During The Holocaust, millions of people died or were killed in Nazi Germany. These Holocaust victims included about six million Jewish people. They also included five million of people who were not Jewish, mainly Poles and Roma.
Holocaust victims died in many ways. Millions were murdered by the Nazis, especially in concentration camps and extermination camps (death camps). Many others died in camps and ghettoes from diseases, starvation, and freezing to death, caused by the terrible living conditions. Others in areas that Nazi Germany took over died from famine and other causes.
When all these people are added up, historians estimate that between 19 million and 22 million people died during The Holocaust. Holocaust victims came from many different countries, religions, ethnic groups, and cultures. The Nazis wanted to kill them for many different reasons.
The Nazis thought that there were some ethnic groups that were not even human. Two of these groups were the Jews and the Roma people. The Nazis decided to kill all of the Jews and Roma people in Nazi Germany. The Nazis also thought that Slavic peoples were less than human, and they killed millions of Slavs because of their ethnicity.
Early on in World War II, the Nazis made Jewish people leave their homes and forced them to live in ghettoes. However, by 1941, Adolf Hitler had decided to kill all of the Jews in Europe. This plan was called the Final Solution.
By the end of The Holocaust, one out of every three Jewish people in the world had died or been killed by the Nazis. Only one out of every three Jews in Europe survived The Holocaust. Many countries lost most of their Jewish populations. For example:
- 3 million Polish Jews died or were killed (this was 90% of the Jews in Poland)
- 2.1 million Jews died or were killed in the Soviet Union
- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, and Austria all lost 90% of their Jewish populations
- Another eight countries lost over half of their Jewish populations: Bohemia and Moravia (89%); Slovakia (83%); Greece (77%); Netherlands (75%); Hungary (70%); Belgium (60%); and Yugoslavia (60%)
Over one million Jewish children died or were killed during The Holocaust.
The Nazis killed millions of Slavic people during The Holocaust. These people included Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Bosniaks, and Sorbs. The Nazis thought Slavs were an inferior race. However, they also wanted to clear out the people in the Slavic countries, so there would be plenty of Lebensraum ("living space") for "Aryan" people.
Poles were one of the first groups that Hitler decided to get rid of. He first shared this idea in 1939. On August 22, 1939, Hitler said:
[T]he [goal] of the war is ... to destroy the enemy. That is why I have prepared ... my 'Death's Head' [groups of soldiers] with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we [get] the living space we need.p.115
Before World War II, Poland had the largest population of Jews in Europe. By the end of The Holocaust, three million Polish Jews had died or been killed.p. 403 So had between 1.8 million and three million Poles who were not Jewish.p. 305 These victims included:
- Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Poles, who were sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps
- Scholars and other important people
- Children of all ages
Almost 17% of Poland's population died or was killed in The Holocaust.
Many Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians died during Operation Barbarossa (the Axis countries' invasion of the Soviet Union). The Nazis killed many Soviet children as well as adult civilians in the lands they took over.
The Nazis killed millions of Red Army prisoners of war in many ways:
- German soldiers (especially the Waffen-SS) executed them after they were captured
- Many Soviet POWs died because of terrible conditions in German prisoner of war camps, or on death marches
- The Nazis sent many Soviet POWs to concentration camps to be killed
In eight months between 1941-1942, the Nazis killed about 2.8 million Soviet POWs by execution, starvation, and freezing to death.
After the Nazis occupied parts of the Soviet Union, they treated Soviet civilians terribly. During the siege of Leningrad, more than 1.2 million civilians died. Nazi soldiers destroyed thousands of peasant villages across Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. In 1995, the Russian Academy of Sciences reported that the Nazis caused 13.7 million civilian deaths in the occupied Soviet Union, including Jews. This was 20% of the area's population. These deaths included:
- 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals
- 2.2 million deaths of persons deported to Germany as forced labor
- 4.1 million deaths from famine and disease
About three million people also died of starvation in areas that the Nazis had not taken over.
In 1936, the Nazis began deporting Roma people, first to areas on the outside edges of cities, and later to the same ghettoes that Jews were sent to. In 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered that the Roma people (including children) should be sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nazis also sent many Roma adults and children to other death camps, like Bełżec, and to other concentration camps, like Ravensbrück.
Historians estimate that 220,000 to 500,000 Roma were killed by the Nazis. This was about one in every four Roma people who lived in Europe at the time. However, one researcher says that as many as 1.5 million Roma may have died during The Holocaust.
After World War II, it took a long time for countries to admit that Nazi Germany had committed a genocide against the Roma people. In 1982, West Germany admitted that a genocide of the Roma had happened. In 2011, the Polish Government ruled that Poland would honor the Roma genocide on the 2nd of August, every year.
The Nazis believed that people with disabilities were "life unworthy of life," and that they did not deserve to live. People with disabilities also did not fit into the Nazis' ideas about having a race of perfect "Aryans."
The Nazis forced about 375,000 people to be sterilized so they could not have children with disabilities. These people included people with physical disabilities, mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities, and the Deaf.
People with disabilities were the first people the Nazis killed in gas chambers. In 1939, the Nazis set up a program called the T-4 Euthanasia Program. As part of this program, the Nazis sent children and adults with disabilities to hospitals like Hartheim Euthanasia Centre, where they were killed with poison gas. They also killed some children with disabilities right after they were born. By the end of World War II, the Nazis had killed about 275,000 people with disabilities. About 5,000 to 7,000 of these victims were children.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were also victims of The Holocaust. The Nazis were especially cruel to gay men. They thought that homosexual people hurt Nazi Germany in a few ways:
- The Nazis thought gay men were too weak and too much like women to be able to fight for Nazi Germany
- The Nazis wanted "Aryan" Germans to have as many children as possible, but gay men would not be creating children
- The Nazis thought homosexuality was contagious, and that other Germans would become homosexual just by being around gay people
By 1936, Heinrich Himmler was trying to use Germany's laws, and make new laws, to persecute gay men. At least 100,000 gay German men were arrested, and 50,000 were convicted and put in prison. Some were forced into state-run psychiatric hospitals. Courts ordered hundreds of European gay men living in Nazi-controlled areas to be castrated with chemicals.
Between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were imprisoned in concentration camps. They were often treated even worse than other prisoners. They had to wear a pink triangle on their shirts, just like men convicted of sexually abusing children and having sex with animals.
Lesbians were not usually treated as badly as gay men. They were usually not put in prison just because they were lesbians. In the concentration camps, they usually wore a black triangle.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Nazi Germany did not seek to kill all homosexuals. Nevertheless, the Nazi state, through active persecution, attempted to terrorise German homosexuals into sexual and social conformity, leaving thousands dead and shattering the lives of many more."
After World War II, many homosexuals who were liberated from the concentration camps were still persecuted in Germany. They could be charged under Paragraph 175, a law which made "lewdness between men" illegal. If they were convicted, they would be sent to prison. (The time they spent in the concentration camps would be subtracted from their sentences.) This was very different from how other Holocaust victims were treated. Other victims were compensated (given money) for the loss of family members and educational opportunities. Gay victims were treated like criminals.
The Nazis also killed many people who did not agree with the Nazis' political beliefs. They thought of these people as political enemies of Nazi Germany.
The Nazis were especially cruel to people who spoke out or fought against the Nazi government. When they arrested these people, the Nazis often killed them right after questioning them. Sometimes, the Nazis killed their families too. People who were not killed right away were sent to the political People's Court. This court was famous for the number of death sentences it gave.
The Nazis thought of leftists as political enemies. Leftists included communists, socialists, and social democrats/democratic socialists. German communists and Social Democrats were some of the first people to be sent to Dachau concentration camp. The Nazi Party hated communism, and was worried that German communists would be loyal to the Soviet Union, a communist country. The Nazis spread rumors about communist violence to get the Enabling Act of 1933 passed. This law gave Adolf Hitler his first powers as a dictator.
Hitler and the Nazis also hated German leftists because they did not agree with the Nazis' racism. When the Nazis took over a place, communists, socialists and social democrats/democratic socialists were usually some of the first people they abused. Sometimes they would murder leftists right away.
As part of their religious beliefs, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to serve in the German Army, salute the Nazi flag, or say "Heil Hitler" ("Hail Hitler"). They refused to go along with Nazi beliefs and laws that went against their religious beliefs.
Because of this, many Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps. Between 2,500 and 5,000 Witnesses died in the concentration camps.
The Nazis also attacked the Catholic Church during The Holocaust. Hitler wanted to destroy Catholicism and Christianity in Nazi Germany, and make Nazi Germany pagan instead. Thousands of German clergy, nuns, and Catholic leaders were arrested after the Nazis took over.
In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, beginning World War II. Poland was mostly Catholic. The Nazis wanted to destroy Poland. They started by destroying the Catholic Church in Poland. They arrested the Church's leaders and closed churches and monasteries. In 1940, the Nazis created a special barracks just for priests at Dachau concentration camp. Of 2,720 clergy imprisoned at Dachau, almost all (94.88 percent) were Catholic. About 1,700 were Polish priests; half of them died or were killed at Dachau. The Nazis even made it illegal for priests anywhere to give Catholic sacraments to Polish people. At least one German priest was sent to Dachau for taking a confession from a Polish Catholic.
In 1933, Germany had made an agreement with the Holy See to protect Catholicism in Nazi Germany. However, the Nazis often broke this agreement. They shut down the Catholic press, schools, political parties and youth groups in Germany amid murder and mass arrests.
The Church was treated especially badly in lands that Germany took over. In Austria, Catholic property was taken, Catholic organizations were closed, and many priests were sent to Dachau. In Czechoslovakia, the Nazis refused to let people follow religious orders; closed schools; made religious teachings illegal; and sent priests to concentration camps. Catholic people, bishops, clergy, and nuns protested and attacked Nazi policies.
In 1942, Dutch bishops protested the mistreatment of the Jews. When the Dutch Archbishop refused to obey the Nazis, the Gestapo rounded up Catholic "Jews" and sent 92 to Auschwitz A Dutch Catholic nun named Edith Stein was murdered at Auschwitz. So was Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest. Both were eventually made into Catholic saints by Pope John Paul II in the 1980s. Other Catholic victims of the Holocaust have also been beatified, including some of the Polish priests who died at Dachau.
Some Protestant Churches agreed with Nazi ideas. Others did not. To try to take over Protestantism in Germany, the Nazis formed the National Reich Church: an official state church that taught a state religion based on Nazism. The Reich Church:
- Took away all Christian crosses and replaced them with the Nazi swastika
- Fired all clergy members and replaced them with Nazi speakers
- Demanded that the Bible never be printed in Germany again
- Put Hitler's book Mein Kampf on the altars of all its churches
Protestant groups that disagreed with Nazi ideas formed the Confessing Church, a group of German churches. Martin Niemöller was one or their leaders. Nazis persecuted the Confessing Church. In May 1936, the Confessing Church sent a letter to Hitler criticizing his actions. The Nazis reacted by:
- Arresting hundreds of pastors
- Sending some of the Confessing Church's leaders to concentration camps
- Taking all of the Confessing Church's money
- Making it illegal for the Confessing Church's members to give money to the Church
Most pastors and churches were not members of either the Reich Church or the Confessing Church. Pastors who spoke out against what the Nazis were doing were threatened, arrested, and sometimes sent to concentration camps.
The Nazis blamed Freemasonry for Germany losing World War I. They said the Freemasons' leaders were part of a conspiracy with Jewish people to take over Germany. In 1941, Adolf Hitler decided that Masons were political enemies. The Nazis sent tens of thousands of Masons to concentration camps. Between 80,000 to 200,000 Freemasons were killed.
This table estimates the total number of deaths caused by The Holocaust.
|Victims||Number of Deaths||Source(s)|
|Soviet civilians (not including Soviet Jews)||5.7 million|||
|Soviet POWs||2 million–3 million|||
|Ethnic Poles (not including Polish Jews)||1.8 million–3 million|||
|People with disabilities||275,000|||
|TOTAL||19.2 million - 22.2 million|
- See the section "Total deaths" for references.
- A figure of 26.3 million is given in Service d'Information des Crimes de Guerre: Crimes contre la Personne Humain, Camps de Concentration. Paris, 1946, pp. 197–198. Other references: Christopher Hodapp, Freemasons for Dummies, 2005; Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 2003; Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Holocaust, 1993; Israel Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 1995.
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- American Jewish Committee, Harry Schneiderman and Julius B. Maller, eds., American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 48 (1946–1947), Press of Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1946, page 599
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- "Children During the Holocaust". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. January 29, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
The Germans and their collaborators killed as many as 1.5 million children. This number included over a million Jewish children and tens of thousands of Romani (Gypsy) children, German children with physical and mental disabilities living in institutions, Polish children, and children residing in the occupied Soviet Union.
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The Munich Chief of Police, Himmler, has issued the following press announcement: On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 persons. 'All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organise as soon as they are released.'
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The National Church has no scribes, pastors, chaplains or priests, but National Reich orators are to speak in them. The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany... The National Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuehrer's Mein Kampf is the greatest of all documents. It ... not only contains the greatest but it embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of saints. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German national and therefore to God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
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- "GrandLodgeScotland.com". GrandLodgeScotland.com. Retrieved 31 July 2010.
- Freemasons for Dummies, by Christopher Hodapp, Wiley Publishing Inc., Indianapolis, 2005, page 85, sec. Hitler and the Nazis
- The number of Slovenes estimated to have died as a result of the Nazi occupation (not including those killed by Slovene collaboration forces and other Nazi allies) is estimated between 20,000 and 25,000 people. This number only includes civilians: Slovene partisan POWs who died and resistance fighters killed in action are not included (their number is estimated at 27,000). These numbers however include only Slovenes from present-day Slovenia: it does not include Carinthian Slovene victims, nor Slovene victims from areas in present-day Italy and Croatia. These numbers are result of a 10-year-long research by the Institute for Contemporary History (Inštitut za novejšo zgodovino) from Ljubljana, Slovenia. The partial results of the research have been released in 2008 in the volume Žrtve vojne in revolucije v Sloveniji (Ljubljana: Institute for Contemporary History, 2008), and officially presented at the Slovenian National Council (
- The Holocaust Chronicle, Publications International Ltd., p. 108.
- Pike, David Wingeate. Spaniards in the Holocaust: Mauthausen, the horror on the Danube; Editorial: Routledge Chapman & Hall ISBN 978-0-415-22780-3. London, 2000.