Its historical significance makes the term Final Solution the most important example of the ability of Nazi language to integrate potentially different if not divergent approaches towards the so-called Jewish question into a conceptual frame of reference that helped facilitate systematic mass murder and to hide the Third Reich's genocidal policies behind technocratic abstractions, thus providing legitimization for perpetrators and enabling bystanders to claim not to know what was going on. Despite its inherent problems, most notably in evoking the illusion of coordinated planning and systematic implementation, the term Final Solution remains crucial for recognizing the process character of the Holocaust as a key element in a broader history of state-sponsored mass murder during the Nazi era.
Gerda Schrage was 24 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. She had been in hiding in Berlin during the war, until someone betrayed her to the Gestapo and she was arrested. According to Gerda's story, as told in the documentary film "Gerda's Silence," when she arrived at Auschwitz, she was pregnant by a married man with whom she had had an affair while she was in hiding. Her baby died in her arms at Birkenau because Dr. Mengele was conducting yet another cruel experiment and would not allow her to nurse the baby.
Concentration camp crematorium being shown to a US soldier © Organised killing began with the outbreak of war in September 1939, but the first victims were not Jews. The Nazis set about killing people with physical and mental disabilities, whom they regarded as a burden on the state and a threat to the nation's 'racial hygiene'. About 170,000 people were eventually killed under this so-called Euthanasia programme, which also pioneered techniques and employed many of the people later used to kill Jews.
Encouraged by von Verschuer, Mengele applied for transfer to the concentration camp service to take advantage of the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects. His application was accepted and he was posted to Auschwitz in the spring of 1943. Mengele first gained notoriety for supervising the selection of arriving prisoners to the camp, determining who would be sent to the gas chambers and who would become a forced laborer. This earned him the reputation as the “Angel of Death.” Whereas most of the other doctors viewed the selection process as one of the most horrible duties and had to get drunk in order to endure it, Mengele had no problem with the task. He often arrived smiling and whistling a tune, and even showed up for selections he wasn’t assigned to.
In the photo below, Captain Franz Hoessler is standing in front of a load of corpses of prisoners who died from typhus at Bergen-Belsen. He is speaking into a microphone for a documentary film made by the British after the Bergen-Belsen camp was turned over to them by Heinrich Himmler on April 15, 1945. He is wearing his SS uniform, but the insignia of his military rank has been removed. Hoessler was convicted by the British and hanged on December 13, 1945 for war crimes that he had committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including his participation in the selection of prisoners to be gassed.
Approximately 30 physicians served at Auschwitz while Mengele was assigned to the camp. As a required part feature of their “rounds,” medical staff performed “selections” of prisoners on the ramp. These selections determined who from among the mass of humanity arriving at Auschwitz would be retained for work and who would perish immediately in the gas chambers.
What could be more "useful" than to view that era through the mind and eyes -- and in the words -- of a girl who wanted us to know who she was and what happened to her. And what could be more necessary than the story of a girl who wanted to grow up, to become a writer, to lead a full and normal life -- and was prevented from doing so, by the forces of prejudice and hatred, on a beautiful and otherwise ordinary August morning.
Twins in the experiments describe three days of what must have been psychological examination and three days of laboratory experiments. "Three times a week we were marched to Auschwitz to a big brick building, sort of like a big gymnasium. They would keep us there for about six or eight hours at a time - most of the days. ..... We would have to sit naked in the large room where we first entered, and people in white jackets would observe us and write down notes. They also would study every part of our bodies. They would photograph, measure our heads and arms and bodies, and compare the measurements of one twin to another. The process seemed to go on and on." (Echoes from Auschwitz, Kor).
Although the Nazis were successful in isolating Jews socially and economically, the actual physical isolation of the Eastern European population did not begin until December 1939. Jews had known the ghetto since the Middle Ages, although Jews were then permitted to leave the ghetto during the day and participate in the business of the general community. The purpose of the Nazi ghetto, however, was to create a total confinement for the Jewish population, turning entire neighborhoods into a prison unlike the ghettos of centuries past.
While the Nazis murdered other national and ethnic groups, such as a number of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals, and gypsies, only the Jews were marked for systematic and total annihilation. Jews were singled out for "Special Treatment" (Sonderbehandlung), which meant that Jewish men, women and children were to be methodically killed with poisonous gas. In the exacting records kept at the Auschwitz death camp, the cause of death of Jews who had been gassed was indicated by "SB," the first letters of the two words that form the German term for "Special Treatment."
Nolte's views were widely denounced. The debate between the "specifists" and "universalists" was acrimonious; the former feared debasement of the Holocaust and the latter considered it immoral to hold the Holocaust as beyond compare. In her book Denying the Holocaust (1993), Deborah Lipstadt viewed Nolte's position as a form of Holocaust denial, or at least "the same triumph of ideology over truth". Addressing Nolte's argument, Eberhard Jäckel wrote in Die Zeit in September 1986 that "never before had a state, with the authority of its leader, decided and announced that a specific group of humans, including the elderly, women, children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, then carried out this resolution using every possible means of state power".[h] Despite the criticism of Nolte, Dan Stone wrote in 2010 that the Historikerstreit put "the question of comparison" on the agenda. He argued that the idea of the Holocaust as unique has been overtaken by attempts to place it within the context of early-20th-century Stalinism, ethnic cleansing, and the Nazis' intentions for post-war "demographic reordering", particularly the Generalplan Ost, the plan to kill tens of millions of Slavs to create living space for Germans. The specifist position continued nevertheless to inform the views of many specialists. Richard J. Evans argued in 2015:
The passages which are included in the new version are not anything that the average 8-12 year old girl does not already know about her own body and the "birds and the bees", and are so few and short that they comprise a tiny percentage of the work itself. The romance between herself and Peter is very chaste and nothing untoward happens in the story. (Spoiler: they hold hands and a kiss a few times. that's it.) The passages that some see as inappropriate are not at all titillating, a medical textbook is more erotic. Coming from a mom's point of view, I would definitely allow my daughter to read the unedited book.
What happened next—an avalanche of furies and recriminations lasting years—has lately become the subject of a pair of arresting discussions of the Frank-Levin affair. And if “affair” suggests an event on the scale of the Dreyfus case, that is how Levin saw it: as an unjust stripping away of his rightful position, with implications far beyond his personal predicament. “An Obsession with Anne Frank,” by Lawrence Graver, published by the University of California Press in 1995, is the first study to fashion a coherent narrative out of the welter of claims, counterclaims, letters, cables, petitions, polemics, and rumbling confusions which accompany any examination of the diary’s journey to the stage. “The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank,” by Ralph Melnick, out just now from Yale, is denser in detail and in sources than its predecessor, and more insistent in tone. Both are accomplished works of scholarship that converge on the facts and diverge in their conclusions. Graver is reticent with his sympathies; Melnick is Levin’s undisguised advocate. Graver finds no villains; Melnick finds Lillian Hellman.
Which made him all the more intrigued to hear, two years ago, about a new research project led by Jon Seligman, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, at the site of Vilnius’s Great Synagogue, a once towering Renaissance-Baroque structure dating to the 1630s. The synagogue, which had also housed a vast library, kosher meat stalls and a communal well, had at one time been the crown jewel of the city, itself a center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe—the “Jerusalem of the North.” By one estimate, at the turn of the 20th century Vilnius was home to some 200,000 people, half of them Jewish. But the synagogue was damaged after Hitler’s army captured the city in June 1941 and herded the Jewish population into a pair of walled ghettos, whom it then sent, in successive waves, to Ponar. After the war the Soviets razed the synagogue entirely; today an elementary school stands in its place.
On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, "marked the beinning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended" (Yahil, The Holocaust, p. 318).