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Holocaust Encyclopedia

For years before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, he was obsessed with ideas about race. In his speeches and writings, Hitler spread his beliefs in racial "purity" and in the superiority of the "Germanic race"—what he called an Aryan "master race." He pronounced that his race must remain pure in order to one day take over the world. For Hitler, the ideal "Aryan" was blond, blue-eyed, and tall.

When Hitler and the Nazis came to power, these beliefs became the government ideology and were spread in publicly displayed posters, on the radio, in movies, in classrooms, and in newspapers. The Nazis began to put their ideology into practice with the support of German scientists who believed that the human race could be improved by limiting the reproduction of people considered "inferior." Beginning in 1933, German physicians were allowed to perform forced sterilizations, operations making it impossible for the victims to have children. Among the targets of this public program were Roma (Gypsies), an ethnic minority numbering about 30,000 in Germany, and handicapped individuals, including the mentally ill and people born deaf and blind. Also victimized were about 500 African-German children, the offspring of German mothers and African colonial soldiers in the Allied armies that occupied the German Rhineland region after World War I.

Hitler and other Nazi leaders viewed the Jews not as a religious group, but as a poisonous "race," which "lived off" the other races and weakened them. After Hitler took power, Nazi teachers in school classrooms began to apply the "principles" of racial science. They measured skull size and nose length, and recorded the color of their pupils' hair and eyes to determine whether students belonged to the true "Aryan race." Jewish and Romani (Gypsy) students were often humiliated in the process.


February 24, 1920  -  Nazis Outline Political Agenda

The first public meeting of the Nazi party, then called the German Workers’ Party, takes place in Munich, Germany. Adolf Hitler issues a "25 Point Program" outlining the party's political agenda. The party platform embodies racism. It demands racial purity in Germany; proclaims Germany's destiny to rule over inferior races; and identifies Jews as racial enemies. Point 4 concludes that "No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the Nation."

July 18, 1925 - The First Volume of Mein Kampf Appears

Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while in prison for treason following his failed attempt to seize power in 1923. In Mein Kampf, he outlined his racial ideas. Hitler saw history as the struggle between races for living space. He envisioned a war of conquest in the east, with the Slavic peoples enslaved to German interests. He believed the Jews to be an exceptional evil, working within the nation to subvert "racial purity." He urged the "removal" of Jews from Germany.

July 14, 1933 - Nazi State Enacts Racial Purity Law  

Believing that "racial purity" requires state regulation of human reproduction, Adolf Hitler issues the Law to Prevent Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. Among other provisions, the measure prohibits "undesirables" from having children and mandates forced sterilization of certain physically or mentally impaired individuals. The law will affect some 400,000 people over the next 18 months.


Michael Burleigh, London School of Economics and Political Science, Wolfgang Wippermann, Freie Universität Berlin

Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazi regime in Germany tried to restructure a 'class' society along racial lines. This book deals with the ideas and institutions which underpinned this mission, and shows how Nazi policy affected various groups of people, both victims and beneficiaries. The book, first published in 1991, begins with a serious discussion of the origins of Nazi racial ideology, and then demonstrates the thoroughness and purposiveness with which this was translated into official policy. The book deals with the systematic persecution not only of the Jews, the largest group of victims of Nazism, but also with the fate of lesser-known groups such as Sinti and Roma, the mentally handicapped, the 'asocial', and homosexuals. Finally, the book examines the racially-motivated social policies of the regime which affected every German 'national comrade'. The authors argue that the Third Reich was fundamentally different from other totalitarian regimes because of the all-encompassing nature of its racial policies. These were neither exclusively reactionary nor 'modern', but were rather an unprecedented form of progress into barbarism.


BBC, By Professor Peter Longerich 2011-02-17


The Nazi regime attempted, in an unprecedented manner, to establish a system of rule based upon race. The National Socialists saw themselves as a revolutionary movement and their goal was a radical reshaping of existing society into a racially homogenous, 'Aryan' national community (Volksgemeinschaft).

The Jews were considered to be the chief enemy.

But this goal remained an unrealisable utopian ideal, not least because the 'races' existed only in the fantasy world of the Nazis. The racial homogeneity they desired could only be created negatively, through discrimination, exclusion and eradication - and ultimately by killing those who did not fit into their perfect 'Aryan' society.

These included, on the one hand, members of their own 'Aryan race' who they considered weak or wayward (such as the 'congenitally sick', the 'asocial', and homosexuals), and on the other those who were defined as belonging to 'foreign races'.

Among the latter, the Jews were considered to be the chief enemy. They were represented by the National Socialists as an 'anti-race' that had come into being through negative selection, and that had, through assimilation, deeply penetrated the German 'national body'.

The goal of the Jews, according to the Nazis, was to prevent the construction of the national community the Nazis were striving for. This racist anti-Semitism was able to build on a centuries-old Christian hostility to Jews that had, over time, become a social convention.

'Gypsies', including Roma and Sinti, were also viewed by the Nazis as a dangerous 'foreign' race.


Nazi propaganda: 'Such friendships debase Aryans' Nazi propaganda: 'Such friendships debase Aryans'  © By examining the persecution of the Jews between 1933 and 1939 - the years that saw the formation of the core of Nazi racism - three distinct phases can be discerned. During the first phase, in 1933 and 1934, the focus was on the exclusion of Jews from public life.

Immediately after taking power the Nazis organised an aggressive boycott of Jewish businesses, but very quickly also began to introduce anti-Jewish laws. Jews were not longer permitted to be civil servants or to practice law. Neither could they occupy any sort of public position.


At the same time, the Nazis quickly made clear that their racist policies were not exclusively aimed at Jews. As early as the summer of 1933 they passed a law that allowed the forced sterilisation of people who were considered 'congenitally sick'. By the end of the 'Third Reich' more than 300,000 Germans had fallen victim to this legislation.

In the spring of 1935, the Nazis began a new phase in the persecution of the Jews. The goal was now to bring about their biological segregation through a process of 'legal' discrimination. As in 1933 this phase began with anti-Semitic rioting organised by supporters of the Nazi party.

Again the regime reacted by imposing measures 'from above'. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws, defining who was to be considered Jewish, were announced. The equal rights of Jews as German citizens - in place in Germany since 1871 - was ended. Marriages and extramarital sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews were forbidden. In the years that followed, comprehensive anti-Jewish legislation was introduced which covered almost all aspects of life.

Following Heinrich Himmler's appointment as head of the German police in 1936, the persecution of other stigmatised groups also intensified. The Nuremberg Laws were extended to 'Gypsies', whose freedom of movement was restricted in 1936 through the introduction of special camps.

Social outsiders were branded 'asocial', and accused of carrying defective genes. They were frequently sterilised and imprisoned. Male homosexuality was declared a critical threat to the very existence of the German people and homosexuals were persecuted as a consequence.

Children known as 'Rhineland bastards' - born to German mothers, but fathered by French-African soldiers stationed in Germany after World War One - were forcibly sterilised in a comprehensive campaign in 1937.


Staff of the T4 'euthanasia' programme relaxing off duty Staff of the T4 'euthanasia' programme relaxing off duty  © A third, yet more radical phase in the persecution of Jews followed. From the spring of 1938, Nazi party workers organised demonstrations and riots which lasted through the summer and led to the pogrom of 9 November. Following the so-called 'Night of Broken Glass' (Kristallnacht), the Jews in Germany were stripped of all rights through the introduction of further anti-Semitic laws.

Around 5,000 'malformed' children were transferred and murdered.

The step-by-step process, begun in 1933, through which Jewish property was forcibly removed, was now brought to a rapid conclusion. The expulsion of Jews from Germany was to be forced through by the threat and use of violence. The Nazis' conquest of Europe from 1939 opened the way for them to subject the whole continent to their racist policies. From the outset, mass murder was a part of this process.

As early as August 1939 the regime ordered all 'malformed' children in Germany to be registered. In the years that followed, around 5,000 such children were transferred to special 'children's departments' and murdered. Shortly after the start of World War Two, this programme of so-called 'euthanasia' - dubbed 'T4' - was extended to include adult patients in mental institutions. More than 70,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals were murdered, mostly in gas chambers set up in six special killing centres.

This programme was cancelled in August 1941, but such patients continued to be killed in great numbers through local, decentralised action. Moreover, soon after the start of the war special SS units murdered thousands of institutionalised patients in the occupied Polish territories, shooting them or killing them in mobile gas chambers.

During the invasion of Poland, and in the first months of occupation, SS special units also systematically murdered 10,000 members of the Polish elites, among them thousands of Jews. This was the Nazis' first war of racial extermination.


Jewish mother before execution, Byelorussia Jewish mother before execution, Byelorussia  © With the defeat of Poland, around 1.7 million Jews came under German rule. The Nazi leadership now planned to establish a 'Jewish reservation' for all Jews from Poland and other parts of the German 'Reich'. It was to be located in the Lublin district of Poland, in the newly established 'General Government'. This plan formed a part of an extensive resettlement project that Adolf Hitler had appointed Himmler, also chief of the SS, to lead.

The Nazi leadership planned the death by starvation of 30 million people

Hundreds of thousands were expelled from Poland in order to make room for 'ethnically German' settlers. Yet all these plans for an 'ethnic new order' in Poland were to fail, made impossible by the scale of their megalomania. Thus the 'Jewish Reservation' remained a phantom, despite the fact that by the spring of 1941 several thousand Jews had already been deported to the 'General Government'. After the conquest of France in June 1940 these plans were largely replaced by another project designed to provide a 'territorial solution' to the 'Jewish question'.

As part of the so-called 'Madagascar Plan', all Jews under German rule were to be deported to the French colony of Madagascar. However, this plan was rendered unworkable as long as Great Britain's Royal Navy retained control of the seas.In the winter of 1940 to 1941, Hitler commissioned a third variation of the 'territorial solution', in which the Jews would be deported to the Soviet Union after it had been conquered.

Whether in Poland, Madagascar or the Soviet Union, these plans show unambiguously that the deported Jews would have succumbed to a combination of malnutrition, disease, forced labour and general abuse. Thus even the 'territorial solutions' were effectively conceived to bring about the physical end of the Jews in Europe.

In June 1941, the invasion of the Soviet Union began. It was conceived from the first by the Germans both as a racist war of extermination and as a campaign intended to exploit the occupied territory economically. The Nazi leadership planned in advance the death by starvation of 30 million people in the territory they hoped to conquer, in order to create additional 'living space' (Lebensraum) for Germans.

Significantly, no preparation of any kind was made for a supply of food and other essentials to the large numbers of prisoners of war they expected to capture. Around 60% of the 5.7 million Soviet soldiers captured were to die in German custody.


Additionally the Nazi leadership planned to liquidate the Soviet Union's ruling class in its entirety. Special teams of SS officers and policemen were employed to this end - including the notorious 'task force units' (Einsatzgruppen).Initially these groups, as they had done two years before in Poland, murdered members of the elites. Those killed were almost exclusively Jews, which accorded with the official Nazi doctrine that the Communist regime was ruled by Jews.

Fixed and mobile gas chambers were to be used to murder Jews

Soon, these German special units began to shoot all Jewish men of military age. Before long, they were systematically shooting women and children as well, thereby 'cleansing' entire regions of Jews. By the end of the year more than half-a-million Jewish civilians had been killed. In the Nazis' eyes, this mass murder was the first step towards an 'ethnic new order' in the conquered 'living space', and its victims were those whom the Nazis ranked lowest in their racial hierarchy.

In mid-1941, Hitler ordered the deportation of Jews from the Greater German 'Reich' to Eastern European ghettos. Ten thousand German Jews were sent to Lodz, Minsk and Riga between October 1941 and February 1942. From March 1942 they were deported to ghettos in the Lublin district. Hitler was thus putting into practice his plan, developed at the start of 1941, to deport the Jews to occupied Soviet territories. But he did not wait for his original precondition to be fulfilled - military victory over the Soviet Union's Red Army.

In autumn 1941, the Nazi regime extended the policy of mass murder to areas outside the Soviet Union. In so doing they drew on experience gained from the defunct T4 'euthanasia' programme. From this point, fixed and mobile gas chambers were to be used to murder Jews. At Chelmno, from December 1941, specially adapted buses (Gaswagen) were used for this purpose. In March 1942, Belzec extermination camp went into operation, killing Jews from Lublin and Galicia.

The exact date on which the leadership of the Nazi regime decided to convert the as-yet-unplanned intention to exterminate all European Jews into a concrete programme is not documented and is still the subject of controversy among historians. It is likely that it was not the consequence of a single decision, but of a longer process. The surviving minutes taken at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, at which representatives of the Nazi government and the SS discussed the 'Final Solution', is one of the rare documents that sheds light on this process.


In May 1942, the comprehensive European-wide programme of systematic murder began. Between May and July the deportations were extended to the other occupied Polish regions and the extermination camps Sobibor and Treblinka were opened. At the same time German and Slovak Jews were no longer being deported to ghettos, but directly to the extermination camps. July 1942 saw the first systematic deportations from Western Europe to Auschwitz, where people were subjected to a process of 'selection' and those deemed 'incapable of work' were sent directly to the gas chambers.

Millions of Eastern Europeans died as a consequence of brutal occupation.

Gradually, the Germans extended deportations to almost all occupied regions and to the countries with which they were allied. In the process it became evident that the extent and speed of the deportations varied from region to region and were dependent upon a number of factors. These factors were determined by how radically the occupied territory in question was being governed and/or the nature of the relationship with the German-allied government; by the willingness of local authorities to collaborate with the Germans; by the degree to which it was possible for Jews to escape or go underground; by the level of anti-Semitism exhibited by the local population, or, conversely, by the degree to which they were willing to help and protect Jews.

'Gypsies' were admittedly not persecuted with same intensity or in the same systematic fashion as were the Jews, but they were also shot and deported in huge numbers. Almost 20,000 died in Auschwitz alone. Millions of Eastern Europeans, who were seen by the Nazis as Slavic 'sub-humans', also died as a consequence of brutal occupation of their home countries. Many were deported to Germany as 'foreign labourers', or were ruthlessly forced from their homelands in the second half of the war as a consequence of the 'scorched earth' tactics of the German army.

The genocide and mass murder perpetrated by the 'Third Reich' and its allies - maintained until the last days of the war - should always be seen in the context of the Nazis' racist policies.


Beyond the Racial State:  Rethinking Nazi Germany










  The Nazis created
 the Mischling classificaion
to specify who is a Jew

Go to Holocaust Timeline to see when events happened


The Racial State, Germany 1933–1945

Racist  Utopia

Legalised Persecution


Madagascar Plan

The Final Solution'

Systematic Murder