Before the start of World War II, around 9.5 million Jewish people lived in Europe. By the time the war ended, the Nazis had killed 6 million European Jews in concentration camps, or pogroms, or ghettos, or mass executions in what we refer to today as the Holocaust. The Nazis used the term Endlösung, or Final Solution, as the “answer” to the “Jewish question.” But when did this monstrous plan get put in motion?
^ Jump up to: a b Dan Stone (Histories of the Holocaust, 2010): "Europe's Romany (Gypsy) population was also the victim of genocide under the Nazis. Many other population groups, notably Poles, Ukrainians, and Soviet prisoners of war were killed in huge numbers, and smaller groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Black Germans, and homosexuals suffered terribly under Nazi rule. The evidence suggests that the Slav nations of Europe were also destined, had Germany won the war, to become victims of systematic mass murder; and even the terrible brutality of the occupation in eastern Europe, especially in Poland, can be understood as genocidal according to the definition put forward by Raphael Lemkin in his major study, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), the book that introduced the term 'genocide' to our vocabulary. Part of the reason for today's understanding, though, is a correct assessment of the fact that for the Nazis the Jews were regarded in a kind of 'metaphysical' way; they were not just considered as racially inferior (like Romanies), deviants (like homosexuals) or enemy nationals standing in the way of German colonial expression (like Slavs). ... [T]he Jews were to some extent outside of the racial scheme as defined by racial philosophers and anthropologists. They were not mere Untermenschen (sub-humans) ... but were regarded as a Gegenrasse: "a 'counter-race', that is to say, not really human at all. ... 'Holocaust', then, refers to the genocide of the Jews, which by no means excludes an understanding that other groups—notably Romanies and Slavs—were victims of genocide. Indeed ... the murder of the Jews, although a project in its own right, cannot be properly historically situated without understanding the 'Nazi empire' with its grandiose demographic plans."
On July 17, 1941, four weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, 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, 1941, Nazi leader Hermann Goering authorized SS General Reinhard Heydrich to make preparations for the implementation of a "complete solution of the Jewish question."
By mid-1944 those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May Himmler claimed in a speech that "the Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany". As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, with surviving inmates shipped to camps closer to Germany. Efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches". Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, some were marched to train stations and transported for days at a time without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Others were marched the entire distance to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.
The Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life) in reference to the disabled and mentally ill. On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed, allowing for compulsory sterilization. The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.
That the designated guru replied, year after year, to embarrassing and shabby effusions like these may open a new pathway into our generally obscure understanding of the character of Otto Frank. His responses—from Basel, where he had settled with his second wife—were consistently attentive, formal, kindly. When Wilson gave birth, he sent her a musical toy, and he faithfully offered a personal word about her excitements as she supplied them: her baby sons, her dance lessons, her husband’s work on commercials, her freelance writing. But his letters were also political and serious. It is good, he wrote in October, 1970, to take “an active part in trying to abolish injustices and all sorts of grievances, but we cannot follow your views regarding the Black Panthers.” And in December, 1973, “As you can imagine, we were highly shocked about the unexpected attack of the Arabs on Israel on Yom Kippur and are now mourning with all those who lost members of their families.” Presumably he knew something about losing a family. Wilson, insouciantly sliding past these faraway matters, was otherwise preoccupied, “finding our little guys sooo much fun.”
In May, Nazis under the direction of SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann boldly began a mass deportation of the last major surviving population of European Jews. From May 15 to July 9, over 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. During this time, Auschwitz recorded its highest-ever daily number of persons killed and cremated at just over 9000. Six huge open pits were used to burn the bodies, as the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the crematories.
On June 29, the Times of Israel reported on the discovery: “New tech reveals forgotten Holocaust escape tunnel in Lithuania.” News media around the world picked up the story, including the BBC and the New York Times. To Freund, finding the tunnel finally made it possible to fully comprehend the perseverance the escapees had demonstrated. “What people were so captivated by, I think, was that this was a tale of hope,” he told me. “It proved how resilient humans can be.”
His “obsession,” as he afterward called it—partly in mockery of the opposition his later views evoked—had its beginning in those repeated scenes of piled-up bodies as he investigated camp after camp. From then on, he could be said to carry the mark of Abel. He dedicated himself to helping the survivors get to Mandate Palestine, a goal that Britain had made illegal. In 1946, he reported from Tel Aviv on the uprising against British rule, and during the next two years he produced a pair of films on the struggles of the survivors to reach Palestine. In 1950, he published “In Search,” an examination of the effects of the European cataclysm on his experience and sensibility as an American Jew. (Thomas Mann acclaimed the book as “a human document of high order, written by a witness of our fantastic epoch whose gaze remained both clear and steady.”) Levin’s intensifying focus on the Jewish condition in the twentieth century grew more and more heated, and when his wife, the novelist Tereska Torres, handed him the French edition of the diary (it had previously appeared only in Dutch) he felt he had found what he had thirsted after: a voice crying up from the ground, an authentic witness to the German onslaught.
As Siksnianas led Freund through the woods, he told an astonishing story about a group of prisoners who had reportedly tunneled to freedom and joined partisan fighters hiding out in the forest. But when Freund asked to see exactly how they made it out, he got only shrugs. No one could show him; no one knew. Because a tunnel had never been definitively located and documented, the story had come to take on the contours of a fable, and three-quarters of a century on, it seemed destined to remain a legend without any verifiable evidence to back it up—a crucial piece of the historical record, lost to time.
Browning wrestles with these and many other related questions in a consistently persuasive and cogent way. He concludes, very sensibly, that it is inconceivable that the Holocaust, unprecedented in history and entailing a massive, counterproductive diversion of resources in wartime, could have taken place without Hitler’s immediate knowledge and approval, although his orders were often, as Browning notes, “vague and inexplicit.” Moreover, Hitler himself was the chief Nazi ideologue of rabid, demented, racialist anti-Semitism, with anti-Semitism at the very center of his worldview and in and of itself a central motivating factor in his foreign and military policies.
The forest burst orange with gunfire. “I looked around: Our entire path was filled with people crawling,” Farber has written. “Some jumped up and started running in various directions.” Farber and Dogim cut through the fence and tore off into the woods, with Zeidel and three others in tow. The men ran all night, through rivers, through forests, past villages. After a week, the escapees were deep inside the Rudnitsky Woods. Farber introduced himself to the partisan leader. “Where do you come from?” the man asked.
A German in a military uniform shoots at a Jewish woman after a mass execution in Mizocz, Ukraine. In October of 1942, the 1,700 people in the Mizocz ghetto fought with Ukrainian auxiliaries and German policemen who had intended to liquidate the population. About half the residents were able to flee or hide during the confusion before the uprising was finally put down. The captured survivors were taken to a ravine and shot. Photo provided by Paris' Holocaust Memorial. #
Perhaps the main area of dispute about this process concerns Hitler’s precise role in ordering the killing of the Jews. Remarkably, we simply do not know, in an unequivocal way, what Hitler’s precise role was. The dictator often gave oral orders to senior henchmen such as Heinrich Himmler that were never written down, and historians can only infer Hitler’s precise role and intentions from evidence which is infuriatingly inadequate and contradictory. Because of the lack of unambiguous evidence, historians have been divided for decades, rather misleadingly, into so-called “intentionalists,” who argue that Hitler always intended to kill the Jews, and “functionalists,” who claim that the killing process somehow, as it were, welled up from local SS units in Russia until it became general Nazi policy.
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.
The Nazis regarded the Slavs as subhuman, or Untermenschen. In a secret memorandum dated 25 May 1940, Himmler stated that it was in German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to schools that would only teach them how to write their own name, count up to 500, and obey Germans.[y] In November 1939 German planners called for "the complete destruction" of all Poles and resettlement of the land by German colonists. The Polish political leadership was the target of a campaign of murder (Intelligenzaktion and AB-Aktion). Between 1.8 and 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished at German hands during the course of the war; about four-fifths were ethnic Poles and the rest Ukrainians and Belarusians. At least 200,000 died in concentration camps, around 146,000 in Auschwitz. Others died in massacres or in uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising, where 120,000–200,000 were killed. During the occupation, the Germans adopted a policy of restricting food and medical services, as well as degrading sanitation and public hygiene. The death rate rose from 13 per 1000 before the war to 18 per 1000 during the war. Around 6 million of World War II victims were Polish citizens; half the death toll were Jews. Over the course of the war Poland lost 20 percent of its pre-war population. Over 90 percent of the death toll came through non-military losses, through various deliberate actions by Germany and the Soviet Union. Polish children were also kidnapped by Germans to be "Germanized", with perhaps as many as 200,000 children stolen from their families.
After crossing the Soviet demarcation line in 1941, what had been regarded as exceptional in the Greater Germanic Reich became a normal way of operating in the east. The crucial taboo against the killing of women and children was breached not only in Białystok, but also in Gargždai in late June. By July, significant numbers of women and children were being killed behind all front-lines not only by the Germans, but also by the local Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliary forces. On 29 July 1941, at a meeting of SS officers in Vileyka (Polish Wilejka, now Belarus), the Einsatzgruppen had been given a dressing-down for their low execution figures. Heydrich himself issued an order to include the Jewish women and children in all subsequent shooting operations. Accordingly, by the end of July the entire Jewish population of Vileyka, men, women and children were murdered. Around 12 August, no less than two-thirds of the Jews shot in Surazh were women and children of all ages. In late August 1941 the Einsatzgruppen murdered 23,600 Jews in the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre. A month later, the largest mass shooting of Soviet Jews took place on 29–30 September in the ravine of Babi Yar, near Kiev, where more than 33,000 Jewish people of all ages were systematically machine-gunned. In mid-October 1941, HSSPF South, under the command of Friedrich Jeckeln, had reported the indiscriminate killing of more than 100,000 people.
Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid the Franks during the Holocaust, kept Anne Frank’s writings, including her diary. She handed the papers to Otto Frank on the day he learned of his daughters’ deaths. He organized the papers and worked doggedly to get the diary published, first in Dutch in 1947. The first American edition appeared in 1952.
In January 1933, after a bitter ten-year political struggle, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. During his rise to power, Hitler had repeatedly blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and subsequent economic hardships. Hitler also put forward racial theories asserting that Germans with fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes were the supreme form of human, or master race. The Jews, according to Hitler, were the racial opposite, and were actively engaged in an international conspiracy to keep this master race from assuming its rightful position as rulers of the world.
Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research into heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. His medical procedures showed no consideration for the health, safety, or physical and emotional suffering of the victims. He was particularly interested in identical twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), dwarfs, and people with physical abnormalities. A grant was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), at the request of von Verschuer, who received regular reports and shipments of specimens from Mengele. The grant was used to build a pathology laboratory attached to Crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Dr. Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist who arrived in Auschwitz on 29 May 1944, performed dissections and prepared specimens for shipment in this laboratory. The twin research was in part intended to prove the supremacy of heredity over environment and thus strengthen the Nazi premise of the superiority of the Aryan race. Nyiszli and others reported that the twin studies may also have been motivated by an intention to increase the reproduction rate of the German race by improving the chances of racially desirable people having twins.