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.
Her exceptional scholarship has included such insightful books as Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (1986), Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993), History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2006), The Eichmann Trial (2011), and now, Holocaust: An American Understanding (2016), published as a part of Rutgers University's Key Words in Jewish Studies series.
Dan Stone, a specialist in the historiography of the Holocaust, lists ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses, black Germans, and homosexuals as among the groups persecuted by the Nazis; he writes that the occupation of eastern Europe can also be viewed as genocidal. But the German attitude toward the Jews was different in kind, he argues. The Nazis regarded the Jews not as racially inferior, deviant, or enemy nationals, as they did other groups, but as a "Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race', that is to say, not really human at all". The Holocaust, for Stone, is therefore defined as the genocide of the Jews, although he argues that it cannot be "properly historically situated without understanding the 'Nazi empire' with its grandiose demographic plans".[d] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favour a definition that focuses on the Jews, Roma, and Aktion T4 victims: "The Holocaust—that is, Nazi genocide—was the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity. This applied to Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped."
Although he was raised some 5,000 miles from Lithuania, on Long Island, New York, Freund has deep roots in the area. His great-grandparents fled Vilnius in the early 20th century, during an especially violent series of pogroms undertaken by the Czarist government, when the city still belonged to the Russian Empire. “I’ve always felt a piece of me was there,” Freund told me.
^ "War nicht der 'Archipel Gulag' ursprünglicher als 'Auschwitz'? War nicht der 'Klassenmord' der Bolschewiki das logische und faktische Prius des 'Rassenmords' der Nationalsozialisten? Sind Hitlers geheimste Handlungen nicht gerade auch dadurch zu erklären, daß er den 'Rattenkäfig' nicht vergessen hatte? Rührte Auschwitz vielleicht in seinen Ursprüngen aus einer Vergangenheit her, die nicht vergehen wollte?"
The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943. Interested in genetics and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects from the new arrivals during "selection" on the ramp, shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!). They would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer , director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem.[i] Mengele's experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change their eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and amputations and other surgeries.
^ Bradley F. Smith & Agnes Peterson (1974), Heinrich Himmler. Speeches Frankfurt/M., p. 169 f. OCLC 1241890; "Himmler's Speech in Posen on 6 October 1944". Holocaust Controversies Reference Section. Archived from the original on 27 January 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2015.; also (with differing translation) in "Heinrich Himmler". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 14 December 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
In the immediate postwar period, Mengele was in US custody. Unaware that Mengele's name already stood on a list of wanted war criminals, US officials quickly released him. From the summer of 1945 until spring 1949, using false papers, Mengele worked as a farmhand near Rosenheim, Bavaria. His prosperous family then aided his emigration to South America. He settled in Argentina.
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.
Once the war ended, Zeidel traveled overland before smuggling himself in the autumn of 1945 to what would become the State of Israel. He was among the estimated 60 million people unmoored by the seismic violence of the Second World War. He had no family left: His parents and siblings were presumed killed by the Nazis or their collaborators. In 1948, he married a woman he’d first met, years earlier, in the Jewish ghetto at Vilnius. He died in 2007, in his sleep, the last living member of the Burning Brigade.
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.
To remain efficient, the SS death factories required a steady supply of humans. To coordinate the flow of people to the gas chambers, Höss and fellow commandants relied on SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, who became a central figure in the day-to-day management of the Final Solution. Present at the Wannsee Conference, Eichmann assumed the leading role in facilitating the deportation of Jews from every corner of Europe. With boundless enthusiasm for his task and fanatical efficiency, Eichmann traveled the continent, insuring that trainload after trainload departed. "The trains," Eichmann said later, "ran like a dream."
On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, "marked the beinning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended" (Yahil, The Holocaust, p. 318).
The Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life) in reference to the disabled and mentally ill. On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed, allowing for compulsory sterilization. The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.
Within days after his arrival, while Auschwitz was in the throes of one of its many typhoid epidemics, Mengele established a reputation for radical and ruthless efficiency. The nearby marshland made clean water difficult to obtain and posed a constant threat from mosquitoes. (Mengele himself contracted malaria in June 1943.) Other SS doctors had failed in their efforts to curb typhus in the close quarters of the camp barracks. Mengele's solution to the problem was set out in one of the seventy-eight indictments drawn up in 1981 by the West German Prosecutor's Office, when the authorities thought he was still alive. In terms of detailed evidence, this arrest warrant is the most damning and complete document that was ever compiled against him. According to the warrant, on May 25, 1943, "Mengele sent 507 Gypsies and 528 Gypsy women suspected of typhus to the gas chamber." It also charged that on "May 25 or 26 he spared those Gypsies who were German while he sent approximately 600 others to be gassed.
A person who is recognized as Righteous for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (the last is in lieu of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space). The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next-of-kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage.
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?
Mengele's work also involved carrying out selections, a task that he chose to perform even when he was not assigned to do so, in the hope of finding subjects for his experiments, with a particular interest in locating sets of twins. In contrast to most of the other SS doctors, who viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, he undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune. He was also one of the SS doctors responsible for supervising the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Birkenau gas chambers. He served in this capacity at the gas chambers located in crematoria IV and V.