The Holocaust

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  • By 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

The Holocaust was the systematic genocide of six million Jews, organized by the Nazi State and its collaborators from 1933 to 1945.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30th, 1933.  The Nazis falsely accused Jews of causing Germany’s social, economic, political, and cultural problems. In particular, they blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I (1914–1918). Some Germans were receptive to these Nazi claims, and anger over the loss of the war and the economic and political crises that followed contributed to increasing anti-Semitism in German society. To fuel their rise to power, the Nazi party built a network of concentration camps in Germany for political opponents and those deemed "undesirable." On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II and began their violence against Jews. These acts of genocide came be known as the Holocaust, or the Shoah.

Over the next year, Nazi Germany and its allies conquered much of Europe. Any territory that was occupied by Germany was susceptible to the atrocities of the war.

During the Holocaust, the Nazis forced their prisoners to march between forced labor, or concentration, camps to the next in death marches designed to thin out the population of prisoners. At one time there were over 1,000 concentration camps in use, including the infamous Auschwitz camp.

At its peak, the Auschwitz complex, the most notorious of the sites, housed 100,000 persons at its concentration camp (Auschwitz II, or Birkenau). The other major camps were in German-occupied Poland and included Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

The German concentration camps were constructed to serve the Nazi party’s plan. They held real and perceived political prisoners, generating fear amongst any who would consider opposition. The camps also provided a supply of forced labor for the Nazi war effort. Most gruesomely, the camps served as kill sites for those that the Nazi party deemed dangerous.

After the summer of 1944 hundreds of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews located near the Eastern Front, were moved to the concentration camps deep inside Germany away from encroaching Allied forces. This allowed the Nazis to continue the use of prisoners for slave labor and hide evidence of their crimes.

At the end of the war, as the Germans and their Axis partners were pushed back on all fronts, Allied troops uncovered the full extent of the genocide. They found prisoners in unspeakable conditions in the Nazi camps. The small percentage of inmates who did survive to liberation were barely alive, having endured the demands of forced labor and maltreatment over months and years.

Germany formally surrendered in 1945, and victory was proclaimed amid celebrations in Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris.

To this day, the Holocaust remains one of the most widely known atrocities in human history.

Visit for more information on the Holocaust. The Virtual Tour of the Auschwitz Memorial includes over 200 high-quality panoramic photographs. The 360⁰ images present the authentic sites and buildings of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, complete with historical descriptions, dozens of witness accounts, archival documents and photographs, artworks created by the prisoners, and objects related to the history of the camp.