World War II is often considered as one of the darkest episodes in human history. This war spanned the globe, destroyed economies, and caused the death of 60 million people (“Worldwide Deaths”). But more than the death and the destruction, this war is remembered for the atrocities committed against certain groups. In what is now known as the Holocaust, millions of Jews across Europe were deported, forced into labor, and butchered in concentration camps. Unlike the root causes of World War I which involve imperialism, World War II saw acts of unprecedented cruelty committed against humans. It was a time when massacres were carried out in an industrial scale, and stories and images of the Holocaust continue to haunt the world to this day. But while the Jews who were killed have become emblematic of the Nazis’ sadism, they were not the only ones who suffered the Nazis’ brutality. In addition to history’s estimate of six million Jews, millions of others suffered the crimes committed by the Nazis. Among them were the religious, homosexuals, blacks, the disabled, and other neighboring nationalities like the Slavs and Poles. This history paper sheds some light on the other groups that fell victim to the Nazis.
The Nazis’ plan to exterminate the Jews and other groups hinged on their belief in the concept of a master race. The Nazis believed that Germanic peoples descended from the Aryan race. This race supposedly possessed superior qualities such as considerable height, blue eyes, and blonde hair (Davies 167). Capitalizing on what was then already long-standing racism in society, the Nazis promoted the idea that as the master race they must unite all Germanic peoples and achieve racial purity by any means necessary. Adolf Hitler also propagated the belief that the master race required more living space, even at the cost of other populations that the Nazis deemed as inferior. Indeed, this desire to expand Germany’s territories was among the root causes of World War II. As the world came to know at the end of the war, the Nazis did try to achieve this dream in the vilest ways. Among their crimes were conducting mass sterilization (Grodin, Miller, and Kelly 53-57), prohibiting interracial unions such as in the case of the infamous Nuremberg Laws (“The Nuremberg Race Laws”), and massacring entire populations.
One of the groups that suffered under the Nazis was the Poles. Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal parts of the war. The invasion is believed to have resulted in the death of around 5-6 million Poles, 3 million of which were Polish Jews. At the end of the war, 90% of Poland’s Jewish population had been wiped out. The Nazis also targeted key members of Polish society such as intellectuals, religious and political leaders, and teachers in order to paralyze Poland. The Nazis knew that eliminating these groups reduced the chances of the Polish to resist invasion (Friedberg). Poland was also the site of the majority of concentration camps. There is clear evidence showing that the Nazis intended to destroy Poland and reduce its population to a fraction. Even to this day, Poland is grappling with this tumultuous past.
Another important group that the Nazis targeted was the Slavs. Like the Jews and the Poles, the Nazis viewed the Slavs as inferior. Hitler planned to expel most of the Slavs from their homeland. The Nazis’ original intention was to send around 30 to 40 million Slavs to Siberia in order to make room for Germans (Rummel). As the Slavs did not compose a single country but instead covered many countries, estimates of the death toll vary. However, researchers state that in the Soviet Union alone, as many as 26 million died during the war either in the battlefield or as consequence of disease and famine (Tharoor). Furthermore, a war crime committed by the Nazis saw the death of around 2-3 million Soviet prisoners of war when these prisoners were deliberately starved (Friedman).
Also included among the Nazis’ victims were the Romani people. The genocide of the Romani is a subject of debate and up until the 1980s was refused to be acknowledged by scholars. However, history narrates that Hitler targeted the Romani population due to their perceived racial inferiority. Some Romani escaped deportation and death, but the remaining population were subjected to the fate of the Jews: relocation to ghettos, mass shootings, and gassing. Their death toll is estimated to be around 258,000 (Rummel).
Also among their Nazis’ victim were people with disabilities. Nazi Germany held its eugenics policy sacred. The Nazis believed that that the disabled were merely burdens to society. The disabled needed care, and such weakness was seen as an affront to their concept of a master race. As a result, thousands of people were sterilized against their will. They were also the first victims of murder by the Nazis. The T-4 program, or the Euthanasia Decree, was the model and precedent of the Jewish genocide. Here, both children and adults with physical and mental deformities were sent to gas chambers for the first time. Around 70,000 people died under the T-4 program, but killings continued even after the program was ended in 1941. By the end of the war, around 275,000 people with disabilities had been murdered by the Nazis and their followers (“People with Disabilities”).
Male homosexuality was deemed incompatible with Nazism, as they believed that gay men were weak and incapable of fighting for Germany due to their effeminacy. For the Nazis, anything that diminished the German nation’s reproductive aptitude should be seen as an inferior trait. Nazi Germany also deemed homosexuality as a contagious disease. More than a million gay Germans were targeted; 50,000 were convicted and imprisoned and 100,000 more were arrested. Many were also institutionalized in mental hospitals, where they were castrated as mandated by court order. The number of deaths remains uncertain. A number of gay men also became part of concentration camps, where they were branded with pink triangles. The lesbians, although not treated as harshly, were given black triangles in the camps. Although the Nazis did not actively seek to murder the homosexuals, they resorted to violence and quite a number of deaths for intimidation (Williams).
Finally, also included in the Nazis’ long list of targets were the blacks. There was no genocide program made for Afro-Germans, but they were persecuted all the same. Sterilization, incarceration, and other forms of abuse including murder were brought upon them. The number of blacks persecuted by the Nazis is uncertain, as the blacks comprised a small portion of the population. Nevertheless, blacks suffered under the Nazis due to their extremely racist views and policies (Kesting 33).
The story of the World War II is essentially a story of racism, the rise of Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust. While the Jews are known for suffering many of the unspeakably evil acts committed by the Nazis, they were not the only victims. Other groups including the Poles, Slavs and Soviets, Romani, people with disabilities, homosexuals, and blacks became targets of the Nazis’ crimes. Putting the Nazis’ actions into perspective, perhaps it is not inaccurate to say that had the Nazis had their way, they would have terrorized many more. As painful as it is to remember the Nazis’ reign of terror, this act is essential if society is to avoid committing the same mistakes that claimed millions of lives. Only by being aware of humanity’s darker tendencies can people prevent it from tearing society apart again.
Davies, Norman. Europe at War: 1939-1945: No Simple Victory. London, Pan Books Ltd, 2007.
Friedberg, Edna. “The Truth About Poland’s Role in the Holocaust.” The Atlantic, 6 February 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/poland-holocaust-death-camps/552455/. Accessed 6 December 2020.
Friedman, Ina R. “The Other Victims of the Nazis.” National Council for Social Studies, https://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/5906/590606.html. Accessed 6 December 2020.
Grodin, Michael A., Erin L. Miller, and Jonathan I. Kelly. “The Nazi Physicians as Leaders in Eugenics and “Euthanasia”: Lessons for Today.” American Journal of Public Health, vol.108, no.1, 2018, pp. 53-57.
Kesting, Robert W. “Forgotten Victims: Blacks in the Holocaust.” The Journal of Negro History, vol.77, no.1, 1992, pp. 30-36.
“People with Disabilities.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://www.ushmm.org/collections/bibliography/people-with-disabilities. Accessed 6 December 2020.
“Research Starters: Worldwide Deaths in World War II.” The National World War II Museum, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war. Accessed 6 December 2020.
Rummel, R. J. Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder. New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publications, 1992.
Tharoor, Ishaan. “Don’t forget how the Soviet Union saved the world Hitler.” Washington Post, 8 May 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/05/08/dont-forget-how-the-soviet-union-saved-the-world-from-hitler. Accessed 6 December 2020.
“The Nuremberg Race Laws.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-nuremberg-race-laws. Accessed 6 December 2020.
Williams, Ryan. “Remembering LGBT People Murdered in the Holocaust.” Morning Star, n.d., https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/monday-remembering-lgbt-people-murdered-holocaust. Accessed 6 December 2020.