The memory of this slightly built man, scarcely a hair out of place, his dark green tunic neatly pressed, his face well scrubbed, his Death's Head SS cap tilted rakishly to one side, remains vivid for those who survived his scrutiny when they arrived at the Auschwitz railhead. Polished boots slightly apart, his thumb resting on his pistol belt, he surveyed his prey with those dead gimlet eyes. Death to the left, life to the right.
Title bestowed by Yad Vashem (the Israeli Holocaust remembrance authority) on certain gentiles who rescued Jews in opposition to Nazi efforts to annihilate them. The distinction is granted according to stringent criteria requiring conclusive evidence. Depending on the nature and extent of help, special kinds of recognition are bestowed upon Christians who saved Jews. To qualify for any one of the distinctions, Christian actions had to involve “extending help in saving a life; endangering one’s own life; absence of reward, monetary and otherwise; and similar considerations which make the rescuers’ deeds stand out above and beyond what can be termed ordinary help.” In part ambiguous, the criteria leave no doubt that those who saved Jews primarily because of payment do not fit the definition of righteous Christians.
Trainloads of human cargo arriving at Auschwitz went through a selection process conducted by SS doctors such as Josef Mengele. Young adults considered fit for slave labor were allowed to live and had an ID number tattooed on their left forearm. Everyone else went to the gas chambers. A few inmates, including twin children, were occasionally set aside for participation in human medical experiments.
Von Verschuer’s work revolved around hereditary influences on congenital defects such as cleft palate. Mengele was an enthusiastic assistant to von Verschuer, and he left the lab in 1938 with both a glowing recommendation and a second doctorate in medicine. For his dissertation topic, Mengele wrote about racial influences on the formation of the lower jaw.
On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, "marked the beinning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended" (Yahil, The Holocaust, p. 318).
A major tool of the Nazis' propaganda assault was the weekly Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer (The Attacker). At the bottom of the front page of each issue, in bold letters, the paper proclaimed, "The Jews are our misfortune!" Der Stürmer also regularly featured cartoons of Jews in which they were caricatured as hooked-nosed and apelike. The influence of the newspaper was far-reaching: by 1938 about a half million copies were distributed weekly.
On April 30, 1945, surrounded by the Soviet Army in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide and his Reich soon collapsed. By now, most of Europe's Jews had been killed. Four million had been gassed in the death camps while another two million had been shot dead or died in the ghettos. The victorious Allies; Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, then began the daunting task of sorting through the carnage to determine exactly who was responsible. Seven months later, the Nuremberg War Crime Trials began, with 22 surviving top Nazis charged with crimes against humanity.
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.
But they were gradually shut out of German society by the Nazis through a never-ending series of laws and decrees, culminating in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which deprived them of their German citizenship and forbade intermarriage with non-Jews. They were removed from schools, banned from the professions, excluded from military service, and were even forbidden to share a park bench with a non-Jew.
Almost all Jews within areas occupied by the Germans were killed. There were 3,020,000 Jews in the Soviet Union in 1939, and the losses were 1–1.1 million. Around one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet territories. Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. Many more died in the ghettos of Poland before they could be deported. The death camps accounted for half the number of Jews killed; 80–90 percent of death-camp victims are estimated to have been Jews. At Auschwitz-Birkenau the Jewish death toll was 1.1 million; Treblinka 870,000–925,000; Bełżec 434,000–600,000; Chełmno 152,000–320,000; Sobibór 170,000–250,000; and Majdanek 79,000.
General Patch's 12th Armored Division, forging their way towards the Austrian border, uncovered horrors at a German prison camp at Schwabmunchen, southwest of Munich. Over 4,000 slave laborers, all Jews of various nationalities, were housed in the prison. The internees were burned alive by guards who set fire to the crude huts in which the prisoners slept, shooting any who tried to escape. Sprawled here in the prison enclosure are the burnt bodies of some of the Jewish slave laborers uncovered by the US 7th Army at Schwabmunchen, May 1, 1945. #
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 17 and 18, 1942 and watched the gassing of 449 women and children in Bunker No. 1, according to his biographer Peter Padfield. On July 23, 1942, Himmler ordered the quarantine of the Birkenau camp because of a typhus epidemic, but the gassing of the Jews continued. On December 28, 1942, Himmler issued an order that the death rate "must be reduced at all costs" according to document 2172-PS that was introduced at the Nuremberg IMT. He meant the death rate from typhus; the gassing of the Jews did not stop.
Transportation between camps was often carried out in freight cars with prisoners packed tightly. Long delays would take place; prisoners might be confined in the cars on sidings for days. In mid-1942 work camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be placed in quarantine for four weeks. Prisoners wore colored triangles on their uniforms, the color of the triangle denoting the reason for their incarceration. Red signified a political prisoner, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple triangles, "asocials" and criminals wore black and green. Badges were pink for gay men and yellow for Jews. Jews had a second yellow triangle worn with their original triangle, the two forming a six-pointed star. In Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with an identification number on arrival.
In the view of Christian Gerlach, Hitler announced his decision to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, probably on 12 December during a speech to the Gauleiters, part of the Nazi Party leadership. This was one day after the German declaration of war against the United States, which followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December and the United States declaration of war on Japan on 8 December. According to Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Hitler had trusted American Jews, whom he assumed were all-powerful, to keep their government out of the war in the interests of German Jews. When America declared war, the Jews were blamed. Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, noted of Hitler's speech: "He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their destruction. ... Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence."[o]
The twin goals of racial purity and spatial expansion were the core of Hitler’s worldview, and from 1933 onward they would combine to form the driving force behind his foreign and domestic policy. At first, the Nazis reserved their harshest persecution for political opponents such as Communists or Social Democrats. The first official concentration camp opened at Dachau (near Munich) in March 1933, and many of the first prisoners sent there were Communists.
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.
The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which commenced on 22 June 1941, set in motion a "war of destruction" which quickly opened the door to systematic mass murder of European Jews. For Hitler, Bolshevism was merely "the most recent and most nefarious manifestation of the eternal Jewish threat". On 3 March 1941, Wehrmacht Joint Operations Staff Chief Alfred Jodl repeated Hitler's declaration that the "Jewish-Bolshevik intelligentsia would have to be eliminated" and that the forthcoming war would be a confrontation between two completely opposing cultures. In May 1941, Gestapo leader Heinrich Müller wrote a preamble to the new law limiting the jurisdiction of military courts in prosecuting troops for criminal actions because: "This time, the troops will encounter an especially dangerous element from the civilian population, and therefore, have the right and obligation to secure themselves."
The killings continued uninterrupted. On 12 October 1941, in Stanisławów, some 10,000–12,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot at the Jewish cemetery by the German uniformed SS-men and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police during the so-called "Bloody Sunday" (de). The shooters began firing at 12 noon and continued without stopping by taking turns. There were picnic tables set up on the side with bottles of vodka and sandwiches for those who needed to rest from the deafening noise of gunfire. It was the single largest massacre of Polish Jews in Generalgouvernement prior to mass gassings of Aktion Reinhard, which commenced at Bełżec in March 1942. Notably, the extermination operations in Chełmno had begun on 8 December 1941, one-and-a-half month before Wannsee, but Chełmno – located in Reichsgau Wartheland – was not a part of Reinhard, and neither was Auschwitz-Birkenau functioning as an extermination center until November 1944 in Polish lands annexed by Hitler and added to Germany proper.
Before the war, Mengele had received doctorates in anthropology and medicine, and began a career as a researcher. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and the SS in 1938. He was assigned as a battalion medical officer at the start of World War II, then transferred to the Nazi concentration camps service in early 1943 and assigned to Auschwitz, where he saw the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects. His subsequent experiments focused primarily on twins, with little regard for the health or safety of the victims.