The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Blog Post Intro

The Holocaust refers to the period between 1933 and 1945, when Nazi Germany sought to annihilate Europe’s Jewish population. Adolf Hitler, as Chancellor of Germany and founder of the Nazi Party, made Jews the scapegoat for the nation’s difficulties. He used a coordinated propaganda effort to persuade Germans that ridding Germany of Jews, who he viewed as sub-human, would make for a strong and pure nation, made up of what Hitler called the “Aryan race.” The Nazis also persecuted many others who were considered non-Aryan, such as the Roma and Sinti, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled and political enemies.

Blog Post

The appointment of Hitler in 1933 was followed by the introduction of anti-Jewish measures, discriminatory laws that escalated in severity with each new decree.

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Harlingen, Netherlands. Two children wearing yellow stars required by the Nazis to indicate that they are Jews. Photograph 4211/3. Yad Vashem Photo Archive.

Then, on September 1, 1939, World War II began with Germany’s invasion of Poland. The Nazis and their collaborators expanded their campaign of persecution to each nation Germany would occupy, consolidated into what was known as the Third Reich. Many Jews were segregated and confined in ghettos throughout Europe, and suffered from starvation and disease. In every country where Jews were being persecuted there were individuals and groups who tried to save them and coordinate resistance against the Nazis. Tragically, cries for help were often met with indifference, due either to antisemitism or fear of punishment for aiding Jews.

By 1942, the Nazis began the "Final Solution," a euphemism for the systematic murder of Europe’s Jewish populations. Whole communities were massacred by mobile killing units. Elsewhere, most who could not flee or go into hiding were rounded up and deported to labour camps, concentration camps and/or death camps. While some forced labourers and prisoners in Nazi camps survived, the large majority of Jews were murdered, most notably in the killing centres: Chelmno, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibor and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

By the time World War II ended in 1945, more than six million Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust.
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Birkenau, Poland, Women and children standing on the selection platform. Photograph #268/54. Yad Vashem Photo Archive.

While those who survived and have told their stories are living proof that the Nazis’ “Final Solution” did not fully succeed, ultimately more than two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population perished.

The magnitude of the destruction perpetrated by the Nazis was unprecedented in scale. For a more detailed explanation of the Holocaust and its tragic historical significance, the Azrieli Foundation recommends consulting the following resources: