The Holocaust was the
systematic persecution and annihilation of more than 6 million Jews
as a central act of state by Nazi Germany and its collaborators
between 1933 and 1945. Although millions of others, such as Romani,
Sinti, homosexuals, the disabled and political opponents of the
Nazi regime, were also victims of persecution and murder, only the
Jews were singled out for total extermination.
Under the leadership
of Adolf Hitler, this brutal campaign began with a deliberate series
of progressively hostile acts of bigotry, repression, humiliation
and discrimination. Authorized by the Nazis and their collaborators,
such actions were based on the views that the German (or "Aryan")
people were a superior "race," that all non-Germans were
therefore inferior, and that Jews were race-poisoners. The intervals
between each phase -- from antilocution (using hostile, bigoted
language) to avoidance to discrimination to violence to genocide
-- were frighteningly small.
Jewish victims of the
Holocaust were rounded up from all parts of Nazi-occupied Europe
and shipped to concentration camps where almost all were shot, hanged,
subjected to hideous medical experiments, gassed or worked to death.
Only a small percentage survived. It did not matter whether they
were rich or poor, religious or secular, or decorated soldiers of
the First World War. If they had even one Jewish grandparent (a
provision of the Nuremberg Laws), they were marked for destruction.
Any act of resistance
against this juggernaut demanded enormous courage. Those who helped
or rescued Jews did so at great risk to their own lives and those
of their families. While most people remained silent or excused
their complicity on the grounds that they were only following orders,
a few remarkable people, known today as the Righteous Among Nations,
took the risks and hid or rescued Jews. Contrary to the bestiality
of the Nazis and the indifference of most people in Germany and
in the Nazi-occupied nations, these individuals represent the finest
and noblest of the human spirit.
When the Nazi regime
collapsed in 1945 under the onslaught of the Allied nations and
the world learned the full extent to which the hatred of Jews had
been carried, the few Jewish survivors faced living without homes,
possessions, families and communities. Many left Europe -- the continent
soaked with the blood of their fellow Jews -- and tried to rebuild
their shattered lives in the United States, in Israel and elsewhere.
The Nazi dream of a "master race" came to an end at the
War Crimes Trials held at Nuremberg in 1945. The United States,
England, France and the Soviet Union joined forces to stand in judgment
of the Nazi crimes against humanity.