Between April and June of 1940, Germany invaded Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg consolidating power across neutral Western Europe. On June 22, 1940, France signed an armistice with Germany, which divided France between the German-occupied territory in the north and the Vichy regime in the south. Although officially neutral, the French state during this time was generally pro-Nazi and cooperated with Germany’s racial policies.
Uprisings broke out in some extermination camps. The few remaining Jews kept alive to dispose of bodies and sort possessions realised the number of transportees was reducing and they would be next. Civilian uprisings occurred across Poland as mainly young Jews, whose families had already been murdered, began to resist Nazi oppression. With reports of rebellion and mass murder in the British press, the situation in the camps could no longer be be ignored.
Additional barriers stemmed from antisemitism, which was rampant in the cultural climate of Eastern Europe. Gentile rescuers thus often feared censure from their fellow citizens. Moreover, significant numbers of gentiles had to confront their own personal, sometimes unconscious, anti-Jewish feelings. Indeed, postwar interviews with rescuers have shown that although they tended to describe the Jews they saved as fine people, many characterized Jews in general as dirty, loud, greedy, aggressive, dishonest, deceitful, or underhanded.
Dogim backed down; the diggers pressed on. On April 9, Farber announced that they’d reached the roots of a tree near the barbed-wire fence that encircled the camp’s perimeter. Three days later, he made a tentative stab with a makeshift probe he’d fashioned out of copper tubing. Gone was the stench of the pits. “We could feel the fresh April air, and it gave us strength,” he later recalled. “We saw with our own eyes that freedom was near.”
In May 1944, Himmler told senior army officers that, "The Jewish question has been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany. It has been solved uncompromisingly, as was appropriate in view of the struggle in which we were engaged for the life of our nation." Himmler explained that it was important that even women and children had to die, so that no "hate-filled avengers" would be able to confront our children and grandchildren.
From 1933 onward, anti-Jewish propaganda had flooded Germany. Under the skillful direction of Joseph Goebbels, his Nazi Propaganda Ministry churned out a ceaseless stream of leaflets, posters, newspaper articles, cartoons, newsreels, slides, movies, speeches, records, exhibits and radio pronouncements. As a result, the accusations, denunciations and opinions which Hitler first expressed in his book, Mein Kampf, had become institutionalized, accepted as time-tested beliefs by all Nazis, taught as fact to impressionable youths, and drilled into the minds of eager-to-please SS recruits.
Double-sided ramps were built inside the pits. One crew hauled stretchers filled with corpses up the ramp, and another crew pushed the bodies onto the pyre. In a week, the Burning Brigade might dispose of 3,500 bodies or more. Later, the guards forced prisoners to sift through the ashes with strainers, looking for bone fragments, which would then be pounded down into powder.
Theodor Holman wrote in reply to Sietse van der Hoek that the diary entry for 28 September 1942 proved conclusively the character's fictional origin. Jacqueline van Maarsen agreed, but Otto Frank assumed his daughter had her real acquaintance in mind when she wrote to someone of the same name. However, Kitty Egyedi said in an interview that she was flattered by the assumption, but doubted the diary was addressed to her:
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.”
At least 130 Righteous Gentiles have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities, and were granted citizenship. In the mid-1980s, they became entitled to special pensions. Some of them settled in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel's establishment shortly after World War II, or in the early years of the new state of Israel, while others came later. Those who came earlier often spoke fluent Hebrew and have integrated into Israeli society.
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.
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen and, later, militarized battalions of Order Police officials, moved behind German lines to carry out mass-murder operations against Jews, Roma, and Soviet state and Communist Party officials. German SS and police units, supported by units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, murdered more than a million Jewish men, women, and children, and hundreds of thousands of others.
Within one week from the start of Operation Barbarossa, Heydrich issued an order to his Einsatzkommandos for the on-the-spot execution of all Bolsheviks, interpreted by the SS to mean all Jews. One of the first indiscriminate massacres of men, women, and children in Reichskommissariat Ukraine took the lives of over 4,000 Polish Jews in occupied Łuck on 2–4 July 1941, murdered by Einsatzkommando 4a assisted by the Ukrainian People's Militia. Formed officially on 20 August 1941, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine – stretching from prewar east-central Poland to Crimea – had become operational theatre of the Einsatzgruppe C. Within the Soviet Union proper, between 9 July 1941 and 19 September 1941 the city of Zhytomyr was made Judenfrei in three murder operations conducted by German and Ukrainian police in which 10,000 Jews perished. In the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre of 26–28 August 1941 some 23,600 Jews were shot in front of open pits (including 14,000–18,000 people expelled from Hungary). After an incident in Bila Tserkva in which 90 small children left behind had to be shot separately, Blobel requested that Jewish mothers hold them in their arms during mass shootings. Long before the conference at Wannsee, 28,000 Jews were shot by SS and Ukrainian military in Vinnytsia on 22 September 1941, followed by the 29 September massacre of 33,771 Jews at Babi Yar. In Dnipropetrovsk, on 13 October 1941 some 10,000–15,000 Jews were shot. In Chernihiv, 10,000 Jews were put to death and only 260 Jews were spared. In mid-October, during the Krivoy-Rog massacre of 4,000–5,000 Soviet Jews the entire Ukrainian auxiliary police force actively participated. In the first days of January 1942 in Kharkiv, 12,000 Jews were murdered, but smaller massacres continued in this period on daily basis in countless other locations. In August 1942 in the presence of only a few German SS men over 5,000 Jews were massacred in Polish Zofjówka by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police leading to the town's complete sweep from existence.
Pogroms occurred in several countries occupied by, or supportive of, Germany, attacks that were both encouraged by the Germans and carried out without their involvement. Thousands of Jews were killed in January and June 1941 in the Bucharest pogrom and Iaşi pogrom in Romania, a German ally. According to a 2004 report written by Tuvia Friling and others, up to 14,850 Jews died during the Iaşi pogrom. The Romanian military killed up to 25,000 Jews in Odessa, then under Romanian control, between 18 October 1941 and March 1942, assisted by gendarmes and the police. Mihai Antonescu, Romania's deputy prime minister, is reported as saying it was "the most favorable moment in our history" to solve the "Jewish problem". In July 1941 he said it was time for "total ethnic purification, for a revision of national life, and for purging our race of all those elements which are foreign to its soul, which have grown like mistletoes and darken our future".
A subsidiary aim of Operation Reinhard was to exploit a small minority of Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement as forced laborers before killing them. As the ghettos in Poland were systematically liquidated, those selected to live temporarily were deported to Operation Reinhard labor camps and to the concentration camp Lublin/Majdanek. This camp was established in 1941 under the authority of the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in Berlin. Though conceived of and functioning in practice primarily as a concentration camp, housing political prisoners and Jewish forced laborers, Majdanek served from time to time as a killing site for Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement. It had gas chambers, in which the SS killed tens of thousands of Jews, primarily forced laborers too weak to work.
Amit withstood pressure from many members of his staff who were Holocaust survivors or relatives of victims. But others thought he was right. Rafi Eitan, an Israel-born Mossad operative who led the team that caught Eichmann, told me: “Because of the need for foreign-language speakers, many of the Mossad’s recruits were from Europe, and therefore had gone through the Holocaust or lost their families in it. One can definitely understand their need for vengeance. However, there was huge pressure to deal with current requirements, and with the resources being as meager as they were, in no way would it have been right to give the Nazi matter priority.”
Throughout the spring and summer of 1940, the German army expanded Hitler’s empire in Europe, conquering Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Beginning in 1941, Jews from all over the continent, as well as hundreds of thousands of European Gypsies, were transported to the Polish ghettoes. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 marked a new level of brutality in warfare. Mobile killing units called Einsatzgruppenwould murder more than 500,000 Soviet Jews and others (usually by shooting) over the course of the German occupation.
These three extermination factories — with Belzec responsible for about 600,000 victims, Sobibor 200,000, Treblinka 900,000 — shared certain features. Like Auschwitz at a later stage, they were equipped with railroad terminals that the trains entered in reverse. The victims were ordered to undress and then led through a corridor to the gas chambers; the gas was composed of carbon monoxide produced by diesel motors. At first, the corpses were buried in mass graves, later they were burnt in crematoria. The similarity to the “euthanasia” program was evident here too. In August 1941, the camps inspector was SS Sturmbannfiihrer Christian Wirth who, like dozens of other specialists of “Operation T4,” was placed under Odilo Globocnik, the commander of the SS for the region of Lublin.
Under the Nuremberg Laws, Jews became routine targets for stigmatization and persecution. This culminated in Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass” in November 1938, when German synagogues were burned and windows in Jewish shops were smashed; some 100 Jews were killed and thousands more arrested. From 1933 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jews who were able to leave Germany did, while those who remained lived in a constant state of uncertainty and fear.
Mengele sailed to Argentina in July 1949, assisted by a network of former SS members. He initially lived in and around Buenos Aires, then fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960, while being sought by West Germany, Israel, and Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal who wanted to bring him to trial. He eluded capture in spite of extradition requests by the West German government and clandestine operations by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He drowned in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming off the Brazilian coast, and was buried under a false name. His remains were disinterred and positively identified by forensic examination in 1985.