Around 50,000 German gay men were jailed between 1933 and 1945, and 5,000–15,000 are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. It is not known how many died during the Holocaust. James Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than acts, and the "gesundes Volksempfinden" ("healthy sensibility of the people") became the guiding legal principle. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors. Lesbians were left relatively unaffected; the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. Gay men convicted between 1933 and 1944 were sent to camps for "rehabilitation", where they were identified by pink triangles. Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.
The Nazi concentration camps were established beginning in 1933 for the purpose of imprisoning political opponents. After the “Night of the Long Knives” (see Chapter 8, page 65), authority and management of the concentration camps was turned over to the S.S. The S.S. expanded the concentration camp system, and used these facilities to warehouse other “undesirables,” including hundreds of thousands of Jews. Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were among the first concentration camps built by the Nazis near Munich, Weimar, and Berlin respectively.
Mengele joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and the Schutzstaffel (SS; protection squadron) in 1938. He received basic training in 1938 with the Gebirgsjäger (light infantry mountain troop) and was called up for service in the Wehrmacht (Nazi armed forces) in June 1940, some months after the outbreak of World War II. He soon volunteered for medical service in the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, where he served with the rank of SS-Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) in a medical reserve battalion until November 1940. He was next assigned to the SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Race and Settlement Main Office) in Poznań, evaluating candidates for Germanization.
They set off at 11 p.m., in groups of ten. The first group emerged from the tunnel without incident. Zeidel recalled slithering on his stomach toward the edge of the camp. He scarcely dared to exhale; his heart slammed against his chest wall. Later, Farber would speculate that it was the snap of a twig that alerted their captors to the escape. Dogim attributed it to a blur of movement spotted by the guards.
The memory of this slightly built man, scarcely a hair out of place, his dark green tunic neatly pressed, his face well scrubbed, his Death's Head SS cap tilted rakishly to one side, remains vivid for those who survived his scrutiny when they arrived at the Auschwitz railhead. Polished boots slightly apart, his thumb resting on his pistol belt, he surveyed his prey with those dead gimlet eyes. Death to the left, life to the right. Four hundred thousand souls - babies, small children, young girls, mothers, fathers, and grandparents - are said to have been casually waved to the lefthand side with a flick of the cane clasped in a gloved hand.
Anxious to limit immigration to the United States and to maintain good relations with the Vichy government, the State Department actively discouraged diplomats from helping refugees. However, Bingham cooperated in issuing visas and helping refugees escape France. Hiram Bingham gave about 2,000 visas, most of them to well-known personalities, speaking English, including Max Ernst, André Breton, Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Lion Feuchtwanger and Nobel prize winner Otto Meyerhof.
Ultimately, one must surely conclude that the unparalleled enormities carried out by the Nazis took place because the First World War destroyed Germany’s traditional elite structure, permitting, in the context of the Depression, the rise of an extremist movement at the absolute fringes of political life which would never otherwise have come to power. Almost precisely the same thing occurred, for the same reasons, in Russia with the Bolshevik revolution and the rise of Stalin to supreme power just over a decade later. In the English-speaking world, fortunately, the legacy of internalized liberalism, enhanced by the fact that its nations were victorious in the First World War and their institutions left intact, kept the traditional governing structures viable and gave radical fringe groups no opportunity to gather political power. Arguably, too, the deep wound of 1914-1918, which caused so many horrors in Europe, was not fully healed until the fall of Communism in 1990, if even then.
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.
Otto Frank grew up with a social need to please his environment and not to offend it; that was the condition of entering the mainstream, a bargain German Jews negotiated with themselves. It was more dignified, and safer, to praise than to blame. Far better, then, in facing the larger postwar world that the diary had opened to him, to speak of goodness rather than destruction: so much of that larger world had participated in the urge to rage. (The diary notes how Dutch anti-Semitism, “to our great sorrow and dismay,” was increasing even as the Jews were being hauled away.) After the liberation of the camps, the heaps of emaciated corpses were accusation enough. Postwar sensibility hastened to migrate elsewhere, away from the cruel and the culpable. It was a tone and a mood that affected the diary’s reception; it was a mood and a tone that, with cautious yet crucial excisions, the diary itself could be made to support. And so the diarist’s dread came to be described as hope, her terror as courage, her prayers of despair as inspiring. And since the diary was now defined as a Holocaust document, the perception of the cataclysm itself was being subtly accommodated to expressions like “man’s inhumanity to man,” diluting and befogging specific historical events and their motives. “We must not flog the past,” Frank insisted in 1969. His concrete response to the past was the establishment, in 1957, of the Anne Frank Foundation and its offshoot the International Youth Center, situated in the Amsterdam house where the diary was composed, to foster “as many contacts as possible between young people of different nationalities, races and religions”—a civilized and tenderhearted goal that nevertheless washed away into do-gooder abstraction the explicit urge to rage that had devoured his daughter.
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.
Jewish prisoners were concentrated at Bergen-Belsen, hitherto not known as one of the worst camps; but in the chaotic final months of the war conditions were allowed to deteriorate catastrophically. When British troops came across the camp on 15 April 1945, they encountered 10,000 unburied corpses, a raging typhus epidemic and 60,000 sick and dying prisoners crammed into overcrowded barracks without food or water.
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.”
At the end of the war, between 50,000 and 100,000 Jewish survivors were living in three zones of occupation: American, British and Soviet. Within a year, that figure grew to about 200,000. The American zone of occupation contained more than 90 percent of the Jewish displaced persons (DPs). The Jewish DPs would not and could not return to their homes, which brought back such horrible memories and still held the threat of danger from anti-Semitic neighbors. Thus, they languished in DP camps until emigration could be arranged to Palestine, and later Israel, the United States, South America and other countries. The last DP camp closed in 1957 (David S. Wyman, "The United States," in David S. Wyman, ed., The World Reacts to the Holocaust, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, pp. 70710).
And here is where the enduring relevance of the Harbonah story comes in. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, the vexed question of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust was once again in the headlines, the subject of a diplomatic fracas between Jerusalem and Warsaw. Surely the recent efforts by the Polish government to distort or cover up the historical record are deserving of sharp criticism, and the hundreds if not thousands of Poles who aided in the extermination of the Jews deserve ignominy no less than did the thousands of ancient Persian subjects who volunteered to help Haman.
Historians of the Holocaust are divided into two schools: the “intentionalists” insist on the central role of Nazi ideology and believe that there was a carefully prepared plan for the extermination of European Jewry; the “functionalists” or “structuralists” by contrast, stress the chaotic nature of the Nazi system, a non-design reflected in their foreign and economic policies as well. According to the latter school, it was this inherent disorder rather than premeditated design that led, through a process of cumulative radicalization, to the systematic extermination of European Jewry.
Title bestowed by Yad Vashem (the Israeli Holocaust remembrance authority) on certain gentiles who rescued Jews in opposition to Nazi efforts to annihilate them. The distinction is granted according to stringent criteria requiring conclusive evidence. Depending on the nature and extent of help, special kinds of recognition are bestowed upon Christians who saved Jews. To qualify for any one of the distinctions, Christian actions had to involve “extending help in saving a life; endangering one’s own life; absence of reward, monetary and otherwise; and similar considerations which make the rescuers’ deeds stand out above and beyond what can be termed ordinary help.” In part ambiguous, the criteria leave no doubt that those who saved Jews primarily because of payment do not fit the definition of righteous Christians.
Under the Nuremberg Laws, Jews became routine targets for stigmatization and persecution. This culminated in Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass” in November 1938, when German synagogues were burned and windows in Jewish shops were smashed; some 100 Jews were killed and thousands more arrested. From 1933 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jews who were able to leave Germany did, while those who remained lived in a constant state of uncertainty and fear.
What has this to do with Harbonah? He is both a Gentile and a saris, although the word as it appears in the book of Esther is usually translated as “chamberlain” since in many ancient Middle Eastern societies eunuchs were employed as court functionaries. Whether or not the sarisim of Esther were of the castrated sort, it’s worth a guess that Isaiah’s message would apply doubly to the only Gentile character in the book of Esther who comes across in an unambiguously positive light. Setting aside the supervillain Haman, consider only the emperor Ahasuerus, understood variously as a well-meaning dupe, a drunk, and a quasi-villain who casually gives the go-ahead to Haman’s plan for genocide and reconsiders only on discovering that his queen is among its prospective victims. The book’s other Gentiles are generally neutral characters.
A sampling of Wilson’s concerns as she matured appears in the interstices of her exchanges with Otto Frank, which, remarkably, date from 1959 until his death, in 1980. For instance: “The year was 1968—etched in my mind. I can’t ever forget it. Otis Redding was ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’ . . . while we hummed along to ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles.” “In 1973-74,” she reports, “I was wearing headbands, pukka-shell necklaces, and American Indian anything. Tattoos were a rage”—but enough. Tattoos were the rage, she neglects to recall, in Auschwitz; and of the Auschwitz survivor who was her patient correspondent for more than two decades, Wilson remarks, “Well, what choice did the poor man have? Whenever an attack of ‘I-can’t-take-this-any-longer’ would hit me, I’d put it all into lengthy diatribes to my distant guru, Otto Frank.”
Every detail of the actual extermination process was meticulously planned. Jews arriving in trains at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were falsely informed by the SS that they had come to a transit stop and would be moving on to their true destination after delousing. They were told their clothes were going to be disinfected and that they would all be taken to shower rooms for a good washing. Men were then split up from the women and children. Everyone was taken to undressing barracks and told to remove all of their clothing. Women and girls next had their hair cut off. First the men, and then the women and children, were hustled in the nude along a narrow fenced-in pathway nicknamed by the SS as the Himmelstrasse (road to Heaven). At the end of the path was a bathhouse with tiled shower rooms. As soon as the people were all crammed inside, the main door was slammed shut, creating an air-tight seal. Deadly carbon monoxide fumes were then fed in from a stationary diesel engine located outside the chamber.
I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to hide; well, all I can say is that I don't know myself yet. I don't think I shall ever feel really at home in this house but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse. Rather a mad way of looking at being in hiding perhaps but that is how it strikes me.
Three SS officers socialize at Auschwitz in 1944. From left to right: Richard Baer (commandant), Dr. Josef Mengele and Rudolf Höss (former commandant). Baer escaped but was captured in 1960; he died in 1963 while awaiting trial. Höss was executed for his crimes in 1947, shortly after receiving the sacrament of penance and Holy Communion as Viaticum. Mengele died while swimming at a seaside resort in 1979, after having lived to see his work at Auschwitz vindicated by the legalization of abortion in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Karl-Friedrich Höcker, public domain, via Yad Vashem and Wikimedia Commons)
But they were gradually shut out of German society by the Nazis through a never-ending series of laws and decrees, culminating in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which deprived them of their German citizenship and forbade intermarriage with non-Jews. They were removed from schools, banned from the professions, excluded from military service, and were even forbidden to share a park bench with a non-Jew.
Uprisings broke out in some extermination camps. The few remaining Jews kept alive to dispose of bodies and sort possessions realised the number of transportees was reducing and they would be next. Civilian uprisings occurred across Poland as mainly young Jews, whose families had already been murdered, began to resist Nazi oppression. With reports of rebellion and mass murder in the British press, the situation in the camps could no longer be be ignored.
The murder industry began in the Chelmno camp, built in December 1941. Work was carried out in special trucks, where the victims were asphyxiated by exhaust fumes, a method that had been tried before on those whose lives were deemed useless (the “Euthanasia Program”). From September 1939, about 100,000 “Aryan” Germans were assassinated in this manner, in what was named “Operation T4.” Two years later, the personnel responsible for the “euthanasia” program were called upon to apply their expertise to murdering Jews. In the single camp of Chelmno, 150,000 human beings were gassed to death, most of them brought to the camp from annexed territories, the Warthegau district of western Poland and the Lodz Ghetto.
Hilberg's analysis of the steps that led to the destruction of European Jews revealed that it was "an administrative process carried out by bureaucrats in a network of offices spanning a continent". Hilberg divides this bureaucracy into four components or hierarchies: the Nazi Party, the civil service, industry, and the Wehrmacht armed forces – but their cooperation is viewed as "so complete that we may truly speak of their fusion into a machinery of destruction". For Hilberg, the key stages in the destruction process were: definition and registration of the Jews; expropriation of property; concentration into ghettoes and camps; and, finally, annihilation. Hilberg gives an estimate of 5.1 million as the total number of Jews killed. He breaks this figure down into three categories: Ghettoization and general privation: over 800,000; open-air shootings: over 1,300,000; extermination camps: up to 3,000,000.
Sophia Litwinska made a sworn affidavit that was entered into the British trial of the SS staff at Bergen-Belsen in the fall of 1945. Some members of the SS staff at Belsen had previously worked at Birkenau and they were on trial for crimes committed at both Birkenau and Belsen. One of the men who was tried by the British was Franz Hoessler, the commander of the women's camp at Birkenau in 1942; he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944.
In 1969, Mengele and the Stammers jointly purchased a farmhouse in Caieiras, with Mengele as half owner. When Wolfgang Gerhard returned to Germany in 1971 to seek medical treatment for his ailing wife and son, he gave his identity card to Mengele. The Stammers' friendship with Mengele deteriorated in late 1974 and when they bought a house in São Paulo, Mengele was not invited to join them.[b] The Stammers later bought a bungalow in the Eldorado neighborhood of São Paulo, which they rented out to Mengele. Rolf, who had not seen his father since the ski holiday in 1956, visited him at the bungalow in 1977; he found an unrepentant Nazi who claimed he had never personally harmed anyone, only having carried out his duty.