History of the Holocaust (Shoah)

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The mass murders

The victims of the Holocaust died under very different circumstances.

One of the cruellest methods – and by far the most notorious – was gassing. This took place in an industrialised fashion in six so-called extermination camps, of which Auschwitz-Birkenau is the best known.

These six camps together claimed around 3 million Jewish lives.

Among 1.5 million Jews were shot to death in the most brutal way by different Nazi units. The so-called Einsatzgruppen, which operated behind the front against the Soviet Union, were responsible for many of these mass murders. But other units as well, from the SS, the Waffen-SS, the ordinary police, and the army, also shot many Jews. Apart from German units, many locals from the occupied eastern territories took part on their own initiative.


Three ways of murder are less well-known, but equally important: forced labour in working camps, hunger, and disease. With terrible result the Nazis introduced the concept of ‘working to death’ (Vernichtung durch Arbeit), where Jews and other prisoners worked themselves to death for the German war machine. Thousands of others died of hunger in the concentration camps or in the Jewish ghettos.