In the fall of 1940, German authorities established a ghetto in Warsaw, Poland’s largest city with the largest Jewish population. Almost 30 percent of Warsaw’s population was packed into 2.4 percent of the city's area.
German troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, triggering World War II. In response to German aggression, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany.
For survivors, the prospect of rebuilding their lives after the Holocaust was daunting. Many feared to return to their former homes.
The Einsatzgruppen (task forces, special action groups) were units of the Security Police and SD (the SS intelligence service) that followed the German army as it invaded and occupied countries in Europe. Often referred to as “mobile killing squads,” they are best known for their role in the systematic murder of Jews in mass shooting operations on Soviet territory.
As Allied and Soviet troops moved across Europe against Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945, they encountered concentration camps, mass graves, and other sites of Nazi crimes. The unspeakable conditions the liberators confronted shed light on the full scope of Nazi horrors. 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of prisoners from Nazi concentration camps and the end of Nazi tyranny in Europe.
The Holocaust occurred in the broader context of World War II. World War II was the largest and most destructive conflict in history. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime envisioned a vast, new empire of "living space" (Lebensraum) for Germans in eastern Europe by the removal of existing populations. The Nazi goal to strengthen the German “master race” resulted in the persecution and murder of Jews and many others.
Between the Nazi rise to power in 1933 and Nazi Germany's surrender in 1945, more than 340,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria. Tragically, nearly 100,000 of them found refuge in countries subsequently conquered by Germany. German authorities would deport and kill the vast majority of them. The search for refuge frames both the years before the Holocaust and its aftermath.
Children were especially vulnerable to Nazi persecution. Some were targeted on supposed racial grounds, such as Jewish youngsters. Others were targeted for biological reasons, such as patients with physical or mental disabilities, or because of their alleged resistance or political activities. As many as 1.5 million Jewish children alone were murdered or died at the hands of Nazi officials or their collaborators.
Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos). The perpetrators used these sites for a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people thought to be enemies of the state, and for mass murder.
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