During the course of 1945 and 1946, as the great majority of the non-Jewish displaced persons found their way back to their countries of origin, the number of Jews in Germany actually increased. The largest contingent were the roughly 100,000 Polish Jews who had survived in Nazi-occupied Poland or else had spent the war in the USSR. They felt they could not return to – or remain in – postwar Poland in which their communities had been wiped out and in which there had been ugly upsurges of violent anti-Semitism after the Nazis had been driven out. With their communities annihilated and seeing no future in the lands which before the war had been the centers of Jewish life in Europe, surviving eastern European Jews headed for western Germany, above all for the American Occupation Zone.
By Richard Bessel
When the 8th Company of the 8th SS Infantry Regiment entered a village in Russia in 1941, an SS platoon leader called Alois Knabel was informed by the village head man of the existence of a Jewish cobbler and his wife, a young couple in their mid-twenties with a three-year-old child. Knabel had the pair brought to him by his troopers, and told them to wash and scrub the company’s quarters. As they did so, he frequently knocked them down with a wooden club. After they had all finished cleaning, Knabel and two or three of his men escorted the couple to the edge of the village, where he shot them both in the back of the neck. He was holding their child by the hand at the time. When the child started screaming, Knabel picked it up, and stroked the child’s hair, uttering soothing words. He used his free hand to shoot the child in the neck, as his left hand cradled it to his chest. One of the SS spectators said, “Look and see, how finely Knabel did that, how he first calmed the child down and then shot it.”
By Michael Burleigh
“In Latvia, near Dvinsk, there were mass executions of Jews carried out by the SS or Security Service… 300 men had been driven out of Dvinsk; they dug a communal grave and then marched home. The next day along they came again – men, women and children – they were counted off and stripped naked; the executioners first laid all the clothes in one pile. Then twenty women had to take up their position – naked – on the edge of the trench, they were shot and fell into it… They seized three-year-old children by their hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol and then threw them in. I saw that for myself.” — Lt. General Heinrich Kittel
By Harald Welzer
Many of the shooters vomited, either because of the blood and brains flying around or because they had consumed too much schnapps. Jeckeln, by contrast, was in his element. He made a Jew wave a red flag over the site of the massacre before personally shooting him in the head, and told his men, “That is a typical Jew, whom we must exterminate so that we Germans can survive.” He developed a new technique of packing down layers of victims to make the best use of the excavated space. By the final day they had murdered 23,600 people. In October 1941 Himmler swapped Jeckeln with Prutzmann as Higher SS and Police Leader in Northern Russia and within a month of his arrival Jeckeln had liquidated twenty-eight thousand people from the Riga ghetto in woods near Rumbuli Station.
By Michael Burleigh
“The infantry say they shot 15,000 Jews on the aerodrome at Poropoditz. They drove them all together, fired machine guns at them and shot them all. They left about a hundred of them alive. First they all had to dig a hole – sort of a ditch – then they shot them all, except a hundred, whom they left alive. Then these hundred had to put them all in a hole and cover them up, leaving a small opening. Then they shot the hundred and put them in too and closed it. I wouldn’t believe it but someone showed me the hole, where they were, all trodden down. Fifteen thousand of them!”
By Harald Welzer
Historians Kulka and Rodrigue….pointed to some reports from 1941 and 1942 [in Germany] which indicated widespread approval for the imposition of the “Yellow Star” and for a “radical solution of the Jewish problem: at the time of the deportations, concluding that “the concept of ‘indifference,’ suggesting as it does only a lack of concern, is too limited in scope and does not convey the full complexity of popular opinion.” Their preference was to replace “indifference” by “an attitude that might best be characterized as passive complicity.”
HITLER, THE GERMANS, AND THE FINAL SOLUTION
By Ian Kershaw
The challenge of recovering a sense of order and normality was all the greater in a society which had been largely denuded of young men and become overwhelmingly female. Colossal military losses had turned millions of German women into widows. In the summer of 1945 nearly 8.7 million German POWs were officially in the hands of the Allies; roughly 40 percent, or nearly 3.5 million, of them were married. Once released from POW camps, by no means did they all return home. Some were interned by the Allies for denazification, while others were among the thousands of civilians sent off to the USSR at the end of the war; and some decided not to return to their families but chose instead to start new lives elsewhere. Thus, when the war came to an end millions of couples were separated, millions of families were incomplete, and millions of German households were headed by women.
By Richard Bessel
On the day of the deportation [from Przemyśl, Poland] no one was allowed to remain in the buildings. Everyone had to line up in the street as the SS diligently checked their papers. Aunt Lonka was nervous because she lacked a photograph in her papers, but as she tried to explain that fact to the SS officer he dismissed her concern saying the picture was not important. Pointing to the number on the stamp, he said, “That is important,” and he moved on. My grandparents, aged 75, could not possibly qualify for such an exemption. My grandfather was still very vigorous but my grandmother was in ill health. It was clear that she would not survive the hardship of the deportation and my grandfather did not want to be separated from her. Uncle Lumek was able to provide them cyanide pills, the most expensive item on the black market. On August 3, 1942, the elderly couple went peacefully to sleep, together in their own bed, never to wake up.
IN THE SHADOW OF MAJDANEK
By Irene R. Skolnick
Hermann Graebe noticed that no one screamed or begged for mercy or attempted to escape [at the execution sites]…An explanation lay in the closeness of the family ties of the Eastern Jew. The Germans could always rely on the refusal of individuals to take flight, when it meant abandoning parents or children. The able-bodied and unattached usually tried to escape, as many Einsatzgruppen reports record. Sometimes large groups would break away from the edge of the killing-pit into the forests where for most of them the chances of survival were small…The state of mind of the victims, who meekly stripped, shoveled a layer of sand over the twitching bodies of their kinsfolk, and then lay patiently, naked in a temperature below zero, to await a shot in the neck, was nothing but the normal resignation of the condemned.
THE FINAL SOLUTION
By Gerald Reitlinger
Tens of thousands of Jewish men were drafted into forced labor companies attached to the Hungarian Army… Poorly clad, exposed to the elements, many Jews froze to death, including those whom Hungarian soldiers doused with water until they turned to ice sculptures. Jews were ordered to climb trees, sit on the branches, and shout “I am a dirty Jew,” as Hungarians shot at them. On April 30, 1943, the last day of Passover, Hungarian soldiers herded eight hundred Jews into a shed, ignited the structure, and shot anyone who tried to flee the flames. The suffering and fate of these Jewish victims served as entertainment and amusement for a number of the Hungarians.
THE LAST NAZI VICTIMS
By Randolph L. Braham with Scott Miller
The first camp exclusively for Jews was set up in Feldafing, on the Starnberg Lake to the south of Munich. The Feldafing camp was established at the end of April to provide shelter for Jews who had been liberated around Bad Tolz in Upper Bavaria; by July its non-Jewish (Hungarian) population had been transferred to other camps and the surviving Jews from Dachau were moved to Feldafing; and by August the camp held 6,000 people, almost all of them Jews. Within their camps, the Jewish DPs were able largely to run their own affairs, with their own camp administrations, courts and police. However, living conditions were generally very poor: the camps were dreadfully overcrowded and sometimes quite filthy; health-care provision was often inadequate, all the more so given the terrible physical and psychological consequences of what the Jewish survivors had just endured. In September 1945 the commandant of the DP camp in Landsberg am Lech, which at that point housed some 6,400 displaced persons of whom roughly 5,200 were Jews, described the camp as “indescribably dirty” and health-care provision almost non-existent. Sheltering in overcrowded, often unsanitary camps, their movements restricted, determined to leave Germany but unable or unwilling to return to Eastern Europe, the Jewish DPs were among the most profoundly uprooted and traumatized people in a continent full of uprooted and traumatized human beings.
By Richard Bessel