German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the "Final Solution" called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust—two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.
Hitler also believed the very presence of Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe posed a threat to German victory in the war. This was based on his experience during the First World War, when Germany had experienced a meltdown of civilian morale. In 1916, as a young soldier on sick leave in Munich, Hitler had been appalled at the apathy and anti-war sentiment he witnessed among German civilians. At the time, he concluded disloyal Jews had banded together and conspired to undermine the German war effort. And he was convinced they would do it again now if given the chance.
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.
“There is no stopping them [the Jews]. Are there no clear signs that the twilight of the Jews is setting in? No. Jewry’s control of society and politics as well as its domination of religious and ecclesiastical thought is still in the prime of its development. Yes, through the Jewish nation Germany will become a world power, a western new Palestine. And this will happen not through violent revolution but through the compliance of the people. We should not reproach the Jewish nation. It fought against the western world for 1,800 years and finally conquered it. We were vanquished. The Jews were late in their assault on Germany but once started there was no stopping them
Many rescuers exhibited a longstanding commitment to help the needy. This commitment was reflected in their habitual engagement in a range of charitable activities. For example, beggars and vagabonds who reached Jan Rybak’s village had routinely been directed to him. Similarly, when neighbors were overburdened with chores, Rybak would step in to help.
In October 1942, Jan Karski met clandestinely with Jewish leaders at the height of the destruction of Polish Jewry. As a courier for the underground, he delivered their dire message to the Polish government-in-exile in London. “The Jews were abandoned by governments, by church hierarchies, by existing societal structures. But they were not abandoned by all of humanity,” said Karski. “There were thousands upon thousands of people in Europe who risked their life for the Jews. They were priests, nuns, workers, peasants, enlightened ones, simpletons, from all walks of life. They were good people, very simply. We have more good people than probably we think we have in humanity.” Karski was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile among the Gentiles on June 2, 1982
Of the eight people in the secret annex, only Otto Frank survived the war. He subsequently returned to Amsterdam, where Gies gave him various documents she had saved from the annex. Among the papers was Anne’s diary, though some of the notebooks were missing, notably most of those from 1943. To fulfill Anne’s dream of publication, Otto began sorting through her writings. The original red-and-white checkered journal became known as the “A” version, while her revised entries, written on loose sheets of paper, were known as the “B” version. The diary that Otto ultimately compiled was the “C” version, which omitted approximately 30 percent of her entries. Much of the excluded text was sexual-related or concerned Anne’s difficulties with her mother.
After 24 hours in the darkness, she followed one shining light that turned out to be at an unguarded barracks. The small group of surprised prisoners took her in. This group, with Lyon among them, was ordered into cattle cars and taken away from Auschwitz. Lyon longed to see her mother and sister again, but knew she faced certain death if she were discovered in Auschwitz.
The Wannsee Conference, a meeting between the SS (the elite guard of the Nazi state) and German government agencies, opens in Berlin. They discuss and coordinate the implementation of the "Final Solution," which is already under way. At Wannsee, the SS estimates that the "Final Solution" will involve 11 million European Jews, including those from non-occupied countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and Great Britain. Between the fall of 1941 and the fall of 1944, the German railways transport millions of people to their deaths in killing centers in occupied Poland.
Concentration camps began to incarcerate ‘habitual criminals’ in addition to political prisoners. Goebbels stepped up anti-Semitic propaganda with a traveling exhibition which cast Jews as the enemy. Nearly half a million people attended. Some guessed worse would come. Winston Churchill criticised British relations with Germany, warning of ‘great evils of racial and religious intolerance’, though many colleagues complained of his ‘harping on’ about Jews.
According to the testimony of Rudolf Hoess at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1946, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave repeated orders that the staff members at the concentration camps were forbidden "to lay violent hands on the prisoners." According to the survivors of Birkenau, Dr. Mengele frequently lost his temper and beat the prisoners, yet he was never punished by his superior officers.
In 1944, Josiah DuBois, Jr. wrote a memorandum to then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. entitled “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews”, which condemned the bureaucratic interference of U.S. State Department policies in obstructing the evacuation of Holocaust Refugees from Romania and Occupied France. The Report would spur the Roosevelt administration to create the War Refugee Board later that year.
"Dr. Mengele had always been more interested in Tibi. I am not sure why - perhaps because he was the older twin. Mengele made several operations on Tibi. One surgery on his spine left my brother paralyzed. He could not walk anymore. Then they took out his sexual organs. After the fourth operation, I did not see Tibi anymore. I cannot tell you how I felt. It is impossible to put into words how I felt. They had taken away my father, my mother, my two older brothers - and now, my twin ..."
Anne Frank faced the threat of discovery and death every day while living in the Secret Annex. Despite terrible circumstances, however, her strength of spirit comes through in her diary. "...I still believe, in spite of everything," she wrote while in hiding, "that people are truly good at heart." Anne was one of millions of people during the Holocaust who found the courage to get through each day. Discover other Stories of Courage, and write about what you learn.
From the Kristallnacht pogrom onwards, Nazi policy toward the Jews radicalized relentlessly, reaching deliberate continental genocide of a kind never before seen in history by 1941-1942. It is here, however, that considerable difference of opinion among historians begins. Over the past twenty years or so, a consensus has emerged that Hitler did not embark on his campaign of killing all Jews in the Soviet Union, including women and children, immediately after the invasion began in June 1941, but only several months later. At first, it seems, only adult male Jews and “commissars” (Soviet state operatives) were killed; one of the best-known recent expositions of this viewpoint is Philippe Burrin’s 1994 Hitler and the Jews: The Genesis of the Holocaust . Nearly all of the detailed documentation of the Holocaust, including recently discovered records, points to this conclusion. Nonetheless, by the end of 1941, Nazi killing squads ( Einsatzgruppen ) had killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in the western Soviet Union, murdering men, women, and children indiscriminately. Beginning in early 1942, the extermination camps (all located in conquered Poland) began to murder Jews, and others, brought in from all parts of Europe.
Hitler intended to blame the Jews for the new world war he was soon to provoke. That war began in September 1939 as German troops stormed into Poland, a country that was home to over three million Jews. After Poland's quick defeat, Polish Jews were rounded up and forced into newly established ghettos at Lodz, Krakow, and Warsaw, to await future plans. Inside these overcrowded walled-in ghettos, tens of thousands died a slow death from hunger and disease amid squalid living conditions. The ghettos soon came under the jurisdiction of Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Nazi SS, Hitler's most trusted and loyal organization, composed of fanatical young men considered racially pure according to Nazi standards.
The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state". Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out.[h] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated, and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds": half and quarter Jews). Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; other companies built the crematoria. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were ordered to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling. Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
But the diary in itself, richly crammed though it is with incident and passion, cannot count as Anne Frank’s story. A story may not be said to be a story if the end is missing. And because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank in the fifty years since “The Diary of a Young Girl” was first published has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced; it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified, kitschified, and, in fact, blatantly and arrogantly denied. Among the falsifiers have been dramatists and directors, translators and litigators, Anne Frank’s own father, and even—or especially—the public, both readers and theatregoers, all over the world. A deeply truth-telling work has been turned into an instrument of partial truth, surrogate truth, or anti-truth. The pure has been made impure—sometimes in the name of the reverse. Almost every hand that has approached the diary with the well-meaning intention of publicizing it has contributed to the subversion of history.
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.
In nearly every country overrun by the Nazis, the Jews were forced to wear badges marking them as Jews, they were rounded up into ghettos or concentration camps and then gradually transported to the killing centers. The death camps were essentially factories for murdering Jews. The Germans shipped thousands of Jews to them each day. Within a few hours of their arrival, the Jews had been stripped of their possessions and valuables, gassed to death, and their bodies burned in specially designed crematoriums. Approximately 3.5 million Jews were murdered in these death camps.
Beginning in late 1941, the Germans began mass transports from the ghettoes in Poland to the concentration camps, starting with those people viewed as the least useful: the sick, old and weak and the very young. The first mass gassings began at the camp of Belzec, near Lublin, on March 17, 1942. Five more mass killing centers were built at camps in occupied Poland, including Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and the largest of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 1942 to 1945, Jews were deported to the camps from all over Europe, including German-controlled territory as well as those countries allied with Germany. The heaviest deportations took place during the summer and fall of 1942, when more than 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw ghetto alone.
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered the establishment of the Judenräte (“Jewish Councils”), comprising up to 24 men—rabbis and Jewish leaders. Heydrich’s order made these councils personally responsible in “the literal sense of the term” for carrying out German orders. When the Nazis sealed the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of German-occupied Poland’s 400 ghettos, in the fall of 1940, the Jews—then 30 percent of Warsaw’s population—were forced into 2.4 percent of the city’s area. The ghetto’s population reached a density of more than 200,000 persons per square mile (77,000 per square km) and 9.2 per room. Disease, malnutrition, hunger, and poverty took their toll even before the first bullet was fired.
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.
“Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is God who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows? It might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews, but we want to, too.” – April 11, 1944
What had caused Crawford to change her mind so precipitately? She had given Levin’s script for further consideration to Lillian Hellman and to the producers Robert Whitehead and Kermit Bloomgarden. All were theatre luminaries; all spurned Levin’s work. Frank’s confidence in Levin, already much diminished, failed altogether. Advised by Doubleday, he put his trust in the Broadway professionals, while Levin fought on alone. Famous names—Maxwell Anderson, John Van Druten, Carson McCullers—came and went. Crawford herself ultimately pulled out, fearing a lawsuit by Levin. In the end—with the vigilant Levin still agitating loudly and publicly for the primacy of his work—Kermit Bloomgarden surfaced as producer and Garson Kanin as director. Hellman had recommended Bloomgarden; she had also recommended Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. The Hacketts had a long record of Hollywood hits, from “Father of the Bride” to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and they had successfully scripted a series of lighthearted musicals. Levin was appalled—had his sacred vision been pushed aside not for the awaited world-famous dramatist but for a pair of frivolous screen drudges, mere “hired hands”?
Although many people responded with obstructionism and doubt, several rescue operations were run throughout Axis-controlled Europe. Some were the work of prominent individuals like Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who worked largely alone while other operations were far more complex. A network of Catholic bishops and clergymen organized local protests and shelter campaigns throughout much of Europe that are today estimated to have saved 860,000 lives. Danish fishermen clandestinely ferried more than 7,000 Jews into neutral Sweden while the French town of Chambon-sur-Lignon sheltered between 3,000 and 5,000 refugees.
Responding with alarm to Hitler’s rise, the Jewish community sought to defend their rights as Germans. For those Jews who felt themselves fully German and who had patriotically fought in World War I, the Nazification of German society was especially painful. Zionist activity intensified. “Wear it with pride,” journalist Robert Weltsch wrote in 1933 of the Jewish identity the Nazis had so stigmatized. Religious philosopher Martin Buber led an effort at Jewish adult education, preparing the community for the long journey ahead. Rabbi Leo Baeck circulated a prayer for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 1935 that instructed Jews on how to behave: “We bow down before God; we stand erect before man.” Yet while few, if any, could foresee its eventual outcome, the Jewish condition was increasingly perilous and was expected to worsen.
Many Jews were saved by hiding and also by illegal frontier crossings. Anne Frank‘s family hid in the concealed annex of an Amsterdam office building with the help of a Christian friend, and the family of Emmanuel Ringelblum (the Warsaw ghetto historian) hid in Warsaw in a specially prepared underground bunker camouflaged by a Polish gardener’s greenhouse. Both the Franks and the Ringelblums were caught and perished. About 20,000 Polish Jews, however, did survive hidden in Aryan Warsaw. Likewise, 5,000 Dutch Jews and several thousand German Jews were hidden in the heart of the Nazi empire, in Berlin and Hamburg.
In June 1941, Mengele was posted to Ukraine, where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In January 1942, he joined the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking as a battalion medical officer. After rescuing two German soldiers from a burning tank, he was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class, the Wound Badge in Black, and the Medal for the Care of the German People. He was declared unfit for further active service in mid-1942, when he was seriously wounded in action near Rostov-on-Don. Following his recovery, he was transferred to the headquarters of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office in Berlin, at which point he resumed his association with von Verschuer, who was now director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics. Mengele was promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) in April 1943.