At Auschwitz-Birkenau, new arrivals were told to carefully hang their clothing on numbered hooks in the undressing room and were instructed to remember the numbers for later. They were given a piece of soap and taken into the adjacent gas chamber disguised as a large shower room. In place of carbon monoxide, pellets of the commercial pesticide Zyklon-B (prussic acid) were poured into openings located above the chamber upon the cynical SS command - Na, gib ihnen shon zu fressen (All right, give 'em something to chew on). The gas pellets fell into hollow shafts made of perforated sheet metal and vaporized upon contact with air, giving off lethal cyanide fumes inside the chamber which oozed out at floor level then rose up toward the ceiling. Children died first since they were closer to the floor. Pandemonium usually erupted as the bitter almond-like odor of the gas spread upwards with adults climbing on top of each other forming a tangled heap of dead bodies all the way up to the ceiling.
In May 1944, Himmler told senior army officers that, "The Jewish question has been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany. It has been solved uncompromisingly, as was appropriate in view of the struggle in which we were engaged for the life of our nation." Himmler explained that it was important that even women and children had to die, so that no "hate-filled avengers" would be able to confront our children and grandchildren.
With the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22 1941, the Nazis launched a crusade against 'Judaeo-Bolshevism', the supposed Jewish-Communist conspiracy. Behind the front lines, four police battalions called Einsatzgruppen (operations groups) moved from town to town in the newly occupied Soviet territories, rounding up Jewish men and suspected Soviet collaborators and shooting them. In subsequent sweeps, making heavy use of local volunteers, the Einsatzgruppen targeted Jewish women and children as well. In total, the Einsaztgruppen murdered some two million people, almost all Jews.
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.
In the 1960s, Otto Frank recalled his feelings when reading the diary for the first time, "For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings." Michael Berenbaum, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote, "Precocious in style and insight, it traces her emotional growth amid adversity. In it, she wrote, 'In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.'"
The outbreak of war and the invasion of Poland brought a population of 3.5 million Polish Jews under the control of the Nazi and Soviet security forces, and marked the start of a far more savage persecution, including mass killings. In the German-occupied zone of Poland, Jews were forced into hundreds of makeshift ghettos, pending other arrangements. Two years later, with the launch of Operation Barbarossa against the USSR in late June 1941, the German top echelon began to pursue Hitler's new anti-Semitic plan to eradicate, rather than expel, Jews. Hitler's earlier ideas about forcible removal of Jews from the German-controlled territories in order to achieve Lebensraum were abandoned after the failure of the air campaign against Britain, initiating a naval blockade of Germany. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler became the chief architect of a new plan, which came to be called The Final Solution to the Jewish Question. On 31 July 1941, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring wrote to Reinhard Heydrich (Himmler's deputy and chief of the RSHA), instructing Heydrich to submit concrete proposals for the implementation of the new projected goal.
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)
I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to hide; well, all I can say is that I don't know myself yet. I don't think I shall ever feel really at home in this house but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse. Rather a mad way of looking at being in hiding perhaps but that is how it strikes me.
Responding to domestic pressures to act on behalf of Jewish refugees, U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt convened, but did not attend, the Évian Conference on resettlement, in Évian-les-Bains, France, in July 1938. In his invitation to government leaders, Roosevelt specified that they would not have to change laws or spend government funds; only philanthropic funds would be used for resettlement. Britain was assured that Palestine would not be on the agenda. The result was that little was attempted and less accomplished.
He sent one entire Jewish block of 600 women to the gas chamber and cleared the block. He then had it disinfected from top to bottom. Then he put bath tubs between this block and the next, and the women from the next block came out to be disinfected and then transferred to the clean block. Here they were given a clean new nightshirt. The next block was cleaned in this way and so on until all the blocks were disinfected. End of typhus! The awful thing was that he could not put those first 600 somewhere.
In the years of Nazi rule before World War II, policies of persecution and segregation targeting German Jews focused on the goal of expulsion. After the Nazi party seized power in 1933, state-sponsored racism generated anti-Jewish legislation, boycotts, "Aryanization," and massive street violence, as in the Kristallnacht (commonly known as the "Night of Broken Glass") pogroms. With all of these measures, the Nazi leaders sought to drive the Jews out of Germany by systematically isolating them from German society and by eliminating them from the German economy, removing any opportunity for them to make a living in Germany.
“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.”
His grip on German society tightened and those who publicly objected to Nazi policies were often sentenced to hard labour in the rapidly expanding concentration camp system. Jews were subjected to further laws restricting their rights, but rising anti-Semitism in Europe wasn’t limited to Germany. In the UK, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists gained support from sections of the public and press, even filling the Royal Albert Hall in April.
In 1988, West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations. Companies such as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Ford, Opel, Siemens, and Volkswagen faced lawsuits for their use of forced labor during the war. In response, Germany set up the "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" Foundation in 2000, which paid €4.45 billion to former slave laborers (up to €7,670 each). In 2013, Germany agreed to provide €772 million to fund nursing care, social services, and medication for 56,000 Holocaust survivors around the world. The French state-owned railway company, the SNCF, agreed in 2014 to pay $60 million to Jewish-American survivors, around $100,000 each, for its role in the transport of 76,000 Jews from France to extermination camps between 1942 and 1944.
In February 2010, a 180-page volume of Mengele's diary was sold by Alexander Autographs at auction for an undisclosed sum to the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. The unidentified previous owner, who acquired the journals in Brazil, was reported to be close to the Mengele family. A Holocaust survivors' organization described the sale as "a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals". Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was glad to see the diary fall into Jewish hands. "At a time when Ahmadinejad's Iran regularly denies the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews is back in vogue, this acquisition is especially significant", he said. In 2011, a further 31 volumes of Mengele's diaries were sold—again amidst protests—by the same auction house to an undisclosed collector of World War II memorabilia for $245,000 USD.
In September 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland. German police soon forced tens of thousands of Polish Jews from their homes and into ghettoes, giving their confiscated properties to ethnic Germans (non-Jews outside Germany who identified as German), Germans from the Reich or Polish gentiles. Surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, the Jewish ghettoes in Poland functioned like captive city-states, governed by Jewish Councils. In addition to widespread unemployment, poverty and hunger, overpopulation made the ghettoes breeding grounds for disease such as typhus.
Cesarani notes that by 1943, as the military position of the German forces deteriorated, the Nazi leadership became more openly explicit about the Final Solution. In March, Goebbels confided to his diary: "On the Jewish question especially, we are in it so deeply that there is no getting out any longer. And that is a good thing. Experience teaches that a movement and a people who have burned their bridges fight with much greater determination and fewer constraints than those that have a chance of retreat."
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.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank received a blank diary as one of her presents on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday. According to the Anne Frank House, the red, checkered autograph book which Anne used as her diary was actually not a surprise, since she had chosen it the day before with her father when browsing a bookstore near her home. She began to write in it on June 14, 1942, two days later.
Whereas Christopher Browning places the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews in the context of the Wehrmacht victories on the Eastern front, Cesarani argues that the German subsequent realisation that there would be no swift victory over the Soviet Union "scuppered the last territorial 'solution' still on the table: expulsion to Siberia". Germany's declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941, "meant that holding European Jews hostage to deter the US from entering the conflict was now pointless. As Joseph Goebbels put it when he summarised a secret speech Hitler made on 12 December 1941: 'The world war is here, the destruction of the Jews must be the inevitable consequence'." Cesarani concludes, the Holocaust "was rooted in anti-Semitism, but it was shaped by war". The fact that the Nazis were, ultimately, so successful in killing between five and six million Jews was not due to the efficiency of the Third Reich or the clarity of their policies. "Rather, the catastrophic rate of killing was due to German persistence … and the duration of the murderous campaigns. This last factor was largely a consequence of allied military failure."
Spurred on by Joseph Goebbels, Nazis used the death of vom Rath as an excuse to conduct the first State-run pogrom against Jews. Ninety Jews were killed, 500 synagogues were burned and most Jewish shops had their windows smashed. The first mass arrest of Jews also occurred as over 25,000 men were hauled off to concentration camps. As a kind of cynical joke, the Nazis then fined the Jews 1 Billion Reichsmarks for the destruction which the Nazis themselves had caused during Kristallnacht.
Anxious to limit immigration to the United States and to maintain good relations with the Vichy government, the State Department actively discouraged diplomats from helping refugees. However, Bingham cooperated in issuing visas and helping refugees escape France. Hiram Bingham gave about 2,000 visas, most of them to well-known personalities, speaking English, including Max Ernst, André Breton, Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Lion Feuchtwanger and Nobel prize winner Otto Meyerhof.
Deportation was the first step in the “Final Solution.” Typically, the Jews were informed that they were going to be resettled for work. Each was told to take some clothing, blankets, shoes, eating utensils (but no knife), a bowl, and some money. Rounded up, they were herded into trucks for the trip to the rail station, or were forced to walk. The rail cars were often strategically located at a distance from the passenger terminals, so that this scene would not arouse the ire of the local populace. Many who did see chose not to protest.
Mengele is known as the “Angel of Death,” or sometimes as the “White Angel,” for his coldly cruel demeanor on the ramp. He is associated more closely with this “selection duty” than any other medical officer at Auschwitz, although by most accounts he performed this task no more often than any of his colleagues. The association is partially explained by his postwar notoriety. The pervasive image of Mengele at the ramp in so many survivors' accounts has also to do with the fact that Mengele often appeared “off-duty” in the selection area whenever trainloads of new prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, searching for twins.
So the following year, in June 2016, Freund returned with two groups of researchers and their equipment and for the first time mapped the unknown areas of the site, including any unmarked mass graves. Then, using a collection of aerial photographs of Ponar shot by Nazi reconnaissance planes and captured during the war, which helped give the researchers a better sense of the camp’s layout, Freund and his colleagues turned their attention to finding clues about how the camp’s fabled survivors were able to find a way out. (A “Nova” television documentary about the discoveries found in Vilnius, "Holocaust Escape Tunnel" will premiere on PBS on April 19. Check your local listings for times.)
Under the Nuremberg Laws, Jews became routine targets for stigmatization and persecution. This culminated in Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass” in November 1938, when German synagogues were burned and windows in Jewish shops were smashed; some 100 Jews were killed and thousands more arrested. From 1933 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jews who were able to leave Germany did, while those who remained lived in a constant state of uncertainty and fear.
The 15 men present at Wannsee included Adolf Eichmann (head of Jewish affairs for the RSHA and the man who organized the deportation of Jews), Heinrich Müller (head of the Gestapo), and other party leaders and department heads. Thirty copies of the minutes were made. Copy no. 16 was found by American prosecutors in March 1947 in a German Foreign Office folder. Written by Eichmann and stamped "Top Secret", the minutes were written in "euphemistic language" on Heydrich's instructions, according to Eichmann's later testimony. The conference had several purposes. Discussing plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question" ("Endlösung der Judenfrage"), and a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" ("Endlösung der europäischen Judenfrage"), it was intended to share information and responsibility, coordinate efforts and policies ("Parallelisierung der Linienführung"), and ensure that authority rested with Heydrich. There was also discussion about whether to include the German Mischlinge (half-Jews). Heydrich told the meeting: "Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Fuehrer gives the appropriate approval in advance." He continued:
Anne Frank poses in 1941 in this photo made available by Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In August of 1944, Anne, her family and others who were hiding from the occupying German Security forces, were all captured and shipped off to a series of prisons and concentration camps. Anne died from typhus at age 15 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but her posthumously published diary has made her a symbol of all Jews killed in World War II. #
To remain efficient, the SS death factories required a steady supply of humans. To coordinate the flow of people to the gas chambers, Höss and fellow commandants relied on SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, who became a central figure in the day-to-day management of the Final Solution. Present at the Wannsee Conference, Eichmann assumed the leading role in facilitating the deportation of Jews from every corner of Europe. With boundless enthusiasm for his task and fanatical efficiency, Eichmann traveled the continent, insuring that trainload after trainload departed. "The trains," Eichmann said later, "ran like a dream."
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.
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. #
In one of the most affecting scenes from Out of the Forest, Zeidel circles the area of the old bunker, looking for the entrance. “Everything was demolished,” he tells the camera, finally, shaking his head in frustration. “Everything. Not that I care it was demolished, but I was certain there would be an opening, even if a blocked one, so I could show you the tunnel.” As it turned out, Zeidel had been standing very close to the tunnel; he just couldn’t know it.
The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.
“You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
As discrimination against Jews increased, German law required a legal definition of a Jew and an Aryan. Promulgated at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nürnberg on September 15, 1935, the Nürnberg Laws—the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour and the Law of the Reich Citizen—became the centrepiece of anti-Jewish legislation and a precedent for defining and categorizing Jews in all German-controlled lands. Marriage and sexual relations between Jews and citizens of “German or kindred blood” were prohibited. Only “racial” Germans were entitled to civil and political rights. Jews were reduced to subjects of the state. The Nürnberg Laws formally divided Germans and Jews, yet neither the word German nor the word Jew was defined. That task was left to the bureaucracy. Two basic categories were established in November: Jews, those with at least three Jewish grandparents; and Mischlinge (“mongrels,” or “mixed breeds”), people with one or two Jewish grandparents. Thus, the definition of a Jew was primarily based not on the identity an individual affirmed or the religion he or she practiced but on his or her ancestry. Categorization was the first stage of destruction.
A young man sits on an overturned stool next to a burnt body in the Thekla camp outside Leipzig, in April of 1945, after the US troops entered Leipzig April 18. On the 18th of April, the workers of the Thekla plane factory were locked in an isolated building of the factory by the Germans and burned alive by incendiary bombs. About 300 prisoners died. Those who managed to escape died on the barbed wire or were executed by the Hitler youth movement, according to a US captain's report. #
The mood of consolation lingers on, as Otto Frank meant it to—and not only in Germany, where, even after fifty years, the issue is touchiest. Sanctified and absolving, shorn of darkness, Anne Frank remains in all countries a revered and comforting figure in the contemporary mind. In Japan, because both diary and play mention first menstruation, “Anne Frank” has become a code word among teen-agers for getting one’s period. In Argentina in the seventies, church publications began to link her with Roman Catholic martyrdom. “Commemoration,” the French cultural critic Tzvetan Todorov explains, “is always the adaptation of memory to the needs of today.”
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.
In 1968, the Mossad received fresh confirmation that Mengele was living on the farm near São Paulo, sheltered by the same people who had been under surveillance six years earlier. “We have never been so close to Meltzer,” a Mossad operative wrote to Amit, using Mengele’s code name. The operative asked permission to nab one of those people and torture him to find Mengele. But his superiors were worried by his eagerness, ordered him back to Israel and replaced him.
After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Ghetto was completely destroyed. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to killing centers or concentration camps. This is a view of the remains of the ghetto, which the German SS dynamited to the ground. The Warsaw Ghetto only existed for a few years, and in that time, some 300,000 Polish Jews lost their lives there. #