Image by Lynn Greyling from Pixabay 

“You don't expect to be hauled out of your house, put on a train, and marched into a gas chamber and be choked to death.”
- A Holocaust Survivor

Introduction to the Holocaust

For generations, we have witnessed sporadic incidents of genocides occur around the world but one which made it to headlines constantly for causing heart-wrenching trauma and blatant human rights violations was the Holocaust which happened to the European Jews. The root cause of the same included the financial crisis in Germany, racism, and the false belief that Jews were unpatriotic and forced eradication. Let us glance through the series of events that resulted in such a devastating blow to the human rights of those innocent individuals in Europe but before delving into history, we should first understand what a Holocaust means.

The word ‘Holocaust’ has a Greek origin which means “burnt offerings”. Even before the Second World War, the word was sometimes used to describe the death of a large group of people, but since 1945, it has become almost synonymous with the murder of the European Jews during the Second World War. A Hebrew term is also used by Jews for the Holocaust which is ‘Shoah’ also meaning “Catastrophe”.

Why were the Jews targeted?

Although the Jewish Holocaust i.e., snatching away basic human rights and reducing them to second-class citizens began somewhere in 1935, the unanticipated mass murder took place between 1941 to 1945 during the Second War of World. Antisemitism played a major role in Adolf Hitler’s and the Nazi regime’s ideology toward the Jewish community. Religious discrimination and persecution against Jews have prevailed since the Middle Ages. The idea that Jews were different from Christian played a huge role in their ill-treatment. Even those who converted to Christianity were considered impure because of their lineage. They were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology which quite mistakenly holds them accountable for the death of Jesus Christ.

The German Surrender in 1918 plunged Hitler into a deep crisis as the defeat was hard to swallow for many Germans and for him too. The “Stab in the Back” myth emerged among the nationalists who believed that they lost the war, not on the battlefield, but through the betrayal at the home front, roping in Jews into the accusation of them being non-committal to the nation. From 1933 to 39, the main aim of the Nazis was not to kill Jews but to remove them from Germany making domestic life hellish for them.

The Bloodbath

Hitler’s government accomplished this by taking up their livelihood, restricting their job opportunities, denying them entry to public places, snatching away property and land by implementing biased policies and numerous other acts which robbed them of their dignity. The Nazi regime propagated hatred of the Jews, taught about their “inferiority” to school children, and brainwashed non-believers into hating Jews. The Nuremberg Racial laws were introduced in 1935 through which they lost their citizenship, and their right to marry non-Jews and eventually turning them into lower-class people with fewer rights.

In 1941, Nazis began to prepare for the mass killing of Jews by introducing the first extermination camp at Chelmno which consisted of 3 gas vans in which carbon monoxide was used as a murderous agent. Further, additional extermination camps were also built after the Wannsee Conference of 1942. A total of 6 extermination camps were there- Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz (also called Auschwitz-Birkenau). Those selected for death at all camps were brought here by train and were asked to undress and hand over the valuables to the camp worker there. The males and females were separated, mothers were separated from their children and they were then herded naked into those camps. They were told that gas chambers were showers to avoid commotion and chaos. For some time, their bodies were reduced to ashes. In the 1943 Operation Harvest, around 42000 Jews were shot dead. This genocide resulted in the murder of almost 6 million Jews who accounted for 2/3rd of Europe’s Jewish population.

Did the Jewish resist? Why did they not just leave?

The idea that Jews didn’t fight back is untrue and they did carry out acts of resistance against the German government. Even with zero resources, weaponry, and fear, faced with the daunting military prowess of Germany and its allies, they resisted in concentration camps, ghettos, and killing centers. Against impossible odds, some of them escaped but for most of them, the end was unfortunate.

Jews were highly patriotic citizens who had fought and died for Germany in World War I. Some had received awards and medals for their wartime valor and military service. They had inhabited Germany for centuries and considered it their homeland. Never in their wildest dreams had they foreseen their own extermination just because of who they were. For this reason, in the initial years, they did not leave. The Nazi Party’s political power was unexpectedly prolonged and the atrocities continued to rise. Finally, when they started trying to leave, there was nowhere to go. Powerful and wealthy countries like the USA turned a blind eye to their suffering and refused to alter their immigration policies. Moreover, the German government forbids them to leave with their assets. There was not much territory nearby which was not under Nazi Government’s control. Even if a new country could be found, the endless paperwork, monetary constraints, and lack of time would have made it an impossible quest. Therefore fatefully most of their deaths were destined to happen. Before World War I, few could imagine or predict mass murder.

To top it off, a large population of Eastern Europeans aided the government and actively participated in tormenting and murdering Jews. Many onlookers simply witnessed the killings while only a small number expressed their disapproval. Jews were randomly rounded up, made to board trains, and sent to concentration camps. A minuscule number of citizens came forward in the face of danger to provide humanitarian assistance, medical aid, and food. Warnings of upcoming surprise roundups would also be passed clandestinely.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a Memorial Day celebrated every 27th of January which commemorates the victims of the holocaust and the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany. This date was particularly chosen as the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army on this date in 1945. The day was designated by United National General Assembly Resolution 60/7 to encourage every member to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in such an intimidating and terrifying Holocaust. The day was first commemorated in 2006. The theme for International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2022 is “Memory, Dignity, and Justice”.


“I think one has to learn to forgive but not to forget” – said Margit Meissner, a holocaust survivor. She did all she could do to make sure it was never forgotten. She was a very active volunteer at Washington D.C’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. “I survived the Holocaust twin experiments” – said Eva Mozes Kor. “There is something in all of us, that no matter how terrible it is, you want to live another day. A guard slammed the door shut and bolted it outside. Now it was dark on the train. A small slit in the top corner allowed some light to come in. There was a bucket for the toilet in the middle of the car. We asked the other prisoners when we are going to see our families. A woman pointed to a chimney and said do you see the smoke? There is your family. We watched them enter the gate that led to gas chambers”, says Irene Fogel Weiss. Auschwitz was designed for one primary purpose, genocide. “That horrific time in history should be passed down to the next generation. People need to know it, think about it, analyze it and learn from it”.

Nelson Mandela once said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” How do citizens become murderers? We can't wait for Holocaust and genocide to happen to show that we are human. Humanity must be practiced daily. The world shouldn’t just watch in silence when something as gruesome as genocide unfolds. Government intervention, prior military preparedness, pressure from Human Rights Organizations, strictness concerning the observance of International Humanitarian Law, early warning systems, and most importantly unity against human rights violence are of utmost necessity in tearing down this brutal systematic execution of innocent human lives. 

“The moment we stop fighting for each other, that’s the moment we lose our humanity.”
- Adrian Helmsley



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