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Prelude to Genocide


On 10. May 1933, 20.000 books were burnt in the then Opernplatz, later Bebel Platz, adjacent to the Berlin Opera House. Among the authors whose books were burnt were Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Mann, Albert Einstein, H.G. Wells, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, Andre Gide, Marcel Proust, Emil Zola, and Sigmund Freud.

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings“ - Heinrich Heine


The term holocaust originally derived from the Greek word holokauston, meaning a "completely holos burnt kaustos" sacrificial offering to a god. Since the late 19th century, "holocaust" has primarily been used to refer to disasters or catastrophes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used to describe Hitler's treatment of the Jews from as early as 1942, though it did not become a standard reference until the 1950s. By the late 1970s, however, the conventional meaning of the word became the Nazi genocide. The term is also used by many in a narrower sense, to refer specifically to the unprecedented destruction of European Jews in particular. Some historians credited Elie Wiesel with giving the term 'Holocaust' its present meaning.

The biblical word Shoa (שואה), also spelled Shoah and Sho'ah, meaning "calamity" in Hebrew, became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the early 1940s. Shoa is preferred by many Jews and a growing number of others for a number of reasons, including the potentially theologically offensive nature of the original meaning of the word holocaust.


The Holocaust was the most infamous expression of racial and religious hatred of modern times. The systematic, state-run persecution and murder of millions of people (six million of them Jews) by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, is an event that stands alone in history. 

Efforts to understand the Holocaust begin with the origins of the Jewish people and their history in Europe going back as far as the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, continuing on through the middle-ages and the rise of religious anti-Semitism with its deep-seated roots in Christianity, to modern, racially-based anti-Semitism. Religious anti-Semitic sentiment was followed by the reformist doctrines of racial hatred, and the ensuing violent episodes, or pogroms that then spread throughout the continent laid the groundwork for the heinous and barbarous acts perpetrated by the Nazi’s in the 20th century. 


Germany’s persecution of Jews began almost immediately after Hitler assumed power in 1933, and escalated without pause until the collapse of the Nazi regime in 1945. Nazi efforts to safeguard the "purity of blood" by classifying racial distinction affected Jewish life in Germany at every turn. The precise terminology of the Nürnberg Laws defined "degrees of Jewishness" based on one's number of Jewish grandparents. Intensified Nazi propaganda about the evils of race defilement poisoned relations between "Aryans" and Jews.

German children also became caught up in the newly defined racial distinctions and "Aryan" children were quick to brutalize their Jewish counterparts.

The foundation for genocide in the Nazi-controlled “sphere of influence” began long before the infamous Wannsee Conference was held in January 1942, when the plan to implement the “Final Solution” was finalised. There was already a complex machinery of death that encompassed removing Jews and other so-called “undesirables” from the framework of society.  As early as 1933, the Nazis began an extensive propaganda campaign with the object of acquainting the German people with the benefits of “euthanasia.” 


Jewish Family

This led to the secret killing of the mentally and physically disabled by the use of lethal injection and carbon monoxide gas taking many thousands of lives; it was followed by mass deportation and transport to ghettos or concentration and slave-labour camps which in turn resulted in the death of countless others.


With the invasion of the Soviet Union, the scale of killing was multiplied many fold as the Einsatzgruppen scoured the conquered territories for victims.


But the Nazis learned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of victims shot to death and buried half alive in mass graves left the inevitable psychological scars on the killers who had to perform the grisly work of murder. So new methods had to be found and from this need for greater efficiency in the implementation of the “Final Solution”, arose the death factories of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.


No documentation exists or has yet been discovered with a signed order from Hitler regarding the “Final Solution” but his words prophesied his intent and that intent was carried out by those who followed the tenet of National Socialism which joyously sang:




“When Jewish blood spurts from the knife, things go twice as well”.

-SA celebratory chant









The Holocaust Chronicle, Publications International.  2000

Steven Lehrer, Wannsee House and the Holocaust. 1992

US National Archives

Wiener Library




Copyright: Carmelo Lisciotto   H.E.A.R.T  2007



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