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Sunday, 27 January 2013

What is Holocaust Memorial Day?

In the UK, Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January.

Jewish people at a concentration camp

It marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by soldiers of the Soviet Army in 1945.
The day is a national mark of respect for all victims of the Holocaust as well as victims of other genocide around the world.
It helps to educate people about the terrible events and it shows how important it is to be tolerant of other people and their beliefs.
Marking the day also makes sure the Holocaust is not forgotten and can help to stop anything like it ever happening
What was the holocaust?
People at concentration camp in Auschwitz
The Holocaust was the mass murder of six million Jews and millions of other people leading up to and during World War II.
The killings took place in Europe between 1933 and 1945. They were organised by the German Nazi party which was led by Adolf Hitler.
The largest group of victims were Jewish people. Nearly 7 out of every 10 Jews living in Europe were murdered.
Most of the victims were killed because they belonged to certain racial or religious groups which the Nazis wanted to wipe out. This kind of killing is called genocide.
The Nazis also murdered politicians, trade unionists, journalists, teachers and anyone else who spoke out against Hitler.
We will never know exactly how many died but there were many millions of non-Jewish victims, including:
    People arriving in Auschwitz
  • Civilians and soldiers from the Soviet Union
  • Catholics from Poland
  • Serbs
  • Disabled people
  • Homosexuals
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Polish civilians
  • Roma and Sinti people (Gypsies)
  • Slavic people
Why did the holocaust happen?

In 1921 Adolf Hitler became leader of the Nazi party. The Nazis were racists and believed that their Aryan race was superior to others.
To them, an Aryan was anyone who was European and not Jewish, Romany or Slavic.
They also thought Germany was a more important country than its neighbours.

Laws against the Jews

In 1934 Hitler became Germany's head of state. He introduced anti-Semitic laws which discriminated against Jewish people living in the areas he controlled.
Some of these laws meant that Jewish children could no longer go to school, keep pets or have a bicycle.
The Nazis believed that Jews were a problem that needed to be removed. The mass killings of the Holocaust were what Hitler called "The Final Solution".
Hitler also wanted to make Germany bigger, so he invaded neighbouring countries and took them over.
Many of the non-German people living on land that he wanted for Germans were also sent to concentration camps.
Today we call this ethnic cleansing.
The Nazis and their collaborators were able to do these things partly because not enough people stood up to them.
Why didpeople die during the holocaust?
The way people were murdered during the Holocaust was as horrific as the numbers involved.
From the start of the war in 1939 the Nazis moved many hundreds of thousands of Jews into areas very small, overcrowded areas of cities called ghettoes.
They were not allowed to leave, and if they tried to they would be executed.
Many died of starvation because they didn't have enough food, and others of disease because the living conditions were very poor - there were hardly any toilets and sewers, and no heating during the winter.

Concentration camps

The Nazis set up huge prisons called concentration camps - where prisoners were starved, often tortured and worked to death.
They housed people who opposed the Nazis, prisoners of war and those who the Nazis felt were a threat.
Conditions inside the camps were appalling, and starvation and diseases were very real dangers.
When in 1945 British troops entered the concentration camp at 
Bergen-Belsen in Germany, they found 60,000 starving survivors and many thousands of unburied dead bodies.
Many of those who were found alive were to die in the weeks and months after the liberation.

Extermination camps

In 1942 the Nazis set up six extermination camps in Poland which used specially-built poison gas chambers to kill people.
The largest of these was Auschwitz-Birkenau - a vast collection of slave labour camps, the concentration camp of Auschwitz and the extermination camp of Birkenau.
Around 2.7 million Jews were murdered during 1942 alone. This was the most intense period of killing in the Holocaust.

Gate tower, ramp and railway line at Auschwitz
the concentration camp of Auschwitz
From CBBC News


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