#The destruction of the European Jews 1941 – 1945
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#The destruction of the Jews in …
In 1939, Poland was home to more Jews than any other European nation – approximately 3.3 million. All Jews living in areas occupied by Germany were forced to live in ghettos, and later deported to various concentration camps.
The Nazis set up the first concentration camp on Polish soil in Chelmno. It was in operation intermittently between December 1941 and January 1945. Mainly Jews from ghettos in the Polish town of Lodz were brought there. Approximately 300,000 Jews, as well as 5,000 Sinti and Roma, were killed with only three gas vans.
In March 1942, shortly after the Wannsee Conference, the Nazis set up the extermination camps Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Those camps were solely for extermination and part of the “Final Solution”. The people who were brought there weren’t selected, but instead all gassed upon their arrival, and subsequently buried in the woods or burned in pits. This procedure only took a few hours and so several transports per day could be “dealt with”. Roughly 1.7 million people met their death in these camps.
At the end of 1941, the Germans set up a camp for Soviet prisoners of war in Majdanek, which was extended to include gas chambers and crematoria in 1942. Until its liberation by the Red Army, approximately 78,000 people were killed in this camp.
#Germany and Austria
Only about 500,000 Jews lived in Germany when the Second World War started; those who could afford it had fled during the previous years. The Jewish population in Austria consisted of between 60,000 and 65,000 members in September 1939, most of them lived in Vienna. Nearly all of them were deported to concentration camps, so-called labour camps or extermination camps where they were gruesomely killed.
Photo: Deportation Ghetto Warschau – Żydowski Instytut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw)
During the first couple of week following the invasion, mainly Jewish men were shot, but soon even women and children were killed for they were viewed as ‘worthless eaters’ incapable of work. Special units of the SS were involved in these killings, alongside the Wehrmacht. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were able to flee to the Soviet inland but the Nazis managed to kill roughly 2 million people in woods, valleys and fields.
When the war began, approximately 4,500 Jews lived in Estonia, mainly in the capital city of Tallinn. The Soviet Union gained control of the small Baltic country in 1940 but in July 1941 it was occupied by the German Reich. The task forces which arrived soon after that started the extermination of the Estonian Jews with the support of local militias. By the time of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, Estonia was considered “Jew free”.
Photo: Prisoners are waiting for their execution in the woods – Robert A. Schmuhl – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Approximately 74,000 Jews called Latvia their home. Due to the outbreak of war against the Soviet Union, German troops arrived in July 1941, and started the mass murder of the Jewish population. Between July and October 1941, 34,000 Jews were killed. More than 32,000 were locked into two ghettos in Riga. The larger of the ghettos was destroyed on the orders of Heinrich Himmler; within a few days, the remaining 25,000 people who lived there were brought to the Rumbula forest and killed. Shortly afterwards, approximately 11,000 “Reich Jews” from Germany, Vienna and Prague were brought to the ghetto in Riga.
Even before the German occupation, Lithuania initiated pogroms against the 220,000 Jews in their country and started to kill them. The German invasion was marked by murder, rape and abuse. The victims were brought to forests, shot and buried in pits. The Wehrmacht and SS were highly supported by Lithuanians. Whenever one of the victims managed to escape, they were chased, caught and killed by civilians. The forest in Ponar, which lies close to the capital city of Vilnius, became the execution site of approximately 70,000 Jews.
Additionally, the Nazis set up ghettos in Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai and Svencionys, as well as various labour camps where up to 40,000 people are said to have been detained. The ghettos in Vilnius and Svencionys were destroyed in the autumn of 1943. Many people were killed or sent to the labour and extermination camps Auschwitz-Birkenau or Dachau. The other two ghettos were transformed into concentration camps. Only about 32,000 Lithuanian Jews survived the Holocaust.
Slovakia actively collaborated with the Nazis and deported 58,000 Jews to the extermination camps Majdanek and Auschwitz. Only 25,000 to 30,000 Slovakian Jews survived the Holocaust, 70,000 died.
In April 1941, the Germans conquered Serbia and detained thousands of men, women and children in the Sajmiste camp near Belgrade, where they were killed in gas vans between March and May 1942.
The independent state of Croatia, under the government of dictator Ante Pavelic, killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs and opponents of the regime. The largest extermination camp in the county was built south of Zagreb: up to 25,000 Jews from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as thousands of Sinti and Roma, were killed there. In total, 66,000 of 80,000 Jews fell victim to the Nazis in Yugoslavia.
Photo: hungarian jews in Auschwitz – Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
The Hungarian dictator Miklos Horthy formed a deadly alliance with the German Nazis. The Hungarian government passed anti-Semitic laws and forced 100,000 Jewish men to work in labour brigades – 40,000 of them died. With the outbreak of the war against the Soviet Union, Hungary extradited about 18,000 Jewish refugees to Germany. The “real” extermination of the Jews, however, only started when the Nazis conquered Hungary in March 1944. 800,000 Jews lived in the Hungarian Empire (formed through an annexation of Slovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia) at the time. Upon the order of Adolf Eichmann, the German troops started to deport more than 424,000 Jews to Auschwitz in May 1944. Tens of thousands were sent on death marches towards Austria.
Romania, a – at the time – very anti-Semitic country with 757,000 Jews among their population, actively helped the Nazis to destroy them. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Romanian soldiers, police officers and civilians killed approximately 15,000 Jews in the city of Jassy. The locals participated in the Wehrmacht and SS’s murder campaign and the killing of the Jews in Northern Romania upon the order of dictator Ion Antonescu. 150,000 people were deported to the occupied region of Transnistria and were either killed there or died of cold or illnesses, or famished.
When Germany was on the brink of losing the war, Romania reacted to the allies’ warnings, and stopped their murder campaign. But 200,000 people had already lost their lives.
Following the war, Bulgaria annexed Thrace from Greece and Macedonia from Yugoslavia and arrested all Jews in these regions. They were handed to the Germans, who then deported them to the extermination camp Treblinka. As a result, approximately 11,400 people met their deaths.
At the same time, the Bulgarian government was preparing the deportation of 48,000 Jews, but members of parliament, church leaders and other public figures successfully organised a resistance – the plan was abandoned.
Photo: Unknown – Cartea Neagră, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2868916
From July 1942, the Nazis pooled all Belgian Jews in the transit camp Mechelen. Firstly, all “social misfits” and non-Belgian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Due to the efforts made by the Queen Mother Elizabeth and other supporters, the deportation of all Belgian Jews was stopped for one year. Nevertheless, 29,000 of 65,000 Jews died.
Formally and constitutionally, the Vichy regime governed France (excluding the Alsace-Lorraine region). However, only the unoccupied south and the overseas territory were effectively within their sphere of influence. The regime collaborated with the Nazis and passed various anti-Semitic laws, seized Jewish property and arrested many Jews.
In the occupied north of the country, the German military commanders ruled. The French government was scarcely more than a puppet. They were virtually forced to cooperate, and thereby helped the Nazis to deport 76,000 Jews to Auschwitz before the war ended.
The Italian Jews who lived in regions occupied by Germany suffered from the same racial laws as the “Reich Jews”. Until the end of the war, the Nazis deported about 12,000 of them to Auschwitz.
Photo: Holocaust Survivor by Lt. Arnold E. Samuelson – The National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier 531271
The German authorities opened the labour camps Westerbork and Vught at the end of 1941 and started deporting people to them in January 1942. From there, the Jews were sent on to Auschwitz. A major part of the Dutch police force, state administration and railway staff helped the Nazis to carry out their schemes. 102,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews were killed.
Roughly 8,000 Jews lived in Denmark, 1,500 of them were stateless. Since the Germans didn’t want to strain the relationship with the Danish government, they ordered them to take care of the “final solution” themselves. On the 1st October 1943, the first Jews were arrested, but the Danes rushed to their aid. They hid them or helped them to flee. 7,200 people were able to flee to Sweden in the course of only three weeks. 500 of them were caught and brought to Theresienstadt, but due to pressure from the Danish government, they were extradicted before the war ended.
Approximately 1,700 Jews lived in Norway when the Germans invaded in April 1940. The Nazis ordered to capture all Norwegian Jews in October 1942. 739 of them were deported to Auschwitz, 900 of them were able to flee to Sweden with the help of Norwegian underground organisations.
#Summary of the atrocities
During the Holocaust, approximately
#2,700,000 Polish Jews
#2,100,000 Soviet Jews
#550,000 Hungarian Jews
#500,000 Sinti and Roma
#200,000 Romanian Jews
#160,000 German Jews
#143,000 Czechoslovakian Jews
#102,000 Dutch Jews
#76,000 French Jews
#65,000 Austrian Jews
#60,000 Yugoslavian Jews
#59,000 Greek Jews
#28,000 Belgian Jews
#12,000 Italian Jews
#11,000 Bulgarian Jews died.
#Additionally, 2 to 3 million Polish people of non-Jewish faith, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war and countless other victims were killed. It is estimated that 55 million people around the world lost their lives due to this war.
# Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung “Informationen zur politischen Bildung”.
Available in German at: http://www.deutschegeschichten.de/popup/objekt.asp?OzIID=5619&ObjKatID=106&ThemaKatID=1003 (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Beginning of the Final Solution“. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution-beginning (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Beginning of the Final Solution“ Murder of the Jews of Romania. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution-beginning/romania (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Beginning of the Final Solution“ Murder of the Jews of the Baltic States. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution-beginning/baltic-states (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Beginning of the Final Solution“ Invasion of the Soviet Union and the Beginning of Mass Murder. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution-beginning/mass-murder-in-ussr (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Fate of the Jews across Europe“. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Fate of the Jews across Europe“ Murder of the Jews of the Balkans and Slovakia. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/balkans-and-slovakia (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Fate of the Jews across Europe“ Murder of the Jews of Poland. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/poland (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Fate of the Jews across Europe“ Murder of the Jews of Western Europe. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/western-europe (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Fate of the Jews across Europe“ Murder of Hungarian Jewry. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/hungary (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Implementation of the Final Solution“. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution (Accessed 05.07.17)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Implementation of the Final Solution“ – Deportation to the Death Camps. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution/deportation (Accessed 05.07.2017)
# Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: „The Implementation of the Final Solution“ – The Death Camps Abrufbar unter:http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/final-solution/death-camps (Accessed 05.07.17)