Some Germans, even some Nazis, dissented from the murder of the Jews and came to their aid. The most famous was Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman, who had set up operations using involuntary labour in German-occupied Poland in order to profit from the war. Eventually, he moved to protect his Jewish workers from deportation to extermination camps. In all occupied countries, there were individuals who came to the rescue of Jews, offering a place to hide, some food, or shelter for days or weeks or even for the duration of the war. Most of the rescuers did not see their actions as heroic but felt bound to the Jews by a common sense of humanity. Israel later recognized rescuers with honorary citizenship and commemoration at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.
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.
In October 1942, Jan Karski met clandestinely with Jewish leaders at the height of the destruction of Polish Jewry. As a courier for the underground, he delivered their dire message to the Polish government-in-exile in London. “The Jews were abandoned by governments, by church hierarchies, by existing societal structures. But they were not abandoned by all of humanity,” said Karski. “There were thousands upon thousands of people in Europe who risked their life for the Jews. They were priests, nuns, workers, peasants, enlightened ones, simpletons, from all walks of life. They were good people, very simply. We have more good people than probably we think we have in humanity.” Karski was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile among the Gentiles on June 2, 1982
France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied north and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas under the Vichy regime. The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas. In July 1940, the Jews in the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany were expelled into Vichy France. Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942. An estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor.
After obtaining a copy of his birth certificate through the West German embassy in 1956, Mengele was issued with an Argentine foreign residence permit under his real name. He used this document to obtain a West German passport, also using his real name, and embarked on a trip to Europe. He met up with his son Rolf (who was told Mengele was his "Uncle Fritz") and his widowed sister-in-law Martha, for a ski holiday in Switzerland; he also spent a week in his home town of Günzburg. When he returned to Argentina in September 1956, Mengele began living under his real name. Martha and her son Karl Heinz followed about a month later, and the three began living together. Josef and Martha were married in 1958 while on holiday in Uruguay, and they bought a house in Buenos Aires. Mengele's business interests now included part ownership of Fadro Farm, a pharmaceutical company. Along with several other doctors, Mengele was questioned in 1958 on suspicion of practicing medicine without a license when a teenage girl died after an abortion, but he was released without charge. Aware that the publicity would lead to his Nazi background and wartime activities being discovered, he took an extended business trip to Paraguay and was granted citizenship there in 1959 under the name "José Mengele". He returned to Buenos Aires several times to settle his business affairs and visit his family. Martha and Karl lived in a boarding house in the city until December 1960, when they returned to Germany.
The Nazis attempted to quell increasing reports of the Final Solution by inviting the International Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt, a ghetto in Czechoslovakia containing prominent Jews. A Red Cross delegation toured Theresienstadt in July 1944 observing stores, banks, cafes, and classrooms which had been hastily spruced-up for their benefit. They also witnessed a delightful musical program put on by Jewish children. After the Red Cross departed, most of the ghetto inhabitants, including all of the children, were sent to be gassed and the model village was left to deteriorate.
Soon after, a Mossad surveillance team saw a man matching Mengele’s description enter a pharmacy owned by a person who was known to be in touch with him. On July 23, 1962, the Mossad operative Zvi Aharoni (who had identified Eichmann two years earlier) was on a dirt road by the farm where Mengele was believed to be hiding when he encountered a group of men — including one who looked exactly like the fugitive.
Jewish refugees were the subject of two international conferences, at Evian in 1938 and Bermuda in 1943. Neither conference resulted in any concrete action. In general, Britain treated refugees from Nazi Germany as economic migrants, and took in only those who would be of economic benefit to the country. About 10,000 Jewish children were brought to Britain in 1939 under the Kindertransport scheme, and placed with British families, but their parents were excluded and had to pay for their children's support. The best that can be said for Britain's refugee policy is that it was less ungenerous than that of most other European states at the time.
Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and expulsions. The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in the German empire and Austria-Hungary of the völkisch movement, which was developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. These ideas became commonplace throughout Germany, with the professional classes adopting an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. Although the völkisch parties had support in elections at first, by 1914 they were no longer influential. This did not mean that antisemitism had disappeared; instead it was incorporated into the platforms of several mainstream political parties.
Gerda Schrage was 24 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. She had been in hiding in Berlin during the war, until someone betrayed her to the Gestapo and she was arrested. According to Gerda's story, as told in the documentary film "Gerda's Silence," when she arrived at Auschwitz, she was pregnant by a married man with whom she had had an affair while she was in hiding. Her baby died in her arms at Birkenau because Dr. Mengele was conducting yet another cruel experiment and would not allow her to nurse the baby.
Dogim backed down; the diggers pressed on. On April 9, Farber announced that they’d reached the roots of a tree near the barbed-wire fence that encircled the camp’s perimeter. Three days later, he made a tentative stab with a makeshift probe he’d fashioned out of copper tubing. Gone was the stench of the pits. “We could feel the fresh April air, and it gave us strength,” he later recalled. “We saw with our own eyes that freedom was near.”
The deportation of Jews to the ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", discussed by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. As German forces captured territories in the East, all anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings were committed within Germany itself, throughout occupied Europe, and across all territories controlled by the Axis powers. Paramilitary death squads called Einsatzgruppen, in cooperation with Wehrmacht police battalions and local collaborators, murdered around 1.3 million Jews in mass shootings between 1941 and 1945. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from the ghettos in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were killed in gas chambers. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.
“What happened is beyond our wildest dreams. Twice the Germans fled from our ghetto. One of our companies held out for forty minutes and the other, for over six hours ... I have no words to describe to you the conditions in which Jews are living. Only a few chosen ones will hold out; all the rest will perish sooner or later. The die is cast. In the bunkers in which our comrades are hiding, no candle can be lit for lack of air ... The main thing is: My life’s dream has come true; I have lived to see Jewish resistance in the ghetto in all its greatness and glory.”
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen and, later, militarized battalions of Order Police officials, moved behind German lines to carry out mass-murder operations against Jews, Roma, and Soviet state and Communist Party officials. German SS and police units, supported by units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, murdered more than a million Jewish men, women, and children, and hundreds of thousands of others.
As if cold-blooded murder of millions of Jews was not enough, it was done with extreme, perverse cruelty. The victims were packed into cattle trains with standing-room only and without food or water, or heat in the winter, or toilet facilities. Many did not arrive at the camps alive. Those who did arrive at their destination had their heads shaved, with the hair to be used for stuffing mattresses. Stripped of all clothing, most were herded naked into the gas chambers. Dr Johann Kremer, a German SS surgeon, described the gassing of a group of French Jews including 150 boys and girls under the age of 15:
Von Verschuer’s work revolved around hereditary influences on congenital defects such as cleft palate. Mengele was an enthusiastic assistant to von Verschuer, and he left the lab in 1938 with both a glowing recommendation and a second doctorate in medicine. For his dissertation topic, Mengele wrote about racial influences on the formation of the lower jaw.
The unstoppable Allied military advance continued and on July 24, 1944, Soviet troops liberated the first camp, Majdanek in eastern Poland, where over 360,000 had died. As the Soviet Army neared Auschwitz, Himmler ordered the complete destruction of the gas chambers. Throughout Hitler's crumbling Reich, the SS now began conducting death marches of surviving concentration camp inmates away from outlying areas, including some 66,000 from Auschwitz. Most of the inmates on these marches either dropped dead from exertion or were shot by the SS when they failed to keep up with the column.
All these appropriations, whether cheaply personal or densely ideological, whether seen as exalting or denigrating, have contributed to the conversion of Anne Frank into usable goods. There is no authorized version other than the diary itself, and even this has been brought into question by the Holocaust denial industry—in part a spinoff of the Anne Frank industry—which labels the diary a forgery. One charge is that Otto Frank wrote it himself, to make money. (Scurrilities like these necessitated the issuance, in 1986, of a Critical Edition by the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, including forensic evidence of handwriting and ink—a defensive hence sorrowful volume.)
But the exhortations of both Isaiah and the Jerusalem Talmud would also seem to apply, collectively and individually, to the thousands of Poles who saved Jews, often exposing themselves to considerably greater danger than those who acted similarly in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Nor is the message of these passages limited to acts of heroic selflessness during the Shoah. Think, for instance, of Zidan Saif, the Druze policeman who gave his life defending a Jerusalem synagogue against terrorists in 2014—or, in the realm of power politics, of those many Gentiles, from Arthur Balfour to Harry Truman to Daniel P. Moynihan, who at decisive moments in history have spoken up for the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents. They set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not conform.
Josef Mengele, byname Todesengel (German: “Angel of Death”), (born March 16, 1911, Günzburg, Germany—died February 7, 1979, Enseada da Bertioga, near São Paulo, Brazil), Nazi doctor at Auschwitz extermination camp (1943–45) who selected prisoners for execution in the gas chambers and conducted medical experiments on inmates in pseudoscientific racial studies.
Peter Hayes (How Was It Possible? A Holocaust Reader, 2015): "The Holocaust, the Nazi attempt to eradicate the Jews of Europe, has come to be regarded as the emblematic event of Twentieth Century ... Hitler's ideology depicted the Jews as uniquely dangerous to Germany and therefore uniquely destined to disappear completely from the Reich and all territories subordinate to it. The threat posted by supposedly corrupting but generally powerless Sinti and Roma was far less, and therefore addressed inconsistently in the Nazi realm. Gay men were defined as a problem only if they were German or having sex with Germans or having sex with Germans and considered 'curable' in most cases. ... Germany's murderous intent toward the handicapped inhabitants of European mental institutions ... was more comprehensive ... but here, too, implementation was uneven and life-saving exceptions permitted, especially in Western Europe. Not only were some Slavs—Slovaks, Croats, Bulgarians, some Ukrainians—allotted a favored place in Hitler's New Order, but the fate of most of the other Slavs the Nazis derided as sub-humans ... consisted of enslavement and gradual attrition, not the prompt massacre meted out to the Jews after 1941."
Who among gentile Poles was most likely to stand up for persecuted Jews? What propelled these rescuers to risk their lives for them? What characteristics, motivations, and circumstances did the rescuers share? Most attempts to answer these questions focus upon standard sociological categories: researchers consider the rescuers’ class, education, political and religious commitments, friendships with Jews, and level of anti-Jewish prejudice. The results of such investigations have not led to clear conclusions. Some studies suggest that economically deprived Christians more readily identified with Jewish suffering. Others conclude that intellectuals were more likely to have been protectors because they had better insight into German aims and were committed to undermining them.
In the 1960s, Otto Frank recalled his feelings when reading the diary for the first time, "For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings." Michael Berenbaum, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote, "Precocious in style and insight, it traces her emotional growth amid adversity. In it, she wrote, 'In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.'"
The impact of the Holocaust varied from region to region and from year to year in the 21 countries that were directly affected. Nowhere was the Holocaust more intense and sudden than in Hungary. What took place over several years in Germany occurred over 16 weeks in Hungary. Entering the war as a German ally, Hungary had persecuted its Jews but not permitted the deportation of Hungarian citizens. In 1941 foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Hungary and were shot by Germans in Kam’yanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine. After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, the situation changed dramatically. By mid-April the Nazis had confined Jews to ghettos. On May 15, deportations began, and over the next 55 days the Nazis deported more than 437,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz on 147 trains.
Four weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, on July 17, 1941, Hitler tasked SS chief Heinrich Himmler with responsibility for all security matters in the occupied Soviet Union. Hitler gave Himmler broad authority to physically eliminate any perceived threats to permanent German rule. Two weeks later, on July 31, Reich Marshall Hermann Göring, acting as Hitler's second-in-command, authorized Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Main Office for Security (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA) and Himmler's direct subordinate, to make preparations for the implementation of a "complete solution of the Jewish question." Henceforth, the SS in general and the RSHA in particular enjoyed Hitler's decision-making authority to manage the implementation of the "Final Solution." [The RSHA consisted of the Security Police (Gestapo and Criminal Police) and the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst-SD)]
Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by purple triangles and given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died; in The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2001), Sybil Milton estimates that 10,000 were sent and 2,500 died. According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."
Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork. . . .The people get almost nothing to eat, much less to drink, as water is available only one hour a day, and there’s only one toilet and sink for several thousand people. Men and women sleep in the same room, and women and children often have their heads shaved. . . . If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed.
Another Polish courier, Jan Karski, reached the west in November 1942, carrying messages from Jewish leaders in Poland. He had himself witnessed the conditions in the Warsaw ghetto and in what he believed to be the Belzec death camp, and was eager to inform the world. Karski saw the British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, and US President Roosevelt, but they seemed to be more interested in military intelligence than in atrocity stories. Partly as a result of Karski's mission, however, the Allies agreed to a joint declaration, read to the British Parliament on 17 December, which acknowledged Nazi war crimes and threatened punishment for the perpetrators. Subsequently millions of leaflets were dropped in the course of bombing raids on German cities to inform Germans of the facts, but these had little or no effect.
The next day, a museum staffer named Mantas Siksnianas took Freund and his crew to the forests of Ponar, a 20-minute drive from the city center. Most of the nearby Nazi-era burial pits had been located, Siksnianas explained, but local archaeologists had found a large area, overgrown with foliage, that looked as if it might be an unidentified mass grave: Could Freund and his colleagues determine if it was?
At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, releasing toxic prussic acid, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed, gold fillings in their teeth were extracted, and women's hair was cut. The work was done by the Sonderkommando, work groups of mostly Jewish prisoners. At Auschwitz, the bodies were at first buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.
A subsequent bowdlerization, in 1950, was still more programmatic, and crossed over even more seriously into the area of Levin’s concern for uncompromised faithfulness. The German edition’s translator, Anneliese Schütz, in order to mask or soft-pedal German culpability, went about methodically blurring every hostile reference to Germans and German. Anne’s parodic list of house rules, for instance, included “Use of language: It is necessary to speak softly at all times. Only the language of civilized people may be spoken, thus no German.” The German translation reads, “Alle Kultursprachen . . . aber leise!”—“all civilized languages . . . but softly!” “Heroism in the war or when confronting the Germans” is dissolved into “heroism in the war and in the struggle against oppression.” (“A book intended after all for sale in Germany,” Schütz explained, “cannot abuse the Germans.”) The diarist’s honest cry, in the midst of a vast persecution, that “there is no greater hostility than exists between Germans and Jews” became, in Schütz’s version, “there is no greater hostility in the world than between these Germans and Jews!” Frank agreed to the latter change because, he said, it was what his daughter had really meant: she “by no means measured all Germans by the same yardstick. For, as she knew so well, even in those days we had many good friends among the Germans.” But this guarded accommodationist view is Otto Frank’s own; it is nowhere in the diary. Even more striking than Frank’s readiness to accede to such misrepresentations is the fact that for forty-one years (until a more accurate translation appeared) no reader of the diary in German had ever known an intact text.
The Jews killed represented around one third of the world population of Jews, and about two-thirds of European Jewry, based on an estimate of 9.7 million Jews in Europe at the start of the war. Much of the uncertainty stems from the lack of a reliable figure for the number of Jews in Europe in 1939, numerous border changes that make avoiding double-counting of victims difficult, lack of accurate records from the perpetrators, and uncertainty about whether deaths occurring months after liberation, but caused by the persecution, should be counted.
Dr. Mengele had a Ph.D. in Anthropology as well as a degree in medicine, which he received in July 1938 from the University of Frankfurt. He earned his Ph.D. in 1935 with a thesis on "Racial Morphological Research on the Lower Jaw Section of Four Racial Groups." In January 1937, Dr. Mengele was appointed a research assistant at the Institute for Heredity, Biology and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. He worked under Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a geneticist who was doing research on twins. As the war-time director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Hereditary Teaching Genetics, located in Berlin, von Verschuer secured the funds for Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz. The results of Mengele's research on twins was sent to this Institute. The grant for Mengele's genetic research was authorized by the German Research Council in August 1943.
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.
On November 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Göring convened a meeting of Nazi officials to discuss the damage to the German economy from pogroms. The Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmarks. Moreover, Jews were made responsible for cleaning up the damage. German Jews, but not foreign Jews, were barred from collecting insurance. In addition, Jews were soon denied entry to theatres, forced to travel in separate compartments on trains, and excluded from German schools. These new restrictions were added to earlier prohibitions, such as those barring Jews from earning university degrees, from owning businesses, or from practicing law or medicine in the service of non-Jews. The Nazis would continue to confiscate Jewish property in a program called “Aryanization.” Göring concluded the November meeting with a note of irony: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”
Mengele’s crimes had been well documented before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and other postwar courts. West German authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1959, and a request for extradition in 1960. Alarmed by the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in that same year, Mengele moved to Paraguay and then to Brazil. He spent the last years of his life near Sao Pãolo. In declining health, Mengele suffered a stroke and drowned while swimming at a vacation resort near Bertioga, Brazil, on February 7, 1979. He was buried in a suburb of Sao Pãolo under the fictive name “Wolfgang Gerhard.”
When an outbreak of noma (a gangrenous bacterial disease of the mouth and face) struck the Romani camp in 1943, Mengele initiated a study to determine the cause of the disease and develop a treatment. He enlisted the assistance of prisoner Dr. Berthold Epstein, a Jewish pediatrician and professor at Prague University. The patients were isolated in a separate barracks and several afflicted children were killed so that their preserved heads and organs could be sent to the SS Medical Academy in Graz and other facilities for study. This research was still ongoing when the Romani camp was liquidated and its remaining occupants killed in 1944.