Although the word “holocaust” is technically a general term that refers to the violent deaths of a large number of people, most know this word as referring to one event in history, which was the systematic mass murder of European Jews by the German Nazi Party during World War II.
Number of People Killed
Approximately 6 million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust of World War II. Other groups were victims of this purging campaign as well, including Soviet civilians and prisoners of war (2 – 3 million), homosexual men (5,000 – 15,000), Poles (1.8 – 2 million), and disabled people (200,000 – 250,000). Around 5 million Jews were killed in Central and Eastern Europe, while in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, and Yugoslavia, hundreds of thousands were killed.
Meaning of the Word
The word holocaust comes from the Greek “holokauston”, which means a completely burnt sacrifice to a god.
Precursor to the Killing
Before the campaign of murder began, legislation was enacted to remove all Jews from German society. Jewish workers were fired from their jobs and expelled from their Universities. Their land was also seized.
Anyone with at least three Jewish grandparents was to be killed with no exception.
In addition to exterminating the Jews, German scientists used them as human subjects in medical experiments as well. At several of the concentration camps, prisoners were subjected to such horrors as being frozen, amputations, injections into the eyes, and being placed in pressure chambers. Perhaps the worst physician was Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a particular affinity for experimenting on Romani children. Most subjects who lived through his experiments where killed and dissected immediately after.
Many people deny that the Holocaust even occurred. They claim that the whole thing is a hoax that is being perpetrated by the Jewish community in order to advance Jewish interests. The act of denying the Holocaust is illegal in 13 countries, including Germany, France, and Poland. Noted Holocaust deniers include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran; Bobby Fischer, the famous chess Grandmaster; and David Duke, onetime Presidential candidate.
One of the goals of the German Nazi Party during this time period was the “complete destruction” of the people of Poland. Germany occupied Poland and attempted to clear the country of ethnic Poles so that the country could be resettled by Germans. The plan was to kill most of the Polish citizens by 1952, with the ones remaining to become slaves for the new settlers of the country.
The Disabled and Mentally Ill
In 1939, the Nazi Party created a program called “Aktion T4”, the goal of which was to purify the genes of the German population. Any German or Austrian citizens who were disabled or mentally ill were to be either killed or sterilized. It is estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults were exterminated in institutions from 1939 to 1941. During the same time period, 5,000 institutionalized children were killed. The forced sterilization campaign claimed another 300,000 victims.