The impact of the Holocaust on world Jewry, either on contemporaries of the horror or on succeeding generations, cannot be exaggerated. The scope of Hitler's genocidal efforts can be quickly summarized. In 1939 about 10 million of the estimated 16 million Jews in the world lived in Europe. By 1945 almost 6 million had been killed, most of them in the nineteen main concentration camps. Of prewar Czechoslovakia's 281,000 Jews, about 4,000 survived. Before the German conquest and occupation, the Jewish population of Greece was estimated to be between 65,000 and 72,000; about 2,000 survived. Only 5,000 of Austria's prewar Jewish community of 70,000 escaped. In addition, an estimated 4.6 million Jews were killed in Poland and in those areas of the Soviet Union seized and occupied by the Germans.
The magnitude of the Holocaust cast a deep gloom over the Jewish people and tormented the spirit of Judaism. The faith of observant Jews was shaken, and the hope of the assimilationists smashed. Not only had 6 million Jews perished, but the Allies, who by 1944 could have easily disrupted the operation of the death camps, did nothing. In this spiritual vacuum, Zionism alone emerged as a viable Jewish response to this demonic anti-Semitism. Zionist thinkers since the days of Pinsker had made dire predictions concerning the fate of European Jewry. For much of world Jewry that had suffered centuries of persecution, Zionism and its call for a Jewish national home and for the radical transformation of the Jew from passive victim to self-sufficient citizen residing in his own homeland became the only possible positive response to the Holocaust. Zionism unified the Jewish people, entered deeply into the Jewish spirit, and became an integral part of Jewish identity and religious experience.
SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress