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.
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.
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.
The digging got underway the first night in February 1944, in a storeroom at the back of the bunker. To disguise their efforts, the prisoners erected a fake wall over the tunnel’s entrance, with “two boards hanging on loose nails that would come out with a good tug, making it possible to pass through,” Farber recalled in The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry, a compilation of eyewitness testimonies, letters and other documents of the Nazi campaign against Jews in Eastern Europe published in part in 1944 and translated into English in 2001.
Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents. They set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not conform.
Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious and lethal of the concentration camps, was actually three camps in one: a prison camp (Auschwitz I), an extermination camp (Auschwitz II–Birkenau), and a slave labour camp (Auschwitz III–Buna-Monowitz). Upon arrival, Jewish prisoners faced what was called a Selektion. A German doctor presided over the selection of pregnant women, young children, the elderly, handicapped, sick, and infirm for immediate death in the gas chambers. As necessary, the Germans selected able-bodied prisoners for forced labour in the factories adjacent to Auschwitz, where one German company, IG Farben, invested 700 million Reichsmarks in 1942 alone to take advantage of forced labour, a capital investment. The conglomerate presumed that slave labour would be a permanent part of the German economy. Deprived of adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, these prisoners were literally worked to death. Periodically, they would face another Selektion. The Nazis would transfer those unable to work to the gas chambers of Birkenau.
Hilberg, Raul (1985). The Destruction of the European Jews: The Revised and Definitive Edition. New York: Holmes and Meier. ISBN 0-8419-0832-X – via Archive.org search inside. The deportations ... were the work of a much larger apparatus that had to deal with a host of constraints and requirements. The effort, as we shall see, was deemed necessary to accomplish the Final Solution on a European-wide scale.[p.273]
Even before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they had made no secret of their anti-Semitism. As early as 1919 Adolf Hitler had written, “Rational anti-Semitism, however, must lead to systematic legal opposition.…Its final objective must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews altogether.” In Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”; 1925–27), Hitler further developed the idea of the Jews as an evil race struggling for world domination. Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in religious anti-Semitism and enhanced by political anti-Semitism. To this the Nazis added a further dimension: racial anti-Semitism. Nazi racial ideology characterized the Jews as Untermenschen (German: “subhumans”). The Nazis portrayed the Jews as a race and not as a religious group. Religious anti-Semitism could be resolved by conversion, political anti-Semitism by expulsion. Ultimately, the logic of Nazi racial anti-Semitism led to annihilation.
Some ghettos were initially open, which meant that Jews could leave the area during the daytime but had to be back by a curfew. Later, all ghettos became closed, meaning that Jews were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Major ghettos were located in the cities of Polish cities of Bialystok, Lodz, and Warsaw. Other ghettos were found in present-day Minsk, Belarus; Riga, Latvia; and Vilna, Lithuania. The largest ghetto was in Warsaw. At its peak in March 1941, some 445,000 were crammed into an area just 1.3 square miles in size.
In 1953, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, passed a law creating Yad Vashem as the country's Martyrs' and Heroes' Memorial Authority. Its tasks included commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, paying tribute to those Jewish resistance fighters, and honoring those "high-minded Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews." The title Righteous Among the Nations is taken from Jewish tradition (the literature of the Sages) that describes non-Jews who helped the Jewish people in times of need.
Although Dr. Josef Mengele did not join the staff at Birkenau until May 1943, survivors testified during the Allied war crimes trials that he did selections in 1942. Besides the initial selection when the transport trains arrived at Birkenau, there were later selections of the women in the camp. Dr. Mengele was the chief doctor for the women's barracks, and he would periodically show up to select women for work or the gas chamber. One of the women who survived one of these selections was Sophia Litwinska, a Polish Jewess who was married to an Aryan man.
These mass murders took place in small cottages situated outside the Birkenau camp in the woods…All the SS physicians on duty in the camp took turns to participate in the gassing, which were called Sonderaction, “special action”....When the transport with the people who were destined to be gassed arrived as the railway ramp, the SS officer selected, from among the new arrivals, persons fit to work, while the rest - old people, all children, women with children in their arms and other persons not deemed fit to work- were loaded on to lorries and driven to the gas-chamber.
The Birkenau camp was 425 acres in size. Seven small villages had been torn down to make room for the camp; it was like a small city with a total of 300 buildings. There was a total of 140,000 prisoners in the camp in 1943, but the barracks had a capacity of 200,000 prisoners. There was plenty of space to put the first 600 women somewhere, even if he had to set up tents on the soccer field which was near one of the gas chambers at Birkenau, but Dr. Mengele didn't try to find a place for them because he had a complete disregard for human life, as far as the Jews and Gypsies under his care were concerned. In his performance review, his superior officer complemented him on his work in stopping the typhus epidemic; there was no mention of the 600 women that he had murdered to accomplish this.
On the evening of November 9, 1938, carefully orchestrated anti-Jewish violence “erupted” throughout the Reich, which since March had included Austria. Over the next 48 hours rioters burned or damaged more than 1,000 synagogues and ransacked and broke the windows of more than 7,500 businesses. Some 30,000 Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 60 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Police stood by as the violence—often the action of neighbours, not strangers—occurred. Firemen were present not to protect the synagogues but to ensure that the flames did not spread to adjacent “Aryan” property. The pogrom was given a quaint name: Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,” or “Night of Broken Glass”). In its aftermath, Jews lost the illusion that they had a future in Germany.
It may be, though, that a new production, even now, and even with cautious additions, will be heard in the play’s original voice. It was always a voice of good will; it meant, as we say, well—and, financially, it certainly did well. But it was Broadway’s style of good will, and that, at least for Meyer Levin, had the scent of ill. For him, and signally for Bloomgarden and Kanin, the most sensitive point—the focus of trouble—lay in the ancient dispute between the particular and the universal. All that was a distraction from the heart of the matter: in a drama about hiding, evil was hidden. And if the play remains essentially as the Hacketts wrote it, the likelihood is that Anne Frank’s real history will hardly prevail over what was experienced, forty years ago, as history transcended, ennobled, rarefied. The first hint is already in the air, puffed by the play’s young lead: It’s funny, it’s hopeful, and she’s a happy person.
Mengele joined the Nazi Party in 1937. He received his medical degree in 1938, the same year he joined the SS. Mengele was drafted into the army in June 1940, and subsequently volunteered for the medical service of the Waffen-SS (Armed SS). There is little (and often contradictory) documentation about Mengele's activities between this time and early 1943. It is clear, however, that he first functioned as a medical expert for the Race and Settlement Main Office in summer 1940 at the Central Immigration Office North-East in Posen (today Poznan). He then served as a medical officer with the SS Division “Wiking” (SS Pioneer Battalion V), with which he saw action on the Eastern Front.
Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.
Sometimes the mere presence of German troops in the vicinity was sufficient to spur a massacre. One example is what happened in the Polish village of Jedwabne, where neighbours murdered their Jewish neighbours. For years the massacre was blamed on the Germans, though many Poles likely knew that the local population had turned against its own Jews. In the Baltics, where the Germans were greeted as liberators by some segments of the population, the lure of political independence and the desire to erase any collaboration with the previous Soviet occupiers led nationalist bands to murder local Jews.
When an outbreak of noma (a gangrenous bacterial disease of the mouth and face) struck the Romani camp in 1943, Mengele initiated a study to determine the cause of the disease and develop a treatment. He enlisted the assistance of prisoner Dr. Berthold Epstein, a Jewish pediatrician and professor at Prague University. The patients were isolated in a separate barracks and several afflicted children were killed so that their preserved heads and organs could be sent to the SS Medical Academy in Graz and other facilities for study. This research was still ongoing when the Romani camp was liquidated and its remaining occupants killed in 1944.