Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Part nine in a series about Jews and the Second World War

Part One: British and French Appeasement of Nazi Germany

Part Two: Soviet Russia as ally of Nazi Germany

Part Three: United States Isolationism from Nazi Germany

Part Four: France: Ally of the West to Collaborator with Nazi Germany

Part Five:Nations That Actively Saved Jews During The Holocaust

Part Six: Jews Who Fought To Defeat The Nazis

Part Seven: Jews in Muslim Lands During The Holocaust

Part Eight: When Did The Holocaust Begin?

One of the most difficult questions that results from the Holocaust is why did God allow such a terrible event to take place? God's ways are not our ways, as it says in Isaiah (55:8-9): "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

According to classical Judaism there is also the cause-and effect element. Nothing happens in a vacuum including the Holocaust. Externally, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochaii teaches that "It is a law that Esav hates Yaakov" (B"R 78:9), with Esav regarded as the progenitor of the Western World, a Biblical proto-type of all Jew haters. Esau's hatred of his brother Jacob is the inside trigger and motivator that is the constant reason behind acts of Jew-hate by those who follow and practice Esau's hatred for Jacob who is the progenitor of the Children of Israel, the Jews. Therefore the Holocaust is to be interpreted as Esau's descendants' terrible revenge against his brother Jacob's children.

Internally, Judaism teaches that ultimately Jews must search within their souls why "bad things happen to good people"! The Talmud (Yoma 9B) says that the Jewish First Temple was destroyed because of three reasons: "idol worship; forbidden sexual relations; bloodshed", and the Jewish Second Temple was destroyed due to "baseless hatred" by fellow Jews against each other. Similarly, a high price was paid by the Jewish people during the Holocaust because as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet (1:4) "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" with far too many Jews having abandoned Judaism altogether, assimilated, intermarried, secularized, joined the liberal, socialist, Bolshevik, communist movements and followed all sorts of "isms" totally abandoning serious Judaism, observance of the Torah's commandments, many becoming atheist and agnostics. Most of the Holocaust's victims were good Jews but far too many brought down the wrath of God and everyone paid a price for it. This may be hard to swallow, but it is the point of view of classical Judaism.

Martyrdom in Judaism: Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of God's Name

Judaism guides its adherents not only how to live according to Jewish Law but also how to take leave of this world. Martyrdom, known in Hebrew as Kiddush Hashem meaning Sanctification of God's Name, has its place in the Torah universe and observant Jews have always known of its significance. Every year on the Day of Atonement, Jews recite in their prayers the martyrdom of the Ten Martyrs, some of the greatest sages in Judaism. These ten were selected by the Romans because they were great spiritual leaders at a time when Rome sought to suppress observance of Judaism in the Land of Israel. The foremost among these was Rebbi Akiva. He said: "Just as a fish cannot live outside water, so the Jewish people cannot live outside of Torah" (Brachot 61B), and defiantly taught Torah to thousands. For this he was condemned to be flayed alive.

"Kiddush Hashem (קידוש השם 'sanctification of the Name') is a precept of Judaism. In Rabbinic sources and modern parlance, it refers to private and communal conduct which reflect well, instead of poorly, on the Jewish people. Martyrdom during the Hadrianic persecution is called sanctification of the Name in Bavli Berachot 20a and Midrash Tehillim. The ultimate act of sanctification of the Name is a Jew who is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than transgress any of God’s three cardinal laws: banning serving idols (Avodah Zarah, or foreign worship), committing certain sexual acts (such as incest or adultery) or committing murder. The commandment was introduced by the Exegetes." (Wikipedia)

"Martyrdom in Judaism is one of the main examples of Jews doing a kiddush Hashem, a Hebrew term which means "sanctification of [the] name". An example of this is public self-sacrifice in accordance with Jewish practice and identity, with the possibility of being killed for no other reason than being Jewish. There are specific conditions in Jewish law that deal with the details of self-sacrifice, be it willing or unwilling." (Wikipedia)

During the Holocaust for example, in The Holocaust and Halakhah. (Ktav, 1976), I. Rosenbaum states that the Holocaust added a new dimension to the concept of the commandment of Kiddush Hashem–the sanctification of God's name–through martyrdom if necessary. Whereas in past persecutions the Jew had most often had the option of abandoning Judaism to escape execution, the victims of the Holocaust had no such option. For those who had sought refuge from anti-Semitism through assimilation, it was a most ironic denouement. The implications according to Jewish Law were no less ironic.

For example, the martyred Rabbi Shimon Huberband (1909–1942) of Warsaw believed that "a Jew who is killed...simply because he is a Jew, is called Kadosh (holy)" and has fulfilled the commandment of Kiddush Hashem." (Sadly, this belief is invoked too often in today's Israel)

Rosenbaum records that Rabbi Nehemya Alter, at a rabbinic meeting in Lodz, Poland, emphasized the importance of Kiddush Hashem, which may assume various forms. Central to this commandment is "not to degrade ourselves before the gentiles." There are eyewitness accounts of the preparation for Kiddush Hashem of such Hasidic leaders as the Brezner, Grodzisker, and Zaloshizer Rebbes. They reflect their "calming influence upon terrified Jews as they themselves faced death with dignity". Some confronted death with the "ecstasy appropriate to the fulfillment of the...ultimate commandment".

The Grodzisker rebbe, prior to entering the gas chambers in Treblinka, urged Jews "to accept Kiddush Hashem with joy and led them in the singing of Ani Ma'amin ('I Believe')."

The Spinker Rebbe "danced and sang in the death wagons to Auschwitz, especially the prayer, Vetaher libenu -- ('Purify our hearts so that we may serve You in truth')".

The Piazesner rebbe observed: "He who is slaughtered in Kiddush Hashem does not suffer at all...since in achieving a high degree of ecstasy, stimulated in anticipation of being killed for the sanctifying of His Name, blessed be He, he elevates all his senses to the realm of thought until the entire process is one of thought. He nullifies his senses and feelings, and his sense of the material dissolves of itself. Therefore he feels not pain but rather only joy of fulfilling the commandment."

Rosenbaum concludes this segment by saying that to achieve the heights of kavanah (proper intention) for the commandment of Kiddush Hashem as described by the Piazesner rebbe was perhaps beyond the power of most Jews. But many were able to die with dignity in the confident belief that theirs was the privilege of fulfilling this great commandment.

Jewish Losses During the Holocaust by Country

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC (Last Edited: Mar 27, 2018)

"Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Europe had a vibrant and mature Jewish culture. By 1945, most European Jews—two out of every three—had been killed.

When attempting to document numbers of victims of the Holocaust, the single most important thing to keep in mind is that no one master list of those who perished exists anywhere in the world. The estimates of today might rise or fall as new documents are discovered or as historians arrive at a more precise understanding of events.

The best estimates for Jewish losses country by country are offered below. All figures are estimates and subject to change with the discovery of new documentation.


Jewish population in 1937: approximately 200
Deaths: unknown

Jewish population of Austria in 1938: 185,026
Deaths: 65,459


Jewish population of Belgium in 1939: 90,000
Deaths: 24,387


Jewish population of Bulgaria in 1937: 50,000
Deaths: unknown


Jewish population of Czechoslovakia in 1921: 354,000
Deaths: 260,000

Jewish population in 1939: 2,363
Deaths: at least 360

Jewish population in 1930: 117,551
Deaths: 77,297

Jewish population in 1940: 88,951
Deaths: approximately 60,000

Hungarian-occupied Southern Slovakia and Subcarpathian Rus
Jewish population in 1939: 142,000–148,000
Deaths: 114,000–120,000


Jewish population of Denmark in 1937: 7,500
Deaths: 52–116


Jewish population of Estonia in 1937: 4,500
Deaths: 963


Jewish population of France in 1937: 300,000–330,000
Deaths: 72,900–74,000


Jewish population of Germany in 1939: 237,723
Deaths: 165,200


Jewish population of Greece in 1941: 71,611
Deaths: 58,800–65,000

Bulgarian-Occupied Thrace
Deaths: 4,221


Jewish population of Hungary in 1937: 490,621
Deaths: 297,621

Hungary (borders of 1941)
Jewish population: 825,007
Deaths: 564,507


Jewish population of Italy in 1938: 58,412
Jewish population in German-occupied Italy: approximately 43,000
Deaths: 7,858


Jewish population of Latvia in 1939: 93,479
Deaths: 70,000


Jewish population of Lithuania in 1937: 153,000
Deaths: 130,000


Jewish population of Luxembourg in May 1940: 3,500–5,000
Deaths: 1,200


Jewish population of the Netherlands in May 1940: 140,245
Deaths: 102,000


Jewish population of Norway in April 1940: approximately 1,800
Deaths: at least 758


Jewish population of Poland in 1937: 3,350,000
Deaths: 2,770,000–3,000,000


Jewish population of Romania in 1930: 756,930
Deaths: 211,214–260,000

Hungarian-occupied Northern Transylvania
Deaths: 90,295

Bessarabia and Bukovina
Jewish population in 1930: 314,000
Jewish population in 1941: 185,000
Deaths: 103,919–130,000

Soviet Union

Jewish population of the Soviet Union in 1939: 3,028,538
Deaths: approximately 1,340,000


Jewish population of Yugoslavia in 1941: 82,242
Deaths: 67,228

Slovenia (German-occupied)
Jewish population in 1937: 1,500
Deaths: 1,300

Serbia with Banat and Sandžak (German-occupied)
Jewish population in 1937: 17,200
Deaths 15,060

Macedonia (Bulgarian-occupied)
Jewish population in 1941: 7,762
Deaths: 6,982

Pirot, Serbia (Bulgarian-occupied)
Deaths: 140

Albanian-annexed Kosovo
Jewish population in 1937: 550
Deaths: 210

Croatia with Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina
Jewish population in 1937: 39,400
Deaths: 30,148

Montenegro (German-occupied)
Jewish population in 1937: 30
Deaths: 28

Backa and Baranja (Hungarian-annexed)
Jewish population in 1937: 16,000
Deaths: 13,500"

The Six Million Kedoshim (Martyrs) and Holocaust Memorials

From Wikipedia: "The approximately six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust during the period of the Second World War are regarded as martyrs by most Jewish religious scholars. [See: "Martyrdom in Jewish Traditions" by S. Lander, 2003]. In Hebrew they are referred to as kedoshim ("holy ones") who died al kiddush Hashem ("for [the] sanctification [of] God's name"). [See: "Six Million Kedoshim" by G. Backenroth, 2019; "The Six Million Kedoshim" by A. Lopiansky, 2009; "The Holocaust and Kiddush HaShem" by P. Schindler, 1973; "Praising His Name in the Fire" by E. Wiesel, 1988].

Some famous rabbis who chose martyrdom al Kiddush Hashem ("for the sanctification of God's Name") immediately before they were murdered by the Nazis include Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, Elchonon Wasserman, Azriel Rabinowitz, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Menachem Ziemba, and Ben Zion Halberstam.

The State of Israel has instituted a Holocaust Memorial Day known as Yom HaShoah ("Day [of] the Holocaust") in Hebrew, to memorialize the six million Jewish martyrs murdered by the Nazis and their cohorts. There are various religious observances and liturgy. Other nations have various other Holocaust Memorial Days such as Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust in the United States."

Yizkor Memorial Prayer

Many Jewish Ashkenazi congregations have incorporated a special memorial prayer for the Six Million Jewish victims of the Holocaust as part of the Yizkor memorial service recited four times a year on major Jewish holidays. "Hazkarat Neshamot (הַזְכָּרַת נְשָׁמוֹת,  'recalling of the souls'), commonly known by its opening word Yizkor (יִזְכּוֹר,  'may [God] remember'), is an Ashkenazi Jewish memorial prayer service for the dead. It is an important occasion for many Jews, even those who do not attend synagogue regularly. In most Ashkenazi communities, it is held after the Torah reading four times a year: on Yom Kippur, on the final day of Passover, on the second day of Shavuot, and on Shemini Atzeret." (Wikipedia).

It goes as follows:

(From the ArtScroll Yom Kippur Machzor): "O God full of mercy...grant proper rest...for the souls of all my relatives...the holy and pure ones who were killed, murdered, slaughtered, burned, drowned and strangled for the Sanctification of the Name through the hands of the German oppressors, may their name and memory be obliterated..."

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]