A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts

By Samuel Totten; William S. Parsons et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

Holocaust: The Genocide of the Jews

DONALD L. NIEWYK

The Nazi slaughter of the Jews during World War II gave the world the idea of genocide. The Nazis themselves did not use the term, nor was this the first such mass murder. But the systematic extermination of between 5 and 6 million Jews through shootings, gassings, and forced labor was a catastrophe on a massive scale. It was, moreover, closely related to broader Nazi racial policies that led to the murder of very large numbers of Gypsies, Russian and Polish prisoners of war, East European slave laborers, and Germans who were physically disabled or mentally retarded.


Perpetrators

Following Hitler's seizure of power in Germany in 1933, the Nazi state pursued policies designed to isolate and pauperize the 600,000 German Jews. The goal, more or less openly acknowledged, was to make the Jews despair of their future in Germany and emigrate, which many of them did. Violent attacks on Jews were uncommon, and Jews were sent to concentration camps only if they had been prominent in anti-Nazi parties. The exception to these rules was the "Crystal Night" (Kristallnacht) pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, when Nazi thugs physically attacked thousands of Jews and sent them to concentration camps. The latter were released only after promising to leave Germany. These actions were clearly the work of virulent anti-Semites in the Nazi Party, supported by government officials who found pogroms useful in advancing economic objectives. Most

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