The dehumanisation of Jews did not start with the Nazis seizing power in Germany. The phenomenon of antisemitism was already part of society: restrictions and persecution against the Jewish population were already widespread in Europe for centuries.
Building up on this existing age-old hatred, when the Nazi regime was established in 1933, new discriminatory laws were passed against the Jews. Perceived as a threat to the German people, Jews were deprived of their rights and stripped of their citizenship. Deemed ‘unworthy’ of sharing the same space with the German ‘superior race’, Jews suffered from new restrictions and persecutions: they were slowly banished from public life, subjected to economic boycotts, witnessed their properties being confiscated and their synagogues destroyed, prevented from working as officials, banned from marrying non-Jews, violently attacked in deadly pogroms, and eventually forced to live in ghettos.
From the beginning of the war in 1939, the Nazi persecution spread across all occupied territories and together with their collaborators, they carried out systematic repression of Jews. Other groups were also considered ‘inferior’ and therefore enemies of the Third Reich, such as Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and the mentally or physically disabled.
Beginning in 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Jews were subjected to mass murder. The ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’, designed in Wannsee in 1942, foresaw the killing of all Jews. Between 1941 and 1944, millions of Jews were deported to ghettos and to extermination camps where they were murdered. In Eastern Europe, thousands were killed by bullets or buried alive. Millions died of starvation, disease, or violent treatment in concentration and extermination camps.
In the last months of the war, the Nazis tried to erase all traces of inhuman experiments and extermination facilities – they burned documents and destroyed buildings. The Nazis also killed many Jewish forced labourers and deported the rest to still functioning extermination camps, either by train or ‘death marches’, during which most of the prisoners were murdered or died of exhaustion and starvation.
Unfortunately, the hatred against Jews did not start with the Nazis and did not end with their defeat. Many Holocaust survivors returned to their homes only to discover that their houses were taken and to be welcome with violence and animosity by their neighbours.
The Holocaust devastated European Jewry and left behind a crippled continent, with hundreds of Jewish communities destroyed and with one third of its Jewish citizens murdered.