Holocaust, The, the systematic slaughter of European Jews by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in Germany during World War II. The Nazis killed some six million Jews out of the nine million living in Germany and German-occupied territories. They also killed about five million Gypsies and Slavs, who, like the Jews, were considered undesirable.
Extreme anti-Semitism was a fundamental aspect of Nazism. Hitler wanted to rid Germanic life of all Jewish influence; the problem of finding a way to achieve this was called the “Jewish question.”
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Jews were dismissed from the civil service and banned from certain fields, such as law, medicine, and teaching. The government encouraged boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses. In 1935 the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and forbade them to marry non-Jews. By this time, it had become impossible for most Jews to earn a living.
During the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis carried out a nationwide raid, vandalizing synagogues and Jewish businesses. Thousands of Jews were arrested. The night came to be called Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) because of the shards of glass in the streets afterwards.
German conquests during the early years of World War II brought millions of European Jews under Nazi control. At the Wannsee Conference in 1942, top Nazi leaders decided upon what they called the “final solution of the Jewish question”—the extermination of the Jews. The Nazis began building special concentration camps, called extermination camps, equipped with gas chambers and crematoria that were capable of killing and cremating thousands of people each day.
The Nazis deported Jews to ghettos in eastern Europe, from which they were sent to concentration camps. Most Jews were immediately sent to their deaths. Others were slowly worked to death as slave labor.
Some Jews resisted. Uprisings occurred at the Treblinka concentration camp and in the Warsaw ghetto. Also, some Jews, assisted by non-Jews, hid from the Nazis and escaped to freedom. However, for most Jews, the only hope for survival was the defeat of the Nazis, which did not come until the spring of 1945.