Walking the grounds of the memorial site, I arrived with Freund at the lip of the pit that had housed the bunker where Zeidel and the other members of the Burning Brigade had lived. The circumference was tremendous, nearly 200 feet in total. On its grassy floor, the Vilna Gaon Museum had erected a model of a double-sided ramp that the Burning Brigade had used to drop bodies onto the pyres.
These programmes are best seen as a series of linked genocides, each having its own history, background, purpose and significance in the Nazi scheme of things. The Holocaust was the biggest of the killing programmes and, in certain important ways, different from the others. The Jews figured in Nazi ideology as the arch-enemy of the 'Aryan race', and were targeted not merely for terror and repression but for complete extinction. The Nazis failed in this aim because they ran out of time, but they pursued it fanatically until their defeat in 1945. The Holocaust led to widespread public awareness of genocide and to modern efforts to prevent it, such as the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.
Meanwhile, Hitler continued his conquest of Europe, invading Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France, placing ever-increasing numbers of Jews under Nazi control. The Nazis then began carefully tallying up the actual figures and also required Jews to register all of their assets. But the overall question remained as to what to do with the millions of Jews now under Nazi control - referred to by the Nazis themselves as the Judenfrage (Jewish question).

The industrialization and scale of the murder was unprecedented. Killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of occupied Europe—more than 20 occupied countries.[40] Close to three million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5 million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more died in the rest of Europe.[41] Victims were transported in sealed freight trains from all over Europe to extermination camps equipped with gas chambers.[42] The stationary facilities grew out of Nazi experiments with poison gas during the Aktion T4 mass murder ("euthanasia") programme against the disabled and mentally ill, which began in 1939.[43] The Germans set up six extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz II-Birkenau (established October 1941); Majdanek (October 1941); Chełmno (December 1941); and the three Operation Reinhard camps, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, in 1942.[44] A seventh death camp, Maly Trostenets, was established near Minsk in Belarus, then part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland.[45] Discussions at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 made it clear that the German "final solution of the Jewish question" was intended eventually to include Britain and all the neutral states in Europe, including Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.[46]
Dr. Karski was the contact between the Polish resistance and the Polish government in exile. He repeatedly crossed enemy lines to act as a courier between his occupied nation and the West. Prior to his last departure from Poland, he was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto by the Jewish underground in order to witness the horrendous conditions. Asked to tell the story to the rest of the world, he reported on his experience to many world leaders, including American President Franklin Roosevelt.
While the Nazi Party program adopted in February 1920 did not contain direct or indirect reference to the term, Nazi propaganda presented a radical elimination of anything deemed Jewish from all aspects of German life as prerequisite for national recovery. After Hitler's rise to power, party activists and bureaucrats competed in transforming the broad-based consensus that something had to be done about the "Jewish question" into government policy aimed at varying degrees of segregation, expropriation, and physical removal. In the process, applying force became increasingly attractive; however, use of the term in German documents produced prior to 1941 should be understood less as an expression of a preconceived blueprint for genocide than as an expression of radical, as yet unspecified intent.
The rioting was triggered by the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by a Polish Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, on November 7th. Grynszpan did not attempt to escape and claimed that the assassination was motivated by the persecution of the Jewish people. Despite being attended to by Hitler’s personal physician, vom Rath died two days later.

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942 in Wannsee, a Berlin suburb, the details of the “Final Solution” were worked out. The meeting was convened by Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of the S.S. main office and S.S. Chief Heinrich Himmler’s top aide. The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate the Nazi bureaucracy required to carry out the “Final Solution,” which provided for:


Meanwhile, sightings of Josef Mengele were being reported all over the world. Wiesenthal claimed to have information that placed Mengele on the Greek island of Kythnos in 1960,[103] in Cairo in 1961,[104] in Spain in 1971,[105] and in Paraguay in 1978, eighteen years after he had left the country.[106] He insisted as late as 1985 that Mengele was still alive—six years after he had died—having previously offered a reward of US$100,000 in 1982 for the fugitive's capture.[107] Worldwide interest in the case was heightened by a mock trial held in Jerusalem in February 1985, featuring the testimonies of over one hundred victims of Mengele's experiments. Shortly afterwards, the West German, Israeli, and U.S. governments launched a coordinated effort to determine Mengele's whereabouts. The West German and Israeli governments offered rewards for his capture, as did The Washington Times and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.[108]
^ Feig, Konnilyn G. (1981). Hitler's death camps: the sanity of madness. Holmes & Meier Publishers. p. 30. ISBN 0841906750 – via Remember.org book excerpt in full screen. On November 4, 1943, Globocnik wrote to Himmler from Trieste: "I have, on Oct. 19, 1943, completed Action Reinhard, and closed all the camps." He asked for special medals for his men in recognition of their "specially difficult task". Himmler responded warmly to 'Globos' on November 30, 1943, thanking him for carrying out Operation Reinhard. Also in: Holocaust Encyclopedia. ""Final Solution": Overview". Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 2 March 2013.

Freund and his colleagues, including Harry Jol, a professor of geology and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and Philip Reeder, a geoscientist and mapping expert from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, were brought in to explore further. They spent five days scanning the ground beneath the school and the surrounding landscape with ground-penetrating radar, and emerged with a detailed digital map that displayed not just the synagogue’s main altar and seating area but also a separate building that held a bathhouse containing two mikvaot, or ceremonial baths, a well for water and several latrines. Afterward, Freund met with the staff at the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, named after the famed 18th-century Talmudic scholar from Vilnius, and a partner on the Great Synagogue project. Then, Freund said, “We asked them: ‘What else would you like us to do? We’ll do it for free.’”

Many Jews were saved by hiding and also by illegal frontier crossings. Anne Frank‘s family hid in the concealed annex of an Amsterdam office building with the help of a Christian friend, and the family of Emmanuel Ringelblum (the Warsaw ghetto historian) hid in Warsaw in a specially prepared underground bunker camouflaged by a Polish gardener’s greenhouse. Both the Franks and the Ringelblums were caught and perished. About 20,000 Polish Jews, however, did survive hidden in Aryan Warsaw. Likewise, 5,000 Dutch Jews and several thousand German Jews were hidden in the heart of the Nazi empire, in Berlin and Hamburg.
To carry out the mass murder of an estimated two million Jews, Globocnik created a Department on his staff for Operation Reinhard. One of his assistants, SS Major Hermann Höfle, would coordinate the deportation of the Jews with local civilian and SS and police authorities. Criminal Police Captain Christian Wirth, a veteran of the "Euthanasia" program, established under Globocnik's supervision three killing centers in German-occupied Poland: Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II. Globocnik and his staff managed the mass murder of up to 1,700,000 Jews in the Operation Reinhard killing centers and in shooting operations throughout the Generalgouvernement. The vast majority of the victims were Polish Jews, although German, Austrian, Czech, Dutch, French, Yugoslav, and Greek Jews also died in the Reinhard killing centers.
After only four days of working in Hamburg, Ruth Elias was escorted by an SS man, in a private compartment on a passenger train, to the infirmary at Ravensbrück, the women's concentration camp near Berlin. From there, Ruth and Berta Reich, another prisoner who was nine months pregnant, were soon sent back to Auschwitz on another passenger train. Ruth gave birth to a baby girl at Auschwitz, but Dr. Mengele cruelly ordered her to bind her breasts and not to nurse her child because he wanted to see how long it would take for a baby to die without its mother's milk. Mercifully, a woman dentist named Maca Steinberg, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, obtained some morphine and gave it to Ruth so that she could inject her baby and end its life, after Ruth told her that Dr. Mengele was due to arrive the next morning to take Ruth and her child to the gas chamber.

Hilberg's analysis of the steps that led to the destruction of European Jews revealed that it was "an administrative process carried out by bureaucrats in a network of offices spanning a continent".[108] Hilberg divides this bureaucracy into four components or hierarchies: the Nazi Party, the civil service, industry, and the Wehrmacht armed forces – but their cooperation is viewed as "so complete that we may truly speak of their fusion into a machinery of destruction".[109] For Hilberg, the key stages in the destruction process were: definition and registration of the Jews; expropriation of property; concentration into ghettoes and camps; and, finally, annihilation.[110] Hilberg gives an estimate of 5.1 million as the total number of Jews killed. He breaks this figure down into three categories: Ghettoization and general privation: over 800,000; open-air shootings: over 1,300,000; extermination camps: up to 3,000,000.[111]


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.
Josef Mengele (/ˈmɛŋɡələ/; German: [ˈmɛŋələ]; 16 March 1911 – 7 February 1979) was a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He performed deadly human experiments on prisoners and was a member of the team of doctors who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers. Arrivals that were judged able to work were admitted into the camp, while those deemed unsuitable for labor were sent to the gas chambers to be killed. With Red Army troops sweeping through Poland, Mengele was transferred 280 kilometers (170 mi) from Auschwitz to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp on 17 January 1945, just ten days before the arrival of the Soviet forces at Auschwitz. After the war, he fled to South America where he evaded capture for the rest of his life.
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