Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s (though its history extends far back throughout many centuries during the course of Judaism). Adolf Hitler's fanatical anti-Semitism was laid out in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, largely ignored when it was first printed, but which later became popular in Germany once Hitler acquired political power.
On April 1, 1933, the recently elected Nazis under Julius Streicher organized a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. This policy helped to usher in a series of anti-Semitic acts that would eventually culminate in the Holocaust. The last remaining Jewish enterprises in Germany were closed on July 6, 1939.
In many cities throughout Europe, Jews had been living in concentrated areas. During the first years of World War II, the Nazis formalized the borders of these areas and restricted movement, creating modern ghettos to which Jews were confined. The ghettos were, in effect, prisons in which many Jews died from hunger and disease; others were executed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Concentration camps for Jews existed in Germany itself. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, over 3,000 special killing units (Einsatzgruppen) followed the Wehrmacht and conducted mass killings of Communist officials and of the Jewish population that lived on Soviet territory. Entire communities were wiped out by being rounded up, robbed of their possessions and clothing, and shot at the edges of ditches.
In December 1941, Hitler finally decided to exterminate European Jews. In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Buhler urged Reinhard Heydrich to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to systematically deport Jewish populations from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór and Treblinka II.
- Tracey R. Rich, Judaism 101.
- George Robinson, Essential Judaism (Pocket Books, 2000).
- "Jewish history." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_history> Some text from this source has been incorporated into this article.