As if cold-blooded murder of millions of Jews was not enough, it was done with extreme, perverse cruelty. The victims were packed into cattle trains with standing-room only and without food or water, or heat in the winter, or toilet facilities. Many did not arrive at the camps alive. Those who did arrive at their destination had their heads shaved, with the hair to be used for stuffing mattresses. Stripped of all clothing, most were herded naked into the gas chambers. Dr Johann Kremer, a German SS surgeon, described the gassing of a group of French Jews including 150 boys and girls under the age of 15:
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.
Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority over anything but the army's needs on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942. Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and the killing of skilled Jewish workers, but Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations.
Inside the sealed-off ghettos, the Nazis reduced food rations to starvation level, an experience described by Sara Grossman, confined at age 21 in the Lodz ghetto: "I don't think anything hurts as much as hunger. You become wild. You are not responsible for what you say and what you do. You become an animal in the full meaning of the word. You prey on others. You will steal. That is what hunger does to us. It dehumanizes you. You're not a human being any more. Slowly, slowly the Germans were achieving their goal. I think they let us suffer from hunger, not because there was not enough food, but because this was their method of demoralizing us, of degrading us, of torturing us. These were their methods, and they implemented these methods scrupulously. Therefore we had very many, many deaths daily. Very many sick people for whom there was no medication, no help, no remedy. We just stayed there, and lay there, and the end was coming."
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.
Meanwhile, Hitler continued his conquest of Europe, invading Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France, placing ever-increasing numbers of Jews under Nazi control. The Nazis then began carefully tallying up the actual figures and also required Jews to register all of their assets. But the overall question remained as to what to do with the millions of Jews now under Nazi control - referred to by the Nazis themselves as the Judenfrage (Jewish question).
With the beginning of war and the organized murder of "undesirable" non-Jewish groups among the German population in the so-called Euthanasia program, hazy declarations of intent and expectation from the top leadership – most prominently Hitler's Reichstag statement of January 30, 1939, that a new world war would bring about "the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe" – provided legitimization and incentive for violent, on occasion already murderous measures adopted at the periphery that would in turn radicalize decision making in Berlin. Heydrich's Schnellbrief to the Einsatzgruppen commanders in Poland dated September 21, 1939, on the "Jewish question" refers to secret "planned total measures" (thus the final aim) ("die geplanten Gesamtmaßnahmen (also das Endziel")); nevertheless, most Holocaust historians today agree that at the time this solution was still perceived in terms of repression and removal, not annihilation. The more frequent use of the term Final Solution in German documents beginning in 1941 indicates gradual movement toward the idea of physical elimination in the context of shattered plans for large-scale population resettlement (including the "Madagascar plan") and megalomanic hopes of imperial aggrandizement in Eastern Europe. American scholar Christopher Browning notes that "a 'big bang' theory" fails to adequately describe German decision making; instead, the process was prolonged and incremental, driven by "a vague vision of implied genocide."
The impact of the Holocaust varied from region to region and from year to year in the 21 countries that were directly affected. Nowhere was the Holocaust more intense and sudden than in Hungary. What took place over several years in Germany occurred over 16 weeks in Hungary. Entering the war as a German ally, Hungary had persecuted its Jews but not permitted the deportation of Hungarian citizens. In 1941 foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Hungary and were shot by Germans in Kam’yanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine. After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, the situation changed dramatically. By mid-April the Nazis had confined Jews to ghettos. On May 15, deportations began, and over the next 55 days the Nazis deported more than 437,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz on 147 trains.
When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, it gained control of about 2 million Jews in the occupied territory. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which had control of the rest of Poland's pre-war population of 3.3–3.5 million Jews. German plans for Poland included expelling gentile Poles from large areas, confining Jews, and settling Germans on the emptied lands. The Germans initiated a policy of sending Jews from all territories they had recently annexed (Austria, Czechoslovakia, and western Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. There, the Jews were concentrated in ghettos in major cities, chosen for their railway lines to facilitate later deportation. Food supplies were restricted, public hygiene was difficult, and the inhabitants were often subjected to forced labor. In the work camps and ghettos, at least half a million Jews died of starvation, disease, and poor living conditions. Jeremy Black writes that the ghettos were not intended, in 1939, as a step towards the extermination of the Jews. Instead, they were viewed as part of a policy of creating a territorial reservation to contain them.[l]
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.
As an act of honor to those gentiles, Rani composed a Yizkor prayer in their memory. It is unique and breaks new ground. It extends the understanding of relationships between Jews and non-Jews. It remembers that “righteousness is an everlasting foundation” that breaks boundaries. May we reach a day where the example set by those righteous people will not be an extraordinary courageous act, but simply, the norm.
In 1992, DNA testing confirmed Mengele's identity beyond doubt, but family members refused repeated requests by Brazilian officials to repatriate the remains to Germany. The skeleton is stored at the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine, where it is used as an educational aid during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school.
Tens of thousands of Jews held in the eastern territories were marched towards the heart of Germany so they could not bear witness to the Allies. Aware that the world had been alerted to the horrors of the camps, the Nazis sought to destroy evidence. In June, Soviet forces liberated the first major camp, known as Majdanek, in Lublin, Poland. The Nazis had burned down the crematorium chimney but had failed to destroy the gas chambers and barracks. Only a few hundred inmates were still alive.
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.
Sources: C.A.N.D.L.E.S; Kor, Eva Mozes. Echoes from Auschwitz. IN.: C.A.N.D.L.E.S. 1995; Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors. The United States: Basic Books. 1986; Nyiszli., Dr. Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. New York: Fawcett Crest. 1960; Posner, Gerald L. and John Ware. Mengele: The Complete Story. New York: Dell Publishing. 1986; Ramati, Alexander. And the Violins Stopped Playing
The mass killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories were assigned to four SS formations called Einsatzgruppen ("task groups"), which were under Heydrich's overall command. Similar formations had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but the ones operating in the Soviet territories were much larger. The Einsatzgruppen's commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals and most were intellectuals. By the winter of 1941–1942, the four Einsatzgruppen and their helpers had killed almost 500,000 people. The largest massacre of Jews by the mobile killing squads in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.[n] A mixture of SS and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not actively participate in the killings, men of the German 6th Army helped round up the Jews of Kiev and transport them to be shot. By the end of the war, around two million are thought to have been victims of the Einsatzgruppen and their helpers in the local population and the German Army. Of those, about 1.3 million were Jews and up to a quarter of a million Roma.
In 1933, Jews in Germany numbered around 525,000, or only 1 percent of the total German population. During the next six years, Nazis undertook an “Aryanization” of Germany, dismissing non-Aryans from civil service, liquidating Jewish-owned businesses and stripping Jewish lawyers and doctors of their clients. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew, while those with two Jewish grandparents were designated Mischlinge (half-breeds).
We might recall (see Part 53) that it was one of Germany’s biggest thinkers of the 19th century—Wilhelm Marr—who coined the term “anti-Semitism.” In so doing he wanted to distinguish hatred of the Jews as members of a religion (anti-Judaism) from hatred of the Jews as members of a race/nation (anti-Semitism). In 1879, he wrote a book called The Victory of Judaism over Germandom, a runaway best-seller; in it Marr warned:
Grateful for lightness, reviewers agreed. What they came away from was the charm of Susan Strasberg as a radiant Anne, and Joseph Schildkraut in the role of a wise and steadying Otto Frank, whom the actor engagingly resembled. “Anne is not going to her death; she is going to leave a dent on life, and let death take what’s left,” Walter Kerr, on a mystical note, wrote in the Herald Tribune. Variety seemed relieved that the play avoided “hating the Nazis, hating what they did to millions of innocent people,” and instead came off as “glowing, moving, frequently humorous,” with “just about everything one could wish for. It is not grim.” The Daily News confirmed what Kanin had striven for: “Not in any important sense a Jewish play. . . . Anne Frank is a Little Orphan Annie brought into vibrant life.” Audiences laughed and were charmed; but they were also dazed and moved.
After Otto was unable to find a publisher, the work was given to historian Jan Romein, who was so impressed that he wrote about the diary in a front-page article for the newspaper Het Parool in 1946. The resulting attention led to a publishing deal with Contact, and Het Achterhuis was released on June 25, 1947. An immediate best seller in the Netherlands, the work began to appear elsewhere. In 1952 the first American edition was published under the title Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; it included an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt. The work was eventually translated into more than 65 languages, and it was later adapted for the stage and screen. All proceeds went to a foundation established in Anne’s honour. In 1995, 15 years after Otto’s death, a new English version of the Diary was published. It contained material that had been previously omitted. In an effort to extend the copyright date—which was to begin expiring in various European countries in 2016—Otto was added as a coauthor in 2015.
Jews in America responded to the various reports by holding a rally at New York's Madison Square Garden in March 1943 to pressure the U.S. government into action. As a result, the Bermuda Conference was held from April 19-30, with representatives from the U.S. and Britain meeting to discuss the problem of refugees from Nazi-occupied countries. But the meeting resulted in complete inaction concerning the ongoing exterminations.
Dr Daniel Romero Muñoz, who led the team that identified Mengele’s remains in 1985, saw an opportunity to put them to use. Several months ago, the head of the department of legal medicine at the University of São Paulo’s Medical School obtained permission to use them in his forensic medical courses. Today, his students are now learning their trade studying Mengele’s bones and connecting them to the life story of the man called the “angel of death”.