Sam Offen of West Bloomfield survived the Holocaust. Upon hearing of the documents, he said, “Ach, I can’t believe it. It’s quite a revelation after all these years.” (KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press)

About the Holocaust


Adolf Hitler rose to power in part by blaming Germany’s problems on a Jewish conspiracy. His words of hatred turned his government into a killing machine: From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis murdered about 6 million Jews.


In 1935, the Nazi government passed laws that declared German Jews to be second-class citizens. Using these laws, the government routinely forced Jews from their homes, seized their businesses, confiscated or destroyed their property, arrested them and shipped them to labor camps.


Early in World War II, Nazi extermination efforts included firing squads and gassing small groups of people jammed into the cargo compartments of paneled trucks. Because these methods took too much time, in January 1942, Hitler’s top aides formed a plan they called the “final solution of the Jewish question.” It was a blueprint for systematic mass murder involving more than 100 camps.


Some were concentration camps; others were extermination camps. Technically, concentration camps were work camps, where Jews and others were brought by the trainload to work as slave labor for German industries. But thousands of people died in those camps. Frequently, the laborers were worked or starved to death. The extermination camps were built to kill large numbers of people.


In 1934, there were 8.8 million Jews in Europe. By 1945, six million had been starved to death, shot, gassed, otherwise tortured to death or buried alive. On average, the Nazis killed about 2,739 Jews each day between 1939 and the end of the war in Europe in 1945. The Nazis also murdered as many as six million other so-called undesirables, such as Slavs, Gypsies and other perceived enemies.


Go to the Web site of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial:

Sources: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. “The War Against the Jews,” Lucy S. Dawidowicz; “The Second World War,” Martin Gilbert; “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust,” Israel Gutman; “The Final Solution,” Gerald Reitlinger, quoted in Modern Times by Paul Johnson.

What happens next


You won’t be able to trace the fate of a relative until 11 countries agree on just how Germany’s 30 million to 50 million victim documents are to be made available. The countries are to meet May 15 in Luxembourg. They are: Germany, the United States, Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland.

Associated Press

Michael Weiss believes there can never be enough evidence.

Not when it comes to pointing to the horrific circumstances that led to the deaths of 48 of 51 family members. “They say time heals all wounds, but the heart of a survivor never heals,” he said.

On Tuesday, Weiss, an Oak Park resident, stood before a group observing Passover at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. He told his story as a survivor at the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. “I try to paint a picture so people can see for themselves,” he said. “People should feel what the Holocaust is about.