Once the war ended, Zeidel traveled overland before smuggling himself in the autumn of 1945 to what would become the State of Israel. He was among the estimated 60 million people unmoored by the seismic violence of the Second World War. He had no family left: His parents and siblings were presumed killed by the Nazis or their collaborators. In 1948, he married a woman he’d first met, years earlier, in the Jewish ghetto at Vilnius. He died in 2007, in his sleep, the last living member of the Burning Brigade.
A person who is recognized as Righteous for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (the last is in lieu of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space). The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next-of-kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage.
Antisemitism, the new racist version of the old Jew-hatred, viewed the Jews as not simply a religious group but as members of a 'Semitic race', which strove to dominate its 'Aryan' rivals. Among the leading ideologues of this theory were a French aristocrat, the Comte Joseph de Gobineau, and an Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Antisemitism proved a convenient glue for conspiracy theories - since Jews were involved in all sorts of ventures and political movements, they could be accused of manipulating all of them behind the scenes. Thus Jews were held responsible for Communism and capitalism, liberalism, socialism, moral decline, revolutions, wars, plagues and economic crises. As the Jews had once been demonised in medieval Europe, so the new antisemites (including many Christians) found new, secular ways of demonising them.
By the spring of 1945, German leadership was dissolving amid internal dissent, with Goering and Himmler both seeking to distance themselves from Hitler and take power. In his last will and political testament, dictated in a German bunker that April 29, Hitler blamed the war on “International Jewry and its helpers” and urged the German leaders and people to follow “the strict observance of the racial laws and with merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples”–the Jews. The following day, he committed suicide. Germany’s formal surrender in World War II came barely a week later, on May 8, 1945.
The Jews of Kiev were rounded up by the Einsatzgruppen for “resettlement” in late September 1941. Thousands of Jews were brought to a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev and mowed down by machine guns. Many who were not wounded, including thousands of children, were thrown into the pit of bodies and were buried alive. According to an account in The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, Ukrainian militia men joined in the slaughter. The records of the Einsatzgruppen unit which participated in the executions recorded 33,771 Jews killed at Babi Yar on September 29-30. In all, more than 100,000 persons, most of them Jews, were executed at Babi Yar between 1941-1943 by the Nazis. In the summer of 1943, the bodies were dug out by slave labor and burned to hide the evidence of the slaughter.
The story of Anne Frank is so well known to so many that the task of making it new seems at once insurmountable and superfluous. Her “Diary of a Young Girl,” with 30 million copies in print in 60 languages, is one of the most widely read books of the 20th century and, for an incalculable number of readers, the gateway for a first encounter with the Holocaust. Beginning on Anne’s 13th birthday, when she fortuitously received a diary with a red-and-white plaid cover among her gifts, and ending abruptly right before the Franks’ arrest, in early August 1944, the “Diary” chronicles just over two years spent in the “Secret Annex,” the warren of rooms above Otto Frank’s Amsterdam office where the family of four, along with four of their acquaintances, hid from the Nazis. Both a coming-of-age story and a portrait of human psychology under unimaginable stress, it has become justly iconic.
Holocaust scholar and Christian ethicist David Gushee highlighted other traits in his book, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. “Some rescuers appear to have been adventuresome types, and others drew upon a sense of social marginality as a resource for compassion. Another mark of rescuer character is the nearly universal unwillingness to accept praise for their deeds. ‘It is what anyone would have done,’ they say of behaviour that almost no one did. For them to rescue Jews was the perfectly natural and obvious course of action. People needed help. So help was offered.”
“With respect of the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catchword… If the German people have now again sacrificed 160,000 dead on the eastern front, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay with their lives.”
As if cold-blooded murder of millions of Jews was not enough, it was done with extreme, perverse cruelty. The victims were packed into cattle trains with standing-room only and without food or water, or heat in the winter, or toilet facilities. Many did not arrive at the camps alive. Those who did arrive at their destination had their heads shaved, with the hair to be used for stuffing mattresses. Stripped of all clothing, most were herded naked into the gas chambers. Dr Johann Kremer, a German SS surgeon, described the gassing of a group of French Jews including 150 boys and girls under the age of 15:
Individuals who are named Righteous Among the Nations receive a medal bearing their name and a certificate of honor. Their name is added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of Righteous at Yad Vashem. The Yad Vashem Law stipulates that Yad Vashem can award honorary citizenship to Israel to the Righteous Among the Nations. Awards are presented to rescuers in Israel or in their country of residence through Israel's diplomatic representatives. Awards can be given posthumously and, in those cases, relatives of the rescuer will receive the award. As of January 1, 2016, Yad Vashem has bestowed the Righteous Among the Nations to 26,120 individuals and groups from 44 countries.
Her exceptional scholarship has included such insightful books as Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (1986), Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993), History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2006), The Eichmann Trial (2011), and now, Holocaust: An American Understanding (2016), published as a part of Rutgers University's Key Words in Jewish Studies series.
“You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
But Soviet forces were hurtling toward Auschwitz, and in November the order went out to conceal all evidences of gassing and to blow up the crematoria. Tens of thousands of inmates, debilitated and already near extinction, were driven out in bitter cold on death marches. Many were shot. In an evacuation that occurred either on October 28th or on November 2nd, Anne and Margot were dispatched to Bergen-Belsen. Margot was the first to succumb. A survivor recalled that she fell dead to the ground from the wooden slab on which she lay, eaten by lice, and that Anne, heartbroken and skeletal, naked under a bit of rag, died a day or two later.
Despite the Vatican failure to act, many priests, nuns, and laymen hid Jews in monasteries, convents, schools, and hospitals and protected them with false baptismal certificates. However, as Saul Friedlander’s memoirs show, many Catholic priests proselytized and converted their “guests.” Moreover, after the war, many Jewish children were never returned to Jewish families, even after lengthy court battles.
Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust (New York, 1994); Philip Friedman, Their Brothers’ Keepers (New York, 1957); Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (New York, 2003); Philip Paul Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and How Goodness Happened There (New York, 1979); Samuel Oliner and Pearl Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York, 1988); Mordecai Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust (Hoboken, N.J., 1993); Michael Phayer and Eva Fleischner, Cries in the Night: Women Who Challenged the Holocaust (Kansas City, Mo., 1997); Nechama Tec, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York, 1986); Nechama Tec, In the Lion’s Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen (New York, 1990); Nechama Tec, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (New York, 1993).
These dead victims of the Germans were removed from the Lambach concentration camp in Austria, on May 6, 1945, by German soldiers under orders of U.S. Army troops. As soon as all the bodies were removed from the camp, the Germans buried them. This camp originally held 18,000 people, each building housing 1,600. There were no beds or sanitary facilities whatsoever, and 40 to 50 prisoners died each day. #
The nature and timing of the decisions that led to the Final Solution is an intensely researched and debated aspect of the Holocaust. The program evolved during the first 25 months of war leading to the attempt at "murdering every last Jew in the German grasp". Most historians agree, wrote Christopher Browning, that the Final Solution cannot be attributed to a single decision made at one particular point in time. "It is generally accepted the decision-making process was prolonged and incremental." In 1940, following the Fall of France, Adolf Eichmann devised the Madagascar Plan to move Europe's Jewish population to the French colony, but the plan was abandoned for logistical reasons, mainly a naval blockade. There were also preliminary plans to deport Jews to Palestine and Siberia. In 1941, wrote Raul Hilberg, in the first phase of the mass murder of Jews, the mobile killing units began to pursue their victims across occupied eastern territories; in the second phase, stretching across all of German-occupied Europe, the Jewish victims were sent on death trains to centralized extermination camps built for the purpose of systematic implementation of the Final Solution.
The men pictured relaxing and enjoying themselves at a place called Solahutte, near Auschwitz-Birkenau, are leading SS officers who administered monstrous acts, carried out against millions of innocent victims. The men are (from left to right) Richard Baer (Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau), Dr Josef Mengele (the Angel of Death), Josef Kramer (Commandant of Bergen-Belsen), Rudolf Hoess (first Camp Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau) and Anton Thumann (Commandant of Majdanek).
And audiences multiplied: the Hacketts’ drama went all over the world—including Israel, where numbers of survivors were remaking their lives—and was everywhere successful. The play’s reception in Germany was especially noteworthy. In an impressive and thorough-going essay entitled “Popularization and Memory,” Alvin Rosenfeld, a professor of English at Indiana University, recounts the development of the Anne Frank phenomenon in the country of her birth. “The theater reviews of the time,” Rosenfeld reports, “tell of audiences sitting in stunned silence at the play and leaving the performance unable to speak or to look one another in the eye.” These were self-conscious and thin-skinned audiences; in the Germany of the fifties, theatregoers still belonged to the generation of the Nazi era. (On Broadway, Kanin had unblinkingly engaged Gusti Huber, of that same generation, to play Anne Frank’s mother. As a member of the Nazi Actors Guild until Germany’s defeat, Huber had early on disparaged “non-Aryan artists.”) But the strange muteness in theatres may have derived not so much from guilt or shame as from an all-encompassing compassion; or call it self-pity. “We see in Anne Frank’s fate,” a German drama critic offered, “our own fate—the tragedy of human existence per se.” Hannah Arendt, philosopher and Hitler refugee, scorned such oceanic expressions, calling it “cheap sentimentality at the expense of a great catastrophe.” And Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, condemned the play’s most touted line: “If all men are good, there was never an Auschwitz.” A decade after the fall of Nazism, the spirited and sanitized young girl of the play became a vehicle for German communal identification—with the victim, not the persecutors—and, according to Rosenfeld, a continuing “symbol of moral and intellectual convenience.” The Anne Frank whom thousands saw in seven openings in seven cities “spoke affirmatively about life and not accusingly about her torturers.” No German in uniform appeared onstage. “In a word,” Rosenfeld concludes, “Anne Frank has become a ready-at-hand formula for easy forgiveness.”
The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals[z] and seven organizations—the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command". The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'".
No play can be judged wholly from what is on the page; a play has evocative powers beyond the words. Still, the Hacketts’ work, read today, is very much a conventionally well made Broadway product of the fifties, alternating comical beats with scenes of alarm, a love story with a theft, wisdom with buffoonery. The writing is skilled and mediocre, not unlike much of contemporary commercial theatre. Yet this is the play that electrified audiences everywhere, that became a reverential if robotlike film, and that—far more than the diary—invented the world’s Anne Frank. Was it the play, or was it the times? The upcoming revival of the Hacketts’ dramatization—promising revisions incorporating passages Otto Frank deleted from the diary—will no doubt stimulate all the old quarrelsome issues yet again. But with the Second World War and the Holocaust receding, especially for the young, into distant fable—no different from tales, say, of Attila the Hun—the revival enters an environment psychologically altered from that of the 1955 production. At the same time, Holocaust scholarship survivor memoirs, oral histories, wave after wave of fresh documentation and analysis—has increased prodigiously. At Harvard, for instance, under the rubric “reception studies,” a young scholar named Alex Sagan, a relative of the late astronomer, is examining the ways Anne Frank has been transmuted into, among other cultural manifestations, a heavenly body. And Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” about a Nazi industrialist as savior, has left its mark.
Inside the Soviet Union were an estimated three million Jews, many of whom still lived in tiny isolated villages known as Shtetls. Following behind the invading German armies, four SS special action units known as Einsatzgruppen systematically rounded-up and shot all of the inhabitants of these Shtetls. Einsatz execution squads were aided by German police units, local ethnic Germans, and local anti-Semitic volunteers. Leaders of the Einsatzgruppen also engaged in an informal competition as to which group had the highest tally of murdered Jews.
It is not known when Hitler formed the intention of the “final solution of the Jewish question” on the scale of the European continent. The conference in Wannsee on January 20, 1942 considered only the details of the undertaking: the methods for organizing the deportation and ensuring the cooperation of the civilian administration. Overall, the plans called for the murder of 11 million Jews living in Germany, the occupied territory, the states opposed to the Third Reich, and the allied and neutral countries.
One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant, or those who should be killed outright: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life". The phrase was applied to the mentally impaired and later to the "racially inferior," or "sexually deviant," as well as to "enemies of the state" both internal and external. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to murder civilians en masse, especially targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were actively denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps -- government facilities whose entire purpose was the systematic murder and disposal of massive numbers of people. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. (This entry is Part 18 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
The term righteous gentile is a reference to the term 'Righteous Among the Nations' that is a honour bestowed by Yad Vashem. Gushee's work is a study of these people, the (very) few in number who risked personal harm to selflessly assist Jews from persecution. This book is full of accounts of such persons, some who succeeded and some who failed. These are extremely challenging, particularly when faced with the question 'what would I do in such a situation?' knowing that what I hope I would do and what I do may not be synonymous. In studying such persons Gushee presents a good overview of the types of people who were in the minority and were righteous Gentiles, including conclusions on the extent religion played a role in their actions.
The next day, a museum staffer named Mantas Siksnianas took Freund and his crew to the forests of Ponar, a 20-minute drive from the city center. Most of the nearby Nazi-era burial pits had been located, Siksnianas explained, but local archaeologists had found a large area, overgrown with foliage, that looked as if it might be an unidentified mass grave: Could Freund and his colleagues determine if it was?
Hilberg's analysis of the steps that led to the destruction of European Jews revealed that it was "an administrative process carried out by bureaucrats in a network of offices spanning a continent". Hilberg divides this bureaucracy into four components or hierarchies: the Nazi Party, the civil service, industry, and the Wehrmacht armed forces – but their cooperation is viewed as "so complete that we may truly speak of their fusion into a machinery of destruction". For Hilberg, the key stages in the destruction process were: definition and registration of the Jews; expropriation of property; concentration into ghettoes and camps; and, finally, annihilation. Hilberg gives an estimate of 5.1 million as the total number of Jews killed. He breaks this figure down into three categories: Ghettoization and general privation: over 800,000; open-air shootings: over 1,300,000; extermination camps: up to 3,000,000.
In Germany, the Nazis had been murdering mentally and physically disabled people as part of its euthanasia programme since 1939. In the beginning, doctors killed them by lethal injection. This was not considered fast enough, so they developed a new process of gassing that was faster and more effective in killing large numbers of people. Over 70,000 people were killed as part of the euthanasia programme.
A victim of Nazi medical experimentation. A victim's arm shows a deep burn from phosphorus at Ravensbrueck, Germany, in November of 1943. The photograph shows the results of a medical experiment dealing with phosphorous that was carried out by doctors at Ravensbrueck. In the experiment, a mixture of phosphorus and rubber was applied to the skin and ignited. After twenty seconds, the fire was extinguished with water. After three days, the burn was treated with Echinacin in liquid form. After two weeks the wound had healed. This photograph, taken by a camp physician, was entered as evidence during the Doctors Trial at Nuremberg. #
Before the “Final Solution” was devised to murder all Jews in Nazi jurisdiction, the scheme the Nazis planned to rid their land of the Jews was forced emigration. In 1940, plans were devised by the Nazis to ship all Jews under Nazi control to Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean. It was not until 1941 that Nazi bureaucrats were referring to the “Final Solution” (Gesamtlosung) in the context of genocide rather than a “Territorial Final Solution” (territoriale Endlosung) in the context of forced emigration. Some historians believe that the Madagascar Plan was a smokescreen for Hitler’s desire to murder European Jewry (see page 62 of Marrus’ The Holocaust in History).
Unlike Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Lublin-Majdanek, which were built in the occupied General Government territory inhabited by the largest concentrations of Jews, the killing centre at Auschwitz subcamp of Birkenau operated in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany directly. The new gas chambers at Bunker I were finished around March 1942 when the Final Solution was officially launched at Belzec. Until mid-June 20,000 Silesian Jews were killed there using Zyklon B. In July 1942, Bunker II became operational. In August, another 10,000–13,000 Polish Jews from Silesia perished, along with 16,000 French Jews declared 'stateless', and 7,700 Jews from Slovakia.
In February 2010, a 180-page volume of Mengele's diary was sold by Alexander Autographs at auction for an undisclosed sum to the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. The unidentified previous owner, who acquired the journals in Brazil, was reported to be close to the Mengele family. A Holocaust survivors' organization described the sale as "a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals". Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was glad to see the diary fall into Jewish hands. "At a time when Ahmadinejad's Iran regularly denies the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews is back in vogue, this acquisition is especially significant", he said. In 2011, a further 31 volumes of Mengele's diaries were sold—again amidst protests—by the same auction house to an undisclosed collector of World War II memorabilia for $245,000 USD.