“In any of these circumstances, what you want—the biggest thing you want, the most important—is to be able to make these places visible,” Freund told me later, back in Vilnius. “Your goal is to mark them in a way that people can come to them with tears in their eyes, come to them as memorials, come to them to say the mourner’s kaddish. Because the worst thing would be to look away. To forget.”
In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary "euthanasia"; after the war this program was named Aktion T4. It was named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered. T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the "euthanasia" of children was also carried out. Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. In addition there were specialized killing centres, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, the deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the "euthanasia" centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, the commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Overall, the number of mentally and physically handicapped murdered was about 150,000.
On June 29, the Times of Israel reported on the discovery: “New tech reveals forgotten Holocaust escape tunnel in Lithuania.” News media around the world picked up the story, including the BBC and the New York Times. To Freund, finding the tunnel finally made it possible to fully comprehend the perseverance the escapees had demonstrated. “What people were so captivated by, I think, was that this was a tale of hope,” he told me. “It proved how resilient humans can be.”
At the end of the war, Mengele became a fugitive and fled from Auschwitz on January 17, 1945. He spent the next 34 years in hiding. He assumed a fake identity and worked as a farm hand near his native Günzburg until 1949. He fled to Argentina, where he was able to get by unnoticed. The search for Mengele ended in 1985 when West German police raided the home of a lifelong friend of the monster. They seized several letters from Mengele, and within a week, authorities identified the families that had harbored Mengele in South America. They discovered that Mengele had died in a drowning accident in 1979.
A week later, he and other members of the crew received a visit from the camp’s Sturmbannführer, or commander, a 30-year-old dandy who wore boots polished shiny as mirrors, white gloves that reached up to his elbows, and smelled strongly of perfume. Zeidel remembered what the commandant told them: “Just about 90,000 people were killed here, lying in mass graves.” But, the Sturmbannführer explained, “there must not be any trace” of what had happened at Ponar, lest Nazi command be linked to the mass murder of civilians. All the bodies would have to be exhumed and burned. The wood collected by Zeidel and his fellow prisoners would form the pyres.
Any remaining notes Mengele carried with him on his escape to South America and those were never found. Some forty years after the war, only a few of these twins could be found, many living in Israel and the United States. Strangely enough, many of them recall Mengele as a gentle, affable man who befriended them as children and gave them chocolates. Since many had immediately been separated from their families upon entering the camp, Mengele became a sort of father figure. Still a tension existed, that at any time they could be killed if they did not keep a low profile. Older twins recognized his kindness as a deception ...
The economic strains of the Great Depression led some in the German medical establishment to advocate murder (euphemistically called "euthanasia") of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure to free up funds for the curable. By the time the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party,[j] came to power in 1933, there was already a tendency to seek to save the racially "valuable", while ridding society of the racially "undesirable". The party had originated in 1920 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism. Early antisemites in the party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving force behind communism. The origin and first expression of Hitler's antisemitism remain a matter of debate. Central to his world view was the idea of expansion and lebensraum (living space) for Germany. Open about his hatred of Jews, he subscribed to the common antisemitic stereotypes. From the early 1920s onwards, he compared the Jews to germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany.
Victims usually arrived at the camps by freight train. Almost all arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps of Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were sent directly to the gas chambers, with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. At Auschwitz, camp officials usually subjected individuals to selections; about 25% of the new arrivals were selected to work. Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. The procedure at Chełmno was slightly different. Victims there were placed in a mobile gas van and asphyxiated, while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. There the corpses were unloaded and buried.
Despite international efforts to track him down, he was never apprehended and lived for 35 years hiding under various aliases. He lived in Paraguay and Brazil until his death in 1979. One afternoon, living in Brazil, he went for a swim. While in the ocean he suffered a massive stroke and began to drown. By the time he was dragged to shore, he was dead.
According to psychologist Eva Fogelman “Rescuers’ families nourished an independence of mind and spirit. … In talking with rescuers from all kinds of different homes, I found that one quality above all others was emphasized time and again: a familial acceptance of people who were different. This value was the centrepiece of the childhood of rescuers and became the core from which their rescuer self evolved. From the earliest ages, rescuers were taught by their parents that people are inextricably linked to one another. No one person or group was better than any other. The conviction that all people, no matter how marginal, are of equal value was conveyed to children of both religious and nonreligious households.” Fogelman is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers.
The "Final Solution" The origin of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people, remains uncertain. What is clear is that the genocide of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of Nazi policy, under the rule of Adolf Hitler. The "Final Solution" was implemented in stages. After the Nazi party rise to power, state-enforced racism resulted in anti-Jewish legislation, boycotts, "Aryanization," and finally the "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom, all of which aimed to remove the Jews from German society. After the beginning of World War II, anti-Jewish policy evolved into a comprehensive plan to concentrate and eventually annihilate European Jewry.
American soldiers stare down at a mass grave in Nordhausen concentration camp © Originally a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, Auschwitz was greatly expanded in 1941 with the addition of a much larger camp at nearby Birkenau. In all, Auschwitz-Birkenau and its sub-camps held 400,000 registered prisoners including 205,000 Jews, 137,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 12,000 Soviet POWs and 25,000 others (including a few British POWs). In this largest and worst of all the Nazi concentration camps, 210,000 prisoners died of starvation and abuse.
The Yad Vashem Law authorizes Yad Vashem "to confer honorary citizenship upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and if they have died, the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel, in recognition of their actions". Anyone who has been recognized as "Righteous" is entitled to apply to Yad Vashem for the certificate. If the person is no longer alive, their next of kin is entitled to request that commemorative citizenship be conferred on the Righteous who has died.
After the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, SS and police units (acting as mobile killing units) began massive killing operations aimed at entire Jewish communities. By autumn 1941, the SS and police introduced mobile gas vans. These paneled trucks had exhaust pipes reconfigured to pump poisonous carbon monoxide gas into sealed spaces, killing those locked within. They were designed to complement ongoing shooting operations.