In April 1944, two Jewish inmates escaped from Auschwitz and made it safely into Czechoslovakia. One of them, Rudolf Vrba, submitted a detailed report to the Papal Nuncio in Slovakia which was then forwarded to the Vatican, received there in mid-June. Thus far, Pope Pius XII had not issued a public condemnation of Nazi maltreatment and subsequent mass murder of Jews, and he chose to continue his silence.
After this night, the German government supported dozens of laws and decrees that took away Jews property and livelihood. By the end of the year, Jews were prohibited from attending school. One billion reichsmarks of Jewish property was seized as collective punishment against the nation’s Jews for the murder of von Rath. Those able to flee the country did. In the year after Kristallnact, more than 100,000 Jews left Germany as the situation deteriorated.
The wounds of the Holocaust–known in Hebrew as Shoah, or catastrophe–were slow to heal. Survivors of the camps found it nearly impossible to return home, as in many cases they had lost their families and been denounced by their non-Jewish neighbors. As a result, the late 1940s saw an unprecedented number of refugees, POWs and other displaced populations moving across Europe.
Uprisings broke out in some extermination camps. The few remaining Jews kept alive to dispose of bodies and sort possessions realised the number of transportees was reducing and they would be next. Civilian uprisings occurred across Poland as mainly young Jews, whose families had already been murdered, began to resist Nazi oppression. With reports of rebellion and mass murder in the British press, the situation in the camps could no longer be be ignored.
But Auschwitz-Birkenau became more than a concentration camp. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers were built at Birkenau and mass transports of Jews began to arrive. Some of the new arrivals were inducted into the camp as registered prisoners, but the great majority were gassed immediately. These gassing operations were greatly expanded in the spring of 1943 with the construction of four purpose-built gas chamber and crematorium complexes, which included such refinements as electric lifts to carry bodies up to the crematoria. Each crematorium could handle 2,000 victims daily. In a nearby group of barracks, nicknamed 'Canada' by the prisoners, victims' belongings were sorted for transportation to the Reich. The victims' hair was used to stuff mattresses; gold teeth were melted down and the gold deposited to an SS account.
After the war, Dr. Josef Mengele worked on a farm under an assumed name for a few years, then escaped to South America; he was never put on trial as a war criminal. If he had been captured and put on trial, Dr. Gisella Perl was prepared to testify against him. Dr. Perl worked as a prison doctor under Dr. Mengele, and was a prisoner herself. According to the book "Mengele, the Complete Story," Dr. Perl claimed that a woman prisoner named Ibi had escaped the gas chamber six times by jumping off the truck that was taking the prisoners from the Judenrampe to the gas chambers; Dr. Mengele was enraged when he discovered that she had returned to the selection line.
I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to hide; well, all I can say is that I don't know myself yet. I don't think I shall ever feel really at home in this house but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse. Rather a mad way of looking at being in hiding perhaps but that is how it strikes me.
On April 17, 1944, Anne began writing in what turned out to be her final diary notebook. On the first page she wrote about herself: "The owner's maxim: Zest is what man needs!" A few months later, she and the other inhabitants of the annex celebrated the Allied invasion of France, which took place on June 6, 1944. They were certain the war would soon be over.
Raphael Lemkin, a holocaust survivor who worked on the Nuremberg Trials, coined the term genocide and spent 4 years pushing for it to be added to international law. As Champetier de Ribes, the French Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials explained “This [was] a crime so monstrous, so undreamt of in history throughout the Christian era up to the birth of Hitlerism that the term ‘genocide’ has had to be coined to define it.” Ultimately, in 1948 The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was adopted, and it entered into force in 1951. The convention defined genocide in legal terms based on Lemkin’s work, and is the basis for genocide prevention efforts today.
Over the decades that followed, ordinary Germans struggled with the Holocaust’s bitter legacy, as survivors and the families of victims sought restitution of wealth and property confiscated during the Nazi years. Beginning in 1953, the German government made payments to individual Jews and to the Jewish people as a way of acknowledging the German people’s responsibility for the crimes committed in their name.
Anne’s diary, a devastating and relatable coming-of-age story, was left behind in the Secret Annex, but kept safe by a family friend, Miep Gies. Anne's father, Otto Frank, was the Secret Annex's sole survivor of the Holocaust. After Otto was liberated from a concentration camp, Miep gave him the diary. Otto Frank edited the diary and removed a few sensitive passages—some that weren’t so nice about Anne’s mom, other Secret Annex members, or parts that seemed too sexual for a teenager in the 1940's. However, the most currently printed versions are more complete.
The Theresienstadt ghetto was established by the Nazis in an 18th century fortress in Czechoslovakia on November 24, 1941. More than 150,000 Jews passed through the ghetto during its four-year existence, which was used as a holding area for eventual murder in Auschwitz. By 1943, rumors began circulating in the international community that the Nazis were exterminating Jews in gas chambers, and that the conditions of the ghettos did not permit survival. The Nazis rebuilt parts of this ghetto to serve as a “showpiece” for propaganda purposes. Flower gardens were planted in the ghetto. Shops, schools, and a cafe were built. When an investigating commission of the International Red Cross came to visit, they did not see a typical ghetto. In July 1944 the Nazis made a documentary propaganda film about life in this ghetto. After the movie was completed, most of the Jewish “actors” were shipped to their death at Auschwitz.
These evacuations were regarded as provisional or "temporary solutions" ("Ausweichmöglichkeiten").[p] The final solution would encompass the 11 million Jews living not only in territories controlled by Germany, but elsewhere in Europe and adjacent territories, such as Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, "dependent on military developments". There was little doubt what the final solution was, writes Peter Longerich: "the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder".
The Nazis considered Jews to be the main danger to Germany. Jews were the primary victims of Nazi racism, but other victims included Roma (Gypsies) and people with mental or physical disabilities. The Nazis murdered some 200,000 Roma. And they murdered at least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled patients, mainly German and living in institutions, in the so-called Euthanasia Program.
In the autumn of 1941, SS chief Heinrich Himmler assigned German General Odilo Globocnik (SS and police leader for the Lublin District) with the implementation of a plan to systematically murder the Jews of the Generalgouvernement. The code name Operation Reinhard was eventually given to this plan, named after Heydrich (who was assassinated by Czech partisans in May 1942). As part of Operation Reinhard, Nazi leaders established three killing centers in Poland—Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka—with the sole purpose of the mass murder of Jews.
Historians of the Holocaust are divided into two schools: the “intentionalists” insist on the central role of Nazi ideology and believe that there was a carefully prepared plan for the extermination of European Jewry; the “functionalists” or “structuralists” by contrast, stress the chaotic nature of the Nazi system, a non-design reflected in their foreign and economic policies as well. According to the latter school, it was this inherent disorder rather than premeditated design that led, through a process of cumulative radicalization, to the systematic extermination of European Jewry.
Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.
The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state". Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out.[h] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated, and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds": half and quarter Jews). Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; other companies built the crematoria. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were ordered to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling. Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
Always delicately respectful of Frank’s dignity and rights—and always mindful of the older man’s earlier travail—Levin had promised that he would step aside if a more prominent playwright, someone “world famous,” should appear. Stubbornly and confidently, he went on toiling over his own version. As a novelist, he was under suspicion of being unable to write drama. (In after years, when he had grown deeply bitter, he listed, in retaliation, “Sartre, Gorky, Galsworthy, Steinbeck, Wilder!”) Though there are many extant drafts of Levin’s play, no definitive script is available; both publication and performance were proscribed by Frank’s attorneys. A script staged without authorization by the Israel Soldiers’ Theatre in 1966 sometimes passes from hand to hand, and reads well: moving, theatrical, actable, professional. This later work was not, however, the script submitted in the summer of 1952 to Cheryl Crawford, one of a number of Broadway producers who rushed in with bids in the wake of the diary’s acclaim. Crawford, an eminent co-founder of the Actors Studio, initially encouraged Levin, offering him first consideration and, if his script was not entirely satisfactory, the aid of a more experienced collaborator. Then—virtually overnight—she rejected his draft outright. Levin was bewildered and infuriated, and from then on he became an intractable and indefatigable warrior on behalf of his play—and on behalf, he contended, of the diary’s true meaning. In his Times review he had summed it up stirringly as the voice of “six million vanished Jewish souls.”
Since 1963, a commission headed by a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel has been charged with the duty of awarding the honorary title "Righteous Among the Nations". Guided in its work by certain criteria, the commission meticulously studies all documentation including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses, evaluates the historical circumstances and the element of risk to the rescuer, and then decides if the case meets the criteria. Those criteria are:
The first killing center set up in occupied Polish lands was the camp at Chełmno on the Ner; Jews brought in from the ghettos in the Wartheland were being killed there from December 1941. Three more camps, somewhat larger, were opened at Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka (in what was known as “Aktion Reinhard”) somewhat later, between March and July 1942.
After 24 hours in the darkness, she followed one shining light that turned out to be at an unguarded barracks. The small group of surprised prisoners took her in. This group, with Lyon among them, was ordered into cattle cars and taken away from Auschwitz. Lyon longed to see her mother and sister again, but knew she faced certain death if she were discovered in Auschwitz.
Anti-Semitism in Europe did not begin with Adolf Hitler. Though use of the term itself dates only to the 1870s, there is evidence of hostility toward Jews long before the Holocaust–even as far back as the ancient world, when Roman authorities destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and forced Jews to leave Palestine. The Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18th centuries, emphasized religious toleration, and in the 19th century Napoleon and other European rulers enacted legislation that ended long-standing restrictions on Jews. Anti-Semitic feeling endured, however, in many cases taking on a racial character rather than a religious one.
For the first time, camps were created specifically for Jews. Their conditions were far worse than other camps. The implicit intention was that the inmates would die there. Increasing numbers of Jews in Poland were relocated in ghettos. Non-Jewish Poles were also deported from their farms and villages to make room for ‘pure’ ethnic Germans to populate the new territory.
Of particular note, was Hitler's oft-repeated claim that Jews everywhere were engaged in an international conspiracy to achieve world domination. In a speech given on January 30, 1939, commemorating the sixth anniversary of his rule in Germany, Hitler added a stark new warning: "If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"
“We had big gaps in our knowledge because most of the documentation about how the genocide was carried out on the ground was captured by the Soviet Red Army and wasn’t available until after the Cold War,” says White. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a feast of wartime bureaucratic records, allowing historians to realize how much leeway Nazi officials were given. It became readily clear that the number of Nazis involved in enacting the Final Solution was much larger than previously believed.
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses. On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. Jews were disbarred from practising law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms. In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers; Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials. Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities. Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans; of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers, authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions. Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only."