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.
Man blinded by continuous beatings © The ideas and emotions that lay behind the Holocaust were not new, nor were they uniquely German. The Nazis were the heirs of a centuries-old tradition of Jew-hatred, rooted in religious rivalry and found in all European countries. When the Nazis came to carry out their genocidal programme, they found collaborators in all the countries they dominated, including governments that enjoyed considerable public support. Most people drew the line at mass murder, but relatively few could be found to oppose it actively or to extend help to the Jews.
At each of the death camps, special squads of Jewish slave laborers called Sonderkommandos were utilized to untangle the victims and remove them from the gas chamber. Next they extracted any gold fillings from teeth and searched body orifices for hidden valuables. The corpses were disposed of by various methods including mass burials, cremation in open fire pits or in specially designed crematory ovens such as those used at Auschwitz. All clothing, money, gold, jewelry, watches, eyeglasses and other valuables were sorted out then shipped back to Germany for re-use. Women's hair was sent to a firm in Bavaria for the manufacture of felt.
After the war, Mengele escaped internment and went underground, serving for four years as a farm stableman near Rosenheim in Bavaria. Then he reportedly escaped, via Genoa, Italy, to South America in 1949. He married (for a second time) under his own name in Uruguay in 1958 and, as “José Mengele,” received citizenship in Paraguay in 1959. In 1961 he apparently moved to Brazil, reportedly becoming friends with an old-time Nazi, Wolfgang Gerhard, and living in a succession of houses owned by a Hungarian couple. In 1985 a team of Brazilian, West German, and American forensic experts determined that Mengele had taken Gerhard’s identity, died in 1979 of a stroke while swimming, and was buried under Gerhard’s name. Dental records later confirmed the forensic conclusion.
An Israeli historian Dina Porat claimed that the Final Solution, i.e.: "the systematic overall physical extermination of Jewish communities one after the other – began in Lithuania" during the massive German chase after the Red Army across the Baltic states in Reichskommissariat Ostland. The subject of the Holocaust in Lithuania has been analysed by Konrad Kweit from USHMM who wrote: "Lithuanian Jews were among the first victims of the Holocaust [beyond the eastern borders of occupied Poland]. The Germans carried out the mass executions [...] signaling the beginning of the 'Final Solution'." About 80,000 Jews were killed in Lithuania by October (including in formerly Polish Wilno) and about 175,000 by the end of 1941 according to official reports.
It is not clear which of the four gas chambers at Birkenau that Litwinska was referring to. The Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were on the ground floor and had "small windows high up near the roof" where the gas pellets were thrown in by the SS men. But neither of these two gas chambers had a "gas chamber chute" for dumping the victims into the gas chamber from "tipper-type lorries," which Americans would call dump trucks.
Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the "Secret Annex." The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you a lot, still, even so, you only know very little of our lives.
Assistant coroner José António de Mello displays a skull to press photographers at the exhumation site in the Nossa Senhora do Rosário Cemetery, Embu das Artes, Brazil, June 6, 1985. Romeu Tuma, the chief of the federal police in São Paulo, shown standing over the site of the grave as the skull and bones were exhibited to the cameras, told the assembled reporters that Mengele “was well and truly dead.” But this statement was immediately contested, for not everyone was convinced that the bones were Mengele’s.
Usage Note: Holocaust has a secure place in the language when it refers to the massive destruction of humans by other humans. In our 1987 survey 99 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the use of holocaust in the phrase nuclear holocaust. Sixty percent accepted the sentence As many as two million people may have died in the holocaust that followed the Khmer Rouge takeover in Cambodia. But because of its associations with genocide, people may object to extended applications of holocaust. The percentage of the Panel's acceptance drops sharply when people use the word to refer to death brought about by natural causes. In our 1999 survey 47 percent approved the sentence In East Africa five years of drought have brought about a holocaust in which millions have died. Just 16 percent approved The press gives little coverage to the holocaust of malaria that goes on, year after year, in tropical countries, where there is no mention of widespread mortality. The Panel has little enthusiasm for more figurative usages of holocaust. In 1999, only 7 percent accepted Numerous small investors lost their stakes in the holocaust that followed the precipitous drop in stocks. This suggests that these extended uses of the word may be viewed as overblown or in poor taste.
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.
The murderous events in the occupied Soviet Union had – as envisaged in a directive by Alfred Rosenberg's Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories – provided the German leadership with experiences on how to arrive at a "solution to the overall problem" ("für die Loesung des Gesamt-Problems richtungsweisend") that could be applied elsewhere. On July 31, 1941, Goering signed a document that charged Heydrich with "making all necessary preparations with regard to organizational, practical and material aspects for an overall solution ("Gesamtloesung") of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe" and to draw up a plan "for the implementation of the intended final solution ("Endloesung") of the Jewish question." By the time of the Wannsee Conference held on January 20, 1942, the term Final Solution had become a common phrase among German government and party officials. Now reduced in its actual meaning to mass murder, its geographical scope expanded beyond German-dominated Europe: the protocol of the conference listed 11 million Jews in different countries to be engulfed in the "Final Solution of the European Jewish question," including England and neutrals like Sweden and Switzerland. The culmination of the Final Solution in mass deportations from various parts of Europe to the killing centers and death camps in Eastern Europe resulted, like earlier stages of the process, not from one single top-level decision, but from a complex mix of factors, with the Berlin center reacting as much as it was actively shaping events.
Likewise at Auschwitz Dr. Herta Oberhauser killed children with oil and evipan injections, removed their limbs and vital organs, rubbed ground glass and sawdust into wounds. She drew a twenty-year sentence as a war criminal, but was released in 1952 and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany. Her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1960. (Laska)
On April 30, 1945, surrounded by the Soviet Army in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide and his Reich soon collapsed. By now, most of Europe's Jews had been killed. Four million had been gassed in the death camps while another two million had been shot dead or died in the ghettos. The victorious Allies; Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, then began the daunting task of sorting through the carnage to determine exactly who was responsible. Seven months later, the Nuremberg War Crime Trials began, with 22 surviving top Nazis charged with crimes against humanity.
Although Yad Vashem (Israel’s Memorial to the Six Million) has honored over 1,200 Righteous Among the Nations since 1953, it is impossible to generalize about the motives, deeds, and actual numbers of these rescuers. Some rescuers acted within the planned context of guerrilla units and resistance movements, others used the buildings and funds of the Roman Catholic church to aid Jews.
Steve Paulsson is a lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. His doctoral thesis, 'Hiding in Warsaw: The Jews on the "Aryan side", 1940-1945', was co-winner of the 1998 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History, and is published by Yale University Press. He has also published articles on the flight of the Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943, and on Polish-Jewish relations. He was senior historian in the Holocaust Exhibition Project Office at the Imperial War Museum, 1998-2000.
In response to this new “resettlement” policy, the first death camps were designed. Chelmno was the site of the first gassing of Jews, which occurred on December 8, 1941. The Nazi war machine had limited resources, including slave labor, much of it Jewish. Even so, the Nazis made a decision that the annihilation of the Jews of Europe was a more important achievement than the value of their labor. Similarly, the Nazis made a decision not to let the need for transport for the war effort interfere with the need for trucks and rail cars to carry the Jews to concentration camps and death centers. It was Adolf Eichmann who masterminded the logistics of the deportation of Jews. (1)
Historians are divided about the motivations of the members of these mobile killing units. American historian Christopher Browning described one such unit, Police Battalion 101, as ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances in which conformity, peer pressure, careerism, obedience to orders, and group solidarity gradually overcame moral inhibitions. American writer Daniel Goldhagen viewed the very same unit as “willing executioners,” sharing Hitler’s vision of genocidal anti-Semitism and finding their tasks unpleasant but necessary. The diversity of the killers has challenged Goldhagen’s view that the motivation was a distinct form of German anti-Semitism. Yet both Browning and Goldhagen concurred that none of these killers faced punishment if he asked to be excused. Individuals had a choice whether to participate or not. Almost all chose to become killers.
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.
German mobile killing squads, called special duty units (Einsatzgruppen), are assigned to kill Jews during the invasion of the Soviet Union. These squads follow the German army as it advances deep into Soviet territory, and carry out mass-murder operations. At first, the mobile killing squads shoot primarily Jewish men. Soon, wherever the mobile killing squads go, they shoot all Jewish men, women, and children, without regard for age or gender. By the spring of 1943, the mobile killing squads will have killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of partisans, Roma (Gypsies), and Soviet political officials.
The industrialization and scale of the murder was unprecedented. Killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of occupied Europe—more than 20 occupied countries. Close to three million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5 million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more died in the rest of Europe. Victims were transported in sealed freight trains from all over Europe to extermination camps equipped with gas chambers. The stationary facilities grew out of Nazi experiments with poison gas during the Aktion T4 mass murder ("euthanasia") programme against the disabled and mentally ill, which began in 1939. The Germans set up six extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz II-Birkenau (established October 1941); Majdanek (October 1941); Chełmno (December 1941); and the three Operation Reinhard camps, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, in 1942. A seventh death camp, Maly Trostenets, was established near Minsk in Belarus, then part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Discussions at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 made it clear that the German "final solution of the Jewish question" was intended eventually to include Britain and all the neutral states in Europe, including Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.
German officers raided the building and made arrests on August 4, 1944. The arresting officer, Karl Silberbauer, later said he vividly remembered arresting the Franks, and even told Otto Frank, “What a lovely daughter you have.” When Silberbauer’s actions were discovered in 1963, he was suspended from his job at the Viennese police force. He is quoted as saying, “Why pick on me after all these years? I only did my duty. Now I am suspended and I have just bought some new furniture and how am I going to pay for it?" After an investigation, he was allowed to return to his job.
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.
Mengele then moved to experimentation. His work revolved around genetic engineering to eradicate inferior genes from the human population to create a German super-race. He believed that twins held these mysteries, and about 1500 pairs of them were brought to Mengele through the selection process. The twins were provided more comfort than the other prisoners and given extra food rations to keep them healthy. As soon as a pair of twins arrived at Auschwitz, they were tattooed and Mengele would ask them questions about their history. Every morning, they reported for roll call, where they ate a small breakfast. Mengele would then come to talk to them, give them candy, and even play games with some of them. Some of the younger children even called him “Uncle Mengele.” Life wasn’t so bad for twins at the barracks, until it came time for the experiments.
Photographic comparison between known images of Josef Mengele and images of “Wolfgang Gerhard” found in the Brazilian home of people thought to have sheltered him. These were annotated to find twenty-four matching physical traits. Photos: “Behördengutachten i.S. von § 256 StPO, Lichtbildgutachten MENGELE, Josef, geb. 16.03.11 in Günzburg,” Bundeskriminalamt, Wiesbaden, June 14, 1985. Courtesy of Maja Helmer.
Victims usually arrived at the camps by freight train. Almost all arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps of Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were sent directly to the gas chambers, with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. At Auschwitz, camp officials usually subjected individuals to selections; about 25% of the new arrivals were selected to work. Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. The procedure at Chełmno was slightly different. Victims there were placed in a mobile gas van and asphyxiated, while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. There the corpses were unloaded and buried.
Genealogical Studies in the Cases of Cleft Lip-Jaw-Palate (1938), his medical dissertation, earned him a doctorate in medicine from Frankfurt University. Studying the influence of genetics as a factor in the occurrence of this deformity, Mengele conducted research on families who exhibited these traits in multiple generations. The work also included notes on other abnormalities found in these family lines.
Unlike Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Lublin-Majdanek, which were built in the occupied General Government territory inhabited by the largest concentrations of Jews, the killing centre at Auschwitz subcamp of Birkenau operated in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany directly. The new gas chambers at Bunker I were finished around March 1942 when the Final Solution was officially launched at Belzec. Until mid-June 20,000 Silesian Jews were killed there using Zyklon B. In July 1942, Bunker II became operational. In August, another 10,000–13,000 Polish Jews from Silesia perished, along with 16,000 French Jews declared 'stateless', and 7,700 Jews from Slovakia.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest ghetto revolt. Massive deportations (or Aktions) had been held in the ghetto from July to September 1942, emptying the ghetto of the majority of Jews imprisoned there. When the Germans entered the ghetto again in January 1943 to remove several thousand more, small unorganized groups of Jews attacked them. After four days, the Germans withdrew from the ghetto, having deported far fewer people than they had intended. The Nazis reentered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover, to evacuate the remaining Jews and close the ghetto. The Jews, using homemade bombs and stolen or bartered weapons, resisted and withstood the Germans for 27 days. They fought from bunkers and sewers and evaded capture until the Germans burned the ghetto building by building. By May 16 the ghetto was in ruins and the uprising crushed.
Estimates of Jewish participation in partisan units throughout Europe range from 20,000 to 100,000. In the occupied Polish and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 joined the Soviet partisan movement. One of the famous Jewish groups was the Bielski partisans in Belarus, led by the Bielski brothers. Jews also joined Polish forces, including the Home Army. According to Timothy Snyder, "more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943".[r]
In May, Nazis under the direction of SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann boldly began a mass deportation of the last major surviving population of European Jews. From May 15 to July 9, over 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. During this time, Auschwitz recorded its highest-ever daily number of persons killed and cremated at just over 9000. Six huge open pits were used to burn the bodies, as the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the crematories.
In 1992, DNA testing confirmed Mengele's identity beyond doubt, but family members refused repeated requests by Brazilian officials to repatriate the remains to Germany. The skeleton is stored at the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine, where it is used as an educational aid during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school.