Overview of the Holocaust During World War 2

Whether you are just beginning to learn about the Holocaust or you are looking for more in-depth stories about the subject, this page is for you. The beginner will find a glossary, a timeline, a list of the camps, a map, and much more. Those more knowledgeable about the topic will find interesting stories about spies in the SS, detailed overviews of some of the camps, a history of the yellow badge, medical experimentation, and much more. Please read, learn, and remember.

Holocaust Basics

Star of David Badge
A yellow Star of David badge bearing the German word 'Jude' (Jew).

Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images

This is the perfect place for the beginner to start learning about the Holocaust. Learn what the term "Holocaust" means, who the perpetrators were, who the victims were, what happened in the camps, what is meant by "Final Solution," and so much more.

The Camps and Other Killing Facilities

View of the entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz (Auschwitz I). The gate bears the motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes one free).

Ira Nowinski / Corbis / VCG

Although the term "concentration camps" is often used to describe all Nazi camps, there were actually a number of different kinds of camps, including transit camps, forced-labor camps, and death camps. In some of these camps there was at least a small chance to survive; while in others, there was no chance at all. When and where were these camps built? How many people were murdered in each one?


Kovno Ghetto
A child works at a machine in a Kovno Ghetto workshop.

George Kadish/Zvi Kadushin / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Pushed out of their homes, Jews were then forced to move into tiny, overcrowded quarters in a small section of the city. These areas, cordoned off by walls and barbed wire, were known as ghettos. Learn what life was really like in the ghettos, where each person was always awaiting the dreaded call for "resettlement."

The Victims

Former prisoners of the "little camp" in Buchenwald.

H Miller / Getty Images

The Nazis targeted Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, twins, and the disabled. Some of these people tried to hide from the Nazis, like Anne Frank and her family. A few were successful; most were not. Those that were captured suffered sterilization, forced resettlement, separation from family and friends, beatings, torture, starvation, and death. Learn more about the victims of Nazi cruelty, both the children and adults.


Identification Card
A copy of an official identification card bearing a large yellow star.

Erika Neuman Kauder Eckstut / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Before the Nazis began their mass slaughter of Jews, they created a number of laws that separated Jews from society. Especially potent was the law that forced all Jews to wear a yellow star upon their clothing. The Nazis also made laws that made it illegal for Jews to sit or eat in certain places and placed a boycott on Jewish-owned stores. Learn more about the persecution of Jews before the death camps.


A picture of Abba Kovner, resistance leader of Vilna.
Abba Kovner.

Vitka Kempner Kovner / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Many people ask, "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" Well, they did. With limited weapons and at a severe disadvantage, they found creative ways to subvert the Nazi system. They worked with partisans in the forests, fought to the last man in the Warsaw Ghetto, revolted at the Sobibor death camp, and blew up gas chambers at Auschwitz. Learn more about the resistance, both by Jews and non-Jews, to the Nazis.


Heinrich Hoffmann/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, were the perpetrators of the Holocaust. They used their belief in Lebensraum as the excuse for their territorial conquest and subjugation of people they categorized as "Untermenschen" (inferior people). Find out more about Hitler, the swastika, the Nazis, and what happened to them after the war.

Museums and Memorials

Hall of Names
Photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis are displayed in the Hall of Names exhibit in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images

For many people, history is a difficult thing to understand without a place or an item to connect it with. Thankfully, some museums focus solely on collecting and displaying artifacts about the Holocaust. There are also some memorials, located around the world, that are dedicated to never forgetting the Holocaust or its victims.

Books and Movie Reviews

Life is Beautiful
Actors Giorgio Cantarini and Roberto Benigni in a scene from the movie "Life Is Beautiful".

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Since the end of the Holocaust, succeeding generations have striven to understand how such a horrific event as the Holocaust could have taken place. How could people be "so evil"? In an attempt to explore the topic, you might consider reading some books or watching films about the Holocaust. Hopefully, these reviews will help you decide where to begin.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Overview of the Holocaust During World War 2." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/holocaust-article-guide-1779702. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, February 16). Overview of the Holocaust During World War 2. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/holocaust-article-guide-1779702 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Overview of the Holocaust During World War 2." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/holocaust-article-guide-1779702 (accessed May 6, 2021).