Some Germans, even some Nazis, dissented from the murder of the Jews and came to their aid. The most famous was Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman, who had set up operations using involuntary labour in German-occupied Poland in order to profit from the war. Eventually, he moved to protect his Jewish workers from deportation to extermination camps. In all occupied countries, there were individuals who came to the rescue of Jews, offering a place to hide, some food, or shelter for days or weeks or even for the duration of the war. Most of the rescuers did not see their actions as heroic but felt bound to the Jews by a common sense of humanity. Israel later recognized rescuers with honorary citizenship and commemoration at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.
Before the start of World War II, around 9.5 million Jewish people lived in Europe. By the time the war ended, the Nazis had killed 6 million European Jews in concentration camps, or pogroms, or ghettos, or mass executions in what we refer to today as the Holocaust. The Nazis used the term Endlösung, or Final Solution, as the “answer” to the “Jewish question.” But when did this monstrous plan get put in motion?
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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]
I confess to feeling slightly voyeuristic while reading this. It was constantly in the back of my mind that this was no ordinary novel, or even a true-to-life account. This was someone’s diary. Every page written in confidence, each word revealing the thoughts closest to the heart of this young girl. As a journal-keeper myself, I sometimes find myself wondering, “What if someone else were to read this?” which causes me to wonder how much to filter my words. But then, isn’t the purpose of a diary ...more
The Yad Vashem Law authorizes Yad Vashem "to confer honorary citizenship upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and if they have died, the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel, in recognition of their actions". Anyone who has been recognized as "Righteous" is entitled to apply to Yad Vashem for the certificate. If the person is no longer alive, their next of kin is entitled to request that commemorative citizenship be conferred on the Righteous who has died.
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.
The German occupation authorities carried out shooting operations of Jews and others they deemed to be potential enemies of permanent German rule in the east; these operations lasted until the Germans evacuated the Soviet Union in the first half of 1944. The SS and police often did not have sufficient manpower to carry out these operations, so they were assisted whenever necessary by local auxiliaries whom they recruited and by units of the German armed forces. The Germans and their collaborators killed between 1.0 and 1.5 million Jews in shooting operations or in gas vans in the occupied Soviet Union
“What happened is beyond our wildest dreams. Twice the Germans fled from our ghetto. One of our companies held out for forty minutes and the other, for over six hours ... I have no words to describe to you the conditions in which Jews are living. Only a few chosen ones will hold out; all the rest will perish sooner or later. The die is cast. In the bunkers in which our comrades are hiding, no candle can be lit for lack of air ... The main thing is: My life’s dream has come true; I have lived to see Jewish resistance in the ghetto in all its greatness and glory.”
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”.
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.
More camps opened in the spring and summer of 1942, when the Nazis began systematically clearing the ghettos in Poland and rounding up Jews in western Europe for 'deportation to the East'. The killing of the Polish Jews, code-named 'Project Reinhardt', was carried out in three camps: Treblinka, near Warsaw (850,000 victims); Belzec, in south-eastern Poland (650,000 victims); and Sobibor, in east-central Poland (250,000 victims). Some Jews from western Europe were sometimes taken to these camps as well, but most were killed at the biggest and most advanced of the death camps, Auschwitz.
Within days after his arrival, while Auschwitz was in the throes of one of its many typhoid epidemics, Mengele established a reputation for radical and ruthless efficiency. The nearby marshland made clean water difficult to obtain and posed a constant threat from mosquitoes. (Mengele himself contracted malaria in June 1943.) Other SS doctors had failed in their efforts to curb typhus in the close quarters of the camp barracks. Mengele's solution to the problem was set out in one of the seventy-eight indictments drawn up in 1981 by the West German Prosecutor's Office, when the authorities thought he was still alive. In terms of detailed evidence, this arrest warrant is the most damning and complete document that was ever compiled against him. According to the warrant, on May 25, 1943, "Mengele sent 507 Gypsies and 528 Gypsy women suspected of typhus to the gas chamber." It also charged that on "May 25 or 26 he spared those Gypsies who were German while he sent approximately 600 others to be gassed.
The first such extermination camps were introduced during Operation Reinhardt, which targeted the elimination of the Jewish people within the General Government of Occupied Poland and Ukraine. After the first killing center open at Chelmno, the use of these extermination tactics spread quickly. At the height of deportations, the Birkenau killing center murdered 6,000 Jews a day.
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.
The Summer Olympics in Berlin gave the Nazis a platform to project a crafted image to the world. Despite calls for boycotts, the games were a success. Anti-Jewish notices were removed and German spectators cheered black athlete Jesse Owens to four gold medals. Visitors saw a tolerant Reich. However, three days after the games ended, the head of the Olympic Village, Wolfgang Fürstner, killed himself as he would soon be dismissed due to his Jewish ancestry under the Nuremberg Laws.
The Jews of Kiev were rounded up by the Einsatzgruppen for “resettlement” in late September 1941. Thousands of Jews were brought to a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev and mowed down by machine guns. Many who were not wounded, including thousands of children, were thrown into the pit of bodies and were buried alive. According to an account in The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, Ukrainian militia men joined in the slaughter. The records of the Einsatzgruppen unit which participated in the executions recorded 33,771 Jews killed at Babi Yar on September 29-30. In all, more than 100,000 persons, most of them Jews, were executed at Babi Yar between 1941-1943 by the Nazis. In the summer of 1943, the bodies were dug out by slave labor and burned to hide the evidence of the slaughter.
While Clauberg and Schumann were busy with experiments designed to develop methods for the biological destruction of people regarded by the Nazis as undesirable, another medical criminal, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Mengele, M.D., Ph.D., was researching the issues of twins and the physiology and pathology of dwarfism in close cooperation with the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Genetics, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem. He was also interested in people with different colored irises (heterochromia iridii), and in the etiology and treatment of the gangrenous disease of the face known as noma Faciei (cancrum oris, gangrenous stomatitis), a little understood disease endemic to the Gypsy prisoners in Auschwitz.
After the arrest of the eight people in hiding, helpers Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl found Anne's writings in the Secret Annex. Miep held on to Anne's diaries and papers and kept them in a drawer of her desk. She hoped that she would one day be able to return them to Anne. When she learned that Anne had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she gave all the notebooks and papers to Anne's father, Otto Frank.
Josef Mengele left Auschwitz disguised as a member of the regular German infantry. He turned up at the Gross-Rosen work camp and left well before it was liberated on February 11, 1945. He was then seen at Matthausen and shortly after he was captured as a POW and held near Munich. He was released by the allies, who had no idea that he was in their midst.
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.
Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.
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.
With this police infrastructure in place, opponents of the Nazis were terrorized, beaten, or sent to one of the concentration camps the Germans built to incarcerate them. Dachau, just outside of Munich, was the first such camp built for political prisoners. Dachau's purpose changed over time and eventually became another brutal concentration camp for Jews.
According to Dr. Hans Münch, a colleague of Mengele’s at Auschwitz, Mengele arrived at the camp in a somewhat privileged position - he had been wounded on the Eastern front and was the recipient of an array of medals, including the Iron Cross. It would also appear that Mengele selected Auschwitz because of the opportunities there to continue his research. According to one source (Lifton, The Nazi Doctors) he did receive financial support for his work there. Support for continuing his professional career in genetics appears in another book, And the Violins Stopped Playing written by Alexander Ramati, where it is reported that a Professor Epstein told a comrade that "he (Mengele) has offered to prolong my life. Mind you, not to save it, just to prolong it, if I prepare a scientific paper on noma, which he would publish under his own name. It will keep him away from the front, he said, and justify his presence here as a scientist."
Despite, wide reporting of Holocaust atrocities including gas chambers, many prominent analysts doubted the authenticity of these reports. Prominently, Roger Allen, a member of the British Foreign Office discounted intelligence reports on the use of gas chambers in Polish extermination camps because he could “never understand what the advantage of a gas chamber over a simple machine gun or over starving people would be.”
On October 23, 1941, S.S. head Heinrich Himmler issued an order down the Nazi chain of command which heralded a major change in Nazi policy with respect to the “Jewish problem.” Until then, the Nazis worked vigorously to encourage Jews to emigrate. The Madagascar Plan (see below) was one example of strategies which were formulated to remove Jews from Germany and its occupied lands. As is described in more detail in Chapter 11, many countries refused to accept Jewish refugees. This shift in policy resulted in the deportation of Jews to camps and ghettos in the East. The policy to “resettle” Jews to these ghettos and camps was a significant step in what was to become the “Final Solution” the systematic murder of millions of Jews.
Genealogical Studies in the Cases of Cleft Lip-Jaw-Palate (1938), his medical dissertation, earned him a doctorate in medicine from Frankfurt University. Studying the influence of genetics as a factor in the occurrence of this deformity, Mengele conducted research on families who exhibited these traits in multiple generations. The work also included notes on other abnormalities found in these family lines.
Hitler intended to blame the Jews for the new world war he was soon to provoke. That war began in September 1939 as German troops stormed into Poland, a country that was home to over three million Jews. After Poland's quick defeat, Polish Jews were rounded up and forced into newly established ghettos at Lodz, Krakow, and Warsaw, to await future plans. Inside these overcrowded walled-in ghettos, tens of thousands died a slow death from hunger and disease amid squalid living conditions. The ghettos soon came under the jurisdiction of Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Nazi SS, Hitler's most trusted and loyal organization, composed of fanatical young men considered racially pure according to Nazi standards.
The British and American governments were reluctant to publicize the intelligence they had received. A BBC Hungarian Service memo, written by Carlile Macartney, a BBC broadcaster and senior Foreign Office adviser on Hungary, stated in 1942: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all." The British government's view was that the Hungarian people's antisemitism would make them distrust the Allies if Allied broadcasts focused on the Jews. The US government similarly feared turning the war into one about the Jews; antisemitism and isolationism were common in the US before its entry into the war. Although governments and the German public appear to have understood what was happening, it seems the Jews themselves did not. According to Saul Friedländer, "[t]estimonies left by Jews from all over occupied Europe indicate that, in contradistinction to vast segments of surrounding society, the victims did not understand what was ultimately in store for them." In Western Europe, he writes, Jewish communities seem to have failed to piece the information together, while in Eastern Europe, they could not accept that the stories they heard from elsewhere would end up applying to them too.
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."
His “obsession,” as he afterward called it—partly in mockery of the opposition his later views evoked—had its beginning in those repeated scenes of piled-up bodies as he investigated camp after camp. From then on, he could be said to carry the mark of Abel. He dedicated himself to helping the survivors get to Mandate Palestine, a goal that Britain had made illegal. In 1946, he reported from Tel Aviv on the uprising against British rule, and during the next two years he produced a pair of films on the struggles of the survivors to reach Palestine. In 1950, he published “In Search,” an examination of the effects of the European cataclysm on his experience and sensibility as an American Jew. (Thomas Mann acclaimed the book as “a human document of high order, written by a witness of our fantastic epoch whose gaze remained both clear and steady.”) Levin’s intensifying focus on the Jewish condition in the twentieth century grew more and more heated, and when his wife, the novelist Tereska Torres, handed him the French edition of the diary (it had previously appeared only in Dutch) he felt he had found what he had thirsted after: a voice crying up from the ground, an authentic witness to the German onslaught.
Often the rescuers did not previously know the Jews they saved. In this type of situation, the Gentile frequently acted “spontaneously” and even “impulsively” to help a Jew. Tec writes that Gentile friends of Jews typically did not help their Jewish friends. “Helping Jews did not qualify as behaviour required from friends. The rescuer of Jews had to be propelled by other forces, forces that went beyond the usual expectations of personal friendship.”
Mengele's eye experiments included attempts to change the eye color by injecting chemicals into the eyes of living subjects, and he killed people with heterochromatic eyes so that the eyes could be removed and sent to Berlin for study. His experiments on dwarfs and people with physical abnormalities included taking physical measurements, drawing blood, extracting healthy teeth, and treatment with unnecessary drugs and X-rays. Many of his victims were dispatched to the gas chambers after about two weeks, and their skeletons sent to Berlin for further analysis. Mengele sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform experiments before sending them to the gas chambers. Witness Vera Alexander described how he sewed two Romani twins together, back to back, in a crude attempt to create conjoined twins; both children died of gangrene after several days of suffering.