From invasions to the Final Solution

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Germany, 1933.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, after its defeat in the First World War, Germany lost land in Europe as well as it's colonies in Africa. 

In 1933, when Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany, the borders of the country were still as outlined in the treaty. (see map above) 

Hitler had long vowed to regain the lands Germany had lost in 1919. He dreamed of creating a great Germany that would provide living space and colonies for the ‘master race’.

As the German army invaded and occupied the countries of Europe more and more Jews and untermenschen came under the Nazi sphere of influence.

The maps on this page illustrate the German expansionist policy.

Click on the maps to plot the German invasion of Europe.

Austria

On 13 March 1938, the German army marched into Austria. This led to instant persecution, by Austrians and Germans, of the Jews. 

By the beginning of the Second World War, over 126,000 of the 184,000 Austrian Jews had managed to escape. However, many had chosen to travel to countries that would later be invaded by the German army.

The Sudetenland

During October 1938, Germany annexed the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. Many of the area's Jews became refugees. Large numbers escaped to the safety of Prague, the Czech capital, which very soon would come under Nazi rule.

Germany gave a portion of the newly annexed Sudetenland area to Hungary, (who was allied to Nazi Germany), bringing the Jews living in these areas under antisemitic Hungarian laws. (Click here for more information about Hungary).

Czechoslovakia

During October 1938, the eastern Slovak region of Czechoslovakia had broken away from the Czech region (in the West of the country). Jews within the region were attacked and banished to an area between Slovakia and Hungary. In March 1939, Slovakia became an independent state and an ally of Nazi Germany.

On 15 March 1939, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia. The western regions of the country were renamed Bohemia and Moravia and governed as a German protectorate. On the eve of the German invasion, approximately 120,000 Jews lived in 136 communities across the country. 

Poland

Then, on 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland from the west. Poland was split into three sectors: Western Poland was annexed into 'Greater Germany', whilst the General Government was created in the remaining part under German control. The other sector came under the control of the Soviet Union as its army had invaded from the East as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact.

On the eve of the invasion around 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. Around 1,200,000 Polish Jews lived under Soviet rule; leaving more around 2,100,000 Polish Jews in Nazi occupied Poland.

During and after the invasion the Nazis wasted little time in enacting their brutal anti-Jewish laws in both Polish and Czech lands.

To gain more information about the Polish Jewish experience click here.

Norway

Despite having declared itself a neutral country, Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940. Some 1,700 Jews lived there at the time, including around 200 refugees from from Germany. The majority of Norway’s Jews lived in Oslo, the capital. 

The Nazis deported 763 Norwegian Jews, 739 of them were killed. Around 900 Norwegian Jews escaped to Sweden with the help of the Norwegian underground. More than 5,000 non-Jewish Norwegians were deported to camps by the Nazis, 649 died there. However, some 50,000 non-Jewish Norwegians escaped to Sweden.

Denmark

Prior to the war, Aproximately 7,800 Jews lived in Denmark. Around 6,000 of them were native Danes, whilst the remainder were refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

Germany invaded and occupied Denmark on 9 April 1940. As the Danish government did not challenge the Germans, they were allowed to continue to govern and have an army. The Danish government insisted that the Danish Jews were protected, this continued until the spring of 1943.

The Nazis began deporting Jews on 1 October 1943. However, the Danes and the Jews had been pre-warned. The Danish fishing fleet assisted 7,000 Jews and their non-Jewish relatives to escape across the water to Sweden after the Swedish government agreed to take them.

As a result of this action the majority of Danish Jews were saved.

The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Luxemberg

The German army invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Luxemburg on 10 May 1940. (For detailed information about France and the Netherlands click here.)

The Belgium government surrendered to the Germans on 28 May 1940. A collaborationist government was established. Some 66,000 Jews were living in Belgium. 

During the Holocaust, in excess of 34,800 Jews were deported from Belgium to Berrgen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck and Auschwitz-Birkenau, where some 28,900 perished.

Romania

For a detailed acount of Romania’s involvement click here.

Yugoslavia

On 6 April 1941, Germany, along with it’s allies Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria, invaded Yugoslavia and divided it up. At the time of the invasion approximately 80,000 Jews lived in Yugoslavia; 40,000 lived in Croatia, 16,000 in Serbia, 16,000 in the Backa region, and 8,000 in Macedonia.

In January 1942 the Hungarian army and police began to murder the Jews of Backa. The young and fit were sent to labour camps. Then, in 1944 more than 10,000 of Backa's Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In March 1943, the Bulgarians arrested more than 7,000 Macedonian Jews, sending them to their deaths at Treblinka. Less than 1,000 Macedonian Jews survived the Holocaust.

More than 66,000 of Yugoslavia’s 80,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Greece

It was not until 6 April 1941, that the German army joined the Italians to conquer Greece.

Most of Greece’s 77,000 pre-war Jewish population were deported. At least 60,000 Greek Jews died, including 80 per-cent of the great Thessalonika community, most of them at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Invasions in the east

The Baltic States

The Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in September 1939. Then, on 22 June 1941 Germany invaded the region. Many of the locals regarded the Jewish population as pro-communist and this, added to their traditional antiesmitism, made them welcome in the Nazis. 

Estonia

When the Germans invaded Estonia, during the summer of 1941, they immediately began rounding up and murdered 4,500 Jews eagerly abetted by the local population. At the Wannsee Conference, on 20 January 1942, the Nazis noted that the region was Jew-free.

Latvia

Before the German invasion 90,000 Jews lived in Latvia. Around 20,000 fled in the days preceding the invasion. During the German invasion many Latvian citizens organised into armed groups and collaborated in the killing of large numbers of Latvian Jews. By the end of 1941, just 9,000 Jews remained in Latvia. By the end of the war only 200 Jews suvived on Latvian soil.

Lithuania

On the outbreak of the war Lithuania's Jewish population expanded by some

100,000 to 250,000 because of refugees fleeing the Nazi invasion of Poland. Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. When, on 22 June 1941, Germany invaded, most of the Lithuanian population welcomed and collaborated with the Germans who they saw as liberators from communism. The Lithuanians carried out many pogroms against the Jews.

During the summer and autumn of 1941 the Germans and their collaborators murdered almost all of the Jews of Lithuania. By late 1941, only 40,000 Jews were alive, living in four ghettos. Only a few thousand Lithuanian Jews survived the Holocaust.

In September 1938 the Italian government declared its support for Nazi Germany. It  issued a series of anti-Jewish laws, similar to the Nuremberg Laws. Foreign Jews were ordered to leave Italy. 

Italy entered World War Two in June 1940. In September 1940 Italy established 43 enemy alien camps. Foreign Jews were imprisoned in them. Families were allowed to live together. Schools were set up for the children, and social and cultural activities organised.

Mussolini never agreed to deport his country's Jews to extermination camps. The Italian military and local people sought to protect Italian Jews.

In September 1943 the Italy decided to make peace with the Allies. Germany entered Italy and occupied the parts of Italy not taken by the Allies. From September 1943 to the end of the war, the Germans hunted Italian Jews. Some 20 per cent of Italy’s Jews were transported to extermination camps.

However, whilst 15 per cent of Italy's Jews perished during the Holocaust, the large majority survived due to the actions of civilians and the Italian military.