By now, experimental mobile gas vans were being used by the Einsatzgruppen to kill Jews in Russia. Special trucks had been converted by the SS into portable gas chambers. Jews were locked up in the air-tight rear container while exhaust fumes from the truck's engine were fed in to suffocate them. However, this method was found to be somewhat impractical since the average capacity was less than 50 persons. For the time being, the quickest killing method continued to be mass shootings. And as Hitler's troops advanced deep into the Soviet Union, the pace of Einsatz killings accelerated. Over 33,000 Jews in the Ukraine were shot in the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev during two days in September 1941.
The digging got underway the first night in February 1944, in a storeroom at the back of the bunker. To disguise their efforts, the prisoners erected a fake wall over the tunnel’s entrance, with “two boards hanging on loose nails that would come out with a good tug, making it possible to pass through,” Farber recalled in The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry, a compilation of eyewitness testimonies, letters and other documents of the Nazi campaign against Jews in Eastern Europe published in part in 1944 and translated into English in 2001.
Because of this book, we will remember the names, the quirks -- the characters -- of the eight people who inhabited the secret annex and their brave Dutch helpers. We will be able to visualize them long after everyone who witnessed that horrific era is gone. It is because of Anne's diary that she and her family are among the few we will remember -- the ones we feel we know -- among the millions who suffered and died as she did.
The second is the saris, usually translated as “eunuch,” whose despair comes from childlessness. To him the prophet promises “a place and a name,” in Hebrew yad va-shem—a phrase, sometimes rendered “everlasting memorial,” that gives its name to Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum. Don’t worry, Isaiah is saying, you may think that your lack of progeny means that your name won’t live on. But God promises it will live on forever.
Hitler believed that before monotheism and the Jewish ethical vision came along, the world operated according to the laws of nature and evolution: survival of the fittest. The strong survived and the weak perished. When the lion hunts the herd the young, the sick and weak are always the first victims. Nature is brutal but nature is balanced. There is no mercy. So too in antiquity-the great empires-the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans conquered, subjugated and destroyed other peoples. They respected no borders and showed no mercy. This too Hitler viewed as natural and correct. But in a world operating according to a Divinely-dictated ethical system—where a God-given standard applies and not anyone’s might—the weak did not need to fear the strong. As Hitler saw it, the strong were emasculated-this was neither normal nor natural and in Hitler’s eyes, the Jews were to blame.
By the spring of 1942, the Nazis had established six killing centers (death camps) in Poland: Chelmno (Kulmhof), Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maidanek and Auschwitz. All were located near railway lines so that Jews could be easily transported daily. A vast system of camps (called Lagersystem) supported the death camps. The purpose of these camps varied: some were slave labor camps, some transit camps, others concentration camps and their subcamps, and still others the notorious death camps. Some camps combined all of these functions or a few of them. All the camps were intolerably brutal.
Around 50,000 German gay men were jailed between 1933 and 1945, and 5,000–15,000 are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. It is not known how many died during the Holocaust. James Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than acts, and the "gesundes Volksempfinden" ("healthy sensibility of the people") became the guiding legal principle. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors. Lesbians were left relatively unaffected; the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. Gay men convicted between 1933 and 1944 were sent to camps for "rehabilitation", where they were identified by pink triangles. Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.
On 19 October 1943, five days after the prisoner revolt in Sobibór, Operation Reinhard was terminated by Odilo Globocnik on behalf of Himmler. The camps responsible for the killing of nearly 2,700,000 Jews were soon closed. Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were dismantled and ploughed over before spring. The operation was followed by the single largest German massacre of Jews in the entire war carried out on 3 November 1943; with approximately 43,000 prisoners shot one-by-one simultaneously in three nearby locations by the Reserve Police Battalion 101 hand-in-hand with the Trawniki men from Ukraine. Auschwitz alone had enough capacity to fulfill the Nazis' remaining extermination needs.
American soldiers stare down at a mass grave in Nordhausen concentration camp © Originally a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, Auschwitz was greatly expanded in 1941 with the addition of a much larger camp at nearby Birkenau. In all, Auschwitz-Birkenau and its sub-camps held 400,000 registered prisoners including 205,000 Jews, 137,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 12,000 Soviet POWs and 25,000 others (including a few British POWs). In this largest and worst of all the Nazi concentration camps, 210,000 prisoners died of starvation and abuse.
When France fell to Nazi Germany, the mission to resist the Nazis became increasingly important. Following the establishment of the Vichy France regime during the occupation, Trocmé and his church members helped their town develop ways of resisting the dominant evil they faced. Together they established first one, and then a number of "safe houses" where Jewish and other refugees seeking to escape the Nazis could hide. Many refugees were helped to escape to Switzerland following an underground railroad network. Between 1940 and 1944 when World War II ended in Europe, it is estimated that about 3500 Jewish refugees including many children were saved by the small village of Le Chambon and the communities on the surrounding plateau because the people refused to give in to what they considered to be the illegitimate legal, military, and police power of the Nazis.
Many gentile rescuers of Jews appear to have been characterized by six interdependent features: (1) individuality or separateness—an inability to blend well into their social environments; (2) independence or self-reliance—a willingness to act in accordance with personal convictions, regardless of how their actions were viewed by others; (3) an enduring commitment to stand up for the needy that expressed itself in a history of doing good deeds; (4) a tendency to perceive aid to Jews in a matter-of-fact, unassuming way, as neither heroic nor extraordinary; (5) a propensity to save Jews through unplanned and unpremeditated acts, which were performed even impulsively; and (6) a universalistic perception of Jews that defined them not as Jews but as helpless beings, totally dependent on the protection of others.
The fire signaled the demise of German democracy. On the next day, the government, under the pretense of controlling the Communists, abolished individual rights and protections: freedom of the press, assembly, and expression were nullified, as well as the right to privacy. When the elections were held on March 5, the Nazis received nearly 44 percent of the vote, and with 8 percent offered by the Conservatives, won a majority in the government.
A subsequent bowdlerization, in 1950, was still more programmatic, and crossed over even more seriously into the area of Levin’s concern for uncompromised faithfulness. The German edition’s translator, Anneliese Schütz, in order to mask or soft-pedal German culpability, went about methodically blurring every hostile reference to Germans and German. Anne’s parodic list of house rules, for instance, included “Use of language: It is necessary to speak softly at all times. Only the language of civilized people may be spoken, thus no German.” The German translation reads, “Alle Kultursprachen . . . aber leise!”—“all civilized languages . . . but softly!” “Heroism in the war or when confronting the Germans” is dissolved into “heroism in the war and in the struggle against oppression.” (“A book intended after all for sale in Germany,” Schütz explained, “cannot abuse the Germans.”) The diarist’s honest cry, in the midst of a vast persecution, that “there is no greater hostility than exists between Germans and Jews” became, in Schütz’s version, “there is no greater hostility in the world than between these Germans and Jews!” Frank agreed to the latter change because, he said, it was what his daughter had really meant: she “by no means measured all Germans by the same yardstick. For, as she knew so well, even in those days we had many good friends among the Germans.” But this guarded accommodationist view is Otto Frank’s own; it is nowhere in the diary. Even more striking than Frank’s readiness to accede to such misrepresentations is the fact that for forty-one years (until a more accurate translation appeared) no reader of the diary in German had ever known an intact text.
From the Kristallnacht pogrom onwards, Nazi policy toward the Jews radicalized relentlessly, reaching deliberate continental genocide of a kind never before seen in history by 1941-1942. It is here, however, that considerable difference of opinion among historians begins. Over the past twenty years or so, a consensus has emerged that Hitler did not embark on his campaign of killing all Jews in the Soviet Union, including women and children, immediately after the invasion began in June 1941, but only several months later. At first, it seems, only adult male Jews and “commissars” (Soviet state operatives) were killed; one of the best-known recent expositions of this viewpoint is Philippe Burrin’s 1994 Hitler and the Jews: The Genesis of the Holocaust . Nearly all of the detailed documentation of the Holocaust, including recently discovered records, points to this conclusion. Nonetheless, by the end of 1941, Nazi killing squads ( Einsatzgruppen ) had killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in the western Soviet Union, murdering men, women, and children indiscriminately. Beginning in early 1942, the extermination camps (all located in conquered Poland) began to murder Jews, and others, brought in from all parts of Europe.
According to the drawings done by Walter Dejaco, one of the architects of the Krema II building, the original blueprint showed a corpse slide for rolling bodies down into the vestibule between the two morgues, which were later converted into an undressing room and a gas chamber. The corpse slide was never built. Dejaco was acquitted by a court in Austria in 1972; at his trial, the drawings of the corpse slide were entered as evidence. (The morgue at the Sachsenhausen camp has a corpse slide which can still be seen today.)
With respect to the "functionalism versus intentionalism" debate about a master plan for the Final Solution, or the lack thereof, Hilberg posits what has been described as "a kind of structural determinism". Hilberg argues that "a destruction process has an inherent pattern" and the "sequence of steps in a destruction process is thus determined". If a bureaucracy is motivated "to inflict maximum damage upon a group of people", it is "inevitable that a bureaucracy—no matter how decentralized its apparatus or how unplanned its activities—should push its victims through these stages", culminating in their annihilation.
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.
Encouraged by von Verschuer, Mengele applied for transfer to the concentration camp service to take advantage of the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects. His application was accepted and he was posted to Auschwitz in the spring of 1943. Mengele first gained notoriety for supervising the selection of arriving prisoners to the camp, determining who would be sent to the gas chambers and who would become a forced laborer. This earned him the reputation as the “Angel of Death.” Whereas most of the other doctors viewed the selection process as one of the most horrible duties and had to get drunk in order to endure it, Mengele had no problem with the task. He often arrived smiling and whistling a tune, and even showed up for selections he wasn’t assigned to.
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.