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As we hope you can appreciate, the Holocaust can be a fraught subject to deal with. While don’t want to curtail discussion, we also remain very conscious that threads of this nature can attract the very wrong kind of responses, and it is an unfortunate truth that on reddit, outright Holocaust denial can often rear its ugly head. As such, the /r/History mods have created this brief overview. It is not intended to stifle further discussion, but simply lay out the basic, incontrovertible truths to get them out of the way.
##What Was the Holocaust?
The Holocaust refers the genocidal deaths of 5-6 million European Jews carried out systematically by Nazi Germany as part of targeted policies of persecution and extermination during World War II. Some historians will also include the deaths of the Roma, Communists, Mentally Disabled, and other groups targeted by Nazi policies, which brings the total number of deaths to ~11 million. Debates about whether or not the Holocaust includes these deaths or not is a matter of definitions, but in no way a reflection on dispute that they occurred.
##But This Guy Says Otherwise!
Unfortunately, there is a small, but vocal, minority of persons who fall into the category of Holocaust Denial, attempting to minimize the deaths by orders of magnitude, impugn well proven facts, or even claim that the Holocaust is entirely a fabrication and never happened. Although they often self-style themselves as “Revisionists”, they are not correctly described by the title. While revisionism is not inherently a dirty word, actual revision, to quote Michael Shermer, *”entails refinement of detailed knowledge about events, rarely complete denial of the events themselves, and certainly not denial of the cumulation of events known as the Holocaust.”*
It is absolutely true that were you to read a book written in 1950 or so, you would find information which any decent scholar today might reject, and that is the result of good revisionism. But these changes, which even can be quite large, such as the reassessment of deaths at Auschwitz from ~4 million to ~1 million, are done within the bounds of respected, academic study, and reflect decades of work that builds upon the work of previous scholars, and certainly does not willfully disregard documented evidence and recollections. There are still plenty of questions within Holocaust Studies that are debated by scholars, and there may still be more out there for us to discover, and revise, but when it comes to the basic facts, there is simply no valid argument against them.
##So What Are the Basics?
Beginning with their rise to power in the 1930s, the Nazi Party, headed by Adolf Hitler, implemented a series of anti-Jewish policies within Germany, marginalizing Jews within society more and more, stripping them of their wealth, livelihoods, and their dignity. With the invasion of Poland in 1939, the number of Jews under Nazi control reached into the millions, and this number would again increase with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Shortly after the invasion of Poland, the Germans started to confine the Jewish population into squalid ghettos. After several plans on how to rid Europe of the Jews that all proved unfeasible, by the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, ideological (Antisemitism) and pragmatic (Resources) considerations lead to mass-killings becoming the only viable option in the minds of the Nazi leadership.
First only practiced in the USSR, it was influential groups such as the SS and the administration of the General Government that pushed to expand the killing operations to all of Europe and sometime at the end of 1941 met with Hitler’s approval.
The early killings were carried out foremost by the *Einsatzgruppen*, paramilitary groups organized under the aegis of the SS and tasked with carrying out the mass killings of Jews, Communists, and other ‘undesirable elements’ in the wake of the German military’s advance. In what is often termed the ‘Holocaust by Bullet’, the *Einsatzgruppen*, with the assistance of the Wehrmacht, the SD, the Security Police, as well as local collaborators, would kill roughly two million persons, over half of them Jews. Most killings were carried out with mass shootings, but other methods such as gas vans – intended to spare the killers the trauma of shooting so many persons day after day – were utilized too.
By early 1942, the “Final Solution” to the so-called “Jewish Question” was essentially finalized at the Wannsee Conference under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, where the plan to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe using a series of extermination camps set up in occupied Poland was presented and met with approval.
Construction of extermination camps had already begun the previous fall, and mass extermination, mostly as part of ‘Operation Reinhard’, had began operation by spring of 1942. Roughly 2 million persons, nearly all Jewish men, women, and children, were immediately gassed upon arrival at Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka over the next two years, when these “Reinhard” camps were closed and razed. More victims would meet their fate in additional extermination camps such as Chełmno, but most infamously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where slightly over 1 million persons, mostly Jews, died. Under the plan set forth at Wannsee, exterminations were hardly limited to the Jews of Poland, but rather Jews from all over Europe were rounded up and sent east by rail like cattle to the slaughter. Although the victims of the Reinhard Camps were originally buried, they would later be exhumed and cremated, and cremation of the victims was normal procedure at later camps such as Auschwitz.
There were two main types of camps run by Nazi Germany, which is sometimes a source of confusion. Concentration Camps were well known means of extrajudicial control implemented by the Nazis shortly after taking power, beginning with the construction of Dachau in 1933. Political opponents of all type, not just Jews, could find themselves imprisoned in these camps during the pre-war years, and while conditions were often brutal and squalid, and numerous deaths did occur from mistreatment, they were not usually a death sentence and the population fluctuated greatly. Although Concentration Camps *were* later made part of the ‘Final Solution’, their purpose was not as immediate extermination centers. Some were ‘way stations’, and others were work camps, where Germany intended to eke out every last bit of productivity from them through what was known as “extermination through labor”. Jews and other undesirable elements, if deemed healthy enough to work, could find themselves spared for a time and “allowed” to toil away like slaves until their usefulness was at an end.
Although some Concentration Camps, such as Mauthausen, did include small gas chambers, mass gassing was not the primary purpose of the camp. Many camps, becoming extremely overcrowded, nevertheless resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of inhabitants due to the outbreak of diseases such as typhus, or starvation, all of which the camp administrations did little to prevent. Bergen-Belsen, which was not a work camp but rather served as something of a way station for prisoners of the camp systems being moved about, is perhaps one of the most infamous of camps on this count, saw some 50,000 deaths caused by the conditions. Often located in the Reich, camps liberated by the Western forces were exclusively Concentration Camps, and many survivor testimonies come from these camps.
The Concentration Camps are contrasted with the Extermination Camps, which were purpose built for mass killing, with large gas chambers and later on, crematoria, but little or no facilities for inmates. Often they were disguised with false facades to lull the new arrivals into a false sense of security, even though rumors were of course rife for the fate that awaited the deportees. Almost all arrivals were killed upon arrival at these camps, and in many cases the number of survivors numbered in the single digits, such as at Bełżec, where only seven Jews, forced to assist in operation of the camp, were alive after the war.
Several camps, however, were ‘Hybrids’ of both types, the most famous being Auschwitz, which was vast a complex of subcamps. The infamous ‘selection’ of prisoners, conducted by SS doctors upon arrival, meant life or death, with those deemed unsuited for labor immediately gassed and the more healthy and robust given at least temporary reprieve. The death count at Auschwitz numbered around 1 million, but it is also the source of many survivor testimonies.
##How Do We Know?
Running through the evidence piece by piece would take more space than we have here, but suffice to say, there is a lot of evidence, and not just the (mountains of) survivor testimony. We have testimonies and writings from many who participated, as well German documentation of the programs. [This site](http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.de/2012/10/index-of-published-evidence-on.html) catalogs some of the evidence we have for mass extermination as it relates to Auschwitz. Below you’ll find a short list of excellent works that should help to introduce you to various aspects of Holocaust study.
* [Third Reich Trilogy](https://books.google.com/books?id=HZmXOPGTGjIC) by Richard Evans
* [Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution](https://books.google.com/books?id=Z7FiPwAACAAJ) by Ian Kershaw
* [Auschwitz: A New History]) by Laurence Rees
* [Ordinary Men](https://books.google.com/books?id=HFB-dkuZzSwC) by Christopher Browning
* [Denying History](https://books.google.com/books?id=Q-0B9-D5Vz4C) by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman
* [The Minutes from the Wannsee Conference](http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/Wannsee/wanseeminutes.html)
* [/r/AskHistorians FAQ](/r/AskHistorians/wiki/wwii#wiki_nazi_germany)
Pictures like this make it pretty hard to consider any problem in my life anything but trivial.
Visited recently and there’s a room like this full of human hair. Very creepy. The only room where they forbid cameras.
I’ve always wondered how they sold this to ordinary Frontline soldiers, the extermination camps and all that. How did they all just go along with it.
Genuine (and probably silly) question . But why of all things, did they keep hold of and store the shoes?
I visited Dachau in 2000 and it was the most surreal and somber places I’ve ever visited. Sound didn’t carry, I could see people around talking but couldn’t hear them (others in my group said the same thing) and it was deathly silent and rainy.
The ovens are an image that I’ll never forget
We all know how awful the Holocaust was, but seeing physical manifestations like this just puts it into perspective. The shoes, the wedding rings, all of it. 6,000,000+ is such a large number it’s hard to comprehend without something like this.
I’ve been to Auschwitz several times and they added the Book of Names. It went from one side of the room to the other and back. I found my name in the book and that hit me pretty hard. If I were only born 55-60 years earlier, I probably would have died in a camp like some of my family. The truly sad part, the list is only comprised of the names they could find, it’s not a complete list.
The Holocaust is a systematic elimination of people of a certain race, gender or sexuality. Shoa is the term used for systematic elimination of all Jews
I was surprised when I learned that the common population in Germany did not know the extent of the horror happening in their back yards. Most of the world only found out after the liberation of the camps. Just boggles the mind.
Edit: I shouldn’t have phrased it as the general population in Germany being unaware. They clearly were aware and on board with the whole thing. If anything, they only came to terms with it after liberation, if at all.
Did they separate the laces?
Why the down votes? none of the shoes have laces.
My great uncle was taken from his catholic high school in Poland and sent to Auschwitz. He was assigned to be a member of the orchestra and played the trumpet . He survived but died shortly after liberation .
The images of the children with their mothers is what gets me the most. Babies in the mothers arms unaware of what’s about to happen, why everyone is the way they are. Such sadness and tragedy.
Why’d they keep all the shoes but not the other articles of clothing?
Why were the shoes kept? It just seems odd.
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I remember going to the Holocaust museum in 8th grade (around 2003) and there was a part where a room was filled with shoes. Back then I couldn’t even imagine what this meant. Too immature. If I went now that I’m older I think it would hit me a lot harder.
Absolutely heart breaking. How anyone can deny this occurred is beyond frustrating to me.
One of the saddest sights at Auschwitz is the display of shoes in a huge glass case that takes up half a barracks room in
The visitors’ tour of the main Auschwitz camp begins in Block 15, shown in the photo above, which houses an exhibit entitled Historical Introduction. The building is located at the corner of the first intersection of camp streets after you pass the camp kitchen near the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, which is behind the camera on the left. Organized groups begin their tour of the museum buildings here and then move on to Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7 which are in the last row of barracks buildings.
Ok but why did they keep the shoes?
I remember when I was there our guide told us and showed us 3 or 4 tonnes of hair (I don’t remember exact number) . What striked me the most is how light hair is, and for some reason that is the one thing I think of first when Auschwitz crosses my mind.
I’m only subscribing to /r/Awwwwww
This picture instantly made me remember the feeling and smell of those shoes. Saw then once in Washington DC at their memorial museum, in Auschwitz/Birkenau and again in Majdanek.
It’s mind boggling that people try to deny this happened.
I was just thinking about this image the other day. Someone posted a question somewhere about why it took so long to care about stopping the Nazis, and I went off on a tangent to my SO about sending filmmakers in and actually having to see something like this to comprehend the magnitude.
One of the many dark times in humanity is pictured above. Such a sad sad image of mans hatred to man. Sadly humanity fails to learn from these types of atrocities. Hopefully someday we will. Until then all we can do is hope.
This is so hard to look at. I remember learning about the Holocaust in school but it never really hit me how many people were murdered until I went to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. a few years back. At the end of the tour you watch clips from a documentary with Holocaust survivors and it brought me to tears. The fact that humans can be so cruel is unfathomable to me and on such a large scale. Now when I see pictures like this is takes me back to that Museum and how real it felt walking through there. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the people who lived through it. Never again.
I saw a similar pile of shoes at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
It was so surreal to see in person that these shoes belonged to living people who were treated like vermin and not people.
They were saving these souvenirs as part of their eventual plan to open museums honoring their ‘accomplishment’
I’ve always wondered why the shoes were kept and not just destroyed. Does anyone have any insight on this?
I want to know why they kept them. For redistribution among their surviving prisoners, at need? What was the protocol for obtaining the correct pair? Someone just rummages around looking for the right size? Would they be able to do this without seeing in their minds eye all of the murdered souls that used to wear those shoes? What in god’s name would possess anyone to keep these in the first place? To DO such an evil thing, necessitating the keeping of these shoes? And what were they keeping them for?
I’m a little bit surprised that the Nazis wouldn’t have been more organized in storing all of the stuff that they had stolen/taken from the victims. The level of detailed record keeping and organization from the Nazis is dumbfounding; makes this picture a bit surprising.
It amazes me that with all the evidence and photos much like this one that some people (not myself) think the holocaust was fake.
I Just want to thank OP for writing “occupied Poland”, it realy helps avoiding false accusation towards my country 🙂