WORLD WAR II
THE HISTORY OF HOLOCAUST
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HISTORICAL ANTI-SEMITISM & HITLER’S RISE TO POWER
The roots of Hitler’s particularly virulent brand of anti-Semitism are unclear. Born in Austria in 1889, he served in the GERMAN army during World War 1. Like many anti-Semites in Germany, he blamed the Jews for the country’s defeat in 1918. Soon after the war ended, Hitler joined the National GERMAN Workers’ Party, which became the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), known to ENGLISH speakers as the Nazis. While imprisoned for treason for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler wrote the memoir and propaganda tract “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), in which he predicted a general European war that would result in “the extermination of the Jewish race in Germany.” Hitler was obsessed with the idea of the superiority of the “pure” German race, which he called “Aryan,” and with the need for “Lebensraum,” or living space, for that race to expand. In the decade after he was released from prison, Hitler took advantage of the weakness of his rivals to enhance his party’s status and rise from obscurity to POWER. On January 20, 1933, he was named chancellor of Germany. After President Paul von Hindenburg’s death in 1934, Hitler anointed himself as “Fuhrer,” becoming Germany’s supreme ruler.
NAZI REVOLUTION IN GERMANY, 1933-1939
BEGINNING OF WAR , 1939-1940
In September 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland. German police soon forced tens of thousands of Polish Jews from their homes and into ghettoes, giving their confiscated properties to ethnic GERMANS (non-Jews outside Germany who identified as German), Germans from the Reich or Polish gentiles. Surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, the Jewish ghettoes in Poland functioned like captive city-states, governed by Jewish Councils. In addition to widespread unemployment, poverty and hunger, overpopulation made the ghettoes breeding grounds for disease such as typhus.
Meanwhile, beginning in the fall of 1939, Nazi officials selected around 70,000 GERMAN institutionalized for mental illness or disabilities to be gassed to death in the so-called Euthanasia PROGRAM. After prominent German religious leaders protested, Hitler put an end to the PROGRAM in August 1941, though killings of the disabled continued in secrecy, and by 1945 some 275,000 people deemed handicapped from all over Europe had been killed. In hindsight, it seems clear that the Euthanasia Program functioned as a pilot for the Holocaust.