American journalist, foreign correspondent, author, and pioneer radio broadcaster William L. Shirer was one of the major observers and chroniclers of the Nazi regime.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins helped create legislation to ease the ravages of the Great Depression and rebuild the American economy, such as the Social Security Act of 1935. Perkins also played a significant role in the rescue of European Jews whose lives were threatened by the Nazi regime.
Many German businesses were involved in the policies of the Third Reich, from arms manufacturing to the expropriation of Jewish property to the use of forced labor to even more direct support for Nazi policies. The Topf and Sons (in German, Topf und Söhne) company is an example of how one company became involved in the worst of the Holocaust.
World War I (1914–18) marked the first great international conflict of the twentieth century. The trauma of the war would profoundly shape the attitudes and actions of both leaders and ordinary people during the Holocaust. The impact of the conflict and its divisive peace would echo in the decades to come, giving rise to a second world war and genocide committed under its cover.
"Weimar Republic" is the name given to the German government between the end of the Imperial period (1918) and the beginning of Nazi Germany (1933). Political turmoil and violence, economic hardship, and also new social freedoms and vibrant artistic movements characterized the complex Weimar period. Many of the challenges of this era set the stage for Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Adolf Hitler was the undisputed leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party—known as Nazis—since 1921. In 1923, he was arrested and imprisoned for trying to overthrow the German government. His trial brought him fame and followers. He used the subsequent jail time to dictate his political ideas in a book, Mein Kampf—My Struggle. Hitler’s ideological goals included territorial expansion, consolidation of a racially pure state, and elimination of the European Jews and other perceived enemies of Germany.
Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Germany had a thriving Jewish population with strong community organizations. Jews had lived in Germany since Roman times. They were well integrated into German society—they spoke the language, identified with the nationality, and worked alongside non-Jews.
The Nazi Party was one of a number of right-wing extremist political groups that emerged in Germany following World War I. Beginning with the onset of the Great Depression it rose rapidly from obscurity to political prominence, becoming the largest party in the German parliament in 1932.
The Nazis effectively used propaganda to win the support of millions of Germans in a democracy and, later in a dictatorship, to facilitate persecution, war, and ultimately genocide. The stereotypes and images found in Nazi propaganda were not new, but were already familiar to their intended audience.
The Nazis frequently used propaganda to disguise their political aims and deceive the German and international public. They depicted Germany as the victim of Allied and Jewish aggression to hide their true ideological goals and to justify war and violence against innocent civilians.
Shortly after taking power in January 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis succeeded in destroying Germany’s vibrant and diverse newspaper culture. The newly created Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda handed out daily instructions to all German newspapers, Nazi or independent, detailing how the news was to be reported.
After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany on January 30, 1933, the Nazi leadership decided to stage an economic boycott against the Jews of Germany. Local Nazi party chiefs organized the national boycott operation. Although it lasted only one day and was ignored by many individual Germans who continued to shop in Jewish-owned stores, it marked the beginning of a nationwide campaign by the Nazi Party against the entire German Jewish population.
A key part of Nazi ideology was to define the enemy and those who posed a threat to the so-called “Aryan” race. Nazi propaganda was essential in promoting the myth of the “national community” and identifying who should be excluded. Jews were considered the main enemy.
After the devastation of World War I, the victorious powers imposed a series of treaties upon the defeated powers. Among the treaties, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles held Germany responsible for starting the war. Germany became liable for the cost of massive material damages. The shame of defeat and the 1919 peace settlement played an important role in the rise of Nazism in Germany and the coming of a second “world war” just 20 years later.
The story of Anne Frank is among the most well-known of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Her diary is the first encounter many people have with the history of Nazi Germany's attempt to murder all the Jews of Europe during World War II.
The Diary of Anne Frank is the first, and sometimes only, exposure many people have to the history of the Holocaust. Meticulously handwritten during her two years in hiding, Anne's diary remains one of the most widely read works of nonfiction in the world. Anne has become a symbol for the lost promise of the more than one million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.
Millions of people suffered and died in camps, ghettos, and other sites during the Holocaust. The Nazis and their allies oversaw more than 44,000 camps, ghettos, and other sites of detention, persecution, forced labor, and murder. Among them was the Börgermoor camp.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany. He emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for his postwar words, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out…”
During the Holocaust, the creation of ghettos was a key step in the Nazi process of brutally separating, persecuting, and ultimately destroying Europe's Jews. Jews were forced to move into the ghettos, where living conditions were miserable. Ghettos were often enclosed districts that isolated Jews from the non-Jewish population and from other Jewish communities.
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.
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.
We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.