In 1933, Jews in Germany numbered around 525,000, or only 1 percent of the total German population. During the next six years, Nazis undertook an “Aryanization” of Germany, dismissing non-Aryans from civil service, liquidating Jewish-owned businesses and stripping Jewish lawyers and doctors of their clients. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew, while those with two Jewish grandparents were designated Mischlinge (half-breeds).
Man blinded by continuous beatings © The ideas and emotions that lay behind the Holocaust were not new, nor were they uniquely German. The Nazis were the heirs of a centuries-old tradition of Jew-hatred, rooted in religious rivalry and found in all European countries. When the Nazis came to carry out their genocidal programme, they found collaborators in all the countries they dominated, including governments that enjoyed considerable public support. Most people drew the line at mass murder, but relatively few could be found to oppose it actively or to extend help to the Jews.
German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the "Final Solution" called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust—two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.
At the same time, the Germans set about liquidating the ghettos in occupied Poland. July 22, 1942, when the deportation of Jews from Warsaw to the death camp in Treblinka began, is regarded as a symbolic date. A decided majority of the Polish Jews were killed in a little over half a year, after which the SS began liquidating the Aktion Reinhard camps. However, the last great death camp—Auschwitz—remained in existence until the beginning of 1945. It was mainly Jews from Western and Southern Europe, from the liquidated labor camps, and the ghettos in Sosnowiec and Łódź, who died in the gas chambers there.
Otto Frank’s own childhood, in Frankfurt, Germany, was wholly unclouded. A banker’s son, he lived untrammelled until the rise of the Nazi regime, when he was already forty-four. At nineteen, in order to acquire training in business, he went to New York with Nathan Straus, a fellow student and an heir to the Macy’s department-store fortune. During the First World War, Frank was an officer in the German military, and in 1925 he married Edith Holländer, a manufacturer’s daughter. Margot was born in 1926 and Anneliese Marie, called Anne, in 1929. His characteristically secular world view belonged to an era of quiet assimilation, or, more accurately, accommodation (which includes a modicum of deference), when German Jews had become, at least in their own minds, well integrated into German society. From birth, Otto Frank had breathed the free air of the affluent bourgeoisie.
There are three versions of the diary. The first is the diary as Anne originally wrote it from June 1942 to August 1944. Anne hoped to publish a book based on her entries, especially after a Dutch official announced in 1944 that he planned to collect eyewitness accounts of the German occupation. She then began editing her work, leaving out certain passages. That became the second version. Her father created a third version with his own edits as he sought to get the diary published after the war.
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.
What happened next—an avalanche of furies and recriminations lasting years—has lately become the subject of a pair of arresting discussions of the Frank-Levin affair. And if “affair” suggests an event on the scale of the Dreyfus case, that is how Levin saw it: as an unjust stripping away of his rightful position, with implications far beyond his personal predicament. “An Obsession with Anne Frank,” by Lawrence Graver, published by the University of California Press in 1995, is the first study to fashion a coherent narrative out of the welter of claims, counterclaims, letters, cables, petitions, polemics, and rumbling confusions which accompany any examination of the diary’s journey to the stage. “The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank,” by Ralph Melnick, out just now from Yale, is denser in detail and in sources than its predecessor, and more insistent in tone. Both are accomplished works of scholarship that converge on the facts and diverge in their conclusions. Graver is reticent with his sympathies; Melnick is Levin’s undisguised advocate. Graver finds no villains; Melnick finds Lillian Hellman.
Nazi persecution, arrests, and deportations were directed against all members of Jewish families, as well as many Gypsy families, without concern for age. Homeless, often orphaned, many children had frequently witnessed the murder of parents, siblings, and relatives. They faced starvation, illness, brutal labor, and other indignities until they were consigned to the gas chambers.
Whereas Christopher Browning places the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews in the context of the Wehrmacht victories on the Eastern front, Cesarani argues that the German subsequent realisation that there would be no swift victory over the Soviet Union "scuppered the last territorial 'solution' still on the table: expulsion to Siberia". Germany's declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941, "meant that holding European Jews hostage to deter the US from entering the conflict was now pointless. As Joseph Goebbels put it when he summarised a secret speech Hitler made on 12 December 1941: 'The world war is here, the destruction of the Jews must be the inevitable consequence'." Cesarani concludes, the Holocaust "was rooted in anti-Semitism, but it was shaped by war". The fact that the Nazis were, ultimately, so successful in killing between five and six million Jews was not due to the efficiency of the Third Reich or the clarity of their policies. "Rather, the catastrophic rate of killing was due to German persistence … and the duration of the murderous campaigns. This last factor was largely a consequence of allied military failure."
Tens of thousands of Jews held in the eastern territories were marched towards the heart of Germany so they could not bear witness to the Allies. Aware that the world had been alerted to the horrors of the camps, the Nazis sought to destroy evidence. In June, Soviet forces liberated the first major camp, known as Majdanek, in Lublin, Poland. The Nazis had burned down the crematorium chimney but had failed to destroy the gas chambers and barracks. Only a few hundred inmates were still alive.
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.
Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research into heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. His medical procedures showed no consideration for the health, safety, or physical and emotional suffering of the victims. He was particularly interested in identical twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), dwarfs, and people with physical abnormalities. A grant was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), at the request of von Verschuer, who received regular reports and shipments of specimens from Mengele. The grant was used to build a pathology laboratory attached to Crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Dr. Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist who arrived in Auschwitz on 29 May 1944, performed dissections and prepared specimens for shipment in this laboratory. The twin research was in part intended to prove the supremacy of heredity over environment and thus strengthen the Nazi premise of the superiority of the Aryan race. Nyiszli and others reported that the twin studies may also have been motivated by an intention to increase the reproduction rate of the German race by improving the chances of racially desirable people having twins.