“The Auschwitz Album, Arrival” CC BY Yad Vashem. The World Holocaust Remembrance Center

Events that led to the Holocaust

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The genocide of six million European Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II is known as The Holocaust. According to Oxford Languages, the term “Holocaust” is derived from the Greek words “holos,” meaning whole, and “kaustos,” which means “burnt.” Both of these words were originally from a Biblical word that meant “burnt offerings.” 

The political ideology of facism attracted millions of followers throughout the 1920s and 1930s, especially within the middle class and rural populations. These groups experienced social unrest from economic and social crises (inflation and unemployment) and were fearful of communism. After Germany’s defeat in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler became chairman of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, known as the Nazis. Hitler attracted the disillusioned people who felt isolated from society and frightened by socialist revolution, along with the Germans who needed someone to blame for their country’s misfortunes. He swore to put an end to their hardships, and to do so, he would create a new social order and lead his country back to greatness.

While Hitler was imprisoned for treason for his involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, he wrote and published a political autobiography called Mein Kampf, meaning “my struggle.” In his book, he would predict a war that would result in the mass murder of Jews in Germany. In 1933, Hitler rose to power after being appointed chancellor of Germany following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg.

Ultimately, Germany’s loss in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles contributed to the pursuit of Nazi Germany’s racial ideologies that were fueled by nationalism and antisemitism. Under his dictatorship, Germany and its allies established over 44,000 Nazi camps and incarceration sites between 1933 and 1945. The purpose of these sites varied, but were mostly for the labor, detention, and murder of political enemies and racial and social minorities.

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