Hitler intended to blame the Jews for the new world war he was soon to provoke. That war began in September 1939 as German troops stormed into Poland, a country that was home to over three million Jews. After Poland's quick defeat, Polish Jews were rounded up and forced into newly established ghettos at Lodz, Krakow, and Warsaw, to await future plans. Inside these overcrowded walled-in ghettos, tens of thousands died a slow death from hunger and disease amid squalid living conditions. The ghettos soon came under the jurisdiction of Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Nazi SS, Hitler's most trusted and loyal organization, composed of fanatical young men considered racially pure according to Nazi standards.
It was Yad Vashem—the institution whose name derives from the same passage in Isaiah—that first popularized the term “righteous among the nations” to refer to those Gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, often risking their own lives in the process. While Isaiah apparently had in mind Gentiles who related to God in a righteous way, and not necessarily through their relations specifically with Jews, the singling-out of Harbonah focuses our attention on those who exert themselves to protect Jews. In commemorating such people, Yad Vashem has given them, too, “a place and a name” in the original sense of that phrase.
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.
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