"He grabbed my arm and turned me around," said Freund, now 82. "I was skinny, already. Thank God I didn't have a pimple on my body, because a pimple was all you needed to be sent to the crematorium." (The gas chambers at Auschwitz were located in the crematorium buildings, so that the bodies could be burned immediately after the victims were gassed.)
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.
After its defeat in World War I, Germany was humiliated by the Versailles Treaty, which reduced its prewar territory, drastically reduced its armed forces, demanded the recognition of its guilt for the war, and stipulated it pay reparations to the allied powers. With the German Empire destroyed, a new parliamentary government called the Weimar Republic was formed. The republic suffered from economic instability, which grew worse during the worldwide depression after the New York stock market crash in 1929. Massive inflation followed by very high unemployment heightened existing class and political differences and began to undermine the government.
Over the decades that followed, ordinary Germans struggled with the Holocaust’s bitter legacy, as survivors and the families of victims sought restitution of wealth and property confiscated during the Nazi years. Beginning in 1953, the German government made payments to individual Jews and to the Jewish people as a way of acknowledging the German people’s responsibility for the crimes committed in their name.
Mengele's health had been steadily deteriorating since 1972. He suffered a stroke in 1976, and he also had high blood pressure and an ear infection that affected his balance. On 7 February 1979, while visiting his friends Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert in the coastal resort of Bertioga, he suffered another stroke while swimming and drowned. Mengele was buried in Embu das Artes under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard", whose identification he had been using since 1971.
The Holocaust (also called Ha-Shoah in Hebrew) refers to the period from January 30, 1933 - when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany - to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe officially ended. During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to progressively harsher persecution that ultimately led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews (1.5 million of these being children) and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry.
For Levin, the source and first cause of these excisions was Lillian Hellman. Hellman, he believed, had “supervised” the Hacketts, and Hellman was fundamentally political and inflexibly doctrinaire. Her outlook lay at the root of a conspiracy. She was an impenitent Stalinist; she followed, he said, the Soviet line. Like the Soviets, she was anti-Zionist. And, just as the Soviets had obliterated Jewish particularity at Babi Yar, the ravine where thousands of Jews, shot by the Germans, lay unnamed and effaced in their deaths, so Hellman had directed the Hacketts to blur the identity of the characters in the play.
'Righteous Gentiles' is the phrase used for those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, over 11,000 'Righteous Gentiles' are honored; almost 5,000 are Polish. What follows are profiles and oral histories of ten Polish rescuers of Jews. Their stories reveal what transforms people from indifferent bystanders into heroic saviors
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
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.
In 1992, DNA testing confirmed Mengele's identity beyond doubt, but family members refused repeated requests by Brazilian officials to repatriate the remains to Germany. The skeleton is stored at the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine, where it is used as an educational aid during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school.
AT AUSCHWITZ, on 24th December, 1942, I was paraded in company with about 19,000 other prisoners, all of them women. Present on parade were Doctors Mengele and Konig and Rapportfuhrer Tauber. I was one of the 3000 prisoners picked out of the 19,000 by the doctors and taken to our huts, where we were stripped naked by other prisoners and our clothes taken away. We were then taken by tipper-type lorries to the gas chamber chute. They were large lorries, about eight in all and about 300 persons on each lorry. On arrival at the gas chamber the lorry tipped up and we slid down the chute through some doors into a large room. The room had showers all around, towels and soap and large numbers of benches. There were also small windows high up near the roof. Many were injured coming down the chute and lay where they fell. Those of us who could sat down on the benches provided and immediately afterwards the doors of the room were closed. My eyes then began to water, I started to coughing and had a pain in my chest and throat. Some of the other people fell down and others coughed and foamed at the mouth. After being in the room for about two minutes the door was opened and an S.S. man came in wearing a respirator. He called my name and then pulled me out of the room and quickly shut the door again. When I got outside I saw S.S man Franz Hoessler, whom I identify as No. 1 on photograph 9. He took me to hospital, where I stayed for about six weeks, receiving special treatment from Dr. Mengele. For the first few days I was at the hospital I found it impossible to eat anything without vomiting. I can only think that I was taken out of the gas chamber because I had an Aryan husband and therefore was in a different category from the other prisoners, who were all Jews. I now suffer from a weak heart and had two attacks since being at Belsen. I do not know the names of any persons who went into the gas chamber with me.
Twins in the experiments describe three days of what must have been psychological examination and three days of laboratory experiments. "Three times a week we were marched to Auschwitz to a big brick building, sort of like a big gymnasium. They would keep us there for about six or eight hours at a time - most of the days. ..... We would have to sit naked in the large room where we first entered, and people in white jackets would observe us and write down notes. They also would study every part of our bodies. They would photograph, measure our heads and arms and bodies, and compare the measurements of one twin to another. The process seemed to go on and on." (Echoes from Auschwitz, Kor).
The word “Holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar. Since 1945, the word has taken on a new and horrible meaning: the mass murder of some 6 million European Jews (as well as millions of others, including Gypsies and homosexuals) by the German Nazi regime during the Second World War. To the anti-Semitic Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Jews were an inferior race, an alien threat to German racial purity and community. After years of Nazi rule in Germany, during which Jews were consistently persecuted, Hitler’s “final solution”–now known as the Holocaust–came to fruition under the cover of world war, with mass killing centers constructed in the concentration camps of occupied Poland.
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.
The first killing center set up in occupied Polish lands was the camp at Chełmno on the Ner; Jews brought in from the ghettos in the Wartheland were being killed there from December 1941. Three more camps, somewhat larger, were opened at Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka (in what was known as “Aktion Reinhard”) somewhat later, between March and July 1942.
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference at a lakeside villa in Berlin to organize the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Around the table were 15 men representing government agencies necessary to implement so bold and sweeping a policy. The language of the meeting was clear, but the meeting notes were circumspect:
Browning also notes that the destruction of the Jews went hand-in-hand with a much wider attempt at “ethnic cleansing” throughout Eastern Europe. The Nazis had well-advanced plans, which might have been realized had they won the war, to remove by force millions of Poles and other Slavs to Siberia, with vast numbers certain to die en route. One of the major merits of Browning’s book is its detailed discussion of these plans, as well as Nazi policies towards the gypsies. Browning notes, correctly, that the Nazis killed large numbers of gypsies even though Hitler hardly ever mentioned them and certainly did not have anti-gypsy hostility at the heart of his ideology. Browning also offers a detailed consideration of the Nazi program of murdering the physically and mentally handicapped among “Aryan” Germans (the “T4 program”), which began in mid-1939 and eventually claimed seventy thousand victims before it was stopped in mid-1941, and he reports that many of the killers in the T4 program went on to be directly involved with the extermination of the Jews in Eastern Europe.
With the beginning of war and the organized murder of "undesirable" non-Jewish groups among the German population in the so-called Euthanasia program, hazy declarations of intent and expectation from the top leadership – most prominently Hitler's Reichstag statement of January 30, 1939, that a new world war would bring about "the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe" – provided legitimization and incentive for violent, on occasion already murderous measures adopted at the periphery that would in turn radicalize decision making in Berlin. Heydrich's Schnellbrief to the Einsatzgruppen commanders in Poland dated September 21, 1939, on the "Jewish question" refers to secret "planned total measures" (thus the final aim) ("die geplanten Gesamtmaßnahmen (also das Endziel")); nevertheless, most Holocaust historians today agree that at the time this solution was still perceived in terms of repression and removal, not annihilation. The more frequent use of the term Final Solution in German documents beginning in 1941 indicates gradual movement toward the idea of physical elimination in the context of shattered plans for large-scale population resettlement (including the "Madagascar plan") and megalomanic hopes of imperial aggrandizement in Eastern Europe. American scholar Christopher Browning notes that "a 'big bang' theory" fails to adequately describe German decision making; instead, the process was prolonged and incremental, driven by "a vague vision of implied genocide."
The Third Reich first used concentration camps as places of unlawful incarceration of political opponents and other "enemies of the state". Large numbers of Jews were not sent there until after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Although death rates were high, the camps were not designed as killing centers. After war broke out in 1939, new camps were established, some outside Germany in occupied Europe. In January 1945, the SS reports had over 700,000 prisoners in their control, of which close to half had died by the end of May 1945 according to most historians. Most wartime prisoners of the camps were not Germans but belonged to countries under German occupation.
"... 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."
Steve Paulsson is a lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. His doctoral thesis, 'Hiding in Warsaw: The Jews on the "Aryan side", 1940-1945', was co-winner of the 1998 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History, and is published by Yale University Press. He has also published articles on the flight of the Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943, and on Polish-Jewish relations. He was senior historian in the Holocaust Exhibition Project Office at the Imperial War Museum, 1998-2000.
Auschwitz is the most famous because there the killing machine was the most efficient. There, between the end of 1941 and 1944, as many as 12,000 Jews a day could be gassed to death and cremated. In addition to the Jews, hundreds of thousands of others deemed threats to the Nazi regime or considered racially inferior or socially deviant were also murdered.
By 1943 it was evident to the armed forces leadership that Germany was losing the war. The mass murder continued nevertheless, reaching a "frenetic" pace in 1944. Auschwitz was gassing up to 6,000 Jews a day by spring that year. On 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary and dispatched Eichmann to Budapest to supervise the deportation of the country's Jews. From 22 March, Jews were required to wear the yellow star; forbidden from owning cars, bicycles, radios or telephones; then forced into ghettos. From 15 May to 9 July, 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau, almost all to the gas chambers.[v] A month before the deportations began, Eichmann offered to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the Allies, the so-called "blood for goods" proposal. The Times called it "a new level of fantasy and self-deception".
There are three versions of the diary. The first is the diary as Anne originally wrote it from June 1942 to August 1944. Anne hoped to publish a book based on her entries, especially after a Dutch official announced in 1944 that he planned to collect eyewitness accounts of the German occupation. She then began editing her work, leaving out certain passages. That became the second version. Her father created a third version with his own edits as he sought to get the diary published after the war.
Every detail of the actual extermination process was meticulously planned. Jews arriving in trains at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were falsely informed by the SS that they had come to a transit stop and would be moving on to their true destination after delousing. They were told their clothes were going to be disinfected and that they would all be taken to shower rooms for a good washing. Men were then split up from the women and children. Everyone was taken to undressing barracks and told to remove all of their clothing. Women and girls next had their hair cut off. First the men, and then the women and children, were hustled in the nude along a narrow fenced-in pathway nicknamed by the SS as the Himmelstrasse (road to Heaven). At the end of the path was a bathhouse with tiled shower rooms. As soon as the people were all crammed inside, the main door was slammed shut, creating an air-tight seal. Deadly carbon monoxide fumes were then fed in from a stationary diesel engine located outside the chamber.
By the late 1930s there was a desperate search for countries of refuge. Those who could obtain visas and qualify under stringent quotas emigrated to the United States. Many went to Palestine, where the small Jewish community was willing to receive refugees. Still others sought refuge in neighbouring European countries. Most countries, however, were unwilling to receive large numbers of refugees.
Jews at this time composed only about one percent of Germany's population of 55 million persons. German Jews were mostly cosmopolitan in nature and proudly considered themselves to be Germans by nationality and Jews only by religion. They had lived in Germany for centuries, fought bravely for the Fatherland in its wars and prospered in numerous professions.
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.
The Polish government-in-exile in London learned about the extermination camps from the Polish leadership in Warsaw, who from 1940 "received a continual flow of information about Auschwitz", according to historian Michael Fleming. This was in large measure thanks to Captain Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army, who allowed himself to be arrested in Warsaw and spent 945 days in Auschwitz from September 1940 until April 1943, organizing the resistance movement inside the camp.
On 31 May 1985, acting on intelligence received by the West German prosecutor's office, police raided the house of Hans Sedlmeier, a lifelong friend of Mengele and sales manager of the family firm in Günzburg. They found a coded address book and copies of letters sent to and received from Mengele. Among the papers was a letter from Wolfram Bossert notifying Sedlmeier of Mengele's death. German authorities alerted the police in São Paulo, who then contacted the Bosserts. Under interrogation, they revealed the location of Mengele's grave, and the remains were exhumed on 6 June 1985. Extensive forensic examination indicated with a high degree of probability that the body was indeed that of Josef Mengele. Rolf Mengele issued a statement on 10 June confirming that the body was his father's, and he admitted that the news of his father's death had been concealed in order to protect the people who had sheltered him for many years.