Word History: Totality of destruction has been central to the meaning of holocaust since it first appeared in Middle English in the 1300s, used in reference to the biblical sacrifice in which a male animal was wholly burnt on the altar in worship of God. Holocaust comes from Greek holokauston, "that which is completely burnt," which was a translation of Hebrew 'ōlâ (literally "that which goes up," that is, in smoke). In this sense of "burnt sacrifice," holocaust is still used in some versions of the Bible. In the 1600s, the meaning of holocaust broadened to "something totally consumed by fire," and the word eventually was applied to fires of extreme destructiveness. In the 1900s, holocaust took on a variety of figurative meanings, summarizing the effects of war, rioting, storms, epidemic diseases, and even economic failures. Most of these usages arose after World War II, but it is unclear whether they permitted or resulted from the use of holocaust in reference to the mass murder of European Jews and others by the Nazis. This application of the word occurred as early as 1942, but the phrase the Holocaust did not become established until the late 1950s. Here it parallels and may have been influenced by another Hebrew word, šô'â, "catastrophe" (in English, Shoah). In the Bible šô'â has a range of meanings including "personal ruin or devastation" and "a wasteland or desert." Šô'â was first used to refer to the Nazi slaughter of Jews in 1939, but the phrase haš-šô'â, "the catastrophe," became established only after World War II. Holocaust has also been used to translate ḥurbān, "destruction," another Hebrew word used as a name for the genocide of Jews by the Nazis.
Alone and against seemingly impossible odds, Jewish men and women struck back on occasion. In April 1943, Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto staged an armed battle against SS troops lasting five weeks. In October 1943, nearly 300 Jews and Soviet POWs overpowered guards and broke out of Sobibor death camp, which was then shut down by the SS. A year later, a revolt by Jewish slave laborers at Auschwitz-Birkenau resulted in the destruction of one of the main gas chamber-crematories. Elsewhere, Jews who eluded capture became partisans, particularly in Russia, where some 30,000 Jews fought alongside the Soviets to disrupt Hitler's armies.
Executions by the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads,were abandoned for practical reasons. Although approximately 1.5 million Jews had been shot by the winter of 1941, the Nazis felt that the efficiency of this slow and cumbersome method left much to be desired. Moreover, they found it was bad for the sol­diers’ morale. Himmler himself, commander of the SS and as such responsible for the annihilation of the Jews, was persuaded, after having witnessed such an execu­tion, that it badly affected the mental health of those carrying out the execution. The institutionalization of organized murder, founded on a division of labor and carried out in special installations expressly designed for this purpose, distanced the executioner from the victim, an indispensable psychological advantage in an enterprise of annihilation of such a huge scale.
While Jews began to flee abroad from the first days of the Nazi regime, only after Kristallnacht in November 1938 did Nazi policy switch categorically to the expulsion of all Jews from the Reich as its central aim. Although the Jews were ever-more intensively disemployed, defined as noncitizens, ostracized, stripped of wealth, brutalized, and encouraged to emigrate, they were not being killed by the government, and the majority of Germany’s five hundred thousand Jews managed to escape from the country before the outbreak of the war (though not necessarily to safety, as many wound up trapped in Poland and the Soviet Union). Indeed, so effective were the Nazis at expelling the Jews from their territories that about two-thirds of Austria’s two hundred thousand Jews managed to flee abroad in the short period between the German takeover of Austria in March 1938 and the closing of the borders to further Jewish emigration from the Reich in 1940-1941.

The following proclamation was issued by Dr. Ludwig Fischer, the German district governor of Warsaw, on November 10, 1941: "Concerning the Death Penalty for Illegally Leaving Jewish Residental Districts...Any Jew who illegally leaves the designated residential district will be punished by death. Anyone who deliberately offers refuge to such Jews or who aids them in any other manner (i.e., offering a night's lodging, food, or by taking them into vehicles of any kind, etc.) will be subject to the same punishment. Judgment will be rendered by a Special Court in Warsaw. I forcefully draw the attention of the entire population of the Warsaw District to this new decree, as henceforth it will be applied with the utmost severity."
Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.

Anti-Jewish measures were introduced in Slovakia, which would later deport its Jews to German concentration and extermination camps.[175] Bulgaria introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and 1941, including the requirement to wear a yellow star, the banning of mixed marriages, and the loss of property. Bulgaria annexed Thrace and Macedonia, and in February 1943 agreed to deport 20,000 Jews to Treblinka; all 11,000 Jews from the annexed territories were sent to their deaths, and plans were made to deport an additional 6,000–8,000 Bulgarian Jews from Sofia to meet the quota.[176] When the plans became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III canceled the deportation of Jews native to Bulgaria.[177] Instead, they were expelled to the interior pending further decision.[176] Although Hungary expelled Jews who were not citizens from its newly annexed lands in 1941, it did not deport most of its Jews[178] until the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between 15 May and 9 July 1944, 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz.[179] In late 1944 in Budapest, nearly 80,000 Jews were killed by the Hungarian Arrow Cross battalions.[180]


Browning concludes that Hitler ordered the genocide of the Jews in the Soviet Union during the period of what he terms “euphoria” just after the invasion of Russia, when victory appeared to be easily within Germany’s grasp. Browning dates this, as most recent historians do, to August-October 1941, in the context of a general “war of destruction” in the Soviet Union. Browning’s timetable thus reflects today’s consensus, although he does present a comprehensive array of evidence in support of this conclusion. With the failure of the German armies to gain a decisive victory in Russia, a failure that was becoming evident by October or November 1941, Nazi genocide began to turn toward the Jews under German control throughout Europe, beginning with the Jews of Poland, and employing the assembly-line techniques of the gas chambers in extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz rather than the open-air shootings that the Einsatzgruppen invariably used during the first days of the invasion.

However, an examination of other variables suggests that rescuers shared a cluster of common personal characteristics. One of these can be called individuality or separateness. Polish rescuers often did not quite fit into their social environments. To illustrate, the peasant Jan Rybak, who helped save both Jews and Russian prisoners of war during the German occupation, had little formal education but was nonetheless a compulsive reader. His knowledge and love for learning gained him the nickname philosopher. Moreover, he avoided alcohol and did not follow the local custom of wife beating.
Browning’s massive but highly readable work (some parts of which were written by the German scholar Jürgen Matthäus) covers every aspect of this question and incorporates all significant previous research. While new interpretations are, of course, likely to be offered in the future, it is most unlikely, barring the discovery of new documents of great importance, that we will ever have a clearer picture of this process than the one Browning offers. This is not to say that the evolution of Nazi policy towards the Jews in this period is now crystal clear”it emphatically is not”but it is to say that all the evidence that an historian can bring to bear on this question has now been synthesized in the clearest form it is ever likely to have.
“Awesome as they are, therefore, numbers do not in themselves prescribe the singularity of the Holocaust. But they provide a clue. For the proportion of European Jews killed during the Second World War, with roughly one of every three civilian deaths in Europe being that of a Jew, was undoubtedly greater than that of any other people, because of the Nazis’ policy toward them. Unlike the case with any other group, and unlike the massacres before or since, every single one of the millions of targeted Jews was to be murdered. Eradication was to be total. In principle, no Jew was to escape. In this important respect, the Nazis’ assault upon Jewry differed from the campaigns against other peoples and groups; Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles, Ukrainians, and so on. Assaults on these people could indeed be murderous; their victims number in the millions, and their ashes mingle with those of the Jews of Auschwitz and many other camps across Europe. But Nazi ideology did not require their total disappearance. In this respect, the fate of the Jews was unique.”
Even before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they had made no secret of their anti-Semitism. As early as 1919 Adolf Hitler had written, “Rational anti-Semitism, however, must lead to systematic legal opposition.…Its final objective must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews altogether.” In Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”; 1925–27), Hitler further developed the idea of the Jews as an evil race struggling for world domination. Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in religious anti-Semitism and enhanced by political anti-Semitism. To this the Nazis added a further dimension: racial anti-Semitism. Nazi racial ideology characterized the Jews as Untermenschen (German: “subhumans”). The Nazis portrayed the Jews as a race and not as a religious group. Religious anti-Semitism could be resolved by conversion, political anti-Semitism by expulsion. Ultimately, the logic of Nazi racial anti-Semitism led to annihilation.
Tens of thousands of Jews held in the eastern territories were marched towards the heart of Germany so they could not bear witness to the Allies. Aware that the world had been alerted to the horrors of the camps, the Nazis sought to destroy evidence. In June, Soviet forces liberated the first major camp, known as Majdanek, in Lublin, Poland. The Nazis had burned down the crematorium chimney but had failed to destroy the gas chambers and barracks. Only a few hundred inmates were still alive.
German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the "Final Solution" called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust—two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.
The Hacketts, too, in their earliest drafts, were devotedly “with the Jewish story.” Grateful to Hellman for getting them the job, and crushed by Bloomgarden’s acute dislike of their efforts so far, they flew to Martha’s Vineyard weekend after weekend to receive advice from Hellman. “She was amazing,” Goodrich crowed, happy to comply. Hellman’s slant—and that of Bloomgarden and Kanin—was consistently in a direction opposed to Levin’s. Where the diary touched on Anne’s consciousness of Jewish fate or faith, they quietly erased the reference or changed its emphasis. Whatever was specific they made generic. The sexual tenderness between Anne and the young Peter van Daan was moved to the forefront. Comedy overwhelmed darkness. Anne became an all-American girl, an echo of the perky character in “Junior Miss,” a popular play of the previous decade. The Zionist aspirations of Margot, Anne’s sister, disappeared. The one liturgical note, a Hanukkah ceremony, was absurdly defined in terms of local contemporary habits (“eight days of presents”); a jolly jingle replaced the traditional “Rock of Ages,” with its sombre allusions to historic travail. (Kanin had insisted on something “spirited and gay,” so as not to give “the wrong feeling entirely.” “Hebrew,” he argued, “would simply alienate the audience.”)
The Nazi concentration camps were established beginning in 1933 for the purpose of imprisoning political opponents. After the “Night of the Long Knives” (see Chapter 8, page 65), authority and management of the concentration camps was turned over to the S.S. The S.S. expanded the concentration camp system, and used these facilities to warehouse other “undesirables,” including hundreds of thousands of Jews. Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were among the first concentration camps built by the Nazis near Munich, Weimar, and Berlin respectively.
But the diary in itself, richly crammed though it is with incident and passion, cannot count as Anne Frank’s story. A story may not be said to be a story if the end is missing. And because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank in the fifty years since “The Diary of a Young Girl” was first published has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced; it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified, kitschified, and, in fact, blatantly and arrogantly denied. Among the falsifiers have been dramatists and directors, translators and litigators, Anne Frank’s own father, and even—or especially—the public, both readers and theatregoers, all over the world. A deeply truth-telling work has been turned into an instrument of partial truth, surrogate truth, or anti-truth. The pure has been made impure—sometimes in the name of the reverse. Almost every hand that has approached the diary with the well-meaning intention of publicizing it has contributed to the subversion of history.
Mengele then moved to experimentation. His work revolved around genetic engineering to eradicate inferior genes from the human population to create a German super-race. He believed that twins held these mysteries, and about 1500 pairs of them were brought to Mengele through the selection process. The twins were provided more comfort than the other prisoners and given extra food rations to keep them healthy. As soon as a pair of twins arrived at Auschwitz, they were tattooed and Mengele would ask them questions about their history. Every morning, they reported for roll call, where they ate a small breakfast. Mengele would then come to talk to them, give them candy, and even play games with some of them. Some of the younger children even called him “Uncle Mengele.” Life wasn’t so bad for twins at the barracks, until it came time for the experiments.
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.[109] 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.[110] German authorities alerted the police in São Paulo, who then contacted the Bosserts. Under interrogation, they revealed the location of Mengele's grave,[111] 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.[112] 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.[113]
The government defined a Jewish person as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents, not someone who had religious convictions. This meant that people who had never practiced, or hadn’t practiced Judaism in many years, or even converted to Christianity were subjected to persecution. Although anti-semitism was pervasive in 1930s Germany, these restrictions frequently extended to any person the Nazis considered to be “non-Aryan”.

I bought this book to prepare for a trip to the Anne Frank Museum. It was a sad but fascinating read - and when I got to the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam, I knew exactly what I was looking at, who slept where - and who all the individuals were that helped Anne, her family, and their companions survive for as long as they did. I think I got more out of the visit than I would have without reading this book.

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.


There is no postwar institution specializing in either World War II or the Holocaust that has collected systematic data about the righteous or about Christian-Jewish relations during the war years. Postwar historiography has given scant attention to this subject, except for biographies of heroes like Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest. Individual episodes are recorded in numerous published memoirs or hidden within the histories of the Jewish communities under German occupation. Others are found in some survivor testimonies, oral histories, and depositions.
Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.
Three SS officers socialize at Auschwitz in 1944. From left to right: Richard Baer (commandant), Dr. Josef Mengele and Rudolf Höss (former commandant). Baer escaped but was captured in 1960; he died in 1963 while awaiting trial. Höss was executed for his crimes in 1947, shortly after receiving the sacrament of penance and Holy Communion as Viaticum. Mengele died while swimming at a seaside resort in 1979, after having lived to see his work at Auschwitz vindicated by the legalization of abortion in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Karl-Friedrich Höcker, public domain, via Yad Vashem and Wikimedia Commons)
When Menachem Begin came to power in 1977, he wanted a change. He made that clear in an early meeting with Yitzhak Hofi, who was then the director of the Mossad. “When Begin came in, he thought that not enough was being done and that there was a need to go on hunting Nazis,” Hofi later said in a classified interview with the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. “I told him, ‘Prime minister, today the Mossad has other missions that concern the national security of the people of Israel today and tomorrow, and I give preference to today and tomorrow over yesterday.’ ” Begin didn’t appreciate that response. “In the end we decided that we would focus on one more target, Mengele, but Begin, who was a very emotional man, was disappointed,” Hofi said.
DAVID P. GUSHEE is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University. Prior to joining Union's faculty in 1996, Dr. Gushee served on the staff of Evangelicals for Social Action and then for three years on the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At 40, Dr. Gushee is one of the leading evangelical voices in the field of Christian ethics at both a scholarly and popular level. He has written or edited seven books, with two more forthcoming in 2003-2004, and has published dozens of articles, book chapters, and reviews. His groundbreaking work on Christian behavior in Europe during the Holocaust--including his book, The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust--established him as a leader in that critical field of study. Besides this work on the Holocaust, he has written widely on a variety of subjects, especially in the areas of social ethics and public policy. His most recent book is Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, with Glen Stassen (IVP). Dr. Gushee's articles and reviews have appeared in such diverse publications as Christianity Today, Christian Century, Books & Culture, Sojourners, the Journal of Church and State, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Annals of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Journal of Family Ministry, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Catholic Digest, and Theology Today.
Around 50,000 German gay men were jailed between 1933 and 1945, and 5,000–15,000 are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. It is not known how many died during the Holocaust.[413][449] James Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than acts, and the "gesundes Volksempfinden" ("healthy sensibility of the people") became the guiding legal principle.[450] In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.[451] The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors.[450] Lesbians were left relatively unaffected;[413] the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants.[452] Gay men convicted between 1933 and 1944 were sent to camps for "rehabilitation", where they were identified by pink triangles.[450] Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences.[453] Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.[450]
This meeting, which would be followed by the January 1942 Wannsee Conference (where the decision on exterminating all European Jews was further reinforced), was hardly the start of violence against Jews. Attacks had been happening in Nazi Germany’s occupied territories for years. What differentiated this period from earlier attacks was “an escalation of murder,” says Elizabeth White, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Olga Lengyel, a prisoner at the Birkenau camp, wrote in her book entitled "Five Chimneys" that she had heard about Dr. Mengele from the other inmates before she saw him. Lengyel wrote that she had heard that Dr. Mengele was "good-looking" but she was surprised by how "really handsome" he was. Lengyel wrote, regarding Dr. Mengele: "Though he was making decisions that meant extermination, he was as pleasantly smug as any man could be."
In 1935, Mengele earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Munich.[7] In January 1937, he joined the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, where he worked for Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a German geneticist with a particular interest in researching twins.[7] As von Verschuer's assistant, Mengele focused on the genetic factors that result in a cleft lip and palate, or a cleft chin.[10] His thesis on the subject earned him a cum laude doctorate in medicine (MD) from the University of Frankfurt in 1938.[11] (Both of his degrees were revoked by the issuing universities in the 1960s.)[12] In a letter of recommendation, von Verschuer praised Mengele's reliability and his ability to verbally present complex material in a clear manner.[13] The American author Robert Jay Lifton notes that Mengele's published works were in keeping with the scientific mainstream of the time, and would probably have been viewed as valid scientific efforts even outside Nazi Germany.[13]
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