In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and began the "Final Solution." Four mobile killing groups were formed called Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D. Each group contained several commando units. The Einsatzgruppen gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits dug earlier, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. The dead and dying would fall into the pits to be buried in mass graves. In the infamous Babi Yar massacre, near Kiev, 30,000-35,000 Jews were killed in two days. In addition to their operations in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen conducted mass murder in eastern Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. It is estimated that by the end of 1942, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered more than 1.3 million Jews.
The first killing center set up in occupied Polish lands was the camp at Chełmno on the Ner; Jews brought in from the ghettos in the Wartheland were being killed there from December 1941. Three more camps, somewhat larger, were opened at Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka (in what was known as “Aktion Reinhard”) somewhat later, between March and July 1942.
Additional barriers stemmed from antisemitism, which was rampant in the cultural climate of Eastern Europe. Gentile rescuers thus often feared censure from their fellow citizens. Moreover, significant numbers of gentiles had to confront their own personal, sometimes unconscious, anti-Jewish feelings. Indeed, postwar interviews with rescuers have shown that although they tended to describe the Jews they saved as fine people, many characterized Jews in general as dirty, loud, greedy, aggressive, dishonest, deceitful, or underhanded.
Prisoners at the electric fence of Dachau concentration camp cheer American soldiers in Dachau, Germany in an undated photo. Some of them wear the striped blue and white prison garb. They decorated their huts with flags of all nations which they had made secretly as they heard the guns of the 42nd Rainbow Division getting louder and louder on the approach to Dachau. #
Meanwhile, sightings of Josef Mengele were being reported all over the world. Wiesenthal claimed to have information that placed Mengele on the Greek island of Kythnos in 1960, in Cairo in 1961, in Spain in 1971, and in Paraguay in 1978, eighteen years after he had left the country. He insisted as late as 1985 that Mengele was still alive—six years after he had died—having previously offered a reward of US$100,000 in 1982 for the fugitive's capture. Worldwide interest in the case was heightened by a mock trial held in Jerusalem in February 1985, featuring the testimonies of over one hundred victims of Mengele's experiments. Shortly afterwards, the West German, Israeli, and U.S. governments launched a coordinated effort to determine Mengele's whereabouts. The West German and Israeli governments offered rewards for his capture, as did The Washington Times and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The killings continued uninterrupted. On 12 October 1941, in Stanisławów, some 10,000–12,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot at the Jewish cemetery by the German uniformed SS-men and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police during the so-called "Bloody Sunday" (de). The shooters began firing at 12 noon and continued without stopping by taking turns. There were picnic tables set up on the side with bottles of vodka and sandwiches for those who needed to rest from the deafening noise of gunfire. It was the single largest massacre of Polish Jews in Generalgouvernement prior to mass gassings of Aktion Reinhard, which commenced at Bełżec in March 1942. Notably, the extermination operations in Chełmno had begun on 8 December 1941, one-and-a-half month before Wannsee, but Chełmno – located in Reichsgau Wartheland – was not a part of Reinhard, and neither was Auschwitz-Birkenau functioning as an extermination center until November 1944 in Polish lands annexed by Hitler and added to Germany proper.
Killing on a mass scale using gas chambers or gas vans was the main difference between the extermination and concentration camps. From the end of 1941, the Germans built six extermination camps in occupied Poland: Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chełmno, and the three Operation Reinhard camps at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II. Maly Trostenets, a concentration camp in the Reichskommissariat Ostland, became a killing centre in 1942. Gerlach writes that over three million Jews were murdered in 1942, the year that "marked the peak" of the mass murder of Jews. At least 1.4 million of these were in the General Government area of Poland.
According to Dr. Hans Münch, a colleague of Mengele’s at Auschwitz, Mengele arrived at the camp in a somewhat privileged position - he had been wounded on the Eastern front and was the recipient of an array of medals, including the Iron Cross. It would also appear that Mengele selected Auschwitz because of the opportunities there to continue his research. According to one source (Lifton, The Nazi Doctors) he did receive financial support for his work there. Support for continuing his professional career in genetics appears in another book, And the Violins Stopped Playing written by Alexander Ramati, where it is reported that a Professor Epstein told a comrade that "he (Mengele) has offered to prolong my life. Mind you, not to save it, just to prolong it, if I prepare a scientific paper on noma, which he would publish under his own name. It will keep him away from the front, he said, and justify his presence here as a scientist."
Jews were forced to move, often to different cities or countries, and live in designated areas, referred to as ghettos. Most of the ghettos were “open” which meant Jews were free to come and go during the daytime. As time past, more and more ghettos became “closed” meaning that Jews were trapped and not allowed to leave. No ghettos were ever established within the borders of Germany and most were only meant as a temporary means of isolating Jews from the German population until they could be moved elsewhere.
Racial-Morphological Examinations of the Anterior Portion of the Lower Jaw in Four Racial Groups. This dissertation, completed in 1935 and first published in 1937, earned him a PhD in anthropology from Munich University. In this work Mengele sought to demonstrate that there were structural differences in the lower jaws of individuals from different ethnic groups, and that racial distinctions could be made based on these differences.
The "Final Solution" The origin of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people, remains uncertain. What is clear is that the genocide of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of Nazi policy, under the rule of Adolf Hitler. The "Final Solution" was implemented in stages. After the Nazi party rise to power, state-enforced racism resulted in anti-Jewish legislation, boycotts, "Aryanization," and finally the "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom, all of which aimed to remove the Jews from German society. After the beginning of World War II, anti-Jewish policy evolved into a comprehensive plan to concentrate and eventually annihilate European Jewry.
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.
From 1933 onward, anti-Jewish propaganda had flooded Germany. Under the skillful direction of Joseph Goebbels, his Nazi Propaganda Ministry churned out a ceaseless stream of leaflets, posters, newspaper articles, cartoons, newsreels, slides, movies, speeches, records, exhibits and radio pronouncements. As a result, the accusations, denunciations and opinions which Hitler first expressed in his book, Mein Kampf, had become institutionalized, accepted as time-tested beliefs by all Nazis, taught as fact to impressionable youths, and drilled into the minds of eager-to-please SS recruits.
The book Children of the Flames by Joe E. White chronicles the notorious medical experimental activities of Josef Mengele on approximately three thousand twins who passed through the Auschwitz death camp during WWII until its liberation at the end of the war. Only a few of the three thousand twins survived and now fifty years later they have told their story of how they were given special privileges in Auschwitz due to Mengele’s interest in twins and how as a result they have suffered during the past fifty years as the children who survived the still unknown and unexplained medical experiments and injections which they were subjected to at the hands of Josef Mengele.
In May, Nazis under the direction of SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann boldly began a mass deportation of the last major surviving population of European Jews. From May 15 to July 9, over 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. During this time, Auschwitz recorded its highest-ever daily number of persons killed and cremated at just over 9000. Six huge open pits were used to burn the bodies, as the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the crematories.
The Sturmabteilung (S.A., Storm Troopers), a grassroots organization, helped Hitler undermine the German democracy. The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police), a force recruited from professional police officers, was given complete freedom to arrest anyone after February 28. The Schutzstaffel (SS, Protection Squad) served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard and eventually controlled the concentration camps and the Gestapo. The Sicherheitsdienst des ReichsführersSS (S.D., Security Service of the SS) functioned as the Nazis' intelligence service, uncovering enemies and keeping them under surveillance.
“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.”
My friend and colleague, Rani Jaeger, one of the founders of Beit Tefila Israeli, tells a story of his family’s rescue through the generosity and courage of gentiles in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, there are far fewer stories like mine and Rani’s than there are of callousness, bigotry and racism during the Holocaust. We need to tell the story of the perpetrators and the victims. It is essential to remember, to keep the memory alive of those who suffered and perished. We cannot let this happen again, not to the Jewish people and not to any other people.
Toward the end of the diary we see just how difficult things have become for the family which is not always accurately represented in the movie versions of the diary. They were starving, never full at meals, and having to exist off moldy and tasteless food. There was one bathroom for eight people and at times the toilet could not be flushed. They had threadbare, holey clothing which was too small. The cat used the bathroom wherever it wanted towards the end, and their helpers came less and less frequently as circumstances got worse and worse. Their conditions deteriorated in ways that children living in the comfort of the 21st century could never imagine. It's so important for kids to read about these conditions and contrast them with their own in order to not only feel grateful but to feel sympathy for those who lived in these terrible times.
Anne also wrote short stories, fairy tales, and essays. In her diary, she reflected on her "pen children," as she called her writings. On September 2, 1943, she began to meticulously copy them into a notebook and added a table of contents so that it would resemble a published book. She gave it the title "Stories and Events from the Annex." Occasionally she read a story to the inhabitants of the annex, and she wrote about her intention to send one of her fairy tales to a Dutch magazine. Increasingly, she expressed her desire to be an author or journalist.
“The final solution transcended the bounds of modern historical experience. Never before in modern history had one people made the killing of another the fulfillment of an ideology, in whose pursuit means were identical with ends. History has, to be sure, recorded terrible massacres and destructions that one people perpetrated against another. But all, however cruel and unjustifiable, were intended to achieve an instrumental ends, being means to ends and not ends in and of themselves.” (3)
The mood of consolation lingers on, as Otto Frank meant it to—and not only in Germany, where, even after fifty years, the issue is touchiest. Sanctified and absolving, shorn of darkness, Anne Frank remains in all countries a revered and comforting figure in the contemporary mind. In Japan, because both diary and play mention first menstruation, “Anne Frank” has become a code word among teen-agers for getting one’s period. In Argentina in the seventies, church publications began to link her with Roman Catholic martyrdom. “Commemoration,” the French cultural critic Tzvetan Todorov explains, “is always the adaptation of memory to the needs of today.”
According to the drawings done by Walter Dejaco, one of the architects of the Krema II building, the original blueprint showed a corpse slide for rolling bodies down into the vestibule between the two morgues, which were later converted into an undressing room and a gas chamber. The corpse slide was never built. Dejaco was acquitted by a court in Austria in 1972; at his trial, the drawings of the corpse slide were entered as evidence. (The morgue at the Sachsenhausen camp has a corpse slide which can still be seen today.)
By the end of December 1941, before the Wannsee Conference, over 439,800 Jewish people had been murdered, and the Final Solution policy in the east became common knowledge within the SS. Entire regions were reported "free of Jews" by the Einsatzgruppen. Addressing his district governors in the General Government on 16 December 1941, Governor-General Hans Frank said: "But what will happen to the Jews? Do you believe they will be lodged in settlements in Ostland? In Berlin, we were told: why all this trouble; we cannot use them in the Ostland or the Reichskommissariat either; liquidate them yourselves!" Two days later, Himmler recorded the outcome of his discussion with Hitler. The result was: "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans"). Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer wrote that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust. Within two years, the total number of shooting victims in the east had risen to between 618,000 and 800,000 Jews.
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)
First, the rescuer must have been actively involved in saving Jews from the threat of death or deportation to concentration camps or killing centers. Second, the rescuer must have risked their own life or liberty in their attempt to save Jews. Third, the original motive for rescue must have been to protect and save Jews from the Holocaust. Other motivations, not considered for qualification, include financial gain, protecting Jews in order to convert them to Christianity, taking a Jewish child with the intention of adoption, or rescuing individuals during resistance activities that were not explicitly geared towards rescuing Jews. Finally, there must be first-hand testimony from those rescued to verify the individual's role in the rescue. If testimony does not exist or cannot be found, there must be irrefutable documentation of the individual's participation in the rescue and the conditions surrounding it.
Unlike Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Lublin-Majdanek, which were built in the occupied General Government territory inhabited by the largest concentrations of Jews, the killing centre at Auschwitz subcamp of Birkenau operated in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany directly. The new gas chambers at Bunker I were finished around March 1942 when the Final Solution was officially launched at Belzec. Until mid-June 20,000 Silesian Jews were killed there using Zyklon B. In July 1942, Bunker II became operational. In August, another 10,000–13,000 Polish Jews from Silesia perished, along with 16,000 French Jews declared 'stateless', and 7,700 Jews from Slovakia.
Klempner, Mark (2017). "Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage" (Website portal of resources for the book and lectures of the same name, with PDF and audio excerpts). hearthasreasons.com. The site includes extensive lists of articles, books and film/video/DVDs about Holocaust rescuers and related heroes, plus a reading group guide and book excerpts such as:
As we read the diary we see how much potential was lost not only in Anne but in her entire family. Anne Frank was an intelligent and well-read young woman who studied multiple languages and had an analytical mind. I believe we lost a shining beacon of women's intelligence when she died. She was an emerging feminist, activist, and writer! I think she would have been an amazing woman who would have gone on to do great things. All that potential was lost millions of times over during WWII, and this is what we feel deep in our hearts upon closing the book.
Not long after beginning the survey of the site, Freund and his team confirmed the existence of a previously unmarked burial pit. At 80 feet across and 15 feet deep, the scientists calculated that the grave contained the cremated remains of as many as 7,000 people. The researchers also released the preliminary results of their search for the tunnel, along with a series of ERT-generated cross sections that revealed the tunnel’s depth beneath the ground’s surface (15 feet at points) and its dimensions: three feet by three feet at the very widest, not much larger than a human torso. From the entrance inside the bunker to the spot in the forest, now long grown over, where the prisoners emerged measured more than 110 feet. At last, there was definitive proof of a story known until now only in obscure testimonies made by a handful of survivors—a kind of scientific witness that transformed “history into reality,” in the words of Miri Regev, Israel’s minister of culture, who highlighted the importance of documenting physical evidence of Nazi atrocities as a bulwark against “the lies of the Holocaust deniers.”
Like the network of concentration camps that followed, becoming the killing grounds of the Holocaust, Dachau was under the control of Heinrich Himmler, head of the elite Nazi guard, the Schutzstaffel (SS), and later chief of the German police. By July 1933, German concentration camps (Konzentrationslager in German, or KZ) held some 27,000 people in “protective custody.” Huge Nazi rallies and symbolic acts such as the public burning of books by Jews, Communists, liberals and foreigners helped drive home the desired message of party strength.
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen and, later, militarized battalions of Order Police officials, moved behind German lines to carry out mass-murder operations against Jews, Roma, and Soviet state and Communist Party officials. German SS and police units, supported by units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, murdered more than a million Jewish men, women, and children, and hundreds of thousands of others.
Sprawozdanie 6/42 was sent to Polish officials in London by courier and had reached them by 12 November 1942, when it was translated into English and added to another report, "Report on Conditions in Poland". Dated 27 November, this was forwarded to the Polish Embassy in the United States. On 10 December 1942, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Raczyński, addressed the fledgling United Nations on the killings; the address was distributed with the title The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. He told them about the use of poison gas; about Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibor; that the Polish underground had referred to them as extermination camps; and that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed in Bełżec in March and April 1942. One in three Jews in Poland were already dead, he estimated, from a population of 3,130,000. Raczyński's address was covered by the New York Times and The Times of London. Winston Churchill received it, and Anthony Eden presented it to the British cabinet. On 17 December 1942, 11 Allies issued the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations condemning the "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination".
There are many self-reflective passages where Anne laments being picked on by the adults in the annex, wondering if she will live up to the expectations they have for her, hoping she can reach her goals. There is a thread of hope apparent even in her most depressing writings. I think these are the parts I think teens find most relate-able because all teens want to achieve things, please their parents, and find hope in their moments of despair.
The Holocaust by bullets (as opposed to the Holocaust by gas) went on in the territory of occupied Poland in conjunction with the ghetto uprisings, irrespective of death camps' quota. In two weeks of July 1942, the Słonim Ghetto revolt, crushed with the help of Latvian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft, cost the lives of 8,000–13,000 Jews. The second largest mass shooting (to that particular date) took place in late October 1942 when the insurgency was suppressed in the Pińsk Ghetto; over 26,000 men, women and children were shot with the aid of Belarusian Auxiliary Police before the ghetto's closure. During the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II), 13,000 Jews were killed in action before May 1943. Numerous other uprisings were quelled without impacting the pre-planned Nazi deportations actions.
As the mass shootings continued in Russia, the Germans began to search for new methods of mass murder. This was driven by a need to have a more efficient method than simply shooting millions of victims. Himmler also feared that the mass shootings were causing psychological problems in the SS. His concerns were shared by his subordinates in the field. In December 1939 and January 1940, another method besides shooting was tried. Experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment were used to kill the disabled and mentally-ill in occupied Poland. Similar vans, but using the exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and some were used in the occupied Soviet Union, for example in smaller clearing actions in the Minsk ghetto. They also were used for murder in Yugoslavia.
The term righteous gentile is a reference to the term 'Righteous Among the Nations' that is a honour bestowed by Yad Vashem. Gushee's work is a study of these people, the (very) few in number who risked personal harm to selflessly assist Jews from persecution. This book is full of accounts of such persons, some who succeeded and some who failed. These are extremely challenging, particularly when faced with the question 'what would I do in such a situation?' knowing that what I hope I would do and what I do may not be synonymous. In studying such persons Gushee presents a good overview of the types of people who were in the minority and were righteous Gentiles, including conclusions on the extent religion played a role in their actions.
Of particular note, was Hitler's oft-repeated claim that Jews everywhere were engaged in an international conspiracy to achieve world domination. In a speech given on January 30, 1939, commemorating the sixth anniversary of his rule in Germany, Hitler added a stark new warning: "If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"
He had a wide variety of other research interests. Among these was a fascination with heterochromia, a condition in which the irises of an individual's eyes differ in coloration. Throughout his stay in Auschwitz, Mengele collected the eyes of his murdered victims, in part to furnish “research material” to colleague Karin Magnussen, a KWI researcher of eye pigmentation. He himself also conducted several experiments in an attempt to unlock the secret of artificially changing eye color. He also zealously documented in camp inmates the progression of the disease Noma, a type of gangrene which destroys the mucous membrane of the mouth and other tissues.