Introduction to the Holocaust


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

An Introduction to the


Jewish Children in the

Warsaw Ghetto in 1942


Derived from Greek, the term Holocaust literally means “death by massive fire.” The term is used to refer to the massive destruction of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime. Today the Hebrew word

Shoah used to name this genocidal event.

is also

A History of Jewish People in


By the time Nazis came to power in 1933,

Jews had been living in every country in

Europe for centuries

An estimated 9 million Jews lived in the 21 countries that would be eventually occupied by German forces during WWII

By the end of WWII, two thirds of

European Jewry were murdered

Nazi Racism

Nazis argued that Germans and socalled “Germanic Races” were better than all others

Nazi scientists developed extensive tests to prove that they were anatomically superior and as such, had a responsibility to take over the

“weaker” and “less civilized races”

Hitler maintained that his day take over the world

Aryan race must remain pure so that it could one

Hitler’s ideal

Aryan was tall, blond haired and blue eyed

Jews in Germany before 1933

In 1933, less than 1% of the German population was Jewish (there were approximately 600,000 Jews in Germany)

Most Jews living in Germany were proud to be Germans

More than 100,000 Jews actually served in the German army in WWI; many of these people had been decorated for bravery

Jewish Business Boycott

April 1, 1933: Nazis carried out their first planned action against Jews by boycotting their businesses

The Yellow Star of David was painted across thousands of doors and windows; signs were also posted that read “Don’t buy from Jews” and

“The Jews are our Misfortune”

Although this boycott was not very successful, it was significant because it marked the beginning of a nationwide campaign by the Nazi party against the entire German Jewish population


November 9, 1938: the

“Night of Broken Glass”

In just 2 days 1000+ synagogues burned, 7000

Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were also looted while the police and fire brigades stood by and did nothing

The Nuremburg Race Laws

In 1935 at their annual party rally in Nuremburg, the Nazis announced laws that declared Jews to be second-class citizens

Jews were no longer eligible to vote, or marry or have sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood”

The Nuremburg Laws defined a Jew as anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents, whether or not that person identified him- or herself as a Jew; even people who had converted to Christianity but had Jewish grandparents were defined as Jews

Labels and Identification

Jews had a red “J” stamped on their identity cards

They were given new middle names:

“Israel” for all males and “Sara” for all females; both the stamps and new names enabled police to easily identify


Almost everywhere under Nazi rule Jews were forced to sew the six pointed star

(aka, the Star of David or Jewish star) onto their clothes; Jews caught without these stars in public were arrested

Triangles and other symbols were also used by the Nazis to single out other

“inferior” peoples, including Jehovah’s

Witnesses, Gypsies (Roma), and



By 1939, 80,000

Jewish people were forced into ghettos— designated areas in the city where Jews were compelled to live

The Final Solution

By 1941 Hitler’s obsession with the complete annihilation of the Jewish race took on a horrible reality called the Final


Hitler ordered that all Jews in Nazioccupied Europe be rounded up and sent to the extermination camps to be killed en masse

Concentration Camps

The Nazi camp system began as a system of repression directed against political opponents of the Nazi state

In the early years of the Third Reich, Nazis primarily imprisoned Communists and Socialists

In about 1935, the Nazi regime also began to imprison those whom it designated as racially or biologically inferior, especially Jews

During WWII, the Nazi camp system expanded rapidly as the purpose of the camps evolved beyond imprisonment towards forced labour and outright murder

Concentration / Death Camps

Jews were sent to concentration camps that the Germans constructed in occupied

European countries; Jews were drafted to do forced labour and experienced

“extermination through work” at such camps

The Germans also deported Jews from all over occupied Europe to death

(extermination) camps in Poland where they were killed en masse

Concentration / Death Camps

Electrified barbed-wire fences kept prisoners within the confines of the camps

A door to the gas chamber in Auschwitz.

The note reads:

“Harmful Gas! Entering

Endangers Your Life”

Concentration / Death Camps

A mass grave in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 1945

Concentration / Death Camps

Corpses of women piled up in

Auschwitz, February 1945

An SS guard stands among the prisoners killed in his concentration camp April 27-30, 1945

Victims, Bystanders, and


Terms commonly used by historians to describe the different roles people had in the Holocaust

Victims includes all groups persecuted by the

Nazi Regime

Bystanders describes those individuals who were indifferent to the plight of Jews, and other victims of the Nazis; by their silence and inaction, these individuals and governments gave an unspoken approval to Nazi actions and policies

Perpetrators defines those people who committed the acts of terror and barbarism during the Holocaust

You who live safe

In your warm houses,

You who find, returning in the evening,

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man

Who works in the mud

Who does not know peace

Who fights for a scrap of bread

Who dies because of a yes or a no.

Consider if this is a woman,

Without hair and without name

With no more strength to remember,

Her eyes empty and her womb cold

Like a frog in winter.

Meditate that this came about:

I command these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street,

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children,

Or may your house fall apart.

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.

-Primo Levi

The Aftermath

In 1945, when Allied troops entered the concentration and death camps, they discovered piles of bones and ashes— testimony to Nazi genocide.

Soldiers also found thousands of survivors suffering from starvation and disease. After liberation, many Jewish survivors refused to return to their former homes because of the antisemitism that persisted in Europe.

Consequently, there were many displaced persons who sought refuge in other countries.

Auschwitz Survivors Greeting their Liberators

“None is too Many”: Canada’s Role

PM Mackenzie King knew that the Nazis were persecuting Jews and other groups, but he saw no need for Canada to become involved or for

Canada to accept Jewish refugees

In his diary in 1938 King wrote:

We must … seek to keep this part of the

Continent free from unrest … Nothing can be gained by creating an internal problem in the effort to meet an international one

“None is too Many”: Canada’s Role

Canadian secretary of State in 1939:

“despite all sentiments of humanity, so long as

Canada has an unemployment problem, there will be no ‘open door’ policy to political refugees here”



Thomas Crerar suggested that

10,000 Jews be allowed to immigrate to Canada

Cabinet refused Crerar’s suggestion:

Immigration Minister Fred Blair insisted that

“none is too many”

“None is too Many”: Canada’s Role

Canada’s policy had tragic consequences in 1939 when the ocean liner St. Louis that was carrying 900 Jewish refugees was denied permission to dock in Canada

The St. Louis was forced to return to

Europe, where most of the passengers died in concentration camps

“None is too Many”: Canada’s Role

Between 1933 and 1945, Canada opened its doors to less than 5,000 Jewish people

Of the 65,000 refugees let into Canada through 1948, only 12% were Jewish

Number of Jewish refugees brought into countries during 12 year Nazi Rule:

United States 200,000

Palestine 125,000

Britain 70,000

Argentina 50,000

Brazil 27,000

China 25,000

Bolivia and Chile 14,000

CANADA 5,000

How can we Understand What


All issues surrounding the Holocaust are complex—it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand how people could participate in a genocide while the rest of the world stood by

One suggestion for understanding the Holocaust is to try to personalize what happened so that the “unreal” seems real: we must remember that the 6 million Jews murdered during the

Holocaust, as well as the other 4 million people who were killed in concentration camps during

WWII, were all separate individuals who had unique experiences and suffered different tragedies

For Discussion:

“The World is too dangerous to live in—not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”

–Albert Einstein

Do you agree or disagree with

Einstein’s statement? Why?