The Jewish holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew), was the systematic persecution and murder of six million Jews, a million and a half of them children, by the national socialist (Nazi) German state. This policy of genocide was not only applied to the Jews but was also directed against political opponents, gypsies, Jehova's witnesses, homosexuals, the handicapped and other minority communities.
When in 1918 the Allies made Germany responsible for the First World War, it was forced to pay war reparations. Plunged into a great economic crisis, the country was faced with massive unemployment compounded by high inflation and had to deal with the social consequences of this.
In the midst of the devastation in Germany, Adolf Hitler took control of the National Socialist Party and began his programme of political agitation throughout the country. On 8 and 9 November 1923 Hitler organised a failed coup, known as the “Munich Putsch”. As a result of this illegal act he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, although in the end he only served 9 months. There he wrote "My Struggle" (Mein Kampf, 1924), an essay in which he set out his ideas, which included the notions of "Jewish peril" and "living space".
Once out of prison, Hitler returned to political life. The unstable political and economic situation enabled him to acquire new supporters. After the November 1932 election, Hitler became Chancellor – Head of State – in January 1933. In a short period of time he assumed absolute power within Germany, closing down the Parliament, taking control over the law and establishing a dictatorship.
His broad social consensus he achieved was owed to his big electoral promises regarding the restoration of full employment and the resurgence of the Aryan race as well as on blaming the Jews and other minorities for all the country's ills.
Persecution of people of Jewish origin started shortly after Hitler came to power. Initial persecution saw Jews expelled from state and university posts. These measures were accompanied by vandalism of synagogues, anti-Jewish propaganda, boycotting of their trade, the introduction of the Nuremberg laws, the Night of Broken Glass and the confinement of Jews in ghettos. By the time the Second World War broke out on 1 September 1939, the persecution of members of the Jewish community had spread all over Europe.
On 20 January 1942, 13 Nazi leaders met at Wannsee to discuss the total elimination of the European Jews. The plan was called the "Final Solution" . The result was that Jews were moved from the ghettos to deportation centres and from there to the extermination camps .