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The Holocaust (Shoah)

The Shoah (also known as the Holocaust, from a Greek word meaning "sacrifice by fire,") was initiated by the members of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, which seized power in Germany in 1933. The Nazis believed in a doctrine of racial superiority, centering around the idea that that people of Northern European descent were somehow better than members of all other races – especially the Jews, who were "unworthy of life."

After taking power, the Nazis gradually restricted the rights of German Jewish citizens and encouraged their followers to commit acts of violence and destruction against Jews and their property. During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazis implemented their "final solution," a plan to concentrate and annihilate all European Jews. Jews were first crammed together in ghettoes and slave-labor camps, where disease, brutality, and malnutrition ran rampant. Eventually, they were sent to death camps, where millions were murdered in special facilities designed to kill a tremendous number of people over a brief period of time. In addition to the six million Jews who died - two-thirds of the European Jewish population – the Nazis also killed millions of others, including Roma (Gypsies) and Slavs, political and religious dissidents, the handicapped, and gays and lesbians. 

The Holocaust was the largest manifestation of anti-Semitism in recent history. When we speak about the Holocaust today, powerful and horrific images come to mind. We are reminded of the horrors which Jews and other persecuted groups faced: forced labor, starvation, humiliation, and torture which often resulted in death. We see the systematic effort to wipe out an entire population from the face of the earth. We see everyday people turning their backs on neighbors and friends in their plea for help. And we see the collective spirit of the world ignoring these atrocities and denying any responsibility for their outcome.