Introduction to the Holocaust

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jennifer Schoffstall and 1st Lt. Jocelyn Nokes
  • Company Grade Officer Council
The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as our nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust. The 2008 Days of Remembrance are April 27 - May 4, and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is May 2.

Why is the Holocaust important to study? What do you perceive to be the most important lessons to be learned from the study of the Holocaust, and why? Over the next few weeks, leading up to the remembrance week, the Inland Northwest Company Grade Officer Council hopes to help you answer these questions by providing articles that will introduce the Holocaust, the first concentration camps, personal histories and the Holocaust's aftermath.

What is the time period and definition of the Holocaust? The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The Holocaust refers to the period from January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, to May 8, 1945 (V-E Day), the end of World War II in Europe. "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.

How did the Germans define who was Jewish? The Nazi authorities did not have a set policy or definition for Jewish persons until 1935. On November 14, 1935, the Nazis issued the following definition of a Jew: anyone with three Jewish grandparents; someone with two Jewish grandparents who belonged to the Jewish community on September 15, 1935, or joined thereafter; was married to a Jew or Jewess on September 15, 1935, or married one thereafter; was the offspring of a marriage or extramarital liaison with a Jew on or after September 15, 1935.

How many non-Jewish civilians were murdered during World War II? It is important to note that during the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived "racial inferiority": Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, habitual criminals and homosexuals. The Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates that approximately five million from these groups were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators or died as a result of incarceration and maltreatment.

Editor's Note: Information from The Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Holocaust Encyclopedia,; and The Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center,, was used in this article. This story is the first in a series on Holocaust Remembrance. The next article will be on the first concentration camps.

Special guest speaker, Leo Hymas, a U.S. Army Liberator, will speak at the base Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony May 2, 9 a.m., at the theater. Mr. Hymas was assigned to General Patton's Third Army and was part of the American military team that liberated the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar in April 1945.