Methods of mass murder evolved at local levels as well as being decreed from Nazi high command. Killing squads rounded up and shot entire Jewish communities. Over two days in Kiev, 33,771 Jews were shot. The murder of Jews rapidly escalated, in part because local Nazi leaders didn’t have enough room to place them in the ghettos. By the end of the year, plans to implement the systematic slaughter of Jews by using gas in mobile trucks and gas chambers were well underway.
In France Jews under Fascist Italian occupation in the southeast fared better than the Jews of Vichy France, where collaborationist French authorities and police provided essential support to the understaffed German forces. The Jews in those parts of France under direct German occupation fared the worst. Although allied with Germany, the Italians did not participate in the Holocaust until Germany occupied northern Italy after the overthrow of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1943.
Some ghettos were initially open, which meant that Jews could leave the area during the daytime but had to be back by a curfew. Later, all ghettos became closed, meaning that Jews were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Major ghettos were located in the cities of Polish cities of Bialystok, Lodz, and Warsaw. Other ghettos were found in present-day Minsk, Belarus; Riga, Latvia; and Vilna, Lithuania. The largest ghetto was in Warsaw. At its peak in March 1941, some 445,000 were crammed into an area just 1.3 square miles in size.
The Nazis established ghettos in occupied Poland. Polish and western European Jews were deported to these ghettos. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) began killing entire Jewish communities. The methods used, mainly shooting or gas vans, were soon regarded as inefficient and as a psychological burden on the killers.
The Nazi killing site at Ponar is today known to scholars as one of the first examples of the “Holocaust by bullets”—the mass shootings that claimed the lives of upwards of two million Jews across Eastern Europe. Unlike the infamous gas chambers at places like Auschwitz, these murders were carried out at close range, with rifles and machine guns. Significantly, the killings at Ponar marked the transition to the Final Solution, the Nazi policy under which Jews would no longer be imprisoned in labor camps or expelled from Europe but exterminated.
Amit withstood pressure from many members of his staff who were Holocaust survivors or relatives of victims. But others thought he was right. Rafi Eitan, an Israel-born Mossad operative who led the team that caught Eichmann, told me: “Because of the need for foreign-language speakers, many of the Mossad’s recruits were from Europe, and therefore had gone through the Holocaust or lost their families in it. One can definitely understand their need for vengeance. However, there was huge pressure to deal with current requirements, and with the resources being as meager as they were, in no way would it have been right to give the Nazi matter priority.”
Their decency exposed them to the dangers of discovery and denunciation. If caught, they faced torture, deportation to concentration camps, or execution. Their behavior was atypical even in their own communities, where the attitude of the majority was characterized by inertia, indifference, and open complicity in the persecution and mass murder of Europe’s Jews.
Anxious to limit immigration to the United States and to maintain good relations with the Vichy government, the State Department actively discouraged diplomats from helping refugees. However, Bingham cooperated in issuing visas and helping refugees escape France. Hiram Bingham gave about 2,000 visas, most of them to well-known personalities, speaking English, including Max Ernst, André Breton, Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Lion Feuchtwanger and Nobel prize winner Otto Meyerhof.
^ After the invasion of Poland, the Germans planned to set up a Jewish reservation in southeast Poland around the transit camp in Nisko, but the "Nisko Plan" failed, in part because it was opposed by Hans Frank, the new Governor-General of the General Government territory. Adolf Eichmann was assigned to remove Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to the reservation. Although the idea was to remove 80,000 Jews, Eichmann had managed to send only 4,700 by March 1940, and the plan was abandoned in April. By mid-October the idea of a Jewish reservation had been revived by Heinrich Himmler, because of the influx of Germanic settlers into the Warthegau. Resettlement continued until January 1941 under Odilo Globocnik, and included both Jews and Poles. By that time 95,000 Jews were already concentrated in the area, but the plan to deport up to 600,000 additional Jews to the Lublin reservation failed for logistical and political reasons.
Timothy D. Snyder (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010): "In this book the term Holocaust signifies the final version of the Final Solution, the German policy to eliminate the Jews of Europe by murdering them. Although Hitler certainly wished to remove the Jews from Europe in a Final Solution earlier, the Holocaust on this definition begins in summer 1941, with the shooting of Jewish women and children in the occupied Soviet Union. The term Holocaust is sometimes used in two other ways: to mean all German killing policies during the war, or to mean all oppression of Jews by the Nazi regime. In this book, Holocaust means the murder of the Jews in Europe, as carried out by the Germans by guns and gas between 1941 and 1945."
But they were gradually shut out of German society by the Nazis through a never-ending series of laws and decrees, culminating in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which deprived them of their German citizenship and forbade intermarriage with non-Jews. They were removed from schools, banned from the professions, excluded from military service, and were even forbidden to share a park bench with a non-Jew.
Cesarani notes that by 1943, as the military position of the German forces deteriorated, the Nazi leadership became more openly explicit about the Final Solution. In March, Goebbels confided to his diary: "On the Jewish question especially, we are in it so deeply that there is no getting out any longer. And that is a good thing. Experience teaches that a movement and a people who have burned their bridges fight with much greater determination and fewer constraints than those that have a chance of retreat."
In response to a typhus epidemic in the women's camp, Mengele cleared one block of six hundred Jewish women and sent them to their deaths in the gas chambers. The building was then cleaned and disinfected, and the occupants of a neighboring block were bathed, de-loused, and given new clothing before being moved into the clean block. This process was repeated until all of the barracks were disinfected. Similar procedures were used for later epidemics of scarlet fever and other diseases, with infected prisoners being killed in the gas chambers. For these actions, Mengele was awarded the War Merit Cross (Second Class with swords) and was promoted in 1944 to First Physician of the Birkenau subcamp.