Though the Nazis tried to keep operation of camps secret, the scale of the killing made this virtually impossible. Eyewitnesses brought reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland to the Allied governments, who were harshly criticized after the war for their failure to respond, or to publicize news of the mass slaughter. This lack of action was likely mostly due to the Allied focus on winning the war at hand, but was also a result of the general incomprehension with which news of the Holocaust was met and the denial and disbelief that such atrocities could be occurring on such a scale.
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.
Their decency exposed them to the dangers of discovery and denunciation. If caught, they faced torture, deportation to concentration camps, or execution. Their behavior was atypical even in their own communities, where the attitude of the majority was characterized by inertia, indifference, and open complicity in the persecution and mass murder of Europe’s Jews.
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.
In his monograph, The Origins Of The Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942, Christopher Browning argues that Nazi policy toward the Jews was radicalized twice: in September 1939, when the invasion of Poland implied policies of mass expulsion and massive loss of Jewish lives; and in spring 1941, when preparation for Operation Barbarossa involved the planning of mass execution, mass expulsion, and starvation – to dwarf what had happened in Jewish Poland.
Anne Frank faced the threat of discovery and death every day while living in the Secret Annex. Despite terrible circumstances, however, her strength of spirit comes through in her diary. "...I still believe, in spite of everything," she wrote while in hiding, "that people are truly good at heart." Anne was one of millions of people during the Holocaust who found the courage to get through each day. Discover other Stories of Courage, and write about what you learn.
By now, experimental mobile gas vans were being used by the Einsatzgruppen to kill Jews in Russia. Special trucks had been converted by the SS into portable gas chambers. Jews were locked up in the air-tight rear container while exhaust fumes from the truck's engine were fed in to suffocate them. However, this method was found to be somewhat impractical since the average capacity was less than 50 persons. For the time being, the quickest killing method continued to be mass shootings. And as Hitler's troops advanced deep into the Soviet Union, the pace of Einsatz killings accelerated. Over 33,000 Jews in the Ukraine were shot in the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev during two days in September 1941.
In contemplating a dramatization and pledging no compromise, Levin told Frank he would do it “tenderly and with utmost fidelity.” He was clear about what he meant by fidelity. In his eyes the diary was conscious testimony to Jewish faith and suffering; and it was this, and this nearly alone, that defined for him its psychological, historical, and metaphysical genuineness, and its significance for the world. With these convictions foremost, Levin went in search of a theatrical producer. At the same time, he was unflagging in pressing for publication; but the work was meanwhile slowly gaining independent notice. Janet Flanner, in her “Letter from Paris” in The New Yorker of November 11, 1950, noted the French publication of a book by “a precocious, talented little Frankfurt Jewess”—apparently oblivious of the unpleasant echoes, post-Hitler, of “Jewess.” Sixteen English language publishers on both sides of the Atlantic had already rejected the diary when Levin succeeded in placing it with Valentine Mitchell, a London firm. His negotiations with a Boston house were still incomplete when Doubleday came forward to secure publication rights directly from Frank. Relations between Levin and Frank were, as usual, warm; Frank repeatedly thanked Levin for his efforts to further the fortunes of the diary, and Levin continued under the impression that Frank would support him as the playwright of choice.
According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, "[a]ll the serious research" confirms that between five and six million Jews died. Early postwar calculations were 4.2 to 4.5 million from Gerald Reitlinger; 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg; and 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. In 1986 Lucy S. Dawidowicz used the pre-war census figures to estimate 5.934 million. Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990) estimated 5.59–5.86 million. A 1996 study led by Wolfgang Benz suggested 5.29 to 6.2 million, based on comparing pre- and post-war census records and surviving German documentation on deportations and killings. Martin Gilbert arrived at a minimum of 5.75 million. The figures include over one million children.
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.
Mengele’s crimes had been well documented before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and other postwar courts. West German authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1959, and a request for extradition in 1960. Alarmed by the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in that same year, Mengele moved to Paraguay and then to Brazil. He spent the last years of his life near Sao Pãolo. In declining health, Mengele suffered a stroke and drowned while swimming at a vacation resort near Bertioga, Brazil, on February 7, 1979. He was buried in a suburb of Sao Pãolo under the fictive name “Wolfgang Gerhard.”
The sins of the Soviets and the sins of Hellman and her Broadway deputies were, in Levin’s mind, identical. He set out to punish the man who had allowed all this to come to pass: Otto Frank had allied himself with the pundits of erasure; Otto Frank had stood aside when Levin’s play was elbowed out of the way. What recourse remained for a man so affronted and injured? Meyer Levin sued Otto Frank. It was as if, someone observed, a suit were being brought against the father of Joan of Arc. The bulky snarl of courtroom arguments resulted in small satisfaction for Levin: because the structure of the Hacketts’ play was in some ways similar to his, the jury detected plagiarism; yet even this limited triumph foundered on the issue of damages. Levin sent out broadsides, collected signatures, summoned a committee of advocacy, lectured from pulpits, took out ads, rallied rabbis and writers (Norman Mailer among them). He wrote “The Obsession,” his grandly confessional “J’Accuse,” rehearsing, in skirmish after skirmish, his fight for the staging of his own adaptation. In return, furious charges flew at him: he was a red-baiter, a McCarthyite. The term “paranoid” began to circulate. Why rant against the popularization and dilution that was Broadway’s lifeblood? “I certainly have no wish to inflict depression on an audience,” Kanin had argued. “I don’t consider that a legitimate theatrical end.” (So much for “Hamlet” and “King Lear.")
But there is a note that drills deeper than commemoration: it goes to the idea of identification. To “identify with” is to become what one is not, to become what one is not is to usurp, to usurp is to own—and who, after all, in the half century since Miep Gies retrieved the scattered pages of the diary, really owns Anne Frank? Who can speak for her? Her father, who, after reading the diary and confessing that he “did not know” her, went on to tell us what he thought she meant? Meyer Levin, who claimed to be her authentic voice—so much so that he dared to equate the dismissal of his work, however ignobly motivated, with Holocaust annihilation? Hellman, Bloomgarden, Kanin, whose interpretations clung to a collective ideology of human interchangeability? (In discounting the significance of the Jewish element, Kanin had asserted that “people have suffered because of being English, French, German, Italian, Ethiopian, Mohammedan, Negro, and so on”—as if this were not all the more reason to comprehend and particularize each history.) And what of Cara Wilson and “the children of the world,” who have reduced the persecution of a people to the trials of adolescence?
Albert Goering loathed all of Nazism's inhumanity and at the risk of his career, fortune and life, used his name and connections to save hundreds of Jews and and political dissidents during the Second World War. After the war Albert Goering - savior of victims of the tyranny his brother helped create - was imprisoned for several years for his name alone. But his story is almost unknown: he was shoved into obscurity by the enormity of his brother's crimes.
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.
For the German rulers, the ghetto was a temporary measure, a holding pen for the Jewish population until a policy on its fate could be established and implemented. For the Jews, ghetto life was the situation under which they thought they would be forced to live until the end of the war. They aimed to make life bearable, even under the most trying circumstances. When the Nazis prohibited schools, they opened clandestine schools. When the Nazis banned religious life, it persisted in hiding. The Jews used humour as a means of defiance, so too song. They resorted to arms only late in the Nazi assault.
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.
This was upgraded on 31 July 1941, when Hermann Goering sent an order that Heydrich should make “all necessary preparations with regard to organisational, practical and financial aspects for an overall solution to the Jewish question”. Heydrich was to “submit an overall plan… for the execution of the intended ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish question”.
In France Jews under Fascist Italian occupation in the southeast fared better than the Jews of Vichy France, where collaborationist French authorities and police provided essential support to the understaffed German forces. The Jews in those parts of France under direct German occupation fared the worst. Although allied with Germany, the Italians did not participate in the Holocaust until Germany occupied northern Italy after the overthrow of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1943.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest ghetto revolt. Massive deportations (or Aktions) had been held in the ghetto from July to September 1942, emptying the ghetto of the majority of Jews imprisoned there. When the Germans entered the ghetto again in January 1943 to remove several thousand more, small unorganized groups of Jews attacked them. After four days, the Germans withdrew from the ghetto, having deported far fewer people than they had intended. The Nazis reentered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover, to evacuate the remaining Jews and close the ghetto. The Jews, using homemade bombs and stolen or bartered weapons, resisted and withstood the Germans for 27 days. They fought from bunkers and sewers and evaded capture until the Germans burned the ghetto building by building. By May 16 the ghetto was in ruins and the uprising crushed.
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.”
From this moment on, the Nazi regime adopted hundreds of laws restricting the rights and liberties of the Jewish people. Jews were expelled from the civil service and barred from entering particular professions, stripped of their citizenship, and forbidden from intermarrying or even having a relationship with anyone of “German or German-related blood”.
The first major camp to be encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on 25 July 1944. Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Germans in 1943. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on 27 January 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on 11 April; Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April; Dachau by the Americans on 29 April; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on 30 April; and Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May. The Red Cross took control of Theresienstadt on 4 May, days before the Soviets arrived.
The pursuit resumed with a vengeance. In 1982, the agency even considered abducting a 12-year-old boy and threatening to take his life unless his father, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, a devoted Nazi and a childhood friend of Mengele’s, gave them the information that could lead to his capture. (In the end, Rudel died before the Mossad decided whether to go through with the operation.)
Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them. Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes.