German mobile killing squads, called special duty units (Einsatzgruppen), are assigned to kill Jews during the invasion of the Soviet Union. These squads follow the German army as it advances deep into Soviet territory, and carry out mass-murder operations. At first, the mobile killing squads shoot primarily Jewish men. Soon, wherever the mobile killing squads go, they shoot all Jewish men, women, and children, without regard for age or gender. By the spring of 1943, the mobile killing squads will have killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of partisans, Roma (Gypsies), and Soviet political officials.
The deportation of Jews to the ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", discussed by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. As German forces captured territories in the East, all anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings were committed within Germany itself, throughout occupied Europe, and across all territories controlled by the Axis powers. Paramilitary death squads called Einsatzgruppen, in cooperation with Wehrmacht police battalions and local collaborators, murdered around 1.3 million Jews in mass shootings between 1941 and 1945. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from the ghettos in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were killed in gas chambers. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.
Despite international efforts to track him down, he was never apprehended and lived for 35 years hiding under various aliases. He lived in Paraguay and Brazil until his death in 1979. One afternoon, living in Brazil, he went for a swim. While in the ocean he suffered a massive stroke and began to drown. By the time he was dragged to shore, he was dead.
But there is a note that drills deeper than commemoration: it goes to the idea of identification. To “identify with” is to become what one is not, to become what one is not is to usurp, to usurp is to own—and who, after all, in the half century since Miep Gies retrieved the scattered pages of the diary, really owns Anne Frank? Who can speak for her? Her father, who, after reading the diary and confessing that he “did not know” her, went on to tell us what he thought she meant? Meyer Levin, who claimed to be her authentic voice—so much so that he dared to equate the dismissal of his work, however ignobly motivated, with Holocaust annihilation? Hellman, Bloomgarden, Kanin, whose interpretations clung to a collective ideology of human interchangeability? (In discounting the significance of the Jewish element, Kanin had asserted that “people have suffered because of being English, French, German, Italian, Ethiopian, Mohammedan, Negro, and so on”—as if this were not all the more reason to comprehend and particularize each history.) And what of Cara Wilson and “the children of the world,” who have reduced the persecution of a people to the trials of adolescence?
In 1944, Josiah DuBois, Jr. wrote a memorandum to then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. entitled “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews”, which condemned the bureaucratic interference of U.S. State Department policies in obstructing the evacuation of Holocaust Refugees from Romania and Occupied France. The Report would spur the Roosevelt administration to create the War Refugee Board later that year.
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.
Gentiles whose status placed them on the periphery of a community generally had fewer social constraints and a higher level of independence. This sense of independence, in turn, seems to have made many rescuers more likely to act in accordance with their personal values and moral precepts, even when these standards were in opposition to societal norms. Such rescuers were propelled by values connected to self-approval. In interviews, they insisted again and again that they had to be at peace with themselves, with their ideas of what was right or wrong.
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)
One of the Auschwitz survivors who was selected by Dr. Josef Mengele for his cruel and horrific experiments was Yitzchak Ganon, a Greek Jew who was deported, along with his parents and 5 brothers and sisters to Auschwitz in 1944, according to a news article by Alan Hall, published on December 11, 2009. Ganon told reporter Alan Hall that he was selected for an experiment in which Dr. Mengele removed one of his kidneys without an anesthetic: "He cut into me without an anesthetic. The pain was indescribable. I felt every slice of the knife. Then I saw my kidney pulsating in his hand. [...] After the operation I was given no painkillers and put to work. I cleaned up after the bloody operations carried out by Mengele."
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.”
From gaining power in January 1933 until the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany was focused on intimidation, expropriating their money and property, and encouraging them to emigrate. According to the Nazi Party policy statement, the Jews and Gypsies (although numerically fewer), were the only "alien people in Europe". In 1936, the Bureau of Romani Affairs in Munich was taken over by Interpol and renamed The Center for Combating the Gypsy Menace. Introduced at the end of 1937, the "final solution of the Gypsy Question" entailed round-ups, expulsions, and incarceration of Romani in concentration camps built at, until this point in time, Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Ravensbruck, Taucha, and Westerbork. After the Anschluss with Austria in 1938, special offices were established in Vienna and Berlin to "facilitate" Jewish emigration, without covert plans for their forthcoming annihilation.
In Lvov, the Metropolitan Andreas Sheptitsky defended the Jews against the Nazis, and he and his Ukrainian compatriots hid about 150 Jews in monasteries in eastern Galicia. Furthermore, the French Huguenot Pastor Andre Trocme converted the small French Protestant village of Le Chambon into a mountain hideout for 1,000 Jewish persecutees. Le Chambon was as unique as the mass rescue of Danish Jews, because the entire town supported the rescue and accepted arrest and torture rather than betray the Jews they hid.
This is not about people acting out a crime of passion. This is planned and rationalized violence — a cultural brainwashing. The rationalization is always that the victims are not truly human, not worthy of the same protections of the law. It’s interesting that the Nazis are often linked to Christianity, especially the Catholic Church. But it is precisely the teachings of the Church that stand in the way of such dehumanization. This is something that Mengele himself knew, as he was raised in a Catholic family. In fact, in his post-WWII journal, Mengele specifically wrote, “We had to liberate Germanic history from Roman and Catholic influences.”
There are so many wonderful juxtapositions of text and imagery that it feels cruel to focus on only a few, but another consistent standout is the way the graphic novel conveys Anne’s fantasies and emotions — so crucial to the “Diary.” In a line taken almost verbatim from the book, Folman’s Anne wonders, “How can we, whose every possession, from my panties to Father’s shaving brush, is so old and worn, ever hope to regain the position we had before the war?” Polonsky’s accompanying illustration depicts the Franks as beggars huddled on the side of an elegant street lined with cafes and restaurants, while passers-by in fancy clothes — including the van Daans — ignore them. In a page illustrating Anne’s most tumultuous inner thoughts, Polonsky draws her as the figure in Munch’s “The Scream”; for a calmer moment, she’s Adele Bloch-Bauer in Klimt’s “Portrait.” When 16-year-old Peter van Daan and Anne first begin to fall in love, Polonsky depicts their faces reflected in each other’s pupils, as if to indicate the depth of their feelings.
“With respect of the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catchword… If the German people have now again sacrificed 160,000 dead on the eastern front, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay with their lives.”
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.
The Mossad’s South American station chief cabled the headquarters in Israel: “Zvi saw on Gerhard’s farm a person who in form, height, age and dress looks like Mengele.” It later turned out that he was indeed Mengele. Speaking to me in 1999, Aharoni told me: “We were in an excellent mood. I was certain that in a little while we would be able to bring Mengele to Israel to be tried.”
I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death, I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.
David Cesarani emphasises the improvised, haphazard nature of Nazi policies in response to changing war time conditions in his overview, Final Solution: The Fate Of The European Jews 1933–49 (2016). "Cesarani provides telling examples", wrote Mark Roseman, "of a lack of coherence and planning for the future in Jewish policy, even when we would most expect it. The classic instance is the invasion of Poland in 1939, when not even the most elementary consideration had been given to what should happen to Poland's Jews either in the shorter or longer term. Given that Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in the world, and that, in a couple of years, it would house the extermination camps, this is remarkable."
Historians of the Holocaust are divided into two schools: the “intentionalists” insist on the central role of Nazi ideology and believe that there was a carefully prepared plan for the extermination of European Jewry; the “functionalists” or “structuralists” by contrast, stress the chaotic nature of the Nazi system, a non-design reflected in their foreign and economic policies as well. According to the latter school, it was this inherent disorder rather than premeditated design that led, through a process of cumulative radicalization, to the systematic extermination of European Jewry.
To come to the diary without having earlier assimilated Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Primo Levi’s “The Drowned and the Saved” (to mention two witnesses only), or the columns of figures in the transport books, is to allow oneself to stew in an implausible and ugly innocence. The litany of blurbs—“a lasting testament to the indestructible nobility of the human spirit,” “an everlasting source of courage and inspiration”—is no more substantial than any other display of self-delusion. The success—the triumph—of Bergen-Belsen was precisely that it blotted out the possibility of courage, that it proved to be a lasting testament to the human spirit’s easy destructibility. “Hier ist kein Warum,” a guard at Auschwitz warned: here there is no “why,” neither question nor answer, only the dark of unreason. Anne Frank’s story, truthfully told, is unredeemed and unredeemable.
These mass murders took place in small cottages situated outside the Birkenau camp in the woods…All the SS physicians on duty in the camp took turns to participate in the gassing, which were called Sonderaction, “special action”....When the transport with the people who were destined to be gassed arrived as the railway ramp, the SS officer selected, from among the new arrivals, persons fit to work, while the rest - old people, all children, women with children in their arms and other persons not deemed fit to work- were loaded on to lorries and driven to the gas-chamber.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. German propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish, Romani and Slavic Untermenschen ("sub-humans"). Local populations in some occupied Soviet territories actively participated in the killing of Jews and others, and helped identify and round up Jews. German involvement ranged from active instigation and involvement to general guidance. In Lithuania, Latvia, and western Ukraine, locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the beginning of the German occupation. Some of these Latvian and Lithuanian units also participated in the murder of Jews in Belarus. In the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews and some went to Poland to serve as concentration and death-camp guards. Military units from some countries allied to Germany also killed Jews. Romanian units were given orders to exterminate and wipe out Jews in areas they controlled. Ustaše militia in Croatia persecuted and murdered Jews, among others. Many of the killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice.
"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.)
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.)
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.
“I am marshalling my last remaining strength in order to die peacefully as one who will not surrender and who will not ask for forgiveness. The historical fact that Israel became the leading social political superpower in the 19th century lies before us. We have amongst us a flexible, tenacious, intelligent foreign tribe that knows how to bring abstract reality into play in many different ways. Not individual Jews but the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness have overpowered the world. All this is the consequence of a cultural history so unique in its way, so grand that every day polemic can achieve nothing against it. With the entire force of its armies the proud Roman Empire did not achieve that which Semitism has achieved in the West and particularly in Germany.”
The Chelmno killing center begins operation. The Nazis later establish five other such camps: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau (part of the Auschwitz complex), and Majdanek. Victims at Chelmno are killed in gas vans (hermetically sealed trucks with engine exhaust diverted to the interior compartments). The Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka camps use carbon monoxide gas generated by stationary engines attached to gas chambers. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the killing centers, has four large gas chambers using Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide) as the killing agent. The gas chambers at Majdanek use both carbon monoxide and Zyklon B. Millions of Jews are killed in the gas chambers in the killing centers as part of the "Final Solution."
By late 1938, the Nazis could claim an impressive series of successes. Germany had staged the 1936 Olympics, annexed Austria and part of Czechoslovakia, and was in the midst of a strong economic recovery fuelled by rearmament. These triumphs had increased the Nazis' popularity and their confidence. President Hindenburg had died and all opposition parties had been abolished. The last conservatives in the cabinet had been replaced by Nazis. The way was clear for radical action.
Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the "Secret Annex." The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you a lot, still, even so, you only know very little of our lives.
Racial-Morphological Examinations of the Anterior Portion of the Lower Jaw in Four Racial Groups. This dissertation, completed in 1935 and first published in 1937, earned him a PhD in anthropology from Munich University. In this work Mengele sought to demonstrate that there were structural differences in the lower jaws of individuals from different ethnic groups, and that racial distinctions could be made based on these differences.