With this police infrastructure in place, opponents of the Nazis were terrorized, beaten, or sent to one of the concentration camps the Germans built to incarcerate them. Dachau, just outside of Munich, was the first such camp built for political prisoners. Dachau's purpose changed over time and eventually became another brutal concentration camp for Jews.
Ruth Elias and her husband had conceived a child while she was a prisoner in the Theresienstadt camp, and when she arrived at Birkenau on a transport of Czech prisoners in December 1943, she was three months pregnant. Ruth passed several selections for the gas chamber even though she was obviously pregnant; she and her husband were assigned to the Czech "family camp." On July 11, 1944, after a selection made by Dr. Mengele, 3,000 prisoners in the Czech family camp, who were not considered fit to work, were sent to the gas chamber, but Ruth passed the selection even though she was in her eighth month of pregnancy. On July 14, 1944, Ruth was sent to Hamburg, Germany to work in clearing rubble from Allied bombing raids.
After the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, SS and police units (acting as mobile killing units) began massive killing operations aimed at entire Jewish communities. By autumn 1941, the SS and police introduced mobile gas vans. These paneled trucks had exhaust pipes reconfigured to pump poisonous carbon monoxide gas into sealed spaces, killing those locked within. They were designed to complement ongoing shooting operations.
The men worked in shifts throughout the night, with saws, files and spoons stolen from the burial pits. Under the cover of darkness, they smuggled wood planks into the lengthening tunnel to serve as struts; as they dug, they brought sandy earth back out and spread it across the bunker floor. Any noise was concealed by the singing of the other prisoners, who were frequently forced to perform for the Sturmbannführer—arias from The Gypsy Baron, by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, were a favorite.
David Cesarani emphasises the improvised, haphazard nature of Nazi policies in response to changing war time conditions in his overview, Final Solution: The Fate Of The European Jews 1933–49 (2016). "Cesarani provides telling examples", wrote Mark Roseman, "of a lack of coherence and planning for the future in Jewish policy, even when we would most expect it. The classic instance is the invasion of Poland in 1939, when not even the most elementary consideration had been given to what should happen to Poland's Jews either in the shorter or longer term. Given that Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in the world, and that, in a couple of years, it would house the extermination camps, this is remarkable."
Meanwhile they waited, trying with all their strength to survive just one more day – the slave laborers, the fortunate few still not discovered – and those confined in ghettos such as the teenager who wrote in her diary: “When we look at the fence separating us from the rest of the world, our souls, like birds in a cage, yearn to be free. How I envy the birds that fly to freedom.”
Dr. Mengele was known by all the prisoners because of his good looks and charm. According to Gerald L. Posner and John Ware, the authors of "Mengele, the Complete Story," many of the children in the Birkenau camp "adored Mengele" and called him "Uncle Pepi." This information came from Vera Alexander, a survivor of Birkenau, who said that Dr. Mengele brought chocolate and the most beautiful clothes for the children, including hair ribbons for the little girls.
At Auschwitz, a large new camp was already under construction to be known as Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This would become the future site of four large gas chambers to be used for mass extermination. The idea of using gas chambers originated during the Euthanasia Program, the so-called "mercy killing" of sick and disabled persons in Germany and Austria by Nazi doctors.
On Friday, August 4, 1944, the day of the arrest, Miep Gies climbed the stairs to the hiding place and found it ransacked and wrecked. The beleaguered little band had been betrayed by an informer who was paid seven and a half guilders—about a dollar—for each person: sixty guilders for the lot. Miep Gies picked up what she recognized as Anne’s papers and put them away, unread, in her desk drawer. There the diary lay untouched, until Otto Frank emerged alive from Auschwitz. “Had I read it,” she said afterward, “I would have had to burn the diary because it would have been too dangerous for people about whom Anne had written.” It was Miep Gies—the uncommon heroine of this story, a woman profoundly good, a failed savior—who succeeded in rescuing an irreplaceable masterwork. It may be shocking to think this (I am shocked as I think it), but one can imagine a still more salvational outcome: Anne Frank’s diary burned, vanished, lost—saved from a world that made of it all things, some of them true, while floating lightly over the heavier truth of named and inhabited evil. ♦
After WWII had ended, photographs of the Holocaust stunned the public. Newspapers in the United States had reported on the oppression of the Jews in Germany during the war. In 1942, many newspapers were writing details of the Holocaust, but these stories were short and were not widely read. In 1943, after sources had confirmed the killings of at least two million Jews in concentration camps across Europe a Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans believed these reports to be true; 28% thought they were “just a rumor”. The reports were unconfirmed and sometimes denied by the United States government.
At Auschwitz, Yanina survived the gas chamber when adult bodies fell on top of her, protecting her from inhaling a lethal amount of poison gas. Found moaning by Jewish slave laborers who were forced to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, Yanina was resuscitated, given a uniform and told to blend in. Prisoners under the age of 15 were routinely gassed at Auschwitz, but Yanina was able to escape detection after her remarkable rescue.
"... Believe me, I'd like to listen, but it doesn't work, because if I'm quiet and serious, everyone thinks I'm putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I'm not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with aspirins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can't keep it up any more, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I'd like to be and what I could be if ... if only there were no other people in the world."
Mengele was born on 16 March 1911 to Walburga (née Hupfauer) and Karl Mengele in Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany. He was the oldest of three children; his two younger brothers were Karl Jr. and Alois. Their father was founder of the Karl Mengele & Sons company, producers of farm machinery. Josef was successful at school and developed an interest in music, art, and skiing. He completed high school in April 1930 and went on to study philosophy in Munich, where the headquarters of the Nazi Party were located. In 1931, Mengele joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten, a paramilitary organization that was absorbed into the Nazi Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment; SA) in 1934.