Aktion is a German word for any kind of special action against actual or possible enemies of the Nazis. While the word seems neutral, it was a substitute term for arrest, torture, robbery, or murder.
Anti-Semitism means a specific hatred of Jews.
The Germans established thousands of concentration camps, or detention facilities, during World War II to imprison and eliminate “enemies of the state.” Some were transit camps, others were slave labor camps, and still others were extermination camps (killing centers) where people were gassed on arrival. Prisoner-of-war camps were created for captured Allied soldiers; some, like the secret camp at Berga on the Elster River, were, in fact, brutal slave labor sites.
In the winter of 1944-45, when the Nazis knew that the war was lost, concentration camp inmates from German-occupied Poland were forced to march west into Germany. The Nazis wanted no eyewitnesses remaining when the camps were overtaken by Allied forces. In some cases these death marches covered hundreds of miles.
At the end of the war there were seven to nine million people living in countries not their own. Many Jewish survivors, known as displaced persons, did not have homes, families, or communities to return to. With nowhere to go, they were forced to live in temporary camps until they could legally immigrate to countries in the West or to Israel.
Ghettos were sections of towns or cities set aside for Jews to live in. Often, barbed-wire fences patrolled by soldiers encircled them. Ghettos were extremely overcrowded and unsanitary. Many residents died from disease and starvation.
Kindertransport, or “Children’s Transport,” was an act of mercy carried out by Great Britain in 1939. Ten thousand Jewish children were transported from their homes to foster families and hostels in Britain. The majority of these children never saw their parents again.
The first large-scale attack by Nazis on Jews in Germany and Austria took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, and became known as Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,” or the “Night of Broken Glass”). Named for the carpet of glass shards from thousands of shattered windows, Kristallnacht is considered to be the beginning of the Holocaust in Europe.
The word transport was used by the Nazis to describe deportation. People were sent “on transports” and many people died “in transport” because of extreme conditions.
Secret underground resistance groups carried out many activities that had been forbidden by the Nazis. These efforts had special importance in the desperate day-to-day life of the ghettos, where the smuggling of food and medicine helped people stay alive. Every ghetto supported acts of cultural resistance, including classes for children and adults, newspapers, art exhibits, plays, and concerts, allowing Jews to minimize Nazi dehumanization. Other secret groups brought young men and women out of ghettos into armed resistance units. Even in the death camps resistance activities flourished.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
In April 1943 the Warsaw ghetto received word that an Aktion was imminent. The Germans had planned to liquidate the ghetto in three days, but Jewish resistance fighters held out for more than four weeks. Even though the insurgents knew they were bound to lose, they chose to die fighting, inflicting casualties on the enemy and bringing honor to the Jewish people with their courage.
Categories of Experience:
Survivors managed to stay alive in spite of the deliberate and systematic plan by the Nazis to kill all the Jews of Europe.
Refugees escaped Nazi-controlled Europe, usually before 1939, and found refuge in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Palestine (now Israel), South Africa, some South American countries, and even Shanghai, China.
Hidden children were Jewish children who were given false identities and hidden from the outside world by foster families or in orphanages, convents, or monasteries. They frequently had to live indoors, never seeing the light of day. Many did not see their parents again.
Liberators were Allied soldiers who invaded German-occupied territory in 1944 and 1945 and fought to enter the camps. Some even stayed long enough to begin massive feeding and first aid programs for the desperate inmates.
US Army Witness
US Army witnesses were members of the armed forces stationed in Europe who, after the war ended, either visited concentration camps to see the grim consequences of Nazi policies or took part in a multinational effort to bring Nazi perpetrators to justice.