The Holocaust refers to the systematic persecution and murder of about six million Jews during World War II by the Nazi regime and its supporters. The Nazis used the phrase “Final Solution” to speak of their plan to wipe out the Jewish people. Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the systematic targeting of the Jews began as Nazi Germany implemented anti-Jewish laws, boycotts of Jewish businesses and institutions, and directed acts of violence against Jewish communities. On November 9 and 10, 1938, a wave of violent pogroms referred to as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, erupted. The coordinated attacks included the looting and destruction of Jewish homes and businesses throughout Germany and other areas occupied by the Nazis.
After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, launching the beginning of World War II, violence intensified as Jews were forced to live in ghettos, imprisoned, and eventually murdered. By 1941, the Schutzstaffel (SS) began targeting Jewish communities for execution. A special unit of the SS, known as the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), were tasked with carrying out mass shootings. To make the killings more efficient and less psychologically burdensome to the soldiers, mobile gas vans were developed to murder Jews and other victims. During this time, the Nazis also established extermination camps and killing centers in which Jews were forced to work and/or were shot or suffocated to death in gas chambers. By the end of the War, two thirds of the Jews living in Europe were killed.
During the Holocaust, an additional five million non-Jews fell victim to the violence of the Nazis, including the Roma and Sinti, Communists, Slavic groups, and the mentally and physically disabled, bringing the total number of deaths to 11 million.
In honoring the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust, take five minutes today to hear the story of Francine Christophe, a French Jew who, along with her mother, was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944 in northern Germany. In this excerpt from the film, HUMAN, Mrs. Christophe speaks of a moment of kindness amidst horrifying acts of violence.