At Auschwitz alone, more than 2 million people were murdered in a process resembling a large-scale industrial operation. A large population of Jewish and non-Jewish inmates worked in the labor camp there; though only Jews were gassed, thousands of others died of starvation or disease. During the summer of 1944, even as the events of D-Day (June 6, 1944) and a Soviet offensive the same month spelled the beginning of the end for Germany in the war, a large proportion of Hungary’s Jewish population was deported to Auschwitz, and as many as 12,000 Jews were killed every day.
Similarly, in Ordinary Men (1992), Christopher Browning examined the deeds of German Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei ("order police"), used to commit massacres and round-ups of Jews, as well as mass deportations to the death camps. The members of the battalion were middle-aged men of working-class background from Hamburg, who were too old for regular military duty. They were given no special training. During the murder of 1,500 Jews from Józefów in Poland, their commander allowed them to opt out of direct participation. Fewer than 12 men out of a battalion of 500 did so. Influenced by the Milgram experiment on obedience, Browning argued that the men killed out of peer pressure, not bloodlust.
To prosecute the leaders of the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was formed in 1946. The U.S., the UK, the Soviet Union and France each supplied two judges (a primary and an alternate) and a prosecution team for the trial. Twelve leading Nazi officials were sentenced to death for the crimes they had committed, while three received life sentences in prison, and four had prison terms for up to twenty years.
Within a month of his arrival at Auschwitz, an outbreak of noma erupted in the Gypsy camp. Mengele’s solution was to send over 1000 Gypsies to the gas chamber. A similar event occurred in the women’s camp a month later, and the doctor sent more than 600 women with typhus to the same fate. In one of the most horrific exterminations, Mengele and a group of other officers circled a fire pit before about 10 dump trucks filled with children arrived. The trucks backed up to the fire and Mengele and the other officers started throwing the children into the pit. The children screamed as they were burned alive, while others managed to crawl out of the pit. But the officers walked around the pit with sticks and pushed those who managed to get out back into the fire.
The Mossad’s South American station chief cabled the headquarters in Israel: “Zvi saw on Gerhard’s farm a person who in form, height, age and dress looks like Mengele.” It later turned out that he was indeed Mengele. Speaking to me in 1999, Aharoni told me: “We were in an excellent mood. I was certain that in a little while we would be able to bring Mengele to Israel to be tried.”
Mengele’s father was founder of a company that produced farm machinery, Firma Karl Mengele & Söhne, in the village of Günzburg in Bavaria. Mengele studied philosophy in Munich in the 1920s, coming under the influence of the racial ideology of Alfred Rosenberg, and then took a medical degree at the University of Frankfurt am Main. He enlisted in the Sturmabteilung (SA; “Assault Division”) in 1933. An ardent Nazi, he joined the research staff of a newly founded Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in 1934. During World War II he served as a medical officer with the Waffen-SS (the “armed” component of the Nazi paramilitary corps) in France and Russia. In 1943 he was appointed by Heinrich Himmler to be chief doctor at Birkenau, the supplementary extermination camp at Auschwitz, where he and his staff selected incoming Jews for labour or extermination and where he supervised medical experiments on inmates to discover means of increasing fertility (to increase the German “race”). His chief interest, however, was research on twins.
Trainloads of human cargo arriving at Auschwitz went through a selection process conducted by SS doctors such as Josef Mengele. Young adults considered fit for slave labor were allowed to live and had an ID number tattooed on their left forearm. Everyone else went to the gas chambers. A few inmates, including twin children, were occasionally set aside for participation in human medical experiments.
Of particular note, was Hitler's oft-repeated claim that Jews everywhere were engaged in an international conspiracy to achieve world domination. In a speech given on January 30, 1939, commemorating the sixth anniversary of his rule in Germany, Hitler added a stark new warning: "If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"
According to the Quad City Times, Yanina Cywinska was a 10-year-old student at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) when her Polish Catholic parents suddenly called her home to Warsaw. Cywinska's parents, a physician and an artist, worked to assist Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland until they themselves were placed in a Warsaw detention center. Once the family boarded trains for Auschwitz, Yanina would never see her parents or brother again.
Who among gentile Poles was most likely to stand up for persecuted Jews? What propelled these rescuers to risk their lives for them? What characteristics, motivations, and circumstances did the rescuers share? Most attempts to answer these questions focus upon standard sociological categories: researchers consider the rescuers’ class, education, political and religious commitments, friendships with Jews, and level of anti-Jewish prejudice. The results of such investigations have not led to clear conclusions. Some studies suggest that economically deprived Christians more readily identified with Jewish suffering. Others conclude that intellectuals were more likely to have been protectors because they had better insight into German aims and were committed to undermining them.
In early 1943, encouraged by von Verschuer, Mengele applied to transfer to the concentration camp service. His application was accepted and he was posted to Auschwitz, where he was appointed by SS-Standortarzt Eduard Wirths, chief medical officer at Auschwitz, to the position of chief physician of the Zigeunerfamilienlager (Romani family camp) at Birkenau, a subcamp located on the main Auschwitz complex. The SS doctors did not administer treatment to the Auschwitz inmates, but supervised the activities of inmate doctors who had been forced to work in the camp medical service. As part of his duties, Mengele made weekly visits to the hospital barracks and ordered any prisoners who had not recovered after two weeks in bed to be sent to the gas chambers.