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The Holocaust

An overview of Holocaust including to an overview of the events that led up to it. Includes overviews of the Nazi Party, Mein Kampf, Nuremberg Laws, etc. Discussion of the term "genocide".

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video we're going to talk about what is one of the darkest chapters in human history, the Holocaust, which involved the massacre of roughly 6 million Jews and as many as 11 million civilians in total. In order to understand the Holocaust, we're going to start at World War I. Even prior to World War I, there were massacres, especially of Jews, in places like the Russian empire. The term pogrom is a Russian word meaning these violent riots or attacks on people for their ethnicity. There were several through the 19th century. But they go back even before that word was coined as early as the first crusades. Famously in the Rhineland, many of the Jewish people were killed and attacked. You had a solid thread of antisemitism throughout much of Europe, including Germany and Eastern Europe as we get up to and through World War I. As we've talked about in other videos, the central powers lose World War I and the Treaty of Versailles places a lot of the blame on Germany. The national pride of Germany has been shattered. They have lost this war. They have lost territory. Their economy is in shambles. They're paying reparations. It is in that context that the National Socialist Party forms officially in 1920, coming out of the German Workers Party. They focused on ideas of national identity and from the start were against ethnic groups, blaming their problems, including the loss of World War I often on these ethnic groups. In 1921, Hitler, who had fought during World War I and based on some of his writings seemed to have found a lot of meaning during the war, he becomes the National Socialist Party leader. National Socialist, it gets abbreviated as Nazi, National Socialist Party, Nazi Party. In 1923, Hitler tries to begin an overthrow of the government. But his putsch, his coup, is unsuccessful and he is imprisoned. It is while in prison that he writes down his belief system that eventually gets published upon his release in 1925 under the title Mein Kampf, which can be translated as my struggle or my battle. This is just an excerpt from Mein Kampf. "If we pass all the causes of the German collapse in review, "the ultimate and most decisive remains the failure "to recognize the racial problem "and especially the Jewish menace. "The defeats on the battlefield in August, 1918," so he's referring the end of World War I, "Would have been child's play to bear. "They stood in no proportion to the victories "of our people. "It was not they that caused our downfall, no. "It was brought about by that power which prepared "these defeats by systematically, over many decades, "robbing our people of the political and moral instincts "and forces which alone make nations capable "and hence worthy of existence." He's blaming Germany's defeat in World War I on a relatively small ethnic group. So, as you can see, a very twisted mind, very twisted thinking. "The lost purity of the blood alone "destroys inner happiness forever," so he's very caught up with these ideas of purity, "Plunges man into the abyss for all time, "and the consequences can never more be eliminated "from body and spirit." Over time, what starts off as this fringe leader of a fringe party, as we go into the 20s and as the German economy gets even worse and there's hyperinflation, more and more people start to throw their support behind these extremists. And as we go into the 30s, the National Socialist Party is actually able to get reasonable representation in the German parliament. In 1933, the president of Germany appoints Hitler to be chancellor, which is the equivalent of being prime minister despite the Nazis not having a majority in parliament. This is the official beginning of what the Nazis will call the Third Reich. Reich translates as realm. They considered the First Reich to be the holy Roman Empire. They refer to the Second Reich as the German Empire after the holy Roman Empire up and through World War I. They don't consider the Weimar Republic, which they hate, the Third Reich. They consider that the interim Reich. And they consider themselves the Third Reich, the heir to the German Empire and the holy Roman Empire. Once Hitler and the Nazis get power, they really get a strangle hold on it. They start persecuting their political opponents both, outside the party, and inside the party. They also start to take action on these twisted ideas Hitler expressed in Mein Kampf. In 1935, they're able to pass the Nuremberg Laws, which strips German Jews of their citizenship. It forbids intermarrying between non-Jewish Germans and Jews. This is only one of many steps that will continue to demean the rights of Jews inside of Germany. In 1938, you have what is known as Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass. Hundred of synagogues are burned. Thousands of Jewish businesses are destroyed and many Jews are killed in that night. Then as we get into 1939, Hitlers' armies famously invade Poland beginning what many historians consider to be the start of World War II. What would eventually be known as the Holocaust goes into full effect in 1941. Jews are sometimes executed in the streets, in their homes, many of them are captured and sent to concentration camps. To get a sense of the scale of this operation, we have this excerpt from Michael Berenbaum's book, The World Must Know. "The policy of extermination involved every level "of German society and marshaled the entire apparatus "of the German bureaucracy. "Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied "the birth records that defined and isolated Jews. "The post office delivered the notifications "of definition, expropriation, denaturalization, "and deportation. "The Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish wealth "and property. "German industrial and commercial firms "fired Jewish workers, officers, and board members, "even disenfranchising Jewish stockholders. "The universities refused to admit Jewish students, "denied degrees to those already enrolled, "and dismissed Jewish faculty. "government transportation bureaus handled "the billing arrangements with the railroads "for the trains that carried Jews to their death." The point that's being made here is this could not be done just with Hitler and some of his close associates. To kill millions of people on this scale, you needed and entire apparatus. And hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people were involved in some way. At least several hundreds of thousands of people within Germany must have been aware of what was happening. Needless to say, the death toll was considerable. This here is a visual depiction of the percentage of the Jewish population that was killed in various regions. As you can see, 80 to 90 percent of the Jewish population in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, was killed during the Holocaust. In the territories occupied by Germany in Russia during World War II, almost as many had been killed. In France, Italy, 1/5 to 1/4 of the population was killed. To put things more in human terms, this is a picture of children who were in Auschwitz, one of the most infamous concentration camps. You can see their names, their ages, and then when they were killed. Historians believe five to six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust including a million and a half children. This was 2/3 of the Jewish population of Europe. But the Holocaust went further. It's believed that over 10 million civilians were killed during the Holocaust. Over three million prisoners of war were killed. And other people including several hundred thousand Romani, often referred to as Gypsies. Several hundred thousand people with disabilities, many thousands of homosexuals were all put to death during the Holocaust. We've covered a lot of world history. A lot of it, unfortunately, has a lot of death, a lot of destruction and sometimes targeting people for their ethnicity. But never, in world history, have we seen something at this scale. Because it seemed to be a relatively new concept, a term was coined, genocide. It was coined by Raphael Lemkin who, as a Holocaust survivor, had 49 members of his family killed during the Holocaust. It means killing of a people. Geno, coming from a people or a family, and cide, killing. But maybe even more interesting than the word definition itself, is thinking about why this actually happened. Maybe even more importantly, how society can avoid it. I'll leave you with that question. What do you think was the reason why this happened? And do you think we have a risk of that happening in the future? And how can we prevent it?