One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant, or those who should be killed outright: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life". The phrase was applied to the mentally impaired and later to the "racially inferior," or "sexually deviant," as well as to "enemies of the state" both internal and external. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to murder civilians en masse, especially targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were actively denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps -- government facilities whose entire purpose was the systematic murder and disposal of massive numbers of people. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. (This entry is Part 18 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
When exactly Hitler settled on straightforward murder as a means of removal has been harder to pinpoint. As Yale historian Timothy Snyder writes, “It cannot be stressed enough that the Nazis did not know how to eradicate the Jews when they began the war against the Soviet Union [in the summer of 1941]… They could not be confident that SS men would shoot women and children in large numbers.” But as Operation Barbarossa, the name for the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R, proved during the mass shootings of June 1941 and the massacres at Kiev in September, the Order Police and Einsatzgrüppen were more than willing to commit mass murders. This meant Hitler could take the solution to the Jewish problem to its “furthest extremes,” in the words of Philipp Bouhler, the senior Nazi official responsible for the euthanasia program that killed more than 70,000 handicapped German people.
Holocaust scholar and Christian ethicist David Gushee highlighted other traits in his book, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. “Some rescuers appear to have been adventuresome types, and others drew upon a sense of social marginality as a resource for compassion. Another mark of rescuer character is the nearly universal unwillingness to accept praise for their deeds. ‘It is what anyone would have done,’ they say of behaviour that almost no one did. For them to rescue Jews was the perfectly natural and obvious course of action. People needed help. So help was offered.”
Peter Longerich argues that the search for a finite date on which the Nazis embarked upon the extermination of the Jews is futile, in his book Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews (2011). Longerich writes: "We should abandon the notion that it is historically meaningful to try to filter the wealth of available historical material and pick out a single decision" that led to the Holocaust.
Browning’s account of the evolution of the Nazi genocide is the most comprehensive that has yet appeared, and it is no exaggeration to say that the author, who offers here 110 pages of endnotes, has read and absorbed every available document of relevance. Yet one must continue to wonder whether Hitler really waited until August-October 1941 to decide on a policy of genocide. Hitler habitually thought in demographic and social-Darwinist terms, and from 1939 onwards, he was confronted by a new demographic reality”that he now had many millions of Jews under his thumb, far more than the mere five hundred thousand in Nazi Germany in 1933, a figure itself ever-diminishing through emigration. With the conquest of western Poland in mid-1939, over two million Jews came under his rule, while the invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union would add another five million, entirely apart from the many Jews in Nazi satellite states such as Hungary and Romania. It is very difficult to believe that Hitler did not contemplate genocide along with the invasion of the Soviet Union, given the fact that he would soon have the ability to get rid of all of Europe’s Jews in one fell swoop. As Browning carefully notes, as early as February 1941 Hitler remarked to a number of other top Nazis that towards the Jews “he was thinking of many things in a different way, not exactly more friendly.”
After learning of plans to collect diaries and other papers to chronicle people’s wartime experiences, Anne began to rework her journal for possible publication as a novel entitled Het Achterhuis (“The Secret Annex”). She notably created pseudonyms for all the inhabitants, eventually adopting Anne Robin as her alias. Pfeffer—whom Anne had come to dislike as the two often argued over the use of a desk—was named Albert Dussel, the surname of which is German for “idiot.”
Mengele sailed to Argentina in July 1949, assisted by a network of former SS members. He initially lived in and around Buenos Aires, then fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960, while being sought by West Germany, Israel, and Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal who wanted to bring him to trial. He eluded capture in spite of extradition requests by the West German government and clandestine operations by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He drowned in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming off the Brazilian coast, and was buried under a false name. His remains were disinterred and positively identified by forensic examination in 1985.