From the earliest years of the Nazi regime, German authorities persecuted homosexuals and others whose behavior did not match prescribed social norms. German police officials targeted thousands of political opponents (including Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists) and religious dissidents (such as Jehovah's Witnesses). Many of these individuals died as a result of incarceration and maltreatment.
Whereas the Jerusalem trial of Adolf Eichmann introduced the victims as legal and historical agents, and gave birth to what has been called the “era of the witness,” the process by which Mengele’s remains were identified inaugurated a new forensic sensibility in which it was not the human subject but rather objects (in this case, bodily remains) that took center stage.
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.
Some people believe that Hitler always intended to murder the Jews. In a letter dated 16 September 1919, he wrote, “the final objective must be the complete removal of the Jews”. Was the road to the death camps foreseen and planned in advance? Or was it, as others believe, an unplanned response to circumstances that arose? What is certain is that Hitler and his inner circle were obsessed with the Jews. They believed that they were responsible for all the ills of the world.
According to scholars Christian Gerlach and Peter Monteath, among others, the pivotal moment for Hitler’s decision came on December 12, 1941, at a secret meeting with some 50 Nazi officials, including Joseph Goebbels (Nazi minister of propaganda) and Hans Frank (governor of occupied Poland). Though no written documents of the meeting survive, Goebbels described the meeting in his journal on December 13, 1941:
AT AUSCHWITZ, on 24th December, 1942, I was paraded in company with about 19,000 other prisoners, all of them women. Present on parade were Doctors Mengele and Konig and Rapportfuhrer Tauber. I was one of the 3000 prisoners picked out of the 19,000 by the doctors and taken to our huts, where we were stripped naked by other prisoners and our clothes taken away. We were then taken by tipper-type lorries to the gas chamber chute. They were large lorries, about eight in all and about 300 persons on each lorry. On arrival at the gas chamber the lorry tipped up and we slid down the chute through some doors into a large room. The room had showers all around, towels and soap and large numbers of benches. There were also small windows high up near the roof. Many were injured coming down the chute and lay where they fell. Those of us who could sat down on the benches provided and immediately afterwards the doors of the room were closed. My eyes then began to water, I started to coughing and had a pain in my chest and throat. Some of the other people fell down and others coughed and foamed at the mouth. After being in the room for about two minutes the door was opened and an S.S. man came in wearing a respirator. He called my name and then pulled me out of the room and quickly shut the door again. When I got outside I saw S.S man Franz Hoessler, whom I identify as No. 1 on photograph 9. He took me to hospital, where I stayed for about six weeks, receiving special treatment from Dr. Mengele. For the first few days I was at the hospital I found it impossible to eat anything without vomiting. I can only think that I was taken out of the gas chamber because I had an Aryan husband and therefore was in a different category from the other prisoners, who were all Jews. I now suffer from a weak heart and had two attacks since being at Belsen. I do not know the names of any persons who went into the gas chamber with me.
On July 5, 1942, Anne's older sister Margot received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, and on July 6, Margot and Anne went into hiding with their father Otto and mother Edith. They were joined by Hermann van Pels, Otto's business partner, including his wife Auguste and their teenage son Peter.[12] Their hiding place was in the sealed-off upper rooms of the annex at the back of Otto's company building in Amsterdam.[12][13] Otto Frank started his business, named Opekta, in 1933. He was licensed to manufacture and sell pectin, a substance used to make jam. He stopped running his business while everybody was in hiding. But once he returned, he found his employees running it. The rooms that everyone hid in were concealed behind a movable bookcase in the same building as Opekta. Mrs. van Pels's dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, joined them four months later. In the published version, names were changed: The van Pelses are known as the Van Daans, and Fritz Pfeffer as Albert Dussel. With the assistance of a group of Otto Frank's trusted colleagues, they remained hidden for two years and one month.
Hilberg's analysis of the steps that led to the destruction of European Jews revealed that it was "an administrative process carried out by bureaucrats in a network of offices spanning a continent".[108] Hilberg divides this bureaucracy into four components or hierarchies: the Nazi Party, the civil service, industry, and the Wehrmacht armed forces – but their cooperation is viewed as "so complete that we may truly speak of their fusion into a machinery of destruction".[109] For Hilberg, the key stages in the destruction process were: definition and registration of the Jews; expropriation of property; concentration into ghettoes and camps; and, finally, annihilation.[110] Hilberg gives an estimate of 5.1 million as the total number of Jews killed. He breaks this figure down into three categories: Ghettoization and general privation: over 800,000; open-air shootings: over 1,300,000; extermination camps: up to 3,000,000.[111]
Hitler also believed the very presence of Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe posed a threat to German victory in the war. This was based on his experience during the First World War, when Germany had experienced a meltdown of civilian morale. In 1916, as a young soldier on sick leave in Munich, Hitler had been appalled at the apathy and anti-war sentiment he witnessed among German civilians. At the time, he concluded disloyal Jews had banded together and conspired to undermine the German war effort. And he was convinced they would do it again now if given the chance.
Over the next two years, Anne wrote faithfully in the diary, which she came to consider a friend, addressing many of the entries to “Dear Kitty.” In the journal and later notebooks, Anne recounted the day-to-day life within the annex. The close quarters and sparse supplies led to various arguments among the inhabitants, and the outgoing Anne came to find the conditions stifling. Heightening tensions was the ever-present concern that they would be discovered. However, many entries involve typical adolescent issues—jealousy toward her sister; annoyance with others, especially her mother; and an increasing sexual awareness. Anne wrote candidly about her developing body, and she experienced a brief romance with Peter van Pels. She also discussed her hopes for the future, which included becoming a journalist or a writer. In addition to the diary, Anne penned several short stories and compiled a list of “beautiful sentences” from other works.
The Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life) in reference to the disabled and mentally ill.[92] On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed, allowing for compulsory sterilization.[93][94] The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized".[95] There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization.[96] Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.[97]
But this week the Israeli courts waded into the process of selecting who to include on the list of righteous gentiles at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem amid a campaign to add two Germans - one of them a convicted war criminal who was at the centre of a recent Hollywood film - and to strike off a Ukrainian who Jewish survivors say has no place among heroes.
Browning concludes that Hitler ordered the genocide of the Jews in the Soviet Union during the period of what he terms “euphoria” just after the invasion of Russia, when victory appeared to be easily within Germany’s grasp. Browning dates this, as most recent historians do, to August-October 1941, in the context of a general “war of destruction” in the Soviet Union. Browning’s timetable thus reflects today’s consensus, although he does present a comprehensive array of evidence in support of this conclusion. With the failure of the German armies to gain a decisive victory in Russia, a failure that was becoming evident by October or November 1941, Nazi genocide began to turn toward the Jews under German control throughout Europe, beginning with the Jews of Poland, and employing the assembly-line techniques of the gas chambers in extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz rather than the open-air shootings that the Einsatzgruppen invariably used during the first days of the invasion.
Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious and lethal of the concentration camps, was actually three camps in one: a prison camp (Auschwitz I), an extermination camp (Auschwitz II–Birkenau), and a slave labour camp (Auschwitz III–Buna-Monowitz). Upon arrival, Jewish prisoners faced what was called a Selektion. A German doctor presided over the selection of pregnant women, young children, the elderly, handicapped, sick, and infirm for immediate death in the gas chambers. As necessary, the Germans selected able-bodied prisoners for forced labour in the factories adjacent to Auschwitz, where one German company, IG Farben, invested 700 million Reichsmarks in 1942 alone to take advantage of forced labour, a capital investment. The conglomerate presumed that slave labour would be a permanent part of the German economy. Deprived of adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, these prisoners were literally worked to death. Periodically, they would face another Selektion. The Nazis would transfer those unable to work to the gas chambers of Birkenau.
Mengele's work also involved carrying out selections, a task that he chose to perform even when he was not assigned to do so, in the hope of finding subjects for his experiments,[33] with a particular interest in locating sets of twins.[34] In contrast to most of the other SS doctors, who viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, he undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune.[35][31] He was also one of the SS doctors responsible for supervising the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Birkenau gas chambers. He served in this capacity at the gas chambers located in crematoria IV and V.[36]