The Holocaust was the state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1938 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims-six 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 oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.
JEWISH LIFE IN EUROPE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST
Many Jewish citizens in Germany were not unlike any other German citizen. They had strong family units; many were educated, they had strong values, served in government, had children, lived in different levels of prosperity much like any other citizen. Although shunned and persecuted by a small minority of racists, many Jews had close ties socially and in business with people of other religions and ethnic backgrounds.
The Great Depression began in 1929 and wrought worldwide economic, social, and psychological consequences. Germany’s democratic leadership proved unable to cope with the national despair as unemployment doubled to one-third of the population. The government, collapsing under rising costs and dissention, passed laws to restore law and order, eventually giving rise to the Nazi party in elections. The crisis, and Hitler’s shrewd political maneuverings, led to his ascendancy to the chancellorship. Soon, the Nazi party consolidated its power and for six years, Hitler transformed Germany into a police state.
The poor economy and humiliation of the citizens of Germany allowed activists, led by Adolf Hitler to grow in popularity. The Nazi party gained power and control of the government through strong emotional themes, such as nationalism, superiority of the “Aryan” race, and rage against Jews. It cast Jews as the cause for the country’s financial woes and the humiliating defeat of World War I.