The Holocaust is a term used to describe the systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Communists, the mentally and physically infirmed as well as others, between 1933-1945 throughout German controlled territory. During the Second World War approximately 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews died as a result of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi program. A program that was partly devoted to creating an ethnically pure Aryan state by expelling all racial enemies, foremost the Jews.
The beginning of the Holocaust is often marked by Kristallnacht, otherwise known as “The Night of Broken Glass.” On 9-10 November 1938, a pogrom throughout Germany and Austria occurred in which thousands of Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes were burned to the ground or irreparably vandalized; 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps; and hundreds of Jewish people were killed in the streets. From 1939, all Jews were to be imprisoned in Ghettos or camps where countless men, women and children died at the hands of both the Nazis and their collaborators. State sponsored systematic mass murder began in June 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and mobile killing units (SS Einsatzgruppen) proceeded to round up and shoot hundreds of thousands of Jews in open trenches or ditches. Such systematic mass murder culminated with the creation of extermination camps that predominantly used poisonous gas as its weapon. These killing centers (such as Auschwitz-Birkenau) began operating in late December 1941 and were created in order to annihilate as many Jewish people as possible in the least amount of time. Although created prior the Wannsee Conference, the extermination camps carried out the dictates of the “Final Solution”.
After the Allied Powers, including Canada, defeated the Axis Powers in 1945, the Nuremberg Trials were held and symbolically prosecuted a select few guilty of war crimes. However, most of those responsible for the Holocaust lived as free men and women and to this day continue to be tracked down by The Simon Wiesenthal Center. Simon Wiesenthal, the famed “Nazi Hunter,” dedicated his life to pursuing those that escaped trial and detention until the time of his death in 2005.