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.
Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by purple triangles and given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died; in The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2001), Sybil Milton estimates that 10,000 were sent and 2,500 died. According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."
When did the Nazis decide to kill all the Jews of Europe? Was murder always in the mind of Adolf Hitler? These are some of the most difficult questions historians have to answer. Certainly, up until the invasion of the Soviet Union, Jews did manage to emigrate from Germany. Historians will never know precisely when the order for mass killing was given, but large-scale murders began with the invasion of Russia.
The Germans' overwhelming repression and the presence of many collaborators in the various local populations severely limited the ability of the Jews to resist. Jewish resistance did occur, however, in several forms. Staying alive, clean, and observing Jewish religious traditions constituted resistance under the dehumanizing conditions imposed by the Nazis. Other forms of resistance involved escape attempts from the ghettos and camps. Many who succeeded in escaping the ghettos lived in the forests and mountains in family camps and in fighting partisan units. Once free, though, the Jews had to contend with local residents and partisan groups who were often openly hostile. Jews also staged armed revolts in the ghettos of Vilna, Bialystok, Bedzin-Sosnowiec, krakow, and Warsaw.
Written with insight, humour, and intelligence, the Diary became a classic of war literature, personalizing the Holocaust and offering a moving coming-of-age story. To many, the book was also a source of inspiration and hope. In the midst of such adversity, Anne poignantly wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”
While concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death, extermination camps (also known as death camps) were built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently. The Nazis built six extermination camps, all in Poland: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. (Auschwitz and Majdanek were both concentration and extermination camps.)
After the end of World War II, surviving archival documents provided a clear record of the Final Solution policies and actions of Nazi Germany. They included the Wannsee Conference Protocol, which documented the co-operation of various German state agencies in the SS-led Holocaust, as well as some 3,000 tons of original German records captured by Allied armies, including the Einsatzgruppen reports, which documented the progress of the mobile killing units assigned, among other tasks, to kill Jewish civilians during the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. The evidential proof which documented the mechanism of the Holocaust was submitted at Nuremberg.
In nearly every country overrun by the Nazis, the Jews were forced to wear badges marking them as Jews, they were rounded up into ghettos or concentration camps and then gradually transported to the killing centers. The death camps were essentially factories for murdering Jews. The Germans shipped thousands of Jews to them each day. Within a few hours of their arrival, the Jews had been stripped of their possessions and valuables, gassed to death, and their bodies burned in specially designed crematoriums. Approximately 3.5 million Jews were murdered in these death camps.
In the summer of 1941, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, received orders from Heinrich Himmler to begin experimenting with Zyklon B gas. On 3 September 1941, the Auschwitz deputy camp commandant Karl Fritzsch experimented on 600 Russian prisoners of war and 250 Polish inmates by gathering them in the basement of Block 11 and gassing them with Zyklon B.
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”).
American soldiers stare down at a mass grave in Nordhausen concentration camp © Originally a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, Auschwitz was greatly expanded in 1941 with the addition of a much larger camp at nearby Birkenau. In all, Auschwitz-Birkenau and its sub-camps held 400,000 registered prisoners including 205,000 Jews, 137,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 12,000 Soviet POWs and 25,000 others (including a few British POWs). In this largest and worst of all the Nazi concentration camps, 210,000 prisoners died of starvation and abuse.
Begin thought settling the score with Mengele would show Palestinian leaders (and the Israeli public) that they would have to pay a price for harming Israelis. His attitude was reflected in a message he sent to President Ronald Reagan when he sent the Israeli Army into Lebanon in 1982, saying that he felt as if “I have sent an army to Berlin to wipe out Hitler in the bunker.”
The following year, 1941, would be the turning point. In June, Hitler took a tremendous military gamble by invading the Soviet Union. Before the invasion he had summoned his top generals and told them the attack on Russia would be a ruthless "war of annihilation" targeting Communists and Jews and that normal rules of military conflict were to be utterly ignored.
Beginning with the British air raids on Cologne in May of 1942, the Allies launched a strategic bombing campaign that would target cities and industrial plants across the Reich for the next three years. In the summer of 1942, Germany and its allies focused on the Soviet Union unsuccessfully. The Soviet Union gained the dominant role, which it would maintain for the rest of the war.
Every day, twins were selected for experimentation. He would require that they give blood and sometimes so much was drawn that a twin would faint. Some underwent huge blood transfusions from one twin to the other. In an attempt to change their eye color, he painfully injected chemicals into their eyes, only to result in infection. One night he collected 7 sets of twins with different colored eyes, killed them, dissected them, and then sent the eyes to von Verschuer for analysis. Twins as young as 5 were killed from experiments, then their bodies dissected. For one pair of twins, he attempted to create conjoined twins by sewing their backs together and trying to connect blood vessels and organs. A few days after the extremely painful process, the twins developed gangrene and died. Many twins had their limbs and organs removed without the use of an anesthetic. Other experiments included isolation endurance, reactions to various stimuli, spinal taps without anesthesia, the removal of sexual organs, and incestuous impregnations. Out of the 1500 twins experimented on by Mengele, only around 200 survived the horror.
Another Polish courier, Jan Karski, reached the west in November 1942, carrying messages from Jewish leaders in Poland. He had himself witnessed the conditions in the Warsaw ghetto and in what he believed to be the Belzec death camp, and was eager to inform the world. Karski saw the British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, and US President Roosevelt, but they seemed to be more interested in military intelligence than in atrocity stories. Partly as a result of Karski's mission, however, the Allies agreed to a joint declaration, read to the British Parliament on 17 December, which acknowledged Nazi war crimes and threatened punishment for the perpetrators. Subsequently millions of leaflets were dropped in the course of bombing raids on German cities to inform Germans of the facts, but these had little or no effect.
Beginning in late 1941, the Germans began mass transports from the ghettoes in Poland to the concentration camps, starting with those people viewed as the least useful: the sick, old and weak and the very young. The first mass gassings began at the camp of Belzec, near Lublin, on March 17, 1942. Five more mass killing centers were built at camps in occupied Poland, including Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and the largest of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 1942 to 1945, Jews were deported to the camps from all over Europe, including German-controlled territory as well as those countries allied with Germany. The heaviest deportations took place during the summer and fall of 1942, when more than 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw ghetto alone.
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.