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.
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.
The SS organization also found it could profit financially from the human traffic. Upon arrival in the camps, all belongings were taken from the Jews. Foreign currency, gold, jewels and other valuables were sent to SS Headquarters of the Economic Administration. Wedding rings, eye glasses, shoes, gold fillings, clothing and even hair shorn from women also served to enrich the SS, with the proceeds funneled into secret Reichsbank accounts. Watches, clocks and pens were distributed to soldiers at the Front while clothing was given to German families.
Although the phrase "Righteous Gentiles" has become a general term for any non-Jew who risked their life to save Jews during the Holocaust, it here appears to apply specifically to: Raoul Wallenberg [Swedish, d. 1947] Hiram Bingham IV [d. 1988, American]; Karl Lutz [d. 1975, Swiss]; C. Sujihara [d. 1986, Japanese]; and Andre Trocme [d. 1971, French].
Dr. Mengele was nicknamed the "Angel of Death" by the prisoners because he had the face of an angel, yet he callously made selections for the gas chambers at Birkenau. He was nice to the children in the camp, yet he experimented on them as though they were laboratory rats. He volunteered to do the selections at Birkenau, even when it wasn't his turn, because he wanted to find subjects for his medical research on genetic conditions and hereditary diseases, which he had already begun before the war. He particularly wanted to find twins for the research that he had started before he was posted to Birkenau.
The comedy of the “Diary” — one of the book’s most charming and often overlooked aspects — shines in this form. The tension between the Franks and the van Daans, the family with whom they go into hiding (a dentist, Alfred Dussel, joins later), is a rich vein of material for Anne, who sees Mrs. van Daan as obnoxious and vain; she cares only about her own family’s survival and is harshly critical of Anne’s manners and attitude. Here, she is often depicted wearing her trademark fur coat; when her husband threatens to sell it, Polonsky draws its collar with live rabbits, one of which speaks up in her defense. Anne also aims her satire at the limited food options in the Annex, offering sardonic menus and diet tips. In the graphic novel, one spread depicts the families at dinner, each character represented by an animal. Anne’s sister Margot, whose saintly composure she often envied, is drawn as a bird, gazing at an empty plate: “I feel full just by looking at the others,” the thought bubble above her head reads. Meanwhile, Mr. van Daan is an enormous bear, shoveling cabbage into his mouth with both paws even as he demands more.
After the U.S. government refused to permit the passenger’s refuge, the St. Louis left Cuba for Europe. The St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami. The passengers were able to find refuge in other European countries so they didn’t have to return to Germany. Great Britain took 288, the Netherlands admitted 181; Belgium took 214, and 224 passengers found temporary refuge in France. When Germany invaded Western Europe, 532 of the original passengers were trapped. Just over half survived the Holocaust.
Browning believes that the "Final Solution as it is now understood—the systematic attempt to murder every last Jew within the German grasp" took shape during a five-week period, from 18 September to 25 October 1941. During this time: the sites of the first extermination camps were selected, different methods of killing were tested, Jewish emigration from the Third Reich was forbidden, and 11 transports departed for Łódź as a temporary holding station. During this period, Browning writes, "The vision of the Final Solution had crystallised in the minds of the Nazi leadership, and was being turned into reality." This period was the peak of Nazi victories against the Soviet Army on the Eastern Front, and, according to Browning, the stunning series of German victories led to both an expectation that the war would soon be won, and the planning of the final destruction of the "Jewish-Bolshevik enemy".
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:
Hitler targeted the Jews for a specific reason, which was not just racial. The elimination of the Jews had a unique “status” in Hitler’s master plan. While he certainly killed millions of others (gypsies, communists, homosexuals, etc.) he made exceptions for all these groups. The only group for which no exception was made was the Jews—they all had to die.
Mengele assembled hundreds of pairs of twins and sometimes spent hours measuring various parts of their bodies and taking careful notes. He often injected one twin with mysterious substances and monitored the illness that ensued. He applied painful clamps to children’s limbs to induce gangrene, injected dye into their eyes – which were then shipped back to a pathology lab in Germany – and gave them spinal taps.
Lay Catholics, such as the German Dr. Gertrude Luckner, who headed the Caritas Catholica, also extended help to Jews and non-Aryan Christians in Germany. She was deported to Ravensbruck for her aid to the persecuted. After the war, Dr. Luckner was honored for her courage by the Israeli government. It must be noted that much of this Christian help was actually rendered to fellow Christians (converted Jews), who were classified as Jews due to their descent under Nazi racial laws.
Mengele, in distinctive white gloves, supervised the selection of Auschwitz’ incoming prisoners for either torturous labor or immediate extermination, shouting either “Right!” or “Left!” to direct them to their fate. Eager to advance his medical career by publishing “groundbreaking” work, he then began experimenting on live Jewish prisoners. In the guise of medical “treatment,” Mengele injected, or ordered others to inject, thousands of inmates with everything from petrol to chloroform to study the chemicals’ effects. Among other atrocities, he plucked out the eyes of Gypsy corpses to study eye pigmentation, and conducted numerous gruesome studies of twins.
Systematic examinations of rescuers have actually shown a high degree of heterogeneity among individuals. Rescuers came from divergent social backgrounds, varied widely in terms of political and religious involvements, and displayed different levels of friendship and animosity toward Jews. None of these variables has turned out to be a reliable predictor of the sort of person who was more or less likely to rescue Jews.
The Avenue of the Righteous, a place where trees are planted to commemorate rescuers, was inaugurated on Holocaust Remembrance Day 1962. The following year, a commission chaired by a member of Israel's Supreme Court was set up to decide upon criteria for awarding the Righteous Among the Nations. On February 1, Justice Moshe Landau chaired the commission's first meeting.
G. Aly, "Final Solution": Nazi Population Policy and the Murder of the European Jews (1999); C.R. Browning (with contributions by J. Matthäus), The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939- March 1942 (2004); R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (20033); P. Longerich, Politik der Vernichtung. Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung (1998).
One day this past fall I walked the grounds of the Ponar forest with Freund and a couple of his colleagues, who had recently completed a surveying project of the area. Snow had been forecast, but by late morning the only precipitation was icy rain, driven sideways by the wind. The forest was mostly empty, save for a group of ten Israelis who had arrived that morning; they all had family from Vilnius, one of the men explained, and were honoring them by visiting local Holocaust sites.
The Diary of a Young Girl, also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, journal by Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who chronicled her family’s two years (1942–44) in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. The book was first published in 1947—two years after Anne’s death in a concentration camp—and later became a classic of war literature.
Most of the book is about the privations and hardship of living hidden away in the "annex". There is very little coverage of the violence of the times or much that is going on in the outside world because they had little knowledge of it since they were hidden. I think this is partly why some schoolchildren report the diary is boring. It does get repetitive at times, which reflects the feelings of those living in hiding. They had to wait and wait in fear, not knowing what the next day would bring.
Josef Mengele, byname Todesengel (German: “Angel of Death”), (born March 16, 1911, Günzburg, Germany—died February 7, 1979, Enseada da Bertioga, near São Paulo, Brazil), Nazi doctor at Auschwitz extermination camp (1943–45) who selected prisoners for execution in the gas chambers and conducted medical experiments on inmates in pseudoscientific racial studies.
In another case in which a mother did not want to be separated from her thirteen-year-old daughter, and bit and scratched the face of the SS man who tried to force her to her assigned line, Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and the child. As a blanket punishment, he then sent to the gas all people from that transport who had previously been selected for work, with the comment: "Away with this shit!" (Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors.)
Anne Frank’s final diary entry, written on August 1, 1944, ends introspectively—a meditation on a struggle for moral transcendence set down in a mood of wistful gloom. It speaks of “turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside,” and of “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.” Those curiously self-subduing ellipses are the diarist’s own; they are more than merely a literary effect—they signify a child’s muffled bleat against confinement, the last whimper of a prisoner in a cage. Her circumscribed world had a population of eleven—the three Dutch protectors who came and went, supplying the necessities of life, and the eight in hiding: the van Daans, their son Peter, Albert Dussel, and the four Franks. Five months earlier, on May 26, 1944, she had railed against the stress of living invisibly—a tension never relieved, she asserted, “not once in the two years we’ve been here. How much longer will this increasingly oppressive, unbearable weight press down on us?” And, several paragraphs on, “What will we do if we’re ever . . . no, I mustn’t write that down. But the question won’t let itself be pushed to the back of my mind today; on the contrary, all the fear I’ve ever felt is looming before me in all its horror. . . . I’ve asked myself again and again whether it wouldn’t have been better if we hadn’t gone into hiding, if we were dead now and didn’t have to go through this misery. . . . Let something happen soon. . . . Nothing can be more crushing than this anxiety. Let the end come, however cruel.” And on April 11, 1944; “We are Jews in chains.”
The Majdanek camp served from time to time as a killing site for Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement. In its gas chambers, the SS killed tens of thousands of Jews, primarily forced laborers too weak to work. The SS and police killed at least 152,000 people, mostly Jews, but also a few thousand Roma (Gypsies), in gas vans at the Chelmno killing center about thirty miles northwest of Lodz. In the spring of 1942, Himmler designated Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) as a killing facility. SS authorities murdered approximately one million Jews from various European countries at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
While these massacres were happening, the Nazis elsewhere were laying plans for an overall 'solution to the Jewish question'. Death camp operations began in December 1941 at Semlin in Serbia and Chelmno in Poland, where people were killed by exhaust fumes in specially modified vans, which were then driven to nearby sites where the bodies were plundered and burnt. 250,000 Jews were killed this way at Chelmno and 15,000 at Semlin.
While the Nazis murdered other national and ethnic groups, such as a number of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals, and gypsies, only the Jews were marked for systematic and total annihilation. Jews were singled out for "Special Treatment" (Sonderbehandlung), which meant that Jewish men, women and children were to be methodically killed with poisonous gas. In the exacting records kept at the Auschwitz death camp, the cause of death of Jews who had been gassed was indicated by "SB," the first letters of the two words that form the German term for "Special Treatment."
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.
Within one week from the start of Operation Barbarossa, Heydrich issued an order to his Einsatzkommandos for the on-the-spot execution of all Bolsheviks, interpreted by the SS to mean all Jews. One of the first indiscriminate massacres of men, women, and children in Reichskommissariat Ukraine took the lives of over 4,000 Polish Jews in occupied Łuck on 2–4 July 1941, murdered by Einsatzkommando 4a assisted by the Ukrainian People's Militia. Formed officially on 20 August 1941, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine – stretching from prewar east-central Poland to Crimea – had become operational theatre of the Einsatzgruppe C. Within the Soviet Union proper, between 9 July 1941 and 19 September 1941 the city of Zhytomyr was made Judenfrei in three murder operations conducted by German and Ukrainian police in which 10,000 Jews perished. In the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre of 26–28 August 1941 some 23,600 Jews were shot in front of open pits (including 14,000–18,000 people expelled from Hungary). After an incident in Bila Tserkva in which 90 small children left behind had to be shot separately, Blobel requested that Jewish mothers hold them in their arms during mass shootings. Long before the conference at Wannsee, 28,000 Jews were shot by SS and Ukrainian military in Vinnytsia on 22 September 1941, followed by the 29 September massacre of 33,771 Jews at Babi Yar. In Dnipropetrovsk, on 13 October 1941 some 10,000–15,000 Jews were shot. In Chernihiv, 10,000 Jews were put to death and only 260 Jews were spared. In mid-October, during the Krivoy-Rog massacre of 4,000–5,000 Soviet Jews the entire Ukrainian auxiliary police force actively participated. In the first days of January 1942 in Kharkiv, 12,000 Jews were murdered, but smaller massacres continued in this period on daily basis in countless other locations. In August 1942 in the presence of only a few German SS men over 5,000 Jews were massacred in Polish Zofjówka by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police leading to the town's complete sweep from existence.
The killing grounds at Ponar are today part of a memorial site run by the Vilna Gaon Museum, in Vilnius. There is a granite obelisk inscribed with the date of the Soviet liberation of the region, and clusters of candles smoldering in the small shrines on the edge of the burial pits, in honor of the tens of thousands who perished here. A small museum near the entrance to the site collects photographs and testimonies from the camp. One enters the museum prepared to weep, and leaves insensate: The black-and-white images of tangled human limbs in a ditch, the crumpled corpses of children, the disinterred dead piled in wheelbarrows, waiting to be brought to the pyres—the effect of the material is deeply physical and hard to shake.
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.
Despite the overwhelming odds, individual rescues sometimes succeeded, especially if the Jewish fugitives could pass as natives in language, manner, and appearance; if the hideout was skillfully camouflouged; if the local population was sympathetic; if geography and distance from neighboring homes aided concealment; and if organized groups or sympathetic friends provided additional safe houses and forged ration papers for essentials like food and clothing.
On November 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Göring convened a meeting of Nazi officials to discuss the damage to the German economy from pogroms. The Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmarks. Moreover, Jews were made responsible for cleaning up the damage. German Jews, but not foreign Jews, were barred from collecting insurance. In addition, Jews were soon denied entry to theatres, forced to travel in separate compartments on trains, and excluded from German schools. These new restrictions were added to earlier prohibitions, such as those barring Jews from earning university degrees, from owning businesses, or from practicing law or medicine in the service of non-Jews. The Nazis would continue to confiscate Jewish property in a program called “Aryanization.” Göring concluded the November meeting with a note of irony: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Head Office, convened all secretaries of state of the major German ministries to the Wannsee Conference. This conference is generally held to have been a major turning point, whereby the “final solution of the Jewish question” in Europe by “evacuation” to the East and by other “means” was decided upon. But in fact, the mass extermination of the Jews on an industrial scale, made possible by the creation of death camps, was launched prior to this notorious conference.
Political dissidents, trade unionists, and Social Democrats were among the first to be arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Under the Weimar government, centuries-old prohibitions against homosexuality had been overlooked, but this tolerance ended violently when the SA (Storm Troopers) began raiding gay bars in 1933. Homosexual intent became just cause for prosecution. The Nazis arrested German and Austrian male homosexuals—there was no systematic persecution of lesbians—and interned them in concentration camps, where they were forced to wear special yellow armbands and later pink triangles. The goal of persecuting male homosexuals was either for reeducation—what might now be called conversion therapy—or punishment. Jehovah’s Witnesses were a problem for the Nazis because they refused to swear allegiance to the state, register for the draft, or utter the words “Heil Hitler.” As a result, the Nazis imprisoned many of the roughly 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. They could be released from concentration camps if they signed a document renouncing their faith and promising not to proselytize. Few availed themselves of that option, preferring martyrdom to apostasy. Germans of African descent—many of whom, called “Rhineland bastards” by the Nazis, were the offspring of German mothers and French colonial African troops who had occupied the Rhineland after World War I—were also persecuted by the Nazis. Although their victimization was less systematic, it included forced sterilization and, often, internment in concentration camps. The fear was that they would “further pollute” and thereby diminish the race. The Nazis also singled out the Roma and Sinti, pejoratively known as Gypsies. They were the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas chambers alongside the Jews. For the Roma and Sinti, too, racial pollution and their depiction as asocials was the justification for their persecution and murder.
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.)
In March 1951, the government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews. Israelis were divided about the idea of taking money from Germany. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) was opened in New York, and after negotiations, the claim was reduced to $845 million.
Upon arrival at a camp, the inmates were usually stripped of all their valuables and clothes. They were then shorn of body hair, disinfected, given a shower, and issued a striped prison uniform without regard to size. Each step of the process was designed to dehumanize the prisoners, both physically and emotionally. Each prisoner was given a number. At Auschwitz, for example, the number was tattooed on the arm, but some camps did not tattoo their inmates.
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.
On June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers landed in France. In December the Germans started an unsuccessful counterattack in Belgium and northern France, known as the Battle of the Bulge. Continuing to gain momentum, the Soviets began an offensive in January 1945, liberating western Poland and then forcing Hungary to surrender.
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
After several months on the run, including a trip back to the Soviet-occupied area to recover his Auschwitz records, Mengele found work near Rosenheim as a farmhand. He eventually escaped from Germany on 17 April 1949, convinced that his capture would mean a trial and death sentence. Assisted by a network of former SS members, he used the ratline to travel to Genoa, where he obtained a passport from the International Committee of the Red Cross under the alias "Helmut Gregor", and sailed to Argentina in July 1949. His wife refused to accompany him, and they divorced in 1954.