Broadly speaking, the extermination of Jews was carried out in two major operations. With the onset of Operation Barbarossa, launched from occupied Poland in June 1941, mobile killing units of the SS and Orpo were dispatched to Soviet controlled territories of eastern Poland and further into the Soviet republics for the express purpose of killing all Jews, both Polish and Soviet. During the massive chase after the fleeing Red Army, Himmler himself visited Białystok in the beginning of July 1941, and requested that, "as a matter of principle, any Jew" behind the German-Soviet frontier "was to be regarded as a partisan". His new orders gave the SS and police leaders full authority for the mass murder behind the front-lines. By August 1941, all Jewish men, women, and children were shot. In the second phase of annihilation, the Jewish inhabitants of central, western, and south-eastern Europe were transported by Holocaust trains to camps with newly-built gassing facilities. Raul Hilberg wrote: "In essence, the killers of the occupied USSR moved to the victims, whereas outside this arena, the victims were brought to the killers. The two operations constitute an evolution not only chronologically, but also in complexity." Massacres of about one million Jews occurred before plans for the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to annihilate the entire Jewish population that extermination camps such as Auschwitz II Birkenau and Treblinka were fitted with permanent gas chambers to kill large numbers of Jews in a relatively short period of time.
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.
Known as Kristallnacht (or "Night of Broken Glass"), the attacks were partly carried out by the SS and SA, but ordinary Germans joined in; in some areas, the violence began before the SS or SA arrived. Over 7,500 Jewish shops (out of 9,000) were looted and attacked, and over 1,000 synagogues damaged or destroyed. Groups of Jews were forced by the crowd to watch their synagogues burn; in Bensheim they were forced to dance around it, and in Laupheim to kneel before it. At least 90 Jews died. The damage was estimated at 39 million Reichmarks. Cesarani writes that "[t]he extent of the desolation stunned the population and rocked the regime." Thirty-thousand Jews were sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Many were released within weeks; by early 1939, 2,000 remained in the camps. German Jewry was held collectively responsible for restitution of the damage; they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of over a billion Reichmarks. Insurance payments for damage to their property were confiscated by the government. A decree on 12 November 1938 barred Jews from most of the remaining occupations they had been allowed to hold. Kristallnacht marked the end of any sort of public Jewish activity and culture, and Jews stepped up their efforts to leave the country.
Eventually, the Germans ordered the councils to compile lists of names of deportees to be sent for "resettlement". Although most ghetto councils complied with these orders, many councils tried to send the least useful workers or those unable to work. Leaders who refused these orders were shot. Some individuals or even complete councils committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations. Others, like Chaim Rumkowski, who became the "dedicated autocrat" of Łódź, argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved and that therefore others had to be sacrificed. The councils' actions in facilitating Germany's persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was important to the Germans. When cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council's authority, the Germans lost control.
Paradoxically, at the same time that Germany tried to rid itself of its Jews via forced emigration, its territorial expansions kept bringing more Jews under its control. Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 and the Sudetenland (now in the Czech Republic) in September 1938. It established control over the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now in the Czech Republic) in March 1939. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the “Jewish question” became urgent. When the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union was complete, more than two million more Jews had come under German control. For a time, the Nazis considered shipping the Jews to the island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, but discarded the plan as impractical; the Nazis had not prevailed in the Battle of Britain, the seas had become a war zone, and the resources required for such a massive deportation were scarce.
From the very onset of war, Hitler and his inner circle, including Göring, Himmler, and Goebbels, contemplated what to do about removing the Jewish menace, or "the Jewish Question." The attack on Russia in June 1941 raised the level of intensity concerning this unresolved issue. On the Eastern Front, the future of the thousand-year Reich was clearly at stake. Hitler therefore adopted a more radicalized approach in his rule as Führer to put all of German society on a war footing and to squash all obstacles in the path of victory. At this time, Hitler also radicalized his outlook toward the Jews in favor of a "Final Solution of the Jewish Question," in which the war against Nazi Germany's external military enemies would be expanded to include the internal arch enemy scattered throughout Europe and Russia – the Jewish population.
Of the six million Poles murdered by the Nazis, half were Polish Christians. The Nazis considered the Poles and other Slavic peoples to be sub-human destined to serve as slaves to the Aryan “master race.” The Polish intelligentsia and political leadership was sought out specifically for execution, and other Polish civilians were slaughtered indiscriminately. Among the dead were more than 2,600 Catholic priests.
The infamous 'Gate of Death' at Auschwitz II for the incoming freight trains was built of brick and cement mortar in 1943, and the three-track rail spur was added. Until mid-August, 45,000 Thessaloniki Jews were murdered in a mere six months, including over 30,000 Jews from Sosnowiec (Sosnowitz) and Bendzin Ghettos. The spring of 1944 marked the beginning of the last phase of the Final Solution at Birkenau. The new big ramps and sidings were constructed, and two freight elevators were installed inside Crematoria II and III for moving the bodies faster. The size of the Sonderkommando was nearly quadrupled in preparation for the Special Operation Hungary (Sonderaktion Ungarn). In May 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau became the site of one of the two largest mass murder operations in modern history, after the Großaktion Warschau deportations of the Warsaw Ghetto inmates to Treblinka in 1942. It is estimated that until July 1944 approximately 320,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed at Birkenau in less than eight weeks. The entire operation was photographed by the SS. In total, between April and November 1944, Auschwitz II received over 585,000 Jews from over a dozen regions as far as Greece, Italy, and France, including 426,000 Jews from Hungary, 67,000 from Łódź, 25,000 from Theresienstadt, and the last 23,000 Jews from the General Government. Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army on 27 January 1945, when the gassing had already stopped.
Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid the Franks during the Holocaust, kept Anne Frank’s writings, including her diary. She handed the papers to Otto Frank on the day he learned of his daughters’ deaths. He organized the papers and worked doggedly to get the diary published, first in Dutch in 1947. The first American edition appeared in 1952.
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”.
Raphael Lemkin, a holocaust survivor who worked on the Nuremberg Trials, coined the term genocide and spent 4 years pushing for it to be added to international law. As Champetier de Ribes, the French Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials explained “This [was] a crime so monstrous, so undreamt of in history throughout the Christian era up to the birth of Hitlerism that the term ‘genocide’ has had to be coined to define it.” Ultimately, in 1948 The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was adopted, and it entered into force in 1951. The convention defined genocide in legal terms based on Lemkin’s work, and is the basis for genocide prevention efforts today.
In March 1951, the government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews. Israelis were divided about the idea of taking money from Germany. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) was opened in New York, and after negotiations, the claim was reduced to $845 million.
German-occupied Denmark rescued most of its own Jews by spiriting them to Sweden by sea in October 1943. This was possible partly because the German presence in Denmark was relatively small. Moreover, while anti-Semitism in the general population of many other countries led to collaboration with the Germans, Jews were an integrated part of Danish culture. Under these unique circumstances, Danish humanitarianism flourished.
Dr. Mengele had a Ph.D. in Anthropology as well as a degree in medicine, which he received in July 1938 from the University of Frankfurt. He earned his Ph.D. in 1935 with a thesis on "Racial Morphological Research on the Lower Jaw Section of Four Racial Groups." In January 1937, Dr. Mengele was appointed a research assistant at the Institute for Heredity, Biology and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. He worked under Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a geneticist who was doing research on twins. As the war-time director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Hereditary Teaching Genetics, located in Berlin, von Verschuer secured the funds for Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz. The results of Mengele's research on twins was sent to this Institute. The grant for Mengele's genetic research was authorized by the German Research Council in August 1943.
In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Sources: C.A.N.D.L.E.S; Kor, Eva Mozes. Echoes from Auschwitz. IN.: C.A.N.D.L.E.S. 1995; Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors. The United States: Basic Books. 1986; Nyiszli., Dr. Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. New York: Fawcett Crest. 1960; Posner, Gerald L. and John Ware. Mengele: The Complete Story. New York: Dell Publishing. 1986; Ramati, Alexander. And the Violins Stopped Playing
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.
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.
At Auschwitz, a large new camp was already under construction to be known as Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This would become the future site of four large gas chambers to be used for mass extermination. The idea of using gas chambers originated during the Euthanasia Program, the so-called "mercy killing" of sick and disabled persons in Germany and Austria by Nazi doctors.
In 2015, the Anne Frank Fonds made an announcement, as reported in The New York Times, that the 1947 edition of the diary was co-authored by Otto Frank. According to Yves Kugelmann, a member of the board of the foundation, their expert advice was that Otto had created a new work by editing, merging, and trimming entries from the diary and notebooks and reshaping them into a "kind of collage", which had created a new copyright. Agnès Tricoire, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, responded by warning the foundation to "think very carefully about the consequences". She added "If you follow their arguments, it means that they have lied for years about the fact that it was only written by Anne Frank."
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.
Of the eight people in the secret annex, only Otto Frank survived the war. He subsequently returned to Amsterdam, where Gies gave him various documents she had saved from the annex. Among the papers was Anne’s diary, though some of the notebooks were missing, notably most of those from 1943. To fulfill Anne’s dream of publication, Otto began sorting through her writings. The original red-and-white checkered journal became known as the “A” version, while her revised entries, written on loose sheets of paper, were known as the “B” version. The diary that Otto ultimately compiled was the “C” version, which omitted approximately 30 percent of her entries. Much of the excluded text was sexual-related or concerned Anne’s difficulties with her mother.
As of 1 January 2006, Yad Vashem had recognized 21,310 persons as Righteous Gentiles. Poles formed the largest group, with 5,941 having been recognized. Other East Europeans came from Ukraine (2,139), Hungary (671), Lithuania (630), Belarus (564), Slovakia (460), Russia (120), Czech Republic (115), Latvia (100), Moldova (71), Romania (52), and Estonia (3). Yad Vashem cautions, however, that its figures do not represent the actual number of people who rescued Jews in each country. For example, gentiles who saved Jews for financial gain are excluded. Thus many more people rescued Jews than are officially recognized. Because Poles constitute by far the largest group of Righteous Gentiles, they have been the most extensively studied, and most of the following observations are based on data concerning them.
German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the "Final Solution" called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust—two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.
But Auschwitz-Birkenau became more than a concentration camp. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers were built at Birkenau and mass transports of Jews began to arrive. Some of the new arrivals were inducted into the camp as registered prisoners, but the great majority were gassed immediately. These gassing operations were greatly expanded in the spring of 1943 with the construction of four purpose-built gas chamber and crematorium complexes, which included such refinements as electric lifts to carry bodies up to the crematoria. Each crematorium could handle 2,000 victims daily. In a nearby group of barracks, nicknamed 'Canada' by the prisoners, victims' belongings were sorted for transportation to the Reich. The victims' hair was used to stuff mattresses; gold teeth were melted down and the gold deposited to an SS account.
Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by purple triangles and given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died; in The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2001), Sybil Milton estimates that 10,000 were sent and 2,500 died. According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness."
In the early 1990's, Argentine authorities opened its archives to reveal that several Nazi war criminals found safe haven in South America, including Dr. Josef Mengele, also known as Auschwitz’s Angel of Death. Mengele is infamous for his horrific experiments on inmates at the concentration camp. According to The New York Times in 1992, Mengele entered Argentina using a Red Cross-issued passport in 1949 and “practiced medicine in Buenos Aires for several years in the 1950s,” specializing in illegal abortions.
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation commissioned a forensic study of the manuscripts after the death of Otto Frank in 1980. The material composition of the original notebooks and ink, and the handwriting found within them and the loose version were extensively examined. In 1986, the results were published: The handwriting attributed to Anne Frank was positively matched with contemporary samples of Anne Frank's handwriting, and the paper, ink, and glue found in the diaries and loose papers were consistent with materials available in Amsterdam during the period in which the diary was written.
These mass murders took place in small cottages situated outside the Birkenau camp in the woods…All the SS physicians on duty in the camp took turns to participate in the gassing, which were called Sonderaction, “special action”....When the transport with the people who were destined to be gassed arrived as the railway ramp, the SS officer selected, from among the new arrivals, persons fit to work, while the rest - old people, all children, women with children in their arms and other persons not deemed fit to work- were loaded on to lorries and driven to the gas-chamber.
Browning’s massive but highly readable work (some parts of which were written by the German scholar Jürgen Matthäus) covers every aspect of this question and incorporates all significant previous research. While new interpretations are, of course, likely to be offered in the future, it is most unlikely, barring the discovery of new documents of great importance, that we will ever have a clearer picture of this process than the one Browning offers. This is not to say that the evolution of Nazi policy towards the Jews in this period is now crystal clear”it emphatically is not”but it is to say that all the evidence that an historian can bring to bear on this question has now been synthesized in the clearest form it is ever likely to have.
Amir told me that Zeidel made several pilgrimages back to Ponar. And yet he was never able to locate the passageway that carried him to freedom. What Zeidel didn’t know was that three years before he died, a Lithuanian archaeologist named Vytautas Urbanavicius had quietly excavated what turned out to be the tunnel’s entrance. But after taking a few photographs and a notebook’s worth of measurements, he sealed up the hole with fresh mortar and stone without pressing any farther or prominently marking the area.
As a temporary measure, while the top leadership considered long-term options, German authorities established ghettos in the Generalgouvernement (that part of German-occupied Poland not directly annexed to Germany, attached to German East Prussia or incorporated into the German-occupied Soviet Union) and in the District Wartheland, commonly called the Warthegau (an area of western Poland directly annexed to the German Reich). From late 1939, German SS and police authorities deported Polish, German, Austrian, and Czech Jews to these ghettos.
In 1992, DNA testing confirmed Mengele's identity beyond doubt, but family members refused repeated requests by Brazilian officials to repatriate the remains to Germany. The skeleton is stored at the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine, where it is used as an educational aid during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school.