Browning also examines the much-debated question of the degree of complicity by ordinary Germans in the “Final Solution.” Here he sensibly steers a middle course between those who see genocide as carried out by the top Nazis, under the smokescreen of the war, secretly and in a way almost totally hidden from Germany’s civilians, and, at the other extreme, historians such as Daniel J. Goldhagen who view virtually the entire German people as complicit in “exterminationist anti-Semitism.” Browning realizes the extent to which anti-Semitism, although always present in German (and, more obviously, in Austrian) culture, had nevertheless been greatly ameliorated down to 1933 by the general and continuous rise of liberalism and “modernity.” But he also understands that Germany’s “special path” to the twentieth century”unlike that of the English-speaking world”involved a reactionary and anti-liberal elite masterminding and benefiting from an extremely rapid industrial revolution while holding to ultranationalism and expansionism as its core values. The attitude of the average German towards the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis (that is, in Nazi Germany itself) was arguably one of reprehensible indifference; but one must not forget also that Nazi Germany was a totalitarian society, where opposition to the regime meant certain imprisonment or death, and that the Nazis kept their killings in Eastern Europe a secret from their own people.
Resistance movements also helped Jews. Sometimes, this aid was intended to help the Jews; often it was rendered in the context of the general anti-Nazi resistance. In Yugoslavia, Serbian partisans attacked a concentration camp near Nish in 1941, freeing a small number of Jews. On April 19, 1943, the Committee for Jewish Defense, aided by Christian railroad workers, attacked a Belgian transport leaving Malines for Auschwitz. Several hundred Jewish deportees escaped with the help of the Belgian resistance.
On November 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Göring convened a meeting of Nazi officials to discuss the damage to the German economy from pogroms. The Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmarks. Moreover, Jews were made responsible for cleaning up the damage. German Jews, but not foreign Jews, were barred from collecting insurance. In addition, Jews were soon denied entry to theatres, forced to travel in separate compartments on trains, and excluded from German schools. These new restrictions were added to earlier prohibitions, such as those barring Jews from earning university degrees, from owning businesses, or from practicing law or medicine in the service of non-Jews. The Nazis would continue to confiscate Jewish property in a program called “Aryanization.” Göring concluded the November meeting with a note of irony: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”
German soldiers question Jews after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. In October 1940, the Germans began to concentrate Poland's population of over 3 million Jews into overcrowded ghettos. In the largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease and starvation, even before the Nazis began their massive deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe -- took place from April 19 until May 16 1943, and began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. It ended when the poorly-armed and supplied resistance was crushed by German troops. #
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.
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.
Unlike the death camps of Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, which were built and operated solely to kill Jews, the two death camps of Maidanek and Auschwitz also had a work camp attached. Upon arrival at these two camps, a selection was made at the train station concerning which Jews (about 10 percent of the arrivals) would be permitted to live and escape immediate gassing in the gas chambers. These “lucky” survivors were permitted to live only to the extent that they endured the physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon them. They were given a food ration that permitted them to survive for only three months. As they died from exhaustion, beatings, and starvation, they were replaced with newly arrived victims. Auschwitz was also used as the site for medical experimentation. Many of these experiments had little scientific value but were only exercises to discover how much torture a victim could endure until death. By the end of 1944, an estimated two-and-a-half million Jews had died at Auschwitz. More than a quarter of a million Gypsies also died there.
An emaciated 18-year-old Russian girl looks into the camera lens during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Dachau was the first German concentration camp, opened in 1933. More than 200,000 people were detained between 1933 and 1945, and 31,591 deaths were declared, most from disease, malnutrition and suicide. Unlike Auschwitz, Dachau was not explicitly an extermination camp, but conditions were so horrific that hundreds died every week. #
Similar smaller rescue operations occurred in Greece, where Jews were hidden in the mountains or on islands. Later, Greek Jews were smuggled into Turkey. Similar popular aid to the Jews was rendered in Finland and in Holland there was a protest strike in February 1941, against the deportation of Dutch Jews. The Italian army also helped Jews in their occupation zones in France and Yugoslavia, and they played an important role in rescuing Italian Jews before the Germans occupied Italy in September 1943.
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.
In June 1941, Mengele was posted to Ukraine, where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In January 1942, he joined the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking as a battalion medical officer. After rescuing two German soldiers from a burning tank, he was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class, the Wound Badge in Black, and the Medal for the Care of the German People. He was declared unfit for further active service in mid-1942, when he was seriously wounded in action near Rostov-on-Don. Following his recovery, he was transferred to the headquarters of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office in Berlin, at which point he resumed his association with von Verschuer, who was now director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics. Mengele was promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) in April 1943.