The origin of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people, remains uncertain. What is clear is that the genocide of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of Nazi policy, under the rule of Adolf Hitler. The "Final Solution" was implemented in stages. After the Nazi party rise to power, state-enforced racism resulted in anti-Jewish legislation, boycotts, "Aryanization," and finally the "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom, all of which aimed to remove the Jews from German society. After the beginning of World War II, anti-Jewish policy evolved into a comprehensive plan to concentrate and eventually annihilate European Jewry.
The Nazis established ghettos in occupied Poland. Polish and western European Jews were deported to these ghettos. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) began killing entire Jewish communities. The methods used, mainly shooting or gas vans, were soon regarded as inefficient and as a psychological burden on the killers.
After the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the Nazis began the systematic deportation of Jews from all over Europe to six extermination camps established in former Polish territory -- Chelmno , Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek. Extermination camps were killing centers designed to carry out genocide. About three million Jews were gassed in extermination camps.
In its entirety, the "Final Solution" consisted of gassings, shootings, random acts of terror, disease, and starvation that accounted for the deaths of about six million Jews -- two-thirds of European Jewry.
JUNE 22, 1941
KILLING SQUADS ACCOMPANY GERMAN INVASION OF THE SOVIET UNION
German mobile killing squads, called special duty units (Einsatzgruppen), are assigned to kill Jews during the invasion of the Soviet Union. These squads follow the German army as it advances deep into Soviet territory, and carry out mass-murder operations. At first, the mobile killing squads shoot primarily Jewish men. Soon, wherever the mobile killing squads go, they shoot all Jewish men, women, and children, without regard for age or gender. By the spring of 1943, the mobile killing squads will have killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of partisans, Roma (Gypsies), and Soviet political officials.
DECEMBER 8, 1941
FIRST KILLING CENTER BEGINS OPERATION
The Chelmno killing center begins operation. The Nazis later establish five other such camps: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau (part of the Auschwitz complex), and Majdanek. Victims at Chelmno are killed in gas vans (hermetically sealed trucks with engine exhaust diverted to the interior compartments). The Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka camps use carbon monoxide gas generated by stationary engines attached to gas chambers. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the killing centers, has four large gas chambers using Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide) as the killing agent. The gas chambers at Majdanek use both carbon monoxide and Zyklon B. Millions of Jews are killed in the gas chambers in the killing centers as part of the "Final Solution."
JANUARY 20, 1942
WANNSEE CONFERENCE AND THE "FINAL SOLUTION"
The Wannsee Conference, a meeting between the SS (the elite guard of the Nazi state) and German government agencies, opens in Berlin. They discuss and coordinate the implementation of the "Final Solution," which is already under way. At Wannsee, the SS estimates that the "Final Solution" will involve 11 million European Jews, including those from non-occupied countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and Great Britain. Between the fall of 1941 and the fall of 1944, the German railways transport millions of people to their deaths in killing centers in occupied Poland.