The Jews of Kiev were rounded up by the Einsatzgruppen for “resettlement” in late September 1941. Thousands of Jews were brought to a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev and mowed down by machine guns. Many who were not wounded, including thousands of children, were thrown into the pit of bodies and were buried alive. According to an account in The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, Ukrainian militia men joined in the slaughter. The records of the Einsatzgruppen unit which participated in the executions recorded 33,771 Jews killed at Babi Yar on September 29-30. In all, more than 100,000 persons, most of them Jews, were executed at Babi Yar between 1941-1943 by the Nazis. In the summer of 1943, the bodies were dug out by slave labor and burned to hide the evidence of the slaughter.
When Hitler came to power legally on January 30, 1933, as the head of a coalition government, his first objective was to consolidate power and to eliminate political opposition. The assault against the Jews began on April 1 with a boycott of Jewish businesses. A week later the Nazis dismissed Jews from the civil service, and by the end of the month the participation of Jews in German schools was restricted by a quota. On May 10 thousands of Nazi students, together with many professors, stormed university libraries and bookstores in 30 cities throughout Germany to remove tens of thousands of books written by non-Aryans and those opposed to Nazi ideology. The books were tossed into bonfires in an effort to cleanse German culture of “un-Germanic” writings. A century earlier Heinrich Heine—a German poet of Jewish origin—had said, “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” In Nazi Germany the time between the burning of Jewish books and the burning of Jews was eight years.
Anne’s last diary entry was written on August 1, 1944. Three days later the secret annex was discovered by the Gestapo, which had received a tip from Dutch informers. All of the inhabitants were taken into custody. In September the Frank family arrived at Auschwitz, though Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen the following month. In 1945 Anne as well as her mother and sister died.
I confess to feeling slightly voyeuristic while reading this. It was constantly in the back of my mind that this was no ordinary novel, or even a true-to-life account. This was someone’s diary. Every page written in confidence, each word revealing the thoughts closest to the heart of this young girl. As a journal-keeper myself, I sometimes find myself wondering, “What if someone else were to read this?” which causes me to wonder how much to filter my words. But then, isn’t the purpose of a diary ...more
The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I (1914–1918) contributed to the rise of virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated, which gave birth to the stab-in-the-back myth. This insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, who had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
The Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Leaders of the SS and police and leaders of the German armed forces had concluded pre-invasion agreements. In accordance with these agreements, SS and police units—including Einsatzgruppen of the German Security Police and SD and battalions of the German Order Police—followed German troops into newly occupied Soviet territory. Acting as mobile killing units, they conducted shooting operations aimed at annihilating 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.
In his 1965 essay "Command and Compliance", which originated in his work as an expert witness for the prosecution at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, the German historian Hans Buchheim wrote there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will. Buchheim wrote that chances to avoid executing criminal orders "were both more numerous and more real than those concerned are generally prepared to admit", and that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were sent to concentration camps or executed. Moreover, SS rules prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism, as Himmler wished for his men to remain "decent"; acts of sadism were carried out on the initiative of those who were either especially cruel or wished to prove themselves ardent National Socialists. Finally, he argued that those of a non-criminal bent who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group they had joined and were afraid of being branded "weak" by their colleagues if they refused.
Anne also wrote short stories, fairy tales, and essays. In her diary, she reflected on her "pen children," as she called her writings. On September 2, 1943, she began to meticulously copy them into a notebook and added a table of contents so that it would resemble a published book. She gave it the title "Stories and Events from the Annex." Occasionally she read a story to the inhabitants of the annex, and she wrote about her intention to send one of her fairy tales to a Dutch magazine. Increasingly, she expressed her desire to be an author or journalist.
Anti-Semitism in Europe did not begin with Adolf Hitler. Though use of the term itself dates only to the 1870s, there is evidence of hostility toward Jews long before the Holocaust–even as far back as the ancient world, when Roman authorities destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and forced Jews to leave Palestine. The Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18th centuries, emphasized religious toleration, and in the 19th century Napoleon and other European rulers enacted legislation that ended long-standing restrictions on Jews. Anti-Semitic feeling endured, however, in many cases taking on a racial character rather than a religious one.
In May, Nazis under the direction of SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann boldly began a mass deportation of the last major surviving population of European Jews. From May 15 to July 9, over 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. During this time, Auschwitz recorded its highest-ever daily number of persons killed and cremated at just over 9000. Six huge open pits were used to burn the bodies, as the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the crematories.
When Hitler and his Nazis built the Warsaw Ghetto and herded 500,000 Polish Jews behind its walls to await liquidation, many Polish gentiles turned their backs or applauded. Not Irena Sendler. An unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a health worker, she sneaked the children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them.
But the exhortations of both Isaiah and the Jerusalem Talmud would also seem to apply, collectively and individually, to the thousands of Poles who saved Jews, often exposing themselves to considerably greater danger than those who acted similarly in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Nor is the message of these passages limited to acts of heroic selflessness during the Shoah. Think, for instance, of Zidan Saif, the Druze policeman who gave his life defending a Jerusalem synagogue against terrorists in 2014—or, in the realm of power politics, of those many Gentiles, from Arthur Balfour to Harry Truman to Daniel P. Moynihan, who at decisive moments in history have spoken up for the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
In 1937 he joined the Nazi party, then in 1938 he went to the SS. In 1942 he was wounded at the Russian front and was pronounced unfit for duty. After that he volunteered to go to the concentration camp, he was sent to the death camp, Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele, nicknamed "the Angel of Death", became the surviving symbol of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution".
To come to the diary without having earlier assimilated Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Primo Levi’s “The Drowned and the Saved” (to mention two witnesses only), or the columns of figures in the transport books, is to allow oneself to stew in an implausible and ugly innocence. The litany of blurbs—“a lasting testament to the indestructible nobility of the human spirit,” “an everlasting source of courage and inspiration”—is no more substantial than any other display of self-delusion. The success—the triumph—of Bergen-Belsen was precisely that it blotted out the possibility of courage, that it proved to be a lasting testament to the human spirit’s easy destructibility. “Hier ist kein Warum,” a guard at Auschwitz warned: here there is no “why,” neither question nor answer, only the dark of unreason. Anne Frank’s story, truthfully told, is unredeemed and unredeemable.
One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant, or those who should be killed outright: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life". The phrase was applied to the mentally impaired and later to the "racially inferior," or "sexually deviant," as well as to "enemies of the state" both internal and external. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to murder civilians en masse, especially targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were actively denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps -- government facilities whose entire purpose was the systematic murder and disposal of massive numbers of people. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. (This entry is Part 18 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
Amir told me that Zeidel made several pilgrimages back to Ponar. And yet he was never able to locate the passageway that carried him to freedom. What Zeidel didn’t know was that three years before he died, a Lithuanian archaeologist named Vytautas Urbanavicius had quietly excavated what turned out to be the tunnel’s entrance. But after taking a few photographs and a notebook’s worth of measurements, he sealed up the hole with fresh mortar and stone without pressing any farther or prominently marking the area.
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.
Mengele's name was mentioned several times during the Nuremberg trials in the mid-1940s, but the Allied forces believed that he was probably already dead. Irene Mengele and the family in Günzburg also alleged that he had died. Working in West Germany, Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Hermann Langbein collected information from witnesses about Mengele's wartime activities. In a search of the public records, Langbein discovered Mengele's divorce papers, which listed an address in Buenos Aires. He and Wiesenthal pressured the West German authorities into starting extradition proceedings, and an arrest warrant was drawn up on 5 June 1959. Argentina initially refused the extradition request because the fugitive was no longer living at the address given on the documents; by the time extradition was approved on 30 June, Mengele had already fled to Paraguay and was living on a farm near the Argentine border.
The nature and timing of the decisions that led to the Final Solution is an intensely researched and debated aspect of the Holocaust. The program evolved during the first 25 months of war leading to the attempt at "murdering every last Jew in the German grasp". Most historians agree, wrote Christopher Browning, that the Final Solution cannot be attributed to a single decision made at one particular point in time. "It is generally accepted the decision-making process was prolonged and incremental." In 1940, following the Fall of France, Adolf Eichmann devised the Madagascar Plan to move Europe's Jewish population to the French colony, but the plan was abandoned for logistical reasons, mainly a naval blockade. There were also preliminary plans to deport Jews to Palestine and Siberia. In 1941, wrote Raul Hilberg, in the first phase of the mass murder of Jews, the mobile killing units began to pursue their victims across occupied eastern territories; in the second phase, stretching across all of German-occupied Europe, the Jewish victims were sent on death trains to centralized extermination camps built for the purpose of systematic implementation of the Final Solution.
Zeidel had spent the previous two years in German-occupied Vilnius, in the city’s walled-off Jewish ghetto. He’d watched as the Nazis sent first hundreds and then thousands of Jews by train or truck or on foot to a camp in the forest. A small number of people managed to flee the camp, and they returned with tales of what they’d seen: rows of men and women machine-gunned down at close range. Mothers pleading for the lives of their children. Deep earthen pits piled high with corpses. And a name: Ponar.
The following year, 1941, would be the turning point. In June, Hitler took a tremendous military gamble by invading the Soviet Union. Before the invasion he had summoned his top generals and told them the attack on Russia would be a ruthless "war of annihilation" targeting Communists and Jews and that normal rules of military conflict were to be utterly ignored.
The conference at Wannsee gave impetus to the so-called second sweep of the Holocaust by the bullet in the east. Between April and July 1942 in Volhynia, 30,000 Jews were murdered in death pits with the help of dozens of newly formed Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft. Owing to good relations with the Ukrainian Hilfsverwaltung, these auxiliary battalions were deployed by the SS also in Russia Center, Russia South, and in Byelorussia; each with about 500 soldiers divided into three companies. They participated in the extermination of 150,000 Volhynian Jews alone, or 98 percent of the Jewish inhabitants of the entire region. In July 1942 the Completion of the Final Solution in the General Government territory which included Distrikt Galizien, was ordered personally by Himmler. He set the initial deadline for 31 December 1942.
In the eyes of the world, we’re doomed, but if after all this suffering, there are still Jews left, the Jewish people will be held up as an example. Who knows, maybe our religion will teach the world and all the people in it about goodness, and that’s the reason, the only reason, we have to suffer. . . . God has never deserted our people. Through the ages Jews have had to suffer, but through the ages they’ve gone on living, and the centuries of suffering have only made them stronger.
Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them. Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes.