Holocaust, originally, a religious rite in which an offering was entirely
consumed by fire. In current usage, holocaust refers to any widespread human
disaster, but as the term Holocaust it means the almost complete destruction of

European Jews by Nazi Germany When the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in

1933, it immediately began to take systematic measures against Jews. The Nazi

Party, government agencies, banks, and business enterprises made concerted
efforts to eliminate Jews from economic life, and from German life in general.

In 1938, following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a young

Jew, all synagogues in Germany were set on fire, windows of Jewish shops were
smashed, and thousands of Jews were arrested. This "Night of Broken When

World War II began in 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland,
bringing almost 2 million more Jews under Germany's control. Polish Jews were
forced to move into ghettos surrounded by walls and barbed wire. Unemployment,
malnutrition, and poverty were widespread; housing was overcrowded; and typhus
was common. In June 1941 German armies invaded the Union of Soviet Socialist

Republics (USSR), and soldiers in special units were dispatched to kill all

Soviet Jews on the spot. A month after operations began in the USSR, Hermann Göring,
the second in command of Nazi Germany, sent a directive to Reinhard Heydrich,
chief of the Reich Security Main Office, charging him with the task of
organizing a "final solution to the Jewish question" in all of

German-dominated Europe. Jews in Germany were then forced to wear badges or
armbands marked with a yellow star. Soon the Nazis deported tens of thousands to
ghettos in Poland and to occupied Soviet cities. Death camps, or concentration
camps, equipped with gas chambers were erected in occupied Poland. People were
deported from the ghettos; although their destinations were not disclosed,
reports of mass deaths eventually reached surviving Jews, as well as the
governments of the United States and Britain. Wherever possible, the Germans
confiscated the deportees' belongings and bank accounts. Auschwitz, near Kraków,
was the largest concentration camp, with inmates from all over Europe. Many

Jewish and non-Jewish inmates performed industrial labor. The Nazis subjected
some prisoners to medical experiments and gassed Jews and Roma (Gypsies). They
also shot thousands of inmates, while others died from starvation or disease.

Large crematories were constructed to incinerate bodies. By the end of the war
in 1945, millions of Jews—as well as Slavs, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's

Witnesses, Communists, and others targeted by the Nazis—had been killed or had
died in the Holocaust. The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the United

States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., opened in 1993 to
commemorate the Holocaust.