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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) states: “The Holocaust was the murder of six million Jews and millions of others by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II."
In addition to Jews, the targeted groups included Poles (of whom 2.5 million gentile Poles were killed) and some other Slavic peoples; Soviets (particularly prisoners of war); Romanies (also known as Gypsies) and others who did not belong to the Aryan Herrenvolk "Aryan master race"; the mentally ill, the deaf, the physically disabled and mentally retarded; homosexual and transsexual people; political opponents such as communists, social democrats and socialists; and religious dissidents, i.e. members of Jehovah's Witnesses. Taking into account all of the victims of Nazi persecution, they systematically killed an estimated six million Jews and mass murdered an additional eleven million people during the war. Donald Niewyk suggests that the broadest definition, including Soviet civilian deaths would produce a death toll of 17 million.
Despite often widely varying treatment (some groups were actively targeted for genocide, while others were mostly not), these victims all perished alongside one another, some in concentration camps such as Dachau, some as victims of other forms of Nazi brutality, but most in death camps, such as Auschwitz, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (both written and photographed), eyewitness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders) and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation.
The paramilitary campaign to remove certain classes of persons, but above all Jews from Germany using methods of extreme brutality, is known as the Holocaust. The Holocaust was carried out primarily by German forces and certain collaborative persons, both German and otherwise. As the war started, millions of Jews were concentrated in ghettos. In 1941, massacres of Jews took place; by December Hitler had decided to exterminate the European Jews. In all, more than 30% of the Jews in Europe were murdered in the Holocaust. The world's Jewish population was reduced by a third, from roughly 16.6 million in 1939 to about 11 million in 1946. Even sixty years later, there are still fewer Jews in the world today than there were prior to 1940.
In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Bühler, the State Secretary for the Central Government, urged Reinhard Heydrich, the conference chairman, to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps at Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór and Treblinka. The author Sebastian Haffner, published the analysis in 1978 that Hitler, from December 1941, accepted the failure of his goal to dominate Europe on his declaration of war against the United States, and that his withdrawal thereafter was sustained by the achievement of his second goal—the extermination of the Jews. Even as the Nazi war machine faltered in the last years of the war, precious military resources such as fuel, transport, munitions, soldiers and industrial resources were still being diverted away from the war towards the death camps.
Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in the world before the war, had had over 90% of its Jewish population, or about 3,000,000 Jews, killed. The penalty imposed by the Germans for hiding Jews was death and this was carried out mercilessly. Some Poles hid Jews and saved their lives despite the risk to them and their own families. Although detailed reports on the Holocaust had reached western leaders, public awareness in the United States and other democracies of genocidal mass murder of Jews in Poland was extremely poor at the time; the first references in The New York Times in 1942 were not front-page news, these articles were more in the nature of 'unconfirmed' reports.
Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Latvia each had over 70% of their Jewish population destroyed. Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia lost around half of their Jews, the Soviet Union over one third; even countries such as France and Italy had each seen around a quarter of their Jewish population killed. Denmark was able to evacuate almost all of its Jews to nearby Sweden, which was neutral during the war. Using everything from fishing boats to private yachts, the Danes whisked their Jews out of harm's way. Some Jews outside Europe under Nazi occupation, were also affected by the Holocaust.
Slavs were one of the most widely persecuted ethnic groups, with many Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Czechs, Sorbs, and others exterminated. Exceptions were drawn for Croats and Slovaks due to military alliances with Germany.
According to British historian Ian Kershaw, the genocide and extreme brutality used by the Nazis was they way of ensuring the Lebensraum ("living space") for the people who met the strict requirements of being part of Hitler's Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race") and the elimination of the Bolshevik-Slavs, he wrote that:
The Nazi revolution was broader than just the Holocaust. Its second goal was to eliminate Slavs from central and eastern Europe and to create a Lebensraum for Aryans. ... As Bartov (The Eastern Front; Hitler's Army) shows, it barbarised the German armies on the eastern front. Most of their three million men, from generals to ordinary soldiers, helped exterminate captured Slav soldiers and civilians. This was sometimes cold and deliberate murder of individuals (as with Jews), sometimes generalised brutality and neglect. ... German soldiers' letters and memoirs reveal their terrible reasoning: Slavs were 'the Asiatic-Bolshevik' horde, an inferior but threatening race. Only a minority of officers and men were Nazi members.
The Nazi occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal episodes of the war, resulting in more than three million deaths, not including some three million Polish Jews. The six million Poles who were killed were Jewish, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. These deaths accounted for nearly 17% of the country's population. Poles were one of Hitler's first targets of extermination, as outlined in the speech he gave to Wehrmacht commanders before the invasion of Poland in 1939. The intelligentsia and socially prominent or influential people were primarily targeted, although mass murders were committed against the general Polish population, as well as against other groups of Slavs. Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Poles were sent to Auschwitz and the other concentration camps, the intelligentsia were the first targets of the Einsatzgruppen death squads. The anti-Polish campaign culminated in the near-complete destruction of the capital Warsaw, ordered by Hitler and Himmler in 1944.
During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, millions of Red Army prisoners of war (POWs) were arbitrarily executed in the field by the invading German armies (in particular by the Waffen SS), died under inhuman conditions in German prisoner of war camps and during death marches, or were shipped to concentration camps for execution. The Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs through starvation, exposure and summary execution, in a mere eight months over 1941 and 1942. According to the US Holocaust Museum, by the winter of 1941, "starvation and disease resulted in mass death of unimaginable proportions". Up to 500,000 were killed in the concentration camps.
Soviet civilian populations in the occupied areas were also heavily persecuted (in addition to the barbarity of the Eastern Front frontline warfare manifesting itself in episodes such as the siege of Leningrad in which more than 1.2 million civilians died). Thousands of peasant villages across Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were annihilated by German troops. During the occupation, Russia's Leningrad, Pskov and Novgorod region lost around a quarter of its population. Some[who?] estimate that as many as one quarter of all Soviet civilian deaths (five million Russian, three million Ukrainian and 1.5 million Belarusian) deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies were racially motivated. The Russian Academy of Science in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR, including Jews at German hands, totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR, including 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 2.2 million deaths of persons deported to Germany for forced labor; and 4.1 million famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3.0 million famine deaths in the territory not under German occupation. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR in its 1946–1991 borders, including territories annexed in 1939–40. The deaths of 8.2 million Soviet civilians including Jews, were documented by the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission
The Nazi genocide of Gypsies was ignored by scholars until the 1980s, opinions continue to differ on its details. Some[vague] say that, proportional to their population, the death toll of Romanies (Roma (Romani subgroup), Sinti, and Manush) in the Holocaust was the largest of any group of victims. Others[who?] say that the genocide of these groups began later than the genocide of the Jews and that a smaller proportion was killed. Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Romani population of Europe involved a particularly bizarre application of Nazi "racial hygiene" (or a type of selective breeding). Despite discriminatory measures, some Romani groups, including some of the Sinti and Lalleri of Germany, were spared deportation and death, the remaining Romani groups suffered much like the Jews. Romanies were deported to the Jewish ghettos, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen in their villages or deported and gassed in Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Following a eugenics policy, the Nazis believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed to be cared for by others; they were also considered an affront to Nazi notions of a society peopled by a perfect, superhuman Aryan race. Around 375,000 individuals were sterilized against their will because of their disabilities.
People with disabilities were also among the first to be killed by the Nazis; the United States Holocaust Memorial museum notes that the T-4 Euthanasia Program, established in 1939, became the "model" for future exterminations by the Nazi regime, and set a precedent for their attempted Jewish genocide. The T-4 Program was established in order to maintain the "purity" of the so-called Aryan race by systematically killing children and adults born with physical deformities or suffering from mental illness; this included use of the first gas chambers. Although Hitler formally ordered a halt to the T-4 program in late August 1941, the killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.
The Nazi regime promoted xenophobia of all "non-Aryan" races. African (black sub-Saharan or North African) and Asian (i.e. East Asian and South Asian) residents in Germany, and black prisoners of war (like the French colonial troops captured during the Battle of France), were also victims. Japan signed the Tripartite Pact on September 27, 1940, with Germany and Italy and was therefore part of the Axis Pact; no Japanese people were known to be deliberately imprisoned or killed. South Africans and white Europeans of non-Jewish ancestry from other continents were exempt, as were many Latin Americans of "evident" Germanic or "Aryan" ancestries, but not mestizos.
Homosexuals were also targets of the Holocaust, as homosexuality was incompatible with Nazism because of their failure to reproduce the "master race". This was combined with the belief among the Nazis that homosexuality could be contagious.[clarification needed] Initially homosexuality was discreetly tolerated while officially shunned. By 1936 Heinrich Himmler led an effort to persecute homosexuals under existing and new anti-homosexual laws. More than one million homosexual Germans were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as convicted homosexuals. An additional unknown number were institutionalized in state-run mental hospitals. Hundreds of European homosexual men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexual men were imprisoned in concentration camps, but it is difficult to put an exact number on how many perished in them. According to Heinz Heger, an Austrian survivor, homosexual men "suffered a higher mortality rate than other relatively small victim groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and political prisoners." Male homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps were identified with a pink triangle on their shirts. Lesbians were not normally treated as harshly as homosexual men: they were labeled "anti-social", but were rarely imprisoned for engaging in homosexuality.
Another large group of the victims were various German and foreign civilian activists opposed to the Nazi regime from all over the political spectrum, as well as captured World War II resistance fighters (a great many of whom were executed during or immediately after their interrogation, especially in occupied Poland and France); sometimes also their families. German political prisoners were, for example, a substantial group among the first Dachau inmates, (the prototype Nazi concentration camp). The political People's Court became infamous for the enormous number of death sentences handed down.
German communists were among the first people to be sent to concentration camps. They concerned Hitler due to their ties with the Soviet Union and because the Nazi Party was intractably opposed to communism. Rumours of pending communist violence were started by the Nazis as justification for the Enabling Act of 1933, the law which gave Hitler his original dictatorial powers. Hermann Göring later testified at the Nuremberg Trials that it was the Nazis' willingness to repress German communists that prompted Hindenburg and the old elite to cooperate with them. Hitler and the Nazis also hated German leftists because of their resistance to Nazi racism. Many leaders of German leftist groups were Jews who were especially prominent among the leaders of the Spartacist Uprising in 1919. Hitler referred to Marxism and "Bolshevism" as a means of "the international Jew" to undermine "racial purity" and survival of the Nordics or Aryans (sometimes of all white Europeans), as well as stirring up socioeconomic class tension and labor unions against the government or relevant businesses. Within concentration camps such as Buchenwald, German communists were privileged in comparison to Jews because of their "racial purity." Whenever the Nazis occupied a new territory, members of communist, socialist, or anarchist groups were thus normally among the first to be repressed, including summary executions. An example of this is Hitler's infamous Commissar Order in which he demanded the summary execution of all political commissars captured among Soviet soldiers.
The Nazis claimed that high degree Masons were willing members of "the Jewish conspiracy" and that Freemasonry was one of the causes of Germany's defeat in WWI. The preserved records of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – Office of the High Command of Security Service pursuing the racial objectives of the SS through Race and Resettlement Office), show the persecution of the Freemasons. The number of Freemasons from Nazi occupied countries who were killed is not accurately known, but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 were murdered.
Speakers of the international auxiliary language of Esperanto were regarded with suspiction by the Nazis. The language was considered by Hitler to be a language of the Jewish conspiracy due to the fact that its creator L. L. Zamenhof was Jewish.
Thousands of people (mostly diplomats) belonging to certain nationalities associated with the Allies (e.g. Formosa [now Taiwan] and Mexico), as well as Spanish Civil War refugees in occupied France, were also interned or executed. After Italy capitulated in 1943, many Italian nationals, including partisans and Italian soldiers disarmed by the Germans, were sent to concentration camps.
The Nazis also targeted some religious groups, for political and ideological reasons. Historian Detlef Garbe, director at the Neuengamme (Hamburg) Memorial, writing about Jehovah's Witnesses stated that "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."  Between 2,500 and 5,000 perished in the concentration camps.  In addition, thousands of Christian clergy were killed by the Nazis, including some who had a Jewish background, as in the case of Edith Stein. In some countries Roman Catholic bishops and even Catholics themselves had openly protested and attacked Nazi policies. For instance, in the Netherlands and Poland, where bishops and priests had protested the deportation of Jews, the clergy was either threatened with deportation themselves and kept in custody (as in the case of German bishop Clemens von Galen), or directly deported to concentration camps (as in the cases of the Dutch Carmelite priest Titus Brandsma and Polish Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, who was later canonized). The Catholic Church was particularly suppressed in Poland: between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 3,000 members (18%) of the Polish clergy, were murdered; of these, 1,992 died in concentration camps. In the annexed territory of Reichsgau Wartheland it was even more harsh: churches were systematically closed and most priests were either killed, imprisoned, or deported to the General Government. Eighty per cent of the Catholic clergy and five bishops of Warthegau were sent to concentration camps in 1939; 108 of them are regarded as blessed martyrs. Religious persecution was not confined to Poland: in Dachau concentration camp alone, 2,600 Catholic priests from 24 different countries were killed. Some dissenting German Protestant clergy, such as those who founded the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, were also persecuted. The Baha'i Faith, which teaches as its doctrine, the unity of humanity, was formally banned in the Third Reich.
The SS and police troops often unleashed mass actions against civilians with alleged links to resistance movements, their families, and even whole villages or districts of a city. In numerous cases resulting in wholesale slaughter of entire villages or towns, such as in the infamous cases of Lidice, Khatyn, Sant'Anna and Oradour-sur-Glane; one whole district of Warsaw was massacred). In occupied Poland, Nazi Germany formally imposed the death penalty on anybody found sheltering or helping Jews. "Social deviants" – prostitutes, vagrants, alcoholics, drug addicts, open dissidents, pacifists, draft resisters and common criminals – were also often imprisoned in concentration camps. The common criminals frequently became Kapos, the inmate-guards policing other prisoners.
In the late 1930s, the Nazi program to punish many rich German persons as "enemies of the state" confiscated properties and placed thousands of them in concentration camps. According to Nazi policies formulated in part by Joseph Goebbels, the rich elite manipulated the German economy and held seditious liberal views. The Nazis had targeted other groups to be imprisoned for their political views deemed threatening by Hitler or the party; such as the members of women's rights groups who were accused of spouting "communist-socialist" dogmas of gender equality.
Some of the Germans and Austrians who had lived abroad for a significant proportion of their lives were also deemed to have too much exposure to foreign ideas, many were put into concentration camps. These prisoners were called "Emigrants" and marked with a blue triangle.