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:
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.
Historians increasingly view the Holocaust as a pan-European phenomenon, or a series of holocausts impossible to conduct without the help of local collaborators. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators; without them, the Germans would not have been able to extend the Holocaust across most of Europe. Some Christian churches tried to defend the Jews by declaring that converted Jews were "part of the flock," according to Saul Friedländer, "but even then only up to a point". Otherwise, Friedländer writes, "[n]ot one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews."
The capture, trial and execution in the early 1960s of Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucratic organizer of the Holocaust, led many people to believe that the Mossad would next want to get its hands on Mengele. Many in Israel and around the world figured that the Mossad would have no trouble doing so. But the truth was that for years, the leaders of the government and the agency were simply not all that interested.
In October 1941 the Nazis began turning the concentration camp at Majdanek into a death camp as well. They then began the construction of killing centres at Bełżec, Treblinka, near Warsaw, and at Sobibór. The first mass gassing of Jews began in Chelmno on 8 December 1941, when the Nazis used gas vans to murder people from the Łódź ghetto. The Nazis also ordered the expansion of the Auschwitz camp complex to increase the capacity for murder.
While the Righteous Among the Nations went to different lengths to save Jews, Yad Vashem outlines four distinct ways these individuals helped the Jewish community. The first was by hiding Jews in the rescuer's home or on their property and providing food and other necessities to the Jews while in hiding. Secondly, some of the Righteous obtained false papers and false identities for those they saved. The third type of rescuer specified by Yad Vashem were those who helped Jews escape from Nazi occupied territory or to a less dangerous area. Finally, some rescuers saved children after their parents had been taken to concentration camps or killed.
A subsidiary aim of Operation Reinhard was to exploit a small minority of Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement as forced laborers before killing them. As the ghettos in Poland were systematically liquidated, those selected to live temporarily were deported to Operation Reinhard labor camps and to the concentration camp Lublin/Majdanek. This camp was established in 1941 under the authority of the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in Berlin. Though conceived of and functioning in practice primarily as a concentration camp, housing political prisoners and Jewish forced laborers, Majdanek served from time to time as a killing site for Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement. It had gas chambers, in which the SS killed tens of thousands of Jews, primarily forced laborers too weak to work.
Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, khasidei umót ha'olám "righteous (plural) of the world's nations") is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. The term originates with the concept of "righteous gentiles", a term used in rabbinic Judaism to refer to non-Jews, called ger toshav, who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.
If there was a caesura towards the implementation of the Final Solution through mass murder, it is marked by the German "war of destruction" waged against the Soviet Union from June 22, 1941. Provided with instructions that called for the rapid pacification of conquered areas and that stressed the "sub-human" nature of broad strata of the population as well as the need for drastic measures to fight the deadly threat posed by "Judeo-Bolshevism" to the Nazi grand design, German soldiers, SS-men, and policemen murdered Jews from the first days of the campaign. Regionally different patterns of persecution unfolded until the end of 1941; its most prominent feature – the broadening scope of the killings from male Jews of military age (Heydrich's notorious letter to the higher SS- and Police heads in the occupied Soviet Union dated July 2, 1941, listed "Jews in party and state positions" and "other radical elements" among those to be executed) to women and children – underscores the absence of a central order and the preference of the Berlin authorities for controlled escalation.