Image: Dog on a bench labeled 'Nur Fur Arier!' ('Only for Aryans!'). 1938, Vienna Austria. Image courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Anti-Jewish Legislation in Prewar Germany
In the first six years of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship, Jews felt the effects of more than 400 decrees and regulations on all aspects of their lives. The regulations gradually but systematically took away their rights and property, transforming them from citizens into outcasts. Many of the laws were national ones issued by the German administration, affecting all Jews. State, regional, and municipal officials also issued many decrees in their own communities. As Nazi leaders prepared for war in Europe, antisemitic legislation in Germany and Austria paved the way for more radical persecution of Jews.... Read More. (USHMM article, with discussion questions, covering the first wave of Nazi antisemitic legislation, the Nuremberg Laws, and then segregation and isolation of Jews in 1937-1938.)
The Nazi Rise to Power
The Nazi Party was one of a number of right-wing extremist political groups that emerged in Germany following World War I. Beginning with the onset of the Great Depression it rose rapidly from obscurity to political prominence, becoming the largest party in the German parliament in 1932. (USHMM article with discussion questions.)
What conditions, ideologies, and ideas made the Holocaust possible?
The leaders of Nazi Germany, a modern, educated society, aimed to destroy millions of men, women, and children because of their Jewish identity. Understanding this process may help us to better understand the conditions under which mass violence is possible and to take steps to prevent such conditions from developing. Explore fundamental questions about how and why the Holocaust was possible. (USHMM article)
The Nazi regime persecuted different groups on ideological grounds. Jews were the primary targets for systematic persecution and mass murder by the Nazis and their collaborators. Nazi policies also led to the brutalization and persecution of millions of others including the Roma and Sinti, people with disabilities, gay men, and Jehovah's Witnesses Nazi policies towards all the victim groups were brutal, but not identical. Read More. (USHMM article followed by critical thinking questions.)
On November 9–10, 1938, Nazi leaders unleashed a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany and recently incorporated territories. This event came to be called Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) because of the shattered glass that littered the streets after the vandalism and destruction of Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, and homes. Read More. (USHMM article)
How did Hitler kill millions of people?
This is the first of three commonly asked questions in this activity. The simple answer is: he did not kill millions of people. Hitler had a tremendous amount of responsibility, but he and his colleagues had a tremendous amount of help. This short activity encourages students to consider the levels of responsibility of various individuals and groups during this period and also to consider a "wider web" of knowledge and involvement of many more people in and out of Germany.