Sophia Litwinska made a sworn affidavit that was entered into the British trial of the SS staff at Bergen-Belsen in the fall of 1945. Some members of the SS staff at Belsen had previously worked at Birkenau and they were on trial for crimes committed at both Birkenau and Belsen. One of the men who was tried by the British was Franz Hoessler, the commander of the women's camp at Birkenau in 1942; he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944.
By this time, news of the mass murders had leaked out of occupied Europe via first-hand accounts from eyewitnesses, escapees and other informed persons. Newspapers such as The London Daily Telegraph and The New York Times also published occasional reports of executions along with death toll estimates. World reaction to the reports changed little from what it had been to prewar reports of Nazi persecution – a few political speeches from Britain and America.
Mengele then moved to experimentation. His work revolved around genetic engineering to eradicate inferior genes from the human population to create a German super-race. He believed that twins held these mysteries, and about 1500 pairs of them were brought to Mengele through the selection process. The twins were provided more comfort than the other prisoners and given extra food rations to keep them healthy. As soon as a pair of twins arrived at Auschwitz, they were tattooed and Mengele would ask them questions about their history. Every morning, they reported for roll call, where they ate a small breakfast. Mengele would then come to talk to them, give them candy, and even play games with some of them. Some of the younger children even called him “Uncle Mengele.” Life wasn’t so bad for twins at the barracks, until it came time for the experiments.
Grateful for lightness, reviewers agreed. What they came away from was the charm of Susan Strasberg as a radiant Anne, and Joseph Schildkraut in the role of a wise and steadying Otto Frank, whom the actor engagingly resembled. “Anne is not going to her death; she is going to leave a dent on life, and let death take what’s left,” Walter Kerr, on a mystical note, wrote in the Herald Tribune. Variety seemed relieved that the play avoided “hating the Nazis, hating what they did to millions of innocent people,” and instead came off as “glowing, moving, frequently humorous,” with “just about everything one could wish for. It is not grim.” The Daily News confirmed what Kanin had striven for: “Not in any important sense a Jewish play. . . . Anne Frank is a Little Orphan Annie brought into vibrant life.” Audiences laughed and were charmed; but they were also dazed and moved.
Once Germany took over Poland in 1939, it created forced-labor camps. Thousands of prisoners died from working conditions, exhaustion, and starvation. After the outbreak of World War II, the number of concentration camps increased exponentially. The number of prisoners of war camps also rose, but after the first years of the war most were converted into concentration camps. Nazis forcibly relocated Jews from ghettos to concentration camps.
The SS: The SS was a military-style group of Nazis, founded in 1925, who were like Hitler's personal bodyguards. They were in charge of overseeing the killing of people in the camps. Part of the SS called the Einsatzgruppen were put in charge of killing many people, before the extermination camps were opened to carry this out on a much greater scale. The SS also took control of intelligence, security and the police force.
Perhaps not even a father is justified in thinking he can distill the “ideas” of this alert and sorrowing child, with scenes such as these inscribed in her psyche, and with the desolations of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen still ahead. His preference was to accentuate what he called Anne’s “optimistical view on life.” Yet the diary’s most celebrated line (infamously celebrated, one might add)—“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”—has been torn out of its bed of thorns. Two sentences later (and three weeks before she was seized and shipped to Westerbork), the diarist sets down a vision of darkness:
In 1939, shortly after the war began, the Germans initiated the T4 Program—framed euphemistically as a “euthanasia” program—for the murder of intellectually or physically disabled and emotionally disturbed Germans who by their very existence violated the Nazi ideal of Aryan supremacy. They were termed “life unworthy of life.” An economic justification was also employed as these Germans were considered “useless eaters.” The Nazis pioneered the use of gas chambers and mass crematoria under this program. The murder of the disabled was the training ground for key personnel who were to later staff the death camps of Aktion Reinhard. The German public protested these murders. The Roman Catholic bishop of Münster, Clemens August, Graf von Galen, preached against them, and the T4 program was formally halted. Nonetheless, the murder and sterilization of these German “Aryans” continued secretly throughout the war.
And here is where the enduring relevance of the Harbonah story comes in. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, the vexed question of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust was once again in the headlines, the subject of a diplomatic fracas between Jerusalem and Warsaw. Surely the recent efforts by the Polish government to distort or cover up the historical record are deserving of sharp criticism, and the hundreds if not thousands of Poles who aided in the extermination of the Jews deserve ignominy no less than did the thousands of ancient Persian subjects who volunteered to help Haman.
The Wannsee Conference, a meeting between the SS (the elite guard of the Nazi state) and German government agencies, opens in Berlin. They discuss and coordinate the implementation of the "Final Solution," which is already under way. At Wannsee, the SS estimates that the "Final Solution" will involve 11 million European Jews, including those from non-occupied countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and Great Britain. Between the fall of 1941 and the fall of 1944, the German railways transport millions of people to their deaths in killing centers in occupied Poland.
Thus although the Nazi 'Final Solution' was one genocide among many, it had features that made it stand out from all the rest as well. Unlike all the others it was bounded neither by space nor by time. It was launched not against a local or regional obstacle, but at a world-enemy seen as operating on a global scale. It was bound to an even larger plan of racial reordering and reconstruction involving further genocidal killing on an almost unimaginable scale, aimed, however, at clearing the way in a particular region – Eastern Europe – for a further struggle against the Jews and those the Nazis regarded as their puppets. It was set in motion by ideologues who saw world history in racial terms. It was, in part, carried out by industrial methods. These things all make it unique.
Mengele's work also involved carrying out selections, a task that he chose to perform even when he was not assigned to do so, in the hope of finding subjects for his experiments, with a particular interest in locating sets of twins. In contrast to most of the other SS doctors, who viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, he undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune. He was also one of the SS doctors responsible for supervising the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Birkenau gas chambers. He served in this capacity at the gas chambers located in crematoria IV and V.