Walking the grounds of the memorial site, I arrived with Freund at the lip of the pit that had housed the bunker where Zeidel and the other members of the Burning Brigade had lived. The circumference was tremendous, nearly 200 feet in total. On its grassy floor, the Vilna Gaon Museum had erected a model of a double-sided ramp that the Burning Brigade had used to drop bodies onto the pyres.
Prisoners transported to these extermination camps were told to undress so they could shower. Rather than a shower, the prisoners were herded into gas chambers and killed. (At Chelmno, the prisoners were herded into gas vans instead of gas chambers.) Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz.
“In any of these circumstances, what you want—the biggest thing you want, the most important—is to be able to make these places visible,” Freund told me later, back in Vilnius. “Your goal is to mark them in a way that people can come to them with tears in their eyes, come to them as memorials, come to them to say the mourner’s kaddish. Because the worst thing would be to look away. To forget.”
At Auschwitz, Yanina survived the gas chamber when adult bodies fell on top of her, protecting her from inhaling a lethal amount of poison gas. Found moaning by Jewish slave laborers who were forced to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, Yanina was resuscitated, given a uniform and told to blend in. Prisoners under the age of 15 were routinely gassed at Auschwitz, but Yanina was able to escape detection after her remarkable rescue.
When war erupted, Mengele was a medical officer with the SS, the elite squad of Hitler’s bodyguards who later emerged as a secret police force that waged campaigns of terror in the name of Nazism. In 1943, Mengele was called to a position that would earn him his well-deserved infamy. SS head Heinrich Himmler appointed Mengele the chief doctor of the Auschwitz death camps in Poland.
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The next year, 1942, marked the beginning of mass murder on a scale unprecedented in all of human history. In January, fifteen top Nazis led by Reinhard Heydrich, second in command of the SS, convened the Wannsee Conference in Berlin to coordinate plans for the Final Solution. The Jews of Europe would now be rounded up and deported into occupied Poland where new extermination centers were being constructed at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents. They set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not conform.
After the U.S. government refused to permit the passenger’s refuge, the St. Louis left Cuba for Europe. The St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami. The passengers were able to find refuge in other European countries so they didn’t have to return to Germany. Great Britain took 288, the Netherlands admitted 181; Belgium took 214, and 224 passengers found temporary refuge in France. When Germany invaded Western Europe, 532 of the original passengers were trapped. Just over half survived the Holocaust.
The mood of consolation lingers on, as Otto Frank meant it to—and not only in Germany, where, even after fifty years, the issue is touchiest. Sanctified and absolving, shorn of darkness, Anne Frank remains in all countries a revered and comforting figure in the contemporary mind. In Japan, because both diary and play mention first menstruation, “Anne Frank” has become a code word among teen-agers for getting one’s period. In Argentina in the seventies, church publications began to link her with Roman Catholic martyrdom. “Commemoration,” the French cultural critic Tzvetan Todorov explains, “is always the adaptation of memory to the needs of today.”
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference at a lakeside villa in Berlin to organize the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Around the table were 15 men representing government agencies necessary to implement so bold and sweeping a policy. The language of the meeting was clear, but the meeting notes were circumspect:
After a day of disinterring and burning corpses, “we returned [to the bunker] on all fours,” Zeidel recalled years later, in a series of interviews with the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, today held at an archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “We really fell like the dead. But,” Zeidel continued, “the spirit of initiative, the energy, the will that we had” helped sustain them. Once oxygen in the tunnel became too scarce to burn candles, a prisoner named Isaac Dogim, who had worked in Vilnius as an electrician, managed to wire the interior with lights, powered by a generator the Nazis had placed in the bunker. Behind the fake wall, the tunnel was expanding: 10 feet in length, 15. Gradually, the entire Burning Brigade was alerted to the escape plan. Dogim and Farber promised that no one would be left behind.
The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.
After crossing the Soviet demarcation line in 1941, what had been regarded as exceptional in the Greater Germanic Reich became a normal way of operating in the east. The crucial taboo against the killing of women and children was breached not only in Białystok, but also in Gargždai in late June. By July, significant numbers of women and children were being killed behind all front-lines not only by the Germans, but also by the local Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliary forces. On 29 July 1941, at a meeting of SS officers in Vileyka (Polish Wilejka, now Belarus), the Einsatzgruppen had been given a dressing-down for their low execution figures. Heydrich himself issued an order to include the Jewish women and children in all subsequent shooting operations. Accordingly, by the end of July the entire Jewish population of Vileyka, men, women and children were murdered. Around 12 August, no less than two-thirds of the Jews shot in Surazh were women and children of all ages. In late August 1941 the Einsatzgruppen murdered 23,600 Jews in the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre. A month later, the largest mass shooting of Soviet Jews took place on 29–30 September in the ravine of Babi Yar, near Kiev, where more than 33,000 Jewish people of all ages were systematically machine-gunned. In mid-October 1941, HSSPF South, under the command of Friedrich Jeckeln, had reported the indiscriminate killing of more than 100,000 people.
But for all that this book has been set up as a work of Christian ethics and in that I think the book fails there is next to no specifically Christian ethical content. Why should one risk the lives of oneself and one's family for a stranger? Is the fact that so many didn't amount, as Eliezer Berkovits put it to "the moral bankruptcy of Christian civilization and the spiritual bankruptcy of Christian religion"? On these points Gushee is silent. And so, this book does not offer an account of the moral obligation the disciple of Christ owe to the persecuted Jew in particular or the persecuted stranger in general. It does however ask a very important question, and that alone makes this a book worth taking seriously.
Albert Goering loathed all of Nazism's inhumanity and at the risk of his career, fortune and life, used his name and connections to save hundreds of Jews and and political dissidents during the Second World War. After the war Albert Goering - savior of victims of the tyranny his brother helped create - was imprisoned for several years for his name alone. But his story is almost unknown: he was shoved into obscurity by the enormity of his brother's crimes.
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.”
Lay Catholics, such as the German Dr. Gertrude Luckner, who headed the Caritas Catholica, also extended help to Jews and non-Aryan Christians in Germany. She was deported to Ravensbruck for her aid to the persecuted. After the war, Dr. Luckner was honored for her courage by the Israeli government. It must be noted that much of this Christian help was actually rendered to fellow Christians (converted Jews), who were classified as Jews due to their descent under Nazi racial laws.
Prior to his arrival at Auschwitz, he had published three articles, one of which was his dissertation in the Anthropological Institute at the University of Munich and which was entitled "Racial-Morphological Examination of the Anterior Portion of the Lower Jaw in Four Racial Groups". His medical dissertation, published in 1938, was entitled "Genealogical Studies in the Cases of Cleft Lip-Jaw-Palate". This was a predecessor to his work on genetic abnormalities and indirectly on twins which was to take place at Auschwitz. The third article - entitled "Hereditary Transmission of Fistulae Auris" was published in conjunction with research done on the Lenz-Vershuer principle of "irregular, dominant hereditary process". It appeared in 1928 that Mengele was destined for the academia.
And so, at the behest of their Führer, a handful of Nazi bureaucrats conspired to bring about the demise of millions. On January 20, 1942, they attended the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, organized by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who told them, “In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east.”
According to a news article in the Quad-City Times, Yanina Cywinska survived the gas chamber at Auschwitz when she was 10 years old. Cywinska presented the Geifman Lecture in Holocaust Studies at the Augustana College in Rock Island, IL on April 11, 2005, sharing her firsthand account of the atrocities that she endured as a prisoner in Auschwitz and later at Dachau.
The Diary of Anne Frank is the first, and sometimes only, exposure many people have to the history of the Holocaust. Meticulously handwritten during her two years in hiding, Anne's diary remains one of the most widely read works of nonfiction in the world. Anne has become a symbol for the lost promise of the more than one million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.
Though it had ancient roots, Nazi ideology was far from a primitive, medieval throwback - it was capable of appealing to intelligent and sophisticated people. Many high-ranking Nazis had doctoral degrees and early supporters included such eminent people as philosopher Martin Heidegger, theologian Martin Niemoeller, and commander-in-chief of German forces in the First World War, General Erich Ludendorff. Hitler appealed with a powerful vision of a strong, united and 'racially' pure Germany, bolstered by pseudo-scientific ideas that were popular at the time.
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses. On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. Jews were disbarred from practising law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms. In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers; Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials. Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities. Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans; of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers, authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions. Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only."
An Israeli historian Dina Porat claimed that the Final Solution, i.e.: "the systematic overall physical extermination of Jewish communities one after the other – began in Lithuania" during the massive German chase after the Red Army across the Baltic states in Reichskommissariat Ostland. The subject of the Holocaust in Lithuania has been analysed by Konrad Kweit from USHMM who wrote: "Lithuanian Jews were among the first victims of the Holocaust [beyond the eastern borders of occupied Poland]. The Germans carried out the mass executions [...] signaling the beginning of the 'Final Solution'." About 80,000 Jews were killed in Lithuania by October (including in formerly Polish Wilno) and about 175,000 by the end of 1941 according to official reports.