What was the Holocaust?

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By Farnoush Amiri


The Holocaust was the state-sponsored mass murder of 12 million people — 6 million of them Jews — by Nazi Germany under Hitler over more than a decade leading up to and during World War II.

Nearly seven out of 10 Jews living in Europe at the time were killed by death squads or in concentration camps, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933 — the year the Nazi state established the first concentration camps. Some of the first prisoners were political opponents, gay men and lesbians and anyone the German state deemed “dangerous.”

German police confiscated Jewish property, designated ghettos and forced-labor camps, and required Jews to wear armbands and the Star of David on their clothes. Gas vans also began to appear in eastern Germany in late 1941.

From 1933 to 1945, more than 42,500 concentration camps and other incarceration sites were built in Germany, according to the Holocaust Museum.


The Holocaust ended in May 1945 with the defeat of the Nazis by the Allied powers of the U.S., the Soviet Union, China and Britain. Allies forces in Europe found thousands of concentration camps with prisoners starving and stricken with disease.


Born in 1929, Anne Frank became the face of the Holocaust after her diary, documenting the day-to-day life of many Jewish people during the war, was found after her death.

In “The Diary of a Young Girl,” she recorded the fear she and her family endured during two years hiding from the Nazis in concealed rooms in an office building in Amsterdam. The diary, which Frank received as a gift for her 13th birthday, helped her pass the time in the cramped annex.

The family remained in hiding with the help of her father’s colleagues until their arrest in August 1944.

Frank and her parents were sent to Auschwitz, in southern Poland. A few months later, she was transported alone to another concentration camp in northern Germany, where she died of typhus, according to the Anne Frank House.

Her father, Otto, survived and had the diary published in 1947. It remains one of the most widely read books in the world and has served as the inspiration for several critically acclaimed plays and films.


In the 42,500 concentration camps and incarceration sites estimated by the Holocaust Museum, there were 30,000 slave labor camps, 1,150 Jewish ghetto and 980 concentration camps. The Nazis set up about 1,000 prisoners of war camps and had 500 brothels with dedicated sex slaves. There were also thousands of other camps used to euthanize the sick and elderly.


Otto Frank (1889-1980)

Anne Frank’s father was instrumental in the publishing of her diary and went on to create the Anne Frank House, a memorial museum in Amsterdam dedicated to her life.

Miep Gies (1909-2010)

Gies was one of the two Dutch citizens who helped hide the Franks in Amsterdam. She had previously been an employee of Otto Frank. Gies retrieved Anne’s diary from the annex and kept it safe until she was reunited with Otto in 1945.

Yisrael Kristal (1903-2017)

A year before he died, Kristal, a survivor of Auschwitz, was confirmed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living man, at 112.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Wiesel, who helped established the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, was a Nobel Laureate and Auschwitz survivor.

Gena Turgel (1923-2018)

Turgel, then 22, comforted a 15-year-old Anne Frank while both were at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before Frank’s death. Turgel also witnessed the horrors of the Nazi camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. She died in June at 95.


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