Defeat and the consequent war reparations of World War I left many Germans embittered about the poor state of their nation. Some could not accept their country’s military defeat, believing instead that they had been betrayed by the disloyal within their own ranks. A global economic crisis in 1929, lumped with German hyperinflation (which peaked at 500 per cent), led many to apportion blame and responsibility much closer to home.
The Jewish population in Germany during the 1930s comprised less than 0.8 per cent of the national population. Most Jews were socially indistinguishable from the rest of their countrymen but a few occupied key positions in scientific fields and the arts.
Nazi propaganda exaggerated this small number into a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to control international affairs. It was the Jews and other ethnic minorities, along with Communists, argued Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who had betrayed Germany during World War I.
Seizing power in 1933, the Third Reich instigated legislative measures to strip German Jews of their rights and property, handing them instead over to Aryan Germans, and forcing Jews to inhabit designated ghettos. Regular orchestrated attacks, such as that on Kristallnacht in 1938, were carried out on Jewish ghettos, adding violence and intimidation to the Führer’s campaign to eliminate the Jewish population from Germany.
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler described his personal conversion to anti-Semitic ideologies as his ‘greatest transformation of all’. What began as Hitler’s ‘greatest transformation’ very quickly became Europe’s greatest tragedy.
In 1933, after a meteoric rise to power, Hitler’s Nazi Party opened the first concentration camp, Dachau, near Munich. Originally intended for the purpose of detaining political prisoners, camps like Dachau became the means by which Nazi Germany sought to implement its Final Solution, the wholesale eradication of Jews from German territories.
Many of these concentration camps were converted into highly efficient execution machines, as one of the more grotesque Auschwitz facts attests to: Auschwitz crematoria had the capacity for processing up to 20,000 bodies per day.
More recently, some historians have expanded the definition of the Holocaust to include the 5 million other non-Jewish planned executions that took place during World War II from 1940 - 1945. Holocaust Memorial Day, observed on 27 January in the UK, commemorates the estimated 11 million victims who were killed during Europe’s ‘Darkest Hour’.