The Holocaust and World War II

The Holocaust is a frightening example of what can happen if we do not constantly talk about democracy and the equal value of all human beings.


What is the Holocaust?

The genocide (mass murder) of Jews during World War II has been named the Holocaust. The name comes from the fact that the Nazi regime worked very methodically to wipe out all of the Jews throughout Europe. The Jewish genocide carried out by the Nazis and their allies resulted in the murder of about 6 million Jews. The genocide took place during World War II, between 1939 and 1945. The Roma were also subjected to genocide because of the Nazis’ belief that there were different “human races”. The Nazis also persecuted, imprisoned and killed thousands of people who were, for example, political opponents, homosexual, or people who the Nazis thought “did not fit in” to the Nazi society, and who they labelled as “anti-social”.

Roles in the Holocaust

Reality is rarely so simple that it is possible to say what roles various people or the governments of different countries played in a historical event. The Holocaust is no exception. By looking at the different roles, we may be able to learn how hard it is to point out people as being one or another. The roles most often used when categorising the actions of people and countries in the Holocaust are perpetrator, victim and bystander.

  • Perpetrator – means “a person who committed a particular crime”. In the Holocaust, the perpetrators were the people responsible for the genocide – the Nazis. But they were not the only ones who made the Holocaust possible, or who carried out all of the persecution and murders. Governments in other countries who murdered or sent Jews and Roma to concentration and extermination camps and were allies of the Nazis were also perpetrators. Individuals could also be perpetrators.
  • Victim – means one or more people who have been subjected to persecution or violence. The word victim could lead you to believe that there was no resistance to the perpetrators, which is not true. People who belonged to the ethnic groups of Jews and Roma fell victim to the killing by the Nazis and their allies. The Nazis also murdered groups like political opponents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with disabilities.     
  • Bystander – a bystander is someone who looks on while something happens and does nothing to stop it. This could refer to people or the government of a country. The bystanders may have different reasons for not stepping in. It could be out of fear, not caring about what is happening, or some other reason. But many bystanders in Nazi Germany were involved in the Holocaust in some way through, for example, their work or by buying a home that once belonged to a Jew but was seized by the Nazis. 

The Nazis wanted to eliminate everything that was Jewish

The Nazis wanted to get rid of all Jews and the entire Jewish culture. That is why it is called a genocide. World War II made it possible to carry out a genocide (a mass murder) for as many as six years. Anti-Semitism is a collective term for hatred and hostility towards Jews. It has existed for many hundreds of years in Europe. The Holocaust, with the genocide of about six million Jews during World War II, is the most extreme expression of anti-Semitism.

The Roma and other groups were persecuted and murdered

During the same time as the Holocaust, the Nazis carried out a genocide of the Roma people, who were also called Gypsies. Other groups were also persecuted and abused by the Nazis. These were groups that the Nazis considered a threat to Nazi society or deemed as less worthy. They could be political opponents, criminals, or people with intellectual disabilities.