During World War II (1939–45), the leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), created a program of ethnic cleansing that came to be called the Holocaust. His intention was to purify the German Aryan race. He used the power of the government to organize the mass murder of people he considered to be impure for his race. During the twelve years that Hitler was in power, he particularly targeted Jews and Gypsies for extermination from Germany. Not only were they uprooted and placed in labor camps, but by the end of the war, five- to six million had been murdered.
Millions of other groups of people who did not fit into Hitler's plan for a supreme Aryan race were victims of the Holocaust. Political dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and prisoners of war were among those harassed and imprisoned in concentration camps alongside Jews and the Gypsies. These people, however, were not consistently and thoroughly targeted as groups.
Hitler's prejudice was not rooted in political or religious concerns alone. He believed the Jewish people were an evil race working to take over the world. He was not interested in converting them or expelling them from Germany. In Hitler's mind, the only adequate solution to his “Jewish problem” was complete extermination of the Jewish people.
Hitler's Holocaust policies were first aimed at defining the Jewish race and inspiring anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic, feelings among Germans. What began as boycotts of Jewish businesses evolved into restrictions on the rights of Jews. Eventually the Nazi Party confiscated and destroyed Jewish properties and moved people into Jewish ghettos or labor camps. Life was severely restricted, and conditions were harsh. Many died of disease and malnutrition.
In 1941, the policy of the Nazi Party turned to the systematic murder of the Jewish people. As the German army advanced through Europe in the battles of World War II, it killed thousands of Jews in conquered territories. Labor camps evolved into concentration camps where people were sent to be worked to death or murdered.
The German army continued its extermination tactics until the Allied armies invaded Germany in 1945. The concentration camps that the liberating armies found in Germany shocked the world. The Holocaust took a terrible toll on the Jewish people, and the memory of it continues to haunt generations who study what happened in Germany during World War II.