Antisemitism was one of the pillars of the Nazi ideology, which, starting from the introduction of the so-called Nuremberg Laws by the Reichstag on 15 September 1935, became the state ideology of Germany, ruled by Hitler since 1933.
Third Reich laws concerning the Jews:
– made it possible to deprive a Third Reich citizen of legal protection and property,
– forbade Jews from working in administration offices and in the army,
– forbade marriages between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans”,
– allowed annulment of such marriages, and intimate relationships between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” were subject to punishment.
The Crystal Night (Kristallnacht)
On 9–10 November 1938, pogroms against Jews, initiated by the state authorities, were carried out in many German cities. Synagogues and houses, shops, and industrial plants owned by Jews were set on fire and devastated. The ravaging SS and NSDAP units were protected by the police.
The first camps
The first concentration camps were established in Germany before World War II. The first camp — Dachau — was opened on 20 March 1933. Before the war, the camps served mainly as prisons for political opponents of the Nazi regime.
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
The German occupation of Poland began in October. Ghettos for Jewish people were set up in the occupied territories, and in 1941, German engineers started testing the possibility of gassing people with exhaust fumes in chambers installed on trucks. The tests were carried out in the Kulmhof camp in Chełmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof an der Nehr). In Auschwitz, the first tests on murdering people with hydrogen cyanide — Zyklon B — were performed.
After Germany attacked the USSR on 22 June 1941, the number of Jews being under German control dramatically increased. On the Eastern Front, Wehrmacht units were closely followed by four Einsatzgruppen units whose tasks included mass shootings of civilians. Approx. 2 million Jews were victims of those crimes.
The Wannsee Conference
On 20 January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference, high-ranked German officials, headed by Reinhard Heydrich, formulated the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
The participants were looking for a way to solve the problem of Jews as quickly as possible. Deportation and sterilisation were taken into consideration. The Third Reich officials decided on the extermination of all Jewish people.
Josef Bühler, State Secretary and Deputy Governor to the General Government, suggested that the extermination should be carried out in the Germany-occupied Poland, as there were large Jewish communities there and savings in transport costs could be made.
Approx. 6 million Jews from many European countries fell victim to the Final Solution in the camps, which became killing factories.
In the autumn of 1944, the approach of the Eastern Front put an end to the genocide. On Heinrich Himmler’s orders, gas chambers and crematoria were hurriedly destroyed in order to obliterate evidence of the crime.