The Sturmabteilung (S.A., Storm Troopers), a grassroots organization, helped Hitler undermine the German democracy. The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police), a force recruited from professional police officers, was given complete freedom to arrest anyone after February 28. The Schutzstaffel (SS, Protection Squad) served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard and eventually controlled the concentration camps and the Gestapo. The Sicherheitsdienst des ReichsführersSS (S.D., Security Service of the SS) functioned as the Nazis' intelligence service, uncovering enemies and keeping them under surveillance.
Not long after beginning the survey of the site, Freund and his team confirmed the existence of a previously unmarked burial pit. At 80 feet across and 15 feet deep, the scientists calculated that the grave contained the cremated remains of as many as 7,000 people. The researchers also released the preliminary results of their search for the tunnel, along with a series of ERT-generated cross sections that revealed the tunnel’s depth beneath the ground’s surface (15 feet at points) and its dimensions: three feet by three feet at the very widest, not much larger than a human torso. From the entrance inside the bunker to the spot in the forest, now long grown over, where the prisoners emerged measured more than 110 feet. At last, there was definitive proof of a story known until now only in obscure testimonies made by a handful of survivors—a kind of scientific witness that transformed “history into reality,” in the words of Miri Regev, Israel’s minister of culture, who highlighted the importance of documenting physical evidence of Nazi atrocities as a bulwark against “the lies of the Holocaust deniers.”
Shortly after Hitler came to power, the Reichstag building, seat of the German parliament, burnt down. Communists were blamed for setting the fire and Hindenburg declared a state of emergency, passing the Reichstag Fire Decree that suspended basic rights like trial by jury. The German Communist Party was suspended and over 4,000 members were detained without trial. The next month, Hitler’s cabinet passed the Enabling Act which allowed him to enact laws without the consent of the parliament for four years, effectively transforming the German government into a de facto Nazi dictatorship.
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 ...
Jews would be “utilised for work in the East… [The] sexes [will be] separated. Jews capable of work will be moved into these areas as they build roads, during which a large proportion will no doubt drop out through natural reduction. The remnant that eventually remains will require suitable treatment…The evacuated Jews will first be taken, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, in order to be transported further east from there.”
Lay Catholics, such as the German Dr. Gertrude Luckner, who headed the Caritas Catholica, also extended help to Jews and non-Aryan Christians in Germany. She was deported to Ravensbruck for her aid to the persecuted. After the war, Dr. Luckner was honored for her courage by the Israeli government. It must be noted that much of this Christian help was actually rendered to fellow Christians (converted Jews), who were classified as Jews due to their descent under Nazi racial laws.
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference at a lakeside villa in Berlin to organize the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Around the table were 15 men representing government agencies necessary to implement so bold and sweeping a policy. The language of the meeting was clear, but the meeting notes were circumspect:
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.
Resistance movements also helped Jews. Sometimes, this aid was intended to help the Jews; often it was rendered in the context of the general anti-Nazi resistance. In Yugoslavia, Serbian partisans attacked a concentration camp near Nish in 1941, freeing a small number of Jews. On April 19, 1943, the Committee for Jewish Defense, aided by Christian railroad workers, attacked a Belgian transport leaving Malines for Auschwitz. Several hundred Jewish deportees escaped with the help of the Belgian resistance.
At Auschwitz, a large new camp was already under construction to be known as Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This would become the future site of four large gas chambers to be used for mass extermination. The idea of using gas chambers originated during the Euthanasia Program, the so-called "mercy killing" of sick and disabled persons in Germany and Austria by Nazi doctors.
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.
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.
On July 17, 1941, four weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler tasked SS chief Heinrich Himmler with responsibility for all security matters in the occupied Soviet Union. Hitler gave Himmler broad authority to physically eliminate any perceived threats to permanent German rule. Two weeks later, on July 31, 1941, Nazi leader Hermann Goering authorized SS General Reinhard Heydrich to make preparations for the implementation of a "complete solution of the Jewish question."
This is not about people acting out a crime of passion. This is planned and rationalized violence — a cultural brainwashing. The rationalization is always that the victims are not truly human, not worthy of the same protections of the law. It’s interesting that the Nazis are often linked to Christianity, especially the Catholic Church. But it is precisely the teachings of the Church that stand in the way of such dehumanization. This is something that Mengele himself knew, as he was raised in a Catholic family. In fact, in his post-WWII journal, Mengele specifically wrote, “We had to liberate Germanic history from Roman and Catholic influences.”
Though the Nazis tried to keep operation of camps secret, the scale of the killing made this virtually impossible. Eyewitnesses brought reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland to the Allied governments, who were harshly criticized after the war for their failure to respond, or to publicize news of the mass slaughter. This lack of action was likely mostly due to the Allied focus on winning the war at hand, but was also a result of the general incomprehension with which news of the Holocaust was met and the denial and disbelief that such atrocities could be occurring on such a scale.
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).