The events that took place in the Holocaust had many victims. Most were Jews, but there were many others. Serbs, Poles, Soviets, communists, homosexuals, Roma and Gypsies to name a few. Then there were the mentally ill, the physically disabled, intellectuals, political activists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy, trade unionists, some Africans, Asians and others who did not belong to the "Aryan race". Others were enemy nationals, common criminals, and people otherwise labeled as "Enemies of the State". These victims all perished alongside one another in the camps, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (written and photographed), eyewitness testimonies (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders), and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation.
Jews[edit | edit source]
Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s (though its roots go back much further). Adolf Hitler's fanatical brand of racial anti-Semitism was laid out in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, which, though largely ignored when it was first printed, became a bestseller in Germany once Hitler gained political power.
On April 1, 1933, shortly after Hitler's accession to power, the Nazis, led mainly by Julius Streicher, and the Sturmabteilung, organized a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. A series of increasingly harsh laws were soon passed in quick succession. Under the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service”, passed by the Reichstag on April 7, 1933, all Jewish civil servants at the Reich, Länder, and municipal levels of government were fired immediately. The "Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service" marked the first time since Germany's unification in 1871 that an anti-Semitic law had been passed in Germany. This was followed by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 that prevented marriage between any Jew and non-Jew, and stripped all Jews of German citizenships (their official title became "subject of the state") and of their basic civil rights, e.g., to vote. Similar restrictions and harassment of 100,000 Germans of part-Jewish descent, known as "mischling" was part of the Nazi regime's fanatical anti-Semitic binge, though most "mischling" are not considered for extermination in the Holocaust.
In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them exerting any influence in education, politics, higher education and industry. On 15 November 1938, Jewish children were banned from going to normal schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been forced to sell out to the Nazi-German government as part of the "Aryanization" policy inaugurated in 1937.
As the war started, large massacres of Jews took place, and, by December 1941, Hitler decided to completely exterminate European Jews. In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Bühler urged Reinhard Heydrich to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps: Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór and Treblinka II. Sebastian Haffner published the analysis in 1978 that Hitler from December 1941 accepted the failure of his goal to dominate Europe forever on his declaration of war against the United States, but that his withdrawal and apparent calm thereafter was sustained by the achievement of his second goal—the extermination of the Jews. Even as the Nazi war machine faltered in the last years of the war, precious military resources such as fuel, transport, munitions, soldiers and industrial resources were still being heavily diverted away from the war and towards the death camps.
Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in the world before the war, had had over 90% of its Jewish population, or about 3,000,000 Jews, killed. The penalty imposed by the Germans for hiding Jews was death, and this was carried out mercilessly. In spite of this some Poles hid Jewish children and families and saved their lives at risk to their own families.
Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Latvia each had over 70% of their Jewish population destroyed. Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia lost around half of their Jewish population, the Soviet Union over one third of its Jews, and even countries such as France and Italy had each seen around a quarter of their Jewish population killed. Denmark was able to evacuate almost all of the Jews in their country to nearby Sweden, which was neutral during the war. Using everything from fishing boats to private yachts, the Danes whisked the Danish Jews out of harm's way. Some Jews outside Europe under Nazi occupation were also affected by the Holocaust and treatment from the Nazis.
Poles[edit | edit source]
Poles were one of the first targets of extermination by Hitler, as outlined in the speech he gave the Wehrmacht commanders before the invasion of Poland in 1939. The intelligentsia and socially prominent or influential people were primarily targeted, although there were some mass murders committed against the general population, as well as against other groups of Slavs.
The Nazi occupation of Poland (General Government, Reichsgau Wartheland) was one of the most brutal episodes of World War Two, resulting in 1.8-1.9 million non-Jewish deaths in addition to three million Polish Jews. Scholars disagree as to what proportion of these non-Jewish Polish civilian deaths during the Nazi conquest and occupation of Poland were part of the Holocaust, though there is no doubt of the eventual genocidal intentions of the Nazis towards the Poles. At least 140,000 Poles were sent to Auschwitz, and the Polish intelligentsia were the first targets of the Einsatzgruppen death squads.
Soviets[edit | edit source]
During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, millions of Red Army prisoners of war were arbitrarily executed in the field by the invading German armies (in particular by the notorious Waffen SS), died under inhuman conditions in German prisoner of war camps and during death marches, or were shipped to extermination camps for execution.
Thousands of Soviet (Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian) peasant villages were annihilated by German troops for more or less the same reason. During occupation, Russia's Leningrad, Pskov and Novgorod region lost around a quarter of its population. Some estimate that as many as one quarter of all Soviet civilian deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies were racially motivated, or 5 million Russian deaths, 3 million Ukrainian deaths and 1.5 million Belarusian deaths.
Romanies (Gypsies)[edit | edit source]
(For more information, see Romanies)
Proportional to their population, the death toll of Romanies (Roma, Sinti, and Manush) in the Holocaust was the worst of any group of victims. Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Romani population of Europe involved a particularly bizarre application of Nazi "racial hygiene". Although, despite discriminatory measures, some Romani groups, including some of the Sinti and Lalleri of Germany, were spared deportation and death, the remaining Romani groups suffered much like the Jews.
Between one quarter to one half of the Romani population was killed, upwards of 220,000 people. In Eastern Europe, Roma were deported to the Jewish ghettoes, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen in their villages, and deported and gassed in Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Serbs[edit | edit source]
Another group of victims of Holocaust were Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia. Estimates for the number of Serbs killed are a matter of recent controversy. Simon Wiesenthal center, German sources from WWII, historians from SFRY during Tito's era and most Serbian sources cite numbers over 1,000,000, but some Croatian sources give estimates in the range of 330,000 to 390,000, with 26,170 Serbs killed in Jasenovac concentration camp. The Ustaše genocide of Serbs is perhaps the only chapter in Holocaust where Germans (as well as Italians), including SS troops, acted to protect the group from the actions of their collaborators - over-enthusiastic Croat Ustaše, who started mass killings at the rate unseen by that time (from the onset of the puppet regime in 1941), prompting appalled Germans to restrain the puppet government. The chief architect of Croatian holocaust against Serbs was Mile Budak.
The genocide of Serbs had religious background. Although both Serbs and Croats were Slavs, speaking almost identical language, Serbs are Orthodox Christians while Croats are Catholics. Involvement of Catholic Clergy was important since forced conversion to Catholicism was sometimes an alternative to killing, and organizations such as Catholic Crusaders gave some of the most enthusiastic and notorious participants in the genocide. The commander of Jasenovac camp, Miroslav Filipović was a Catholic friar. Killings were done in concentration camps, but also by destroying villages, burning Orthodox churches packed with Serbs who were forced inside, filling foiba pits with bodies of victims etc.
People with Disabilities[edit | edit source]
Several hundred thousand mentally and physically disabled people also were executed. Following a eugenics policy, the Nazis believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed to be cared for by others, but first and foremost, the mentally and physically handicapped were considered an affront to Nazi notions of a society peopled by a perfect, superhuman Aryan race. Around 400,000 individuals were sterilized against their will for having mental deficiencies or illnesses deemed to be hereditary in nature.
People with disabilities were among the first to be killed, and the United States Holocaust Memorial museum notes that the T-4 Euthanasia Program, established in 1939, became the "model" for future exterminations by the Nazi regime. The T-4 Program was established in order to maintain the "purity" of the so-called Aryan race by systematically killing children and adults born with physical deformities or suffering from mental illness. The controversy over the discovery of asperger's syndrome, a mild "high-functioning" form of autism was said to originated from the neuro-behavioral study of mental patients in Nazi state hospitals, remains sketchy to most experts.
Freemasons[edit | edit source]
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler writes that Freemasonry has "succumbed" to the Jews and has become an "excellent instrument" to fight for their aims and to use their "strings" to pull the upper strata of society into their alleged designs. He continues, "The general pacifistic paralysis of the national instinct of self-preservation begun by Freemasonry" is then transmitted to the masses of society by the press. In 1933 Hermann Goering, the Reichstag President and one of the key figures in the process of Gleichschaltung ("synchronization"), states "..in National Socialist Germany, there is no place for Freemasonry."
The Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz in German) was passed by Germany's parliament (the Reichstag) on March 23, 1933. Using the "Act", on January 8, 1934 the German Ministry of the Interior ordered the disbandment of Freemasonry, and confiscation of the property of all Lodges; stating that those who had been members of Lodges when Hitler came to power, in January 1933, were prohibited from holding office in the Nazi party or its paramilitary arms, and were ineligible for appointment in public service. Consistently considered an ideological foe of Nazism in their world perception (Weltauffassung), special sections of the Security Service (SD) and later the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) were established to deal with the Freemasonry. Freemasonic concentration camp inmates were graded as “Political” prisoners, and wore an inverted (point down) red triangle. On August 8, 1935, as Führer and Chancellor, Adolf Hitler announced in the Nazi Party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter, the final dissolution of all Masonic Lodges in Germany. The article accused a conspiracy of the Fraternity and “World Jewry” of seeking to create a “World Republic”.
Estimates calculate that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons died. It is impossible to arrive at a total figure as no one knows the number of Freemasons from occupied countries who were killed.
German communists[edit | edit source]
After the February 27, 1933 Reichstag fire, an attack blamed on the communists, Hitler declared a state of emergency and had president von Hindenburg sign the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended the Weimar Constitution for the whole duration of the Third Reich. In March 1933, three Bulgarians, Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Tanev and Blagoi Popov, members of the Comintern, were arrested and wrongly accused of the fire. As a result, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was the first party to be forbidden, on March 1, 1933, on the grounds that they were preparing a putsch. This allowed the NSDAP to vote the March 23, 1933 Enabling Act, which enabled Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his cabinet to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag. These two laws signals the implementation of the Gleichschaltung, which is how the Nazis established their totalitarian rule. On May 2, 1933, following Labor Day, the trade union association ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) was shattered, when SA and NSBO (Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation) units occupied union facilities and ADGB leaders were imprisoned. Other important associations were forced to merge with the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF) in the following months.
About 100,000 communists were killed, being among the first ones, along with disabled people, to be sent to concentration camps. There had been earlier attempts at sterilizing them using X-rays. German communists concerned Hitler due to their ties with the Soviet Union and the Jewish community, as well as their threat to German fascism. Hitler probably took into account that Karl Marx himself was a Jew.
German homosexuals[edit | edit source]
(For more information, see Homosexuals)
Homosexuals were also targets of the Holocaust, as homosexuality was deemed incompatible with Nazism because of their failure to reproduce the "master race." This was combined with the belief among the Nazis that homosexuality could be contagious. Template:Cn Initially homosexuality was discreetly tolerated while officially shunned. By 1936 Heinrich Himmler led an effort to persecute homosexuals under existing and new anti-homosexual laws.
More than one million homosexual German men were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as convicted homosexual men. An additional unknown number were institutionalized in state-run mental hospitals. Hundreds of European homosexual men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order. The deaths of at least an estimated 15,000 homosexual men in concentration camps were officially documented, but it is difficult to put an exact number on just how many homosexual men perished in death camps. Some homosexual men were also used in medical experiments. According to Heinz Heger, in the concentration camps homosexual men "suffered a higher mortality rate than other relatively small victim groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and political prisoners."
Homosexual women were not normally treated as harshly as homosexual men. They were labeled "anti-social," but were rarely sent to camps for engaging in acts of homosexuality.
Religious dissidents[edit | edit source]
The Nazis also targeted some religious groups, though Jews were actually the main target for total extermination during the Holocaust.
Around 2,500-5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses perished in concentration camps, where they were held for political and ideological reasons. Additionally, some members of the Catholic clergy were killed by the Nazis, many of whom were either of Jewish background (as in the case of Edith Stein) or were killed as part of the Nazis campaign against the Polish intelligentsia. In the countries in which Roman Catholic bishops, and even Roman Catholics themselves had openly protested and attacked Nazi policies, like in the Netherlands and Poland where bishops and priests had protested to the deportations of Jews, the clergy was either threatened with deportation themselves and kept in custody (case of German bishop Clemens von Galen), or directly deported to concentration camps (as in the cases of the Dutch Carmelite priest Titus Brandsma and Polish Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, who was later canonized). Some dissenting Protestant clergy, such as those who founded the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, were also persecuted.
Others[edit | edit source]
The Nazi regime promoted xenophobia of all "non-Aryan" races. Black and Asian residents in Germany, and black prisoners of war, were also victims; often being singled out in internment camps. Japan, which signed on September 27, 1940 the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, was therefore part of the Axis Pact, and no Japanese were known to be deliberately imprisoned or killed. Thousands of persons (mostly diplomats) belonging to certain nationalities associated with the Allies, as well as Spanish Civil War refugees in occupied France, were also interned or executed. Additionally, after Italy changed sides in 1943, thousands of Italian nationals, including many former Italian Army soldiers disarmed by the Germans, were sent to concentration camps. In the late 1930s, the Nazi program to punish many rich German persons as "enemies of the state" have confiscated properties and placed thousands of them in concentration camps. According to Nazi policy, the rich elite manipulated the German economy and hold seditious liberal views. "Social deviants": prostitutes, vagrants, alcoholics, drug addicts and common criminals were also targeted and often interred in concentration camps. Hitler disliked an array of people he believed cheated or morally corrupted the country; people like women's rights groups activists, tobacco salespeople and astrologers were sent to concentration camps simply because Hitler never liked them.