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The Holocaust is one of the largest and most significant events in modern history. It is often looked at as a wider act of genocide, but it has many different events and themes intertwined under the word “Holocaust”.

The Holocaust entails the good, in the form of bravery and heroism; the bad, in terms of the Nazis and Antisemitism and so on; and the very, very ugly with the mass genocide of 6 million Jews being what is most notably remembered for.

In this piece, we are going to be exploring the major themes of the Holocaust. This is not only important for understanding, but also to keep reminding ourselves of the details and individualism that the Holocaust involved – it was not simply one human-made tragedy, it was so much more than that.  In other words, the Holocaust was not just one faceless event and here are just some of the themes that generally define it.


nazi-flagThe Nazi Party started off as a small party in Germany which was not taken seriously in the first few years of existence. It was founded on the 5th of January 1919 as the German Workers party. In the following year, it was renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in order to attract workers away from left-wing parties such as Communism or the Social Democrats.

However, it became so strong that they eventually won an election which put them in control of Germany and allowed them to carry out an apartheid and genocide.

The ideology they followed was based on Fascism but became so widely popular that the ideology became its own thing, dubbed Nazism. Nazism subscribes to racial hierarchy, placing German Aryans at the top of the list as the ‘Master Race’.

One of the major aims to the Nazis was to create Lebensraum, which is essentially living space for the ‘master race’ and exclude those who were viewed as racially inferior. Eventually, this led to genocide rather than just social exclusion and apartheid.

Anti-Semitism & Propaganda


After the German-loss of World War One, there was a huge economic depression in the 1930s which left many in poverty and unemployed. Due to the harsh economic climate, the Nazis had room to present the “Jews” to the German population as the source of the country’s core problems.

It was fairly easy to breed hate in such a desperate environment and one which needed hope and something or someone to blame. Jews in German society were both integrated and separate, but those who remained separate by choice often looked different, ate different foods, wore different clothing, spoke a different language and worshipped a different God. Since a lot of Jewish people were perceived as different, it was easy for the Nazi party to use their differences against them and create a mass fear of the unknown.

To achieve this, there was heavy use of Propaganda in the form of imagery, speeches and changes to the Law. The Nazis were using sophisticated advertising techniques to spread their message of hate, which worked to change the opinions of many German people. It actively incited hatred of the Jews and was used to justify such events such as Kristallnacht and the boycotting of Jewish businesses.

Jews were forced to wear badges which identified them as so, with the magen dovid (Star of David) as the symbol to indicate Jewishness.


warsaw-ghettoThis leads us onto another major theme of the Holocaust which was the Jewish Ghetto.

Jewish Ghettos were neighbourhood in which Jewish people were essentially forced to live in and be confined to. They were a sort of walled off community patrolled and controlled by Nazi soldiers.

Ghettos were in violation of international law but the Germans simply carried on with their persecution of the Jewish people by forcing them out of their homes into areas of squalor and deprivation. They were used as a further form of propaganda by brutally separating, persecuting and one step in aiming to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe.

The Nazis organised Ghettos in a number of occupied countries and there were at least 1,000 Ghettos, but the majority of Ghettos could be found in Poland. Poland was actually where the first ghetto was established in October 1939.

The majority of those who were forced to live in a ghetto perished from disease, starvation, shooting or from the deportation to a concentration camp.

Forced Labour


Forced labour played a vital role in the economy of wartime Germany. This entailed the SS and civilian authorities exploiting Jewish people, along with Poles, Soviets and concentration camp victims for war effort for free.

Forced Labour was seen (by the Nazis and their supporters) as brilliant solution to the huge manpower shortage that faced Germany in the wake of World War II.

It was not uncommon for people to actually die from forced labour due to ill-treatment, starvation or disease. Forced labour was often pointless and humiliating upon the establishment of the first concentration camp in 1933, and imposed without proper equipment, clothing, food or rest. This became part of the core concentration camo regimen.


In all the darkness, there were some moments of light. There were people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who risked their lives to protect those persecuted from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

You have most probably heard of people like Schindler, who convinced the Nazis to let him have Jewish people to conduct cheap labour in his factory. Unbeknownst to the Nazis, Schindler was providing these Jews with a place to live and avoid the fate that Nazis had in store for them.


There are a number of unsung heroes of the Holocaust, too many to detail here, but let’s have a look at a few brave examples of people who helped the victims survive.

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler served as the head of the children’s department of Zegota. This was a Polish council which was set up to Aid Jews and was operated by underground resistance fights in German-occupied Warsaw between 1942 and 1945.

She is credited with smuggling around 2,500 Jewish children out of Warsaw’s Ghetto. These children would then be hidden with Catholic families and were given false identity papers.

Unfortunately, the Gestapo came to arrest her and she was brutally tortured before being sentenced to death by firing squad. However, she was never actually executed as her fellow Zegota members bribed the Nazi guards. As a result, she went on to survive the war and died at the age of 98 recently.

Frank Foley


Frank Foley was a British Secret Intelligence officer who is famed for allowing Jews to escape Europe whilst working undercover at a passport control office in Berlin.

Since we worked as a secret agent, his insights into Hitler’s Nazi government allowed for him to forsee which way the wind appeared to be blowing. Therefore, he stamped passports and issues visas which allowed Jews to escape to places like Britain, Palestine (now Israel) and the USA.

He has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

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