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Inmates of Buchenwald concentration camp (16 April 1945)

While the term Holocaust victims generally mentions Jews during the Holocaust, the Nazis also persecuted and killed millions of Romani, Roman Catholics, Poles, Slavs, and other groups the Nazis considered subhuman (Untermenschen), inferior, undesirable or dangerous.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) states: "The Holocaust was the murder of six million Jews and millions of others by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II."[1]

In addition to Jews and Romani (of whom 1,5 million approximately were killed), the targeted groups also included communists Ukrainians (of whom 3 million approximately were killed), Poles (2.5 million) and other Slavic peoples; Soviets (particularly prisoners of war) and others who did not belong to the Aryan Herrenvolk (Master Race) such as people with mental disorders, the deaf, the physically disabled, those with learning disabilities; gay men (and occasionally lesbians), transgender people; political opponents (such as communists, trade unionists, social democrats, socialists, anarchists and others with left-wing political views); and religious dissidents such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.[2][3] Taking into account all of the victims of Nazi persecution, they systematically killed an estimated 6 million Jews and mass murdered an additional 11 million people during the war. Donald Niewyk suggests that the broadest definition, including Soviet civilian deaths would produce a death toll of 17 million.[4]

Despite often widely varying treatment (some groups were actively targeted for genocide, while others were not), these victims all perished alongside one another, some in concentration camps such as Dachau and, some as victims of other forms of Nazi brutality, but most in death camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (both written and photographed), eyewitness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders) and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation.

Ethnic criteria


The paramilitary campaign to remove certain classes of persons – but above all, Jews – from Germany and other German-held territories during the Second World War, often using methods of extreme brutality, is commonly known as the Holocaust. The Holocaust was carried out primarily by German forces and certain collaborative persons, both German and otherwise. As the war started, millions of Jews were concentrated in ghettos. In 1941, massacres of Jews took place and by December Hitler had decided to exterminate all of the Jews living in Europe at that time. In all, more than 30% of the Jews in Europe were murdered in the Holocaust. The world's Jewish population was reduced by a third, from roughly 16.6 million in 1939 to about 11 million in 1946.[5] Even sixty years later, there are still fewer Jews in the world today than there were prior to 1940.[6]

In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Bühler, the State Secretary for the Central Government, urged Reinhard Heydrich, the conference chairman, to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór and Treblinka. The author Sebastian Haffner, published the analysis in 1978 that Hitler, from December 1941, accepted the failure of his goal to dominate Europe on his declaration of war against the United States, and that his withdrawal thereafter was sustained by the achievement of his second goal—the extermination of the Jews.[7] Even as the Nazi war machine faltered in the last years of the war, precious military resources such as fuel, transport, munitions, soldiers and industrial resources were still being diverted away from the war towards the death camps.

Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in the world before the war, had 3,000,000 (90%) of its Jewish population killed. The Germans had issued the death penalty for hiding Jews and this law was carried out fully. Some Poles hid Jews and saved their lives despite the risk to them and their own families. Although detailed reports on the Holocaust had reached western leaders, public awareness in the United States and other democracies of genocidal mass murder of Jews in Poland was extremely poor at the time; the first references in The New York Times in 1942 were not front-page news, these articles were more in the nature of unconfirmed reports.

Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Latvia each had over 70% of their Jewish population destroyed. Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia lost around 50% of their Jews, the Soviet Union over one third; even countries such as France and Italy had each seen around 25% of their Jewish population killed. Denmark was able to evacuate almost all of its Jews to nearby Sweden, which was neutral during the war. The Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many ordinary Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark's 7,800 Jews by sea to Sweden (a neutral country),[8] using everything from fishing boats to private yachts. The rescue allowed the vast majority of Denmark's Jewish population to avoid capture by the Nazis.[8] Some Jews outside Europe under Nazi occupation were also affected by the Holocaust, such as in Italian Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Japan, and China.

Although Jews are an ethnoreligious group, Jews were defined by the Nazis purely on racial grounds. The NSDAP regarded Jewis religion as irrelevant and persecuted Jews on antisemitic stereotypes, and put it down to biologically determined heritage that drove the Jewish race. While it defined the Jew as the main enemy, Nazi racial ideology was used against other persecuted ethnic minorities.[9]


The Nazi genocide of Romani people was ignored by scholars until the 1980s; opinions continue to differ on its details. Historians Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia write that the genocide of the Romani began later than the genocide of the Jews and that a smaller proportion was killed.[10] Hitler's campaign of genocide against the Romani population of Europe involved an application of Nazi "racial hygiene" (a type of selective breeding for humans). Despite discriminatory measures, some Romani groups, including some of the Sinti and Lalleri of Germany, were spared deportation and death, the remaining Romani groups suffered much like the Jews. Romani were deported to the Jewish ghettos, shot by SS Einsatzgruppen in their villages or deported and gassed in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka.

Estimates of the death toll of Romani people in World War II range from 220,000 to 1,500,000.[11] The genocide of the Roma was formally recognised by West Germany in 1982 and by Poland in 2011.[12]


Slavs were one of the most widely persecuted ethnic groups, with many Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Czechs, Sorbs, and others exterminated. Exceptions were drawn for Croats and Slovaks due to military alliances with Germany.

According to British historian Ian Kershaw, the genocide and extreme brutality used by the Nazis was their way of ensuring the Lebensraum ("living space") for the people who met the strict requirements of being part of Hitler's Aryan Herrenvolk ("master race") and the elimination of the Bolsheviks and Slavs, he wrote that:

The Nazi revolution was broader than just the Holocaust. Its second goal was to eliminate Slavs from central and eastern Europe and to create a Lebensraum for Aryans. ... As Bartov (The Eastern Front; Hitler's Army) shows, it barbarised the German armies on the eastern front. Most of their three million men, from generals to ordinary soldiers, helped exterminate captured Slav soldiers and civilians. This was sometimes cold and deliberate murder of individuals (as with Jews), sometimes generalised brutality and neglect. ... German soldiers' letters and memoirs reveal their terrible reasoning: Slavs were 'the Asiatic-Bolshevik' horde, an inferior but threatening race. Only a minority of officers and men were Nazi members.[13]


Between 1941 and 1945, approximately 3,000,000 Ukrainian and other gentile victims were killed as part of Nazi extermination policies in the territory of modern Ukraine.[14][15] More Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers combined.[16] Original plans of genocide called for the extermination of 65% of the nation's 23.2 million Ukrainians,[17][18] with the remainder of inhabitants to be treated as slaves.[19] Over 2,000,000 Ukrainians were deported to Germany for slave labour.[20] In ten years' time, the plan effectively called for the extermination, expulsion, Germanisation or enslavement of most or all Ukrainians.


The Nazi occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal episodes of the war, resulting in more than three million deaths, not including some three million Polish Jews. The six million Polish citizens who were killed were Jewish, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. These deaths accounted for nearly 17% of the country's population.[21] Poles were one of Hitler's first targets of extermination, as outlined in the speech he gave to Wehrmacht commanders before the invasion of Poland in 1939. The intelligentsia and socially prominent or influential people were primarily targeted, although mass murders were committed against the general Polish population, as well as against other groups of Slavs. Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Poles were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other concentration camps, the intelligentsia were the first targets of the Einsatzgruppen death squads.[22] The anti-Polish campaign culminated in the near-complete destruction of the capital Warsaw, ordered by Hitler and Himmler in 1944.

Soviet Slavs and POWs

During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, millions of Red Army prisoners of war (POWs) were arbitrarily executed in the field by the invading German armies (in particular by the Waffen SS), died under inhumane conditions in German prisoner of war camps and during death marches, or were shipped to concentration camps for execution. The Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs through starvation, exposure and execution, in eight months over 1941 and 1942.[23] According to the USHMM, by the winter of 1941, "starvation and disease resulted in mass death of unimaginable proportions". Up to 500,000 were killed in the concentration camps.[24]

Soviet civilian populations in the occupied areas were also heavily persecuted (in addition to the treacherous conditions of the Eastern Front front-line warfare manifesting itself in episodes such as the siege of Leningrad in which more than 1.2 million civilians died). Thousands of peasant villages across Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were annihilated by German troops. During the occupation, Russia's Leningrad, Pskov and Novgorod region lost around a quarter of its population. Some estimate that as many as one quarter of all Soviet civilian deaths (five million Russian, three million Ukrainian and 1.5 million Belarusian) deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies were racially motivated.[25] The Russian Academy of Science in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR, including Jews at German hands, totalled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR, including 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 2.2 million deaths of persons deported to Germany for forced labour; and 4.1 million famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3.0 million famine deaths in the territory not under German occupation. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR in its 1946–1991 borders, including territories annexed in 1939–40.[26] The deaths of 8.2 million Soviet civilians including Jews, were documented by the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission[27]

People with disabilities

Following a eugenics policy, the Nazis believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed to be cared for by others; they were also considered an affront to Nazi notions of a society peopled by a perfect, superhuman Aryan race. Around 375,000 individuals were sterilised against their will because of their disabilities.[28]

People with disabilities were also among the first to be killed by the Nazis; the USHMM notes that the T-14 Program, established in 1939, became the model for future exterminations by the Nazi regime, and set a precedent for their attempted genocide of the Jewish race.[29] The T-4 Program was established in order to maintain the "purity" of the Aryan race by systematically killing children and adults born with physical deformities or suffering from mental illness; this included use of the first gas chambers. Although Hitler formally ordered a halt to the program in late August 1941, the killings secretly continued until the end of the war, resulting in the genocide of an estimated 275,000 people born with disabilities.[30]


The Nazi regime promoted xenophobia and racism of all "non-Aryan" races. African (black sub-Saharan or North African) and Asian (i.e. East Asian and South Asian) residents in Germany, and black prisoners of war (such as the French colonial troops captured during the Battle of France), were also victims of Nazi racial policy.[31] When the Nazis came to power there were hundreds of African-German children living in the Rhineland. They were the offspring of German mothers and African soldiers brought in during the French occupation.[32] In Mein Kampf, Hitler described children resulting from marriages to African occupation soldiers as a contamination of the white race "by Negro blood on the Rhine in the heart of Europe"[33] and that they were "bastardising the European continent at its core".[34] He also believed "Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardising the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate."[35]

Japan signed the Tripartite Pact on September 27, 1940, with Germany and Italy and was therefore part of the Axis Pact; no Japanese people were known to be deliberately imprisoned or killed as they were considered "Honorary Aryans". In The Political Testament of Adolf Hitler, Hitler stated,

I have never regarded the Chinese or the Japanese as being inferior to ourselves [...] and I admit freely that their past history is superior to our own. They have the right to be proud of their past, just as we have the right to be proud of the civilisation to which we belong.[36]

South Africans and white Europeans of gentile ancestry from other continents were exempt, as were many Latin Americans of "evident" Germanic or "Aryan" ancestries, but not mestizos.


Homosexuals and non-heterosexuals were also targets of the Holocaust, as male homosexuality (and, to a lesser extent, female homosexuality) was deemed incompatible with Nazism as the Nazis believed that gay men were weak, effeminate men who could not fight for the German nation and saw homosexuals as unlikely to produce children and increase the German birth-rate. The Nazis held that inferior races produced more children than "Aryans," so anything that diminished Germany's reproductive potential was considered a racial danger because of their supposed failure to reproduce the "master race", which was considered a duty.[37] This was combined with the belief among the Nazis that homosexuality could be contagious.[38] By 1936 Heinrich Himmler led an effort to persecute gay men under existing and new anti-gay laws. More than one million gay Germans were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as convicted homosexuals.[39] An additional unknown number were institutionalised in state-run mental hospitals. Hundreds of European gay men living under Nazi occupation were chemically castrated under court order.[40] It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were imprisoned in concentration camps,[40][41] but it is difficult to put an exact number on how many perished in them. According to Heinz Heger, an Austrian survivor, gay men "suffered a higher mortality rate than other relatively small victim groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and political prisoners."[42] Gay men in Nazi concentration camps were identified with a pink triangle on their shirts, as well as those convicted of sexually assaulting children and those who committed bestiality.[43] Lesbians were not normally treated as harshly as homosexual men; they were labelled "asocial", but were rarely imprisoned on sexual orientation grounds and were usually designated a black triangle in the concentration camps, as opposed to gay men who were given the pink triangle (which has since been used as a symbol of LGBT pride).[44]

There are many claims about the sexuality of Adolf Hitler, and the Nazi party, with claims that many of the early Nazi party founders, including Hitler himself, may have been gay.[45] These "gay Nazi" claims stem from a book called "The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party".[46] or Germany's National Vice.[47] These books have drawn criticism from many historians such as Erik N. Jensen regards the authors' linkage of homosexuality and Nazism as the recurrence of a "pernicious myth" which had originated in the 1930s as attacks on Nazism by their political opponents (primarily Socialists and Communists) and that these claims have "long since dispelled" by "serious scholarship".[48]

According to the website of the USHMM, "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." [40]

Many homosexuals who were freed from the concentration camps were continually persecuted in post-war Germany. Many survivors were re-imprisoned under Paragraph 175 (which forbade "lewdness between men"), with time in the concentration camps deducted from their pensions. While other victims of the Holocaust received compensation for loss of family and loss of education, homosexuals remained deviants in the eyes of post-war society. In fact in Germany many more men were prosecuted under Paragraph 175 in the years immediate to the Nazi regime.[49]

Political criteria

Political prisoners

Another large group of the victims were various German and foreign civilian activists opposed to the Nazi regime from all over the political spectrum, as well as captured World War II resistance fighters (a great many of whom were executed during or immediately after their interrogation, especially in occupied Poland and France); sometimes also their families. German political prisoners were, for example, a substantial group among the first Dachau inmates, (the prototype Nazi concentration camp). The political People's Court became infamous for the enormous number of death sentences handed down.[50]

Political Leftists

German Communists were among the first people to be sent to concentration camps.[51][52] They concerned Hitler due to their ties with the USSR and because the Nazi Party was intractably opposed to Communism. Rumours of pending communist violence were started by the Nazis as justification for the Enabling Act of 1933, the law which gave Hitler his original dictatorial powers. Hermann Göring later testified at the Nuremberg Trials that it was the willingness of the Nazis to repress German Communists that prompted Hindenburg and the old elite to cooperate with them. Hitler and the Nazis also hated German leftists because of their resistance to Nazi racism. Many leaders of German leftist groups were Jews who were especially prominent among the leaders of the Spartacist Uprising in 1919. Hitler referred to Marxism and "Bolshevism" as a means of "the international Jew" to undermine "racial purity" and survival of the Nordics or Aryans, as well as stirring up socioeconomic class tension and labour unions against the government or relevant businesses. Whenever the Nazis occupied a new territory, members of communist, socialist, or anarchist groups were thus normally among the first to be repressed, including summary executions. An example of this is Hitler's infamous Commissar Order in which he demanded the summary execution of all political commissars captured among Soviet soldiers.[53]

Other religious persecution

The Nazis also targeted some religious groups for political and ideological reasons. Thousands of Christian clergy were killed by the Nazis, including some who had a Jewish background, as in the case of Edith Stein, as the Nazis believed in the idea of a Jewish racial group (making secular people and people of other religions who have Jewish heritage be considered Jewish), a belief some Jews still hold today.[54]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Historian Detlef Garbe, director at the Neuengamme (Hamburg) Memorial, writing about Jehovah's Witnesses, stated that "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism [Nazism] with comparable unanimity and steadfastness." [55] Between 2,500 and 5,000 died in the concentration camps,[56] as they weren't willing to fight for any cause, and therefore refused to serve in the army.[57]

Roman Catholics

Hitler on occasion claimed to be Catholic himself, but his true beliefs are somewhat ambiguous. Although the Holy See had officially established a concordat between Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) and Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1933 (which the Nazis frequently violated through the "Struggle with the Churches"[58]) there was Catholic opposition to the Nazi party in Germany. In some countries, Catholic bishops and Catholics themselves had openly protested and attacked Nazi policies. For instance, in the Netherlands and Poland, where bishops and priests had protested the deportation of Jews, the clergy was either threatened with deportation themselves and kept in custody (as in the case of German bishop Clemens von Galen), or directly deported to concentration camps (as in the cases of the Dutch Carmelite priest Titus Brandsma and Polish Father Maximilian Kolbe, who was later canonised). The Catholic Church was particularly suppressed in Poland. Between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 3,000 members (18%) of the Polish clergy, were murdered; of these, 1,992 died in concentration camps.[59] In the annexed territory of Reichsgau Wartheland it was even more harsh: churches were systematically closed and most priests were either killed, imprisoned, or deported to the General Government. Eighty per cent of the Catholic clergy and five bishops of Warthegau were sent to concentration camps in 1939; 108 of them are regarded as blessed martyrs.[59] Religious persecution was not confined to Poland, in Dachau concentration camp alone, 2,600 Catholic priests from 24 different countries were killed.[59]


The Nazis attempted to deal with Protestant dissent over their teachings by creating the Reich Church, which was a unified state church of the existing 28 Protestant groups that espoused a single doctrine compatible with Nazism. Non-Aryan ministers were suspended and Church members called themselves German Christians, with "the Swastika on their chest and the Cross in their heart."[60][61] The Protestant opposition to Nazi teachings established a rival Church called the Confessing Church, an umbrella organization of independent regional churches in Germany, who were persecuted by the Nazis.[60]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith was formally banned in the Third Reich. In 1937 Heinrich Himmler signed an order disbanding the Bahá'í Faith's institutions in Germany[62] because of its 'international and pacifist tendencies'.[63] In 1939 and in 1942 there were sweeping arrests of former members of the National Spiritual Assembly. In May 1944 there was a public trial in Darmstadt at which Dr. Hermann Grossmann was allowed to defend the character of the religion but the Bahá'ís were instead heavily fined and its institutions continued to be disbanded.[64]


The Nazis claimed that high degree Masons were willing members of "the Jewish conspiracy" and that Freemasonry was one of the causes of Germany's defeat in WWI. The preserved records of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – Office of the High Command of Security Service pursuing the racial objectives of the SS through Race and Resettlement Office), show the persecution of the Freemasons.[65] The number of Freemasons from Nazi occupied countries who were killed is not accurately known, but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 were murdered.[66]


Speakers of the international auxiliary language of Esperanto were regarded with suspicion by the Nazis. The language was considered by Hitler to be a language of the Jewish conspiracy due to the fact that its creator L. L. Zamenhof was Jewish.[67]

Enemy nationals

Thousands of people (mostly diplomats) belonging to certain nationalities associated with the Allies (e.g. China and Mexico), as well as Spanish Civil War refugees in occupied France, were also interned or executed. After Italy capitulated in 1943, many Italian nationals, including partisans and Italian soldiers disarmed by the Germans, were sent to concentration camps.


The SS and police troops often unleashed mass actions against civilians with alleged links to resistance movements, their families, and even whole villages or districts of a city. In numerous cases resulting in wholesale slaughter of entire villages or towns, such as in the infamous cases of Lidice, Khatyn, Sant'Anna and Oradour-sur-Glane; one whole district of Warsaw was massacred. In occupied Poland, Nazi Germany formally imposed the death penalty on anybody found sheltering or helping Jews. "Social deviants" – prostitutes, vagrants, alcoholics, drug addicts, open dissidents, pacifists, draft resisters and common criminals were also often imprisoned in concentration camps. The common criminals frequently became Kapos, the inmate-guards policing other prisoners.

In the late 1930s, the Nazi program to punish many rich German persons as "enemies of the state" confiscated properties and placed thousands of them in concentration camps. According to Nazi policies formulated in part by Goebbels, the rich elite manipulated the German economy and held seditious liberal views contrary to Nazism. The Nazis had targeted other groups to be imprisoned for their political views deemed threatening by Hitler or the party; such as the members of women's rights groups who were accused of spouting "Jewish-led" "communist-socialist" dogmas of gender equality.

Some of the Germans and Austrians who had lived abroad for a significant proportion of their lives were also deemed to have too much exposure to foreign ideas; many were put into concentration camps. These prisoners were called "Emigrants" and marked with a blue triangle.[68]

See also


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