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This content is taken from the Tel Aviv University & Yad Vashem's online course, The Holocaust: an Introduction - Part 1. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds The Holocaust was an unprecedented attempt made by Nazi Germany and its collaborators to annihilate the Jewish people, men and women, old people and young, and to destroy what the Nazis defined as Judaism or the Jewish spirit. Between 1933 and 1945, six million Jews were murdered. And with them, some noble ideals of modernity and other moral values collapsed, and basic notions of humanity were shaken to the core. The Holocaust revealed in a clear and painful manner the deep abyss of human cruelty, the dark places individuals and societies can reach, and the destructiveness of murderous ideologies. The few, but major in any moral sense, acts of compassion could not light the dark and bitter days that covered Europe.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds It is no surprise that this traumatic event challenged some fundamental notions of the world as we know it today, and has had a far reaching impact on a variety of aspects of our lives as they were shaped since 1945. The development of international law, the rise of philosophical and literary doctrines, art cinema, and architecture, as well as the culture of memory were all influenced by this seminal event. It even questioned humanity’s obligation to the ultimate commandment– thou shalt not kill. This is exactly why learning about the Holocaust is valuable not only to those who have a direct and personal connection to the events or to those who live in places it once occurred.

Skip to 1 minute and 35 seconds The Western civilized world as we know it was so profoundly influenced by the Holocaust that whoever seeks to understand our current surroundings must look carefully at this horrific past. Yet, those murderous acts did not appear out of the blue, and they were well-rooted in the history of Europe. The Holocaust stemmed from Nazi anti-Semitic ideology, which perceived the Jews as a fundamental danger to Germany, and as an ultimate threat to Europe and all of humanity. Nevertheless, the destruction of Jewish life in Germany began only as Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, when the aforementioned ideology became the official policy of the German state.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds As the influence of Nazi Germany expanded due to treaties, annexations, and occupation, the persecution of the Jews expanded too. Throughout Europe and its spheres of influence, Jews were stripped of their property and dignity, marked with a badge of shame, concentrated and segregated in ghettos or by other means. Although misery, hunger, and death prevailed, the systematic and total mass murder of the Jews began only in the mid of 1941. On the 22nd of June 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, and invaded the Polish territories that Soviet Russia occupied at the beginning of the Second World War. From this point on, millions of Jews were murdered, first in shooting pits and killing sites, later on by gas or by other means.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds Some camps and facilities were planned and built for this purpose only– mass murder of the Jews. In this manner, ancient Jewish communities that lived and flourished in Europe for almost 2,000 years vanished in what was termed by the Nazis the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Alongside those horrendous acts, Nazi Germany committed many other crimes against humanity, including the murder of millions of various other European citizens for racial, political, and ideological purposes. Among the groups targeted for murder were people with disabilities, Sinty and Roma, Polish civilians, and Russian prisoners of war. The Holocaust was a most radical and exceptional genocide.

Skip to 3 minutes and 49 seconds It exposed the abyss of human behavior as well as its heights of elevation, and it influenced the course of European and world history. How was it humanly possible? How did citizens of a cultural civilized nation such as Germany and many other individuals all over Europe– how did they become mass murderers, active participants in a state-organized genocide? How did millions of European Jews live and die in those horrible days? What were their fears and hopes? What were their choices? And did they really have any? What did they know, for example, about the mass murders? And what, if anything, could they have done as fathers, mothers, children, as human beings, in order to survive?

Skip to 4 minutes and 38 seconds And what about the millions and millions who witnessed those atrocities? What about the civilians and governments of numerous European countries and of the free world? Did they know what was going on? Did they care? Could they have done more? Should they have done more? How did they cope with the burden of witnessing and the weight of remembrance? These are some of the questions we will address in this course. Not all of them have definitive answers. Not everything is or can be known or understood. But if you want to learn more about this seminal and earth shattering event in world, European and Jewish history, come and join us in this course.

The Holocaust

Discussion Question

On January 27th 1945 the notorious camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. This is why this date was decided upon as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In your opinion, why is it important to remember the Holocaust on a personal level, as well as an international one? Why do you think it is important to learn about the Holocaust in our day and age?

Please share your thoughts in the discussion below.

What was The Holocaust? Why do we, in the 21st century, take such an interest in it? How did it change the world we live in? And what is the importance of learning about it, and about history in general? Join us in meeting Prof. Havi Dreifuss, the leading instructor of this course, as she introduces some of the questions and issues we will deal with in this course.

The course team

Prof. Havi Dreifuss

Dr Na’ama Bela Shik

Inbar Bondy

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This video is from the free online course:

The Holocaust: an Introduction - Part 1

Tel Aviv University