Pre-war Jewish life
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, European countries that would later be occupied by Nazi forces had a Jewish population of around nine million people. In Western Europe Jewish people were present in all spheres and at the forefront of the sciences. In Eastern Europe, Jewish communities were less assimilated with non-Jewish society, many lived in Shtetls. Wherever they lived, Jewish culture thrived. Jewish people fulfilled multiple roles in all areas of life including actors, writers, farm hands, tailors, accountants, factory workers and teachers. Some were leading academics of the time for example Albert Einstein. Children attended school and came from families of varying wealth. Jewish people living in Nazi Germany had faced the increasing persecution and anti-Jewish legislation of the Third Reich for several years before the outbreak of war. In Poland anti-Semitic attacks were already a present danger for some Jewish people, pogroms against Jewish communities had occurred in places such as Przytyk, Czestochowa and Lublin.

It is not clear when or how the ‘Final Solution’ was originally conceived, the plan for deliberate and systematic mass murder of Jewish people had been authorised by Adolf Hitler in 1941. The mechanics of the genocide against the Jewish people were worked out when the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ was discussed in Berlin by high ranking Nazi officials from the SS and government departments at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. At this point mass murder of Jewish people was already taking place; Einsatzgruppen killing squads advanced behind the German army as it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 with the purpose of murdering Jewish people. By 1943 these squads have murdered over a million Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism

Prejudice against Jewish people is deep rooted and predates modern times, it stems from the belief that Jewish people were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A common root for hatred of Jewish people is blood libel; the false allegation that Jewish people require the blood of non-Jewish children, especially Christian children, for rituals. Blood libel has caused extreme violence against Jewish people including massacres or pogroms, most often occurring around Passover. The Nazis distributed much anti-Semitic propaganda, they used blood libel and other anti-Semitic ideas to fuel race hate and indoctrinate the German people. For example Der Stürmer produced a blood libel special edition in 1934.

Rise of Hitler
Whilst Germany was still struggling following defeat in the First World War and losing confidence in the Weimer Republic, the Wall Street Crash hit and caused mass unemployment. Adolf Hitler was a powerful orator and presented a future in which Germany was glorious again and had returned to its place as economic powerhouse, as it had been before the First World War. At this time the people of Germany were desperate for change and the Nazi Party’s rhetoric had mass appeal. The Wall Street Crash increased public support for the Nazi Party as the Weimar Republic appeared unable to improve the situation. In the elections of 1932, the Nazi Party gained 33% of the vote, they fail to gain a majority and form a coalition. In January 1933, Hitler was made Chancellor and quickly set about dissolving democracy.

Discrimination

The Nazi Party intended to isolate Jewish people from the rest of society and remove their rights. They enacted hundreds of decrees to restrict the lives of Jewish people and exclude them from public life. As well as national legislation, local authorities also enacted regulations which restricted the private and public lives of Jewish people. Beginning in 1933 legislation restricting Jewish employment and education was enacted, further laws were gradually introduced. In 1935, the Nazis announced the Nuremberg Laws which excluded German Jewish people from citizenship and defined a Jewish person as someone with Jewish grandparents, regardless of which religious community they belonged to. The Nazis also used anti-Jewish propaganda to indoctrinate the population and incite violence against Jewish people.

Kristallnacht and aftermath
Nazi officials had expelled around 17,000 Polish Jewish people from Germany leaving them stranded between Germany and Poland, who refused them entry. The parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teenager living in Paris are also stranded. Seemingly acting out of despair at the situation Grynszpan shoots Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official, in Paris on November 7, 1938. The Nazis use this incident to claim that Grynszpan was acting as part of a Jewish conspiracy. When Ernst vom Rath dies on November 9, 1938 the Nazi leadership use his death as a catalyst for violence against the Jewish community. Instructions are issued by party leaders that the violence should appear a spontaneous eruption but should at no point endanger non-Jewish people or property. The November Pogrom also known as Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) begins that night and lasts until the next day. During the pogrom, the SS arrest thousands of Jewish men, Jewish homes, businesses, cemeteries and Synagogues are destroyed. After the pogrom the Nazis order Jewish people to clear up the destruction and imposed a huge fine on the German Jewish community – one billion Reichsmarks. Kristallnacht is a significant point in Nazi persecution of Jewish people, it clearly marked a transition from rhetoric to violence. The Nazis increased anti-Jewish legislation in the weeks that followed. The understated reaction to the pogrom both domestically and internationally provided the Nazi regime with reassurance that people would accept more extreme measures.

Ghettos
Ghettos were established to concentrate the Jewish population of an area into one place. The first ghetto was established in Poland in 1939. Ghettos had a central role in the destruction of the Jewish population of Europe. Conditions within ghettos were horrific and designed by the Nazi regime to kill people. Tens of thousands of people were killed by starvation and disease. People held in ghettos were also used as forced labourers and faced deportations to concentration camps or Killing Centres.

The Final Solution
The ‘Final Solution’ is the name given to the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.

The officials present at the Wannsee Conference including Heinrich Müller, Adolf Eichmann and the meeting convenor; Reinhard Heydrich expected that Eleven million Jewish people would be systematically murdered during the course of the ‘Final Solution’ which would extend beyond occupied territory. Six Killing Centres were established; Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. Their function was the mass murder of Jewish people on an industrial scale.

The ‘Final Solution’ claimed the lives of two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. Six million Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust.

The Nazis also murdered five million people from other groups including Roma and Sinti people, Soviet prisoners of war and people they considered ‘asocial’. In total eleven million people were murdered during the Holocaust.

After the end of the war many thousands of Jewish people liberated from hiding or Nazi camps became displaced people. They lived in Displaced Person’s Camps, many people did not know if any family members had survived and were miles from what had been home. Some people returned home, many people found that prospect impossible; others tried to return to where they had lived prior to the war but found they could not as their property now belonged to other people. Immigration restrictions remained in place; once the State of Israel was established in May 1948 many Jewish people migrated there. Many more migrated to the United States.

Survival 

After the end of the war many thousands of Jewish people liberated from hiding or Nazi camps became displaced people. They lived in Displaced Person’s Camps, many people did not know if any family members had survived and were miles from what had been home. Some people returned home, many people found that prospect impossible; others tried to return to where they had lived prior to the war but found they could not as their property now belonged to other people. Immigration restrictions remained in place; once the State of Israel was established in May 1948 many Jewish people migrated there. Many more migrated to the United States. 

Courage to care
There are many examples of people risking themselves to save others including individuals such as Olga Nahlak assisting Jewish people in hiding and officials such as Raoul Wallenberg. Denmark actively resisted the deportation of its Jewish citizens and Jewish refugees living there at the time of occupation. As a result the Danish Jewish community has one of the highest survival rates. The Danish resistance were informed of the Nazi plan to deport the Danish Jewish population, in less than a month fishermen took over 7,000 Jewish people and over 600 non-Jewish relatives to Sweden who agreed to accept them. Despite the heroic efforts, some Danish Jewish people were taken to Theresienstadt Ghetto and 120 Danish Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust. Almost all the Jewish people forced to flee Nazi persecution returned at the end of the war, many found their property untouched thanks to the local Danish authorities who protected Jewish assets.