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The Final Solution

The Final Solution

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The Final Solution Content Warning StudySmarter

The Final Solution, one of the most brutal events in modern history, refers to the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. The Final Solution was the final stage of the Holocaust – a genocide that saw the murder of approximately 6 million Jews across Europe. While countless Jews were murdered before the Final Solution, most Jews were killed during this period.


The name given to the systematic mass deportation and extermination of European Jews by the Nazis throughout the Second World War. This policy saw approximately 6 million Jews lose their lives; this equates to two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe and 90% of Polish Jews.

Final Solution Definition WW2

The Nazi hierarchy used 'The Final Solution' or 'The Final Solution to the Jewish question' to refer to the systematic murder of Jews in Europe during the Second World War. Commencing in 1941, the Final Solution saw Nazi policy change from deporting the Jews to exterminating them. The Final Solution was the final stage of the Holocaust, which saw 90% of all Polish Jews murdered by the Nazi Party.

Background to the Final Solution

Before discussing the Final Solution, we must look at events and policies leading up to the mass extermination of Jews.

Adolf Hitler and Anti-Semitism

After becoming German Chancellor in January 1933, Adolf Hitler enacted a series of policies that subjected German Jews to discrimination and persecution:

  • 7 April 1933: Jews were removed from the Civil Service and government positions.
  • 15 September 1935: Jews were prohibited from marrying or having sexual relations with German people.
  • 15 October 1936: Jewish teachers were banned from teaching at schools.
  • 9 April 1937: Jewish children were not allowed to attend schools in Berlin.
  • 5 October 1938: German Jews must have the letter 'J' stamped on their passport, and Polish Jews were expelled from the country.

While incredibly discriminatory, Hitler's policies were largely non-violent; on the night of 9 November, however, this changed.


On 7 November 1938, a German politician was assassinated in Paris by a Polish-Jewish student named Herschel Grynszpan. Upon hearing the news, German President Adolf Hitler and Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels arranged a series of violent retaliations against the Jews in Germany. This series of attacks have come to be known as Kristallnacht.

The term "Kristallnacht" is no longer used in modern-day Germany in reference to this event as it glorifies the horrific incident. Instead, the term "Reichspogromnacht" is used as the more sensitive term for the events in November 1938.

The Final Solution Ernst Vom Rath StudySmarterFig. 1 - Ernst vom Rath


On 9-10 November 1938, the Nazi party coordinated a night of antisemitic violence. The Nazi regime burned synagogues, attacked Jewish businesses, and desecrated the homes of Jews.

This event, known as 'Kristallnacht', saw approximately 100 Jews in Germany lose their lives and 30,000 Jewish men sent to prison camps. It has come to be known as the 'Night of Broken Glass' due to the amount of broken glass on the German streets the following morning.

On the day of Kristallnacht, Gestapo leader Heinrich Muller informed the German police:

In shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.1

The German police were ordered to arrest the victims, and the fire department was ordered to let Jewish buildings burn. Both the police and fire department were only allowed to get involved if Aryan people or properties were threatened.

The Final Solution Berlin Synagogue Kristallnacht  StudySmarterFig. 2 - Berlin Synagogue burned during Kristallnacht

Persecution turns into Violence

On the evening of 9 November, Nazi mobs burned synagogues, attacked Jewish businesses, and desecrated the homes of Jews.

Over the two days of antisemitic violence:

  • Approximately 100 Jews were killed.
  • Over 1,000 Synagogues were vandalised.
  • 7,500 Jewish businesses were pillaged.
  • More than 30,000 Jewish men were sent to prison camps, leading to the expansion of the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
  • The Nazis held German Jews responsible for the $400 million in damages that occurred during Kristallnacht.

After Kristallnacht

After Kristallnacht, the conditions for German Jews worsened. It became apparent that antisemitism wasn't a temporary fixture, with persecution and discrimination a fundamental tenet in Hitler's Nazi Germany.

  • 12 November 1938: Jewish-owned businesses were closed down.
  • 15 November 1938: All Jewish children were removed from German schools.
  • 28 November 1938: Freedom of movement was restricted for Jews.
  • 14 December 1938: All contracts with Jewish firms were cancelled.
  • 21 February 1939: Jews were forced to surrender any precious metals and valuables to the state.

The Final Solution Holocaust

The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 saw some 3.5 million Polish Jews fall under Nazi and Soviet control. The invasion, which culminated on 6 October, marked the beginning of the Holocaust in Poland. To confine and segregate the Jewish population in Poland, the Nazis forced Jews into makeshift Ghettos across Poland.

The Final Solution Frysztak Ghetto StudySmarterFig. 3 - Frysztak Ghetto.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) saw Hitler modify his anti-Semitic policy. Up to this point, Hitler had focused on forcefully removing Jews from Germany to create Lebensraum (living space) for Germans. This policy, known as the Madagascar Plan, was abandoned.

Madagascar Plan

A plan devised by the Nazis in 1940 to forcefully rid Germany of Jews by sending them to Madagascar.

Architect of the Final Solution

Upon Operation Barbarossa, Hitler sought to 'eradicate' rather than 'expel' European Jews. This policy – known as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question – was organised by Adolf Eichmann. Adolf Eichmann was the centre of Nazi Germany's antisemitic policies and was an integral figure in the deportation and mass murder of the Jews. His role in the Holocaust has led Eichmann to be referred to as the 'architect of the Final Solution'.

The Implementation of the Final Solution

The Final Solution was carried out through two primary phases:

Phase One: Death Squads

The commencement of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941 brought with it the systematic elimination of European Jews. Hitler – believing that Bolshevism was the most recent embodiment of the Jewish threat in Europe – ordered the elimination of 'Jewish-Bolsheviks'.

A special force called the Einsatzgruppen was assembled to murder communists and Jews. This group was ordered to annihilate all Jews, regardless of age or sex.


The Einsatzgruppen were Nazi mobile killing squads responsible for mass murder during the Second World War. Their victims were almost always citizens. They played a significant role during the Final Solution, enacting the systematic mass murder of Jews in Soviet territory.

The Final Solution Einsatzgruppen StudySmarterFig. 4 - Einsatzgruppen executed men, women, and children when carrying out their missions

Throughout phase one of the Final Solution, the Einsatzgruppen carried out a series of horrific mass executions:

  • In July 1941, the Einsatzgruppen executed the entire Jewish population of Vileyka.
  • On 12 August 1941, the Einsatzgruppen carried out mass executions in Surazh. Of those executed, two-thirds were women or children.
  • The Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre of August 1941 saw the Einsatzgruppen kill over 23,000 Jews.
  • On 29-30 September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen carried out the largest mass execution of Soviet Jews. Taking place at the Babi Yar ravine, the Einsatzgruppen machine-gunned over 30,000 Jews in two days.

By the end of 1941, nearly half a million Jews had been murdered in the east. The Einsatzgruppen declared entire regions free from Jews. Within a couple of years, the amount of Jews killed in the east totalled between 600,000-800,000.

Phase Two: Death Camps

In October 1941, SS chief Heinrich Himmler implemented a plan to methodically mass murder the Jews. This plan, known as Operation Reinhard, established three extermination camps in Poland: Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

The Final Solution Sobibor StudySmarterFig. 5 - Sobibor Death Camp

While work started on the death camps as early as October 1941, these execution facilities were completed in mid-1942. In the meantime, the SS used mobile gas chambers to execute Jews at the Kulmhof extermination camp. Jews from the Lodz Ghetto were falsely told they were resettling in the east; in reality, they were sent Kulmhof extermination camp.

The Difference between Concentration Camps and Death Camps

Concentration camps were places where prisoners were forced to work in horrendous conditions. In contrast, death camps were explicitly designed to kill prisoners.

The first reported instance of gassing Jews occurred at the death camp of Chelmno on 8 December 1941. Three further death camps were established: Belzec was operational in March 1942, with the death camps of Sobibor and Treblinka active late that year. As well as the three death camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau were used as killing facilities.

Auschwitz Final Solution

While historians cite the creation of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka in 1942 as the first official death camps, a mass extermination programme had been taking place in Auschwitz since June 1941.

Throughout the summer of 1941, members of the SS systematically killed disabled prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, and Jews using Zyklon B gas. By the following June, Auschwitz-Birkenau had become the most deadly killing centre in Europe; of the 1.3 million prisoners detained there throughout the war, an estimated 1.1 million did not leave.

In 1942 alone, Germany estimated that over 1.2 million people were executed in Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, and Majdanek. Throughout the rest of the war, these death camps saw approximately 2.7 million Jews executed by shooting, asphyxiation, or poison gas.

The End of the Final Solution

In the summer of 1944, the Soviet forces began to push back the Axis Powers in Eastern Europe. As they swept through Poland and East Germany, they discovered Nazi work camps, killing facilities, and mass graves. Starting with the liberation of Majdanek in July 1944, the Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz in 1945, Stutthof in January 1945, and Sachsenhausen in April 1945. By this time, the US was making inroads in West Germany – liberating Dachau, Mauthausen, and Flossenburg – and the British forces were liberating the Northern camps of Bergen-Belsen and Neuengamme.

Despite their best efforts to conceal their crimes, 161 high-ranking Nazis responsible for the Final Solution were tried and convicted during the Nuremberg Trials. This helped to close the book on one of the most heinous chapters of history.

The Final Solution - Key takeaways

  • The Final Solution is the term given to the Nazi's systematic genocide of Jews during the Second World War.
  • The Final Solution began in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa. This policy saw Hitler change from the deportation to the extermination of Jews.
  • Adolf Eichmann organised this policy of genocide.
  • The Final Solution was carried out through two primary phases: Death Squads and Death Camps.


  1. Heinrich Muller, 'Orders to the Gestapo regarding Kristallnacht' (1938)

Frequently Asked Questions about The Final Solution

The Final Solution refers to the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. The Final Solution was the final stage of the Holocaust – a genocide that saw the murder of approximately 6 million Jews across Europe.

Jewish people were the main target of the Final Solution.

The Final Solution took place between 1941 and 1945.

The policy was invented by Adolf Hitler and carried out by Adolf Eichmann.

Auschwitz was a concentration camp in Poland; throughout the course of the war, approximately 1.1 million people died there.

Final The Final Solution Quiz

The Final Solution Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What was the Final Solution?

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The mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War.

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What was Kristallnacht?

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A night of violence against Jews in Germany.

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When did Kristallnacht take place?

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Between 9-10 November 1938.

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What was the Madagascar Plan?

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A plan to deport German Jews to Madagascar.

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Who orchestrated the Final Solution?

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Adolf Eichmann

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Who were the Einsatzgruppen?

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Killing squads tasked with murdering Jews.

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What was Phase One of the Final Solution?

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Death Squads

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What was Phase Two of the Final Solution?

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Death Camps

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What was Operation Reinhard?

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The plan to mass murder the Jews through the use of extermination centres. 

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Who implemented Operation Reinhard?

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Heinrich Himmler

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