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.
Nazi racial policy aimed at forcing Jews to emigrate. Fifty thousand German Jews had left Germany by the end of 1934, and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left the country. Among the prominent Jews who left was the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences and his citizenship was revoked. Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country. On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Austrian Nazis broke into Jewish shops, stole from Jewish homes and businesses, and forced Jews to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets. Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed. In August that year, Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien). About 100,000 Austrian Jews had left the country by May 1939, including Sigmund Freud and his family, who moved to London. The Évian Conference was held in July 1938 by 32 countries as an attempt to help the increased refugees from Germany, but aside from establishing the largely ineffectual Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, little was accomplished and most countries participating did not increase the number of refugees they would accept.
In the view of Christian Gerlach, Hitler announced his decision to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, probably on 12 December during a speech to the Gauleiters, part of the Nazi Party leadership. This was one day after the German declaration of war against the United States, which followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December and the United States declaration of war on Japan on 8 December. According to Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Hitler had trusted American Jews, whom he assumed were all-powerful, to keep their government out of the war in the interests of German Jews. When America declared war, the Jews were blamed. Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, noted of Hitler's speech: "He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their destruction. ... Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence."[o]
What happened next—an avalanche of furies and recriminations lasting years—has lately become the subject of a pair of arresting discussions of the Frank-Levin affair. And if “affair” suggests an event on the scale of the Dreyfus case, that is how Levin saw it: as an unjust stripping away of his rightful position, with implications far beyond his personal predicament. “An Obsession with Anne Frank,” by Lawrence Graver, published by the University of California Press in 1995, is the first study to fashion a coherent narrative out of the welter of claims, counterclaims, letters, cables, petitions, polemics, and rumbling confusions which accompany any examination of the diary’s journey to the stage. “The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank,” by Ralph Melnick, out just now from Yale, is denser in detail and in sources than its predecessor, and more insistent in tone. Both are accomplished works of scholarship that converge on the facts and diverge in their conclusions. Graver is reticent with his sympathies; Melnick is Levin’s undisguised advocate. Graver finds no villains; Melnick finds Lillian Hellman.
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.
In the final months of the war, SS guards moved camp inmates by train or on forced marches, often called “death marches,” in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners. As Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, as well as prisoners en route by forced march from one camp to another. The marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Before the start of World War II, around 9.5 million Jewish people lived in Europe. By the time the war ended, the Nazis had killed 6 million European Jews in concentration camps, or pogroms, or ghettos, or mass executions in what we refer to today as the Holocaust. The Nazis used the term Endlösung, or Final Solution, as the “answer” to the “Jewish question.” But when did this monstrous plan get put in motion?
Unlike the death camps of Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, which were built and operated solely to kill Jews, the two death camps of Maidanek and Auschwitz also had a work camp attached. Upon arrival at these two camps, a selection was made at the train station concerning which Jews (about 10 percent of the arrivals) would be permitted to live and escape immediate gassing in the gas chambers. These “lucky” survivors were permitted to live only to the extent that they endured the physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon them. They were given a food ration that permitted them to survive for only three months. As they died from exhaustion, beatings, and starvation, they were replaced with newly arrived victims. Auschwitz was also used as the site for medical experimentation. Many of these experiments had little scientific value but were only exercises to discover how much torture a victim could endure until death. By the end of 1944, an estimated two-and-a-half million Jews had died at Auschwitz. More than a quarter of a million Gypsies also died there.
At Auschwitz-Birkenau, new arrivals were told to carefully hang their clothing on numbered hooks in the undressing room and were instructed to remember the numbers for later. They were given a piece of soap and taken into the adjacent gas chamber disguised as a large shower room. In place of carbon monoxide, pellets of the commercial pesticide Zyklon-B (prussic acid) were poured into openings located above the chamber upon the cynical SS command - Na, gib ihnen shon zu fressen (All right, give 'em something to chew on). The gas pellets fell into hollow shafts made of perforated sheet metal and vaporized upon contact with air, giving off lethal cyanide fumes inside the chamber which oozed out at floor level then rose up toward the ceiling. Children died first since they were closer to the floor. Pandemonium usually erupted as the bitter almond-like odor of the gas spread upwards with adults climbing on top of each other forming a tangled heap of dead bodies all the way up to the ceiling.
At Auschwitz, Yanina survived the gas chamber when adult bodies fell on top of her, protecting her from inhaling a lethal amount of poison gas. Found moaning by Jewish slave laborers who were forced to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, Yanina was resuscitated, given a uniform and told to blend in. Prisoners under the age of 15 were routinely gassed at Auschwitz, but Yanina was able to escape detection after her remarkable rescue.
"... Believe me, I'd like to listen, but it doesn't work, because if I'm quiet and serious, everyone thinks I'm putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I'm not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with aspirins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can't keep it up any more, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I'd like to be and what I could be if ... if only there were no other people in the world."
Jewish refugees were the subject of two international conferences, at Evian in 1938 and Bermuda in 1943. Neither conference resulted in any concrete action. In general, Britain treated refugees from Nazi Germany as economic migrants, and took in only those who would be of economic benefit to the country. About 10,000 Jewish children were brought to Britain in 1939 under the Kindertransport scheme, and placed with British families, but their parents were excluded and had to pay for their children's support. The best that can be said for Britain's refugee policy is that it was less ungenerous than that of most other European states at the time.
By mid-1944 those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May Himmler claimed in a speech that "the Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany". As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, with surviving inmates shipped to camps closer to Germany. Efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches". Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, some were marched to train stations and transported for days at a time without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Others were marched the entire distance to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.
After only four days of working in Hamburg, Ruth Elias was escorted by an SS man, in a private compartment on a passenger train, to the infirmary at Ravensbrück, the women's concentration camp near Berlin. From there, Ruth and Berta Reich, another prisoner who was nine months pregnant, were soon sent back to Auschwitz on another passenger train. Ruth gave birth to a baby girl at Auschwitz, but Dr. Mengele cruelly ordered her to bind her breasts and not to nurse her child because he wanted to see how long it would take for a baby to die without its mother's milk. Mercifully, a woman dentist named Maca Steinberg, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, obtained some morphine and gave it to Ruth so that she could inject her baby and end its life, after Ruth told her that Dr. Mengele was due to arrive the next morning to take Ruth and her child to the gas chamber.
Of all the aspects of Mengele’s character which are of interest, his research on twins is the focus of the C.A.N.D.L.E.S. organization. Beginning in 1944, twins were selected and placed in special barracks. Some of those selected - like Irene and Rene Guttman were already in the camp. Others like Eva and Miriam Mozes were selected on the ramp and placed in the twins barracks. It is believed that Mengele had worked with twins under Verschuer at the University of Frankfurt. Auschwitz offered Mengele unlimited number of specimens where twins could be studied at random. According to Dr. Miklos Nyiszli in Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, twins provided the perfect experimental specimens. One could serve as a control while the other endured the experiments. It was well known in the camp that when a twin went to the infirmary, (s)he never returned and that the other twin disappeared too (Eva Mozes Kor, Echoes from Auschwitz). Nyiszli describes the shots of phenol which were used to kill the second twin.
In October 1941, Himmler authorized SS General Odilo Globocnik (SS and police leader for the Lublin District of the Generalgouvernement) to implement a plan to systematically murder all Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement. In 1942, this project received the code name "Operation Reinhard" (Einsatz Reinhard), a reference to Heydrich (who had been authorized to manage the implementation of the "Final Solution" and who was assassinated by Czech agents in May 1942 in Prague).
Holocaust, Hebrew Shoʾah (“Catastrophe”), Yiddish and Hebrew Ḥurban (“Destruction”), the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The Germans called this “the final solution to the Jewish question.” Yiddish-speaking Jews and survivors in the years immediately following their liberation called the murder of the Jews the Ḥurban, the word used to describe the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 bce and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 ce. Shoʾah (“Catastrophe”) is the term preferred by Israelis and the French, most especially after Claude Lanzmann’s masterful 1985 motion picture documentary of that title. It is also preferred by people who speak Hebrew and by those who want to be more particular about the Jewish experience or who are uncomfortable with the religious connotations of the word Holocaust. Less universal and more particular, Shoʾah emphasizes the annihilation of the Jews, not the totality of Nazi victims. More particular terms also were used by Raul Hilberg, who called his pioneering work The Destruction of the European Jews, and Lucy S. Dawidowicz, who entitled her book on the Holocaust The War Against the Jews. In part she showed how Germany fought two wars simultaneously: World War II and the racial war against the Jews. The Allies fought only the World War. The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word ʿolah, meaning a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God. This word was chosen because in the ultimate manifestation of the Nazi killing program—the extermination camps—the bodies of the victims were consumed whole in crematoria and open fires.
His “obsession,” as he afterward called it—partly in mockery of the opposition his later views evoked—had its beginning in those repeated scenes of piled-up bodies as he investigated camp after camp. From then on, he could be said to carry the mark of Abel. He dedicated himself to helping the survivors get to Mandate Palestine, a goal that Britain had made illegal. In 1946, he reported from Tel Aviv on the uprising against British rule, and during the next two years he produced a pair of films on the struggles of the survivors to reach Palestine. In 1950, he published “In Search,” an examination of the effects of the European cataclysm on his experience and sensibility as an American Jew. (Thomas Mann acclaimed the book as “a human document of high order, written by a witness of our fantastic epoch whose gaze remained both clear and steady.”) Levin’s intensifying focus on the Jewish condition in the twentieth century grew more and more heated, and when his wife, the novelist Tereska Torres, handed him the French edition of the diary (it had previously appeared only in Dutch) he felt he had found what he had thirsted after: a voice crying up from the ground, an authentic witness to the German onslaught.
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.
An ardent Nazi, In 1943 Josef Mengele was appointed by Heinrich Himmler to be chief doctor at Birkenau, the supplementary extermination camp at Auschwitz, where he and his staff selected incoming Jews for labor or extermination and where he supervised medical experiments on inmates to discover means of increasing fertility (to increase the German “race”).
“I am marshalling my last remaining strength in order to die peacefully as one who will not surrender and who will not ask for forgiveness. The historical fact that Israel became the leading social political superpower in the 19th century lies before us. We have amongst us a flexible, tenacious, intelligent foreign tribe that knows how to bring abstract reality into play in many different ways. Not individual Jews but the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness have overpowered the world. All this is the consequence of a cultural history so unique in its way, so grand that every day polemic can achieve nothing against it. With the entire force of its armies the proud Roman Empire did not achieve that which Semitism has achieved in the West and particularly in Germany.”
It is the shamelessness of appropriation. Who owns Anne Frank? The children of the world, say the sentimentalists. A case in point is the astonishing correspondence, published in 1995 under the title “Love, Otto,” between Cara Wilson, a Californian born in 1944, and Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank. Wilson, then twelve-year-old Cara Weiss, was invited by Twentieth Century Fox to audition for the part of Anne in a projected film version of the diary. “I didn’t get the part,” the middle-aged Wilson writes, “but by now I had found a whole new world. Anne Frank’s diary, which I read and reread, spoke to me and my dilemmas, my anxieties, my secret passions. She felt the way I did. . . .I identified so strongly with this eloquent girl of my own age, that I now think I sort of became her in my own mind.” And on what similarities does Wilson rest her acute sense of identification with a hunted child in hiding?
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.
The ghettos, and the slow death they brought, were only part of the overall plan. In the months following the Wannsee Conference, three specialized killing centers, Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor, were constructed in southeast Poland, featuring large gas chambers with adjacent crematories or burial pits for the disposal of corpses. After they became operational, the ghettos were bypassed and Jews went directly by train to the new death camps.
In 1935, Mengele earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Munich. In January 1937, he joined the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, where he worked for Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a German geneticist with a particular interest in researching twins. As von Verschuer's assistant, Mengele focused on the genetic factors that result in a cleft lip and palate, or a cleft chin. His thesis on the subject earned him a cum laude doctorate in medicine (MD) from the University of Frankfurt in 1938. (Both of his degrees were revoked by the issuing universities in the 1960s.) In a letter of recommendation, von Verschuer praised Mengele's reliability and his ability to verbally present complex material in a clear manner. The American author Robert Jay Lifton notes that Mengele's published works were in keeping with the scientific mainstream of the time, and would probably have been viewed as valid scientific efforts even outside Nazi Germany.