Introduction to the Holocaust

Definitions of the Holocaust

Several Holocaust institutions and organizations have developed definitions of the Holocaust. Below is a sample of these definitions:

From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Between 1933 and 1945, Germany’s government, led by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, carried out a deliberate, calculated attack on European Jewry. Basing their actions on anti-Semitic ideology and using World War II as a primary means to achieve their goals, they targeted Jews as their main enemy, killing six million Jewish men, women, and children by the time the war ended in 1945. This act of genocide is now known as the Holocaust. As part of their wide-reaching efforts to remove from German territory many other groups as well, including political opponents, Roma (also known as Gypsies), Germans with mental and physical disabilities, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war. In the course of state-sponsored tyranny, the Nazis left countless lives shattered and millions dead.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles, CA):
The Holocaust was the destruction of some 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their followers in Europe between the years 1933-1945. Other individuals and groups were persecuted and suffered grievously during this period, but only the Jews were marked for complete and utter annihilation. The term “Holocaust,” literally meaning a completely burned sacrifice, suggests a sacrificial connotation to what occurred. The word Shoah, originally a Biblical term, meaning widespread disaster, is the modern Hebrew equivalent.

Yad Vashem (Jerusalem, Israel):
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. Because Nazi discrimination against the Jews began with Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933, many historians consider this the start of the Holocaust era. The Jews were not the only victims of Hitler’s regime, but they were the only group that the Nazis sought to destroy entirely.

President’s Commission on the Holocaust Report to the President, 1979:
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators as a central act of state during the Second World War ... The decision was to kill every Jew everywhere in Europe: the definition of Jew as target for death transcended all boundaries ... never before in human history had genocide been an all pervasive government policy unaffected by territorial or economic advantage and unchecked by moral or religious constraints.

Imperial War Museum (London, UK):
The Holocaust refers to a specific genocidal event in twentieth-century history: the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims—6 million were murdered; Gypsies, the handicapped, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.

Timeline: 1933-1945

January 30 Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany
February 27 Reichstag fire
March 22 Dachau Concentration Camp opens
March 23 Enabling Act - Suspension of civil rights in Germany
April 1 Boycott of Jewish shops and businesses
April 7 Laws for Reestablishment of the Civil Service barred Jews from holding civil service, university, and state positions
April 26 Gestapo’s powers extended from Prussia to all of Germany
May 10 Public burning of books written by Jews, political dissidents, and others not approved by the state
July 14 Law stripping East European Jewish immigrants of German citizenship
October 19 Germany leaves the League of Nations
June 30 Night of the Long Knives - Purge of SA
August 2 Hitler proclaims himself Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). Armed forces must now swear allegiance to him.
May 25 Germany renews military conscription, in violation with Treaty of Versailles
May 31 Jews barred from serving in the German armed forces
September 15 Nuremberg Laws enacted; Jews no longer considered German citizens; Jews could not marry Aryans; nor could they fly the German flag
November 15 Germany defines a “Jew”: anyone with three Jewish grandparents; someone with two Jewish grandparents who identifies as a Jews in one of the following ways: belonging to Jewish religious community, married to a Jew, or child of a Jewish parent.
March 3 Jewish doctors barred from practicing medicine in German institutions
March 7 Germans march into the Rhineland, previously demilitarized by the Versailles Treaty
May 5 Ethiopia occupied by Italy
June 17 Himmler appointed the Chief of German Police
Summer Sachsenhausen concentration camp opens
October 25 Hitler and Mussolini form Rome-Berlin Axis
July 16 Buchenwald Concentration Camp opens
March 13 Anschluss (incorporation of Austria)
April 26 Mandatory registration of all property held by Jews inside the Reich
July 6 Evian Conference held in Evian, France on the problem of Jewish refugees
August 1 Adolf Eichmann establishes the Office of Jewish Emigration in Vienna to increase the pace of forced emigration
August 3 Italy enacts sweeping anti-Semitic laws
August 17 Decrees revoke all name changes by Jews and force those Jews who did not have names recognized as Jewish by German authorities to add “Israel” (for males) and “Sarah” for females as middle names.
September 29-30 Munich Conference: Great Britain and France agree to German occupation of the Sudetenland, previously western Czechoslovakia
October 5 Following request by Swiss authorities, Germans mark all Jewish passports with a large letter “J” to restrict Jews from immigrating to Switzerland
October 28 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany expelled; Poles refused to admit them; 8,000 are stranded in the frontier village of Zbaszyn
November 7 Assassination in Paris of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan
November 9-10 Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass)
November 12 Decree forcing all Jews to transfer retail businesses to Aryan hands
November 15 Numerus Nullus decree expels all Jewish pupils from German schools
December 12 One billion mark fine levied against German Jews for the destruction of property during Kristallnacht
January 30 Hitler in Reichstag speech: if war erupts it will mean the Vernichtung (extermination) of European Jews
March 15 Germans occupy Czechoslovakia
March 22 Germans occupy port of Memel
August 23 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed - non-aggression pact between Soviet Union and Germany
September 1 Beginning of World War II: Germany invades Poland
September 17 Soviet Union invades Eastern Poland
September 21 Heydrich issues directives to establish ghettos in German-occupied Poland
October 12 Germany begins deportation of Austrian and Czech Jews to Poland
October 28 First Polish ghetto established in Piotrków
November 23 Jews in German-occupied Poland forced to wear an arm band or yellow star
April 9 Germans occupy Denmark and southern Norway
April 27 Himmler issues directive to establish a concentration camp at Auschwitz
May 7 Lodz Ghetto (Litzmannstadt) sealed: 165,000 people in 1.6 square miles
May 10 Germany invades the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France
May 20 Concentration camp established at Auschwitz
June 22 France surrenders
August 8 Battle of Britain begins
September 27 Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis established
November 15 Warsaw Ghetto sealed off with approximately 500,000 inhabitants
November 20-24 Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia join Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis
January 21-26 Anti-Jewish riots in Romania, hundreds of Jews butchered
February 1 Germans begin rounding up Polish Jews for transfer to Warsaw Ghetto
March Adolf Eichmann appointed head of the department for Jewish affairs of the Reich Security Main Office, Section IV B 4.
April 6 Germany attacks Yugoslavia and Greece; occupation follows
June 22 Start of Operation Barbarossa: Germany invades the Soviet Union
June Nazi Einsatzgruppen carry out mass murder of Jews in areas of the Soviet Union
July 31 Heydrich appointed by Göring to implement the “Final Solution”
September 1 Jews in Third Reich obligated to wear yellow star of David as distinguished mark.
September 3 First gassing with Zyklon B performed on 600 Soviet prisoners of war at Auschwitz
September 28-29 34,000 Jews massacred at Babi Yar outside Kiev
October Establishment of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) for the extermination of Jews; Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and others were also murdered at the camp
October 23 Murder of 19,000 Jews in Odessa
December 7 Japanese attack Pearl Harbor
December 8 Chelmno (Kulmhof) extermination camp begins operations: 340,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles and Czechs murdered by April 1943
December 11 United States declares war on Japan and Germany
January 20 Wannsee Conference: Heydrich reveals official plan to murder all Jews on European continent.
January Jewish underground organizations established in Vilna and Kovna Ghetto
March Extermination by gas begins at Sobibor extermination camp
March 17 Extermination begins in Belzec; by end of 1942 600,000 Jews murdered
June Jewish partisan units established in the forests of Byelorussia and the Baltic States
July 11 Treblinka extermination camp begins operations
Summer Deportation of Jews to killing centers from Belgium, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, and Poland; armed resistance by Jews in ghettos of Kletzk, Kremenets, Lachva, Mir, and Tuchin
Winter Deportation of Jews from Germany, Greece and Norway to killing centers; Jewish partisan movement organized in forests near Lublin
January German 6th Army surrenders at Stalingrad
March Liquidation of Kraków ghetto
April 19 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Bermuda Conference, and Twentieth Deportation Train revolt
June Himmler orders the liquidation of all ghettos in Poland and the Soviet Union
Summer Armed resistance by Jews in Bedzin, Bialystok, Czestochowa, Lvov, and Tarnów ghettos
Fall Liquidation of large ghettos in Minsk, Vilna, and Riga
October 14 Armed revolt in Sobibor extermination camp
October Rescue of Danish Jewry
March 19 Germany occupies Hungary
May 15 Nazis begin deporting Hungarian Jews; by June 27, 380,000 sent to Auschwitz
June 6 D-Day: Allied invasion at Normandy
Spring/Summer Soviet Army repels German forces
July 20 Group of German officers attempt to assassinate Hitler
July 24 Soviets liberate Majdanek extermination camp
October 7 Revolt by inmates at Auschwitz; one crematorium blown up
October 31 Remnants of Slovakian Jews deported to Auschwitz
November Last Jews deported from Terezin to Auschwitz
November 2 Gassing ceases at Auschwitz
November 8 Start of death march for some 40,000 Jews from Budapest to Austria
January 17 Evacuation of Auschwitz - beginning of the death march
January 25 Beginning of death march for 50,000 inmates from Stutthof
April 6-10 Death march of 30,000 inmates from Buchenwald
April Soviet Army enters Germany
April 30 Hitler commits suicide
May 8 V-E Day: Germany surrenders; end of Third Reich
August 6 Bombing of Hiroshima
August 9 Bombing of Nagasaki
August 15 V-J Day: Victory over Japan proclaimed.
September 2 Japan surrenders; end of World War II