In the final months of the war, SS guards moved camp inmates by train or on forced marches, often called “death marches,” in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners. As Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, as well as prisoners en route by forced march from one camp to another. The marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Three defendants were acquitted. However, many of the Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust were never tried or punished, including Hitler who had committed suicide. Since then, the international community has continued and improved accountability through forums such as the International Criminal Court, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
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.
To murder the Jews of "Greater Germany" as well as Jews residing in German-occupied or German-influenced areas of western, southern, southeastern and northern Europe, Himmler designated Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) in the spring of 1942 as a killing facility. Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with the Auschwitz main camp, was subordinated to the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in Berlin. Originally planned as a vast forced-labor camp for Soviet prisoners of war and, later for Jewish forced laborers, Auschwitz-Birkenau began to operate as a killing center in the spring of 1942. The SS authorities murdered approximately one million Jews from various European countries at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, German-occupied western and southwestern Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, and Hungary.
And so, at the behest of their Führer, a handful of Nazi bureaucrats conspired to bring about the demise of millions. On January 20, 1942, they attended the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, organized by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who told them, “In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east.”
Responding with alarm to Hitler’s rise, the Jewish community sought to defend their rights as Germans. For those Jews who felt themselves fully German and who had patriotically fought in World War I, the Nazification of German society was especially painful. Zionist activity intensified. “Wear it with pride,” journalist Robert Weltsch wrote in 1933 of the Jewish identity the Nazis had so stigmatized. Religious philosopher Martin Buber led an effort at Jewish adult education, preparing the community for the long journey ahead. Rabbi Leo Baeck circulated a prayer for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 1935 that instructed Jews on how to behave: “We bow down before God; we stand erect before man.” Yet while few, if any, could foresee its eventual outcome, the Jewish condition was increasingly perilous and was expected to worsen.
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.
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.
Anne’s childhood, by contrast, fell into shadows almost immediately. She was not yet four when the German persecutions of Jews began, and from then until the anguished close of her days she lived as a refugee and a victim. In 1933, the family fled from Germany to Holland, where Frank had commercial connections, and where he established a pectin business. By 1940, the Germans had occupied the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, Jewish children, Anne among them, were thrown out of the public-school system and made to wear the yellow star. At thirteen, on November 19, 1942, already in hiding, Anne Frank could write:
One extraordinary aspect of the journey to the death camps was that the Nazis often charged Jews deported from Western Europe train fare as third class passengers under the guise that they were being "resettled in the East." The SS also made new arrivals in the death camps sign picture postcards showing the fictional location "Waldsee" which were sent to relatives back home with the printed greeting: "We are doing very well here. We have work and we are well treated. We await your arrival."
In 1942, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), originally intended to house slave laborers, began to be used instead as a combined labor camp and extermination camp. Prisoners were transported there by rail from all over German-occupied Europe, arriving in daily convoys. By July 1942, SS doctors were conducting "selections" where incoming Jews were segregated, and those considered able to work were admitted into the camp while those deemed unfit for labor were immediately killed in the gas chambers. The arrivals that were selected to die, about three-quarters of the total,[a] included almost all children, women with small children, pregnant women, all the elderly, and all of those who appeared (in a brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor) to be not completely fit and healthy.