The Holocaust or Shoah was the systematic murder and bureaucratically organized genocide of more than 20 million people in Europe, committed by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
Europe - 1920
After the devastating political and economic crisis of World War I, which had completely changed the map of Europe, and after the rejection of the terms imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, dictatorships began taking control of European governments.
Moreover, the dissatisfaction of the people, the elitist perception of the supremacy of the strongest, and the worship of a leader considered a superhero, in addition to the large gap between leaders and the common people, not only based on class but also political ideology, were factors that set the stage for the National Socialist German Workers' Party or Nazism to create the expectation that they would return to a glorious Germany, with the biologically determined Aryan race, an allegedly virile, pure, creative, and educated race, the only ones capable of defeating the conspiracy of the Jews, who were considered by them to be a dangerous cancer infiltrating European societies.
Germany - 1933
Then Adolf Hitler rose to power: a violent, totalitarian, and anti-Semitic demagogue who believed in the hierarchy of races, and expressed visceral hatred and disgust towards Jews, whom he considered parasites. He used democracy to take power during the nationalization of the masses, and then he removed it, making his own will the only law, the law of the Führer, who would reign indefinitely.
"We can be happy in the knowledge that this future belongs to us completely."
His main objective was to make Germany an expansionist empire under the “living space” ideology, eliminating races that the Nazis deemed to be inferior, and who they believed could weaken them through racial mixing. His campaign to dehumanize, segregate, and annihilate the Jews—which he began in the Munich breweries—would in his mind lead directly to the solution of the Jewish problem in the world.
Throughout his rule, the Nazi regime made laws that prevented the Jewish people from relating to the German people racially; later on, they were banned from participating in public life, being employed in any government job, attending universities, pursuing professions such as law and medicine, or expressing their culture. They were then forced to wear a yellow star as a sign of warning and danger to the community.
The Nazi propaganda machine circulated newspapers, which became the major media outlet of the National Socialist ideology, claiming that their territories should be free of Jews.
By 1935, Hitler had already eliminated any notion of the rule of law by abolishing Parliament, subjugating the judicial branches, taking control of and censoring the independent press, and by assuming the positions of president, Chancellor, and Commander-in-Chief as the Führer.
After the annexation of Austria, the occupation of what is now the Czech Republic and the German invasion of Poland alongside Russia, Hitler got what he had always wanted: the outbreak of another world war, which was to mark the resurgence of Germany and the birth of a new Reich.
Ghettos were created. These were highly populated areas of confinement in inhumane and dangerous conditions where diseases and food shortages spread amid cold temperatures; a tormenting stay for Jews before they were transported to labor camps, where the policy of annihilation through labor was to be applied relentlessly. That is how they were to be taught their racial differences.
Being declared physically fit for work meant surviving. Jews lost their identity and dignity when their names were replaced with numbers; they were mistreated, humiliated and subjected to cruel and ruthless acts.
—Francisco Witcher, Holocaust survivor—
"In the concentration camps we were numbers; we didn’t have first or last names, but numbers, so that every time they would count less, so that less of us remained."
Between 1941 and 1945 the Nazi regime began to mobilize millions of Jews from Germany, its occupied territories, and from many of its Axis allies to the ghettos and extermination camps (also called death camps), where they were killed in every way possible, including in gas chambers and crematoriums built especially for what was called "the final solution". The devastation of the Jews was to be rapid, systematic and effective.
During the last months of the war, the Nazis transported the last concentration camp prisoners by train or by forcing them to walk in bitter cold temperatures in what were called "death marches", so as to leave no survivors to tell what happened. This was the case until May 7, 1945, the day the German Armed Forces unconditionally surrendered to the Allies in an attempt to prevent them from freeing large quantities of prisoners. As the Allied forces closed in on Berlin, they began to find the concentration camps. There, humanity felt ashamed because of what man was capable of doing.
—Helena Finkelstein. Holocaust survivor—
"They made them undress, and one by one they had to jump into the pit, is it called a pit? Into the hole, and lie on top of each other. And they killed them."
—Jacobo Brod, Holocaust Survivor—
"There is picture that I cannot erase from my mind: piles of human skeletons, piled together, one on top of the other, drying in the open air, only to enter into the oven."
—Eugenia Unger, Holocaust survivor—
“Where were you when you saw a Nazi take a child and tear it in half? Where was he when the Nazis grabbed their little legs and smashed their skulls against the walls? Where was God?”
1948 - 1951
After the Holocaust, a great number of homeless people wandered throughout Europe, many unable to return to their place of origin, full of fear and in a critical physical and mental state; they were desperate for someone familiar who could provide a place for them to begin their lives again. Some entered refugee camps administered by Allied forces, nearly 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, others to the United States and other countries that took them in after a long visa processes, where they still had to face the disbelief of those who heard their stories.
Today, nearly seventy years later, survivors tell their story in order to keep this from happening again.