However, the Jews were not the only victims of Nazism. It is estimated that as many as 15 million civilians were killed by the Nazi regime, including millions of Slavs and 'asiatics', 200,000 Gypsies and members of various other groups. Furthermore, thousands of people, including Germans of African descent, were forcibly sterilized.1
The word holocaust originally derived from the Greek word holokauston, meaning "a completely (holos) burnt (kaustos) sacrificial offering", or "a burnt sacrifice offered to God". In Greek and Roman pagan rites, gods of the earth and underworld received dark animals, which were offered by night and burnt in full. Holocaust was later used to refer to a sacrifice Jews were required to make by the Torah.2
Initially, the Nazis used killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen to conduct huge open-air killings, in some instances murdering as many as 33,000 people or more in a single day, as in the case of Babi Yar. However, by 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to implement the Final Solution, the genocide of all Jews in Europe, and increase the pace of the Holocaust. While concentration camps and labor camps to contain political enemies had existed since soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Nazi leadership built six extermination camps, including Treblinka and Auschwitz, specifically to kill Jews. Millions of Jews who had been confined to diseased and massively overcrowded Ghettos were transported to the "Death-camps" where they were either gassed or shot, usually immediately after they disembarked from trains.3
As the war started, massive massacres of Jews took place, and, by December 1941, Hitler decided to completely exterminate European Jews. In January 1942, during the Wannsee conference, several Nazi leaders discussed the details of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (Endlsung der Judenfrage). Dr. Josef Bhler urged Reinhard Heydrich to proceed with the Final Solution in the General Government. They began to purposely deport Jewish from the ghettos and all occupied territories to the seven camps designated as Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibr and Treblinka II. Sebastian Haffner published the analysis in 1978 that Hitler from December 1941 accepted the failure of his goal to dominate Europe forever on his declaration of war against the United States, but that his withdrawal and imminent calm thereafter was sustained by the attainment of Hitler's second goal-the annihilation of the Jews.4 The execution of the Final Solution resulted in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust. However, mass killings of over one million Jews had already begun before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made by the time of, or at the Wannsee conference, which took place in Berlin, in the Wannsee Villa on January 20, 1942.5
In addition to the Jews, the Roma and Sinti were also targets of the Holocaust which resulted in about 220,000 deaths in the Holocaust (some estimates are as high as 800,000), between a quarter and a half of the European population. Other groups deemed "undesirable", especially Poles, Soviet military prisoners of war including Russians and other Slavs, the mentally or physically disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists and political dissidents and criminals, were also persecuted and murdered.