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Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany on January 30, 1933. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on April 7 that year, excluded most Jews from the legal profession and the civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of the right to practise. Violence and economic pressure were used by the regime to encourage Jews to leave the country voluntarily. Jewish businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of access to government contracts. Citizens were harassed and subjected to violent attacks and boycotts of their businesses.
In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws prohibited marriages between Jews and people of Germanic extraction, extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of Germanic or related blood were defined as citizens. Thus Jews and other minority groups were stripped of their German citizenship. By the start of World War II in 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews emigrated to the United States, Palestine, Great Britain, and other countries.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 6,500 to 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 15 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allied Powers refused to believe early reports of the atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. One hundred and forty-four prisoners are known to have escaped from Auschwitz successfully, and on October 7, 1944, two Sonderkommando units—prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers—launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. Nazi Germany attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan master race. After the invasion of Poland in September 1939,
German dictator Adolf Hitler ordered that the Polish leadership and intelligentsia should be destroyed. Approximately 65,000 civilians were killed by the end of 1939. In addition to leaders of Polish society, the Nazis killed Jews, prostitutes, Romani, and the mentally ill. SS-Obergruppenführer (Senior Group Leader) Reinhard Heydrich, then head of the Gestapo, ordered on September 21 that Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport the Jews to points further east, or possibly to Madagascar.