23 partly reproduced in "The Past That Will Not Pass" (translation), German History in Documents and Images.

Forgotten Holocaust! Hitler’s first extermination camp where over 200,000 were murdered in four years

Although little-known, the camp in Chełmno nad Nerem stands out in the grim history of the Holocaust for serving as a model for later sites at Treblinka, Sobibór, Bełżec and Auschwitz II Birkenau. Public domain

About 70km north of Łódź lies one of the lesser-known horrors of WWII.

Between December 1941 and January 1945 Hitler’s Nazi thugs murdered around 200,000 people, mainly Jews, in the village of Chełmno nad Nerem.

Known in German as Kulmhof, the camp is the least known of Germany’s wartime extermination camps, and in many aspects it was unique.

Known in German as Kulmhof, the camp was the first Nazi-German camp set up specifically to murder large numbers of people. Stuart Dowell/TFN

It was the first German camp set up specifically to murder large numbers of people , among its victims were Polish, German, Austrian, Czech, French and Luxembourg Jews, as well as Roma and Sinti, Czech and Polish children.

Also included in the death toll were Polish soldiers, priests, elderly people from nursing homes and Soviet POWs.

Unlike other death camps, victims were exterminated within a village in which local people went about their business. Corpses were taken to a separate site a few kilometres away to be buried or burned.

It was also different from other extermination camps as it was a local initiative thought up by leaders of the Warthegau, the part of western Poland annexed to German after 1939, to cleanse the territory of Jews and Germanise the territory and not initially part of the later Final Solution.

A Magirus-Deutz gas van used by the Germans for suffocation at the Chełmno extermination camp the exhaust fumes were diverted into the sealed rear compartment where the victims were locked in. Public domain

The camp stands out in the grim history of the Holocaust for another reason. It served as a model for later sites at Treblinka, Sobibór, Bełżec and Auschwitz II Birkenau. Methods for tricking vast numbers of victims into taking bogus showers, murdering them with gas and disposing of their bodies were refined at Kulmhof and deployed at other killing centres.

Controversially, it was also the only extermination camp in which Poles, a group of eight, assisted killing operations as prisoners.

Yet, for all its importance in the largest planned mass murder in the history of humanity, the name Kulmhof does not resonate in Holocaust memory the way the names of other camps do.

In an attempt to keep the memory of what happened over 75 years ago alive, the Stacja Radegast museum in Łódź, which commemorates the railway station from where Jews were transported to Kulmhof and later to Auschwitz, takes groups of local people to the camp to learn its history.

The use of the killing centre at Chełmno for the mass murder of Jews deported to the Łódź Ghetto was initiated by Nazi monster Arthur Greiser. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E05455 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Andrzej Grzegorczyk, an educator from the museum and the guide for my visit, explained: “It was the first camp but still it is not one of the symbols of the Holocaust. The museum was only opened in 1990 in the forest part and then in 1998 in the village.

“It is the last museum of a former death camp to be opened in Poland. That’s why when people think about the Holocaust they don’t think about Chełmno.”

Arriving in Chełmno after an hour-long coach journey from Łódź, the scene is bucolic. The attractive village church where victims spent their last night there in the liminal space between life and death draws our attention. Today, it is hosting a wedding.

Bunting has been put up on the street outside the house where the camp commandant lived. A sign next to the village fire station where German security police were barracked guides revellers to the wedding party down the road.

The camp commandant’s house still stands on the site where hundreds of thousands were exterminated. Stuart Dowell/TFN

While the site functioned, the German perpetrators lived in barracks and private houses spread throughout the village, not behind barbed wire fences like in other death camps.

We enter the palace complex and gather on a newly constructed terrace that provides a view down onto the foundations of the destroyed palace where victims were processed.

The first transport of Jews arrived on 7 December 1941 from the Koło region. They spent the night in the church next to the camp and were murdered the next day. They didn’t know they were going to be murdered, being told they had arrived at a transit station on their way to work as forced labourers in the Reich.

In the morning they were informed they would have to undergo disinfection and medical examinations. SS-men wearing white coats pretending to be medics waited for them with a translator.

Andrzej Grzegorczyk from the Stacja Radegast museum in Łódź, which commemorates the railway station from where Jews were transported to Kulmhof and later to Auschwitz, takes groups to the camp to learn its history. Stuart Dowell/TFN

The victims were lead to a large empty room and ordered to undress their clothing stacked for disinfection. They were told that all hidden banknotes would be destroyed during steaming and needed to be taken out and handed over for safe-keeping.

In the palace there was a waiting room where the victims undressed. The men were allowed to keep their underpants on and women their slips. From there the Germans directed the victims to the cellars, telling them that they would be deloused and undergo medical examination.

At this stage all pretence was dropped. The Germans used clubs to drive the victims up the stairs, through a long corridor, towards a ramp, and then forced them into trucks that had been specially adapted to gas them to death.

In the first few months at Kulmhof, carbon monoxide in cylinders was used. Later, victims were killed with exhaust fumes from the trucks. At the beginning of the camp's operation, two smaller trucks were used that could hold up to 80-100 victims. Later, a larger truck was brought to the camp that held 175 victims.

Children from the Łódź ghetto during deportation to the camp in Chełmno nad Nerem. Public domain

Initially, victims were gassed on route to the burial site, but this was changed as the panicked thrashing of those inside could turn the truck on its side. On one occasion, the truck broke down and local people could hear the screaming of victims coming from inside the truck. Under new rules, victims were gassed while the truck was stationary at the palace complex.

The bodies were then taken to a forest clearing at Rzuchów 4 km away from Chełmno. A group of Jewish prisoners buried the corpses there in hand dug graves ranging from 60 to 230 metres long.

Grzegorczyk delivers these facts to the group, who listen intently. We enter the only surviving building, the granary, where a video plays of Szymon Srebnik, who at the age of 15 was selected from a transport to join a work detail and who escaped after being shot in the back of his head at close range two days before the Russians arrived in 1945.

The room is fringed with objects from the camp in display cases – a spoon, a bowl, a comb – creating a tragic visual collage familiar to those who have visited the exhibitions at Auschwitz.

Burial pits: After having annihilated almost all Jews of Warthegau district, in March 1943 the Germans closed the camp. The SS ordered the complete demolition of the palace buildings and to hide the evidence of their crimes they ordered the exhumation of all remains and burning of bodies in the open-air cremation pits. Stuart Dowell/TFN

We clamber back onto the coach and travel along the country road in silence to the forest site where the mass graves are located.

By the spring of 1942, the Germans faced a serious problem. The grave pits had soon filled up and the decomposing and bloated bodies were causing the ground to move and swell. A terrible smell permeated the whole area and the Germans were terrified of an epidemic. Tests using bombs to destroy exhumed bodies were unsuccessful as the weapons set fire to nearby forests. The most effective method was found to be burning the victims on huge pyres made of concrete slabs and rail tracks.

After having annihilated almost all Jews of Warthegau district, in March 1943 the Germans closed the camp. The SS ordered the complete demolition of the palace buildings and to hide the evidence of their crimes they ordered the exhumation of all remains and burning of bodies in the open-air cremation pits.

Jewish prisoners were ordered to crush larger bones that hadn’t fully burned with mallets. The ashes were transported every night in sacks to the Ner and Warta rivers. Sometimes these sacks were sold to farmers as fertilizer. Eventually, a bone-crushing machine was brought from Hamburg to speed up the process.

The attractive village church where victims spent their last night in the liminal space between life and death. Stuart Dowell/TFN

In June 1944, killing commenced again at the camp to complete the annihilation of the remaining Jews from the Łódź ghetto. Extermination was carried out directly in the forest.

When the killings ended, the final group of Jewish prisoners, numbering around 47, were held in the granary next to a demolished palace. On the night of 17 January 1945 when the Germans finally evacuated, the SS carried out the last executions. Prisoners were lead out of the granary in groups of five and murdered by being shot in the back of their heads.

Finally, the desperate prisoners locked in the granary revolted and killed two of the guards. The Germans set the granary on fire and the remaining prisoners burned to death.

A thick humidity blankets the forest and we end the tour at the gate of remembrance where individuals, families and organisations have placed plaques remembering the victims.

A solitary Star of David looks over a mass grave at the former extermination camp. Stuart Dowell/TFN

The group has so far absorbed the horrific details in relative silence. But now, given the chance, they pepper Grzegorczyk with questions. Did the victims know they were going to be killed? Did the locals in the village know what was happening? What happened to the perpetrators after the war?

Emotions rise to the surface – disgust, anger, despair and sadness are written of their faces as they try to comprehend what had happened in their region over 75 years ago.

Their pained response is visible proof of the value of the museum’s educational tours.

“People want to understand. If they understand, maybe in the future they can change something,” says Grzegorczyk.

Arizona prepares for death row executions with gas once used by Nazis

After nearly seven years, Arizona will begin to execute death row inmates again &mdash and has purchased the ingredients to make hydrogen cyanide, or HCN, a lethal gas once used by Nazis.

Zyklon B, a powerful insecticide, is a carrier for hydrogen cyanide, which was used to kill Jews at Auschwitz, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. HCN, which is extremely poisonous to humans, is the cause of death following the application of Zyklon B.

An average of 6,000 Jews were killed each day using Zyklon B at the Auschwitz II killing center, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Zyklon B has been used in execution gas chambers in the U.S, with the first built in 1920 in Arizona. Now, the state is acquiring more of the lethal gas.

According to documents obtained by The Guardian, the Arizona Department of Corrections ordered ingredients to make HCN. The department paid more than $2,000, according to the redacted documents, which were obtained by the publication through a public records request.

The department is also refurbishing an old gas chamber that was built in 1949 and was used for 22 years, according to the Guardian.

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In a statement to CBS News, the Arizona Department of Corrections said it "is prepared to perform its legal obligation and commence the execution process as part of the legally imposed sentence, regardless of method selected. (The department) stands ready, with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, to carry out court orders and deliver justice to the victims' families.

"According to (Arizona law), a defendant who is sentenced to death for an offense committed before November 23, 1992 shall choose either lethal injection or lethal gas at least twenty days before the execution date. If the defendant fails to choose either lethal injection or lethal gas, the penalty of death shall be by lethal injection."

According to the nonprofit organization Death Penalty Information Center, 27 states currently retain the death penalty. There are 119 people on Arizona's death row and the state has executed 37 people since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

Arizona hasn't executed a death row inmate since 2014, when Joseph Wood's execution by lethal injection took two hours, the longest in U.S. history. It was supposed to take 10 minutes, but the botched execution went horribly awry.

"Witnesses reported that Wood gasped and snorted more than 600 times during the execution," the Death Penalty Information Center said in a press release. "Subsequent litigation forced the state to abandon that execution protocol."

In March, the department announced it would begin using a new execution protocol, the barbiturate pentobarbital, according to the center. However, the department said it could not obtain a supply of the lethal injection drug.

But last month, The Guardian reported that documents it had obtained revealed the department spent $1.5 million to purchase pentobarbital from an undisclosed source.

Death Penalty Information Center says the department faced criticism for spending so much money when its infrastructure was crumbling, it was understaffed and it was providing "substandard medical care."

"The exorbitant price, experts say, is a function of the questionable use of the drug for non-medical purposes and the secretive nature of the transaction," the center said in a press release. CBS News has reached out to the center for comment and is awaiting a response.

The state is facing criticism yet again for obtaining the means to make HCN, the chemical in Zyklon B. "The proposal to use Zyklon B in executions is not only insulting to the victims of the Holocaust, but also shows a grave lack of understanding of its history at a time when knowledge of this horrific event is at an all-time low," Kathrin Meyer, secretary general of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, said in a statement to CBS News.

"This example reminds us of our responsibility to advance Holocaust education around the world," Meyer said. "The IHRA will continue to engage governments and educators, using our Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, to enhance understanding of the historical events of the past."

Arizona has a controversial history with trying to obtain lethal drugs to kill death row inmates. In 2015, Arizona tried to illegally import sodium thiopental. The drug, which had been used to carry out executions, was no longer manufactured by companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and federal agents seized the shipment at the Phoenix airport before the drugs made it to the department.

First published on June 2, 2021 / 4:06 PM

© 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Caitlin O'Kane is a digital content producer covering trending stories for CBS News and its good news brand, The Uplift.

Types of Camps

Many people refer to all of the Nazi incarceration sites during the Holocaust as concentration camps. The term concentration camp is used very loosely to describe places of incarceration and murder under the Nazi regime, however, not all sites established by the Nazis were concentration camps. Nazi-established sites include:

  • Concentration camps: For the detention of civilians seen as real or perceived “enemies of the Reich.”
  • Forced-labor camps: In forced-labor camps, the Nazi regime brutally exploited the labor of prisoners for economic gain and to meet labor shortages. Prisoners lacked proper equipment, clothing, nourishment, or rest.
  • Transit camps: Transit camps functioned as temporary holding facilities for Jews awaiting deportation. These camps were usually the last stop before deportations to a killing center.
  • Prisoner-of-war camps: For Allied prisoners of war, including Poles and Soviet soldiers.
  • Killing centers: Established primarily or exclusively for the assembly-line style murder of large numbers of people immediately upon arrival to the site. There were 5 killing centers for the murder primarily of Jews. The term is also used to describe “euthanasia” sites for the murder of disabled patients.

Other types of incarceration sites numbered in the tens of thousands. These included but were not limited to early camps “euthanasia” facilities for the murder of disabled patients Gestapo, SS and German justice detention centers so-called “Gypsy” camps, and Germanization facilities.

World War Two: Holocaust happened on British soil too, 75-year-old report suggests

75 years since it was complied, a report into the Nazi atrocities on Alderney can be seen in public for the first time.

The secret Pantcheff report is supposed to be locked up in British archives until 2045 but a copy was given to Russia and it has now been revealed from within Russian archives.

It is a paper that makes grim reading but for historian Marcus Roberts it casts light on one of the darkest events ever to have occurred on British soil.

He says, the report makes the explicit conclusion that the crimes on Alderney were “systematically brutal and callous” and that there was a “long-standing policy of maintaining inhumane conditions, under nourishment, ill-treatment and over work” and that the key cause of death was “starvation assisted by the physical ill-treatment and over-work”.

The classified report written by British intelligence officer Major Theodore Pantcheff and reveals what he found through a series of interviews on Alderney at the end war. It is a sobering read.

For those who study this dark period the report provides fresh evidence. Both of the scale of death which Marcus Roberts believes adds up to many thousands of Eastern Europeans but also hundreds of Jewish prisoners too.

He believes this is proof that the Holocaust happened on British soil and not just over in Europe.

The Channel Islands fell under German occupation in the war with Jersey and Guernsey operating under Nazi rule. But it was Alderney and its concentration camps that witnessed mass death. Adding to the history is important to some of those who live here.

Graham McKinley from the States of Alderney says: "A number of people are interested in the history of Alderney and getting to the truth, so this is a remarkable document.

"People have been thinking about this for some time and wondering why the original Pantcheff report is classified until 2045".

The secret Pantcheff report is now public because Russia was given a copy by Britain and it has been uncovered. Some argue Britain classed it as confidential because few wished to dwell on the issue of mass killings and burials on the island. But documents have a way of becoming public and with it history is itself being rewritten.