Anti-Semitism in Europe did not begin with Adolf Hitler. Though use of the term itself dates only to the 1870s, there is evidence of hostility toward Jews long before the Holocaust–even as far back as the ancient world, when Roman authorities destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and forced Jews to leave Palestine. The Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18th centuries, emphasized religious toleration, and in the 19th century Napoleon and other European rulers enacted legislation that ended long-standing restrictions on Jews. Anti-Semitic feeling endured, however, in many cases taking on a racial character rather than a religious one.
Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, the persecution and segregation of Jews was implemented in stages. After the Nazi Party achieved power in Germany in 1933, its state-sponsored racism led to anti-Jewish legislation, economic boycotts, and the violence of the Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms, all of which aimed to systematically isolate Jews from society and drive them out of the country.
Browning believes that the "Final Solution as it is now understood—the systematic attempt to murder every last Jew within the German grasp" took shape during a five-week period, from 18 September to 25 October 1941. During this time: the sites of the first extermination camps were selected, different methods of killing were tested, Jewish emigration from the Third Reich was forbidden, and 11 transports departed for Łódź as a temporary holding station. During this period, Browning writes, "The vision of the Final Solution had crystallised in the minds of the Nazi leadership, and was being turned into reality." This period was the peak of Nazi victories against the Soviet Army on the Eastern Front, and, according to Browning, the stunning series of German victories led to both an expectation that the war would soon be won, and the planning of the final destruction of the "Jewish-Bolshevik enemy".
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).
Like most “scientists” at work in the concentration camp environment, Mengele enlisted the aid of trained medical professionals among the prisoner population to perform the more grisly, or mundane, tasks and to carry out autopsies upon his dead victims. Much of our early knowledge of Mengele's activities at Auschwitz comes from Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a prisoner-physician who assisted Mengele under duress. Nyiszli published his experiences, initially in his native Hungarian, in 1946. His work Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account appeared in English in 1960.
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]
And audiences multiplied: the Hacketts’ drama went all over the world—including Israel, where numbers of survivors were remaking their lives—and was everywhere successful. The play’s reception in Germany was especially noteworthy. In an impressive and thorough-going essay entitled “Popularization and Memory,” Alvin Rosenfeld, a professor of English at Indiana University, recounts the development of the Anne Frank phenomenon in the country of her birth. “The theater reviews of the time,” Rosenfeld reports, “tell of audiences sitting in stunned silence at the play and leaving the performance unable to speak or to look one another in the eye.” These were self-conscious and thin-skinned audiences; in the Germany of the fifties, theatregoers still belonged to the generation of the Nazi era. (On Broadway, Kanin had unblinkingly engaged Gusti Huber, of that same generation, to play Anne Frank’s mother. As a member of the Nazi Actors Guild until Germany’s defeat, Huber had early on disparaged “non-Aryan artists.”) But the strange muteness in theatres may have derived not so much from guilt or shame as from an all-encompassing compassion; or call it self-pity. “We see in Anne Frank’s fate,” a German drama critic offered, “our own fate—the tragedy of human existence per se.” Hannah Arendt, philosopher and Hitler refugee, scorned such oceanic expressions, calling it “cheap sentimentality at the expense of a great catastrophe.” And Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, condemned the play’s most touted line: “If all men are good, there was never an Auschwitz.” A decade after the fall of Nazism, the spirited and sanitized young girl of the play became a vehicle for German communal identification—with the victim, not the persecutors—and, according to Rosenfeld, a continuing “symbol of moral and intellectual convenience.” The Anne Frank whom thousands saw in seven openings in seven cities “spoke affirmatively about life and not accusingly about her torturers.” No German in uniform appeared onstage. “In a word,” Rosenfeld concludes, “Anne Frank has become a ready-at-hand formula for easy forgiveness.”
In April 1944, two Jewish inmates escaped from Auschwitz and made it safely into Czechoslovakia. One of them, Rudolf Vrba, submitted a detailed report to the Papal Nuncio in Slovakia which was then forwarded to the Vatican, received there in mid-June. Thus far, Pope Pius XII had not issued a public condemnation of Nazi maltreatment and subsequent mass murder of Jews, and he chose to continue his silence.
It might be noted that, to a surprising extent, much about Hitler’s precise knowledge of the Holocaust remains unclear. For instance, we do not know if Hitler ever saw photographs or newsreels of the killing process, or, indeed, just how comprehensive and brutally frank were Himmler’s reports to Hitler. We have agendas of face-to-face meetings between Hitler and Himmler, at which the Holocaust was to be discussed, but no memorializations or minutes of such meetings. Most of the senior Nazis who were tried at Nuremberg in 1945-1946 (few of whom had any immediate involvement in the killing of Jews) had apparently never seen photographic evidence of the horrors of the concentration camps until their trials; they appeared to be genuinely shocked when newsreels of Belsen and Buchenwald were shown to the court.
The Diary of a Young Girl, also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, is a book of the writings from the Dutch language diary kept by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was apprehended in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. The diary was retrieved by Miep Gies, who ...more
After the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, SS and police units (acting as mobile killing units) began massive killing operations aimed at entire Jewish communities. By autumn 1941, the SS and police introduced mobile gas vans. These paneled trucks had exhaust pipes reconfigured to pump poisonous carbon monoxide gas into sealed spaces, killing those locked within. They were designed to complement ongoing shooting operations.
On the eve of World War II, the Führer (supreme leader) publicly threatened the Jews of Europe during a speech in Berlin: "In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance only the Jewish race that received my prophecies with laughter when I said that I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and with it that of the whole nation, and that I would then among other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of their face. Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"
The following proclamation was issued by Dr. Ludwig Fischer, the German district governor of Warsaw, on November 10, 1941: "Concerning the Death Penalty for Illegally Leaving Jewish Residental Districts...Any Jew who illegally leaves the designated residential district will be punished by death. Anyone who deliberately offers refuge to such Jews or who aids them in any other manner (i.e., offering a night's lodging, food, or by taking them into vehicles of any kind, etc.) will be subject to the same punishment. Judgment will be rendered by a Special Court in Warsaw. I forcefully draw the attention of the entire population of the Warsaw District to this new decree, as henceforth it will be applied with the utmost severity."
The worst example was the pogrom in the town of Kielce in Poland on July 4th, 1946. When the 200 surviving Jews returned to their village, the local Poles who were upset to see that any had survived instigated a blood libel—accusing the Jews of the kidnap and ritual murder of Polish child. In the ensuing violence 40 of the Jews, all Holocaust survivors, were murdered by the Polish towns people.
The survey of her manuscripts compared an unabridged transcription of Anne Frank's original notebooks with the entries she expanded and clarified on loose paper in a rewritten form and the final edit as it was prepared for the English translation. The investigation revealed that all of the entries in the published version were accurate transcriptions of manuscript entries in Anne Frank's handwriting, and that they represented approximately a third of the material collected for the initial publication. The magnitude of edits to the text is comparable to other historical diaries such as those of Katherine Mansfield, Anaïs Nin and Leo Tolstoy in that the authors revised their diaries after the initial draft, and the material was posthumously edited into a publishable manuscript by their respective executors, only to be superseded in later decades by unexpurgated editions prepared by scholars.
One of the clearest examples of Hitler’s single-minded (and seemingly suicidal) desire to rid the world of the Jews can be seen in the extermination of the Jews of Hungary. Until March of 1944, the Hungarian government had refused to allow the deportation of Hungarian Jews. It March 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary and by mid May ( two weeks before D Day) the mass deportations to Auschwitz. The Nazi leadership worked with particular intensity. The Soviet army was rapidly approaching Hungary and the Germans knew that they were going to lose the war. But there was no way that Hitler could allow such a large Jewish community to survive. He diverted trains that were badly needed to transport more soldiers to the Russian front just to send more Jews to Auschwitz. To him, the greater enemy was the Jew.
Shortly after Hitler came to power, the Reichstag building, seat of the German parliament, burnt down. Communists were blamed for setting the fire and Hindenburg declared a state of emergency, passing the Reichstag Fire Decree that suspended basic rights like trial by jury. The German Communist Party was suspended and over 4,000 members were detained without trial. The next month, Hitler’s cabinet passed the Enabling Act which allowed him to enact laws without the consent of the parliament for four years, effectively transforming the German government into a de facto Nazi dictatorship.
The sins of the Soviets and the sins of Hellman and her Broadway deputies were, in Levin’s mind, identical. He set out to punish the man who had allowed all this to come to pass: Otto Frank had allied himself with the pundits of erasure; Otto Frank had stood aside when Levin’s play was elbowed out of the way. What recourse remained for a man so affronted and injured? Meyer Levin sued Otto Frank. It was as if, someone observed, a suit were being brought against the father of Joan of Arc. The bulky snarl of courtroom arguments resulted in small satisfaction for Levin: because the structure of the Hacketts’ play was in some ways similar to his, the jury detected plagiarism; yet even this limited triumph foundered on the issue of damages. Levin sent out broadsides, collected signatures, summoned a committee of advocacy, lectured from pulpits, took out ads, rallied rabbis and writers (Norman Mailer among them). He wrote “The Obsession,” his grandly confessional “J’Accuse,” rehearsing, in skirmish after skirmish, his fight for the staging of his own adaptation. In return, furious charges flew at him: he was a red-baiter, a McCarthyite. The term “paranoid” began to circulate. Why rant against the popularization and dilution that was Broadway’s lifeblood? “I certainly have no wish to inflict depression on an audience,” Kanin had argued. “I don’t consider that a legitimate theatrical end.” (So much for “Hamlet” and “King Lear.")
When Hitler came to power legally on January 30, 1933, as the head of a coalition government, his first objective was to consolidate power and to eliminate political opposition. The assault against the Jews began on April 1 with a boycott of Jewish businesses. A week later the Nazis dismissed Jews from the civil service, and by the end of the month the participation of Jews in German schools was restricted by a quota. On May 10 thousands of Nazi students, together with many professors, stormed university libraries and bookstores in 30 cities throughout Germany to remove tens of thousands of books written by non-Aryans and those opposed to Nazi ideology. The books were tossed into bonfires in an effort to cleanse German culture of “un-Germanic” writings. A century earlier Heinrich Heine—a German poet of Jewish origin—had said, “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” In Nazi Germany the time between the burning of Jewish books and the burning of Jews was eight years.
The book Children of the Flames by Joe E. White chronicles the notorious medical experimental activities of Josef Mengele on approximately three thousand twins who passed through the Auschwitz death camp during WWII until its liberation at the end of the war. Only a few of the three thousand twins survived and now fifty years later they have told their story of how they were given special privileges in Auschwitz due to Mengele’s interest in twins and how as a result they have suffered during the past fifty years as the children who survived the still unknown and unexplained medical experiments and injections which they were subjected to at the hands of Josef Mengele.
To be sure, the names of these latter figures would be remembered regardless of what good they have done the Jews. Part of the message of singling out Harbonah, then, lies precisely in the fact that unlike them, he is a minor character. Today, not everyone who writes a small check to Christians United for Israel, or shares an article on Facebook criticizing the anti-Semitism of Ilhan Omar or Jeremy Corbyn, can be known to posterity. But in the midst of the Purim celebrations of Jewish redemption, they, too, deserve to be remembered for the good.
The “real contents” had already been altered by Frank himself, and understandably, given the propriety of his own background and of the times. The diary contained, here and there, intimate adolescent musings, talk of how contraceptives work, and explicit anatomical description: “In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris. Then come the inner labia . . .” All this Frank edited out. He also omitted passages recording his daughter’s angry resistance to the nervous fussiness of her mother (“the most rotten person in the world”). Undoubtedly he better understood Edith Frank’s protective tremors, and was unwilling to perpetuate a negative portrait. Beyond this, he deleted numerous expressions of religious faith, a direct reference to Yom Kippur, terrified reports of Germans seizing Jews in Amsterdam. It was prudence, prudishness, and perhaps his own deracinated temperament that stimulated many of these tamperings. In 1991, eleven years after Frank’s death, a “definitive edition” of the diary restored everything he had expurgated. But the image of Anne Frank as merry innocent and steadfast idealist—an image the play vividly promoted—was by then ineradicable.
While the Nazis murdered other national and ethnic groups, such as a number of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals, and gypsies, only the Jews were marked for systematic and total annihilation. Jews were singled out for "Special Treatment" (Sonderbehandlung), which meant that Jewish men, women and children were to be methodically killed with poisonous gas. In the exacting records kept at the Auschwitz death camp, the cause of death of Jews who had been gassed was indicated by "SB," the first letters of the two words that form the German term for "Special Treatment."
The hired hands were earnest and reverent. They began at once to read up on European history, Judaism, and Jewish practice; they consulted a rabbi. They corresponded eagerly with Frank, looking to satisfy his expectations. They travelled to Amsterdam and visited 263 Prinsengracht, the house on the canal where the Franks, the van Daans, and Dussel had been hidden. They met Johannes Kleiman, who, together with Victor Kugler and Miep Gies, had taken over the management of Frank’s business in order to conceal and protect him and his family in the house behind. Reacting to the Hacketts’ lifelong remoteness from Jewish subject matter, Levin took out an ad in the New York Post attacking Bloomgarden and asking that his play be given a hearing. “My work,” he wrote, “has been with the Jewish story. I tried to dramatize the Diary as Anne would have, in her own words. . . . I feel my work has earned the right to be judged by you, the public.” “Ridiculous and laughable,” said Bloomgarden. Appealing to the critic Brooks Atkinson, Levin complained—extravagantly, outrageously—that his play was being “killed by the same arbitrary disregard that brought an end to Anne and six million others.” Frank stopped answering Levin’s letters; many he returned unopened.
On April 17, 1944, Anne began writing in what turned out to be her final diary notebook. On the first page she wrote about herself: "The owner's maxim: Zest is what man needs!" A few months later, she and the other inhabitants of the annex celebrated the Allied invasion of France, which took place on June 6, 1944. They were certain the war would soon be over.
The diary is taken to be a Holocaust document; that is overridingly what it is not. Nearly every edition—and there have been innumerable editions—is emblazoned with words like “a song to life” or “a poignant delight in the infinite human spirit.” Such characterizations rise up in the bitter perfume of mockery. A song to life? The diary is incomplete, truncated, broken off—or, rather, it is completed by Westerbork (the hellish transit camp in Holland from which Dutch Jews were deported), and by Auschwitz, and by the fatal winds of Bergen-Belsen. It is here, and not in the “secret annex,” that the crimes we have come to call the Holocaust were enacted. Our entry into those crimes begins with columns of numbers: the meticulous lists of deportations, in handsome bookkeepers’ handwriting, starkly set down in German “transport books.” From these columns—headed, like goods for export, “Ausgangs-Transporte nach dem Osten” (outgoing shipments to the east)—it is possible to learn that Anne Frank and the others were moved to Auschwitz on the night of September 6, 1944, in a collection of a thousand and nineteen Stücke (or “pieces,” another commodities term). That same night, five hundred and forty-nine persons were gassed, including one from the Frank group (the father of Peter van Daan) and every child under fifteen. Anne, at fifteen, and seventeen-year-old Margot were spared, apparently for labor. The end of October, from the twentieth to the twenty-eighth, saw the gassing of more than six thousand human beings within two hours of their arrival, including a thousand boys eighteen and under. In December, two thousand and ninety-three female prisoners perished, from starvation and exhaustion, in the women’s camp; early in January, Edith Frank expired.
"He grabbed my arm and turned me around," said Freund, now 82. "I was skinny, already. Thank God I didn't have a pimple on my body, because a pimple was all you needed to be sent to the crematorium." (The gas chambers at Auschwitz were located in the crematorium buildings, so that the bodies could be burned immediately after the victims were gassed.)
While the Nazi Party program adopted in February 1920 did not contain direct or indirect reference to the term, Nazi propaganda presented a radical elimination of anything deemed Jewish from all aspects of German life as prerequisite for national recovery. After Hitler's rise to power, party activists and bureaucrats competed in transforming the broad-based consensus that something had to be done about the "Jewish question" into government policy aimed at varying degrees of segregation, expropriation, and physical removal. In the process, applying force became increasingly attractive; however, use of the term in German documents produced prior to 1941 should be understood less as an expression of a preconceived blueprint for genocide than as an expression of radical, as yet unspecified intent.
Life in the camps was a living hell. As described by Judah Pilch in “Years of the Holocaust: The Factual Story,” which appears in The Jewish Catastrophe in Europe, a typical day in the life of a concentration camp inmate began at dawn, when they were roused from their barracks which housed 300-800 inmates each. Their “beds” were bunks of slatted wood two and three tiers high. Frequently three to four prisoners shared each bunk, not permitting space enough for them to stretch out for normal sleep. The inmates were organized into groups to go to the toilets, marched to a distribution center for a breakfast consisting of some bread and a liquid substitute for tea or coffee, and then sent out to work for 10-14 hours in mines, factories, and road or airfield building, often in sub-zero weather or the severe heat of summer. They were subjected to constant physical and emotional harassment and beating. The inmates’ food rations did not permit survival for very long. Those who resisted orders of the guards were shot on the spot. Numerous roll calls were held to assure that no prisoners had escaped. If one did attempt an escape, all of the inmates suffered for it.
The conference at Wannsee gave impetus to the so-called second sweep of the Holocaust by the bullet in the east. Between April and July 1942 in Volhynia, 30,000 Jews were murdered in death pits with the help of dozens of newly formed Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft. Owing to good relations with the Ukrainian Hilfsverwaltung, these auxiliary battalions were deployed by the SS also in Russia Center, Russia South, and in Byelorussia; each with about 500 soldiers divided into three companies. They participated in the extermination of 150,000 Volhynian Jews alone, or 98 percent of the Jewish inhabitants of the entire region. In July 1942 the Completion of the Final Solution in the General Government territory which included Distrikt Galizien, was ordered personally by Himmler. He set the initial deadline for 31 December 1942.
There is no postwar institution specializing in either World War II or the Holocaust that has collected systematic data about the righteous or about Christian-Jewish relations during the war years. Postwar historiography has given scant attention to this subject, except for biographies of heroes like Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest. Individual episodes are recorded in numerous published memoirs or hidden within the histories of the Jewish communities under German occupation. Others are found in some survivor testimonies, oral histories, and depositions.
In the autumn of 1941, SS chief Heinrich Himmler assigned German General Odilo Globocnik (SS and police leader for the Lublin District) with the implementation of a plan to systematically murder the Jews of the Generalgouvernement. The code name Operation Reinhard was eventually given to this plan, named after Heydrich (who was assassinated by Czech partisans in May 1942). As part of Operation Reinhard, Nazi leaders established three killing centers in Poland—Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka—with the sole purpose of the mass murder of Jews.
Mengele's research subjects were better fed and housed than the other prisoners, and temporarily spared from execution in the gas chambers. He established a kindergarten for children who were the subjects of his experiments, as well as the preschool children from the Romani camp. The facility provided better food and living conditions than other areas of the camp, and included a children's playground. When visiting his young subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets, while at the same time being personally responsible for the deaths of an unknown number of victims whom he killed via lethal injection, shootings, beatings, and his deadly experiments. In his 1986 book, Lifton describes Mengele as sadistic, lacking empathy, and extremely antisemitic, believing the Jews should be eliminated entirely as an inferior and dangerous race. Rolf Mengele later claimed that his father had shown no remorse for his wartime activities.