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Jews begin their exile in Europe after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and destruction of their temple. In the almost 2,000 years that follow, they enjoy a tenuous relationship with their adopted countries. There are periods of acceptance, but Jews mostly are victims of anti-Semitism, which leads at various times to their murder, confinement to ghettos and expulsion.
After enjoying a period of prosperity and assimilation in German society, Jews are faced with Nazi hate when Hitler comes to power. The Nazi Party orders a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses, Jewish children are banned from most playgrounds, swimming pools and parks, and their enrollment restricted in schools and universities. "No Jews" signs and notices are posted outside German towns, shops and restaurants. The Nuernberg Laws strip German Jews of their citizenship, though they retain limited rights. Doctors sterilize disabled adults and children as well as Jewish, Gypsy and Afro-German children.
Germany occupies Austria. First major wave of arrests of German and Austrian Gypsies. A decree makes it mandatory for Jews to insert the middle names "Israel" and "Sara" into all official documents. State-sponsored rioting results in Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, as many synagogues, Jewish homes and schools are looted or destroyed. Jews are beaten, more than 90 are killed, and 30,000 Jewish people sent to concentration camps. A decree prohibits Jews from attending German public schools. Other decrees ban Jews from public streets on certain days. Jews must sell their businesses and other property to the government at artificially low prices.
Germany invades Poland. World War II begins. Jews in Poland are forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their chests or a blue-and-white Star of David armband.
Germany conquers Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. Approximately 164,000 Polish Jews are imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto. Auschwitz concentration camp is established.
Gypsy and Afro-German children are forbidden from attending German schools. Germany, joined by Italy and Bulgaria, invades Yugoslavia and Greece. Germany invades the Soviet Union. Mobile killing squads accompany the army and murder millions of Jews, Communists and Gypsies. German Jews over age 6 are forced to wear a yellow Star of David on the left side of the chest with the word Jude printed on it in black. Homosexuals were also persecuted and killed. Construction begins on an addition to the Auschwitz camp, to be known as Birkenau. It includes a killing center. Deportation of German Jews to Poland begins. The United States declares war on Germany. Five-thousand Austrian Gypsies are deported from the Lodz ghetto to the killing center at Chelmno and are killed in mobile gas vans.
At the Wannsee Conference, senior German government officials discuss the "Final Solution," their plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Jews are deported from Nazi-occupied countries throughout Europe to ghettos, concentration camps and killing centers in Poland. Most Gypsies in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries are arrested and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Soviet troops liberate the killing center at Majdanek. Members of the Sonderkommando (camp prisoners forced to burn corpses) stage a rebellion at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They succeed in blowing up a gas chamber and crematoria.
With the Soviet army only 10 days away, remaining camp inmates are evacuated from Auschwitz. Their "death march" to concentration camps inside of Germany begins. Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz-Birkenau. American troops liberate Buchenwald. The war and the Nazi regime end.
©Copyright 1999, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.