What came to be called the Holocaust was not a unitary phenomenon, but rather a variety of policies and practices that Nazi Germany applied from the 1930s through the 1940s. German authorities and their agents put such policies and practices in place both in Germany itself and in numerous other countries and territories that it controlled or occupied. Killing, incarcerating, physically attacking, and discriminating against millions of Jews and other people in numerous groups are all elements of the Holocaust.
The United States declared war on Germany in December 1941—more than three years after the Kristallnacht attacks that raised international awareness of anti-Jewish violence throughout Germany. Before the United States entered the war, numerous factors influenced the official reluctance to oppose Germany’s heinous activities.
Throughout the 1930s, popular attitudes in the United States often opposed US involvement in what many Americans viewed as a European war. As the country struggled with the economic impact of the Great Depression, many people considered that military involvement would overextend the country’s resources to the detriment of economic recovery at home.
This reluctance is often given as a cause for US policies that severely limited the number of European refugees admitted before 1942. Such reluctance was fueled by antisemitism and anticommunism. Notably, some public figures, such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as religious and humanitarian groups, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), promoted greater acceptance of refugees. In 1942, the United States publicly declared its belief in Nazi genocidal intent.
Issues concerning reliable information also influenced public policy. Before 1942, the Nazis had largely managed to suppress public information about the massive program of building concentration camps, illegally detaining and incarcerating Jews and others in them, and massacring the inmates. While reports had circulated earlier, many of them had not been verified. The American press attributed its reluctance to publish information about the prisons and other atrocities to unwillingness to spread false information. The US State Department position was to proceed with caution until intelligence reports were verified.