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The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims - six million were murdered. Roma (Gypsies), physically and mentally disabled people and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they began to encounter tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners suffering from starvation and disease. Only after the liberation of the Nazi camps was the full scope of their horrors exposed to the world.
In January 1945, the Third Reich stood on the verge of military defeat. As Allied forces approached Nazi camps, the SS organized death marches of concentration camp inmates, in part to keep large numbers of concentration camp prisoners from falling into Allied hands. The term "death march" was probably coined by concentration camp prisoners. It referred to forced marches of concentration camp prisoners over long distances under heavy guard and extremely harsh conditions. During death marches, SS guards brutally mistreated the prisoners and killed many. The largest death marches were launched from Auschwitz and Stutthof.
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives on Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, many of whom had survived death marches into the interior of Germany. Soviet forces were the first to approach a major Nazi camp, reaching the Majdanek camp near Lublin, Poland, in July 1944. Surprised by the rapid Soviet advance, the Germans attempted to demolish the camp in an effort to hide the evidence of mass murder. The Soviets also liberated major Nazi camps at Auschwitz, Stutthof, Sachsenhausen, and Ravensbrück. US forces liberated the Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbürg, Dachau, and Mauthausen camps. British forces liberated camps in northern Germany, including Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen.
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