"IT IS FOR YOU TO COMPREHEND THE REALITY"

70 years ago this month, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where approximately 1 million Jews had been murdered in the previous three years. Auschwitz was the largest killing site of the Holocaust, which was the murder of approximately 6 million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War. A few weeks after the camp’s liberation, a manuscript written by a Polish Jew named Zalman Gradowski was discovered buried near the site of the camp’s gas chambers where he had been forced to work. Zalman was killed in a prisoner uprising in October 1944 but his words – addressed to us, the readers of the future – have lived on.


Dear reader, I write these words in the moments of my greatest despair. I do not know, I do not believe, that I myself will live to read these lines “after the storm”. Who knows if I will have the good fortune to unfold the secret I carry deep in my heart to the world? Who knows if I will ever again behold a “free” man and be able to speak with him? It may be that these, the lines that I am now writing, will be the sole witnesses to what was my life. But I shall be happy if only my writings reach you, citizen of the free world…

Dear discoverer of these writings!

I have a request of you: this is the real reason why I write, that my doomed life may attain some meaning, that my hellish days and hopeless tomorrows may find a purpose in the future.

I pass on to you only a small part of what took place in the hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is for you to comprehend the reality.

Over the course of this project we will explore this history through 70 different voices – victims, survivors, perpetrators, and other witnesses to the Holocaust – in the hope that they may enable us to better “comprehend the reality”.


Photo: the gate of Birkenau, January 1945; Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu

Manuscript extract: David Roskies (ed.), The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe (Jewish Publication Society, 1989)

 

"I WANT TO GO ON LIVING EVEN AFTER MY DEATH"

It is easy to be numbed by the immense statistics of the Holocaust but we should remember that every one of its victims was an individual human being. Perhaps the best known was Anne Frank who wrote the following entry in her diary on 5 April 1944.


Dearest Kitty,

For a long time now I didn’t know why I was bothering to do any schoolwork. The end of the war still seemed so far away, so unreal, like a fairy tale. If the war isn’t over by September, I won’t go back to school, since I don’t want to be two years behind…

I finally realised that I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that’s what I want! I know I can write…

I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop and to express all that's inside me!

When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?.

I hope so, oh, I hope so very much, because writing allows me to record everything, all my thoughts, ideals and fantasies.

Through her diary, which was published in 1947, Anne achieved the literary immortality she had hoped for. But, like millions of men, women and children, she never lived to see it. Anne and her family were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, from where Anne and her sister Margot were deported to Bergen-Belsen in the autumn of that year. Both died from typhus in Belsen in March 1945, a month before liberation.


Photo: Anne Frank, 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eva Schloss

Diary entry: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, ed. Otto H. Frank & Mirjam Pressler (Penguin, 2001)

 

"SHE TOO DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED"

The 6 million victims of the Holocaust included approximately 1.5 million children. One of them was Margalit Lichtensztajn. Margalit’s father Israel Lichtensztajn was an activist involved with Oneg Shabbat, an underground group in the Warsaw Ghetto, which at great risk, strove to record the realities of ghetto life. When deportations to the Treblinka extermination camp began in July 1942, Israel buried Oneg Shabbat’s archives in metal boxes. He included this last testament.


I know we shall not last. It is not possible to live through, to survive such horrible murders, such massacres. This is why I write this my testament...

I do not ask for any thanks, for any memorial, for any praise. Only to be remembered is what I wish, so that my people, my brothers and sisters overseas should know where my bones have been taken to.

I wish my wife should be remembered, Gela Seksztajn, talented artist, whose numerous works could not be exhibited, could not appear in the bright light… At present, together with me, – both of us get ready to meet and receive death.

I wish my little daughter to be remembered. Margalit is 20 months old today. She has fully mastered the Yiddish language, and speaks it perfectly. At nine months she began to speak Yiddish clearly. In intelligence she equals children of 3 or 4 years...

I don’t lament my own life nor that of my wife. I pity only the so little, nice and talented girl. She too deserves to be remembered.

Israel, Gela and Margalit died during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.


Photo: Margalit Lichtensztajn; Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma

Last testament: Joseph Kermish (ed.), To Live with Honor and Die with Honor!... Selected Documents from the Warsaw Ghetto Underground Archives “O.S.” (“Oneg Shabbath”) (Yad Vashem, 1986)

 

"I SAW THEM DISAPPEAR INTO THE DISTANCE"

Only a small minority of the Jews sent to death camps and other killing sites survived the Holocaust. In addition to their own sufferings, these survivors had to face the loss of most members of their families. Elie Wiesel was deported to Auschwitz from the Hungarian town of Sighet (now Sighetu Marmaţiei in Romania) in May 1944. He later recalled his experiences in his memoir Night.


The cherished objects we had brought with us this far were left behind in the train and with them, at last our illusions. Every two yards or so an SS man held out his Tommy gun trained on us. Hand in hand we followed the crowd. An SS noncommissioned officer came to meet us a truncheon in hand. He gave orders:

“Men to the left! Women to the right!”

Eight words were spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother. I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father’s hand; we were alone. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sister moving away to the right. Tzipora held my mother’s hand. I saw them disappear into the distance; my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair, as though to protect her, while I walked on with my father and the other men. And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever. I went on walking, my father held on to my hand. 

435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in just two months in the late spring of 1944; most – like Tzipora and the people in the photograph – were murdered on arrival. The photograph comes from a collection known as the Auschwitz Album, a series of photographs taken by the SS of a transport from Beregszász in Hungary which arrived in Auschwitz a few weeks after Elie Wiesel’s train.


Photo: An elderly Hungarian Jewish woman and young children being taken to the gas chambers at Birkenau, May 1944; public domain

Testimony: Elie Wiesel, Night (Penguin, 1986)

 

"ONCE, THERE WAS A GARDEN"

The Holocaust entailed the destruction not only of individuals but of a rich diversity of Jewish communities and cultures which had flourished in Europe for centuries. This poem, written by an anonymous author, is entitled ‘The Jewish Shtetl’.


And once,
there was a garden,
and a child,
and a tree.

And once,
there was a father,
and a mother,
and a dog.

And once,
there was a house,
and a sister,
and a grandma.

And once,
there was life.

Shtetl is a Yiddish word, typically used to denote a small town with a majority Jewish population, such as Sighet whose Jewish community is seen standing outside the synagogue in the photograph. Such communities existed across eastern Europe in the pre-war era; all were destroyed in the Holocaust.


Photo: members of the Jewish community of Sighet in front of a wooden synagogue, 1930; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Mitchell Eisen

Poem: Safira Rapoport, Yesterdays and then Tomorrows: Holocaust Anthology of Testimonies and Readings (Yad Vashem, 2002)

 

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"MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE"

What distinguished the Holocaust from all of the other horrors inflicted on Europe by the Nazis was its totality: the Nazis aimed to murder every single Jew in the continent. This point was grasped by Itzhak Katzenelson, shown in the centre of the photograph with his family, in a poem written in captivity in the Vittel transit camp in France in 1943.


I dreamt a dream,
a terrible dream:
I have no people, my people
are no longer.

I woke screaming –
Alas! Alas!
My dream
has come true!

“Oh, God in heaven!” –
Trembling I implore:
why and what for
did my people die?

Why and what for
in vain did they die?
Not in a war,
not in battle...

the young, the old,
women and babes too –
are no more, no more:
lament!

Thus I'll cry in sorrow
both day and night:
Why, my Master?
Why, oh Lord?

When he wrote this poem, Itzhak had already lost his wife and two youngest sons who had been deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka in 1942. He and his eldest son Zvi, standing next to him in the photograph, were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.


Photo: Itzhak Katzenelson with his family and friends [detail], pre-war; Ghetto Fighters’ House

Poem: Itzhak Katzenelson, Ketavim aḥaronim (Ein Harod: Hakibbutz Hameucḥad, 1947)

 

70 VOICES PODCAST: WHAT WAS THE HOLOCAUST?

 

In the first of our weekly podcasts, the Trust’s Head of Education Alex Maws and Education Officer Martin Winstone discuss the thinking behind the 70 Voices project and the questions of what the Holocaust was and who its victims were.

Click here to read a transcript of the podcast. 

 

 
 
 

"THE WORLD WILL LEARN TO UNDERSTAND US"

The Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933, in a coalition government with conservatives. This event was immediately followed by violence against Germany’s Jews. When this produced international protests, especially in the United States, the Nazis organised a one-day boycott of Jewish shops in Germany on 1 April 1933. This photograph shows a poster urging Germans not to buy from Jewish-owned shops. The boycott was orchestrated by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who expressed his thoughts in his diary.


1 April 1933
I drive along the Tauentzien Street in order to observe the situation. All Jews’ businesses are closed. SA men are posted outside their entrances. The public has everywhere proclaimed its solidarity. The discipline is exemplary. An imposing performance! It all takes place in complete quiet; in the Reich too…
There is indescribable excitement in the air. The press is already operating in total unanimity. The boycott is a great moral victory for Germany. We have shown the world abroad that we can call up the entire nation without thereby causing the least turbulence or excesses. The Fuhrer has once more struck the right note...

April 2nd 1933
The effects of the boycott are already clearly noticeable. The world is gradually coming to its senses. It will learn to understand that it is not wise to let itself be informed on Germany by the Jewish émigrés. We will have to carry out a campaign of mental conquest in the world as effective as that which we have carried out in Germany itself. In the end the world will learn to understand us.

In the days following the boycott, Jews who worked for the state were sacked. These events marked the start of relentless persecution.


Photo: A woman reads a boycott sign posted in the window of a Jewish-owned department store, April 1933; National Archives and Records Administration, College Park (public domain)

Diary entries: Yitzhak Arad et al. (eds.), Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union (Yad Vashem, 1981)

"ONLY HONOURABLE RACIAL COMRADES"

Throughout the 1930s, German Jews were subjected to ever increasing legal persecution. The most important legislation came in the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 which stripped Jews of the rights of German citizens and prevented marriage to non-Jews. However, as the following examples of laws show, persecution could affect any area of life.


10 July 1935
The establishment of Jewish youth hostels is allowed only if they are not adjacent to other institutions or residences and the police have the possibility of easy access for the purpose of supervision. Jewish campsites are forbidden except when they are established on land belonging to Jews and are not located in the vicinity of non-Jewish residences. Hiking by Jewish youth groups of more than 20 is forbidden.

3 April 1936
Appointment as a vet shall be refused if the candidate cannot be an official because of his or his spouse’s ancestry.

22 March 1938
Only honourable racial comrades who, as well as their wives, are citizens of the German Reich of German or kindred blood, can become allotment gardeners.

27 July 1938
If they have not already been so, all streets or lanes named after Jews or half-Jews are to be renamed. Old street signs are to be removed at the same time with the placement of new signs.

The anti-Jewish laws were intended to make life in Germany so uncomfortable that Jews would emigrate. However, by 1938 a growing number of Nazis believed that more radical action was needed to force Jews out of Germany.


Photo: a young German Jewish boy in a garden, 1930s; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ralph Blumenthal

Laws: Joseph Walk (ed.), Das Sonderrecht für die Juden im NS-Staat : eine Sammlung der gesetzlichen Massnahmen und Richtlinien (C.F. Müller, 1981)

 

"THE GERMAN STANDS, THE JEW COWERS!"

The legal attacks on the Jews of Germany in the 1930s were accompanied by extensive propaganda, which took a wide variety of forms. In 1936, a book entitled Trust No Fox on a Green Heath and No Jew on His Word was published which used simple illustrations and verses to appeal to young children. It was written and illustrated by Elvira Bauer. These are examples of the text.


When God the father made the world,
He conceived the races:
Indians, Negroes and Chinese,
And Jews, too, the evil creatures.
And we, we were also there:
The Germans in this multitude. –
He gave them all a piece of earth,
To work with the sweat of their brow.
But the Jew would not do the same!
The devil rode him from the first.
He wished to cheat, not work,
In first place he learnt to lie
From his father, the Devil, quick and well
And wrote it in the Talmud.

The German and the Jew.
Inspect them well,
Both in the picture here.
A joke – you might almost think;
One has guessed it quite easily:
The German stands, the Jew cowers!
The German is a proud man,
Who can work and fight.
Because he is so beautiful and brave,
The Jew has always hated him!
This is the Jew, as all can see,
The greatest scoundrel in all the Reich!
He thinks himself the most beautiful
And yet is the ugliest there is!

Elvira Bauer was an 18-year-old art student and kindergarten teacher. Her example shows that the persecution of the Jews in Germany was made possible not only by the actions of the state but also those of ‘ordinary’ people.


Image: drawings from Elvira Bauer, Trau keinen Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinen Jud bei seinen Eid! (Stürmer-Verlag, 1936)

Verses: ibid.

 

"A SIGHT THAT CHILLED OUR BLOOD"

In March 1938, Germany occupied Austria in an event known as the Anschluss (‘union’) after the Austrian government had called a plebiscite (referendum) on whether Austria should stay an independent country. The occupation was followed by immediate attacks on Austrian Jews, especially, as shown in the photograph, in Vienna. Many ordinary Austrians actively participated in these attacks. Freddie Knoller was a Jewish teenager at the time.


We decided to stock up on food, not knowing what the next few days would bring. I went with Mother to the shops. I think she wanted me, the youngest, at her side. On the staircase we encountered Herr Hagmann, now wearing a Nazi armband. This decent man greeted us with a guilty expression and a sheepish “Good morning”…

Out in the streets my mother and I saw swastika flags hanging from the windows of almost every home. Brown-shirted Nazis of the Sturmabteilung, or SA, roamed the streets. We saw them stopping conspicuously Jewish-looking men and forcing them to clean away the plebiscite slogans. Further along the street was a sight that chilled our blood. SA men continuously kicked an old bearded Jew in the backside as he tried to scrape a slogan from the pavement. All around gentile Austrians, some of them women with infants, laughed uproariously.

Severely shaken, we returned home as quickly as possible.

Freddie later fled to Belgium and then France, from where he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Freddie survived the camp, but his parents, who were transported to Auschwitz from Vienna, did not.


Photo: Hitler Youth forcing Jews to scrub a street, Vienna, March 1938; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Freddie Knoller, Living with the Enemy: My Secret Life on the Run from the Nazis (Metro Publishing, 2005)

 

"LIFE AS I HAD KNOWN IT, STOPPED"

In October 1938, the Nazis ordered the expulsion from Germany of Jews who had been born in Poland; they were forced across the border in horrific conditions. In retaliation, Herschel Grynszpan, a young man whose parents had been amongst the deportees, assassinated a German diplomat in Paris. This was used by the Nazis as an excuse to launch a pogrom against the Jews of Germany on the night of 9-10 November 1938. Susan Oppenheimer was a Jewish teenager in Nuremberg.


A number of men, somewhere between seven and ten, came bursting into our house and started smashing up everything. They locked my parents in the bathroom... My younger sister and I shared a big room and I saw that her bed was full of glass and that everything had been smashed and the furniture was turned upside down. Then they pulled me out of bed and tore my nightdress to shreds and I was so self-conscious as a fifteen year old. There were roars of laughter from these young men, who seemed as if they were drunk, and they said to me, “Well, get your clothes on, where are they?” And I said, “In that wardrobe”... So I went to get them and as I went up to it they got behind it and threw it over. In fact it certainly would have killed me if they hadn't turned quite a large table upside down first; for a short time the table held the wardrobe and I crawled out underneath. Then they started smashing up the rest of the place. My parents were screaming and shouting because they didn't know what was happening to us, it really was awful. Then they left to smash up somebody else's house. It was then that life as I had known it, stopped.

In what became known as Kristallnacht (‘the night of broken glass’), at least 91 Jews were murdered and thousands of homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed. In the days that followed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and held in concentration camps until they agreed to emigrate and dozens of new anti-Jewish laws were issued.


Photo: a synagogue on fire on Kristallnacht, Marburg, November 1938; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Lyn Smith (ed.), Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust (Ebury Press, 2006)

 

"TODAY I WILL ONCE MORE BE A PROPHET"

This photograph shows Adolf Hitler speaking to the Reichstag (the German Parliament) on 30 January 1939, the sixth anniversary of his coming to power. Hitler’s speech contained this warning to the Jews of Europe.


One thing I should like to say on this day which may be memorable for others as well as for us Germans: In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said that I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and with it that of the whole nation, and that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of their face. Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevising of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.

This speech did not mean that Hitler was yet planning the Holocaust; it has generally been seen as a warning to the USA not to resist Germany by using Europe’s Jews as hostages. Nonetheless, the speech reveals the antisemitism of Hitler’s world view, with the belief that capitalism and Communism were part of a Jewish conspiracy, and shows the potential for mass murder in Nazi ideology.


Photo: Hitler addressing the Reichstag, 30 January 1939; Bundesarchiv

Speech: Max Domarus (ed.), Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen 1932-1945 (Löwit, 1973)

 

70 VOICES PODCAST: PRE-WAR PERSECUTION

 

In the second of our weekly 70 Voices podcasts, the Trust’s Head of Education Alex Maws discusses the impact of Nazi persecution of Jews in the 1930s with Harry Bibring, who experienced it first-hand before he escaped from Vienna to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1939. 

Click here to read a transcript of the podcast. 

 
 
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Learn more about Harry’s story by watching his Shoah Foundation testimony:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNTJDSwukNM

 

 
 

"LITERALLY RIPPED OUT"

The Second World War began on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, the country with Europe’s largest Jewish population. Polish Jews were immediately subjected to persecution and violence which surpassed anything which had happened in the previous six years in Germany. Shimon Huberband, a young rabbi, described what happened in the city of Piotrków Trybunalski on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (23 September 1939).


Suddenly, the whole Jewish quarter was surrounded by a large number of soldiers... They seized children as well as grey old men. Needless to say, they beat everyone with brutal blows, leaving them bloodied and maimed...

Gestapo men lined the pathways... They stood lined up in two rows, and the Jews were required to pass by them. And, of course, as they passed down the aisle, they were beaten so badly that it was a veritable miracle that these Jews remained alive... Everyone wearing a beard had his beard ripped out.

They weren’t sheared off, or cut with a knife or bayonet, they were literally ripped out...After the attack, the fiends took everyone out to the yard and escorted them to the railway depot. There they ordered the Jews to unload a train of thirty cars full of petrol.

Tired, drained, and famished after having fasted for more than thirty-six hours and after having been beaten so brutally, they had to begin work. Many of them fell to the ground due to fainting. The Jews were not dismissed from work until 1:00 P.M. the next day.

Just over two weeks later, on 8 October, Piotrków became the first city where the creation of a ghetto was ordered. In the following weeks, Polish Jews were marked by special badges and ordered to undertake forced labour. Thousands were murdered in the autumn of 1939. These developments marked the crossing of an important threshold on the path to mass murder.


Photo: German police and SS men cutting the beard and sidelocks of a Jewish man, Poland, 1939; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Jewish Religious and Cultural Life in Poland during the Holocaust, ed. Jeffrey S. Gurock & Robert S. Hirt (Ktav Publishing, 1987)

 

"ALL JEWS OUT OF EUROPE"

Following the invasion of Poland, the Nazis developed plans for a ‘reservation’ to which all of the growing numbers of Jews living under their control would be deported. They initially intended that this would be in eastern Poland but this plan failed due to divisions within the Nazi regime. After France surrendered to Germany in June 1940, a new plan was developed, as set out by Franz Rademacher, an official in the German Foreign Office, in July 1940.


The approaching victory gives Germany the possibility, and in my view also the duty, of solving the Jewish question in Europe. The desirable solution is: all Jews out of Europe…

In the Peace Treaty France must make the island of Madagascar available for the solution of the Jewish question, and to resettle and compensate the approximately 25,000 French citizens living there. The island will be transferred to Germany under a mandate… That part of the island not required for military purposes will be placed under the administration of a German Police Governor, who will be under the administration of the Reichsführer-SS [Himmler]. Apart from this, the Jews will have their own administration in this territory: their own mayors, police, postal and railroad administration, etc. The Jews will be jointly liable for the value of the island…

The Jews will remain in German hands as a pledge for the future good behaviour of the members of their race in America.

Use can be made for propaganda purposes of the generosity shown by Germany in permitting cultural, economic, administrative and legal self-administration to the Jews; it can be emphasized at the same time that our German sense of responsibility towards the world forbids us to make the gift of a sovereign state to a race which has had no independent state for thousands of years: this would still require the test of history.

Despite Rademacher’s talk of German generosity, it was intended that the Madagascar Plan would kill large numbers of the Jews sent there since most of the island was not suitable for human habitation. The plan was abandoned after Germany’s failure to defeat Britain meant that it could not control the seas. 


Photo: 1922 map of Madagascar; public domain

Memorandum: Yitzhak Arad et al. (eds.), Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union (Yad Vashem, 1981)

 

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"AN IMMEDIATE SHORTAGE OF BREAD"

Although a handful of ghettos had been created in Poland in late 1939 at the initiative of local Nazi officials, it was only after the failure of plans for a Jewish ‘reservation’ in Poland or Africa that large numbers were ordered. The Warsaw Ghetto, shown in this photograph, was created in the autumn of 1940 and was by far the largest in Nazi-occupied Europe: at its peak, in the summer of 1941, it held more than 435,000 people. Emanuel Ringelblum, a Jewish historian, recorded the following entry in his diary just four days after the ghetto was sealed.


19 November 1940
The Saturday the Ghetto was introduced was terrible. People in the street didn’t know it was to be a closed Ghetto, so it came like a thunderbolt. There was an immediate shortage of bread and other produce. There’s been a real orgy of high prices ever since. There are long queues in front of every food store, and everything is being bought up. Many items have suddenly disappeared from the shops… Because of the closing of the Ghetto and the feverish buying up of everything, all the Jewish streets are full of people milling about. It’s simply impossible to pass through… One of the sad developments of the resettlement has been the large number of beggars that have turned up (Jews from the suburbs).

Ghettos were intended to be a temporary measure, places to hold Jews whilst the Nazis decided where they would eventually be deported to. However, the living conditions in most ghettos were so appalling that they became death traps in themselves. For example, more than 70,000 people died in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941 and the first half of 1942. 


Photo: a group of destitute boys on a curb in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Guenther Schwarberg

Diary extract: Emanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto. The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum, ed. Jacob Sloan (Schocken, 1974)

 

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"THE AIM OF SOLVING THE JEWISH QUESTION IN LITHUANIA HAS BEEN ACHIEVED"

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 was a decisive moment in the evolution of the Holocaust. The German army was followed by SS killing squads known as Einsatzgruppen which immediately carried out mass shootings of Jewish men. From late summer onwards, the Einsatzgruppen began murdering entire Jewish communities – the map comes from an official summary of the murders carried out in the Baltic States and Belarus up to October 1941. The following extract is taken from a report of 1 December 1941 from Karl Jäger, commander of one unit, Einsatzkommando 3, which was based in Lithuania.


I can today confirm that the aim of solving the Jewish problem in Lithuania has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from work Jews and their families. That is:

In Šiauliai                     ca.   4,500

In Kaunas                       ”   15,000

In Vilna                           ”   15,000

I wanted to bump off these work Jews and their families as well, but this provoked strong protests from the civilian administration and the army...

I consider that the Jewish actions are essentially concluded as far as EK 3 is concerned. The remaining work Jews and Jewesses are needed urgently and I can envisage that after the winter this workforce will be even more urgently needed. I am of the opinion that the sterilisation of the male work Jews should begin immediately to prevent reproduction. If a Jewess nevertheless becomes pregnant, she will be liquidated...

One can not imagine the joy, gratitude and enthusiasm which our measures triggered in the liberated and the population. We often had to use strong words to cool the enthusiasm of the women, children and men who tried, with tears in their eyes, to kiss our hands and feet.

Between July and November 1941, EK 3 had shot 137,346 people, all but 2,000 of whom were Jewish. Despite Jäger’s call for sterilisation, most of the remaining Jews in Lithuania were in fact shot in 1942 and 1943, either by German police units or by the Lithuanian nationalists whose reactions Jäger mentioned at the end of his report. By this time, Nazi policy had advanced from the murder of Jews in the occupied Soviet Union to the whole of Europe.


Map: Executions carried out by Einsatzgruppe A in the Baltic States and Belarus up to 15 October 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Thomas Wartenberg

Report: Institut für Zeitgeschichte

 

"WE MUST ANNIHILATE THE JEWS, WHEREVER WE FIND THEM"

On 11 December 1941, Germany declared war on the USA. Although Hitler took this decision, he blamed the expansion of the war on America, which he believed was controlled by Jews. Over the next few days, he held meetings with other senior Nazis in which he reminded them of his ‘prophecy’ of 30 January 1939 that “world war” (i.e. war with the USA) would lead to “the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”. Hans Frank, the Nazi leader of the General Government region of occupied Poland, reported back to his colleagues on his meetings with Hitler in Berlin.


An end must be put to the Jews – I want to say this quite openly – one way or another. The Führer once said the words: if united Jewry once again succeeds in unleashing a world war, then the peoples who have been hounded into this war will not be the only victims, but then the Jew in Europe will also have found his end… I must also say as an old National Socialist: if the Jewish clan were to survive the war in Europe, whilst we sacrifice the best of our blood for the preservation of Europe, then this war will only have been a partial success…

But what should happen to the Jews? Do you believe that they will be accommodated in settlements in Ostland? In Berlin we were told: why make all this trouble; we cannot do anything with them in Ostland or the Reichskommissariat [occupied regions of the USSR] either, liquidate them yourselves! Gentlemen, I must ask you to arm yourselves against any thoughts of compassion. We must annihilate the Jews, wherever we find them and whenever it is possible in order to preserve the entire structure of the Reich here.

It is clear that by late 1941 Hitler and other leading Nazis had taken the key decisions which would lead to the attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews.


Photo: Hans Frank; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Lena Fishman Fagen

Speech: Werner Präg & Wolfgang Jacobmeyer (eds.), Das Diensttagebuch des deutschen Generalgouverneurs in Polen 1939-1945 (DVA, 1975)

 

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"EUROPE WILL BE COMBED FROM WEST TO EAST"

On 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Security Police, chaired a meeting of German officials at Wannsee outside Berlin. The purpose of what became known as the Wannsee Conference was to coordinate the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ in which all Jews in Europe were targeted for extermination. Heydrich provided a list of the Jewish populations of every country in Europe, including enemies of Germany such as Britain and even neutral countries such as Sweden and Spain. He then proceeded to explain how they would be dealt with.


Under appropriate direction the Jews are to be utilised for work in the East in an expedient manner in the course of the Final Solution. In large columns, with the sexes 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: as it will certainly represent the most resistant part, it will consist of a natural selection of the fittest, form a germ cell from which the Jewish race could revive itself. (This is the lesson of history.)

Europe will combed from west to east in the process of the implementation of the Final Solution...

The evacuated Jews will first be taken in stages to so-called transit ghettos, in order to be transported further east from there.

Heydrich’s bureaucratic talk of “natural reduction”, meaning working people to death, only applied to those who were “capable of work”. It was clear to all of the highly educated officials who attended the conference, at least half of whom had doctorates, that all other Jews – especially children and the elderly – would be murdered immediately.


Photo: Nazi estimates of European Jewish populations by country, Wannsee Conference protocol, January 1942; Yad Vashem

Speech: Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes

 

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