1. An entire state bureaucracy was mobilized solely for the purpose of annihilating Jews.
2. German technological expertise was harnessed to make the mass murder as efficient and low-cost as possible.
3. Special camps were created solely for the purpose of killing Jews and other "undesirables."
4. The conditions in these death camps and other concentration camps were brutal, and designed purposely to make survival only temporary.
Deportation was the first step in the "Final Solution." Typically, the Jews were informed that they were going to be resettled for work. Each was told to take some clothing, blankets, shoes, eating utensils (but no knife), a bowl, and some money. Rounded up, they were herded into trucks for the trip to the rail station, or were forced to walk. The rail cars were often strategically located at a distance from the passenger terminals, so that this scene would not arouse the ire of the local populace. Many who did see chose not to protest.
The deportees were forced into rail cars, most of which were windowless, unheated cattle cars, and squeezed in so tightly that most were forced to stand. The doors were then sealed shut from the outside. Neither drinking water nor sanitary facilities were available. Each car held more than 120 people, and many froze or suffocated to death or succumbed to disease during the trip to the camps. The dead were not removed from the cars during the journey because the Nazi bureaucracy insisted that each body entering a car be accounted for at the destination.
Eichmann received various levels of cooperation from each of the various occupied governments. But in countries such as Holland, Belgium, Albania, Denmark, Finland and Bulgaria, some Jews were saved from their deaths by the action of the sympathetic populace and government officials. Denmark's government and populace were exemplary in their heroism in saving Jews. In other countries such as Poland, Greece, France, and Yugoslavia, the deportation of Jews to the death camps was facilitated by the cooperation of the government.
The Nazis hoped that the wretched ghetto conditions would deplete the Jewish population quickly and naturally through starvation, disease and cold. The ghetto also served as the holding area for eventual transport to the death camps for those who were able to survive.
Ghetto inhabitants in many areas were forced to become slaves for German industry. Factories were built alongside or within ghetto walls so that industries could take advantage of this free labor. The administration of Jewish life was the responsibility of the Jewish Councils, the Judenröte (see Chapter 11).
Life in the ghetto was abominable, and thousands died. There was no medicine. The food ration allowed was a quarter of that available for the Germans, barely enough to allow survival. The water supply was contaminated in many ghettos. Epidemics of tuberculosis, typhoid, and lice were common. Bodies of new victims piled up in the streets faster than they could be carted away. In the Warsaw ghetto, more than 70,000 died of exposure, disease, and starvation during the first two winters. Almost all of those who survived the Warsaw ghetto were either killed when the ghetto was razed in 1943 or died in the death camps.
Upon arrival at a camp, the inmates were usually stripped of all their valuables and clothes. They were then shorn of body hair, disinfected, given a shower, and issued a striped prison uniform without regard to size. Each step of the process was designed to dehumanize the prisoners, both physically and emotionally. Each prisoner was given a number. At Auschwitz, for example, the number was tattooed on the arm, but some camps did not tattoo their inmates.
Life in the camps was a living hell. As described by Judah Pilch in "Years of the Holocaust: The Factual Story," which appears in The Jewish Catastrophe in Europe, a typical day in the life of a concentration camp inmate began at dawn, when they were roused from their barracks which housed 300-800 inmates each. Their "beds" were bunks of slatted wood two and three tiers high. Frequently three to four prisoners shared each bunk, not permitting space enough for them to stretch out for normal sleep. The inmates were organized into groups to go to the toilets, marched to a distribution center for a breakfast consisting of some bread and a liquid substitute for tea or coffee, and then sent out to work for 10-14 hours in mines, factories, and road or airfield building, often in sub-zero weather or the severe heat of summer. They were subjected to constant physical and emotional harassment and beating. The inmates' food rations did not permit survival for very long. Those who resisted orders of the guards were shot on the spot. Numerous roll calls were held to assure that no prisoners had escaped. If one did attempt an escape, all of the inmates suffered for it.
Unlike concentration camps, death camps had no barracks to house prisoners, other than those for workers at the camps. In order to process the murder of thousands of people, great pains were taken to deceive the victims concerning their fate. Jews deported from ghettos and concentration camps to the death camps were unaware of what they were facing. The Nazi planners of the operation told the victims that they were being resettled for labor, issued them work permits, told them to bring along their tools and to exchange their German marks for foreign currency. Food was also used to coax starving Jews onto the trains. Once the trains arrived at the death camps, trucks were available to transport those who were too weak to walk directly to the gas chambers. The others were told that they would have to be deloused and enter the baths. The victims were separated by sex and told to remove their clothes. The baths were in reality the gas chambers. The shower heads in the baths were actually the inlets for poison gas. At Auschwitz, the gas chambers held 2,000 people at a time. With the introduction of a cyanide-based gas called Zyklon B, all 2,000 occupants could be killed in five minutes. As a result of this technological "advancement," Auschwitz was able to "process" the death of 12,000 victims daily. Before the bodies were removed by workers with gas masks and burned in crematoria, the teeth of the victims were stripped for gold, which was melted down and shipped back to Germany. Innocent victims were exploited and desecrated to a degree unknown in human history.
Unlike the death camps of Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, which were built and operated solely to kill Jews, the two death camps of Maidanek and Auschwitz also had a work camp attached. Upon arrival at these two camps, a selection was made at the train station concerning which Jews (about 10 percent of the arrivals) would be permitted to live and escape immediate gassing in the gas chambers. These "lucky" survivors were permitted to live only to the extent that they endured the physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon them. They were given a food ration that permitted them to survive for only three months. As they died from exhaustion, beatings, and starvation, they were replaced with newly arrived victims. Auschwitz was also used as the site for medical experimentation. Many of these experiments had little scientific value but were only exercises to discover how much torture a victim could endure until death. By the end of 1944, an estimated two-and-a-half million Jews had died at Auschwitz. More than a quarter of a million Gypsies also died there.
It is estimated that by the end of 1942, they had killed more than a million Soviet Jews. These victims were shot or loaded into enclosed trucks modified for the introduction of carbon monoxide to asphyxiate its victims. An additional 400,000 were killed by other S.S. units, anti-Semitic native civilians, police units, and the German army.
Michael R. Marrus, in his book, The Holocaust in History, writes about the targets of Nazi murder:
"The Nazis murdered between five million and six million Jews during the Holocaust, two-thirds of European Jewry and about one-third of the entire Jewish people. But a staggering 55 million may have perished in all theaters during the Second World War including some 20 million Soviet citizens...five million Germans, and three million non-Jewish Poles...In all, some 18 million European civilians may have died as a result of famine, disease, persecution, and more conventional acts of war.
"Awesome as they are, therefore, numbers do not in themselves prescribe the singularity of the Holocaust. But they provide a clue. For the proportion of European Jews killed during the Second World War, with roughly one of every three civilian deaths in Europe being that of a Jew, was undoubtedly greater than that of any other people, because of the Nazis' policy toward them. Unlike the case with any other group, and unlike the massacres before or since, every single one of the millions of targeted Jews was to be murdered. Eradication was to be total. In principle, no Jew was to escape. In this important respect, the Nazis' assault upon Jewry differed from the campaigns against other peoples and groups; Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles, Ukrainians, and so on. Assaults on these people could indeed be murderous; their victims number in the millions, and their ashes mingle with those of the Jews of Auschwitz and many other camps across Europe. But Nazi ideology did not require their total disappearance. In this respect, the fate of the Jews was unique."
In his bunker, in the Chancellory building in Berlin, knowing that the war was lost and that the "1,000 Year Reich" had lasted only a few years, Hitler committed suicide hours after marrying Eva Braun. Germany formally surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945. By the end of the war, more than 55 million had died and 35 million wounded. Only 17 million of the dead were soldiers.
April 27, 1940 - Himmler ordered the establishment of a concentration camp at Auschwitz.
April 30, 1940 - The ghetto at Lodz, Poland, was sealed off.
June 4, 1940 - Germany invaded Holland, Belgium, and France.
June 29, 1940 - Marshal Petain surrenders France to the Germans.
September 27, 1940 - The Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis was established.
September 27, 1940 - The Warsaw Ghetto was sealed off, making thousands of Jews inside virtual prisoners under house arrest.
June 22, 1941 - Germany invaded Greece and Yugoslavia.
June 22, 1941 - The Germans attacked and declared war on the Soviet Union.
July 8, 1941 - Wearing of the Jewish Star was decreed in the German-occupied Baltic states.
July 31, 1941 - S.S. Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was appointed by Goering to carry out the "Final Solution", the murder of all the Jews in Europe.
September 1, 1941 - Wearing of the Jewish "Star of David" was decreed throughout the Greater Reich.
October 1, 1941 - All Jewish emigration was halted.
October 14, 1941 - Mass deportation to concentration camps of Jews from all over Nazi-controlled Europe began.
December 8, 1941 - 27,000 were massacred in Riga.
October 23, 1941 - 34,000 were massacred in Odessa.
October 28, 1941 - 34,000 were massacred in Kiev.
November 6, 1941 - 15,000 were massacred in Rovno.
December 7, 1941 - The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States entered the war.
December 8, 1941 - Chelmno death camp on the Ner River in Poland opened and the first gassing took place.
December 11, 1941 - Germany declared war on the United States.
October 17, 1942 - The Allied Nations pledged to punish the Germans for their policy of genocide.
Winter of 1943 - The tattered and frozen German army on the Eastern front surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad.
April 1943 - The Bermuda Conference on Refugees was convened. The agenda was to discuss action by the Allies to rescue refugees in Europe under Nazi control. No formal action was agreed to.
October 7, 1943 - Hitler ordered that all Jews of Denmark be deported to the death camps in Poland. Almost 95% of Danish Jews were whisked to Sweden, escaping the S.S.
March 18, 1944 - The Germans invaded and occupied Hungary. Deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz followed under the direction of Adolf Eichmann. Mostly all of the half-million Hungarian Jews were sent to the gas chambers.
June 1, 1944 - D-Day. The Allies invaded France at Normandy.
Babi Yar - An area in the Soviet Union near Kiev, where thousands of civilians, most of whom were Jews, were murdered by the Nazis.
crematorium - An oven where the bodies of newly murdered prisoners of camps, and those who died from other causes, were incinerated.
death camps - Centers established in mostly rural areas designed specifically for mass murder. Six death camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Maidanek, Chelmno and Belzec) were established solely for the extermination of European Jewry.
death marches - Forced marches under brutal conditions required of death camp and concentration camp inmates by the Nazis to avoid liberation by advancing Allied forces.
Einsatzgruppen - "Special Action Squads" of the S.S. which had as their mission to seek out and murder Jews, Communists and Gypsies.
extermination - Mass murder, in the context of the killing of Jews in a manner which would be no less heinous than the killing of insects.
Final Solution - The term used by the Nazis to describe their program of mass murder of the Jewish people.
gas chamber - Rooms constructed to be air-tight so that poison gas introduced into the room would kill large numbers of people.
Gypsies - A dark-skinned, Caucasian ethnic group with origins in India who had, in many cases in Europe, a migratory way of life.
labor camp - A prison camp where the prisoners were used as slave labor for German industry and war machine.
tuberculosis - An infectious disease which can affect any organ, but particularly attacks the lungs.
typhus - Disease transmitted by lice or fleas which was epidemic in concentration camps.
zyklon B - A cyanide gas developed to kill Jews at Auschwitz in a manner which was more efficient than using carbon monoxide gas.
deportation assassination pogrom decimation execution terrorism
killing extermination persecution genocide holocaust
2. Describe life in the Nazi ghettos for the Jews and the major differences between these ghettos and those of the Middle Ages.
3. What was the mission of the Einsatzgruppen? Who were their targets? What methods did they use to accomplish their mission?
4. Who was Adolf Eichmann, and what was his job?
5. How was the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia different than any other ghetto?
6. Name three death camps, and briefly describe typical conditions in one.
7. What was the Wannsee Conference? Who convened it? What was its purpose?
8. What prompted the Nazis to order the "death marches" of 1945?
9. Why were experiments performed on inmates of the death camps?
Copyright 1990 Gary M. Grobman