The Holocaust was one of the most tragic events in human history. Millions of people were exterminated by the Nazis in a campaign to completely destroy people they considered less than human. But when you think of the Holocaust, you probably imagine people being forced into gas chambers, right? That’s the image that has stuck with us most through the years. But in many ways, that’s only one part of the Holocaust. And mass killing took many different forms in the War. But one of the most brutal parts of the holocaust is often forgotten: the Holocaust in occupied Russia. And there, it wasn’t Zyklon B the Nazis used to kill millions; it was bullets and car exhaust.
Hitler had always been open about his plans for Europe’s Jews. He saw them as a threat to the new world he wanted to build. Therefore, he wanted to get rid of them. But that didn’t always mean mass extermination. In the early days, Hitler and his top aides considered simply moving them out of Europe. There were plans to seize Madagascar from the French and deport every Jew in Europe to colonize it. The fact that many would die there from disease was simply seen as a bonus.
But by 1941, the Third Reich was leaning closer to a “final solution,” though the phrase wasn’t in official use yet. Hitler was planning a new world order that had no place for people he considered racially inferior. And that didn’t just include Jews. Roma, homosexuals, communists, and anyone else who threatened Hitler’s plans were targeted for death. Hitler believed that millions would need to die to create the new world he envisioned. Hitler’s plan centered around “Lebensraum,” or “living space.” As he saw it, the Germans were a people hedged in by the borders of their nation with no room to grow.
And it was in the East that Hitler saw the future of the German people taking shape. Under the “Generalplan Ost,” the Nazis planned to seize the area and move millions of Germans into it to create a new society of “soldier-peasants,” former SS men who could farm the land and multiply. Once the Soviets were defeated, the Germans could expand all the way to the borders of Asia. And there, one day far in the future, the civilizations of the West and the East would clash in one final battle for control of the planet.
Hitler and his top aides thought that if the West was to have any chance of winning this final battle, they would need to breed hundreds of millions of fighting men on their colonized farms in the East. And for that to happen, millions of non-Germans would first need to die. So, as the German army swept east, specialized groups of killers followed. They rounded up Jews, partisans, and anyone else Hitler felt needed to be liquidated. And soon, a wave of mass-murder would sweep across the East as these men executed millions of people to make way for Hitler’s new world.