The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe stood at over nine million. Most European Jews lived in countries that Nazi Germany would occupy or influence during World War II. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the "Final Solution," the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.
The city of Warsaw, capital of Poland, flanks both banks of the Vistula River. A city of 1.3 million inhabitants, Warsaw was the capital of the resurrected Polish state in 1919. Before World War II, the city was a major center of Jewish life and culture in Poland. Warsaw 's prewar Jewish population of more than 350,000 constituted about 30 percent of the city 's total population. The Warsaw Jewish community was the largest in both Poland and Europe, and was the second largest in the world, second only to New York City.
Following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Warsaw suffered heavy air attacks and artillery bombardment.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation