6.3 The Holocaust

group of children standing behind a barbed wire fence in Auschwitz wearing striped adult-sized prisoner jackets
Children within Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, standing behind a barbed wire fence.

Jewish people have been the subject of prejudice and discrimination for centuries (History.com Editors, 2009b; Ludwig, 2016; The Holocaust, n.d.). The Holocaust, which occurred during WWII, is not only the most horrific example of anti-Semitism, it is the largest known genocide in human history (The Holocaust, n.d.; Roser et al., 2016; Sen Nag, 2018). During the Nazi movement’s rise to power, Hitler targeted the Jewish population of Germany using a four-step process of dehumanization (Toth, 2020):

  1. Prejudice (e.g., propagating the belief in the “inferiority” of Jewish people and the “superiority” of “native born Germans”, especially “Aryan” people, etc.) (Ludwig, 2016).
  2. Scapegoating (e.g., Jewish people were blamed for: Germany’s defeat in WWI; most social and economic problems leading up to and during WWII, etc.) (Ludwig, 2016; The Holocaust, n.d.).
  3. Discrimination (e.g., boycotting of Jewish owned businesses; excluding Jewish children from public education; passing discriminatory laws; expulsion from professions and opportunities to earn a living; forced wearing of a yellow Star of David; isolation and segregation, etc.)
  4. Persecution (e.g., the forced removal from homes; belongings and assets confiscated; forced to live in crowded “ghettos” with inadequate living conditions that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, etc.) (Brooks, 2019; Warsaw Ghetto, n.d.; Toth, 2020; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d.).

The dehumanization and isolation of Jewish people in ghettos, was part of the Nazi’s “final solution” to the “Jewish question” (Brooks, 2019; Warsaw Ghetto, n.d.; The Holocaust, n.d.). The next part involved deporting large numbers of people to concentration camps and ultimately mass executions (Boissoneault, 2016; Brooks, 2019). When Allied soldiers began liberating the camps in 1945, they witnessed the horror of the Nazi crimes including: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners living alongside thousands of dead bodies (Taylor, 2011; Brooks, 2019); gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums; thousands of mass graves; documentation of horrific medical experimentations; as well as other war crimes and crimes against humanity (Taylor, 2011; Brooks, 2019). By the end of WWII, the Nazis had killed over 6 million Jewish people, along with 5 million people from other minority populations including: Romani people, communists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities (Buchholz, 2021; History.com Editors, 2009b).


outside photo of the Holocaust Memorial Center building with street. sidewalk, and grass in foreground
Holocaust Memorial Center, Farmington Hills, MI, USA.

VIDEO: They’re Taking us to our Death’: How a Teenage Girl Escaped the Nazis

In this video Rose Lipszyc, a Holocaust survivor and educator, shares her story of how she escaped the Nazis.


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On Death and Dying Copyright © 2022 by Jacqueline Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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