Pre-War Jewish Population of Europe
In 1933, over 9 million Jews lived in Europe (1.7% of the total population). This represented more than 60% of the world’s Jewish population, with the majority living in Eastern Europe. Jewish culture in Europe was as rich and diverse as the countries where Jews lived. They drew from hundreds and, in some areas, a thousand or more years of Jewish life on the continent.
Following the Nazi rise to power, Adolf Hitler’s government immediately began preparing to wage war. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that Germany was biologically destined to expand eastward by military force and that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In Hitler’s vision, Germans would populate this area, the “inferior” Slavic population would be enslaved or driven out, and Jews would disappear entirely from all German-dominated territory.
During World War II, the Nazis and their collaborators invaded, conquered, occupied, or annexed much of continental Europe and parts of North Africa, in the process, murdering two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.