“The Final Solution”–An Essay by Martin Gilbert
[NOTE: Internal references are to other articles included in the Oxford Companion to World War II]
Final Solution (Endlösung) was the term used for the murder of six million Jews during the Second World War. These Jews were citizens of every pre-war state in Europe. Their Jewishness had been defined by the German Nuremberg Laws of 1935 as any person with one Jewish grandparent. Many were Jews only by the Nazi definition; in their own eyes they were Germans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen, and so on. A number had been practising Christians for several generations.
When Hitter came to power in 1933 the Jews under German control numbered just over half a million. Hitler and his Nazi Party were pledged to create a Germany in which the German Jews would be set apart from their fellow-Germans, and denied their place as an integral part of German life and culture. The concept of racial purity was paralleled with the stimulation of racial hatred, to create the image of the German Jew as different, alien, and dangerous.
The first measure based upon this Nazi ideology was the expulsion of German Jews from many hundreds of villages and small towns in which they lived and worked, and in which their ancestors had lived for many centuries; the first record of Jews in the Rhineland precedes the Hitler era by more than a thousand years. This first solution of what the Nazis called the ‘Jewish Question’ (Judenfrage) was to make hundreds of municipalities ‘Jew-free’ (Judenrein). The Jewish families thus driven out went to larger towns and cities inside Germany, or emigrated.
Emigration was the second ‘solution’ approved by the Nazis for the Jewish Question. From 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939, the official policy of the German government permitted, and even encouraged, emigration. The property of the Jews who left, their shops, their livelihoods, their homes and their furniture, became part of the spoils of racism. Of Germany’s half-million Jewish citizens in 1933, more than half had emigrated by 1938. Of these, more than 100,000 found refuge in the USA, 63,000 in Argentina, 52,000 in the UK and 33,000 in Palestine.
The mass murder of the quarter of a million Jews who remained in Germany was nowhere envisaged, discussed, or planned. Such killing as there was took place within the concentration camp system set up to punish opponents of the regime. In the years 1933 to 1938 fewer than a hundred Jews were among several thousand German citizens murdered in concentration camps (principally at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Dachau).
With the annexation of Austria in March 1938 and of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939 (see CZECHOSLOVAKIA) the number of Jews under German rule increased by another quarter of a million. Still there was no policy of mass murder. Such violence as there was remained on a relatively small scale. In November 1938, 91 Jews were murdered throughout Greater Germany during the night of looting and burning known as the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ (Kristallnacht). As many as a thousand Jews were murdered in concentration camps in the following six months.
In the eyes of the German government, the ‘solution’ to the increased number of Jews within the Reich remained emigration. More than 100,000 of Austria’s 160,000 Jews now emigrated; most of them to the UK, the USA, and Palestine, to which they took their talent in many professions, including scientists, doctors, writers, and musicians.
Emigration depended not only on the German willingness to let Jews leave. but also on the willingness of other states to take them in. Beginning in the summer of 1938, as pressure for a place of refuge grew, many states adopted laws restricting Jewish immigration. Another problem for the Jews who left Germany was that they could not know which countries would remain safe; the tens of thousands of Jews who found refuge in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, for example (as did the German-Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family), could not know that the countries which took their in would, in due course, be overrun by Germany.
With the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 (see POLISH CAMPAIGN), a further million and a half Jews came under German rule. During the murder in the streets of more than 10,000 Polish civilians in September and October 1939, an orgy of slaughter unprecedented in Europe in the 20th century, 3,000 Polish Jews were among those killed; some of them were forced into synagogues and then burnt alive. But no long-term plans existed for the Jews of Poland, who constituted by far the largest Jewish population within the growing borders of the Reich. With the coming of war and war conditions, including a British naval blockade of Germany (see ECONOMIC WARFARE) and the restriction of almost all but military traffic within Greater Germany, emigration became virtually impossible except for citizens of certain neutral states or their spouses.
Gradually, during the winter of 1939 and the early months of 1940, a third ‘solution’ emerged, to be applied to the Jews of Poland. They would be expelled from several thousand localities in which they had lived hitherto, and made to live in restricted areas. A medieval concept, that of the ghetto, was revived. But whereas in medieval times the ghetto, such as the one in Venice, was a centre of Jewish creativity, under the Nazi scheme it was a place of confinement and poverty.
From the spring of 1940 Jews throughout German-occupied and annexed Poland were driven out of the towns and villages in which they had lived for centuries, and sent to specially-designated areas in certain towns. They were also driven out of many parts of the principal cities, such as Warsaw and Lódz, in which they had lived hitherto, and were forced into an area which was too small for their numbers, often lacking adequate sanitary facilities, and deliberately so. The food ration imposed upon them was even smaller than that imposed upon the non-Jewish inhabitants of Poland. Anyone trying to leave the ghetto, or trying to smuggle food into the ghetto, faced execution.
By April 1941 ghettos had been enforced throughout German-occupied Poland. By June the death toll from starvation had reached 2,000 a month in the Warsaw Ghetto (where half a million Jews were confined), and 800 a month in the Lódz Ghetto (where a quarter of a million were confined). This was in itself a horrifying ‘solution’, the murder of whole communities of people by slow starvation, though at the rate of death in the ghettos, the total destruction of Polish Jewry would take 20 years or more. No other solution was then in prospect. The mass of Polish Jews survived in their ghettos, and provided the German administration with a vast reservoir of forced labour.
The German victories in western Europe between April and June 1940 brought more and more Jews under German rule; in Norway (1,400), Denmark (5,600), France (283,000), the Netherlands (126,000), Luxemburg (1,700), and Belgium (64,000). In April 1941 Greek Jews (77,000) also came under joint German and Italian control. These western European and Balkan Jews were subjected to civic disabilities, and obliged to a yellow badge on their clothing to identify them (another medieval practice revived). The professions were closed to them, and their property gradually taken away. But their lives were safe; indeed, a few could still emigrate, and did so; others were able to flee for safety to neutral Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey.
In June 1941 the German Army invaded the Soviet Union (see BARBAROSSA). Immediately following the troops were special killing squads or Einsatzgruppen, whose orders were to murder Jews in every locality. This was the fourth ‘solution’ after expulsion, emigration, and ghettoization. It led, within six months, to the murder of as many as a million Jews. The aim of the killing squads was to eliminate Jewish life altogether. In hundreds of small villages in what, up to 1939, had been eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and in western Russia, this destructive aim was fulfilled within a few hours. The killing was made easier by the active participation of local police and paramilitary groups, especially in Lithuania and the Ukraine. In Bessarabia, Moldavia, and parts of southern Russia, the killing was carried out by Romanians.
In cities with large Jewish populations, thousands were murdered within a few days; at Kiev, a total of 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were killed in three days, having been taken to Babi Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of the city, and machine-gunned. Tens of thousands of Jews were shot down in ditches, gravel pits, and fields near every town and village in the vast area through which the Germans advanced in the summer and autumn of 1941.
These killing places, some of them pre-war beauty spots, quickly became synonymous with mass murder: Ponar near Wilno, Kaiserwald near Riga, the Ninth Fort at Kovno, the Ratomskaya ravine at Minsk, and the Drobitsky ravine at Kharkov were five of the most terrible. Other cities with large Jewish populations, such as Kishinev and Odessa, were likewise the scene of massive slaughter.
By October 1941 each of the four ‘solutions’ so far put into practice was still in effect. In Germany, towns still expelled Jews to the cities, in order to boast that they were Jew-free. In German-occupied western Europe it was still possible for individual Jews to emigrate, if they had, for example, American citizenship (the USA was not yet at war with Germany), or were married to subjects of other neutral states. In German-occupied Poland, more than two million Jews were still confined to ghettos, many of them forced to work in factories manufacturing clothing for the German Army. In former Czechoslovakia, a so-called ‘model’ ghetto was established, on 10 October 1941, in the l8th-century fortress at Theresienstadt. Jews were deported there from Prague, Brno, and several hundred other towns and villages in Bohemia and Moravia.
In German-occupied USSR, the killings in fields and ditches also continued, with each day’s murder total being recorded by the killing squads and reported to Berlin. On 24 October 1941, for example, 4,000 Jews were taken from Wilno to Ponar and murdered there during the following three days; according to the precise statistics submitted by the killing squad as a matter of routine to Berlin, the murdered Jews included 885 children.
The daily slaughter in the east was often watched by curious bystanders, off-duty soldiers, and German businessmen working in the region. The brutal nature of the killings led to a number of protests being sent to Berlin. One protest, dated 27 October, was forwarded to Berlin by Wilhelm Kube, the commissioner-general of Belorussia (whose headquarters were in Minsk) with the comment ‘To have buried alive seriously wounded people, who then worked their way out of their graves again, is such extreme beastliness that this incident must be reported to the Führer.’
Even as these protests reached Berlin, a fifth solution was under discussion there. This was intended to be the ‘final’ solution, the aim of which was the murder of all Jews living in Europe. It would be ‘final’ in that once it had been carried out, there would be no more Jews alive in Europe, and therefore no need for any further solution.
Since the German annexation of Austria in March 1938, the bureaucratic aspects of the emigration of Jews had been entrusted to a small government department in Berlin, the ‘Central Office for Jewish Emigration’, headed by an SS officer, Adolf Eichmann. In the autumn of 1941, Eichmann was put in charge of a new department, the ‘Race and Resettlement Office’, a section of the RSHAs Amt IV, and was entrusted with the task of preparing the mechanics of the final solution. In an official letter to the German foreign office about an emigration application from a Jewish woman who wished to move from Germany to the unoccupied zone of France, he explained (on 28 October 1941) that the application had to be turned down ‘in view of the approaching final solution of the European Jewry problem’.
Henceforth, this phrase ‘final solution’ was to appear in many official documents. The ‘solution’ itself was as follows: Jews living throughout Europe, whether confined in the Polish ghettos or still living in their own homes in western Europe, were to be rounded up (wherever possible this was to be done by French, Dutch, Belgian, or other local police), detained locally in special holding camps, and then deported by train to distant camps in which they would be murdered by gas. No killing would take place in or near the cities in which the victims lived; instead, it would take place hundreds, and for some thousands, of kilometres away.
During the autumn of 1941 experiments were made on Soviet prisoners-of-war, and also on Jews, to find out the most expeditious method of murder by gas; the one in which the victims would have the least warning, if any, and in which the least number of operatives would be needed. Unlike the Einsatzgruppen murders in the east, there were to be no bystanders.
Central to this plan were the elements of secrecy and deception. ‘Deportation’ was to be called ‘resettlement’. The area in which this ‘resettlement’ was to take place was to be called ‘somewhere in the East’. The trains taking the deportees were to be called ‘Special Resettlement Trains’. The nature of the camps was to be kept secret, even from those who had to drive the trains to within a few kilometres of them.
Two methods of mass murder were devised. The first was by means of gas vans in which the deportees would be taken as if on a journey to a labour camp, but would in fact be killed by exhaust fumes during the short drive from the station to the camp itself. The second was by means of specially-designed gas chambers, into which they would be taken as if for a shower, and inside which, once the doors were locked, they would be killed by gas (see ZYKLON-B). The process of gassing was to be totally disguised; many of the gas chambers were to have signs on them such as ‘shower room’ or ‘washing room’.
The camp sites chosen for the reception and murder of the deported Jews were in remote areas, four in German-occupied Poland and one in occupied USSR. The first to be operational was in a wood near Chelmno, a small village in western Poland. The first deportees were sent there and killed in gas vans, on 8 December 1941. On that day 2,300 Jews were murdered at Chelmno. In the coming months, at least a thousand were killed each day, most of them brought by train from the Lúdz Ghetto and the towns around Lúdz, until as many as 400,000 had been killed.
On 20 January 1942, six weeks after the start of the daily deportations and gassings at Chelmno, a group of senior German civil servants gathered at a villa near Berlin, in the suburb of Wannsee, to co-ordinate the activities of the various government departments, including the state railways, the foreign office and the ‘Race and Resettlement Office’, all of whose active cooperation was needed to carry out the deportation of Jews from throughout Europe. Statistics were prepared for the Wannsee conference by Eichmann, giving the number of Jews whom it was hoped would be rounded up and deported. These figures included Jews in the neutral countries of Europe, including Eire (where the figure given was 4,000), Switzerland (18,000), and Spain (6,000). Also included on the Wannsee list were the Jews of Britain, estimated by Eichmann at 330,000. All were to be brought into the net of deportation and destruction.
Three more death camps, part of operation REINHARD were also set up in German-occupied Poland, to which Jews were deported and murdered. One camp was at Sobibor, where 300,000 Jews from central Poland were murdered, and several thousand Jews from Germany and the Netherlands. Another camp was at *Belzec, where, beginning in March 1942, 600,000 Jews from western and eastern Galicia, including Cracow and Lwów, were murdered, as well as 1,500 Poles, killed for trying to help Jews. The third camp was at Treblinka, where at least 700,000 Polish Jews were murdered, including half a million from the Warsaw Ghetto, from which the first deportations took place on 22 July 1942. Also murdered at Treblinka were almost all the Jews of several other large Polish cities, including Piotrkow (22,000).
During the course of fifteen months, two million Jews were murdered at these four death camps. A further million had been murdered by the Einsatzgruppen in the east. As a result of this systematic killing, the Jewish populations of Poland, the Baltic States, and the USSR as far east as the Caucasus, had been almost entirely destroyed by the beginning of 1943. The few Jews still alive in those regions worked in forced-labour camps, at specific tasks needed by the German Army.
The Final Solution, so effective in the east, was also intended to include all the Jews of western Europe. Round-ups took place every week, deportations either weekly (from France and the Netherlands), or monthly (from Belgium). All those who were rounded up were deported by train to the east. Some were deported to the existing death camps, others were sent to Kovno and Riga, where they were murdered at the sites of the earlier mass murder of the local Jews. At Riga, gas vans were used.
Among the Jews deported to Treblinka and murdered were 8,000 from Theresienstadt and 12,000 from 23 Balkan Jewish communities in distant Macedonia and Thrace; they traced their origins to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. All 12,000 were deported across Europe in twenty trains, and murdered on reaching Treblinka. Other Jews, possibly as many as 250,000, and including 22,000 from Theresienstadt, were deported from western Europe to Maly Trostenets, a small village outside the Belorussian city of Minsk, where they were killed in gas vans similar to those used at Chelmno and Riga. Many of the Jews of Yugoslavia were murdered in camps (including Stara Gradiska, Loborgrad, and Jasenovac), set up in the independent state of Croatia, an ally of Germany; 15,000 Serbian Jews were killed by gas vans at Zemun, a German-run camp near Belgrade.
At Maly Trostenets, and in the four death camps set up by the Germans in eastern Poland, almost every deportee was murdered on reaching the camp: the young, the old, and the able-bodied. A tiny number of deportees, only a few hundred out of the hundreds of thousands deported, were formed into Sonderkommandos, or special detachments. They were kept in a special section of each camp, under heavy guard, and forced to take the bodies of those killed to pits where they were buried or burned; or to sort out the clothes of those who had been murdered for shipment back to Germany. These slave-labourers were then murdered in their turn.
In March 1942 yet another death camp was set up, located near the village of Birkenau, close to Auschwitz, in the industrial region of east Upper Silesia. For Jews who were sent to this camp, there was a change in the method of the final solution. The region, rich in coal, was part of German-annexed Poland. Several hundred German factories had been relocated here; they, and the existing coal mines, required slave labour on a substantial scale. Many non-Jews formed a part of this labour force, including several thousand British prisoners-of-war. But the need for even more manpower had become urgent, as Germany approached its third year at war, and had still failed either to conquer the USSR or to invade the UK.
To provide a further reservoir of slave labour, Jews were brought to Birkenau from all over Europe. Unlike the murder system already in operation at the existing death camps, not every deportee to Birkenau was murdered. While all children, all old people, and the sick, were taken from the deportation trains and sent straight to the gas chambers, several hundred able-bodied men and women from each deportation train (sometimes as many as 500 in a train with a thousand deportees) were separated from those about to be killed, and had a serial number tattooed on their forearm; at least in the short term their lives were spared; they were sent to barracks from which they would go each day to their slave labour tasks.
The camp at Birkenau consisted of a large area of wooden huts and brick barracks, and two (later four) gas chambers, attached to which were crematoria in which the bodies of those murdered were burned almost at once. Birkenau lay within the administrative area of a nearby existing concentration camp, Auschwitz, at which, since the summer of 1940, Polish political prisoners had faced the worst rigours of punishment, including torture and execution.
Some Polish Jews had already been among the victims at Auschwitz. But Birkenau was established for Jews alone, and with a view to continuing the Final Solution, already so effective elsewhere, by the murder of at least half of those who arrived in each deportation train. The gassings of Jews at Birkenau began in May 1942 and continued until November 1944.
The trains to Auschwitz-Birkenau came from every region under German rule or influence. Usually there were a thousand deportees in each train. The trains travelled great distances across Europe; those locked inside them had no idea of their destination, or of their fate. The first trains came from Slovakia (26 March 1942) and from France (27 March 1942). In both instances, local police, Slovak and French, carried out the task of rounding up Jews, assembling them, and putting them on the trains. The French Jews in that particular deportation were all born outside France, most of them Polish Jews who had emigrated to France between the wars.
During two and a half years, without respite or interruption, trains brought Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau from as far north as Norway, as far west as the Atlantic coast of France, as far south as Rome, Corfu, and Athens, as far east as Transylvania and Ruthenia. Among the large Jewish communities murdered almost in their entirety at Birkenau were those of the Greek city of Salonika (more than 40,000 murdered), the Polish city of Bialystok (more than 10,000), the Greek island of Corfu (1,800), and the Aegean island of Rhodes (1,700). More than 44,000 Jews from Theresienstadt were also deported to Birkenau and killed; as were several thousand Jews who had earlier been incarcerated in the German prewar concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. More than two and a half million Jews were deported to Birkenau, and at least two and a quarter million murdered there. In addition to those taken straight from the trains to the gas chambers, at least three-quarters of the slave labourers were among the victims, toiled to death, killed by sadistic guards, or sent to the gas chambers when they fell sick.
The aim of the Final Solution was to murder all the Jews of Europe. In this it failed, despite the terrifyingly high death toll. In June 1944 the Anglo-American forces landed in Normandy (see OVERLORD), and the Red Army was on the border of eastern Galicia. Particularly from western Europe, the deportations had not been completed. From France, 83,000 Jews had been deported and murdered, but 200,000 were still alive, many of them sheltered from deportation by their fellow French citizens. From Italy, 8,000 Jews had been deported to their deaths, but 35,000 were still in Italy at the end of the war, and thus survived. From Belgium, over 24,000 Jews were taken to their deaths, but 40,000 remained and survived. Elsewhere, the ratio of survivors to those murdered was much worse. Only 20,000 Dutch Jews remained undeported; 106,000 were deported and killed. Of Yugoslavia’s Jews, 60,000 were killed, and only 12,000 survived. From Greece, 65,000 were taken to their deaths, and only 12,000 survived.
Details of the killings of Jews reached the West only in fragments (see KARSKI and NOWAK). Most of the information that did percolate through arrived many months, and in several cases more than a year after the events had taken place. Publicity was given to the details as they emerged, but publicity could not halt the killings, which were taking place deep in the heartland of German-occupied Europe, far beyond the range of Allied bombers, and almost three years before the Allied armies were able to advance into central Europe. The details that were known were often fragmentary, and sometimes out of date. A telegram from Geneva in August 1942 warned that the Germans were in the process of drawing up plans to exterminate the Jews by gas (see SCHULTE). In fact, those plans had already been in operation for eight months.
In the autumn of 1942 news of the deportations from France was widely publicized in the British newspapers, and universally denounced. But the destination of the deportees was unknown, referred to as ‘somewhere in the East’. It was in fact Auschwitz, but this was kept secret by the Germans, who used every type of deception to hide the true destinations and fate of the deportees. Details of the killing of Jews at Auschwitz II (Birkenau) did not reach Geneva, London, and New York until the summer of 1944, a full two years after the killings had begun. International protest against the deportation and killing of Hungarian Jews was then effective, but only because the tide of war had turned, and Allied aircraft could at last reach Budapest. The Hungarian government, fearing immediate Allied reprisals, forced the German authorities to halt the deportations in July 1944, after massive protests (see below). Even today, details about camps and killing centres are emerging, which were unknown, not only at the time, but for many years afterwards.
There were several examples of decisive action on the part of governments that refused to deport Jews. All 50,000 Bulgarian Jews survived the war because King Boris and the Bulgarian parliament refused the German request to send them to the camps in Poland. In Denmark, with the encouragement of King Frederik IX (1899-1972) almost all 5,500 Jews were taken during a single night by small boats across the narrow water to neutral Sweden, and safety. After the first fifteen deportees from Finland had been murdered, the Finnish government rejected all German pressure to deport the remaining 2,000 Jews, many of whom were refugees from Germany and Central Europe.
Mussolini’s Italy likewise refused repeated German pressure to deport Jews, as did the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Horthy. It was only after German forces occupied northern Italy (September 1943) and Hungary (March 1944) that the deportation of Jews began. After 400,000 Jews had been deported to their deaths from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau, within the space of three months, Horthy, under pressure from Pope Pius XII, from King Gustav V of Sweden (1858-1950), and from the western Allies, demanded a halt to any further deportations. More than 300,000 Hungarian Jews were thereby saved; though several thousand were subsequently murdered by Hungarian Fascist gangs such as the Arrow Cross (see HUNGARY, 3), others were saved from the gangs by the intervention of several foreign diplomats in Budapest, including the senior Swedish representative in the city, Raoul Wallenberg.
Like each of the captive peoples of Europe, the Jews were subjected to all the rigours of occupation, as well as the total isolation imposed on the ghettos. Nevertheless, their resistance to deportation was widespread. Best known is the Warsaw rising of April 1943. Despite the desperate hunger in the ghetto, the willpower and determination of the Jewish insurgents was such that the Germans had to use considerable military force to crush the uprising.
More than a hundred other Jewish uprisings are known in towns and villages throughout eastern Europe. There were also acts of defiance in every death camp. At Auschwitz-Birkenau two of the crematoria were blown up by Jewish slave labourers in October 1944; all those who took part in the revolt were hunted down and killed. Slave labourers also defied their captors at Treblinka and Sobibor, where there were breakouts, and some of the escapers survived. Other Jews managed to escape from the ghettos into the forests, and to join, and even to form, partisan units, harassing German lines of communication, and trying to protect small groups of women and children who had also escaped. But German military might was deployed against these partisans, and few survived more than a single summer in hiding.
Beginning in September 1944, with the approach of the Soviet Army, large numbers of Jewish slave labourers were evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau and the surrounding industrial zone. Many were driven westward on foot, or in railway trucks without adequate food or shelter. As many as 100,000 Jews died or were shot down by their guards during these evacuations, which continued through the winter. The marchers were sent to central Germany, to build and to work in vast underground factories, and at other slave labour projects intended to help halt the advance of the western Allies, who by January 1945 had reached the Rhine. Many of those on the death marches were toiled and beaten to death in these factories and the camps attached to them (one of the most notorious was Mittelbau-Dora). Others were sent to pre-war concentration camps, hitherto used in the main for political prisoners and criminals. In these camps they were the object of sadistic cruelty and neglect.
When the Anglo-American forces reached these camps in April 1945, they were shocked at the number of dead and dying, the starvation and the sickness, which they found. It was the liberation of these camps (among them Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen), that for the first time brought photographic evidence to the west. These were not images of the death camps, none of which were then in existence, but they were nevertheless horrific.
An estimated 300,000 European Jews survived the camps and death marches. Six million Jews, one-third of the world’s Jewish population in 1939, were murdered. Most of the survivors left Europe for the USA, South America, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Palestine. There they sought to rebuild their lives, learn new languages, start new families, and live with the continuing torment of the memory of mass murder, and the destruction of their own loved ones and communities.
In many countries, museums and memorials have been set up to remember the victims of the Final Solution, which is known in Yiddish as the Destruction (Churban), in Hebrew as the Catastrophe (Shoah), and, more generally, as the Holocaust. Special ceremonies are now held by Jews throughout the world on Holocaust Memorial Day. The anniversaries of Kristallnacht, and of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, are also widely commemorated.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, several dozen camp commandants and functionaries were executed, some on the spot, others after trials. Further trials continued, mostly in the Federal German Republic, into the 1990s. In 1988, legislation was passed in Canada and Australia to bring to trial perpetrators of mass murder; in 1991 the British parliament approved similar legislation. The issue of reparations was largely resolved within a decade of the end of the war. On 10 September 1952, in Luxemburg City Hall, Israel and West Germany (both of them states which had been created after the war) signed the Luxemburg Treaty, under which the West German government agreed to pay substantial sums of money both to Israel and to Jewish organizations, as reparation for ‘material damage’ suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Communist East Germany refused to participate in this agreement, but in 1990 the newly-established non-communist government of East Germany (subsequently merged with that of West Germany) agreed in principle to the payment of reparations to surviving Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
Several thousand Jews were saved from deportation and death by non-Jews who, at the risk of their own lives, hid and helped them. On 19 August 1953 the Israeli parliament passed a law making it the duty of the State of Israel to recognize the work done by non-Jews in saving Jewish lives during the war. An expression of honour, ‘Righteous among the Nations’, was awarded, in the name of the Jewish people, to every non-Jewish person or family who had risked their lives to save Jews. Evidence of such action has to come initially from one of those who were actually saved. At Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial and archive in Jerusalem, an ‘Avenue of the Righteous’ was begun in 1962, where each non-Jew who is honoured plants a tree, or has a tree planted in his or her name. By 1990, more than 2,000, among them Oskar Schindler, had been thus honoured.
A substantial literature about the Final Solution exists, much of it published in the 1980s and in large part the testimony of survivors. Several ghetto diaries and chronicles have been found and published, including the mass of material assembled in the Warsaw Ghetto by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum and his circle, all of whom perished during the war. Further volumes of the recollections of survivors are published every few days; each one adds something to our existing knowledge of the fate of an estimated ten thousand Jewish communities throughout Europe, whose lives, and also whose life and culture, was destroyed between 1939 and 1945.
From The Oxford Companion to World War II. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by I.C.B. Dear and Oxford University Press
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