Compiler’s note: Preparing this article presented me with a difficult challenge. How do you encapsulate so tragic an era in our history in a concise, neat series of facts? The Holocaust is not 14, 100, or even 6 million facts; it is an event of the most incomprehensible and colossal magnitude, the likes of which our people have never experienced until or since then. Nevertheless, it is important to educate others about this important topic, and hence I did my best to compile several basic points about the Holocaust, with the understanding that they comprise barely the tip of the iceberg.

1. The Nazis Believed in Racial Superiority

One of the foundations of the Nazi doctrine was that humanity is ranked by race. At the human apex were the “Aryans,” destined as masters and subjugators of society. Beneath them were Slavs and other nations whose makeup dictated that they live a life of slavery. At the very bottom were the Jews (and other minorities such as gypsies), who were nothing but vermin and needed to be purged if the human race was to survive in good health.

Germany prided itself in its science, culture, and philosophy, and especially in its moral ethics—including animal rights, which led them to ban shechitah, ritual slaughter. It was the first nation in Europe to establish compulsory education. Yet it employed these very values to justify the most barbaric acts, and its mastery of technology and organization to carry them out. Many of its most educated citizens supported Hitler, and only a handful protested. In fact, the Germans viewed their racism as a scientific milestone in advancing the health of the human race.

Read: How the Science of Racism Led to the Holocaust

2. The Nuremberg Laws (and Many Others) Stripped Jews of Their Rights

The Nuremberg Laws, passed on September 15, 1935 (17 Elul, 5695), were the most famous set of laws to bring these racial ideas from theory to action. Jews were stripped of their citizenry and political rights, and hiring German household help was severely restricted. These laws were both preceded and followed by many other edicts geared at further isolating German Jewry and restricting their civil rights and their educational and professional options.

Read: 15 Facts About the Jews of Germany

3. Kristallnacht Shattered More Than Just Windows

Nazis ransack a Jewish home on Kristallnacht.
Nazis ransack a Jewish home on Kristallnacht.

On the night of November 9–10, 1938 (16 Cheshvan, 5699), waves of antisemitic violence broke out throughout Germany and Austria. Backed and coordinated by the authorities, members of the SS and other Nazi groups burnt synagogues, vandalized stores, and attacked Jews at random. This event became known as Kristallnacht, German for “night of broken glass.” But it was not only windows that were shattered on that fateful night: any dream German Jewry might have entertained for a future in their once-beloved country was smashed to smithereens. Alas, for many it was too late to escape, as many could not secure visas.

Read: 80 Years Since Kristallnacht, Young Rabbi a Leader in German Jewish Rebirth

4. Antisemitic Legislation Included Ghettos and Jewish Stars

With the conquest of Poland in September 1939 (Elul, 5699), Nazi policy was carried over to Eastern Europe with even greater vengeance. The Nazis revived the medieval concept of segregating Jews in ghettos—herding large numbers of Jews into small areas where access to food, medicine, and other basic necessities was vastly inadequate. The Nazis also reintroduced the Jewish star or badge, subjecting its wearers to public humiliation and disgrace.

Read: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

5. The Einsatzgruppen Executed Mass Shootings

On June 22, 1941 (27 Sivan, 5701), Germany invaded the Soviet Union, quickly advancing deep into Russian territory. The military was accompanied by Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads, who liquidated the Jews of every occupied town or city. Jewish residents were typically brought to a nearby forest, ordered to dig their own graves, and shot, after which they were covered with the dirt they had dug out. One of the largest of these horrific events took place in a ravine called Babi Yar on the outskirts of Kyiv, where more than 30,000 Jews were massacred over a period of two days.

Read: Was the Holocaust a Punishment From G‑d?

6. The Wannsee Conference Set the Final Solution in Motion

The villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee where the infamous Wannsee Conference was held.
The villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee where the infamous Wannsee Conference was held.

On January 20, 1942 (2 Shevat, 5702), a small group of high-ranking Nazi officials gathered in the Wannsee suburb of Berlin for an important meeting. Eight of the fifteen in attendance held academic doctorates. The participants discussed the methods with which to implement the Final Solution of the Jewish Question—namely, the extermination of every Jew under Nazi rule. While mass killings had already been taking place for months, this infamous conference represented the deliberate plans of the Nazi leadership to systematically and ruthlessly destroy the Jewish race from the face of the earth.

The consensus of the conference was unanimous, which had not been expected. Cognac was served at its conclusion, accompanied by blunt conversation concerning methods of killing, liquidation, and extermination.

Read: Ani Maamin—I Believe

7. Auschwitz Was One of Many

Auschwitz (Photo: Clifford Lester)
Auschwitz (Photo: Clifford Lester)

Auschwitz is the most infamous of the Nazi extermination camps. In that camp alone, approximately one million Jews were gassed or otherwise killed. German-occupied territory was host to several other extermination camps and countless concentration camps. In addition to direct murder, Jews and other prisoners were often subject to forced labor under inhumane conditions, beatings, and worse, inevitably causing them to perish from exhaustion and starvation.

Watch: How I Survived Auschwitz

8. The Nazis Were Aided by Enthusiastic Locals

Antisemitism was (and is) rampant beyond Germany’s borders as well. The Nazi regime found eager collaborators in both Axis and occupied territories who were more than happy to do their share for the Final Solution, assisting in the deportation, torture, and murder of many thousands of hapless Jews.

Read: Why Do They Want to Kill Us?

9. Righteous Gentiles Saved Thousands of Lives

Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust.
Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust.

On the flip side, hundreds of non-Jews defied German dictates and assisted their Jewish neighbors, helping them escape or hiding them in their homes even at the risk of death. Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, and Chiune Sugihara are just a few of the extraordinary individuals who demonstrated how a small light can overcome the darkest of nights.

Read: The Japanese Hero Who Saved My Grandfather From the Nazis

10. Jews Upheld Their Faith in the Most Horrendous Circumstances

(Photo: Yad Vashem archives)
(Photo: Yad Vashem archives)

Holocaust imagery often has us focused on the dread and suffering, on the gas chambers and mass graves. While the horrors of the Holocaust must be remembered, there is another element that should not be overlooked: the tenacity of the Jews in the ghettos and camps who refused to allow their lives to be dictated by their Nazi oppressors. Instead, they did everything in their ability to keep the mitzvahs and follow moral standards, even in the most nightmarish circumstances.

Read: 11 Images that Tell of Jewish Empowerment in the Holocaust

11. Every Survivor Is a Miracle

Holocaust survivor Itu Lustig
Holocaust survivor Itu Lustig

Listen to a survivor share his or her tale, or read one of the many articles and books written by these remarkable people, and you will be amazed at the unbelievable string of unlikely occurrences and brushes with death that each survivor experienced. It is clear as day that a Higher Being led them by the hand through fire and water, preserving them from the dangers that beset them on a daily basis.

Watch: The Miracle of Surviving Auschwitz

12. It Continues to Shape Jewish Life

The German Reich might have been defeated in 1945, but the Holocaust’s repercussions endured afterward in many ways. With the destruction of the great Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, the center of Jewish life migrated to Israel and the United States. The experiences of the survivors persevered in their lives and in those of their descendants, profoundly affecting their characters, perspectives, and daily decisions. The Holocaust continues to occupy a prominent place in the collective Jewish consciousness until today.

Read: Haunted by Souls of the Past

13. Six Million Worlds Were Exterminated

The Talmud famously states, “Destroy one person, and you have destroyed an entire universe. Sustain one person, and you have sustained an entire universe.”1 Each of the six million Jewish men, women, and children whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out—along with the Nazis’ numerous other victims—was a world of their own with unlimited potential, a loss that can never be restored.

Read: Separated by the Holocaust, a Family Reunites

14. Acting Jewish Is Hitler’s Ultimate Defeat

But the story doesn’t end with what was lost; rather, each one of us is the next chapter in the narrative. The message we must take from the Holocaust is not one of despair but one of action. Hitler’s goal was to smother the Jewish nation along with its beliefs and value system. But when we rebuild, when we raise a generation who are proud and committed to their Jewishness, we show the world that we have triumphed.

Read: The Rebbe on the Holocaust

Indeed, in the decades since the Holocaust, the Jewish nation has risen from the ashes and experienced remarkable growth and revitalization, demonstrating that while Nazism is now in the dustbin of history, Jews and Judaism are eternal.