Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which. ... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live. ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms. ... He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
The photo below shows Dr. Josef Mengele with Rudolf Hoess and Josef Kramer relaxing at Solahuette, the SS retreat near Birkenau. Kramer was the Commandant at Birkenau in 1944 when this photo was taken. In December 1944, he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, which then became a concentration camp. The Bergen-Belsen camp had previously been a holding camp for Jews who were available for exchange with the Allies for German civilians held in British and American prisons. Hoess was the Commander of the SS garrison at Auschwitz in 1944.
The Germans' overwhelming repression and the presence of many collaborators in the various local populations severely limited the ability of the Jews to resist. Jewish resistance did occur, however, in several forms. Staying alive, clean, and observing Jewish religious traditions constituted resistance under the dehumanizing conditions imposed by the Nazis. Other forms of resistance involved escape attempts from the ghettos and camps. Many who succeeded in escaping the ghettos lived in the forests and mountains in family camps and in fighting partisan units. Once free, though, the Jews had to contend with local residents and partisan groups who were often openly hostile. Jews also staged armed revolts in the ghettos of Vilna, Bialystok, Bedzin-Sosnowiec, krakow, and Warsaw.
The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals[z] and seven organizations—the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command". The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'".
Throughout German-occupied territory the situation of the Jews was desperate. They had meagre resources and few allies and faced impossible choices. A few people came to their rescue, often at the risk of their own lives. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944, in an effort to save Hungary’s sole remaining Jewish community. Over the next six months, he worked with other neutral diplomats, the Vatican, and Jews themselves to prevent the deportation of these last Jews. Elsewhere, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a French Huguenot village, became a haven for 5,000 Jews. In German-occupied Poland, where it was illegal to aid Jews and where such action was punishable by death, the Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews) rescued a similar number of Jewish men, women, and children. Financed by the London-based Polish government in exile and involving a wide range of clandestine political organizations, Zegota provided hiding places and financial support and forged identity documents.
Before World War II, Germany considered mass deportation from Europe of German, and later European, Jewry. Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine and French Madagascar. After the war began, German leaders considered deporting Europe's Jews to Siberia. Palestine was the only location to which any German relocation plan produced results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government. This resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100 million from Germany to Palestine, but it ended with the outbreak of World War II. In May 1940 Madagascar became the focus of new deportation efforts because it had unfavorable living conditions that would hasten deaths. Several German leaders had discussed the idea in 1938, and Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to carry out resettlement planning, but no evidence of planning exists until after the fall of France in June 1940. But the inability to defeat Britain prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, and the end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10 February 1942.
The ghettos, and the slow death they brought, were only part of the overall plan. In the months following the Wannsee Conference, three specialized killing centers, Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor, were constructed in southeast Poland, featuring large gas chambers with adjacent crematories or burial pits for the disposal of corpses. After they became operational, the ghettos were bypassed and Jews went directly by train to the new death camps.
In addition to active help, many clergymen also protested the mistreatment and deportations of Jews as violations of divine and human laws. The Catholic pastor of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, Bernard Lichtenburg, prayed publicly for the Jews until his arrest and death on the way to Dachau. The rescue work of priests of all Christian denominations is well-documented in postwar literature.
The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The first of these trials was the 1945–1946 trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). This tribunal tried 22 political and military leaders of the Third Reich, except for Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide several months before.
In October 1942, Jan Karski met clandestinely with Jewish leaders at the height of the destruction of Polish Jewry. As a courier for the underground, he delivered their dire message to the Polish government-in-exile in London. “The Jews were abandoned by governments, by church hierarchies, by existing societal structures. But they were not abandoned by all of humanity,” said Karski. “There were thousands upon thousands of people in Europe who risked their life for the Jews. They were priests, nuns, workers, peasants, enlightened ones, simpletons, from all walks of life. They were good people, very simply. We have more good people than probably we think we have in humanity.” Karski was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile among the Gentiles on June 2, 1982
Four weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, on July 17, 1941, Hitler tasked SS chief Heinrich Himmler with responsibility for all security matters in the occupied Soviet Union. Hitler gave Himmler broad authority to physically eliminate any perceived threats to permanent German rule. Two weeks later, on July 31, Reich Marshall Hermann Göring, acting as Hitler's second-in-command, authorized Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Main Office for Security (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA) and Himmler's direct subordinate, to make preparations for the implementation of a "complete solution of the Jewish question." Henceforth, the SS in general and the RSHA in particular enjoyed Hitler's decision-making authority to manage the implementation of the "Final Solution." [The RSHA consisted of the Security Police (Gestapo and Criminal Police) and the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst-SD)]
"He grabbed my arm and turned me around," said Freund, now 82. "I was skinny, already. Thank God I didn't have a pimple on my body, because a pimple was all you needed to be sent to the crematorium." (The gas chambers at Auschwitz were located in the crematorium buildings, so that the bodies could be burned immediately after the victims were gassed.)
Von Verschuer’s work revolved around hereditary influences on congenital defects such as cleft palate. Mengele was an enthusiastic assistant to von Verschuer, and he left the lab in 1938 with both a glowing recommendation and a second doctorate in medicine. For his dissertation topic, Mengele wrote about racial influences on the formation of the lower jaw.
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.
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered the establishment of the Judenräte (“Jewish Councils”), comprising up to 24 men—rabbis and Jewish leaders. Heydrich’s order made these councils personally responsible in “the literal sense of the term” for carrying out German orders. When the Nazis sealed the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of German-occupied Poland’s 400 ghettos, in the fall of 1940, the Jews—then 30 percent of Warsaw’s population—were forced into 2.4 percent of the city’s area. The ghetto’s population reached a density of more than 200,000 persons per square mile (77,000 per square km) and 9.2 per room. Disease, malnutrition, hunger, and poverty took their toll even before the first bullet was fired.
The reference to Haman’s wife Zeresh, who plays only a supporting role in the book of Esther, can be chalked up to poetic license—a female villain in counterpoint to the story’s heroine. But what of Harbonah, a decidedly minor character mentioned only once in the entire book, and whose appearance in the poem’s final verse breaks the stanza’s metrical form and rhyme scheme? And what of the epithet “to be remembered for the good”?
Meanwhile, sightings of Josef Mengele were being reported all over the world. Wiesenthal claimed to have information that placed Mengele on the Greek island of Kythnos in 1960, in Cairo in 1961, in Spain in 1971, and in Paraguay in 1978, eighteen years after he had left the country. He insisted as late as 1985 that Mengele was still alive—six years after he had died—having previously offered a reward of US$100,000 in 1982 for the fugitive's capture. Worldwide interest in the case was heightened by a mock trial held in Jerusalem in February 1985, featuring the testimonies of over one hundred victims of Mengele's experiments. Shortly afterwards, the West German, Israeli, and U.S. governments launched a coordinated effort to determine Mengele's whereabouts. The West German and Israeli governments offered rewards for his capture, as did The Washington Times and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Mengele firmly endorsed Nazi racial theory and engaged in a wide spectrum of experiments which aimed to illustrate the lack of resistance among Jews or Roma to various diseases. He also attempted to demonstrate the “degeneration” of Jewish and “Gypsy” blood through the documentation of physical oddities and the collection and harvesting of tissue samples and body parts. Many of his “test subjects” died as a result of the experimentation or were murdered in order to facilitate post-mortem examination.
Mengele then moved to experimentation. His work revolved around genetic engineering to eradicate inferior genes from the human population to create a German super-race. He believed that twins held these mysteries, and about 1500 pairs of them were brought to Mengele through the selection process. The twins were provided more comfort than the other prisoners and given extra food rations to keep them healthy. As soon as a pair of twins arrived at Auschwitz, they were tattooed and Mengele would ask them questions about their history. Every morning, they reported for roll call, where they ate a small breakfast. Mengele would then come to talk to them, give them candy, and even play games with some of them. Some of the younger children even called him “Uncle Mengele.” Life wasn’t so bad for twins at the barracks, until it came time for the experiments.
Dr. Mengele was known by all the prisoners because of his good looks and charm. According to Gerald L. Posner and John Ware, the authors of "Mengele, the Complete Story," many of the children in the Birkenau camp "adored Mengele" and called him "Uncle Pepi." This information came from Vera Alexander, a survivor of Birkenau, who said that Dr. Mengele brought chocolate and the most beautiful clothes for the children, including hair ribbons for the little girls.
In the immediate postwar period, Mengele was in US custody. Unaware that Mengele's name already stood on a list of wanted war criminals, US officials quickly released him. From the summer of 1945 until spring 1949, using false papers, Mengele worked as a farmhand near Rosenheim, Bavaria. His prosperous family then aided his emigration to South America. He settled in Argentina.
Höss oversaw the rapid construction of a gigantic new annex called Birkenau containing four large gas chamber-crematory buildings and scores of huts for slave laborers. From the moment it became operational in the spring of 1943, Auschwitz-Birkenau served as the focal point of the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews. Hour after hour, trainloads of Jews arrived from all over Europe. The people were subjected to a life-and-death selection process by SS medical personnel such as Dr. Josef Mengele. Adults who seemed fit for labor were allowed to live and were marched away. All others, including children, the elderly and anyone deemed unfit went straight to the gas chambers.
^ French Jews were active in the French Resistance. Zionist Jews formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, smuggled Jews out of the country, and participated in the liberation of Paris and other cities. As many as 1.5 million Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the U.S. Army, 100,000 in the Polish army, and 30,000 in the British army. About 200,000 Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army died in the war, either in combat or after capture. The Jewish Brigade, a unit of 5,000 Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine, fought in the British Army.
Some ghettos were initially open, which meant that Jews could leave the area during the daytime but had to be back by a curfew. Later, all ghettos became closed, meaning that Jews were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Major ghettos were located in the cities of Polish cities of Bialystok, Lodz, and Warsaw. Other ghettos were found in present-day Minsk, Belarus; Riga, Latvia; and Vilna, Lithuania. The largest ghetto was in Warsaw. At its peak in March 1941, some 445,000 were crammed into an area just 1.3 square miles in size.
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:
While the Nazi Party program adopted in February 1920 did not contain direct or indirect reference to the term, Nazi propaganda presented a radical elimination of anything deemed Jewish from all aspects of German life as prerequisite for national recovery. After Hitler's rise to power, party activists and bureaucrats competed in transforming the broad-based consensus that something had to be done about the "Jewish question" into government policy aimed at varying degrees of segregation, expropriation, and physical removal. In the process, applying force became increasingly attractive; however, use of the term in German documents produced prior to 1941 should be understood less as an expression of a preconceived blueprint for genocide than as an expression of radical, as yet unspecified intent.
The following year, 1941, would be the turning point. In June, Hitler took a tremendous military gamble by invading the Soviet Union. Before the invasion he had summoned his top generals and told them the attack on Russia would be a ruthless "war of annihilation" targeting Communists and Jews and that normal rules of military conflict were to be utterly ignored.
Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them. Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes.