When the Nazi’s rose to power they built facilities to hold and, eventually kill, their enemies. When the first concentration camps were built in 1933, this primarily meant political dissidents and opponents of the Nazi government, such as German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats but would grow to include asocial groups – Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the homeless, the mentally ill and homosexuals. It was not until Kristallnacht that the prisoners became primarily Jewish.
“With respect of the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catchword… If the German people have now again sacrificed 160,000 dead on the eastern front, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay with their lives.”
Browning’s account of the evolution of the Nazi genocide is the most comprehensive that has yet appeared, and it is no exaggeration to say that the author, who offers here 110 pages of endnotes, has read and absorbed every available document of relevance. Yet one must continue to wonder whether Hitler really waited until August-October 1941 to decide on a policy of genocide. Hitler habitually thought in demographic and social-Darwinist terms, and from 1939 onwards, he was confronted by a new demographic reality”that he now had many millions of Jews under his thumb, far more than the mere five hundred thousand in Nazi Germany in 1933, a figure itself ever-diminishing through emigration. With the conquest of western Poland in mid-1939, over two million Jews came under his rule, while the invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union would add another five million, entirely apart from the many Jews in Nazi satellite states such as Hungary and Romania. It is very difficult to believe that Hitler did not contemplate genocide along with the invasion of the Soviet Union, given the fact that he would soon have the ability to get rid of all of Europe’s Jews in one fell swoop. As Browning carefully notes, as early as February 1941 Hitler remarked to a number of other top Nazis that towards the Jews “he was thinking of many things in a different way, not exactly more friendly.”
At least 130 Righteous Gentiles have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities, and were granted citizenship. In the mid-1980s, they became entitled to special pensions. Some of them settled in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel's establishment shortly after World War II, or in the early years of the new state of Israel, while others came later. Those who came earlier often spoke fluent Hebrew and have integrated into Israeli society.
What happened next—an avalanche of furies and recriminations lasting years—has lately become the subject of a pair of arresting discussions of the Frank-Levin affair. And if “affair” suggests an event on the scale of the Dreyfus case, that is how Levin saw it: as an unjust stripping away of his rightful position, with implications far beyond his personal predicament. “An Obsession with Anne Frank,” by Lawrence Graver, published by the University of California Press in 1995, is the first study to fashion a coherent narrative out of the welter of claims, counterclaims, letters, cables, petitions, polemics, and rumbling confusions which accompany any examination of the diary’s journey to the stage. “The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank,” by Ralph Melnick, out just now from Yale, is denser in detail and in sources than its predecessor, and more insistent in tone. Both are accomplished works of scholarship that converge on the facts and diverge in their conclusions. Graver is reticent with his sympathies; Melnick is Levin’s undisguised advocate. Graver finds no villains; Melnick finds Lillian Hellman.
No play can be judged wholly from what is on the page; a play has evocative powers beyond the words. Still, the Hacketts’ work, read today, is very much a conventionally well made Broadway product of the fifties, alternating comical beats with scenes of alarm, a love story with a theft, wisdom with buffoonery. The writing is skilled and mediocre, not unlike much of contemporary commercial theatre. Yet this is the play that electrified audiences everywhere, that became a reverential if robotlike film, and that—far more than the diary—invented the world’s Anne Frank. Was it the play, or was it the times? The upcoming revival of the Hacketts’ dramatization—promising revisions incorporating passages Otto Frank deleted from the diary—will no doubt stimulate all the old quarrelsome issues yet again. But with the Second World War and the Holocaust receding, especially for the young, into distant fable—no different from tales, say, of Attila the Hun—the revival enters an environment psychologically altered from that of the 1955 production. At the same time, Holocaust scholarship survivor memoirs, oral histories, wave after wave of fresh documentation and analysis—has increased prodigiously. At Harvard, for instance, under the rubric “reception studies,” a young scholar named Alex Sagan, a relative of the late astronomer, is examining the ways Anne Frank has been transmuted into, among other cultural manifestations, a heavenly body. And Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” about a Nazi industrialist as savior, has left its mark.
After a day of disinterring and burning corpses, “we returned [to the bunker] on all fours,” Zeidel recalled years later, in a series of interviews with the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, today held at an archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “We really fell like the dead. But,” Zeidel continued, “the spirit of initiative, the energy, the will that we had” helped sustain them. Once oxygen in the tunnel became too scarce to burn candles, a prisoner named Isaac Dogim, who had worked in Vilnius as an electrician, managed to wire the interior with lights, powered by a generator the Nazis had placed in the bunker. Behind the fake wall, the tunnel was expanding: 10 feet in length, 15. Gradually, the entire Burning Brigade was alerted to the escape plan. Dogim and Farber promised that no one would be left behind.
The same year, the Mossad hoped to tap phone conversations between Mengele and his son, Rolf, who was living in West Berlin. The two were born on the same day, and the Israelis hoped they would call each other to say happy birthday. Cold War Berlin was inundated with spies, and the Mossad preferred when possible not to work there. But they calculated that “this may be the last opportunity” to hear from Mengele. Israeli operatives installed listening devices in Rolf’s home and office, and in his phones.
Mengele sailed to Argentina in July 1949, assisted by a network of former SS members. He initially lived in and around Buenos Aires, then fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960, while being sought by West Germany, Israel, and Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal who wanted to bring him to trial. He eluded capture in spite of extradition requests by the West German government and clandestine operations by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He drowned in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming off the Brazilian coast, and was buried under a false name. His remains were disinterred and positively identified by forensic examination in 1985.