At each of the death camps, special squads of Jewish slave laborers called Sonderkommandos were utilized to untangle the victims and remove them from the gas chamber. Next they extracted any gold fillings from teeth and searched body orifices for hidden valuables. The corpses were disposed of by various methods including mass burials, cremation in open fire pits or in specially designed crematory ovens such as those used at Auschwitz. All clothing, money, gold, jewelry, watches, eyeglasses and other valuables were sorted out then shipped back to Germany for re-use. Women's hair was sent to a firm in Bavaria for the manufacture of felt.
British troops guard Alex Pickowski, Camp Commandant of Dechau concentration camp © The discovery of Belsen brought home the shocking truth about Nazi atrocities, but the facts had been known for some time. As early as the summer of 1941, British signals intelligence had intercepted and decoded radio messages from German police units co-operating with the Einsatzgruppen, and details of the killings of Jews were included in the monthly summaries that were sent to Churchill. Churchill responded with a speech on August 24 1941 in which he called the massacres 'a crime without a name' but erroneously identified the victims as 'Russian patriots defending their native soil'. Otherwise, these facts were not made public.
Folman and Polonsky’s greatest missed opportunity, however, is their representation of Anne. As readers have been aware since the Definitive Edition appeared more than 20 years ago, the “Diary” as we know it, despite its misleading title, isn’t a literal diary. In spring 1944, the inhabitants of the Annex heard a radio broadcast in which a Dutch cabinet minister called for citizens to preserve their diaries and letters as a record of the war years — a moment depicted in the graphic adaptation. Afterward, Anne began to revise what she had written for eventual publication as an autobiographical novel, working at the furious rate of up to a dozen pages a day. She rewrote and standardized early entries and also created new ones to fill in gaps in her story, such as the history of her family. What we have come to think of as Anne’s diary, as Francine Prose and others have written, would be more accurately described as a memoir in the form of diary entries. But myths die slow deaths, and most readers still aren’t aware of the complexities behind the book’s creation.
There are many self-reflective passages where Anne laments being picked on by the adults in the annex, wondering if she will live up to the expectations they have for her, hoping she can reach her goals. There is a thread of hope apparent even in her most depressing writings. I think these are the parts I think teens find most relate-able because all teens want to achieve things, please their parents, and find hope in their moments of despair.
Perhaps the main area of dispute about this process concerns Hitler’s precise role in ordering the killing of the Jews. Remarkably, we simply do not know, in an unequivocal way, what Hitler’s precise role was. The dictator often gave oral orders to senior henchmen such as Heinrich Himmler that were never written down, and historians can only infer Hitler’s precise role and intentions from evidence which is infuriatingly inadequate and contradictory. Because of the lack of unambiguous evidence, historians have been divided for decades, rather misleadingly, into so-called “intentionalists,” who argue that Hitler always intended to kill the Jews, and “functionalists,” who claim that the killing process somehow, as it were, welled up from local SS units in Russia until it became general Nazi policy.
In her diary, Anne wrote of her very close relationship with her father, lack of daughterly love for her mother (with whom she felt she had nothing in common), and admiration for her sister's intelligence and sweet nature. She did not like the others much initially, particularly Auguste van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer (the latter shared her room). She was at first unimpressed by the quiet Peter; she herself was something of a self-admitted chatterbox (a source of irritation to some of the others). As time went on, however, she and Peter became very close, though she remained uncertain in what direction their relationship would develop.
France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied north and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas under the Vichy regime. The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas. In July 1940, the Jews in the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany were expelled into Vichy France. Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942. An estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor.
On April 30, 1945, surrounded by the Soviet Army in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide and his Reich soon collapsed. By now, most of Europe's Jews had been killed. Four million had been gassed in the death camps while another two million had been shot dead or died in the ghettos. The victorious Allies; Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, then began the daunting task of sorting through the carnage to determine exactly who was responsible. Seven months later, the Nuremberg War Crime Trials began, with 22 surviving top Nazis charged with crimes against humanity.
The main event of the upcoming holiday of Purim is the reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of how brave Esther and pious Mordecai saved Persian Jewry from the genocidal schemes of the wicked Haman. In the Ashkenazi tradition, the public reading of the scroll is followed by reciting a poem whose unknown author lived no later than the 11th century. The concluding lines are usually sung to an up-beat tune:
On June 29, the Times of Israel reported on the discovery: “New tech reveals forgotten Holocaust escape tunnel in Lithuania.” News media around the world picked up the story, including the BBC and the New York Times. To Freund, finding the tunnel finally made it possible to fully comprehend the perseverance the escapees had demonstrated. “What people were so captivated by, I think, was that this was a tale of hope,” he told me. “It proved how resilient humans can be.”
The Nazi killing site at Ponar is today known to scholars as one of the first examples of the “Holocaust by bullets”—the mass shootings that claimed the lives of upwards of two million Jews across Eastern Europe. Unlike the infamous gas chambers at places like Auschwitz, these murders were carried out at close range, with rifles and machine guns. Significantly, the killings at Ponar marked the transition to the Final Solution, the Nazi policy under which Jews would no longer be imprisoned in labor camps or expelled from Europe but exterminated.
In response to this new “resettlement” policy, the first death camps were designed. Chelmno was the site of the first gassing of Jews, which occurred on December 8, 1941. The Nazi war machine had limited resources, including slave labor, much of it Jewish. Even so, the Nazis made a decision that the annihilation of the Jews of Europe was a more important achievement than the value of their labor. Similarly, the Nazis made a decision not to let the need for transport for the war effort interfere with the need for trucks and rail cars to carry the Jews to concentration camps and death centers. It was Adolf Eichmann who masterminded the logistics of the deportation of Jews. (1)
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.
For Kanin, this kind of rumination was “an embarrassing piece of special pleading. . . . The fact that in this play the symbols of persecution and oppression are Jews is incidental, and Anne, in stating the argument so, reduces her magnificent stature.” And so it went throughout. The particularized plight of Jews in hiding was vaporized into what Kanin called “the infinite.” Reality—the diary’s central condition—was “incidental.” The passionately contemplative child, brooding on concrete evil, was made into an emblem of evasion. Her history had a habitation and a name; the infinite was nameless and nowhere.
In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary "euthanasia"; after the war this program was named Aktion T4. It was named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered. T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the "euthanasia" of children was also carried out. Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. In addition there were specialized killing centres, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, the deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the "euthanasia" centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, the commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Overall, the number of mentally and physically handicapped murdered was about 150,000.
Unlike concentration camps, death camps had no barracks to house prisoners, other than those for workers at the camps. In order to process the murder of thousands of people, great pains were taken to deceive the victims concerning their fate. Jews deported from ghettos and concentration camps to the death camps were unaware of what they were facing. The Nazi planners of the operation told the victims that they were being resettled for labor, issued them work permits, told them to bring along their tools and to exchange their German marks for foreign currency. Food was also used to coax starving Jews onto the trains. Once the trains arrived at the death camps, trucks were available to transport those who were too weak to walk directly to the gas chambers. The others were told that they would have to be deloused and enter the baths. The victims were separated by sex and told to remove their clothes. The baths were in reality the gas chambers. The shower heads in the baths were actually the inlets for poison gas. At Auschwitz, the gas chambers held 2,000 people at a time. With the introduction of a cyanide-based gas called Zyklon B, all 2,000 occupants could be killed in five minutes. As a result of this technological “advancement,” Auschwitz was able to “process” the death of 12,000 victims daily. Before the bodies were removed by workers with gas masks and burned in crematoria, the teeth of the victims were stripped for gold, which was melted down and shipped back to Germany. Innocent victims were exploited and desecrated to a degree unknown in human history.
Perhaps Miep Gies, the woman who sheltered Anne Frank and her family, explained the actions of Righteous Gentiles best. “My decision to help Otto [Frank] was because I saw no alternative. I could foresee many sleepless nights and an unhappy life if I refused. And that was not the kind of failure I wanted for myself. Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion, can be worse than losing your life.”
According to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum full statistics for the tragic fate of children who died during the Holocaust will never be known. Some estimates range as high as 1.5 million murdered children. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Gypsy children and thousands of institutionalized handicapped children who were murdered under Nazi rule in Germany and occupied Europe.
Mengele's health had been steadily deteriorating since 1972. He suffered a stroke in 1976, and he also had high blood pressure and an ear infection that affected his balance. On 7 February 1979, while visiting his friends Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert in the coastal resort of Bertioga, he suffered another stroke while swimming and drowned. Mengele was buried in Embu das Artes under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard", whose identification he had been using since 1971.
Otto Frank grew up with a social need to please his environment and not to offend it; that was the condition of entering the mainstream, a bargain German Jews negotiated with themselves. It was more dignified, and safer, to praise than to blame. Far better, then, in facing the larger postwar world that the diary had opened to him, to speak of goodness rather than destruction: so much of that larger world had participated in the urge to rage. (The diary notes how Dutch anti-Semitism, “to our great sorrow and dismay,” was increasing even as the Jews were being hauled away.) After the liberation of the camps, the heaps of emaciated corpses were accusation enough. Postwar sensibility hastened to migrate elsewhere, away from the cruel and the culpable. It was a tone and a mood that affected the diary’s reception; it was a mood and a tone that, with cautious yet crucial excisions, the diary itself could be made to support. And so the diarist’s dread came to be described as hope, her terror as courage, her prayers of despair as inspiring. And since the diary was now defined as a Holocaust document, the perception of the cataclysm itself was being subtly accommodated to expressions like “man’s inhumanity to man,” diluting and befogging specific historical events and their motives. “We must not flog the past,” Frank insisted in 1969. His concrete response to the past was the establishment, in 1957, of the Anne Frank Foundation and its offshoot the International Youth Center, situated in the Amsterdam house where the diary was composed, to foster “as many contacts as possible between young people of different nationalities, races and religions”—a civilized and tenderhearted goal that nevertheless washed away into do-gooder abstraction the explicit urge to rage that had devoured his daughter.
Anne's already budding literary ambitions were galvanized on 29 March 1944 when she heard a London radio broadcast made by the exiled Dutch Minister for Education, Art, and Science, Gerrit Bolkestein, calling for the preservation of "ordinary documents—a diary, letters ... simple everyday material" to create an archive for posterity as testimony to the suffering of civilians during the Nazi occupation. On May 20, 1944, she notes that she started re-drafting her diary with future readers in mind. She expanded entries and standardized them by addressing all of them to Kitty, clarified situations, prepared a list of pseudonyms, and cut scenes she thought would be of little interest or too intimate for general consumption. By the time she started the second existing volume, she was writing only to Kitty.
When did the Nazis decide to kill all the Jews of Europe? Was murder always in the mind of Adolf Hitler? These are some of the most difficult questions historians have to answer. Certainly, up until the invasion of the Soviet Union, Jews did manage to emigrate from Germany. Historians will never know precisely when the order for mass killing was given, but large-scale murders began with the invasion of Russia.
No doubt exists that Mengele was a very active commandant of the Auschwitz camp after he arrived there in 1943. Most doctors who have testified and prisoners who have testified have indicated he was ubiquitous, and, indeed, stories do exist of his selection activities and of his medical involvement. The Frankfurt Court which indicted him charged him with "hideous crimes" committed alone or with others "willfully and with bloodlust". Included in the crimes against humanity were selections, lethal injections, shootings, beatings and other forms of deliberate killing. He was religiously involved in all aspects, but particularly in the twins experiments, according to members of C.A.N.D.L.E.S., twins who survived the experiments.
In May, Nazis under the direction of SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann boldly began a mass deportation of the last major surviving population of European Jews. From May 15 to July 9, over 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. During this time, Auschwitz recorded its highest-ever daily number of persons killed and cremated at just over 9000. Six huge open pits were used to burn the bodies, as the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the crematories.
Beginning in late 1941, the Germans began mass transports from the ghettoes in Poland to the concentration camps, starting with those people viewed as the least useful: the sick, old and weak and the very young. The first mass gassings began at the camp of Belzec, near Lublin, on March 17, 1942. Five more mass killing centers were built at camps in occupied Poland, including Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and the largest of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 1942 to 1945, Jews were deported to the camps from all over Europe, including German-controlled territory as well as those countries allied with Germany. The heaviest deportations took place during the summer and fall of 1942, when more than 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw ghetto alone.
For the most part, these individuals did not plan to become heroes; the names of the rescuers are largely unrecorded, and their good deeds remain anonymous and unrewarded, except in the emotions of those they saved. They helped by providing hiding places, false papers, food, clothing, money, contact with the outside world, underground escape routes and sometimes even weapons.
Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research into heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. His medical procedures showed no consideration for the health, safety, or physical and emotional suffering of the victims. He was particularly interested in identical twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), dwarfs, and people with physical abnormalities. A grant was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), at the request of von Verschuer, who received regular reports and shipments of specimens from Mengele. The grant was used to build a pathology laboratory attached to Crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Dr. Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist who arrived in Auschwitz on 29 May 1944, performed dissections and prepared specimens for shipment in this laboratory. The twin research was in part intended to prove the supremacy of heredity over environment and thus strengthen the Nazi premise of the superiority of the Aryan race. Nyiszli and others reported that the twin studies may also have been motivated by an intention to increase the reproduction rate of the German race by improving the chances of racially desirable people having twins.