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View series: The second World War, 1939-1945

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The Final Solution (The Holocaust, The Shoah)

This map is part of a series of 15 animated maps showing the history of The second World War, 1939-1945.

Anti-Semitism, promoted by Hitler and his regime, became increasingly radical as the war progressed. Gradually, the Nazis’ use of the term Entfernung ‘displacement’, to refer to the programme for the expulsion of Jewish populations, was replaced by the term Endlösung: the final solution.

The occupation that followed the invasion of Poland in September 1939 was particularly brutal: the Polish elite were systematically massacred, and Jewish communities were gradually forced into ghettos.

The first ghetto was in Piotrkow, as early as October 1939, but the number increased quickly. The largest ghettoes were created in Lodz and Warsaw during 1940, followed by Krakow and Lublin in early 1941.

Tens of thousands of Jews were deported from Western regions of the Grand Reich and sent to the Polish ghettos. Overpopulation and the lack of rations quickly led to a large number of deaths.

The situation worsened with the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. In the wake of the German army, mobile units known as Einzsatzgruppen eliminated everyone designated as “Jewish Bolshevik agents” by the Nazi regime: Jews, Communist Party officials, and members of the Resistance.

During the summer of 1941, Nazi leaders ordered that women and children were also to be killed. Often carried out with help from the local population, these massacres gradually took the form of genocide, with more than 10,000 victims in some areas.

For example, in the region of Zhytomyr:

- 3,000 Jews were assassinated in July 1941,

- approximately 10,000 in the month of August,

- and another 27,000 in the first 20 days of September.

Throughout the autumn of 1941, huge massacres took place as the German armies advanced into Russian territory.  

-On 29 and 30 September, a few days after the fall of Kiev, 34,000 Jews were killed in the Babi Yar ravine, just outside the city.  

-During the second half of October, Romanian troops, who took part in the German offensive, massacred more than 20,000 Jews in Odessa.  

- Between November and December, more than 17,000 Jews were killed in the Crimea.

At the end of 1941, Karl Jäger, who commanded an Einsatzgruppe unit, sent a report to Berlin announcing that the Jewish problem had been ‘solved’ in Lithuania and stating that his group had killed 137,346 people over a period of 5 months.

On 20 January 1942, a number of Nazi leaders met at Wannsee in the suburbs of Berlin. The minutes of this meeting show that Hitler and his entourage intended to exterminate all Jews and gypsies living in Europe, estimated at the time to be around 11 million people.

Meanwhile, the massacres continued in Soviet territories, and the German authorities began to build massive extermination camps for Jews from Western Europe and the Polish ghettos.

These camps, in which the vast majority of deportees were gassed soon after their arrival, were built along the railway lines connecting them to the large Polish ghettos:

-Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belzec in the General Government area.

-Chelmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau in the annexed territory of Poland.

Auschwitz- Birkenau is the largest of all the extermination camps. For more than two years, trains carrying the deported arrived there from all over occupied Europe.

The first victims of the massive gas operations were Jews from Slovakia during the month of May 1942.

The first 4 convoys from Paris arrived in June. 

In July, seven trains left the Netherlands, where massive arrests of Jews had just begun;

In August, the first conveys left from Belgium and Luxembourg, while several thousand Croatian Jews were deported from Zagreb.

During autumn, two conveys arrived at Auschwitz with several hundred Norwegians who had not been able to take refuge in Sweden.

In January 1943, a number of convoys left the ghetto of Theresienstadt, Berlin and the Netherlands.

In the spring, the first Jews were deported from Thessalonica. Nearly 45,000 members of this community, which had existed since ancient times, died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

In September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies, and German troops moved into the northern part of the country. Immediately, roundups were organized and nearly 8,000 Italian Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the months of October and November.

In early 1944, the flow of convoys continued with more deportees from the Netherlands, France and Italy.

In March, new raids were organized in Greece and nearly 6,500 Jews were deported from Athens.

At the same time, Germany occupied Hungary. Until this time, the Jewish population had been protected by the government, but was now forced to move into ghettos and special camps.

Convoys to Auschwitz began on 15 May 1944. In less than two months, more than 430,000 Jews had been deported before the Hungarian government decided to stop the organisation of convoys.

Despite the arrival of the Red Army from the East and the Allies from the West, the Germans continued to organize long-distance deportations to Auschwitz during the summer of 1944:

from Rhodes in July,

from Italy and France in August,

from the Netherlands and Theresienstadt in September  

The gas chambers at Auschwitz were destroyed by the Germans in November 1944 in an attempt to wipe out all trace of genocide.

The Nazis also used other forms of massacre, such as lorries equipped as gas chambers and “death marches”, in which people died of sheer exhaustion.

It is impossible to know the exact number of persons killed during these massacres. Historians have suggested figures between 5 and 6 million for the number of European Jews killed between September 1939 and May 1945. Of these, 3 million were from Poland and 1 million from the USSR.