German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the earliest opponents of the Nazis and among the first to be sent to concentration camps. Before the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler issued the Commissar Order, which ordered the execution of all political commissars and Communist Party members captured. Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog") was a directive of Hitler in December 1941, resulting in the disappearance of political activists throughout the German-occupied territories.
On November 9-10, 1938, the attacks on the Jews became violent. Hershel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jewish boy distraught at the deportation of his family, shot Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary in the German Embassy in Paris, who died on November 9. Nazi hooligans used this assassination as the pretext for instigating a night of destruction that is now known as Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass). They looted and destroyed Jewish homes and businesses and burned synagogues. Many Jews were beaten and killed; 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Frank’s inclusion of sexual material in her diaries makes sense—during her 25 months of hiding, she matured from a young girl into a young woman and even conducted a brief romantic relationship with Peter van Pels, a boy who hid with the Frank family. But to those who have read Frank’s diary, the real surprise is not that she addressed sexual topics—it’s that there’s more to discover about a 15-year-old murdered 73 years ago.
Over the next two years, Anne wrote faithfully in the diary, which she came to consider a friend, addressing many of the entries to “Dear Kitty.” In the journal and later notebooks, Anne recounted the day-to-day life within the annex. The close quarters and sparse supplies led to various arguments among the inhabitants, and the outgoing Anne came to find the conditions stifling. Heightening tensions was the ever-present concern that they would be discovered. However, many entries involve typical adolescent issues—jealousy toward her sister; annoyance with others, especially her mother; and an increasing sexual awareness. Anne wrote candidly about her developing body, and she experienced a brief romance with Peter van Pels. She also discussed her hopes for the future, which included becoming a journalist or a writer. In addition to the diary, Anne penned several short stories and compiled a list of “beautiful sentences” from other works.
We might recall (see Part 53) that it was one of Germany’s biggest thinkers of the 19th century—Wilhelm Marr—who coined the term “anti-Semitism.” In so doing he wanted to distinguish hatred of the Jews as members of a religion (anti-Judaism) from hatred of the Jews as members of a race/nation (anti-Semitism). In 1879, he wrote a book called The Victory of Judaism over Germandom, a runaway best-seller; in it Marr warned:
In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and began the "Final Solution." Four mobile killing groups were formed called Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D. Each group contained several commando units. The Einsatzgruppen gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits dug earlier, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. The dead and dying would fall into the pits to be buried in mass graves. In the infamous Babi Yar massacre, near Kiev, 30,000-35,000 Jews were killed in two days. In addition to their operations in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen conducted mass murder in eastern Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. It is estimated that by the end of 1942, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered more than 1.3 million Jews.
Szeptycki (also spelled Sheptytskyi) was a member of the Polish Catholic hierarchy who ordered that the clergy reporting to him act to save Jews. At first, Andrey worked with his brother Abbot Kliment to help a Jewish boy, Kurt Lewin, whose parents had been murdered by the Nazi's by keeping him safe in one of their monasteries in western Ukraine. During the course of the Holocaust, Szeptycki saved a number of Jews by allowing them to find shelter within the monasteries affiliated with the Greek Catholic Church.
Mengele's research subjects were better fed and housed than the other prisoners, and temporarily spared from execution in the gas chambers. He established a kindergarten for children who were the subjects of his experiments, as well as the preschool children from the Romani camp. The facility provided better food and living conditions than other areas of the camp, and included a children's playground. When visiting his young subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets, while at the same time being personally responsible for the deaths of an unknown number of victims whom he killed via lethal injection, shootings, beatings, and his deadly experiments. In his 1986 book, Lifton describes Mengele as sadistic, lacking empathy, and extremely antisemitic, believing the Jews should be eliminated entirely as an inferior and dangerous race. Rolf Mengele later claimed that his father had shown no remorse for his wartime activities.
The rioting was triggered by the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by a Polish Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, on November 7th. Grynszpan did not attempt to escape and claimed that the assassination was motivated by the persecution of the Jewish people. Despite being attended to by Hitler’s personal physician, vom Rath died two days later.
Historians differ on the date of the decision to murder Jews systematically, the so-called “final solution to the Jewish question.” There is debate about whether there was one central decision or a series of regional decisions in response to local conditions. In either case, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, its former ally, in June of 1941, the Nazis began the systematic killing of Jews.
Policies differed widely among Germany’s Balkan allies. In Romania it was primarily the Romanians themselves who slaughtered the country’s Jews. Toward the end of the war, however, when the defeat of Germany was all but certain, the Romanian government found more value in living Jews who could be held for ransom or used as leverage with the West. Bulgaria deported Jews from neighbouring Thrace and Macedonia, which it occupied, but government leaders faced stiff opposition to the deportation of native Bulgarian Jews, who were regarded as fellow citizens.
The term "Final Solution" was a euphemism used by the Nazis to refer to their plan for the annihilation of the Jewish people. Historians have shown that the usual tendency of the German leadership was to be extremely guarded when discussing the Final Solution. Euphemisms were, in Mark Roseman's words, "their normal mode of communicating about murder".
He inspired Anne: she planned after the war to publish a book about her time in hiding. She also came up with a title: Het Achterhuis, or The Secret Annex. She started working on this project on 20 May 1944. Anne rewrote a large part of her diary, omitted some texts and added many new ones. She wrote the new texts on separate sheets of paper. She describes the period from 12 June 1942 to 29 March 1944. Anne worked hard: in a those few months, she wrote around 50,000 words, filling more than 215 sheets of paper.
Majdanek, set up in September 1941 as a camp for Soviet prisoners‑of‑war and as a concentration camp for Polish Jews and non‑Jews, became the base for the SS advancing in the East and a reservoir of slave labor for factories in the Lublin region. Extermination installations were built there in the autumn of 1942, but it was only in the winter of the following year that the Zyklon B gas chambers and the crematorium were used for the first time. Of the 200,000 persons killed in Majdanek, about 50,000‑60,000 were Jews.
It is the shamelessness of appropriation. Who owns Anne Frank? The children of the world, say the sentimentalists. A case in point is the astonishing correspondence, published in 1995 under the title “Love, Otto,” between Cara Wilson, a Californian born in 1944, and Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank. Wilson, then twelve-year-old Cara Weiss, was invited by Twentieth Century Fox to audition for the part of Anne in a projected film version of the diary. “I didn’t get the part,” the middle-aged Wilson writes, “but by now I had found a whole new world. Anne Frank’s diary, which I read and reread, spoke to me and my dilemmas, my anxieties, my secret passions. She felt the way I did. . . .I identified so strongly with this eloquent girl of my own age, that I now think I sort of became her in my own mind.” And on what similarities does Wilson rest her acute sense of identification with a hunted child in hiding?
From 1933 until 1938, most of the people held in concentration camps were political prisoners and people the Nazis labeled as "asocial." These included the disabled, the homeless, and the mentally ill. After Kristallnacht in 1938, the persecution of Jews became more organized. This led to the exponential increase in the number of Jews sent to concentration camps.
The word “Holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar. Since 1945, the word has taken on a new and horrible meaning: the mass murder of some 6 million European Jews (as well as millions of others, including Gypsies and homosexuals) by the German Nazi regime during the Second World War. To the anti-Semitic Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Jews were an inferior race, an alien threat to German racial purity and community. After years of Nazi rule in Germany, during which Jews were consistently persecuted, Hitler’s “final solution”–now known as the Holocaust–came to fruition under the cover of world war, with mass killing centers constructed in the concentration camps of occupied Poland.
This meeting, which would be followed by the January 1942 Wannsee Conference (where the decision on exterminating all European Jews was further reinforced), was hardly the start of violence against Jews. Attacks had been happening in Nazi Germany’s occupied territories for years. What differentiated this period from earlier attacks was “an escalation of murder,” says Elizabeth White, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
However, the route to a professorship was interrupted in 1938-1939 when he began his military experience by serving six months with a specially trained mountain light-infantry regiment. In 1940 he was placed in the reserve medical corps, following which he served three years with a Waffen SS unit. It was during this time period he was wounded and declared medically unfit for combat. Because he had acquitted himself brilliantly in the face of the enemy during the Eastern Campaign, he was promoted to the rank of captain.
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Head Office, convened all secretaries of state of the major German ministries to the Wannsee Conference. This conference is generally held to have been a major turning point, whereby the “final solution of the Jewish question” in Europe by “evacuation” to the East and by other “means” was decided upon. But in fact, the mass extermination of the Jews on an industrial scale, made possible by the creation of death camps, was launched prior to this notorious conference.
In response to a typhus epidemic in the women's camp, Mengele cleared one block of six hundred Jewish women and sent them to their deaths in the gas chambers. The building was then cleaned and disinfected, and the occupants of a neighboring block were bathed, de-loused, and given new clothing before being moved into the clean block. This process was repeated until all of the barracks were disinfected. Similar procedures were used for later epidemics of scarlet fever and other diseases, with infected prisoners being killed in the gas chambers. For these actions, Mengele was awarded the War Merit Cross (Second Class with swords) and was promoted in 1944 to First Physician of the Birkenau subcamp.