Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, the persecution and segregation of Jews was implemented in stages. After the Nazi Party achieved power in Germany in 1933, its state-sponsored racism led to anti-Jewish legislation, economic boycotts, and the violence of the Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms, all of which aimed to systematically isolate Jews from society and drive them out of the country.
According to scholars Christian Gerlach and Peter Monteath, among others, the pivotal moment for Hitler’s decision came on December 12, 1941, at a secret meeting with some 50 Nazi officials, including Joseph Goebbels (Nazi minister of propaganda) and Hans Frank (governor of occupied Poland). Though no written documents of the meeting survive, Goebbels described the meeting in his journal on December 13, 1941:
Freund and I walked the path of the tunnel, over the large hummock of earth, out toward the surrounding pines. Not such a long distance on foot, perhaps, but positively heroic when one considered that it had been dug, night after night, by chained men who had spent their daylight hours laboring at their unthinkable task, subsisting on nothing more than gruel.
When did the Nazis decide to kill all the Jews of Europe? Was murder always in the mind of Adolf Hitler? These are some of the most difficult questions historians have to answer. Certainly, up until the invasion of the Soviet Union, Jews did manage to emigrate from Germany. Historians will never know precisely when the order for mass killing was given, but large-scale murders began with the invasion of Russia.
The Germans required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat, or Jewish council. Councils were responsible for a ghetto's day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps. The councils' basic strategy was one of trying to minimize losses, by cooperating with German authorities, bribing officials, and petitioning for better conditions or clemency.
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.
Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid the Franks during the Holocaust, kept Anne Frank’s writings, including her diary. She handed the papers to Otto Frank on the day he learned of his daughters’ deaths. He organized the papers and worked doggedly to get the diary published, first in Dutch in 1947. The first American edition appeared in 1952.
Finland was pressured in 1942 to hand over its 150–200 non-Finnish Jews to Germany. After opposition from the government and public, eight non-Finnish Jews were deported in late 1942; only one survived the war. Japan had little antisemitism in its society and did not persecute Jews in most of the territories it controlled. Jews in Shanghai were confined, but despite German pressure they were not killed.
The twin goals of racial purity and spatial expansion were the core of Hitler’s worldview, and from 1933 onward they would combine to form the driving force behind his foreign and domestic policy. At first, the Nazis reserved their harshest persecution for political opponents such as Communists or Social Democrats. The first official concentration camp opened at Dachau (near Munich) in March 1933, and many of the first prisoners sent there were Communists.
“Instead of immigration there is now a further possible solution to which the Fuhrer has already signified his consent. Namely deportation to the East. Although this should be regarded merely as an interim measure, it will provide us with the practical experience which will be especially valuable in connection with the future final solution. In the course of the practical implementation of the final solution Europe will be combed from West to East.”
When the Nazi’s rose to power they built facilities to hold and, eventually kill, their enemies. When the first concentration camps were built in 1933, this primarily meant political dissidents and opponents of the Nazi government, such as German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats but would grow to include asocial groups – Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the homeless, the mentally ill and homosexuals. It was not until Kristallnacht that the prisoners became primarily Jewish.
Mengele injected chemicals into the eyes of children in an attempt to change their eye color. Unfortunately a strict veil of secrecy over the experiments enabled Mengele to do his work more effectively.The full extent of his gruesome work will never be known because the records he sent to Dr. Von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were shipped out in two truckloads and destroyed by the latter.
SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA), convened what became known as the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a villa in Berlin's Wannsee suburb. The meeting had been scheduled for 9 December 1941, and invitations had been sent on 29 November, but it had been postponed.
Mengele firmly endorsed Nazi racial theory and engaged in a wide spectrum of experiments which aimed to illustrate the lack of resistance among Jews or Roma to various diseases. He also attempted to demonstrate the “degeneration” of Jewish and “Gypsy” blood through the documentation of physical oddities and the collection and harvesting of tissue samples and body parts. Many of his “test subjects” died as a result of the experimentation or were murdered in order to facilitate post-mortem examination.
Jews at this time composed only about one percent of Germany's population of 55 million persons. German Jews were mostly cosmopolitan in nature and proudly considered themselves to be Germans by nationality and Jews only by religion. They had lived in Germany for centuries, fought bravely for the Fatherland in its wars and prospered in numerous professions.
I suffered from all these symptoms, together with a tight feeling at the throat. I was half conscious when my number was called out by Dr. Mengele and I was led from the chamber. I attribute my escape to the fact that the daughter of a friend of mine who was an Aryan and a doctor at Auschwitz had seen me being transported to the chamber and had told her mother, who immediately appealed to Dr. Mengele.
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.