World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The Final Solution
From Wikipedia
How to get rid of the Jews was a question answered by Adolf Hitler. His answer was to murder Jews throughout Europe along with other races that were believed to be sub-humans. This answer was called the “Final Solution,” a solution that started in the summer of 1941 and was believed to answer the “Jewish Question” and create an end to the Jews.
The Final Solution (German: Die Endlösung) was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust. According to historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Nazis frequently used euphemistic language to disguise the true nature of their crimes. They used the term “Final Solution” to refer to their plan to annihilate the Jewish people.”

Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler termed it "the final solution of the Jewish question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage).
Massacres of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made either by the time of or at the Wannsee Conference, which took place in Berlin, in the Wannsee Villa on January 20, 1942.

It occurred very shortly after the Babi Yar massacre was carried out and the conference was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich. He was acting under the authority given to him by Reichsmarschall Göring in a letter dated July 31, 1941. Göring instructed Heydrich to devise "...the solution of the Jewish problem...", although during his Closing Address at the Nuremberg Trial, referring to this letter, Göring stated that the assertion that in this letter he "ordered Heydrich to kill the Jews, lacks every proof and is not true either."[2] During the conference, there was a discussion by the group of Nazi officials as how best to handle the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting was found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials.

By the summer of 1942, Operation Reinhard began the systematic extermination of the Jews, although hundreds of thousands had already been killed by death squads and in mass pogroms. Heinrich Himmler's speech at the Posen Conference of October 6, 1943, for the first time, clearly elucidated to all assembled leaders of the Reich that the "Final Solution" meant that "all Jews would be killed"

Prior to the beginning of World War II, during a speech given on January 30, 1939 (the sixth anniversary of his accession to power), Hitler foretold the coming Holocaust of European Jewry when he said:
Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!

Christian Gerlach has argued for a different timeframe, suggesting the decision was made by Hitler on December 12, 1941, when he addressed a meeting of the Nazi Party (the Reichsleiter) and of regional party leaders (the Gauleiter). In his diary entry of December 13, 1941, the day after Hitler’s private speech, Joseph Goebbels wrote:
Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their own destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. It is not for us to feel sympathy for the Jews. We should have sympathy rather with our own German people. If the German people have to sacrifice 160,000 victims in yet another campaign in the east, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay for it with their lives.

Echoing his above statements along with the January 30, 1939 speech by Hitler, in an article written in 1943 entitled "The War and the Jews," Goebbels said:
None of the Führer's prophetic words has come so inevitably true as his prediction that if Jewry succeeded in provoking a second world war, the result would be not the destruction of the Aryan race, but rather the wiping out of the Jewish race. This process is of vast importance, and will have unforeseeable consequences that will require time. But it can no longer be halted. It must only be guided in the right direction.

After this decision, plans were made to put the Final Solution into effect. For example, on December 16, 1941, at a meeting of the officials of the General Government, Hans Frank referred to Hitler's speech as he described the coming annihilation of the Jews:
As for the Jews, well, I can tell you quite frankly that one way or another we have to put an end to them. The Führer once put it this way: if the combined forces of Judaism should again succeed in unleashing a world war, that would mean the end of the Jews in Europe. ...I urge you: Stand together with me ... on this idea at least: Save your sympathy for the German people alone. Don't waste it on anyone else in the world, ... I would therefore be guided by the basic expectation that they are going to disappear. They have to be gotten rid of. At present I am involved in discussions aimed at having them moved away to the east. In January there is going to be an important meeting in Berlin to discuss this question. I am going to send State Secretary Dr. Buhler to this meeting. It is scheduled to take place in the offices of the RSHA in the presence of Obergruppenführer Heydrich. Whatever its outcome, a great Jewish emigration will commence. But what is going to happen to these Jews? Do you imagine there will be settlement villages for them in the Ostland? In Berlin we were told: Why are you making all this trouble for us? There is nothing we can do with them here in the Ostland or in the Reich Commissariat. Liquidate them yourselves! ... Here are 3.5 million Jews that we can't shoot, we can't poison. But there are some things we can do, and one way or another these measures will successfully lead to a liquidation. They are related to the measures under discussion with the Reich.... Where and how this will all take place will be a matter for offices that we will have to establish and operate here. I will report to you on their operation at the appropriate time.

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum, in his book Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, found that the phrase "final solution" had been used much earlier. An investigative report by the Münchener Post, a socialist newspaper that was an early opponent of Hitler, found as early as 1931 Nazi Party and SA documents using the phrase as part of a description of plans for what became the Nuremberg Laws and a suggestion that "for the final solution of the Jewish question it is proposed to use the Jews in Germany for slave labor or for cultivation of the German swamps administered by a special SS division."

In a February 26, 1942, letter to German diplomat Martin Luther, Reinhard Heydrich follows up on the Wannsee Conference by asking Luther for administrative assistance in the implementation of the "Endlösung der Judenfrage" (Final Solution to the Jewish Question).
The Holocaust
The Holocaust also known as the Shoah , was the mass murder or genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, throughout German-occupied territory. Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed. Over one million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, as were approximately two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men.

A few scholars argue that the mass murder of the Romani and people with disabilities should be included in the definition, and some use the common noun "holocaust" to describe other Nazi mass murders, for example Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, and homosexuals. Recent estimates based on figures obtained since the fall of the Soviet Union indicates some ten to 11 million civilians and prisoners of war were intentionally murdered by the Nazi regime.

The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages. Various laws to remove the Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws, were enacted in Germany years before the outbreak of World War II. Concentration camps were established in which inmates were subjected to slave labor until they died of exhaustion or disease. Where Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings. The occupiers required Jews and Romani to be confined in overcrowded ghettos before being transported by freight train to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. Every arm of Germany's bureaucracy was involved in the logistics that led to the genocides, turning the Third Reich into what one Holocaust scholar has called "a genocidal state".

"Selektion" on the Judenrampe, Auschwitz, May/June 1944. To be sent to the right meant slave labor; to the left, the gas chamber. This image shows the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, many of them from the Berehov ghetto. The photographer was Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walter of the SS. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.
Michael Berenbaum writes that Germany became a "genocidal state."  "Every arm of the country's sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish; the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders; the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property; German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders." The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics; government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps; German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria; detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company's punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany to be reused or recycled. Berenbaum writes that the Final Solution of the Jewish question was "in the eyes of the perpetrators ... Germany's greatest achievement." Through a concealed account, the German national bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.

Saul Friedländer writes that: "Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews." He writes that some Christian churches declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point.

Friedländer argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because antisemitic policies were able to unfold without the interference of countervailing forces of the kind normally found in advanced societies, such as industry, small businesses, churches, and other vested interests and lobby groups.

Never before had a state with the authority of its responsible leader decided and announced that a specific human group, including its aged, its women and its children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this resolution using every possible means of state power
The slaughter was systematically conducted in virtually all areas of Nazi-occupied territory in what are now 35 separate European countries. It was at its most severe in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than seven million Jews in 1939. About five million Jews were killed there, including three million in occupied Poland and over one million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The Wannsee Protocol makes it clear that the Nazis intended to carry their "final solution of the Jewish question" to Britain and all the other neutral states in Europe, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.

Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated without exception. In other genocides, people were able to escape death by converting to another religion or in some other way assimilating. This option was not available to the Jews of occupied Europe, unless their grandparents had converted before 18 January 1871. All persons of recent Jewish ancestry were to be exterminated in lands controlled by Germany.

The use of camps equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

Medical Experiments
A distinctive feature of Nazi genocide was the extensive use of human subjects in "medical" experiments. "German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in terms of party membership," and some carried out experiments at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.

The most notorious of these physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries.

 The full extent of his work will never be known because the truckload of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was destroyed by von Verschuer. Subjects who survived Mengele's experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.
He worked extensively with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys, and personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him "Onkel Mengele". Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins.

I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents—I remember the mother's name was Stella—managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.



Legal repression and emigration

Right from the establishment of the Third Reich, Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of a Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). Nazi policies divided the population into two categories, the Volksgenossen ("national comrades"), who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens"), who did not. Nazi policies about repression divided people into three types of enemies, the "racial" enemies such as the Jews and the Gypsies who were viewed as enemies because of their "blood"; political opponents such as Marxists, liberals, Christians and the "reactionaries" who were viewed as wayward "National Comrades"; and moral opponents such as homosexuals, the "work-shy" and habitual criminals, also seen as wayward "National Comrades".

The last two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft, though some of the moral opponents were to be sterilized as they were regarded as "genetically inferior". "Racial" enemies such as the Jews could, by definition, never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft, thus requiring their total removal from society. The German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that the National Socialists' "goal was an utopian Volksgemeinschaft, totally under police surveillance, in which any attempt at nonconformist behaviour, or even any hint or intention of such behaviour, would be visited with terror". In support of this, Peukert quoted policy documents on the "Treatment of Community Aliens" from 1944, which (though never implemented) showed the full intentions of Nazi social policy: "persons who ... show themselves [to be] unable to comply by their own efforts with the minimum requirements of the national community" were to be placed under police supervision, and if this did not reform them, they were to be taken to a concentration camp.

Leading up to the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against the opposition. With the co-operation of local authorities, they set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment of their opponents. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp contained primarily communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons—for example, in basements and storehouses run by the Sturmabteilung (SA) and less commonly by the Schutzstaffel (SS)—were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing those Germans did not conform to the Volksgemeinschaft. Those sent to the camps included the "educable", whose wills could be broken into becoming "National Comrades", and the "biologically depraved", who were to be sterilized, were to be held permanently, and over time were increasingly subject to extermination through labor, i.e. being worked to death.

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. The Israeli historian Saul Friedländer writes that, for the Nazis, Germany drew its strength "from the purity of its blood and from its rootedness in the sacred German earth." On 1 April 1933, there occurred a boycott of Jewish businesses, which was the first national antisemitic campaign, initially planned for a week, but called off after one day owing to lack of popular support. In 1933, a series of laws were passed which contained Aryan paragraphs to exclude Jews from key areas: the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, the first antisemitic law passed in the Third Reich; the Physicians' Law; and the Farm Law, forbidding Jews from owning farms or taking part in agriculture.

Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of their offices and courtrooms and beaten. At the insistence of then president Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler added an exemption allowing Jewish civil servants who were veterans of the First World War, or whose fathers or sons had served, to remain in office. Hitler revoked this exemption in 1937. Jews were excluded from schools and universities (the Law to Prevent Overcrowding in Schools), from belonging to the Journalists' Association, and from being owners or editors of newspapers. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of 27 April 1933 wrote:
A self-respecting nation cannot, on a scale accepted up to now, leave its higher activities in the hands of people of racially foreign origin . . . Allowing the presence of too high a percentage of people of foreign origin in relation to their percentage in the general population could be interpreted as an acceptance of the superiority of other races, something decidedly to be rejected.


In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which: prohibited Jews from marrying or having sex with "Aryans" (the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor), stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. Hitler described the "Blood Law" in particular "the attempt at a legal regulation of a problem, which in the event of further failure would then have through law to be transferred to the final solution of the National Socialist Part."Hitler said that if the "Jewish problem" cannot be solved by these laws, it "must then be handed over by law to the National-Socialist Party for a final solution."

The "final solution", or "Endlösung", became the standard Nazi euphemism for the extermination of the Jews. In January 1939, he said in a public speech: "If international-finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into yet another world war, the consequences will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe." Footage from this speech was used to conclude the 1940 Nazi propaganda movie The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude), whose purpose was to provide a rationale and blueprint for eliminating the Jews from Europe.

Jewish intellectuals were among the first to leave. The philosopher Walter Benjamin left for Paris on 18 March 1933. Novelist Leon Feuchtwanger went to Switzerland. The conductor Bruno Walter fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there: the Frankfurter Zeitung explained on 6 April that Walter and fellow conductor Otto Klemperer had been forced to flee because the government was unable to protect them against the mood of the German public, which had been provoked by "Jewish artistic liquidators."

Albert Einstein was visiting the U.S. on 30 January 1933. He returned to Ostende in Belgium, never to set foot in Germany again, and calling events there a "psychic illness of the masses"; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and his citizenship was rescinded. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Sigmund Freud and his family fled from Vienna to England. Saul Friedländer writes that when Max Liebermann, honorary president of the Prussian Academy of Arts, resigned his position, not one of his colleagues expressed a word of sympathy, and he was still ostracized at his death two years later. When the police arrived in 1943 with a stretcher to deport his 85-year-old bedridden widow, she committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates rather than be taken.

German policemen tormenting a Jew in Rzeszów, Poland.
Himmler's right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich, recommended concentrating all the Polish Jews in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. The ghettos would be in cities located on railway junctions in order to furnish, in Heydrich's words, "a better possibility of control and later deportation." During his interrogation in 1961, Adolf Eichmann recalled that this "later deportation" actually meant "physical extermination."

In September, Himmler appointed Heydrich head of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA, not to be confused with the RuSHA). This body was to oversee the work of the SS, the Security Police (SD), and the Gestapo in occupied Poland, and carry out the policy towards the Jews described in Heydrich's report. The first organized murders of Jews by German forces occurred during Operation Tannenberg and through Selbstschutz units. Later, the Jews were herded into ghettos, mostly in the General Government area of central Poland, where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office headed by Fritz Sauckel. Here many thousands died from maltreatment, disease, starvation, and exhaustion, but there was still no program of systematic killing. There is no doubt, however, that the Nazis saw forced labor as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("destruction through work") was frequently used.

Although it was clear by 1941 that the SS hierarchy was determined to embark on a policy of killing all the Jews under German control, there was still opposition to this policy within the Nazi regime, although the motive was economic, not humanitarian. Hermann Göring, who had overall control of the German war industry, and the German army's Economics Department, argued that the enormous Jewish labor force assembled in the General Government area (more than a million able-bodied workers) was an asset too valuable to waste while Germany was preparing to invade the Soviet Union.


In other occupied countries

When Germany occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, antisemitic measures were also introduced into these countries, although the pace and severity varied greatly from country to country according to local political circumstances. Jews were removed from economic and cultural life and were subject to various restrictive laws, but physical deportation did not occur in most places before 1942.

The Vichy regime in occupied France actively collaborated in persecuting French Jews. Germany's allies Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Finland were pressured to introduce antisemitic measures, but for the most part they did not comply until compelled to do so. During the course of the war some 900 Jews and 300 Roma passed through the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade, intended primarily for Serbian communists, royalists and other patriots who resisted occupation. The German puppet regime in Croatia, on the other hand, began actively persecuting Jews on its own initiative, so the Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies was declared on 10 October 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia.
Execution of Poles by Einsatzkommando, Leszno, October 1939
Ghettos
After the invasion of Poland, the Nazis established ghettos in which Jews and some Romani were confined until they were eventually shipped to extermination camps. The first order for the establishment of the councils came in a letter dated 29 September 1939 from Heydrich to the heads of the Einsatzgruppen. Each ghetto was run by a Judenrat (Jewish council) of German-appointed Jewish community leaders, who were responsible for the day-to-day running of the ghetto, including the distribution of food, water, heat, medicine, and shelter.

The basic strategy adopted by the councils was one of trying to minimise losses, largely by cooperating with Nazi authorities (or their surrogates), accepting the increasingly terrible treatment, and petitioning for better conditions and clemency.

Councils were also expected to make arrangements for deportations to extermination camps,[104] thus the defining moment that tested the courage and character of each Judenrat came when they were asked to provide a list of names of the next group to be deported. The Judenrat members went through the tried and tested methods of delay, bribery, stonewalling, pleading, and argumentation, until finally a decision had to be made. Some, like Chaim Rumkowski, argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved, and that therefore others had to be sacrificed; others argued, following Maimonides, that not a single individual should be handed over who had not committed a capital crime. Judenrat leaders such as Dr. Joseph Parnas in Lviv, who refused to compile a list, were shot. On 14 October 1942, the entire Judenrat of Byaroza committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations.
12 April 1945: Lager Nordhausen, where 20,000 inmates are believed to have died.
The importance of the councils in facilitating the persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was not lost on the Germans: one official was emphatic that "the authority of the Jewish council be upheld and strengthened under all circumstances", another that "Jews who disobey instructions of the Jewish council are to be treated as saboteurs." When such cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council's authority, the Germans lost control.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people, and the Łódź Ghetto the second largest, holding 160,000. They were, in effect, immensely crowded prisons, described by Michael Berenbaum as instruments of "slow, passive murder."

 Though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 400,000 people—30% of the population of Warsaw—it occupied only 2.4% of the city's area, averaging 9.2 people per room.

From 1940 through 1942, starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed hundreds of thousands. Over 43,000 residents of the Warsaw ghetto died there in 1941, more than one in ten; in Theresienstadt, more than half the residents died in 1942.

The Germans came, the police, and they started banging houses: "Raus, raus, raus, Juden raus." ... [O]ne baby started to cry ... The other baby started crying. So the mother urinated in her hand and gave the baby a drink to keep quiet ... [When the police had gone], I told the mothers to come out. And one baby was dead ... from fear, the mother [had] choked her own baby.
— Abraham Malik, describing his experience in the Kovno Ghetto.


Himmler ordered the start of the deportations on 19 July 1942, and three days later, on 22 July, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began; over the next 52 days, until 12 September, 300,000 people from Warsaw alone were transported in freight trains to the Treblinka extermination camp. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated.

The first ghetto uprising occurred in September 1942 in the small town of Łachwa in south-east Poland. Though there were armed resistance attempts in the larger ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, in every case they failed against the overwhelming Nazi military force, and the remaining Jews were either killed or deported to the death camps.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase. The Holocaust intensified after the Nazis occupied Lithuania, where close to 80% of the country's 220,000 Jews were exterminated before the end of the year. The Soviet territories occupied by early 1942, including all of Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova and most Russian territory west of the line Leningrad-Moscow-Rostov, contained about three million Jews, including hundreds of thousands who had fled Poland in 1939.  Members of the local populations in certain occupied Soviet territories participated actively in the killings of Jews and others. In Lithuania, Latvia and western Ukraine, locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the very beginning of the German occupation. The Latvian Arajs Kommando was an example of an auxiliary unit involved in these killings.

To the south, Ukrainians killed approximately 24,000 Jews. In addition, Latvian and Lithuanian units left their own countries, and committed murders of Jews in Belarus, and Ukrainians served as concentration and death camp guards in Poland. Ustaše militia in Croatian areas also carried out acts of persecution and murder. Ultimately it was the Germans who organized and channelled these local participants in the Holocaust.

Many of the mass killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice. German witnesses to these killings emphasized the participation of the locals. The massacres committed by the Einsatzgruppen were usually justified under the grounds of anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the German historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this was merely an excuse for the German Army's considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia and the terms "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" were indeed correct labels for what happened. Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenceless men, women and children for the reasons of racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.

Army co-operation with the SS in anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and intensive. In the summer of 1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade commanded by Hermann Fegelein during the course of "anti-partisan" operations in the Pripyat Marshes killed 699 Red Army soldiers, 1,100 partisans and 14,178 Jews. Before the operation, Fegelein had been ordered to shoot all adult Jews while driving the women and children into the marshes. After the operation, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the rear areas of Army Group Centre ordered on 10 August 1941 that all Wehrmacht security divisions when on anti-partisan duty to emulate Fegelein's example, and organized in Mogilev between 24–26 September 1941 a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar on how best to murder Jews The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews at village called Knjashizy before the assembled officers as an example of how to "screen" the population for partisans. As the war diary of the Battalion 322 read:

The action, first scheduled as a training exercise was carried out under real-life conditions (ernstfallmässig) in the village itself. Strangers, especially partisans could not be found. The screening of the population, however resulted in 13 Jews, 27 Jewish women and 11 Jewish children, of which 13 Jews and 19 Jewish women were shot in co-operation with the Security Service
The most notorious massacre of Jews in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.[125] The killing of all the Jews in Kiev was decided on by the military governor (Major-General Friedrich Eberhardt), the Police Commander for Army Group South (SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln) and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. The killings were carried out by a mixture of SS, SD and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police. In addition, men of the 6th Army through they not did participate in the killings, played a key role in rounding up the Jews of Kiev and transporting them to be shot at Babi Yar.[126]
On Monday, the Jews of Kiev gathered by the cemetery, expecting to be loaded onto trains. The crowd was large enough that most of the men, women, and children could not have known what was happening until it was too late; by the time they heard the machine gun fire, there was no chance to escape. All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and then shot.

A truck driver described the scene, as one after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and outer garments and also underwear ... Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep ... When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot ... The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun ... I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other ... The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.

In August 1941 Himmler travelled to Minsk, where he personally witnessed 100 Jews being shot in a ditch outside the town, an event described by Karl Wolff in his diary. "Himmler's face was green. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his cheek where a piece of brain had squirted up onto it. Then he vomited." After recovering his composure, he lectured the SS men on the need to follow the "highest moral law of the Party" in carrying out their tasks.


New methods of mass murder

Starting in December 1939, the Nazis introduced new methods of mass murder by using gas. First, experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed trunk compartment, were used to kill mental care clients of sanatoria in Pomerania, East Prussia, and occupied Poland, as part of an operation termed Action T4. In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, larger vans holding up to 100 people were used from November 1941, using the engine's exhaust rather than a cylinder. These vans were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and another 15 of them were used by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet Union. These gas vans were developed and run under supervision of the Reich Main Security Office, and were used to kill about 500,000 people, primarily Jews, but also Romani and others. The vans were carefully monitored and after a month of observation a report stated that "ninety seven thousand have been processed using three vans, without any defects showing up in the machines".

A need for new mass murder techniques was also expressed by Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, who noted that this many people could not be simply shot. "We shall have to take steps, however, designed in some way to eliminate them." It was this problem which led the SS to experiment with large-scale killings using poison gas. Finally, Christian Wirth seems to have been the inventor of the gas chamber.


German Public

In his 1983 book, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw examined the Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life) in Bavaria during the Nazi period. Describing the attitudes of most Bavarians, Kershaw argued that the most common viewpoint was indifference towards what was happening to the Jews. Kershaw argued that most Bavarians were vaguely aware of the Shoah, but were vastly more concerned about the war than about the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". Kershaw made the analogy that "the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference".

Kershaw's assessment that most Bavarians, and by implication most Germans, were indifferent to the Shoah faced criticism from the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, an expert on public opinion in Nazi Germany, and the Canadian historian Michael Kater. Kater contended that Kershaw downplayed the extent of popular antisemitism, and that though admitting that most of the "spontaneous" antisemitic actions of Nazi Germany were staged, argued that because these actions involved substantial numbers of Germans, it is wrong to see the extreme antisemitism of the Nazis as coming solely from above. Kulka argued that most Germans were more antisemitic than Kershaw portrayed them in Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, and that rather than "indifference", "passive complicity" would be a better term to describe the reaction of the German people.

In a study focusing only on the views about Jews of Germans opposed to the Nazi regime, the German historian Christof Dipper in his 1983 essay "Der Deutsche Widerstand und die Juden" (translated into English as "The German Resistance and the Jews" in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 16, 1984) argued that the majority of the anti-Nazi national-conservatives were antisemitic. Dipper wrote that for the majority of the national-conservatives "the bureaucratic, pseudo-legal deprivation of the Jews practiced until 1938 was still considered acceptable". Though Dipper noted no one in the German resistance supported the Holocaust, he also commented that the national-conservatives did not intend to restore civil rights to the Jews after the planned overthrow of Hitler. Dipper went on to argue that, based on such views held by opponents of the regime, "a large part of the German people...believed that a "Jewish Question" existed and had to be solved...".

Robert Gellately has argued that the German civilian population were, by and large, aware of what was happening. According to Gellately, the government openly announced the conspiracy through the media and civilians were aware of its every aspect except for the use of gas chambers. In contrast, some historical evidence indicates that the vast majority of Holocaust victims, prior to their deportation to concentration camps, were either unaware of the fate that awaited them or were in denial; they honestly believed that they were to be resettled.

Motivation

In his 1965 essay "Command and Compliance", which originated in his work as an expert witness for the prosecution at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, the German historian Hans Buchheim wrote there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will. Buchheim wrote that chances to avoid executing criminal orders "...were both more numerous and more real than those concerned are generally prepared to admit...", and that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were sent to concentration camps or executed. Moreover, SS rules prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism, as Himmler wished for his men to remain "decent", and that acts of sadism were taken on the individual initiative of those who were either especially cruel or who wished to prove themselves ardent National Socialists. Finally, he argued that those of a non-criminal bent who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group they had joined and were afraid of being branded "weak" by their colleagues if they refused.

In his 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, Christopher Browning examined the German Ordnungspolizei Reserve Battalion 101, used to massacre and round up Jews for deportation to the Nazi death camps. The men of the battalion were middle-aged men of working-class background from Hamburg, who were unfit for military duty and were given no special training for genocide. The commander of the unit gave his men the choice of opting out of direct participation if they found it too unpleasant (for example, by being part of a passive cordon round the area of the killing). The majority chose not to exercise that option— fewer than 15 men out of a battalion of 500 did so. Influenced by the work of Stanley Milgram, Browning argued that the men of the battalion killed out of obedience to authority and peer pressure, not blood-lust or hatred. The general implication of the book is that when placed in a cohesive group setting, most people will obey commands given by an authority-figure seen as legitimate, even if they find them morally reprehensible— a hypothesis studied in the Milgram Experiment.


The Russian historian Sergei Kudryashov studied the guards trained at the Trawniki concentration camp, who provided the bulk of personnel for the Operation Reinhard death camps. Some Trawniki guards were Red Army POWs who volunteered to join the SS in order to get out of the POW camps.[152] The majority of the Trawniki men were Ukrainians or Volksdeutche, though there were also Russians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Tartars, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis amongst them. Kudryashov reported that he found there was little sign of antisemitism or any attraction to National Socialism among the Trawniki men, many of whom prior to their capture had been Communists. Despite the generally apathetic views of the Trawniki guards, the vast majority faithfully carried out the SS's expectations of how to mistreat Jews; the mistreatment of Jews by the Trawniki guards was "systematic and without any particular cause". Many, though not all of the Trawniki men executed Jews, and almost all of them while working as guards in the Operation Reinhard camps personally killed dozens of Jews. Following Christopher Browning, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of ordinary people becoming willing killers out of peer pressure and obedience to authority

Extermination Camps
During 1942, in addition to Auschwitz, five other camps were designated as extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) for the carrying out of the Reinhard plan. Two of these, Chełmno and Majdanek were already functioning as labor camps: these now had extermination facilities added to them. Three new camps were built for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of Jews as quickly as possible, at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. A seventh camp, at Maly Trostinets in Belarus, was also used for this purpose. Jasenovac was an extermination camp where mostly ethnic Serbs were killed.

Extermination camps are frequently confused with concentration camps such as Dachau and Belsen, which were mostly located in Germany and intended as places of incarceration and forced labor for a variety of enemies of the Nazi regime (such as Communists and homosexuals). They should also be distinguished from slave labor camps, which were set up in all German-occupied countries to exploit the labor of prisoners of various kinds, including prisoners of war. In all Nazi camps there were very high death rates as a result of starvation, disease and exhaustion, but only the extermination camps were designed specifically for mass killing.

There was a place called the ramp where the trains with the Jews were coming in. They were coming in day and night, and sometimes one per day and sometimes five per day . . . Constantly, people from the heart of Europe were disappearing, and they were arriving to the same place with the same ignorance of the fate of the previous transport. And the people in this mass . . . I knew that within a couple of hours . . . ninety percent would be gassed.

— Rudolf Vrba, who worked on the Judenrampe in Auschwitz from August 18, 1942 to June 7, 1943.
The extermination camps were run by SS officers, but most of the guards were Ukrainian or Baltic auxiliaries. Regular German soldiers were kept well away.

According to Rudolf Höß, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents in the side walls, releasing toxic HCN, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höß, who estimated that about one third of the victims died immediately. Joann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears.

The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted with pliers by dentist prisoners, and women's hair was cut. The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashe The work was done by the Sonderkommando, which were work units of Jewish prisoners. In crematoria 1 and 2, the Sonderkommando lived in an attic above the crematoria; in crematoria 3 and 4, they lived inside the gas chambers. When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims' mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into the furnace alive as punishment.

At first, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In the spring of 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.

According to Rudolf Höß, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents in the side walls, releasing toxic HCN, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höß, who estimated that about one third of the victims died immediately. Joann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears.

The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted with pliers by dentist prisoners, and women's hair was cut. The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashed. The work was done by the Sonderkommando, which were work units of Jewish prisoners. In crematoria 1 and 2, the Sonderkommando lived in an attic above the crematoria; in crematoria 3 and 4, they lived inside the gas chambers. When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims' mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into the furnace alive as punishment.

At first, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In the spring of 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.


Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants.

Children of tender years were invariably exterminated, since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact.

Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.
Rudolf Höß, Auschwitz camp commandant, Nuremberg testimony.

Hilberg argued against overstating the extent of Jewish resistance, or using all-encompassing definitions of it like that deployed by Gilbert. "When relatively isolated or episodic acts of resistance are represented as typical, a basic characteristic of the German measures is obscured", namely that the merciless slaughter of peaceable innocent people is turned into some kind of battle. "The inflation of resistance has another consequence which has been of concern to those Jews who have regarded themselves as the actual resisters. If heroism is an attribute that should be assigned to every member of the European Jewish community, it will diminish the accomplishment of the few who took action." Finally, the blending of the passive majority with the active few was "not merely a form of dilution, which blurred the multitudinous problems of organizing a defense in a cautious, reluctant Jewish community; it was also a way of shutting off a great many questions about that community, its reasoning and survival strategy." Without posing these questions, Jewish history could not be written.

The most famous example of Jewish armed resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of January 1943, when thousands of poorly armed Jewish fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks before being crushed by overwhelmingly superior forces. According to Jewish accounts, several hundred Germans were killed, while the Germans claimed to have lost 17 dead and 93 wounded. 13,000 Jews were killed during the uprising, and 57,885 were deported and gassed according to German figures. This uprising was followed by the uprising in the Treblinka extermination camp in May 1943, when about 200 inmates escaped from the camp after overpowering the guards. They killed a number of German guards and set the camp buildings ablaze, but 900 inmates were also killed, and out of the 600 who successfully escaped, only 40 survived the war. Two weeks later, there was an uprising in the Białystok Ghetto. In September, there was a short-lived uprising in the Vilna Ghetto. In October, 600 Jewish prisoners, including Jewish Soviet prisoners of war, attempted an escape at the Sobibor death camp. The prisoners killed 11 German SS officers and a number of camp guards. However, the killings were discovered, and the inmates were forced to run for their lives under heavy fire. 300 of the prisoners were killed during the escape. Most of the survivors either died in the minefields surrounding the camp or were recaptured and executed. About 60 survived and joined the Soviet partisans. On 7 October 1944, 250 Jewish Sonderkommandos (laborers) at Auschwitz attacked their guards and blew up Crematorium IV with explosives that female prisoners had smuggled in from a nearby factory. Three German guards were killed during the uprising, one of whom was stuffed into an oven. The Sonderkommandos attempted a mass breakout, but all 250 were killed soon after.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jewish partisans (see the list at the top of this section) actively fought the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe. They engaged in guerilla warfare and sabotage against the Nazis, instigated Ghetto uprisings, and freed prisoners. In Lithuania alone, they killed approximately 3,000 German soldiers. As many as 1.4 million Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies. Of these, approximately 40% served in the Red Army. About 200,000 Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army died in the war. The Jewish Brigade, a unit of 5,000 Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine, fought in the British Army. German-speaking Jewish volunteers from the Special Interrogation Group performed commando and sabotage operations against the Nazis behind front lines in the Western Desert Campaign.

In occupied Poland and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. In Lithuania and Belarus, an area with a heavy concentration of Jews, and also an area which suited partisan operations, Jewish partisan groups saved thousands of Jewish civilians from extermination. No such opportunities existed for the Jewish populations of cities such as Budapest. However in Amsterdam, and other parts of the Netherlands, many Jews were active in the Dutch Resistance. Timothy Snyder wrote that "Other combatants in the Warsaw Uprising were veterans of the ghetto uprising of 1943. Most of these Jews joined the Home Army; others found the People's Army, or even the antisemitic National Armed Forces. Some Jews (or Poles of Jewish origin) were already enlisted in the Home Army and the People's Army. Almost certainly, more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943."

Joining the partisans was an option only for the young and the fit who were willing to leave their families. Many Jewish families preferred to die together rather than be separated.

French Jews were also highly active in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities, assisted the Allies in their sweep across France, and supported Allied including Free French forces in the liberation of many occupied French cities. Although Jews made up only one percent of the French population, they made up fifteen to twenty percent of the French Resistance. The Jewish youth movement EEIF, which had originally shown support for the Vichy regime, was banned in 1943, and many of its older members formed armed resistance units. Zionist Jews also formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, and smuggled Jews out of the country. Both organizations merged in 1944, and participated in the liberation of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble, and Nice.

Budapest, Hungary – Captured Jewish women in Wesselényi Street, 20–22 October 1944
Heydrich was assassinated in Prague in June 1942. He was succeeded as head of the RSHA by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Kaltenbrunner and Eichmann, under Himmler's close supervision, oversaw the climax of the Final Solution. During 1943 and 1944, the extermination camps worked at a furious rate to kill the hundreds of thousands of people shipped to them by rail from almost every country within the German sphere of influence. By the spring of 1944, up to 8,000 people were being gassed every day at Auschwitz.


Despite the high productivity of the war industries based in the Jewish ghettos in the General Government, during 1943 they were liquidated, and their populations shipped to the camps for extermination. The largest of these operations, the deportation of 100,000 people from the Warsaw Ghetto in early 1943, provoked the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was suppressed with great brutality. Approximately 42,000 Jews were shot during the Operation Harvest Festival on 3–4 November 1943. At the same time, rail shipments arrived regularly from western and southern Europe. Few Jews were shipped from the occupied Soviet territories to the camps: the killing of Jews in this zone was left in the hands of the SS, aided by locally recruited auxiliaries. In any case, by the end of 1943 the Germans had been driven from most Soviet territory.

Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation after the Battle of Stalingrad at the end of 1942 and the escalating Allied air attacks on German industry and transport. Army leaders and economic managers complained at this diversion of resources and at the killing of irreplaceable skilled Jewish workers. By 1944, moreover, it was evident to most Germans not blinded by Nazi fanaticism that Germany was losing the war. Many senior officials began to fear the retribution that might await Germany and them personally for the crimes being committed in their name. But the power of Himmler and the SS within the German Reich was too great to resist, and Himmler could always evoke Hitler's authority for his demands.
n October 1943, Himmler gave a speech to senior Nazi Party officials gathered in Posen (now Poznań in western Poland). Here he came closer than ever before to stating explicitly that he was intent on exterminating the Jews of Europe:

"I may here in this closest of circles allude to a question which you, my party comrades, have all taken for granted, but which has become for me the most difficult question of my life, the Jewish question ... I ask of you that what I say in this circle you really only hear and never speak of ... We come to the question: how is it with the women and children? I have resolved even here on a completely clear solution. I do not consider myself justified in eradicating the men—so to speak killing them or ordering them to be killed—and allowing the avengers in the shape of the children to grow up ... The difficult decision had to be taken, to cause this people to disappear from the earth."
The scale of extermination slackened somewhat at the beginning of 1944 once the ghettos in occupied Poland were emptied, but on 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary, and Eichmann was dispatched to Budapest to supervise the deportation of Hungary's 800,000 Jews. Hitler had personally complained to the Hungarian regent Admiral Miklós Horthy on the previous day, 18 March 1944, that:  "Hungary did nothing in the matter of the Jewish problem, and was not prepared to settle accounts with the large Jewish population in Hungary."  More than half of them were shipped to Auschwitz in the course of the year. The commandant, Rudolf Höß, said at his trial that he killed 400,000 Hungarian Jews in three months.

Escapes, publication of existence (April–June 1944)


Escapes from the camps were few, but not unknown. In 1940, the Auschwitz commandant reported that "the local population is fanatically Polish and . . . prepared to take any action against the hated SS camp personnel. Every prisoner who managed to escape can count on help the moment he reaches the wall of a first Polish farmstead." According to Ruth Linn, however, escapees, particularly Jewish ones, could not rely on help from the local population or the Polish underground.

In February 1942, an escaped inmate from the Chełmno extermination camp, Jacob Grojanowski, reached the Warsaw Ghetto, where he gave detailed information about the Chełmno camp to the Oneg Shabbat group. His report, which became known as the Grojanowski Report, was smuggled out of the ghetto through the channels of the Polish underground to the Delegatura, and reached London by June 1942. It is unclear what was done with the report at that point. In the meantime, by 1 February, the United States Office of War Information had decided not to release information about the extermination of the Jews because it was felt that it would mislead the public into thinking the war was simply a Jewish problem.

By at least 9 October 1942, British radio had broadcast news of gassing of Jews to the Netherlands. In December 1942, the western Allies released the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, that described how "Hitler's oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe" was being carried out and which declared that they "condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination."

In 1942, Jan Karski reported to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He met with Polish politicians in exile including the prime minister, as well as members of political parties such as the Socialist Party, National Party, Labor Party, People's Party, Jewish Bund and Poalei Zion. He also spoke to Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, and included a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met the then-well-known journalist Arthur Koestler. He then traveled to the United States and reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was a major factor in informing the West.

In July 1943, Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt about the situation in Poland. During their meeting Roosevelt suddenly interrupted his report and asked about the condition of horses in occupied Poland. He also met with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, and Stephen Wise. Karski also presented his report to media, bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch), members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without success. Many of those he spoke to did not believe him, or supposed that his testimony was much exaggerated or was propaganda from the Polish government in exile.

News about gassing Jews was also published in illegal newspapers of the Dutch resistance, like in the issue of Het Parool of 27 September 1943. However, the news was so unbelievable that many assumed it was merely war propaganda. The publications were halted because they were counter-productive for the Dutch resistance. Nevertheless, many Jews were warned that they would be murdered, but as escape was impossible for most of them, they preferred to believe that the warnings were false.


In September 1940, Captain Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish underground and a soldier of the Polish Home Army, worked out a plan to enter Auschwitz and volunteered to be sent there, the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz. He organized an underground network Związek Organizacji Wojskowej (translation: "Union of Military Organizations") that was ready to initiate an uprising but it was decided that the probability of success was too low for the uprising to succeed. UMO's numerous and detailed reports became later a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz with information that became the basis of a two-part report in August 1943 that was sent to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in London. The report included details about the gas chambers, about "selection", and about the sterilization experiments. It stated that there were three crematoria in Birkenau able to burn 10,000 people daily, and that 30,000 people had been gassed in one day. The author wrote: "History knows no parallel of such destruction of human life." When Pilecki returned to Poland after the war the communist authorities arrested and accused him of spying for the Polish government in exile. He was sentenced to death in a show trial and was executed on 25 May 1948.

Before Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz the most spectacular escape took place on 20 June 1942, when Ukrainian Eugeniusz Bendera and three Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart made a daring escape. The escapees were dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, fully armed and in an SS staff car. They drove out the main gate in a stolen Rudolf Hoss automobile Steyr 220 with a smuggled first report from Witold Pilecki to Polish resistance about the Holocaust. The Germans never recaptured any of them.

Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, Jewish inmates, escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944, eventually reaching Slovakia. The 32-page document they dictated to Jewish officials about the mass murder at Auschwitz became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. Vrba had an eidetic memory and had worked on the Judenrampe, where Jews disembarked from the trains to be "selected" either for the gas chamber or slave labor. The level of detail with which he described the transports allowed Slovakian officials to compare his account with their own deportation records, and the corroboration convinced the Allies to take the report seriously.

Two other Auschwitz inmates, Arnost Rosin and Czesław Mordowicz escaped on 27 May 1944, arriving in Slovakia on 6 June, the day of the Normandy landing (D-Day). Hearing about Normandy, they believed the war was over and got drunk to celebrate, using dollars they'd smuggled out of the camp. They were arrested for violating currency laws, and spent eight days in prison, before the Judenrat paid their fines. The additional information they offered the Judenrat was added to Vrba and Wetzler's report and became known as the Auschwitz Protocols. They reported that, between 15 and 27 May 1944, 100,000 Hungarian Jews had arrived at Birkenau, and had been killed at an unprecedented rate, with human fat being used to accelerate the burning.

The BBC and The New York Times published material from the Vrba-Wetzler report on 15 June 20 June 3 July and 6 July 1944. The subsequent pressure from world leaders persuaded Miklós Horthy to bring the mass deportations of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz to a halt on 9 July, saving up to 200,000 Jews from the extermination camps.

On 14 November 2001, in the 150th anniversary issue, The New York Times ran an article by former editor Max Frankel reporting that before and during World War II, the Times had maintained a strict policy in their news reporting and editorials to minimize reports on the Holocaust. The Times accepted the detailed analysis and findings of journalism professor Laurel Leff, who had published an article the year before in the Harvard International Journal of the Press and Politics, that The New York Times had deliberately suppressed news of the Third Reich's persecution and murder of Jews. Leff concluded that New York Times reporting and editorial policies made it virtually impossible for American Jews to impress Congress, church or government leaders with the importance of helping Europe's Jews.


Death marches (1944–1945)


By mid 1944, the Final Solution had largely run its course. Those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May, Himmler claimed in a speech that "The Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany." During 1944, in any case, the task became steadily more difficult. German armies were evicted from the Soviet Union, the Balkans and Italy, and German forces—as well as forces aligned with them—were either defeated or were switching sides to the Allies. In June, the western Allies landed in France. Allied air attacks and the operations of partisans made rail transport increasingly difficult, and the objections of the military to the diversion of rail transport for carrying Jews to Poland more urgent and harder to ignore.

At this time, as the Soviet armed forces approached, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, any surviving inmates being shipped west to camps closer to Germany, first to Auschwitz and later to Gross Rosen in Silesia. Auschwitz itself was closed as the Soviets advanced through Poland. The last 13 prisoners, all women, were killed in Auschwitz II on 25 November 1944; records show they were "unmittelbar getötet" ("killed outright"), leaving open whether they were gassed or otherwise disposed of.

Despite the desperate military situation, great efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened in the camps. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated, and Polish farmers were induced to plant crops on the sites to give the impression that they had never existed. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches" until the last weeks of the war.

Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, prisoners were forced to march for tens of miles in the snow to train stations; then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in freight trains with open carriages; and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.

The largest and best-known of the death marches took place in January 1945, when the Soviet army advanced on Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at Auschwitz, the SS marched 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzislaw, 56 km (35 mi) away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way. Elie Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, were among the marchers:

Liberation

The first major camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on 23 July 1944. Chełmno was liberated by the Soviets on 20 January 1945. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on 27 January 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on 11 April; Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April; Dachau by the Americans on 29 April; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on 8 May. Treblinka, Sobibor, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the U.S. 7th Army said of Dachau: "There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind."

In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,600 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.

The BBC's Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen:
Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which . . . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . . . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live . . . A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms . . . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Death Tolls

The number of victims depends on which definition of "the Holocaust" is used. Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia write in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust that the term is commonly defined as the mass murder of more than 5 million European Jews. They further state that 'Not everyone finds this a fully satisfactory definition.' According to Martin Gilbert the total number of victims is just under six million—around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time.

Broader definitions include approximately 2 to 3 million Soviet POWs, 2 million ethnic Poles, up to 1,500,000 Romani, 200,000 handicapped, political and religious dissenters, 15,000 homosexuals and 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, bringing the death toll to around 11 million. The broadest definition would include 6 million Soviet civilians, raising the death toll to 17 million. R.J. Rummel estimates the total democide death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million. Other estimates put total casualties of Soviet Union's citizens alone to about 26 million.

Jewish Holocaust death toll as a % of the total pre-war Jewish population
ews
5.9 million

Soviet POWs
2–3 million

Ethnic Poles
1.8–2 million

Romani
220,000–1,500,000

Disabled
200,000–250,000

Freemasons
80,000

Slovenes
20,000–25,000

Homosexuals
5,000–15,000

Jehovah's
Witnesses
2,500–5,000