The Holocaust, also known as “the Shoah” was the mass murder or genocide of about six million Jews and other groups during World War II. It was a systematic program of state-sponsored murder by Nazi controlled Germany, led by its leader Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945. As Germany invaded and conquered much of Europe, this meant the murder of Jews and Gypsies from Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
Of the 9 million Jewish people who lived in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed.
A connected network of over 40,000 concentration camps in Germany and German-occupied territory were used to concentrate, hold, and kill Jews and other victims. Thus, these are often referred to as death or extermination camps and included Chelmo, Treblinka, and the most infamous: Auschwitz.
Besides Jewish people, other groups killed during the Holocaust include Gypsies, Romanians, people with disabilities, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war, and thousands of civilian dissenters from across Europe.
The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages. It began with an event known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass” in November 1938. This was a pogrom, or coordinated series of attacks against Jewish businesses and people throughout Germany. A series of laws were put in place to remove Jews from German society. The most prominent of these were the Nuremberg Laws, which forbade marriages between Jews and non-Jewish Germans and also denied citizenship to Jews, Romani, and Black people.
When World War 2 began, specialized German units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings across the territory Germany conquered in Europe.
The Holocaust finally ended when Allied soldiers liberated camps as they advanced into Germany in 1945. Allied soldiers from the US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Soviet Union were horrified by what they saw. The camp guards and Nazi leaders who were captured were put on trial at Nuremburg after the war. The Nuremburg Trials were the first time perpetrators of a genocide were tried for their crimes. Some were given the death penalty, while others received prison terms.
A video overview of the Holocaust can be seen here.