Historical Background

(This website will be under construction for the next year. New entries will be added monthly.)

 

Quite early the Germans designated Poland as the center of Jewish destruction. Jews from different European countries were forcibly brought to Poland to die. As the center of Jewish annihilation Poland provides the key to an understanding of the Holocaust in general. — THE HIDDEN CHILDREN By Jane Marks

 

Regardless of the massive genocide by the Soviets or the communist Chinese, the only government mass murder that the world remembers and our school books describe is the Nazi genocide of the Jews in which “6 million” were slaughtered. But even then this count ignores the vast number of people exterminated. Overall, by genocide, the killing of hostages, reprisal raids, forced labor, “euthanasia,” starvation, exposure, medical experiments, terror bombing, and the concentration and death camps, the Nazis murdered from about 15,000,000 to over 31,600,000 people, most likely closer to 21 million men, women, handicapped, aged, sick, prisoners of war, forced laborers, camp inmates, critics, homosexuals, Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Italians, Poles, Frenchmen, Ukrainians, and so on. Among them were 1 million children under eighteen years of age. — DEATH BY GOVERNMENT By R. J. Rummel

 

Auschwitz has long been the symbol of the Holocaust. The Nazis murdered almost one million Jews here, more than in any other single place. And only in Auschwitz did they systematically kill Jews from all across the continent, deported to their deaths from Hungary, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Italy, and Norway. In part, Auschwitz was so lethal because it operated so much longer than other killing sites. In late spring 1944, when the three death camps in the General Government had long closed down again, Auschwitz was only just beginning to reach its murderous peak. And after Soviet troops finally liberated the camp in January 1945, much of the infrastructure of murder remained on-site, in contrast to Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, where the traces of genocide had been carefully concealed. This is one reason why we know so much more about Auschwitz than about the other death camps. Another is the abundance of testimony. Several tens of thousands of Auschwitz prisoners survived the war and many of them told their story. By contrast, hardly anyone left the other death camps alive, since they functioned purely as extermination sites; only three survivors ever gave testimony about Belzec. — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

Why were the Germans so powerful? Most historians agree that their Prussian culture, in which civilians were treated almost like soldiers who were required to obey orders or die, was a powerful influence. “War was the national industry of Prussia.” And this was Germany’s fifth war of aggression in seventy-five years, so they had plenty of practice. German civilians admired and deferred to officers in uniform. Germany had long been a paternalistic society in which commands were obeyed instantly with a nod of the head and a click of the heels. It was one of the reasons why blitzkrieg tactics worked so well for them: they required close cooperation and instant disciplined reaction between all armed services. — HOW CHURCHILL SAVED CIVILIZATION By John Harte

 

German soldiers march into Warsaw carrying bayonets.

 

Dachau was the first of many SS concentration camps. Established inside Germany in the early years of Hitler’s rule, these camps soon spread, during the Nazi conquest of Europe from the lat 1930’s, to Austria, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and even the small British Channel Island of Alderney. In all, the SS set up twenty-seven main camps and over 1,100 attached satellite camps over the course of the Third Reich, though members fluctuated greatly, as old camps closed down and new ones opened; only Dachau lasted for the entire Nazi period. – KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

Between 1933 and 1939, the Nazis would progressively strip the German Jews – which in 1933 numbered 503,000, only .076 percent of the country’s population – of their rights and equality as citizens, deprive them of their principal means of assimilation into German society, and persecute them in numerous ways. Simultaneously National Socialist propaganda boasted of the ever more ruthless measures taken against the victims. During its first six years, the National Socialist regime implemented roughly four hundred pieces of anti-Jewish legislation. –– HITLER’S SHADOW WAR By Donald M. McKale

 

“Tonight,” Hitler announced, “Poland has for the first time fired on our territory with regular troops. Since 5:45 a.m., fire is being returned!” There had indeed been trouble on the German-Polish border in Upper Silesia. But it had all been staged by the Nazis themselves: dramatic political theater – devised by Hitler and Himmler, directed by Heydrich, performed by special Nazi forces – to give an excuse, however flimsy, for German aggression. “The victor,” Hitler had bluntly told his military commanders a few days earlier, “will not be asked whether he told the truth or not.” — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

Between 22 July and 12 September, some 265,000 inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto and 112,000 from other parts of the Warsaw district were deported to Treblinka and murdered. — HITLER’S SHADOW WAR By Donald M. McKale

 

By the end of 1942 the killing centers of Sobibor and Treblinka had murdered over one and a half million Jews, most of them from occupied Poland. Of the nearly 1.2 million Jews who entered Treblinka in 1942 and 1943, only fifty-four are known to have survived; most of them escaped during an uprising of Jewish prisoners at the camp in August 1943. — HITLER’S SHADOW WAR By Donald M. McKale

 

Five Jewish prisoners pose outside a row of barracks at the Belzec concentration camp. It’s likely they were shot immediately after this propaganda photo was taken. Nobody survived for long at Belzec.

 

Nearly one-third of the world’s nineteen million Jews perished during the Holocaust. — HITLER’S SHADOW WAR By Donald M. McKale

 

“I would not like to be a Jew in Germany,” Hermann Goring quipped on November 12,1938, at a top-level Nazi meeting on anti-Jewish policy, only days after a devastating state-sponsored pogrom had engulfed Germany, with Nazi mobs razing thousands of synagogues, shops, and houses, and humiliating, robbing, and assaulting tens of thousands of Jews; hundreds had died, murdered during the storm of violence or driven to suicide. The pogrom was the climax of years of Nazi persecution, which saw the gradual but relentless exclusion of Jews from German social, cultural, and economic life, pursued by radical forces from below and above. It was becoming impossible for Jews to live in Germany, and around half of the estimated five hundred thousand Jews left their fatherland during the prewar years, despite the uncertainties of life abroad, the Nazi levies on emigration, and the difficulties of securing visas. The remaining Jews – impoverished, isolated, and deprived – faced a desperate future trapped inside the Third Riech.” — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

At the very center of Hitler’s worldview – together with his fanatical hatred of Jews and Bolsheviks – stood the belief that Germany could not survive without the conquest of living space. Hitler had already made up his mind about this in the mid-1920’s, when he still seemed destined for political obscurity. Germany needed to expand, he believed, and its future lay in the east, above all in the Soviet Union, with its vast stretches of land and rich agricultural resources. Hitler remained fixated on this goal for the rest of his life. Even as he was cowering in a maze of bunkers under the garden of the bombed Reich Chancellery, not long before his suicide in April 1945, he talked feverishly about the German mission to secure living space in the east. Back in summer 1941, right after the start of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s dream appeared to be within his grasp. Germany was on course for a crushing victory over the Soviet Union, or so it seemed; within a month of the invasion, the Wehrmacht had crossed the Dnieper, taken Smolensk, and closed in on Kiev. On July 16, 1941, in a top-level conference, Hitler laid out his vision. All the European areas of the Soviet Union would remain in German hands, Hitler announced: “We have to turn the newly gained eastern territories into a Garden of Eden.” — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS By Nicolaus Wachsmann

Hermann Goring was born in Rosenheim, Bavaria, on 12 January 1893. His family background was solidly upper middle class… He was expelled from school after several explosive arguments with teachers. His father decided army discipline might tame him. He attended an army cadet school in Karlsruhe and then gained entrance to a military school in Berlin. In October 1914, Goring joined the newly formed German Flying Corps. He became a fearless flying ace, in the elite “o. I Air Squadron,” led by the legendary “Bloody Red Baron,” Freiherr von Richthofen. Goring’s willingness to undertake dangerous combat missions led to the award of a series of bravery awards, most notably, the Iron Cross, First Class and the Pour le Merite (“The Blue Max”), the highest aviation honor of all. At the end of the First World War, Goring returned to Munich, but found it difficult to find employment. After seeing Adolf Hitler speak in a local beer hall in the autumn of 1922, he joined the Nazi Party. Goring took part in the failed 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch, and sustained two bullet wounds during the final bloody showdown with the police in Marienplatz in the city center. The Putsch had attempted to overthrow the Bavarian state government, but it ended up as a humiliating failure. — THE GESTAPO, By Frank McDonough

 

Heinrich Himmler was a mass murderer greatly concerned with decorum. He had long cultivated an image as a deeply principled man, and during the Second World War he became a prominent preacher of a new kind of Nazi morality that saw mass killing as a sacred duty to protect the German people from its mortal enemies. Contrary to the views of some historians, Nazi perpetrators like Himmler did not see themselves as nihilists. Himmler regarded the Nazi Final Solution as a righteous act, committed out of necessity, idealism, and “love for our people,” as he put it in a notorious speech to SS group leaders in Posen in the early evening of October 4, 1943. That the killers had remained unblemished and “decent” during the mass slaughter of Jews was a truly “glorious page in our history,” he told himself and the other SS grandees. — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS, By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

Grandmother of a Jewish family in Brest, Poland with her grandchildren. All were murdered.

 

“Though appalled by Nazi treatment of Jews and aware of the violence that had convulsed Germany earlier in the year, he [Roosevelt] refrained from issuing any direct statement of condemnation. Some Jewish leaders, like Rabbi Wise, Judge Irving Lehman, and Lewis L. Strauss, a partner at Kuhn, Loeb & Company, wanted Roosevelt to speak out; others, like Felix Warburg and Judge Joseph Proskauer, favored the quieter approach of urging the president to ease the entry of Jews into America. Roosevelt’s reluctance on both fronts was maddening. By November 1933, Wise would describe Roosevelt as “immovable, incurable and even inaccessible excepting to those of his Jewish friends whom he can safely trust not to trouble him with any Jewish problems.” Wrote Felix Warburg, “So far all the vague promises have not materialized into any action.” Even Roosevelt’s good friend Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard law professor whom he later named to the Supreme Court, found himself unable to move the president to action, much to his frustration.

But Roosevelt understood that the political costs of any public condemnation of Nazi persecution or any obvious effort to ease the entry of Jews into America were likely to be immense, because American political discourse had framed the Jewish problem as an immigration problem. Germany’s persecution of Jews raised the specter of a vast influx of Jewish refugees at a time when America was reeling from the Depression. The isolationists added another dimension to the debate by insisting, as did Hitler’s government, that Nazi oppression of Germany’s Jews was a domestic German affair and thus none of America’s business. Even America’s Jews were deeply divided on how to approach the problem. — IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, By Erik Larson

 

The Nazi policy of ghettoizing Jews began in Poland in October 1939, a month after the start of the war. Over time, the ghetto took on many forms and uses. In the villages the ghettos could consist of a few streets behind the main road, demarcated by some barbed wire. Viewing the Jews as a racial threat and an enemy, the Germans incarcerated them as a segregationist and security measure. Any facility could serve this purpose. German military commanders and SS and police officers would arrive in a small town such as Narodichi, Ukraine, announce that a ghetto would be formed, and demand that the Jewish population report for registration. In Narodichi, Jews were brought to a local club; elsewhere they were brought to a school, factory barracks, or synagogue, or even locked in abandoned railway cars, while plans for the mass shooting or deportation to a camp were made. It could be days, weeks, or months before these plans were carried out, depending on available SS and police forces, the whims of local officials, and the orders of higher-ups such as Heinrich Himmler and his regional deputies. In the interim, local German officials, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and others “traded” with the trapped Jews, who were forced to give up their personal possessions – everything from houses to coats and boots – for a loaf of bread or some firewood. Skilled Jewish laborers were selected from the ghetto population and assigned to heavy labor, such as road construction, and to war-related industries in mining, textile, carpentry, and metalworking. Though these Jewish-only incarceration sites were often referred to as ghettos, they were in fact way stations to sites of mass murder, as well as “death crates,” in Goebbels’s term, since famine, typhus, and suicide took the lives of hundreds of thousands who were boxed into them. — HITLER’S FURIES, By Wendy Lower

 

An odd kind of fanciful thinking seemed to have bedazzled Germany, to the highest levels of government. Earlier in the year, for example, Goring had claimed with utter sobriety that three hundred German Americans had been murdered in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the start of the past world war. Messersmith, in a dispatch, observed that even smart, well-traveled Germans will “sit and calmly tell you the most extraordinary fairy tales.” — IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, By Erik Larson

 

Jews had resided in the Germanic areas of Europe for centuries. They periodically suffered persecution. The 1871 German constitution offered Jews full citizenship rights. Religious conversion to Christianity was allowed too. Many Jews integrated and assimilated with the German majority. From 1881 to 1933, 19469 Jews converted to Protestantism, for example. During the First World War, 100,000 Jews signed up to fight and 70,000 served at the front, with 30,000 of them receiving bravery awards a total of 12,000 Jews were killed. — THE GESTAPO, By Frank McDonough

 

Much has been written about Hitler’s failed “beer hall” coup in 1923 and his showmanship in the subsequent trial, which served as his first national stage. But few know that after his conviction for treason the courts banned him from public speaking throughout Germany, with the exception of Thuringia. The reason for this exception was not that Weimar politicians were determined to uphold free speech in their budding democracy; rather, it was that Nazi Party activists had so effectively infiltrated that state that Thuringia provided a haven for Hitler and a platform for his annual Party rally, moved in 1926 from Munich to Weimar. For Hitler, Thuringia provided a model of how the system of democracy could be destroyed legally from within, by swamping the parliament with Nazi delegates and cultivating the movement in the countryside with aggressive electioneering. — HITLER’S FURIES, By Wendy Lower

 

The bodies of Jewish resisters lie in front of the ruins of a building where they were shot by the SS during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. the original German caption reads: “Bandits killed in battle.” 

In reality, any person who accepted and supported the Nazi regime enjoyed enormous individual freedom. Hitler’s regime was hugely popular. Once you appreciate this essential fact, you begin to understand the reality of life inside Nazi Germany. — THE GESTAPO, By Frank McDonough

 

The final result, as laid down in Mein Kampf, was a plan which envisaged Britain and Italy as allies or benevolent neutrals, the Austro-Hungarian successor states and also Poland as auxiliary nations, France as a secondary enemy to be eliminated at the start, and Russia as the principal enemy to be conquered and permanently subjected, and to be turned into German living space, “a German India.” That was the plan underlying the Second World War, though it went wrong right from the start when Britain and Poland did not accept the roles intended for them. — THE MEANING OF HITLER, By Sebastian Haffner

 

As for Auschwitz as a death camp, it was eclipsed by Gruppenführer Odilo Globocnik’s death camps. In 1942, around 190,000 Jews died in Auschwitz, the great majority of them in the Birkenau gas chambers. By contrast, the three Globocnik death camps claimed around 1,500,000 victims that year; more than 800,000 were murdered in Treblinka alone, a small number of Gypsies among them. It was only during 1943 – when Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were wound down, having fulfilled their mission of murdering most Jews in the General Government, and when most of the remaining ghettos and labor camps were eradicated, too – that Auschwitz moved into the center of the Holocaust. — KL – A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS, By Nicolaus Wachsmann

 

Hitler’s anti-Semitism is an East European plant. In Western Europe and also in Germany anti-Semitism was on the wane about the turn of the century; assimilation and integration of the Jews was desired and was in full swing. But in Eastern and South Eastern Europe, where the numerous Jews were living, voluntarily or involuntarily, as a separate nation within the nation, anti-Semitism was (and is?) endemic and murderous, directed not towards assimilation or integration but towards liquidation and extermination. And this murderous East European anti-Semitism, which allowed the Jews no escape, reached as far as Vienna in whose third district, according to Metternich’s famous dictum, the Balkans begin. There the youthful Hitler picked it up. How, we do not know. — THE MEANING OF HITLER, By Sebastian Haffner

 

Whitney Harris, a member of the American prosecution team, elicited [Auschwitz commandant] Hoss’s confession without any difficulty. According to Harris, Hoss was “quiet, unprepossessing and fully co-operative.” Right at the start of that confession, he dropped a bombshell, estimating “that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there [at Auschwitz] by gassing, and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. — THE NAZI HUNTERS, By Andrew Nagorski

 

Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler addresses a group of soldiers in a cavalry regiment of the Waffen SS in the eastern territories. in the course of the war most of these soldiers will be killed or severely wounded. 

 

A new national leader in Germany, the former Corporal who had been temporarily blinded by gas on the Western Front in 1918, decided that he could reverse the verdict of defeat by rearmament, national mobilization, terror, tyranny, diplomacy and war. Ten years after the end of the war he was already a political figure to be reckoned with in Germany, speaking in strident tones of the need for revenge, for rearmament, for the return of lost territory, and for the elimination from German life of the scapegoat he had chosen for his and their own country’s defeat, the Jews of Germany. Had a few thousand of Germany’s Jews been gassed in 1918, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf in 1925, Germany could have averted defeat. Not for him the proved patriotism of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who served in the German army, or the memory of the 12,000 German Jewish soldiers who had been killed in action between 1914 and 1918. — THE FIRST WORLD WAR, By Martin Gilbert

 

 

The President had long been digging in his heels to resist the pressure of Jewish refugees, even reconciling himself to unusually adverse publicity…but the dramatic fate of the SS St. Louis had escalated into a worldwide spectacle with nearly two weeks of devastating and suspenseful headlines. The luxury cruise liner of the Hamburg-Amerika line (“You travel well on Hamburg-Amerika” was its slogan) had departed from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, with more than 1,100 refugees bound for Havana. The Cubans refused to let them land. After days of on-and-off negotiations with Jewish aid organizations in Havana, Washington, and New York, the St. Louis stood by east of Bermuda while Jewish leaders pulled every political string they could find in the American capital, hoping that the ship would be allowed to dock in the United States. The verdict came to the vessel by wire on June 9. The appeal had gone all the way to Roosevelt. He rejected it with the comment that the matter had to go through channels, in this case the immigration authorities. The officials there, in turn, said that they had received no instructions. The President would not acknowledge two telegrams from the passenger committee of the St. Louis. Other telegrams addressed to FDR were routed routinely to the State Department, which responded that the destiny of the wandering vessel was “a matter for the Cuban government.” A last-ditch effort by Secretary of State Cordell Hull to intervene with the President personally also failed. Stella’s [Stella Goldschlag] future was involved. It was shortly afterward, at a party in Berlin, that she would meet Manfred Kubler, her first husband, born five weeks before her. Manfred had been a refugee aboard the St. Louis with his mother, Nanette (Netty), forty-two, and his father, Kurt, forty-six, who held an engineering degree, owned a surveying company, and was partner in a department store operated by relatives. When the St. Louis steamed back to Europe with its despairing passengers, more rounds of negotiations ensued between Jewish aid organizations and any governments that might possibly be persuaded to take on flotsam rejected by Cuba and the United States. The pace was frantic; the Hamburg-Amerika line wanted its ship back from its abortive thirty-seven-day “Voyage of the Damned” – as American filmmakers would call it when they eventually transformed the trip into a soap opera starring Faye Dunaway. When the paperwork settled, Holland had agreed to accept 181 passengers; Belgium took 215; France took 227; and at the very last moment, following appeals to No. 10 Downing Street, Britain gave shelter to 284. That took care of 907 homeless. The remaining 200-plus, unacceptable to the various governments for one bureaucratic reason or another, were returned to Hamburg and the mercies of the Nazis. The Kubler family was among this remnant of the damned. They returned to their miraculously still-vacant apartment at Schluterstrasse 25. (Their travels would continue. In 1943, Manfred was shipped to Auschwitz, where he died within two weeks, on May 5. His father was taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and shortly thereafter executed “while trying to escape.” The mother was transported to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz to be gassed in 1944.) — STELLA, By Peter Wyden

 

The killings of the Final Solution grew into an undertaking so massive and far-flung that the ultimate statistics have remained elusive and in dispute. The most exhaustive research effort, comprising 584 pages, was not published until 1991: Dimension des Volkermords (Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag), edited by Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Technical University, Berlin. To compile this accounting, eighteen scholars from seventeen affected nations drew on all sources extant and secured the cooperation of the leading researchers in Israel. This definitive reckoning arrived at a minimum estimate of 5.29 million and a maximum of slightly over 6 million deaths. – STELLA, By Peter Wyden

 

Treblinka was a death camp designed to kill thousands a day. When the deportees arrived at the rate of 20 cattle cars at a time, an SS officer lied to them, claiming Treblinka was a stopover and that they would be sent to various labor camps. But first they had to take a shower and have their clothes disinfected. Any money and valuables in their possessions were to be handed over for safekeeping and returned to them after they had showered. The women and children were sent to their undressing building while the men took off their clothes in another area. The naked Jews were then ushered through a 100-yard-long “tube,” a six-foot-high camouflaged pathway made up of eastern mounds and barbed wire.  (The Germans called it the road to heaven.) At the end of the tube was a long brick building that contained what the people believed were the “showers” but were really gas chambers. Once the victims were locked inside, deadly carbon monoxide gas was pumped in, killing everyone within 20 to 30 minutes. Their bodies were removed from the gas chambers and taken to burial or cremation pits. Between 2,000 and 3,000 Jews – those who arrived in 20 cattle cars – could be exterminated within four hours. — ESCAPE, By Allan Zullo

 

On 25 March 1933, thirty storm troopers from out of town broke into Jewish homes in Niederstetten in the southwest, hauled off the men to the town hall and beat them up with barely controlled savagery; the same morning, in the nearest town of Creglingen, a similar incident led to the deaths of two eighteen year old Jewish men subjected to this treatment. Groups of youths smashed the windows of Jewish shops in Wiesbaden. The regional administrator of Lower Bavaria reported on 30 March: “Early in the morning of the 15th of this month, towards 6 o’clock, a truck with several men dressed in dark uniforms appeared before the house of the Jewish trader Otto Selz, in Straubing. Selz was taken out of his house still dressed in his nightshirt and abducted in the truck. Around 9:30 Selz was discovered in a wood near Weng, Landshut District, shot dead.” — THE COMING OF THE THIRD REICH, By Richard J. Evans

 

“Unfortunately, Heydrich is in critical condition… The details of the assassination remain a mystery… In any case, we are taking adequate reprisals against the Jews. I have given the go-ahead for the arrest of five hundred Jews in Berlin, as planned, and have made clear the leaders of the Jewish community there that for every Jewish act of terrorism or sedation, one hundred or one hundred fifty of the Jews in our hands will be shot. On the heels of the Heydrich assassination a whole crowd of Jews were charged with conspiracy and shot in Sachsenhausen.” — Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels – HITLER AND THE FINAL SOLUTION, By Gerald Fleming

 

The Nazi assault on the Jews in the first months of 1933 was the first step in a longer-term process of removing them from German society. By the summer of 1933 this process was well under way. It was the core of Hitler’s Cultural Revolution, the key, in the Nazi mind, to the wider culture transformation of Germany that was to purge the German spirit of “alien” influences such as communism, Marxism, socialism, liberalism, pacifism, conservatism, artistic experimentation, sexual freedom and much more besides. All of these influences were ascribed by the Nazis to the malign influence of the Jews, despite massive evidence to the contrary. — THE COMING OF THE THIRD REICH, By Richard J. Evans

 

At thirty-two, looking as meek as the most anonymous and guileless of clerks, he [Adolf Eichmann] was a failed traveling salesman, a son from near Hitler’s hometown in Austria, plodding up the bureaucratic ladder of the SS, making himself the Fuhrer’s premier specialist for what Eichmann viewed as a challenging administrative mission: exterminating Europe’s Jews. He never killed a soul. He was the ultimate supervisor, the Schreibtischtater, the desk perpetrator operating strictly within his quiet office. He only organized the death of six million. “Death” was not part of his professional vocabulary. He “evacuated.” He “transported.” He “resettled.” He “processed,” he “cleared areas,” he “changed domiciles.” And thereby he led Jews to the “Final Solution,” a phrase he coined himself. — STELLA, By Peter Wyden

 

There was also a time when the trains came in even greater numbers. In 1943, 47,000 Greek Jews were brought to Birkenau. Thirty-nine thousand were executed immediately. The others were interned, but they died like flies, unable to adapt themselves to the climate. Indeed, the Greeks and the Italians, probably because they were most poorly nourished before they came, bore up least well under the cold and the privations. In 1944 came the turn of the Hungarian Jews, and more than a half million of them were exterminated. — FIVE CHIMNEYS, By Olga Lengyel

 

Everybody, including not least the Nazis, was aware throughout 1933 and 1934 that the brutal beatings, torture, maltreatment, destruction of property and violence of all kinds carried out against the Nazis’ opponents, up to and including murder by the brown-shirted storm troopers of the SA and the black-uniformed squads of the SS, were in flagrant violation of the law of the land. Yet this violence was a central, indispensable part of the Nazi seizure of power from February 1933 onwards, and the widespread, in the end almost universal fear that it engendered among Germans who were not members of the Party. — THE COMING OF THE THIRD REICH, By Richard J. Evans

 

Hitler’s power remained absolute and undiminished even as the regime staggered towards oblivion. And as long as Hitler survived, and until Germany was totally crushed, the war would continue. This meant in turn that there was no possibility of an alternative to the calamitous escalation of death and destruction as Germany fell in ruins. – HITLER, By Ian Kershaw

 

In the gruesome purges of the 1930’s, Joseph Stalin had systematically killed all the leaders and all military officers who, in his paranoid mind, posed the slightest threat to his dictatorship. Life for the ordinary Russian was drab, full of exhausting work, and dangerous. At the same time, the Soviet Union was an empire ruling over a collection of subjugated peoples who were violently opposed to rule from the Kremlin. Vast numbers of these people would have risen in rebellion if Hitler’s legions had entered with the promise of freedom and elimination of Soviet oppression. Had Hitler done this, the Soviet Union would have collapsed… Hitler followed precisely the opposite course of action. His “commissar order” called for the instant shooting down of Communist party agents in the army. He sent Einsatzgruppen – or extermination detachments – to come behind the army and rout out and murder Jews. He resolved to deport or allow millions of Slavs to starve in order to empty the land for future German settlers… The genuine welcome that German soldiers received as they entered Soviet towns and villages in the first days of the campaign was quickly replaced by fear, hatred, and a bitter guerrilla war behind the lines that slowed supplies to the front, killed thousands of Germans, and increasingly hobbled the German army. — HOW HITLER COULD HAVE WON WORLD WAR II, By Bevin Alexander

 

The war was all that mattered to Hitler. Yet, cocooned in the strange world of the Wolf’s Lair, he was increasingly severed from its realities, both at the front and at home. Detachment ruled out all vestiges of humanity. Even towards those in his own entourage who had been with him for many years, there was nothing resembling real affection, let alone friendship; genuine fondness was reserved only for his young Alsatian. He had described the human being the previous autumn as no more than “a ridiculous cosmic bacterium.” Human life and suffering was, thus, of no consequence to him. He never visited a field-hospital, nor the homeless after bomb-raids. He saw no massacres, went near no concentration camp, visited no compound of starving prisoners-of-war. His enemies were in his eyes like vermin to be stamped out. But his profound contempt for human existence extended to his own people. Decisions costing the lives of tens of thousands of his soldiers were made…without consideration for any human plight… feelings of sympathy and pity for the suffering of his soldiers had to be shut out. For Hitler, the hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed were merely an abstraction, the suffering a necessary and justified sacrifice. — HITLER, By Ian Kershaw

 

The ten months between July 1944 and Germany’s unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945 resulted in the deaths of more Germans than in the five years 1939-1944. Every month during the eleven-month period, between 300,000 and 400,000 German soldiers and civilians lost their lives, many of them through relentless aerial bombardment. According to ongoing SS monitoring of popular opinion, bombing was widely regarded as retribution for what the Germans had done to the Jews, which indicates how widespread awareness of the Final Solution was among the general population. Anti-Semites still claimed that Allied airmen were mere tools of an Anglo-American Jewish conspiracy to destroy the Germans, although as we have seen the fate of the Jews counted for little in the counsels of those who dispatched the bombers. — MORAL COMBAT, By Michael Burleigh

 

On 25 March 1933, thirty storm troopers from out of town broke into Jewish homes in Niederstetten in the southwest, hauled off the men to the town hall and beat them up with barely controlled savagery; the same morning, in the nearest town of Creglingen, a similar incident led to the deaths of two eighteen year old Jewish men subjected to this treatment. Groups of youths smashed the windows of Jewish shops in Wiesbaden. The regional administrator of Lower Bavaria reported on 30 March: “Early in the morning of the 15th of this month, towards 6 o’clock, a truck with several men dressed in dark uniforms appeared before the house of the Jewish trader Otto Selz, in Straubing. Selz was taken out of his house still dressed in his nightshirt and abducted in the truck. Around 9:30 Selz was discovered in a wood near Weng, Landshut District, shot dead.” – THE COMING OF THE THIRD REICH, By Richard J. Evans

 

Another major bloodbath occurred in Kharkov, the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union. After entering the city the Germans endeavored to expel as many women and children towards the east as possible, to reduce the number of non-working mouths to feed. Aware of what had happened in Kiev, and in Odessa where Rumanian troops had carried out the largest single massacre of Jews of the war, the Germans in Kharkov first locked Jews into public buildings, the idea being that they or their relatives would reveal if the buildings were mined. The tactic failed and on 14 November delayed-action mines exploded under the HQ of the 60th Infantry Division, killing the general commanding the 68th Infantry Division. Fifty Jews and Communist Party members were publicly hanged and a thousand more people interned as hostages in the International Hotel, which was converted into an ad hoc concentration camp. An advance unit of Security Police shot 305 Jews. Since the Soviets had made off with most available supplies, hunger set in very quickly among Kharkov’s citizens. The army also faced a chronic shortage of beds for the wounded. To resolve these problems, it decided that the “Jewish Question” had to be solved. The local population played its own part in identifying Jews to the Germans. Meanwhile, the army commandant urged Sonderkommando 4a to find additional manpower. On 5 December 1941 a company of Order Police Battalion 314 arrived, fresh from murdering the Jews of Dnepropetrovsk. After the army commandant and the SK leader had conferred, posters went up on the 14th telling the city’s Jews to assemble; they were herded by Order Police units into a tractor factory. Between 26 December 1941 and 7 January 1942, SK4a and Police Battalion 314 shot fifteen thousand Jews, although a mobile gassing van was also used on women and children. — MORAL COMBAT, By Michael Burleigh

 

Muller: “I was brought up in front of a [German] military tribunal in Russia for refusing to obey orders. I was in charge of the motor pool, but the fellow who was supposed to be in charge had fallen, and I was the second highest ranked person in the garage. I was supposed to adapt a truck by installing rubber inserts. I didn’t know what for, so I did it. The truck was sent out and placed at the disposal of the local command. That was the end of the matter for us. When the driver returned, he was pale as a ghost. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he would never forget what he had experienced that day. He said, ‘They loaded civilians into the back. Then they stuck a tailpipe back into the truck and sealed up the back. Next to me in the front sat a SS man with a pistol on his lap who ordered me to drive.’ He was only 18. What was he supposed to do? He drove off. After a half an hour, they arrived at a pit. The back was full of bodies with some chlorine between them. Dead from the exhaust fumes. The next day, I received orders to deliver the truck to the local command. I said the truck wasn’t going anywhere. So I was brought up before a military tribunal for disobedience. They intentionally loaded in people and killed them with exhaust fumes.”
Reimbold: “Dear God.”
Muller: “They forced the driver. There was a fellow with a pistol next to him. And they hauled me up on charges.”
Reimbold: “And that’s happening in the name of Germany. No telling what’s going to happen to us.”
SOLDATEN, By Harald Welzer

For the fourth and last time in the year [November 7, 1942], Hitler invoked his ‘prophecy’ about the Jews. “Another power too, which was once very present in Germany, has meanwhile learnt that National Socialist prophecies are not empty talk. That is the main power which we have to thank for all the misfortune: international Jewry. You will still remember the meeting of the Reichstag in which I declared: If Jewry somehow thinks it can bring about an international world war to exterminate European races, then the result will be not the extermination of the European races but the extermination of Jewry in Europe. I’ve always been laughed at as a prophet. Of those who laughed then, countless ones were no longer laughing today. And those who are still laughing, will also perhaps not be doing so before long.” — HITLER,  By Ian Kershaw

 

By 1 February 1942, the Germans had captured 3,350,000 men. Of these, 1,400,000 died between June and November 1941, and a further 600,000 in the winter months of December and January. By the end of the war, some 3,300,000 Red Army prisoners were dead, the majority before the spring of 1942… In the camps, daily rations of 150-200 grams of bread ensured staggering death rates of up to 2 percent a day, with hundreds of corpses dumped into hastily excavated mass graves each morning…And of course the security police were given access to the camps to identify Jews among the prisoners, who were also shot by the Einsatzgruppen, often after being identified as such by fellow prisoners. Although sixty to eighty thousand Jewish Red Army prisoners were taken, by April 1942 there were only sixty-eight alive in German captivity. Many ethnic Georgians were shot because they allegedly looked Jewish and were usually circumcised. Anyone of Asiatic appearance was also liable to be murdered in the camps. — MORAL COMBAT, By Michael Burleigh

 

Hitler’s compulsion to destroy the Jews and other categories of people rested on no logical basis, only on the most malignant of prejudices. He made the Jews scapegoats for every problem that German faced – even the rise of the Soviet Union, whose revolution he falsely claimed had been carried out and sustained by Jews. — HOW HITLER COULD HAVE WON WORLD WAR II, By Bevin Alexander

 

In April 1939, he took the adulation of the crowds at his fiftieth birthday celebrations, which, he claimed, had given him new strength, as the true indication of the mood of the people. Following one extraordinary triumph upon another, his self-belief had by this time been magnified into full-blown megalomania. Even among his private guests at the Berghof, he frequently compared himself with Napoleon, Bismarck, and other great historical figures. The rebuilding programs that constantly preoccupied him were envisaged as his own lasting monument – a testament of greatness like the buildings of the Pharaohs or Caesars. — HITLER, By Ian Kershaw

 

“Six men with tommy guns were posted at each pit; the pits were 24 meters in length and 3 meters in breadth – They had to lie down like sardines in a tin, with their heads in the center. Above them were six men with tommy guns who gave them the coup de grace. When I arrived those pits were so full that the living had to lie down on top of the dead; then they were shot and, in order to save room, they had to lie down neatly in layers. Before this, however, they were stripped of everything at one of the stations – here at the edge of the wood were the three pits they used that Sunday and here they stood in a queue 1½ km long which approached step by step – a queuing up for death. As they drew nearer they saw what was going on. About here they had to hand over their jewelry and suitcases. All good stuff was put into the suitcases and the remainder thrown on a heap. This was to serve as clothing for our suffering population – and then, a little further on they had to undress and, 500 meters in front of the wood, strip completely; they were only permitted to keep on a chemise or knickers. They were all women and small two-year-old children. Then all those cynical remarks! If only I had seen those tommy-gunners, who were relieved every hour because of over-exertion, carry out their task with distaste, but no, nasty remarks were like: ‘Here comes a Jewish beauty!’ I can still see it all in my memory: A pretty woman in a flame-colored chemise. Talk about keeping the race pure: at Riga they first slept with them and then shot them to prevent them from talking.” — SOLDATEN, By Harald Welzer

 

Minnier (re execution of Jews in Lithuania, near Vilna while he was a member of the “Arbeitsdienst”): “They had to strip to their shirts and the women to their vests and knickers and then they were shot by the ‘Gestapo.’ All the Jews were executed.”
Hartelt: “In their shirts?”
Minnieur: “Yes.”
Hartelt: “What was the reason for that?”
Minnieur: “Well, so that they don’t take anything into the grave with them. The things were collected up, cleaned and mended.”
Hartelt: “They used them, did they?”
Minnieur: “Yes, of course.”
Hartelt: (Laughs.)
Minnieur: “Believe me, if you had seen it, it would have made you shudder! We watched one of these executions once.”
Hartelt: “Did they shoot them with machine guns?”
Minnieur: “With tommy guns… We were actually there when a pretty girl was shot.”
Hartelt: “What a pity.”
Minnieur: “They were all shot ruthlessly! She knew that she was going to be shot. We were going past on motor cycles and saw a procession; suddenly she called to us and we stopped and asked where they were going. She said they were going to be shot. At first we thought she was making some sort of a joke. She more or less told us the way to where they were going. We rode there and – it was quite true – they were shot.”
Hartelt: “Did she walk there in her clothes?”
Minnieur: “Yes, she was smartly dressed. She certainly was a marvelous girl.
Hartelt: “Surely the one who shot her, shot wide.”
Minnieur: “No one could do anything about it. With…like that no one shoots wide. They arrived and the first ones had to line up and were shot. The fellows were standing there with their tommy guns and just sprayed quickly up and down the line, once to the right and once to the left with their tommy guns; there were six men there and a row of –”
Hartelt: “Then no one knew who had shot the girl?”
Minnieur: “No, they didn’t know. They clipped on a magazine, fired to the right and left and that was that! It didn’t matter whether they were still alive or not; when they were hit they fell over backwards into a pit. Then the next group came up with ashes and chloride of lime and scattered it over those who were lying down there; then they lined up and so it went on.”
Hartelt: “Did they have to cover them? Why was that?”
Minnieur: “Because the bodies would rot; they tipped chloride of lime over them so that there should be no smell and all that.”
Hartelt: “What about the people who were in there who were not properly dead yet?”
Minnieur: “That was bad luck for them; they died down there!”
Hartelt: (Laughs.)
Minnieur: “I can tell you, you heard a terrific screaming and shrieking!”
Hartelt: “Were the women shot at the same time?”
Minnieur: “Yes.”
Hartelt: “Were you watching when the pretty Jewess was there?”
Minnieur: “No, we weren’t there then. All we know was that she was shot.”
Hartelt: “Did she say anything beforehand? Had you met her before?”
Minnieur: “Yes, we met her the day before; the next day we wondered why she didn’t come. Then we set off on the motorcycle.”
Hartelt: “Was she working there too?”
Minnieur: “Yes.”
Hartelt: “Making roads?”
Minnieur: “No, she cleaned our barracks. The week we were there we went into the barracks to sleep so that we didn’t… outside –”
Hartelt: “I bet she let you sleep with her too?”
Minnieur: “Yes, but you had to take care not to be found out. It’s nothing now; it was really a scandal, the way they slept with Jewish women.”
SOLDATEN, By Harald Welzer

 

 

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons