When Did the Holocaust Start? Key Dates and Timeline

Laura Mackenzie

4 mins

11 Jun 2018

The Holocaust was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and members of other persecuted groups at the hands of Nazi Germany. But pinning down the exact date on which it started is difficult and the subject of some debate.

The Nazis began implementing their plan to kill all Jews within reach — known as the “Final Solution” — under the cover of World War Two. But using that as a starting point for the Holocaust does not take into account the less systematic killings and other forms of persecution that occurred before the war. It also fails to show how Nazi policy towards Jews evolved over time.

As a result, the date that has become commonly associated with the start of the Holocaust is 30 January 1933, the day on which Hitler became chancellor of Germany. It is also the point at which our timeline begins.

1933

In July 1944, Hitler escaped a German plot to kill him. Find out more in the film Operation Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler on HistoryHit.TV.Watch Now

30 January: Hitler is sworn in as chancellor of Germany after the Nazis become the largest party in the German parliament

22 March: The first of a network of concentration camps opens in the town of Dachau, just outside Munich. Many of the first prisoners sent here are communists but Dachau will evolve into a place where thousands of Jews and other minorities will die

1 April: A Hitler-sanctioned boycott of Jewish businesses begins. The Nazi Party’s brown-shirted militia, the SA, paint Stars of David and slogans on shops owned by Jews and try to intimidate shoppers

1935

15 September: The Nazis introduce the Nuremberg Laws, a series of anti-Semitic and racist laws which, among other things, forbid marriage or sex between Jews and Germans

1938

12 March: Germany annexes Austria. Following the annexation, the Nazis begin arresting Jews in both Germany and Austria and taking them to concentration camps

9-10 November: The SA carries out coordinated attacks against Jewish institutions, businesses and other targets in Germany and Austria — an event that becomes known as “Kristallnacht”, or the “Night of Broken Glass” in a reference to the large numbers of windows that were smashed. The attacks mark a major transition in the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, from policies that reduced their rights and saw them excluded from mainstream society to all-out organised violence. At least 91 Jews are killed during the attacks, while more than 30,000 are arrested and taken to concentration camps

1939

1 September: Germany invades Poland in what is generally considered to be the start of World War Two. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. From this point, the Nazis begin opening forced-labour camps to serve the war effort and establishing ghettos in order to segregate and confine Jews

1940

Auschwitz prisoners are seen here during the camp’s liberation in 1945.

May: The first prisoners arrive at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, the camp that will become the most notorious of the Holocaust with an estimated 1.1 million people being killed there

1941

22 June: The Nazis launch their invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed “Operation Barbarossa”. Hitler sees Germany’s war against Bolshevism and Jews as one and the same and killing squads are formed with the goal of eliminating Jews and communists in occupied territory. Actions previously considered taboo or exceptional become normalised after this point, including the widespread killing of women and children, and over the next two years these squads — with the help of local citizens — will murder more than 1 million Jews

27 June: In an event that some see as the beginning of the Final Solution, one of the death squads arrives in the Soviet-controlled Polish city of Białystok and sets the Great Synagogue on fire, with hundreds of Jewish men locked inside. This is followed by a frenzy of overnight killings targeting Jews

29-30 September: The largest mass shooting of Soviet Jews during the Holocaust takes place in Babi Year, near Kiev. More than 33,000 Jews of all ages are killed with machine guns

8 December: Jews and Roma are gassed to death in vans at Chelmno, the first so-called “killing centre” or “extermination camp” to become operational. The sole purposes of these camps was to ensure efficient mass murder

1942

20 January: Nazi leaders formalise their plan to exterminate all Jews possible, known as the “Final Solution”, at the Wannsee Conference, held just outside Berlin

17 March: The first extermination camp with gas chambers becomes operational outside the Polish village of Bełżec. Within a year, as many as half a million Jews will have been killed at Bełżec alone. Later this month, gassing operations begin at the Auschwitz camp complex

1943

21 June: Heinrich Himmler, chief architect of the Final Solution, issues an order to liquidate all ghettos and transfer remaining Jewish inhabitants to concentration camps with the intention that they be killed

1945

8 May: The Allies formally accept Germany’s unconditional surrender, ending World War Two in Europe. The Holocaust is usually considered to have ended on this date although it does not mark the end of massacres of Jews in Europe

1946

4 July: More than 40 Jews are killed in the Polish city of Kielce in a massacre incited by the communist authorities and with local citizens among those taking part