The Polish government-in-exile in London learned about the extermination camps from the Polish leadership in Warsaw, who from 1940 "received a continual flow of information about Auschwitz", according to historian Michael Fleming. This was in large measure thanks to Captain Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army, who allowed himself to be arrested in Warsaw and spent 945 days in Auschwitz from September 1940 until April 1943, organizing the resistance movement inside the camp.
It was Yad Vashem—the institution whose name derives from the same passage in Isaiah—that first popularized the term “righteous among the nations” to refer to those Gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, often risking their own lives in the process. While Isaiah apparently had in mind Gentiles who related to God in a righteous way, and not necessarily through their relations specifically with Jews, the singling-out of Harbonah focuses our attention on those who exert themselves to protect Jews. In commemorating such people, Yad Vashem has given them, too, “a place and a name” in the original sense of that phrase.
The Germans required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat, or Jewish council. Councils were responsible for a ghetto's day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps. The councils' basic strategy was one of trying to minimize losses, by cooperating with German authorities, bribing officials, and petitioning for better conditions or clemency.
Prisoners transported to these extermination camps were told to undress so they could shower. Rather than a shower, the prisoners were herded into gas chambers and killed. (At Chelmno, the prisoners were herded into gas vans instead of gas chambers.) Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz.
^ Jump up to: a b Dan Stone (Histories of the Holocaust, 2010): "Europe's Romany (Gypsy) population was also the victim of genocide under the Nazis. Many other population groups, notably Poles, Ukrainians, and Soviet prisoners of war were killed in huge numbers, and smaller groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Black Germans, and homosexuals suffered terribly under Nazi rule. The evidence suggests that the Slav nations of Europe were also destined, had Germany won the war, to become victims of systematic mass murder; and even the terrible brutality of the occupation in eastern Europe, especially in Poland, can be understood as genocidal according to the definition put forward by Raphael Lemkin in his major study, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), the book that introduced the term 'genocide' to our vocabulary. Part of the reason for today's understanding, though, is a correct assessment of the fact that for the Nazis the Jews were regarded in a kind of 'metaphysical' way; they were not just considered as racially inferior (like Romanies), deviants (like homosexuals) or enemy nationals standing in the way of German colonial expression (like Slavs). ... [T]he Jews were to some extent outside of the racial scheme as defined by racial philosophers and anthropologists. They were not mere Untermenschen (sub-humans) ... but were regarded as a Gegenrasse: "a 'counter-race', that is to say, not really human at all. ... 'Holocaust', then, refers to the genocide of the Jews, which by no means excludes an understanding that other groups—notably Romanies and Slavs—were victims of genocide. Indeed ... the murder of the Jews, although a project in its own right, cannot be properly historically situated without understanding the 'Nazi empire' with its grandiose demographic plans."
These are notions that are hard to swallow—so they have not been swallowed. There are some, bored beyond toleration and callous enough to admit it, who are sick of hearing—yet again!—about depredations fifty years gone. “These old events,” one of these fellows may complain, “can rake you over only so much. If I’m going to be lashed, I might as well save my skin for more recent troubles in the world.” (I quote from a private letter from a distinguished author.) The more common response respectfully discharges an obligation to pity: it is dutiful. Or it is sometimes less than dutiful. It is sometimes frivolous, or indifferent, or presumptuous. But what even the most exemplary sympathies are likely to evade is the implacable recognition that Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, however sacramentally prodded, can never yield light.
Unlike the death camps of Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, which were built and operated solely to kill Jews, the two death camps of Maidanek and Auschwitz also had a work camp attached. Upon arrival at these two camps, a selection was made at the train station concerning which Jews (about 10 percent of the arrivals) would be permitted to live and escape immediate gassing in the gas chambers. These “lucky” survivors were permitted to live only to the extent that they endured the physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon them. They were given a food ration that permitted them to survive for only three months. As they died from exhaustion, beatings, and starvation, they were replaced with newly arrived victims. Auschwitz was also used as the site for medical experimentation. Many of these experiments had little scientific value but were only exercises to discover how much torture a victim could endure until death. By the end of 1944, an estimated two-and-a-half million Jews had died at Auschwitz. More than a quarter of a million Gypsies also died there.
In 1939, shortly after the war began, the Germans initiated the T4 Program—framed euphemistically as a “euthanasia” program—for the murder of intellectually or physically disabled and emotionally disturbed Germans who by their very existence violated the Nazi ideal of Aryan supremacy. They were termed “life unworthy of life.” An economic justification was also employed as these Germans were considered “useless eaters.” The Nazis pioneered the use of gas chambers and mass crematoria under this program. The murder of the disabled was the training ground for key personnel who were to later staff the death camps of Aktion Reinhard. The German public protested these murders. The Roman Catholic bishop of Münster, Clemens August, Graf von Galen, preached against them, and the T4 program was formally halted. Nonetheless, the murder and sterilization of these German “Aryans” continued secretly throughout the war.
I confess to feeling slightly voyeuristic while reading this. It was constantly in the back of my mind that this was no ordinary novel, or even a true-to-life account. This was someone’s diary. Every page written in confidence, each word revealing the thoughts closest to the heart of this young girl. As a journal-keeper myself, I sometimes find myself wondering, “What if someone else were to read this?” which causes me to wonder how much to filter my words. But then, isn’t the purpose of a diary ...more
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.
What has this to do with Harbonah? He is both a Gentile and a saris, although the word as it appears in the book of Esther is usually translated as “chamberlain” since in many ancient Middle Eastern societies eunuchs were employed as court functionaries. Whether or not the sarisim of Esther were of the castrated sort, it’s worth a guess that Isaiah’s message would apply doubly to the only Gentile character in the book of Esther who comes across in an unambiguously positive light. Setting aside the supervillain Haman, consider only the emperor Ahasuerus, understood variously as a well-meaning dupe, a drunk, and a quasi-villain who casually gives the go-ahead to Haman’s plan for genocide and reconsiders only on discovering that his queen is among its prospective victims. The book’s other Gentiles are generally neutral characters.
On May 19th, 1939, the S.S. St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba with 937 passengers; almost all of them were Jews escaping with their lives. This was one of the last ships that left Germany before the outbreak of World War II. Most of the passengers had applied for U.S. visas and were only planning on staying in Cuba until they could enter into the United States. The U.S. State Department in Washington, the U.S. consulate in Havana, and the owner of the St. Louis were aware that they might not be able to enter Cuba, but the passengers were never told.
After the war, Dr. Josef Mengele worked on a farm under an assumed name for a few years, then escaped to South America; he was never put on trial as a war criminal. If he had been captured and put on trial, Dr. Gisella Perl was prepared to testify against him. Dr. Perl worked as a prison doctor under Dr. Mengele, and was a prisoner herself. According to the book "Mengele, the Complete Story," Dr. Perl claimed that a woman prisoner named Ibi had escaped the gas chamber six times by jumping off the truck that was taking the prisoners from the Judenrampe to the gas chambers; Dr. Mengele was enraged when he discovered that she had returned to the selection line.
Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner Street in Gruenwald, Germany, on April 29, 1945. Many thousands of prisoners were marched forcibly from outlying prison camps to camps deeper inside Germany as Allied forces closed in. Thousands died along the way, anyone unable to keep up was executed on the spot. Pictured, fourth from the right, is Dimitry Gorky who was born on August 19, 1920 in Blagoslovskoe, Russia to a family of peasant farmers. During World War II Dmitry was imprisoned in Dachau for 22 months. The reason for his imprisonment is not known. Photo released by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. #
Double-sided ramps were built inside the pits. One crew hauled stretchers filled with corpses up the ramp, and another crew pushed the bodies onto the pyre. In a week, the Burning Brigade might dispose of 3,500 bodies or more. Later, the guards forced prisoners to sift through the ashes with strainers, looking for bone fragments, which would then be pounded down into powder.
In the manuscript, her original diaries are written over three extant volumes. The first volume (the red-and-white checkered autograph book) covers the period between June 14 and December 5, 1942. Since the second surviving volume (a school exercise book) begins on December 22, 1943, and ends on April 17, 1944, it is assumed that the original volume or volumes between December 1942 and December 1943 were lost - presumably after the arrest, when the hiding place was emptied on Nazi instructions. However, this missing period is covered in the version Anne rewrote for preservation. The third existing volume (which was also a school exercise book) contains entries from April 17 to August 1, 1944, when Anne wrote for the last time before her arrest.:2
While these massacres were happening, the Nazis elsewhere were laying plans for an overall 'solution to the Jewish question'. Death camp operations began in December 1941 at Semlin in Serbia and Chelmno in Poland, where people were killed by exhaust fumes in specially modified vans, which were then driven to nearby sites where the bodies were plundered and burnt. 250,000 Jews were killed this way at Chelmno and 15,000 at Semlin.
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Polish gentiles who rescued Jews had several obstacles to overcome. The most serious were the German laws against protecting Jews and the corresponding obligation to identify those who violated these laws. On 15 October 1941, the Nazis introduced a widely publicized law making unauthorized Jewish movement outside ghettos a crime punishable by death. The same punishment applied to gentiles who helped Jews escape. Transgressions were promptly followed by executions that were also widely publicized.
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 main event of the upcoming holiday of Purim is the reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of how brave Esther and pious Mordecai saved Persian Jewry from the genocidal schemes of the wicked Haman. In the Ashkenazi tradition, the public reading of the scroll is followed by reciting a poem whose unknown author lived no later than the 11th century. The concluding lines are usually sung to an up-beat tune:
Sometimes the mere presence of German troops in the vicinity was sufficient to spur a massacre. One example is what happened in the Polish village of Jedwabne, where neighbours murdered their Jewish neighbours. For years the massacre was blamed on the Germans, though many Poles likely knew that the local population had turned against its own Jews. In the Baltics, where the Germans were greeted as liberators by some segments of the population, the lure of political independence and the desire to erase any collaboration with the previous Soviet occupiers led nationalist bands to murder local Jews.
Upon arrival at a camp, the inmates were usually stripped of all their valuables and clothes. They were then shorn of body hair, disinfected, given a shower, and issued a striped prison uniform without regard to size. Each step of the process was designed to dehumanize the prisoners, both physically and emotionally. Each prisoner was given a number. At Auschwitz, for example, the number was tattooed on the arm, but some camps did not tattoo their inmates.
Political dissidents, trade unionists, and Social Democrats were among the first to be arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Under the Weimar government, centuries-old prohibitions against homosexuality had been overlooked, but this tolerance ended violently when the SA (Storm Troopers) began raiding gay bars in 1933. Homosexual intent became just cause for prosecution. The Nazis arrested German and Austrian male homosexuals—there was no systematic persecution of lesbians—and interned them in concentration camps, where they were forced to wear special yellow armbands and later pink triangles. The goal of persecuting male homosexuals was either for reeducation—what might now be called conversion therapy—or punishment. Jehovah’s Witnesses were a problem for the Nazis because they refused to swear allegiance to the state, register for the draft, or utter the words “Heil Hitler.” As a result, the Nazis imprisoned many of the roughly 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. They could be released from concentration camps if they signed a document renouncing their faith and promising not to proselytize. Few availed themselves of that option, preferring martyrdom to apostasy. Germans of African descent—many of whom, called “Rhineland bastards” by the Nazis, were the offspring of German mothers and French colonial African troops who had occupied the Rhineland after World War I—were also persecuted by the Nazis. Although their victimization was less systematic, it included forced sterilization and, often, internment in concentration camps. The fear was that they would “further pollute” and thereby diminish the race. The Nazis also singled out the Roma and Sinti, pejoratively known as Gypsies. They were the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas chambers alongside the Jews. For the Roma and Sinti, too, racial pollution and their depiction as asocials was the justification for their persecution and murder.
Three SS officers socialize at Auschwitz in 1944. From left to right: Richard Baer (commandant), Dr. Josef Mengele and Rudolf Höss (former commandant). Baer escaped but was captured in 1960; he died in 1963 while awaiting trial. Höss was executed for his crimes in 1947, shortly after receiving the sacrament of penance and Holy Communion as Viaticum. Mengele died while swimming at a seaside resort in 1979, after having lived to see his work at Auschwitz vindicated by the legalization of abortion in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Karl-Friedrich Höcker, public domain, via Yad Vashem and Wikimedia Commons)
Amir told me that Zeidel made several pilgrimages back to Ponar. And yet he was never able to locate the passageway that carried him to freedom. What Zeidel didn’t know was that three years before he died, a Lithuanian archaeologist named Vytautas Urbanavicius had quietly excavated what turned out to be the tunnel’s entrance. But after taking a few photographs and a notebook’s worth of measurements, he sealed up the hole with fresh mortar and stone without pressing any farther or prominently marking the area.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank received a blank diary as one of her presents on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday. According to the Anne Frank House, the red, checkered autograph book which Anne used as her diary was actually not a surprise, since she had chosen it the day before with her father when browsing a bookstore near her home. She began to write in it on June 14, 1942, two days later.
Folman and Polonsky’s greatest missed opportunity, however, is their representation of Anne. As readers have been aware since the Definitive Edition appeared more than 20 years ago, the “Diary” as we know it, despite its misleading title, isn’t a literal diary. In spring 1944, the inhabitants of the Annex heard a radio broadcast in which a Dutch cabinet minister called for citizens to preserve their diaries and letters as a record of the war years — a moment depicted in the graphic adaptation. Afterward, Anne began to revise what she had written for eventual publication as an autobiographical novel, working at the furious rate of up to a dozen pages a day. She rewrote and standardized early entries and also created new ones to fill in gaps in her story, such as the history of her family. What we have come to think of as Anne’s diary, as Francine Prose and others have written, would be more accurately described as a memoir in the form of diary entries. But myths die slow deaths, and most readers still aren’t aware of the complexities behind the book’s creation.
It might be noted that, to a surprising extent, much about Hitler’s precise knowledge of the Holocaust remains unclear. For instance, we do not know if Hitler ever saw photographs or newsreels of the killing process, or, indeed, just how comprehensive and brutally frank were Himmler’s reports to Hitler. We have agendas of face-to-face meetings between Hitler and Himmler, at which the Holocaust was to be discussed, but no memorializations or minutes of such meetings. Most of the senior Nazis who were tried at Nuremberg in 1945-1946 (few of whom had any immediate involvement in the killing of Jews) had apparently never seen photographic evidence of the horrors of the concentration camps until their trials; they appeared to be genuinely shocked when newsreels of Belsen and Buchenwald were shown to the court.
A sampling of Wilson’s concerns as she matured appears in the interstices of her exchanges with Otto Frank, which, remarkably, date from 1959 until his death, in 1980. For instance: “The year was 1968—etched in my mind. I can’t ever forget it. Otis Redding was ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’ . . . while we hummed along to ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles.” “In 1973-74,” she reports, “I was wearing headbands, pukka-shell necklaces, and American Indian anything. Tattoos were a rage”—but enough. Tattoos were the rage, she neglects to recall, in Auschwitz; and of the Auschwitz survivor who was her patient correspondent for more than two decades, Wilson remarks, “Well, what choice did the poor man have? Whenever an attack of ‘I-can’t-take-this-any-longer’ would hit me, I’d put it all into lengthy diatribes to my distant guru, Otto Frank.”
A German mother shields the eyes of her son as they walk with other civilians past a row of exhumed bodies outside Suttrop, Germany. The bodies were those of 57 Russians killed by German SS troops and dumped in a mass grave before the arrival of troops from the U.S. Ninth Army. Soldiers of the 95th Infantry division were led by informers to the massive grave on May 3, 1945. Before burial, all German civilians in the vicinity were ordered to view the victims. #
In January 1933, after a bitter ten-year political struggle, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. During his rise to power, Hitler had repeatedly blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and subsequent economic hardships. Hitler also put forward racial theories asserting that Germans with fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes were the supreme form of human, or master race. The Jews, according to Hitler, were the racial opposite, and were actively engaged in an international conspiracy to keep this master race from assuming its rightful position as rulers of the world.
By mid-1944 those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May Himmler claimed in a speech that "the Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany". As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, with surviving inmates shipped to camps closer to Germany. Efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches". Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, some were marched to train stations and transported for days at a time without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Others were marched the entire distance to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.
Anne also wrote short stories, fairy tales, and essays. In her diary, she reflected on her "pen children," as she called her writings. On September 2, 1943, she began to meticulously copy them into a notebook and added a table of contents so that it would resemble a published book. She gave it the title "Stories and Events from the Annex." Occasionally she read a story to the inhabitants of the annex, and she wrote about her intention to send one of her fairy tales to a Dutch magazine. Increasingly, she expressed her desire to be an author or journalist.
Mengele earned his first doctorate in anthropology from the University of Munich in 1935. He did his post-doctoral work at Frankfurt under Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, who was a fully indoctrinated Nazi eugenicist. National Socialism always held that individuals were the product of their heredity, and von Verschuer was one of the Nazi-aligned scientists whose work seemed to legitimize that assertion.
Otto Frank was merely an accessory to the transformation of the diary from one kind of witness to another kind: from the painfully revealing to the partially concealing. If Anne Frank has been made into what we nowadays call an “icon,” it is because of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play derived from the diary—a play that rapidly achieved worldwide popularity, and framed the legend even the newest generation has come to believe in. Adapted by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a Hollywood husband-and-wife screenwriting team, the theatricalized version opened on Broadway in 1955, ten years after the end of the war, and its portrayal of the “funny, hopeful, happy” Anne continues to reverberate, not only in how the diary is construed but in how the Holocaust itself is understood. The play was a work born in controversy, destined to roil on and on in rancor and litigation. Its tangle of contending lawyers finally came to resemble nothing so much as the knotted imbroglio of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, the unending court case of “Bleak House.” Many of the chief figures in the protracted conflict over the Hacketts’ play have by now left the scene, but the principal issues, far from fading away, have, after so many decades, intensified. Whatever the ramifications of these issues, whatever perspectives they illumine or defy, the central question stands fast: Who owns Anne Frank?
Mengele became interested in using twins for medical research through his mentor, Verschuer. Verschuer himself was famous for experimenting with identical and fraternal twins in order to trace the genetic origins of various diseases. During the 1930s, twin research was seen as an ideal tool in weighing the factors of human heredity and environment. Mengele and his mentor had performed a number of legitimate research protocols using twins as test subjects throughout the 1930s. Now, at Auschwitz, with full license to maim or kill his subjects, Mengele performed a broad range of agonizing and often lethal experiments with Jewish and Roma (Gypsy) twins, most of them children.
'Righteous Gentiles' is the phrase used for those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, over 11,000 'Righteous Gentiles' are honored; almost 5,000 are Polish. What follows are profiles and oral histories of ten Polish rescuers of Jews. Their stories reveal what transforms people from indifferent bystanders into heroic saviors
This was upgraded on 31 July 1941, when Hermann Goering sent an order that Heydrich should make “all necessary preparations with regard to organisational, practical and financial aspects for an overall solution to the Jewish question”. Heydrich was to “submit an overall plan… for the execution of the intended ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish question”.
Mengele is known as the “Angel of Death,” or sometimes as the “White Angel,” for his coldly cruel demeanor on the ramp. He is associated more closely with this “selection duty” than any other medical officer at Auschwitz, although by most accounts he performed this task no more often than any of his colleagues. The association is partially explained by his postwar notoriety. The pervasive image of Mengele at the ramp in so many survivors' accounts has also to do with the fact that Mengele often appeared “off-duty” in the selection area whenever trainloads of new prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, searching for twins.