The Holocaust in a few pictures, 1939-1945

It began with a simple boycott of Jewish stores and ended in the gas chambers in Auschwitz as Nazi Germany attempted to exterminate Europe's entire Jewish population. In January 1933, after ten years of bitter political struggle, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. During his rise to power, Hitler repeatedly blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and the economic difficulties that followed.

Jews at this time made up only one percent of Germany's population of 55 million people. German Jews were mostly cosmopolitan in nature and proudly considered themselves to be German by nationality and Jewish only by religion.

They had lived in Germany for centuries, fought valiantly in wars for the homeland, and prospered in many professions.

But he was gradually ousted from German society by the Nazis through an endless series of laws and decrees, culminating in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which stripped him of his German citizenship and intermarried with non-Jews. Refused marriage.

He was kicked out of schools, banned from businesses, kicked out of military service, and even forbidden from sharing a park bench with a Gentile.

In March 1938, Hitler expanded the borders of the Nazi Reich by forcibly occupying Austria. A brutal crackdown on Austrian Jews immediately began. They lost everything and were even forced to commit public acts of humiliation such as clearing sidewalks among pro-Nazi crowds.

Back in Germany, the years-long hatred of Jews was finally abandoned on a night that marks the true beginning of the Holocaust. The Night of Broken Glass (Kristalnacht) took place on 9/10 November, when 17-year-old Herschel Grinzpan shot and killed a German embassy official in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, in response to the harsh treatment his Jewish parents received from the Nazis. was in retaliation.

Inspired by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis used Vom Rath's death as an excuse to commit the first state-run genocide against the Jews. Ninety Jews were killed, 500 synagogues were burned and the windows of most Jewish shops were smashed. The first mass arrests of Jews also occurred as more than 25,000 men were taken to concentration camps.

World War II began in September 1939 when German troops invaded Poland, a country that was home to more than three million Jews. Following Poland's quick defeat, Polish Jews were surrounded and forced to move to the newly established ghettos in ód, Kraków and Warsaw to await future plans.

Inside these crowded walled walls, tens of thousands of people died from hunger and disease amid slow living conditions. The ghetto soon fell under the jurisdiction of Heinrich Himmler, the leader of Hitler's most trusted and loyal organization, the Nazi SS, which was made up of fanatical youths.

In the spring of 1940, Himmler ordered the construction of a concentration camp near the Polish town of Oswicim, renamed Auschwitz by the Germans, to house Polish prisoners and slave labor for the new German-run factories to be built nearby. can be provided.

Meanwhile, Hitler continued his conquest of Europe, invading Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France, placing increasing numbers of Jews under Nazi control.

The Nazis then began to carefully match actual figures and also required Jews to register all their property. But overall the question remained as to what to do with the millions of Jews now under Nazi control – the Nazis referred to themselves as the Judenfreze (Jewish question).

The next year, 1941, would be the turning point. In June, Hitler took a tremendous military gamble by invading the Soviet Union. Before the invasion, he had called his top generals and told them that an attack on Russia would be a brutal "war of destruction" targeting Communists and Jews and that the normal rules of military conflict should be completely ignored.

There were an estimated three million Jews inside the Soviet Union, many of whom still lived in small isolated villages known as shetels. In the rear of the invading German forces, four SS special action units known as Einsatzgruppen systematically rounded up and shot down all the inhabitants of these Shettels. Sometimes the Einsatz execution squads were assisted by local anti-Semitic volunteers.

During the summer of 1941, SS leader Heinrich Himmler summoned Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Haus to Berlin and told him: "The Führer has ordered a final solution to the Jewish question. We, the SS, have to fulfill this order ... so I have chosen Auschwitz for this purpose".

In Auschwitz, a large new camp known as Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was already under construction. It would become the future site of four large gas chambers used for mass destruction. The idea of ​​using gas chambers originated during the euthanasia program, the so-called "mercy killings" of sick and disabled persons by Nazi doctors in Germany and Austria.

Until now, experimental mobile gas vans were being used by the Einsatzgruppen to kill Jews in Russia. Special trucks were converted into portable gas chambers by the SS. The Jews were locked in air-tight rear containers while the smoke from the truck's engine was fed to suffocation.

However, this method was found to be somewhat impractical as the average capacity was less than 50 individuals. For some time, the fastest method of killing continued to be mass shootings. And as Hitler's forces advanced into the Soviet Union, the Einsatz killings accelerated. Over 33,000 Jews were shot in Ukraine in the Babi Yar Valley near Kyiv over the course of two days in September 1941.

The following year, 1942, marked the beginning of mass murder on a scale unprecedented in human history. In January, fifteen top Nazis led by Reinhard Heydrich, the second in command of the SS, held the Wannsee Conference in Berlin to coordinate plans for a final solution.

Jews from Europe would now be besieged and deported to occupied Poland where new extermination centers were being built in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Code-named "Acton Reinhardt" in Heydrich's honor, the final settlement began in the spring as more than two million Jews already in Poland were deported to Gess as the new camps became operational.

Every detail of the actual destruction process was carefully planned. Jews arriving on trains in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were incorrectly informed by the SS that they had arrived at a transit stop and would proceed to their actual destination after confusion.

They were told that their clothes were going to be disinfected and that all of them would be taken to the shower room for a good washing. The men were then separated from the women and children. Everyone was taken to the undressing barracks and told to take off all their clothes.

After this the hair of women and girls was cut. First men, and then women and children, were kept naked by the SS along a narrow fenced passage nicknamed as Himmelstrae (the road to heaven).

At the end of the path was a bathroom with tiled shower rooms. As soon as everyone was packed inside, the main door was slammed shut, creating an air-tight seal. The deadly carbon monoxide fumes were then fed from a stationary diesel engine located outside the chamber.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, new arrivals were told to hang their clothes on numbered hooks in the undressing room and were instructed to remember the number for later. He was given a piece of soap and taken to an adjoining gas chamber disguised as a large shower room. In place of carbon monoxide, pellets of the commercial insecticide Zyklon-B (prussic acid) were poured into the opening above the chamber.

The gas pellets fell into hollow shafts made of perforated sheet metal and vaporized upon contact with the air, releasing deadly cyanide fumes inside the chamber that exited at floor level and then rose toward the ceiling.

The children died earlier because they were close to the floor. Pandemonium usually spreads upward as a bitter almond-like odor of gas, with adults climbing on top of each other and forming a tangled pile of carcasses up to the ceiling.

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