It is not known when Hitler formed the intention of the “final solution of the Jewish question” on the scale of the European continent. The conference in Wannsee on January 20, 1942 considered only the details of the undertaking: the methods for organizing the deportation and ensuring the cooperation of the civilian administration. Overall, the plans called for the murder of 11 million Jews living in Germany, the occupied territory, the states opposed to the Third Reich, and the allied and neutral countries.
The memory of this slightly built man, scarcely a hair out of place, his dark green tunic neatly pressed, his face well scrubbed, his Death's Head SS cap tilted rakishly to one side, remains vivid for those who survived his scrutiny when they arrived at the Auschwitz railhead. Polished boots slightly apart, his thumb resting on his pistol belt, he surveyed his prey with those dead gimlet eyes. Death to the left, life to the right.
15-year-old Anne looked very critically at the texts written by 13-year-old Anne. She gave to the texts written during the first six months in hiding an especially thorough going-over. There, the differences between the original diary and Anne's rewritten version are the greatest. Since the original diary letters from 1943 have not survived, we do not know anything about them. It is noteworthy that in The Secret Annex, Anne left out her notes about her love for Peter and her vicious remarks about her mother, such as 'my mother is in most things an example to me, but then an example of precisely how I shouldn’t do things.'
Although many people responded with obstructionism and doubt, several rescue operations were run throughout Axis-controlled Europe. Some were the work of prominent individuals like Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who worked largely alone while other operations were far more complex. A network of Catholic bishops and clergymen organized local protests and shelter campaigns throughout much of Europe that are today estimated to have saved 860,000 lives. Danish fishermen clandestinely ferried more than 7,000 Jews into neutral Sweden while the French town of Chambon-sur-Lignon sheltered between 3,000 and 5,000 refugees.
By the fall of 1948, Mengele had made up his mind to leave Germany and build a life elsewhere. Argentina was the preferred choice of sanctuary. There was a groundswell of Nazi sympathy in Argentina. And his father, Karl Sr., who owned a firm that manufactured agricultural equipment, thought that though his company had no branches in Argentina, he had made several business connections there that Josef might develop.
Several scholars have suggested that the Final Solution began in the newly formed district of Bezirk Bialystok. The German army took over Białystok within days. On Friday, 27 June 1941, the Reserve Police Battalion 309 arrived in the city and set the Great Synagogue on fire with hundreds of Jewish men locked inside. The burning of the synagogue was followed by a frenzy of killings both inside the homes around the Jewish neighbourhood of Chanajki, and in the city park, lasting until night time. The next day, some 30 wagons of dead bodies were taken to mass graves. As noted by Browning, the killings were led by a commander "who correctly intuited and anticipated the wishes of his Führer" without direct orders. For reasons unknown, the number of victims in the official report by Major Weis was cut in half. The next mass shooting of Polish Jews within the newly formed Reichskommissariat Ostland took place in two days of 5–7 August in occupied Pińsk, where over 12,000 Jews died at the hands of Waffen SS, not the Einsatzgruppen. An additional 17,000 Jews perished there in a ghetto uprising crushed a year later with the aid of Belarusian Auxiliary Police.
After WWII had ended, photographs of the Holocaust stunned the public. Newspapers in the United States had reported on the oppression of the Jews in Germany during the war. In 1942, many newspapers were writing details of the Holocaust, but these stories were short and were not widely read. In 1943, after sources had confirmed the killings of at least two million Jews in concentration camps across Europe a Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans believed these reports to be true; 28% thought they were “just a rumor”. The reports were unconfirmed and sometimes denied by the United States government.
Back in Germany, years of pent-up hatred toward the Jews was finally let loose on the night that marks the actual beginning of the Holocaust. The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) occurred on November 9/10 after 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan shot and killed Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official in Paris, in retaliation for the harsh treatment his Jewish parents had received from Nazis.
Many Jews were saved by hiding and also by illegal frontier crossings. Anne Frank‘s family hid in the concealed annex of an Amsterdam office building with the help of a Christian friend, and the family of Emmanuel Ringelblum (the Warsaw ghetto historian) hid in Warsaw in a specially prepared underground bunker camouflaged by a Polish gardener’s greenhouse. Both the Franks and the Ringelblums were caught and perished. About 20,000 Polish Jews, however, did survive hidden in Aryan Warsaw. Likewise, 5,000 Dutch Jews and several thousand German Jews were hidden in the heart of the Nazi empire, in Berlin and Hamburg.
The hired hands were earnest and reverent. They began at once to read up on European history, Judaism, and Jewish practice; they consulted a rabbi. They corresponded eagerly with Frank, looking to satisfy his expectations. They travelled to Amsterdam and visited 263 Prinsengracht, the house on the canal where the Franks, the van Daans, and Dussel had been hidden. They met Johannes Kleiman, who, together with Victor Kugler and Miep Gies, had taken over the management of Frank’s business in order to conceal and protect him and his family in the house behind. Reacting to the Hacketts’ lifelong remoteness from Jewish subject matter, Levin took out an ad in the New York Post attacking Bloomgarden and asking that his play be given a hearing. “My work,” he wrote, “has been with the Jewish story. I tried to dramatize the Diary as Anne would have, in her own words. . . . I feel my work has earned the right to be judged by you, the public.” “Ridiculous and laughable,” said Bloomgarden. Appealing to the critic Brooks Atkinson, Levin complained—extravagantly, outrageously—that his play was being “killed by the same arbitrary disregard that brought an end to Anne and six million others.” Frank stopped answering Levin’s letters; many he returned unopened.
Mengele was an attractive man. A perennial little smile showed the gap between his front teeth. Immaculately dressed in jodhpurs, he wore a cap bearing the SS insignia and carried the obligatory riding crop, constantly slapping it against his gleaming black boots. Whenever he spoke to me, he was very polite, giving the impression that he was interested in me. It was hard to believe that his little smile and courteous behavior were just a facade behind which he devised the most horrific murderous schemes.
The Nazis considered Jews to be the main danger to Germany. Jews were the primary victims of Nazi racism, but other victims included Roma (Gypsies) and people with mental or physical disabilities. The Nazis murdered some 200,000 Roma. And they murdered at least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled patients, mainly German and living in institutions, in the so-called Euthanasia Program.
After the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Nazis sent many thousands of Czech Jews to ghettos in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. On 22 June 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union brought many more Jews within the German sphere of influence. Some Polish Jews had managed to escape into the Soviet Union during the German invasion of Poland. Now, as the German army rolled into the Soviet Union, they were again trapped.
Mengele's name was mentioned several times during the Nuremberg trials in the mid-1940s, but the Allied forces believed that he was probably already dead. Irene Mengele and the family in Günzburg also alleged that he had died. Working in West Germany, Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Hermann Langbein collected information from witnesses about Mengele's wartime activities. In a search of the public records, Langbein discovered Mengele's divorce papers, which listed an address in Buenos Aires. He and Wiesenthal pressured the West German authorities into starting extradition proceedings, and an arrest warrant was drawn up on 5 June 1959. Argentina initially refused the extradition request because the fugitive was no longer living at the address given on the documents; by the time extradition was approved on 30 June, Mengele had already fled to Paraguay and was living on a farm near the Argentine border.
Throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, relatively few non-Jewish persons were willing to risk their own lives to help the Jews. Notable exceptions included Oskar Schindler, a German who saved 1,200 Jews by moving them from Plaszow labor camp to his hometown of Brunnlitz. The Nazi-occupied nation of Denmark rescued nearly its entire population of Jews, over 7,000, by transporting them to safety by sea. Italy and Bulgaria both refused to cooperate with Nazi demands for deportations. Elsewhere in Europe, people generally stood by passively and watched as their neighbors were marched through the streets toward waiting trains, or in some cases, actively participated in Nazi roundups.
Jews would be “utilised for work in the East… [The] sexes [will be] separated. Jews capable of work will be moved into these areas as they build roads, during which a large proportion will no doubt drop out through natural reduction. The remnant that eventually remains will require suitable treatment…The evacuated Jews will first be taken, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, in order to be transported further east from there.”
Historians differ on the date of the decision to murder Jews systematically, the so-called “final solution to the Jewish question.” There is debate about whether there was one central decision or a series of regional decisions in response to local conditions. In either case, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, its former ally, in June of 1941, the Nazis began the systematic killing of Jews.
One day this past fall I walked the grounds of the Ponar forest with Freund and a couple of his colleagues, who had recently completed a surveying project of the area. Snow had been forecast, but by late morning the only precipitation was icy rain, driven sideways by the wind. The forest was mostly empty, save for a group of ten Israelis who had arrived that morning; they all had family from Vilnius, one of the men explained, and were honoring them by visiting local Holocaust sites.
Richard Freund, an American archaeologist at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut, specializes in Jewish history, modern and ancient. He has been traversing the globe for almost three decades, working at sites as varied as Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in eastern Poland. Unusually for a man in his profession, he rarely puts trowel to earth. Instead, Freund, who is rumpled and stout, with eyes that seem locked in a perpetual squint, practices what he calls “noninvasive archaeology,” which uses ground-penetrating radar and other types of computerized electronic technology to discover and describe structures hidden underground.
^ Ronald J. Berger (2002). Fathoming the Holocaust: A Social Problems Approach. Transaction Publishers. p. 57–8. ISBN 0202366111. Bureaucrats in the Reichsbahn performed important functions that facilitated the movement of trains. They constructed and published timetables, collected fares, and allocated cars and locomotives. In sending Jews to their death, they did not deviate much from the routine procedures they used to process ordinary train traffic.
But there is a note that drills deeper than commemoration: it goes to the idea of identification. To “identify with” is to become what one is not, to become what one is not is to usurp, to usurp is to own—and who, after all, in the half century since Miep Gies retrieved the scattered pages of the diary, really owns Anne Frank? Who can speak for her? Her father, who, after reading the diary and confessing that he “did not know” her, went on to tell us what he thought she meant? Meyer Levin, who claimed to be her authentic voice—so much so that he dared to equate the dismissal of his work, however ignobly motivated, with Holocaust annihilation? Hellman, Bloomgarden, Kanin, whose interpretations clung to a collective ideology of human interchangeability? (In discounting the significance of the Jewish element, Kanin had asserted that “people have suffered because of being English, French, German, Italian, Ethiopian, Mohammedan, Negro, and so on”—as if this were not all the more reason to comprehend and particularize each history.) And what of Cara Wilson and “the children of the world,” who have reduced the persecution of a people to the trials of adolescence?
Many rescuers exhibited a longstanding commitment to help the needy. This commitment was reflected in their habitual engagement in a range of charitable activities. For example, beggars and vagabonds who reached Jan Rybak’s village had routinely been directed to him. Similarly, when neighbors were overburdened with chores, Rybak would step in to help.
During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority: Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.
The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. Nazi Germany attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were considered by the Nazis to be inferior to the Aryan master race.