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The Holocaust

The Camps
Although the idea of concentration camps during war, and even the idea of concentration camps based on race, is in no way unique to Nazi Germany, these camps developed in Germany during World War II into something unheard of in modern history. The Nazis, with the idea of a "Final Solution for the Jewish Problem," decided to rid their lands of Jewish people through mass exterminations. In Poland, many camps were converted to "extermination camps," in which the prisoners were gassed to death in underground chambers which were made to look like showers. Above these chambers, when the prisoners had been asphyxiated by the masses with a pesticide called Zyklon B, the bodies were taken to crematoria above to be burned, their ashes buried in nearby areas. The efficiency of these camps was so complete that leaders of Auschwitz boasted of a capability for killing up to 7,000 in one day. The six major extermination camps in Poland under Nazi rule were Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzec and Majdanek. Other camps for extermination were developed however, such as Mauthausen, which intended "death through labor."
Historians' figures place the deaths of the "Final Solution" at around 5 to 6 million Jews, as well as many other "racial inferiors," such as Gypsies and homosexuals. While the Holocaust did extend to many groups other than the Jews, it was specifically targeted at the Jews. Nazi anti-Semitism was out of control, and mass techniques of Nazi propaganda only served to spread this hatred. In fact, the term "Holocaust" has Jewish religious connotations, and originally meant a type of sacrificial burning. Many prefer the term "Shoah."

The "Extermination" Camps

Sobibor opened in May of 1942 and was closed one day after a rebellion of the prisoners on October 14, 1943. In this time, around 200,000 are estimated to have been killed by gassing in this camp.

Chelmno, the first camp in which mass executions were carried out by use of gassing, opened in December of 1941 and did not close until mid 1944. While other extermination camps contained many political prisoners, non-Jewish racial "inferiors," Gypsies and homosexuals, among other target groups, Chelmno consisted almost completely of Jewish prisoners. It is estimated that about 320,000 were killed in Chelmno.

Treblinka opened in July of 1942. An August revolt by prisoners in 1943 destroyed much of the facility, and the camp was forced to shut down in November of 1943. In this short time, however, around 750,000 were killed in Treblinka, which was physically the largest of the extermination camps. As with Chelmno, Treblinka's prisoners were almost all Jewish.

Auschwitz consisted of a vast camp, including many sub-camps such as Birkenau and Buna, which were used as labor camps and concentration camps. Auschwitz I, itself, was an extermination camp, and its leaders boasted that, on "good" days up to 7,000 prisoners could be gassed. The largest number of Jews and Gypsies were killed in Auschwitz, the numbers finally totalling around 1.25 million killed (9 out of 10 or so were Jews).

Belzec opened in May of 1942, using "mobile gas vans" to kill prisoners, in which prisoners were locked into vans and the exhaust fumes were pumped back in to asphyxiate them. As more prisoners were gathered, however, this method was not efficient enough, and gas chambers were quickly constructed in Belzec. The camp closed in August of 1943, having killed a total of around 600,000, almost all of whom were Jews.

Majdanek, which would kill an estimate of 275,000 or so, was a concentration camp as well as an extermination camp.

"The Final Solution"

Children in the Holocaust

A total of up to 1.5 million children were killed between the years of 1933-1945. These killings began with the "euthanasia program," and increased in intensity as the treatment of Jews moved from ghettoization to concentration, extermination and forced labor camps.
Many children fell victim to the horrible medical experiments of Nazi doctors, who tested injections and operations on them.

Key Characters and People

Movements and Feelings Behind the Holocaust
See anti-Semitism

Literature of the Holocaust

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