December 1941–July 1942

On December 15, 1941, the SS Struma, with 769 Jewish refugees from Romania on board, was towed into Istanbul harbor and put under quarantine. The ship, a rickety schooner originally built in the 1830s, patched up over the decades and equipped with a small engine that hardly enabled it to sail on the Danube, had left Constanta, on the Black Sea, a week beforehand and somehow made it to Turkish waters, after several mechanical failures.1

Five days later the British ambassador in Ankara, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, gave a wrong impression of British policy to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official: “His Majesty’s Government did not want these people in Palestine,” the ambassador declared, “they have no permission to go there, but…from the humanitarian point of view, I did not like his [the Turkish official’s] proposal to send the ship back into the Black Sea. If the Turkish government must interfere with the ship on the ground that they could not keep the distressed Jews in Turkey, let her rather go towards the Dardanelles [on the way into the Mediterranean]. It might be that if they reached Palestine, they might, despite their illegality, receive humane treatment.”2

The ambassador’s message provoked outrage in official circles in London. The sharpest rebuff came from the colonial secretary, Lord Moyne, in a letter sent on December 24 to the parliamentary undersecretary at the Foreign Office, Richard Law: “The landing [in Palestine] of seven hundred more immigrants will not only be a formidable addition to the difficulties of the High Commissioner…but it will also have a deplorable effect throughout the Balkans in encouraging further Jews to embark on a traffic which has now been condoned by His Majesty’s Ambassador…. I find it difficult to write with moderation about this occurrence which is in flat contradiction of established Government policy, and I should be very glad if you could perhaps even now do something to retrieve the position, and to urge that [the] Turkish authorities should be asked to send the ship back to the Black Sea, as they originally proposed.” The Colonial Office’s argument was and would remain throughout that Nazi agents could infiltrate Palestine under the guise of Jewish refugees.3

As weeks went by the British decided to grant visas to Palestine to the seventy children on board. The Turks however, remained adamant: None of the refugees would be allowed to disembark. On February 23 they towed the boat back into the Black Sea. Soon thereafter a torpedo, almost certainly fired by mistake from a Soviet submarine, hit the ship: The Struma sank with all its passengers, except for one survivor.4

“Yesterday evening,” Sebastian noted on February 26, “a Rador dispatch reported that the Struma had sunk with all on board in the Black Sea. This morning brought a correction in the sense that most of the passengers—perhaps all of them—have been saved and are now ashore. But before I heard what had really happened, I went through several hours of depression. It seemed that the whole of our fate was in this shipwreck.”5

During the first half of 1942, the Germans rapidly expanded and organized the murder campaign. Apart from the setting up of the deportation, selection, extermination, and slave labor systems as such (or expanding already existing operations), the “Final Solution” also implied major political-administrative decisions: establishing a clear line of command regarding the responsibility for and the implementing of the extermination, as well as determining the criteria for the identification of the victims. It also demanded negotiated arrangements with various national or local authorities in the occupied countries and with the Reich’s allies. Throughout these six months (once again a time of German military successes), no major interference with the increasingly more obvious aims of the German operation took place either in the Reich, in occupied Europe, or beyond. And, during the same period, the Jews, under tight control, segregated from their environment and often physically debilitated, waited passively, in the hope of somehow escaping a fate that looked increasingly ominous but that, as before, the immense majority was unable to surmise.


On December 19, 1941, Hitler dismissed Brauchitsch and personally took over the command of the army. During the following weeks the Nazi leader stabilized the Eastern Front. But despite the hard-earned respite and despite his own rhetorical posturing, Hitler probably knew that 1942 would be the year of “last chance.” Only a breakthrough in the East would turn the tide in favor of Germany.

On May 8, 1942, the first stage of the German offensive started in the southern sector of the Russian front. After Army Group South withstood a Soviet counteroffensive near Kharkov and inflicted heavy losses on Marshal Semyon Timoshenko’s divisions, the German forces rolled on. Once again the Wehrmacht reached the Donets. Farther south Manstein recaptured the Crimea, and by mid-June, Sebastopol was surrounded. On June 28 the full-scale German onslaught (Operation Blue) began. Voronezh was taken, and while the bulk of the German forces moved southward toward the oil fields and the Caucasus foothills, Friedrich Paulus’s Sixth Army advanced along the Don in the direction of Stalingrad. In North Africa, Bir Hakeim and Tobruk fell into Rommel’s hands, and the Afrika Korps crossed the Egyptian border: Alexandria was threatened. On all fronts—and in the Atlantic—the Germans heaped success on success; so did their Japanese allies in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia. Would the strategic balance tip to Hitler’s side?

In the meantime the Nazi leader’s anti-Jewish exhortations continued relentlessly, broadly hinting at the extermination that was unfolding and endlessly repeating the arguments which, in his eyes, justified it. Raging anti-Jewish assaults surfaced in literally all Hitler’s major speeches and utterances. The overwhelming fury that had burst out in October 1941 did not abate. In most cases the “prophecy” reappeared, with some particularly vile accusations added for good measure. The Führer’s harangues could sound to some Germans, other Europeans, and Americans like undiluted madness; obversely, though, they may have convinced others that the pitiful groups of Jews marching to the “assembly points” with their suitcases and bundles throughout the streets of European towns, were but the deceitful incarnations of a hidden satanic force—“the Jew”—ruling over a secret empire extending from Washington to London and from London to Moscow, threatening to destroy the very sinews of the Reich and the “new Europe.”

The prophecy had been present, let us recall, as 1942 started and Hitler addressed his New Year’s message to the nation.6 On January 25 historical “insights” and unusually open remarks about the fate of the Jews were volunteered for the benefit of two cognoscenti, Lammers and Himmler: “It must be done quickly,” Hitler told them. “The Jew must be ousted from Europe. If not, we shall get no European cooperation. He incites everywhere. In the end I don’t know: I am so immensely humane [Ich bin so kolossal human]. At the time of papal rule in Rome, the Jews were mistreated. Until 1830 every year eight Jews were driven through the city on donkeys. I only say: he [the Jew] must go. If he is destroyed in the process, I can’t help it. I see only one thing: total extermination, if they do not leave voluntarily. Why should I look at a Jew any differently from a Russian prisoner? In the prisoners’ camps many die, because we have been pushed into this situation by the Jews. But what can I do? Why did the Jews start this war?”7

On January 30, 1942, in the ritual yearly address to the Reichstag, this time delivered at the Berlin Sportpalast, Hitler reverted in full force to his seer’s rhetoric: “We should be in no doubt that this war can only end either with the extermination of the Aryan peoples or with the disappearance of Jewry from Europe.” And, after again reminding the audience of his prophecy, Hitler went on: “For the first time, the ancient Jewish rule will now be applied: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’” Thereupon messianic ardor took hold of the Nazi leader: “World Jewry should know that the more the war spreads, the more anti-Semitism will also spread. It will grow in every prisoner-of-war camp, in every family that will understand the reasons for which it has, ultimately, to make its sacrifices. And, the hour will strike when the most evil world enemy of all times will have ended his role at least for a thousand years.”8 The millennial vision of a final redemption capped off the litany of hatred.

The Volk’s intuition was unerring. A general SD opinion report of February 2 showed how well the January 30 speech had been understood. The population interpreted Hitler’s use of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” as proof that their Führer was “pursuing his campaign against Jewry with inexorable single-mindedness to its very end and that soon the last Jew would be expelled from European soil.”9 According to a February 21 report from Minden, people were saying: “When one speaks to soldiers about the East, one recognizes that here, in Germany, the Jews are treated much too humanely. The right thing would be to exterminate the entire brood” [Es wäre das richtige, die ganze Brut müsste vernichtet werden].10

In Warsaw, Kaplan also understood the main thrust of Hitler’s speech: “The day before yesterday,” he noted on February 2, “we read the speech the Führer delivered celebrating January 30, 1933, when he boasted that his prophecy was beginning to come true. Had he not stated that if war erupted in Europe, the Jewish race would be annihilated? This process has begun and will continue until the end is achieved. For us the speech serves as proof that what we thought were rumors are in effect reports of actual occurrences. The Judenrat and the Joint have documents which confirm the new direction of Nazi policy toward the Jews in the conquered territories: death by extermination for entire Jewish communities.”11

Hitler’s apocalyptic vision surfaced once again in his February 24 message to the “Old Fighters” assembled in Munich for the annual gathering celebrating the proclamation of the party program. The Nazi leader bandied his prophecy once more. They had been a small group of “believers,” the leader told the party inner core, who as early as in 1919 “had not only recognized the international enemy of humankind, but also fought him.” Much had changed since those heroic beginnings, and now their ideas were embraced by powerful states. The messianic incantation followed: “Whatever the present struggle may bring or whatever its duration may be, this will be its final outcome [the extermination of the Jews]. And only then, after the elimination of these parasites, the suffering world will attain a long period of understanding among nations and thus achieve true peace.”12 On the March 15, “Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers” (Heldengedenktag), Hitler’s furious anti-Jewish campaign went on, as threatening as ever.

Again and again the Nazi leader announced the extermination of the Jews, and each time many Germans understood perfectly well that he meant it. Thus, after reading the February 24 speech in the next day’s Niedersächsische Tages Zeitung (NTZ), Karl Dürkefälden, an employee in an industrial enterprise near Hannover, noted Hitler’s threats in his diary; in his view the threats had to be taken seriously, and he quoted the title given to the Nazi leader’s speech in the NTZ: “The Jew will be exterminated” (Der Jude wird ausgerottet).13 A few days beforehand Dürkefälden had listened to a speech by Thomas Mann, broadcast on the BBC, in which the writer had mentioned the gassing of 400 young Dutch Jews. Dürkefälden commented that such gassings were entirely credible given Hitler’s constant harangues against the Jews.14 In other words, as early as during the first months of 1942, even “ordinary Germans” knew that the Jews were being pitilessly murdered.

As usual Goebbels was his master’s voice, but he was also the scribe of his master’s private tirades and, at times, a keen observer on his own. On January 13, for example, he noted that a people was defenseless against the Jewish threat if it lacked the right “anti-Semitic instinct”: “That,” he added, “cannot be said of the German people.”15 At each of his meetings with Hitler, the minister was invariably told that the Jews had to be eradicated: “Together with Bolshevism,” Hitler declared to his minister on February 14, “Jewry will undoubtedly experience its great catastrophe. The Führer declares once again that he has decided to do away ruthlessly with the Jews in Europe. In this matter one should not have any sentimental impulses. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that they are now experiencing. We must accelerate this process with cold determination, as in so doing we render a priceless service to humanity, which for millennia was tortured by Jewry. This clear-cut anti-Jewish position must also be impressed upon one’s own people against all willfully opposed groups. The Führer repeated this explicitly, somewhat later, to a gathering of officers.”16

On March 7 the minister alluded for the first time to the Wannsee conference. Twenty days later he recorded the sequence of the extermination process: “Starting with Lublin, the Jews are now being deported from the General Government to the East. The procedure used is quite barbaric and should not be described in any further detail. Not much remains anymore of the Jews themselves. In general terms one has to admit that some 60 percent have to be liquidated, whereas only 40 percent can be used for work. The former Gauleiter of Vienna [Globocnik], who is in charge of this operation, proceeds quite cautiously and in a way that does not draw much attention. The Jews are being subjected to a sentence that is barbaric, but they have fully deserved it. The prophecy that the Führer made to them for provoking a new world war starts to come true in the most terrible way. In these things no sentimentality should be allowed. If we didn’t defend ourselves, the Jews would exterminate us. It is a life-or-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish microbe. No other government and no other regime would have been able to muster the strength to find a general solution to this issue. Here too the Führer is the unswerving pioneer and spokesman of a radical solution, which the state of things requires and which appears, therefore, as unavoidable. Thank God, during the war we now have a whole range of possibilities that we couldn’t use in peacetime; we have to exploit them. The ghettos of the General Government that are being liberated will now be filled with Jews deported from the Reich and, after a certain time, the same process will take place again. Jewry has nothing to laugh about and the fact that its representatives in England and America organize and propagate the war against Germany must be paid for very dearly by its representatives in Europe; this also is justified.”17

In the crescendo of anti-Jewish abuse and threats that Hitler unceasingly spewed, his most “encompassing” speech was his Reichstag address of April 26, 1942. In a meeting with Goebbels the morning of that day, the Nazi leader once again launched into the Jewish question. “His position regarding this problem is inexorable” Goebbels noted. “The Jews have brought so much suffering to our part of the world that the hardest punishment would still remain too mild. Himmler now organizes the vast transfer of the Jews from the German cities to the eastern ghettos. I ordered that many films should record it. We will urgently need this material for the future education of our people.”18

The “Great German Reichstag” convened at the Kroll Opera House at three p.m.; it was to be its last meeting.19 Right from the beginning of his speech, Hitler set the “historical framework” of his entire address. This war, he proclaimed, was not an ordinary one in which nations fight each other in the pursuit of their specific interests. This was a fundamental confrontation “the like of which shakes the world once in a thousand years and ushers a new millenium.” As for the pitiless enemy confronted in this apocalyptic struggle, it had, of course, to be the Jews. Hitler reminded his audience of the Jews’ evil role in World War I and since: They pushed America into the conflict, they were behind Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” in 1918, and they brought Bolshevism to “the heart of Europe.”

But no paraphrase can render the fury of the original: “We know the theoretical principles and the horrible reality of the aims of this world plague. It is called the dictatorship of the proletariat but it is the dictatorship of Jewry!…If Bolshevik Russia is the visible product of this Jewish infection, one should not forget that democratic capitalism creates the preconditions for it,” Hitler thundered on. “Here the Jews prepare what the same Jews complete in the second act of this process. In the first phase they turned the masses in their millions into helpless slaves or—as they say themselves—into a despoiled proletariat. Afterward they incite this fanaticized mass to destroy the very foundations of its own state. The extermination of the national elites follows and, finally, so does the liquidation of all the cultural creations that, over the millennia, molded the traditions of these peoples…. What remains after all of this is the beast in humanity and a Jewish layer that reached leadership but that in the end, as the parasite, destroys the ground which nurtured it. It is against this process, which Mommsen called the decomposition of states by the Jews, that the awakening new Europe has declared war.”20

A major surprise followed the end of the speech. Göring introduced the text of a resolution granting the Führer extraordinary new powers, particularly in the judicial domain. Hitler was to be the supreme judge, the supreme source of the law and of its implementation. Why the Nazi leader felt the need for this repeat performance of the so-called Ermächtigungsgesetz [the Enabling Act of 1933] seemed unclear at the time, as his power was unchallenged in any case. Goebbels, like many other commentators, dwelled on this particular aspect of the meeting. “The new law,” the propaganda minister commented, “is accepted by the Reichstag with jubilant unanimity. Now the Führer has the full powers to do whatever he considers right. It has been confirmed once again by the representatives elected by the people. Thus, no judge and no general will dare to question the Führer’s full powers any longer.21 Goebbels knew as well as Hitler did that the winter crisis that had barely been overcome, was the portent of increasingly difficult times…Klemperer, for one, noticed the other part of the speech, writing: “The concentration of hatred has this time turned into utter madness. Not England or the USA or Russia—only, in everything, nothing but the Jew.”22 Both aspects of the speech may in fact have been linked.

It could be that, as full-scale mass extermination was now starting, Hitler wanted to avoid the slightest possibility of another threat of criminal charges (as the one brandished by Bishop Galen in his sermon against the murder of the mentally ill in August 1941). The German Jews, let us remember, remained subjects of the Reich as long as they had not left German territory: Lodz and Chelmno were in newly annexed German territory—and so was Auschwitz. On May 4, just a few days after the Reichstag meeting, 10,000 Jews from the Reich and the Protectorate were transported from the Lodz ghetto to the Chelmno gas vans.

“A proper understanding of Jews and Judaism cannot but demand their total annihilation,” Volk und Rasse proclaimed in May 1942.23 In Der Angriff of that same month, Ley’s threats competed with his master’s prophecies: “The war will end,” the labor minister announced to the 300,000 readers of the weekly magazine, “with the extermination of the Jewish race.”24 A few days later the same minister spelled out his threats once more: “The Jews will pay with the extermination of their race in Europe,” he clamored in Das Reich of June 6, 1942.25

The Kaufman story seems to have kept its hold on the Volk’s imagination. Thus a March 15, 1942, SD report from Bielefeld about the general attitude of the population to the war emphasized that “thanks in particular to the extraordinarily effective influence of propaganda, it has become clear to all that the Jew is the instigator of this war and bears the responsibility for the endless misery that it causes to so many Volksgenossen. The acceptance of this view by such wide parts of the population is due in no small measure to the propagation of the text of the American Jew Kaufmann [sic].”26

The upsurge in anti-Jewish hatred noted in Bielefeld probably explains why the Völkischer Beobachter of April 30, 1942, could, without qualms, carry a detailed article (thinly veiled as rumor) by its war correspondent Schaal about SD operations in the East: “The rumor has spread among the population that it is the task of the Security Police to exterminate the Jews in the occupied territories. The Jews were assembled in the thousands and shot; beforehand they had to dig their own graves. At times the execution of the Jews reached such proportions that even members of the Einsatzkommandos suffered nervous breakdowns.”27

On May 8 School Councillor Dr. Borchers lectured to an assembly of school directors in Erfurt; the topic: “What do we need to know about bolshevism to be able to teach it to the children?” The lecture on bolshevism dealt with the Jews, starting with Abraham, continuing with Moses, and onward with the penetration of Jewry into all civilized nations, infecting them with its pestilential breath. Step by step the lecturer moved from one deadly Jewish conspiracy to the next until he reached bolshevism, the ultimate means to subvert all states. Borchers’s finale was of course a hymn to the Führer, who had been the first to recognize the spiritual link between Jewry and bolshevism, who exposed it ruthlessly, and who knew in time how to adapt his policy to these findings.28 This was the message that school directors were asked to impart to their students.

The all-pervasive anti-Jewish hate campaign found a typical expression in the letter addressed on January 20, 1942, by one Karl Gross, party district chief of the small town of Immenhausen, to his boss in Hofgeismar (near Kassel): “Further to your communication dated January 17, 1942, regarding privileged mixed marriages, I hereby inform you that the local inhabitants have taken great exception to the fact that the local woman doctor (a full-blooded Jewess) is not required to wear a Jewish star. The Jewess takes full advantage of this in that she often goes to Kassel by train, second class, and can travel free from interference without the star. The entire population would welcome it if this state of affairs could be remedied in some way. I inform you at the same time that consideration might be given to deporting the local Jewess because her husband (a doctor) is having an affair with an Aryan woman doctor, who is expecting a child by him in the next few weeks. If the Jewess were deported, the Aryan woman doctor could continue to run Dr. Jahn’s household. It might be appropriate to discuss the said circumstances [with him] in person. This could bring about the disappearance of the only Jewess still resident here.”29

We shall come back to the story of Lilly Jahn, born Schlüchterer, to a well-to-do Jewish family from Cologne, herself a successful practicing physician, married to an Aryan colleague, Ernst Jahn. The couple had five children, which indeed put them in the category of a privileged mixed marriage and exempted Lilli from wearing the star. As Gross correctly indicated, at that time Ernst Jahn was openly having an affair with a German woman physician, Rita Schmidt, and the marriage was about to fall apart.


Initially scheduled for December 9, 1941, the high-level meeting convened by Heydrich in Berlin, at the guesthouse of the Security Police, 56-58, Strasse Am Grossen Wannsee, opened at noon on January 20, 1942. It assembled fourteen people: several state secretaries or other high-ranking officials and a few SS officers, including Adolf Eichmann, who had sent the invitations (in Heydrich’s name) and who drew up the minutes of the meeting.30 Some of the invitations pointed to the main purpose of the conference even before it started.

A December 1, 1941, exchange between HSSPF Krüger and the chief of the RSHA had indicated that Hans Frank was manuevering for control of Jewish matters in the General Government.31 As for Rosenberg’s ambition to lord over the Jews in the newly conquered eastern territories, it was notorious, as we saw. Thus the invitations extended to Frank’s second-in-command, Secretary of State Josef Bühler and to Rosenberg’s own number two, Secretary of State Alfred Meyer, were clearly meant to convey to them who would be in charge of the ‘Final Solution.’ To a lesser degree, a similar affirmation of authority may have been intended for State Secretaries Wilhelm Stuckart and Roland Freisler from the Interior and Justice Ministries, whose institutions had an important say in the fate of mixed breeds and mixed marriages and did not automatically follow suggestions from the RSHA.32

Heydrich opened the meeting by reminding the participants of the task Göring had delegated to him in July 1941 and of the ultimate authority of the SS Reichsführer in this matter. The RSHA chief then presented a brief historical survey of the measures already taken to segregate the Jews of the Reich and force them to emigrate. After further emigration had been forbidden in October 1941, given the danger it represented during wartime, Heydrich went on, another solution had been authorized by the Führer: the evacuation of the Jews of Europe to the East. Some 11 million persons would be included, and Heydrich listed this Jewish population, country by country, including all Jews living in the enemy and neutral countries of Europe (Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Sweden).

The evacuated Jews would be assigned to heavy forced labor (like the building of roads) which naturally would greatly reduce their numbers. The remnants, “the strongest elements of the race and the nucleus of its revival,” would have to be “treated accordingly.” To implement the operation Europe would be “combed from West to East,” whereby the Reich would be given priority “because of the housing problem and other sociopolitical considerations.” Jews over sixty-five, war invalids, or Jews decorated with the Iron Cross would be evacuated to the newly established “old people’s ghetto,” Theresienstadt: “This adequate solution would put an end in one stroke to the many interventions.” The beginning of major evacuations would greatly depend on the evolution of the military situation.

The statement regarding the latter was strange and has to be understood in relation to the formula “evacuation to the East,” used from then on to mean extermination. To maintain the linguistic fiction, a general comment about the war was necessary given the impossibility of actual deportations “to the East” in January 1942.

In regard to the extension of the “Final Solution” to occupied or satellite countries, the Foreign Ministry, in cooperation with the representatives of the Security Police and the SD, would negotiate with the appropriate local authorities. Heydrich did not foresee any difficulties in Slovakia or Croatia, where preparations had already begun; an adviser on Jewish affairs needed to be sent to Hungary; as for Italy the RSHA chief deemed it necessary to get in touch with the head of the Italian police. Regarding France, Heydrich, in his initial listing, had mentioned 700,000 Jews from the Vichy zone, which probably meant the inclusion of the Jews of French North Africa. Heydrich expected considerable problems in getting hold of this Jewish population. Undersecretary Martin Luther, the Foreign Ministry delegate, set him straight: No problems were foreseen in Vichy France. On the other hand Luther pointed out (quite correctly) that difficulties would be encountered in the Nordic states; thus, given the small number of Jews involved, the deportations there should be left for a later phase. No potential reaction of any of the Christian churches or of public opinion in general (except, as we shall see, in the neighborhood of the camps) was mentioned.

Up to that point Heydrich’s survey presented both an overly detailed statement on one issue and an obvious gap regarding another. The country-by-country listing of the Jews who would be targeted in the “Final Solution,” including the Jews of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Switzerland, and so on, was of course unnecessary in itself; yet the enumeration had a purpose, nonetheless: It conveyed that every Jew in Europe, wherever that Jew might be living, would eventually be caught. None would escape or be allowed to survive. Moreover, all Jews, everywhere, even in countries or areas still outside Germany’s reach, were and would be subjected to Himmler and Heydrich’s authority.

As for the gap, it was ominous and clear: Able-bodied Jews would be assigned to heavy forced labor and thus decimated; decorated war veterans, invalids, and elderly Jews (from Germany and possibly some Western or Scandinavian countries) would be deported to the “old people’s ghetto” in Theresienstadt (where they would die off). But what of all the others, the unmentioned vast majority of European Jewry? Heydrich’s silence about their fate stated loudly that these nonworking Jews would be exterminated. The discussion that followed the RSHA chief ’s address clearly showed that he was well understood.

Heydrich then moved to the issue of mixed breeds and mixed marriages.33 He systematically attempted to include some groups of Mischlinge and some of the partners in mixed marriages in the deportations, in line with the steady endeavors of party radicals since 1933 to extend the reach of the anti-Jewish measures. In 1935, during the discussions that immediately preceded and followed the proclamation of the Nuremberg laws, the aim of party radicals had been to identify Mischlinge with full Jews as widely as possible; in January 1942 Heydrich’s aim was the same; also, the larger the array of victims, the greater his own power would be.

During the discussion that followed, State Secretary Stuckart of the Ministry of the Interior warned of the considerable amount of bureaucratic work that the Mischlinge and mixed marriage issues would create, and strongly recommended the generalized sterilization of mixed breeds of the first degree as an alternative policy. Moreover, Stuckart favored the possibility of annulling mixed marriages by law. State Secretary Erich Neumann of the Four-Year Plan did not wish Jews working in essential war industries to be included in the evacuations; Heydrich answered that currently this was not the case.

State Secretary Bühler pleaded for starting the evacuations in the General Government where transport was a minor issue, the Jews were mostly not part of the workforce and where, moreover, they were a source of epidemics and of economic instability as black marketeers: The 2.5 million Jews of the General Government should be the first to go. Bühler’s request demonstrates that he perfectly understood what Heydrich had omitted to spell out: The nonworking Jews were to be exterminated in the first phase of the overall plan. Thereupon Frank’s delegate felt the need to add a “loyalty declaration”: The executive authority for the solution of the Jewish question in the General Government was in the hands of the chief of the Security Police and the SD; he was getting full support from all General Government authorities. Bühler demanded once again that in Frank’s kingdom the Jewish question be solved as rapidly as possible.

In the final part of the discussion both Meyer and Bühler stressed that despite the need for preparatory measures in the designated territories, unrest among the local population had to be carefully avoided. The conference ended with Heydrich’s renewed appeal to all the participants to extend the necessary help for implementing the solution.34 Whether during the discussion of the “practicalities” Heydrich volunteered information about Chelmno or about Globocnik’s construction of the first extermination camp in the General Government is not known.

Heydrich’s reference to the decimation of the Jews by way of forced labor, particularly in road building in the East, has for years been regarded as code language designating mass murder. It is likely, however, that at this stage (and of course only in regard to Jews capable of working) the RSHA chief meant what he said: Able-bodied Jews would first be exploited as slave labor given the escalating manpower needs of the German war economy. “Road building” was probably an example of slave labor in general; it may also have been a reference to the building of Durchgangstrasse IV, in which, as we saw, Jewish slave laborers were already used en masse and where they also perished en masse.39 Moreover, either at the end of 1941 or in early January 1942, Hitler ordered the use of Jewish slave labor for the building of roads in the northern part of the occupied Soviet Union.40 This interpretation seems (very indirectly) confirmed by Heydrich’s comments on February 2, 1942, to an assembly of German officials and party representatives in the Protectorate: “We could perhaps [use] those Czechs who cannot yet be Germanized when we further open up the area of the Arctic Sea (Eismer), where we will take over the concentration camps of the Russians, which according to our present knowledge hold some 15–20 million deported inmates and which could become the ideal homeland for the 11 million European Jews. Perhaps there the Czechs who cannot be Germanized—and that would be a positive contribution—could fulfill pro-German tasks as supervisors, foremen, etc.”37 In any case, as Heydrich made amply clear at Wannsee, none of the working Jews would eventually survive.

Did the RSHA chief ensure at the January 20 conference, the exclusive authority of the SS in the implementation of the “Final Solution”? Regarding mixed-breeds and mixed marriages, the Ministry of the Interior and, later, the Ministry of Justice, would continue to push ideas of their own. As a rule however, these ideas applied to a limited number of persons living in the Reich, not to the millions included in the continent-wide scope of the “Final Solution.” In general terms, even if discussions about the fate of mixed-breeds and mixed marriages went on, there is no doubt that, at Wannsee, Himmler’s and Heydrich’s overall authority in the implementation of the “Final Solution” throughout Europe was generally recognized. On the morrow of the conference, Heydrich reported to his chief.38

On January 25, 1942, Himmler informed the inspector of concentration camps, Richard Glücks, that “as no more Russian prisoners of war are expected in the near future,” he would send to the camps “a large number of Jews and Jewesses from Germany (…Make the necessary arrangements for the reception of 100,000 male Jews and up to 50,000 Jewesses into the concentration camps during the next four weeks…).”39 Nothing came of this immediate deportation order. In fact, Himmler’s message to Glücks appears to have been an improvised step, an immediate follow-up to the Wannsee conference. The Reichsführer probably wanted to show that he was firmly in charge and ready to order the next concrete measures. In concrete terms, Himmler’s teletype demonstrated—as did the Wannsee conference as such—that apart from ensuring the cooperation and subordination of all concerned to the SS chief and his delegates, very little had been prepared regarding the continent-wide deportation of the Jews, and very little had been planned ahead of time.

On January 31, Eichmann informed the main Gestapo offices throughout Germany that “the evacuations of Jews that took place recently from several areas of the Reich to the East represented the beginning of the ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish Question in the Old Reich, in Austria, and in the Protectorate.” Yet, Eichmann stressed, “the evacuation measures were initially restricted to especially urgent plans…. New reception sites are presently being arranged with the aim of deporting additional contingents of Jews. Clearly, these preparations would take some time.”40

The fate of mixed-breeds and mixed marriages was discussed again at a meeting that took place on March 6, 1942, in Berlin, at the RSHA headquarters; it was later dubbed “the second ‘Final Solution’ conference.” The meeting was attended by representatives of a large number of agencies; it did not lead to any definitive agreement. Following suggestions made by Stuckart in a circular of February 16, sterilization of mixed-breeds of the first degree and compulsory dissolution of mixed marriages after the Aryan spouse had been given sufficient time to opt freely for divorce were decided, in principle.41 Yet barely were these measures agreed on that they were called into question by the acting minister of justice (since Franz Gürtner’s death in January 1941), Franz Schlegelberger.42 Schlegelberger’s proposals were no more conclusive than Stuckart’s guidelines. In fact both issues were never fully resolved. On the one hand, various exemptions were granted by Hitler himself, whereas on the other, some chance remarks by the Nazi leader about Jewish traits among second-, third-, and fourth-degree Mischlinge led to further exclusions from the Wehrmacht and to even harsher treatment of the mixed-breeds in general. A third conference, convened by the RSHA on October 27, 1942, did not proceed much beyond the March 6 proposals.43 Ultimately, most mixed-breeds were not deported.

On the same March 6, and in the same building of the RSHA, Eichmann convened a meeting of Gestapo delegates from all over the Reich to discuss the further deportation of 55,000 Jews from Germany and the Protectorate. This time the majority of deportees would come from Prague (20,000), from Vienna (18,000), and the remainder from various German cities. It was imperative, Eichmann stressed, that local Gestapo authorities be extremely attentive not to include elderly deportees to avoid a recurrence of previous complaints. A special camp was being established for this category of Jews in Theresienstadt, “in order to save face in regard to the outside world” (Um nach aussen das Gesicht zu währen). Moreover, Eichmann admonished, the Jews should not be informed of the deportations ahead of time. The local Gestapo office would be informed of the departure date only six days in advance, possibly to limit the spreading of rumors and any attempts by Jews to avoid deportation.

After instructing his acolytes how to keep the deportees’ assets for the RSHA as far as possible, despite the Eleventh Ordinance (which transferred their assets to the state), Eichmann dwelled on the transportation difficulties: The only available trains were Russenzüge, which brought workers from the East and returned empty. These trains were set for 700 Russians, but should be filled with 1,000 Jews each.44


Aside from the evolution of the war and of its overall impact, the major factors influencing the course of the “Final Solution” from early 1942 on, were the need for Jewish slave labor in an increasingly overextended war economy on the one hand, and the “security risk” the same Jews represented in Nazi eyes on the other. These issues applied only to a small minority of the Jewish population of Europe but regarding this minority, policies would change several times.

The reorganization and “rationalization” of the German economy (and that of the occupied countries) from a Blitzkrieg economy to an effort adapted to a total and prolonged war became an urgent necessity in view of the global strategic changes during the winter of 1941–42. In February 1942, following the death of Fritz Todt, Hitler appointed Albert Speer as overlord of armaments production, despite Göring’s ambitions in this domain. And on March 31, Hitler named the Gauleiter of Thuringia, Fritz Sauckel, as general plenipotentiary for labor (Generalbevollmächtigter für den Arbeitseinsatz, or GBA). The ruthless deportation to the Reich of millions of forced laborers from all over Europe began (2.7 million by the end of 1942, 8 million by the end of the war).45

The new “rationalization process” also led to changes within the SS system. During the same month of February 1942, the “SS Main Office for Administration and Economy” and the “Main Office for Budget and Construction,” both led by Pohl, were unified and became, under Pohl’s command throughout, the “SS Main Office for Economic Administration” (SS Wirtschaftsverwaltungs-Hauptamt, WVHA). A month later, the WVHA took over the Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps: Section D of Pohl’s Main Office, under Richard Glücks, now administered the entire concentration camp system. However, the “Aktion Reinhardt” camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek at a later stage) remained Globocnik’s domain, and Globocnik himself received his orders from Himmler. Otherwise, as far as the extermination camps were concerned, the WVHA managed the hybrid centers of slave labor and extermination, mainly Auschwitz, but RSHA kept its control over the “political section” of the Upper Silesian camp and thus over all decisions concerning the rate of extermination of the growing number of Jewish inmates. Chelmno stayed in the hands of the Gauleiter of the Wartheland, under Himmler’s direct authority.

In a memorandum submitted to Himmler on April 30, 1942, Pohl stressed the need for a change of policy as a result of the new constraints imposed by the total war economy: “The detention of prisoners for reasons of security, correction and prevention is no longer the first priority. The center of gravity has shifted to the economic side. The mobilization of the labor power of all internees primarily for war tasks (increase of armaments) must take absolute precedence, until such time as it can be used for peacetime assignments. Such being the case, all necessary measures must be taken to transform the concentration camp from an exclusive political organization into one fitted for its economic mission.”46

In that same memorandum Pohl informed Himmler that all instructions about the change of course had been transmitted to the camp commanders and the heads of SS enterprises: In each camp and in each SS plant the work force had from now on to be utilized to the utter limit (on the assumption that there would a sufficient supply of new inmates to replace those who would succumb to the truly exhausting pace). The political section would ensure that the policies regarding Jews be adhered to.47 Thus Heydrich’s scheme was basically intact.

The same policy was increasingly applied to the large ghettos. In Lodz, Sierakowiak had been assigned to a saddler’s workshop. “The ghetto population,” he recorded on March 22, 1942, “has been divided into three categories: “A,” “B,” and “C.” “A”: workshop workers and clerks; “B”: clerks and ordinary laborers; “C”: the rest of the population.48 Wave after wave, the “rest of the population” was shipped to Chelmno.

In the General Government a “substitution” policy developed, at least for a short while: Jewish labor gradually replaced Polish workers sent to the Reich. This policy started around March 1942 and grew in scope over the following months, with the support of the “Armaments Inspectorate” of the Wehrmacht and even of Globocnik’s main deportation and extermination expert, Hermann Höfle.49 It became standard procedure to stop deportation trains from the Reich and Slovakia in Lublin in order to select the able-bodied Jews for work in the General Government; the others were sent on to their death in Belzec. Hans Frank himself seemed more than ready to move from the ideological stand to the pragmatic one: “If I want to win the war, I must be an ice-cold technician. The question what will be done from an ideological-ethnic point of view I must postpone to a time after the war.”50

As Christopher Browning has shown, the new policy led to some improvement in the food supply for the working Jews in the ghettos—and to the rapid extermination of the nonworking population. On May 5, 1942, Bühler declared to the heads of his administration: “According to the latest information, there are plans to dissolve the Jewish ghettos, keep the Jews capable of work, and deport the rest farther east. The Jews capable of work are to be lodged in numerous large concentration camps that are now in the process of being constructed.” Actually Bühler was concerned about the effect of such a reorganization on the working-capacity of the Jews and so did other high-ranking officials of the General Government administration.51

In other words, at the beginning of the summer of 1942, the presence of Jewish labor in the General Government seemed assured; HSSPF Krüger went so far as to promise, in June, “that not only would Jewish workers in the armaments industry be retained but their families would also be.”52 Yet, precisely as Krüger was outlining these new perspectives, German policy regarding Jewish workers was modified once again: The security risk represented by Jewish workers and other able-bodied Jews had become a major issue.

There is no straightforward documentary proof that two unrelated events that followed each other during the second half of May 1942 led to the general acceleration and radicalization of the “Final Solution.” Yet this connection, mentioned in discussions, speeches, and orders, is likely.

On May 18 an incendiary device exploded on the site of the anti-Soviet exhibition, “The Soviet Paradise,” in Berlin’s Lustgarten. Within days the Gestapo caught most members of the small pro-communist “Herbert Baum group,” which had organized the attack. As Goebbels wrote on May 24, “characteristically five [of the members of the group] are Jews, three half-Jews and four Aryans.”53 The propaganda minister then recorded Hitler’s reaction: “He is extraordinarily outraged and orders me to see to it as soon as possible that the Jews of Berlin be evacuated. Speer objects to the inclusion of those Jews who work in the armaments industry; we must find a way to get replacements. It is incidentally quite funny that nowadays we consider the Jews as irreplaceable high-quality workers, whereas not too long ago we constantly declared that Jews did not work at all and understood nothing about work…. Moreover the Führer allows me to arrest 500 Jewish hostages and to react with executions to any new attempts.”54

That same afternoon (May 23) Hitler spoke to the Reichsleiter and Gauleiter assembled at the Reich Chancellery. “The Jews,” the Nazi leader declared, “were determined to achieve victory in this war, under any circumstances, as they know that defeat would mean their personal liquidation…. Now we clearly see what Stalin, in fact as front man for the Jews, had prepared for this war against the Reich.”55

Goebbels remained agitated. On May 28, he recorded that he did not want “to be shot by some 22-year-old Ostjude like one of those types who are among the perpetrators of the attack against the anti-soviet exhibition.”56 After being tortured Baum committed suicide. All the other members of the group were executed. Moreover, 250 Jewish men were shot at Sachsenhausen in reprisal, and a further 250 Berlin Jews were sent to the camp.57

On May 29 the Nazi leader and his propaganda minister once more discussed the attack and its wider implications. “I again present to the Führer my plan to completely evacuate the Jews from Berlin,” Goebbels recorded on the next day. “He is in total agreement and gives the order to Speer to replace the Jews employed in the armament industries with foreign workers as soon as possible. That 40,000 Jews who have nothing to lose can still freely roam around Berlin represents a great danger. It is a challenge and an invitation to assassinations. If this ever starts, then one’s life is not safe anymore. In the most recent fire-bomb attacks, even 22-year-old Eastern Jews participated; this speaks volumes. I plead once again for a more radical policy against the Jews, whereby I encounter the Führer’s complete agreement. The Führer thinks that for us personally the danger will grow if the war situation becomes more critical.”58

After both Hitler and his minister agreed that the situation of the Reich was much better than it had been in 1917 and that, this time no uprisings or strikes threatened in any way, Hitler added that “the Germans participated in subversive movements only when incited by the Jews.”59 Hitler then launched into one of his usual diatribes, stressing the brutality of the Jews and their thirst for vengeance; therefore sending the Jews to Siberia could be dangerous, as under difficult living conditions they could regain their vitality. The best course of action, in his view, would be to send them to Central Africa: “There they would live in a climate that would certainly not make them strong and resistant.”60

The reference to 1917 and the uprisings and strikes was indeed telling: In Hitler’s mind the elimination of the Jews ensured that no repeat performance of the revolutionary activities of 1917–18 would occur; the Baum attempt was a warning: The extermination of the Jews had to be completed as rapidly as possible.

A second event may also have accelerated the extermination process, albeit indirectly. On May 27 Heydrich was fatally wounded by Czech commandos parachuted by the British into the Protectorate; he died on June 4. Five days later, on the day of the state funeral, Hitler ordered the murder of most of the population of Lidice (a village near Prague, where the Germans thought Heydrich’s assailants had hidden). All men aged fifteen to ninety were shot; all women sent to concentration camps, where most of them perished; some children were “germanized” and brought up in German families under new identities; the great majority of the children who did not show Germanic traits were sent to Chelmno and gassed. As for the village, it was leveled to the ground.61 After an interim period during which Himmler himself took over the leadership of the RSHA, he appointed the Austrian Ernst Kaltenbrunner as Heydrich’s successor, in January 1943.62

Himmler met Hitler on June 3, 4, and 5.63 Whether it was during these meetings that the Nazi leader and his henchman decided to accelerate the extermination process and set a deadline for the completion of the “Final Solution” is not known, but seems plausible in light of the Baum attempt and Heydrich’s death. More than ever, the Jews were an internal threat. On June 9, in the course of a lengthy memorial address for the RSHA chief, delivered to a gathering of SS generals, Himmler declared, as if incidentally: “We will certainly complete the migration of the Jews within a year; after that, none of them will wander anymore. It is time now to wipe the slate clean.”64 Then, on July 19, after a two-day visit to Auschwitz, the Reichsführer sent Krüger the following order: The resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the General Government should be implemented and completed by December 31, 1942. On December 31, 1942, no persons of Jewish origin are allowed to stay in the General Government, except if they are in assembly camps in Warsaw, Kraków, Czestochowa, Radom, and Lublin. All projects that employ Jewish labor have to be completed by that date or transferred to the assembly camps.”

The Reichsführer could not leave it at that; he had to adduce some ideological elements to explain this sudden acceleration of the murder process: “These measures are necessary for the separation of races and peoples demanded by the new organization of Europe and for the security and cleanness of the German Reich and of its sphere of interest. Every infraction of these regulations represents a danger for the calm and order in the overall German sphere of interest, a starting point for the resistance movement and a source of moral and physical infection. For all these reasons, the total cleansing is necessary and has to be implemented. Any foreseeable delays have to be reported to me, to allow a timely search for assistance. Any attempt by other agencies to change [these instructions] or seek exceptions have to be submitted personally to me.”65 Himmler was probably alluding to potential demands from the Wehrmacht.


The majority of the Jews of Europe were exterminated after being held for different periods of time (between several months and several years) in camps or assembly areas in the West (Drancy, Westerbork, Malines [Mechlen]) or in ghettos in the East. Most of these concentration or assembly areas were established before general extermination was decided on, but some were set up as part ghettos, part holding pens at the very outset of the “Final Solution”: Theresienstadt, for example, or Izbica, near Lublin.

Theresienstadt (Terezín in Czech), which was to become an assembly camp and the Jewish “model camp” of the concentration and extermination system, was a small fortified town in northern Bohemia that, by the end of 1941, housed some 7,000 German soldiers and Czech civilians; an annex (the small fortress) was already the central Gestapo prison in the Protectorate. At the end of 1941 (November and December) Jewish labor details started preparing Terezín for its new function, and at the very beginning of January 1942, the first transports arrived with around 10,000 Jews.66

An “elder of the Jews” and a council of thirteen members were appointed. The first “elder” was the widely respected Jakob Edelstein. A native of Horodenka in eastern Galicia, Edelstein moved to Czechoslovakia and settled in Teplitz, in the Sudetenland. Politically he turned to socialism, but mainly to Zionism. Although quite unremarkable in appearance and in his professional life as a salesman, Edelstein soon proved to be an able public speaker, much in demand at Zionist meetings.67 Shortly after the Nazi accession to power in Germany, Edelstein was called to head the “Palestine office” in Prague, in other words to assist the growing flow of refugees ready to emigrate to Eretz Israel.

The German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the establishment of the Protectorate led, as we saw, to the setting up of a Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Prague, along the pattern already honed in Vienna, then in Berlin. While the Vienna center was left in the hands of Rolf Günther and Alois Brunner, Eichmann himself took over emigration from the Protectorate together with another Günther brother, Hans.

Edelstein’s common sense—and his courage—made him, de facto, the central personality of Czech Jewry in its contacts with the Germans. In October 1939, he was ordered to head the groups of Jews evacuated from Ostrava to Nisko; the deportees from Austria were shepherded by Storfer, the emigration specialist, and by Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein who, in 1942, would become Edelstein’s problematic colleague in Theresienstadt. The failure of the Nisko attempt brought Edelstein back to Prague.68 Soon thereafter, in March 1941, Eichmann dispatched him together with another member of the Prague community, Richard Friedmann, to advise Asscher and Cohen in Amsterdam on the setting up of their Council. Edelstein tried to warn his Dutch counterparts about the dangers that awaited them, including the possibility of deportations to the East, but to no avail.69

When in the fall of that same year, Heydrich decided to deport the Jews of the Protectorate to an assembly camp on Bohemian territory, Edelstein was naturally chosen to head the “model ghetto.” In mid-December 1941, a few days after Edelstein’s arrival in Theresienstadt, Hans Günther came on an inspection tour: “Now, Jews,” the SS officer declared, “when you are im Dreck [in shit] let’s see what you can do.” The Jews thought that this was a challenge they could handle.70

At the outset the camp leadership was criticized for its Zionist slant; yet the growing number of inmates and the increasing harshness of everyday life soon dampened ideological confrontations, and the Zionist commitment of the majority of the leadership remained unchanged. Thus a twenty-three-year-old teacher in a Jewish school in Prague, Egon “Gonda” Redlich, became head of the Youth Welfare Department. Redlich and his associate Fredy Hirsch (mainly responsible for sports and physical education) created a quasi-autonomous domain of the young for the young (that over time comprised on average three to four thousand youngsters); there in particular a strongly Zionist-inspired youth culture developed.

Nothing, however, could protect either the young or the old from deportation to killing areas or sites. “I heard a terrible piece of news,” Redlich noted in his diary on January 6, 1942, “a transport will go from Terezin to Riga. We argued for a long while if the time had not yet come to say ‘enough.’” Redlich’s next-day entry continued in the same vein: “Our mood is very bad. We prepared for the transport. We worked practically all night. With Fredy’s help, we managed to spare the children from the transport.” And on January 7: “We were not able to work because we were locked in the barracks. I asked the authorities to remove children from the transport and was told that the children will not be traveling…. Our work is like that of the Youth Aliyah [the organized emigration of children and youngsters to Palestine]. There we brought children to freedom. Here we attempt to save the children from death.”71

Saving children from the transports soon became impossible; when Redlich spoke of “death,” he actually did not know what the fate of deportees “to the East” would be. The “counselors” debated whether they should volunteer for the transports, to continue providing assistance and education to their charges. But, in historian Ruth Bondy’s words, “The arguments remained theoretical: in the end, family considerations, and the will to cling to Theresienstadt for as long as possible, prevailed.”72 On January 10 Redlich noted: “Yesterday we read in the orders of the day that another ten transports will go. There is reason to believe that an additional four will also depart.” He added: “An order of the day: nine men were hanged. The reason for the order: they insulted German honor.”73

As the summer of 1942 began, tens of transports of elderly Jews from the Reich and the Protectorate were sent on their way to the Czech “ghetto.” “In June,” Redlich recorded, “twenty-four transports arrived and four left. Of those entering, fifteen thousand came from Germany proper [Altreich], most of them very old.”74 On June 30: “I helped Viennese Jews yesterday. They are old, lice-ridden, and they have a few insane people among them.”75

Among its “insane” passengers the transport from Vienna included Trude Herzl-Neumann, the younger daughter of the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl.76 Edelstein was not impressed and refused to come and greet the new inmate. But Trude Herzl was not to be dismissed so easily: “I, the younger daughter of the deceased Zionist leader, Dr. Theodor Herzl,” she wrote to the ghetto leaders and to the “Zionist branch” in Theresienstadt, “take the liberty of informing the local Zionists of my arrival and asking them for help and support during the present difficult times. With Zionist and faithful greetings, T. Neumann-Herzl.”77 Her many messages reflected her mental state, and six months after her arrival, she died.

A small ceremony took place at the camp’s mortuary, after which, as usual, the corpse was carried on a farm cart to the crematorium, outside the walls. There the ashes of all the dead were kept in numbered cardboard boxes. The residents hoped that once the ordeal was over, they would find the ashes of their loved ones and bury them in a decent grave. In late 1944, to erase evidence, the Germans ordered all the ashes to be thrown into the nearby Eger River.78

The number of incoming transports kept growing throughout July. “People arrive by the thousands,” Redlich wrote on August 1, “the aged that do not have the strength to get the food. Fifty die daily.”79 Indeed the mortality rate in the “old people’s ghetto” shot up, and in September 1942 alone, some 3,900 people from a total population of 58,000 died. At approximately the same time transports of the elderly inmates from Theresienstadt to Treblinka started. By then, as we shall see, the waves of deportations from Warsaw were subsiding and the gas chambers of Treblinka could take in the 18,000 new arrivals from the Protectorate ghetto.

It was in one of the September transports from Vienna, the “hospital transport,” that Ruth Kluger (the young girl who had received an orange in the subway after the star was introduced in the Reich) and her mother arrived in Theresienstadt. Ruth was sent to one of the youth barracks that were under Redlich and Hirsch’s supervision. There, as she writes, she became a Jew: The lectures, the all-pervading Zionist atmosphere, the sense of belonging to a community of haverim and haveroth (male and female comrades, in Hebrew) where one didn’t say gute Nacht but Laila tov(“good night,” in Hebrew), gave the young girl a new feeling of belonging. And yet, even in Theresienstadt, even among the young, some of the inmates kept feeling superior to the other and showed it: “The Czechs in L410 [the children’s barracks] looked down on us because we spoke the enemy’s language. Besides, they really were the elite, because they were in their own country…. So even here we were disdained for something that wasn’t in our power to change: our mother tongue.”80

Throughout its existence Theresienstadt offered a dual face: On the one hand, transports were departing to Auschwitz and Treblinka, on the other, the Germans set up a “Potemkin village” meant to fool the world. “Will money be introduced?” Redlich asked in an entry on November 7, 1942. “Of course it could be. The thing could be an interesting experiment in national economics. Anyway, a coffee house has been opened (they say there will even be music there, a bank, a reading room). Two days later: “They are making a film. Jewish actors, satisfied, happy faces in the film, only in the film.” This was to be the first of two Nazi films about Theresienstadt.81

Whereas Theresienstadt, designated a ghetto, was part assembly camp and part concentration camp, the nondescript Izbica, in the Lublin district, was in fact a ghetto without walls. Two-thirds of Izbica’s initial Jewish population had been deported to Belzec and, from March 1942 on, transports of Jews from the Protectorate, then from any deportation center in the Reich, filled the town with its new inhabitants. A remarkable “report from Izbica,” offers a detailed description of daily life in this waiting room to Belzec or Sobibor.82 This eighteen-page letter was written in August 1942 by a deportee from Essen, Ernst Krombach, to his fiancée, Marianne Ellenbogen, whom we encountered in the previous chapter, and delivered to her by an SS employee from Essen whom the couple knew.

Krombach’s letter, studded with all the prejudices against Polish and Czech Jews common among German Jews, is one more expression of the absence of overall solidarity, the tensions among inmates, and the sauve qui peut mentality (his own words) that prevailed in Izbica, as everywhere else.83 Whether Izbica’s Jews knew the destination of the outgoing transports is unclear from the letter, as he certainly wished to shield Ellenbogen from further anguish. “In the meantime [since his arrival in April],” he writes, “many transports have left here. Of the approximately 14,000 Jews who arrived, only 2–3,000 are still here. They go off in cattle trucks, subject to the most brutal treatment, with even fewer possessions, i.e. only the clothes they are wearing. That is one rung farther down the ladder. We have heard nothing more of these people (Austerlitz, Bärs, etc.). After the last transport, the men who were working outside the village returned to find neither their wives, nor children, nor their possessions.84

After indicating that in the recent transports the men had been taken off the trains in Lublin—which confirms what we know of the selection process introduced there—Krombach admits that, although he refused to join the Jewish police, he was compelled to take part in the deportation of “Polish Jews”: “You have to suppress every human feeling and, under the supervision of the SS, drive the people out with a whip, just as they are—barefoot, with infants in their arms. There are scenes which I cannot and will not describe but which will take me long to forget.”85 It remains puzzling that somebody who did not belong to the Jewish police would have been compelled to chase the Polish Jews “with a whip” out of their homes and into the cattle cars.

In a second part of his report, Krombach seems to know more or be ready to tell more: “Recently on one morning alone more than 20 Polish Jews were shot for baking bread…. Our lives consist of uncertainty and insecurity. There could be another evacuation tomorrow, even though the officials concerned say that there won’t be any more. It becomes more and more difficult to hide given how few people are here now—particularly as there is always a given target [a quota of deportees] to be met.”86 Then, almost paradoxically, he uses a metaphor from his youthful readings: “The Wild West was nothing compared to this!”87 Could it be that, after all, he had no clear understanding of his situation?

In the fall of 1942 all contact with Ernst Krombach was lost. According to some reports, at about that time he had been blinded either in an accident or by the SS. In April 1943 the last Jews of Izbica were shipped to Sobibor.88


While the killings in Chelmno ran smoothly on, the building of Belzec, which had started on November 1, 1941, progressed apace, and in early March, the first transports of Jews reached the Lublin district, close to the camp. Assistance from the local authorities was necessary at first. On March 16, 1942, an official from the Population and Social Welfare Bureau of the district, Fritz Rauter, discussed the situation with Hauptsturmführer Hermann Höfle, Globocnik’s main deportations expert, who volunteered some explanations. A camp was being built in Belzec, along the railway line Deblin-Trawniki; Höfle was ready to take in four or five transports daily. These Jews, he explained to Rauter, “were crossing the border [of the General Government] and would never return.” The next day the gassings started.89

At first, some 30,000 out of the 37,000 Jews of the Lublin ghetto were exterminated. Simultaneously another 13,500 Jews arrived from various areas of the district (Zamóść, Piaski, and Izbica), and from the Lwov area; in early June deportees from Krakow followed. Within four weeks some 75,000 Jews had been murdered in this first of the three “Aktion Reinhardt” camps (named in Heydrich’s memory),90 by the end of 1942 about 434,000 Jews would be exterminated in Belzec alone.91 Two survived the war.

Sometime in late March or April 1942, the former Austrian police officer and euthanasia expert Franz Stangl traveled to Belzec to meet its commandant, SS Hauptsturmführer Christian Wirth. Forty years later, in his Düsseldorf jail, Stangl described his arrival in Belzec: “I went there by car,” he told the British journalist Gitta Sereny. “‘As one arrived, one first reached Belzec railway station, on the left side of the road. It was a one-story building. The smell…’ he said. ‘Oh God, the smell. It was everywhere. Wirth wasn’t in his office. I remember, they took me to him…. He was standing on a hill, next to the pits…the pits…full…they were full. I can’t tell you; not hundreds, thousands, thousands of corpses…. Oh God. That’s where Wirth told me—he said that was what Sobibor was for. And that he was putting me officially in charge.’”92 Some two months later Sobibor—whose construction began at the end of March 1942—was in operation and Stangl, its attentive commandant, usually toured the camp in white riding attire.93

About 90,000 to 100,000 Jews were murdered in Sobibor during its first three months of operation; they came from the Lublin district and, either directly or via ghettos of the Lublin area, from Austria, the Protectorate, and the Altreich.94 And, while the exterminations were launched in Sobibor, the construction of Treblinka began.

Extermination in the “Aktion Reinhardt” camps followed standard procedures. Ukrainian auxiliaries, usually armed with whips, chased the Jews out of the trains. As in Chelmno, the next step was “disinfection”; the victims had to undress and leave all their belongings in the assembly room. Then the throng of naked and terrified people was pushed through a narrow hallway or passage into one of the gas chambers. The doors were hermetically sealed; the gassing started. At the beginning bottles of carbon monoxide were still used in Belzec; later they were replaced by various engines. Death was slow to come in these early gas chambers (ten minutes or more): Sometimes the agony of the victims could be watched through peepholes. When all was finished, the emptying of the gas chambers was left, again as in Chelmno, to Jewish “special commandos,” who would themselves be liquidated later on.

Around Belzec and throughout the Lublin district, rumors spread. On April 8, 1942, Klukowski, the Polish hospital director, noted: “The Jews are upset [probably “in despair” in the original]. We know for sure that every day two trains, consisting of twenty cars each, come to Belzec, one from Lublin, the other from Lwow. After being unloaded on separate tracks, all Jews are forced behind the barbed-wire enclosure. Some are killed with electricity, some with poison gases, and the bodies are burned.” Klukowski went on: “On the way to Belzec the Jews experience many terrible things. They are aware of what will happen to them. Some try to fight back. At the railroad station in Szczebrzeszyn a young woman gave away a gold ring in exchange for a glass of water for her dying child. In Lublin, people witnessed small children being thrown through the windows of speeding trains. Many people are shot before reaching Belzec.”95

On April 12, having mentioned on the previous day that the deportation of Jews from Zamóść was about to start, Klukowski noted: “The information from Zamóść is horrifying. Almost 2,500 Jews were evacuated. A few hundred were shot on the streets. Some men fought back. I do not have any details. Here in Szczebrzeszyn there is panic. Old Jewish women spent the night in the Jewish cemetery, saying they would rather die here among the graves of their own families than be killed and buried in the concentration camps.” And the following day: “Many Jews have left town already or hidden…. In town a mob started assembling, waiting for the right moment to start removing everything from the Jewish homes. I have information that some people are already stealing whatever can be carried out from homes where the owners have been forced to move out.”96

By April 1942 gassings had reached their full scale in Chelmno, Belzec, and Sobibor; they were just starting in Auschwitz, and would soon begin in Treblinka. Simultaneously, within a few weeks, huge extermination operations by shooting or in gas vans would engulf further hundreds of thousands of Jews in Belorussia and in the Ukraine (the second sweep), while “standard” on-the-spot killings remained common fare throughout the winter in the occupied areas of the USSR, in Galicia, in the Lublin district, and several areas of eastern Poland. At the same time again, slave labor camps were operating throughout the East and in Upper Silesia; some camps in this last category were a mix of transit areas, slave labor, and killing centers: Majdanek near Lublin or Janowska Road, on the outskirts of Lwov, for example. And, next to this jumble of slave labor and extermination operations, tens of thousands of Jews toiled in ordinary factories and workshops, in work camps, ghettos, or towns, and hundreds of thousands were still alive in former Poland, in the Baltic countries, and further eastward. While the Jewish population in the Reich was rapidly declining as deportations had resumed in full force, in the West, most Jews were leading their restricted lives without a sense of immediate danger. Yet the German vise was closing rapidly, and within two or three months, even minimal everyday normality would have disappeared for most Jews in occupied Europe.

In Auschwitz the gassing of the Jews began with small groups. In mid-February 1942, some 400 older Jews from the Upper Silesian labor camps of “Organization Schmelt,” deemed unfit for work, arrived from Beuthen.97

On this occasion, as during the previous killing of Soviet prisoners in the Zyklon B experiments, the reconverted morgue of the main camp (Auschwitz I) crematorium was turned into a gas chamber. The proximity of the camp administration building complicated matters: The personnel had to be evacuated when the Jews marched by and a truck engine was run to cover the death cries of the victims.98 Shortly thereafter the head of the construction division of the WVHA, Hans Kammler, visited the camp and ordered a series of rapid improvements. A new crematorium with five incinerators, previously ordered for Auschwitz I, was transferred to Auschwitz II–Birkenau—and set in the northwest corner of the new camp, next to an abandoned Polish cottage. This cottage, “Bunker I,” soon housed two gas chambers. On March 20 it became operational; its first victims were another group of elderly “Schmelt Jews.”99


In the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, the “second sweep” of the killing units was launched on an even larger scale than the first, at the end of 1941; it lasted throughout 1942.100 In some areas, such as the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (RKU), according to a report from the Wehrmacht Armaments Inspectorate, mass executions had never stopped and were going on without interruption apart from brief organizational slowdowns, from mid-1941 to mid-1942.

The Wehrmacht report indicated that barely a few weeks after the end of the military operations, the systematic execution of the Jewish population had started. The units involved belonged mainly to the Order Police: they were assisted by Ukrainian auxiliaries and “often, unfortunately, by the voluntary participation of members of the Wehrmacht.” The report described the massacres as “horrible”; they included indiscriminately men, women, old people and children of all ages. The scope of the mass murders was yet unequaled on occupied Soviet territory. According to the report, approximately 150,000 to 200,000 Jews of the Reichskommissariat were exterminated (it would ultimately be around 360,000). Only in the last phase of the operation a tiny “useful” segment of the population (specialized artisans) was not killed. Previously economic considerations had not been taken into account.101

At the outset, as we saw, the intensity of the massacres differed from one area to another; at the end, of course, in late 1942 and early 1943, the outcome would be the same: almost complete extermination. During the “first sweep,” as Einsatzkommandos, police battalions, and Ukrainian auxiliaries were moving along with the Werhmacht, the killings in the western part of the Ukraine—Generalbezirk Volhyn-Podolia (General district Volhynia-Podolia)—encompassed approximately 20 percent of the Jewish population. In Rovno, however, the capital of the Reichskommissariat, some 18,000 people—that is, 80 percent of the Jewish inhabitants, were murdered.102

From September 1941 to May 1942, the Security Police (Einsatzgruppe C and Einsatzkommando 5), headquartered in Kiev, organized its hold on the RKU. The HSSPF in the Ukraine, SS General Prützmann and his civilian counterpart, Reichskomissar Koch, cooperated without any difficulty, as both came from Königsberg. Koch delegated all “Jewish matters” to Prützmann, who in turn passed them on to the chief of the Security Police. But, as emphasized by historian Dieter Pohl, “the civilian authorities and the Security Police reached harmonious cooperation in the mass murder: The initiatives came from both sides.”103

Given the immense territories they had under their control and the variety of languages or dialects of the local populations, the Germans relied from the outset on the help of local militias that, over the months, became regular auxiliary forces, the Schutzmannschaften. The Order Police units and the Gendarmerie were German; the Schutzmannschaften soon widely outnumbered them and participated in all activities, including the killings of Jews in some major operations such as the extermination of part of the Jewish population of Minsk in the late fall of 1941. There the Lithuanian Schutzmannschaften distinguished themselves.104

The auxiliary units included Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Belorussians. A Polish underground report about the liquidation of the Brest Litovsk ghetto in late 1942 is telling: “The liquidation of the Jews has been continuing since 15 October. During the first three days about 12,000 people were shot. The place of execution is Bronna Góra. At present the rest of those in hiding are being liquidated. The liquidation was being organized by a mobile squad of SD and local police. At present, the ‘finishing off ’ is being done by the local police, in which Poles represent a large percentage. They are often more zealous than the Germans. Some Jewish possessions go to furnish German homes and offices, some are sold at auction. Despite the fact that during the liquidation large quantities of weapons were found, the Jews behaved passively.”105

Once Hitler decided to move his forward headquarters to Vinnytsa (in the Ukraine), the Jews of the area had to disappear. Thus, in the first days of 1942, 227 Jews who lived in the immediate neighborhood of the planned headquarters were delivered by “Organization Todt” to the “Secret Military Police” and shot on January 10. A second batch of approximately 8,000 Jews who lived in nearby Chmelnik were shot around the same time. Then came the turn of the Jews of Vinnytsa. Here the operation was delayed by a few weeks, but in mid-April the Secret Military Police reported that the 4,800 Jews of the town had been executed (umgelegt). Finally approximately 1,000 Jewish artisans who worked for the Germans in the same area were murdered in July, on orders of the local commander of the Security Police.106

The two Reichskommissare, Lohse and Koch, enthusiastically supported mass murder operations. Koch in particular requested that in the Ukraine all Jews be annihilated in order to reduce local food consumption and fill the growing food demands from the Reich. As a result the district commissars, at their meeting in August 1942, agreed with the head of the Security Police, Karl Pütz, that all the Jews of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, with the exception of 500 specialized craftsmen, would be exterminated: This was defined as the “hundred percent solution.”107

In the Baltic countries—in Lohse’s domain—particularly in Lithuania, Jäger could always be relied on as far as mass murder was concerned. On February 6, 1942, Stahlecker asked him to urgently report the total number of executions of his Einsatzkommando 3, according to the following categories: Jews, communists, partisans, mentally ill, others; furthermore, Jäger had to indicate the number of women and children. According to the report, sent three days later, by February 1, 1942, Einsatzkommando 3 had executed 136,421 Jews, 1,064 communists, 56 partisans, 653 mentally ill, 78 others. Total: 138,272 (of whom 55,556 were women and 34,464 were children).108

At times Jäger went too far. Thus, on May 18, 1942, following an army complaint about the liquidation of 630 Jewish craftsmen in Minsk, contrary to prior agreements, Gestapo chief Müller had to remind him of several orders issued by Himmler: “Jews and Jewesses capable of working, between ages 16 and 32, should be exempt from special measures, for the time being.”109

On several occasions the extermination campaign led to difficulties between one of Rosenberg’s appointees, the Generalkommissar for Weissruthenien (Belorussia), Gauleiter Wilhelm Kube, and the SD. At the end of 1941, Kube had been shocked to discover that Mischlinge and decorated war veterans had been included among the deportees from the Reich to Minsk. But, it is at the beginning of 1942 that the General Kommissar launched his main assault against the SS and their local commander, chief of the Security Police, Dr. Eduard Strauch. Kube did not object to the extermination of the Jews as such but rather to the methods used in the process: gold teeth and bridges were pulled out of the mouths of victims awaiting their death; many Jews, merely wounded in the executions, were buried alive, and the like. This, in Kube’s terms, was “boden-lose Schweinerei” [utterly disgusting] and Strauch was the chief culprit, denounced to Lohse, to Rosenberg, possibly to Hitler.

Kube’s complaints drew a sharp response from Heydrich on March 21. As for Strauch, he started compiling a hefty file of accusations against the Generalkommissar whose leadership he considered worse than nil, whose entourage was corrupt and dissolute and who, on various occasions, had shown friendliness to Jews.110 Neither Kube nor Strauch was recalled, and, as we shall see, the confrontation was to culminate in 1943. In the meantime, however, Strauch had approximately half of the remaining Minsk ghetto population of 19,000 Jews massacred in late July 1942.111

At times technical difficulties hampered the killings. On June 15, 1942, for example, the commander of the Security Police and the SD in the Ostland urgently requested an additional gas van, as the three vans operating in Belorussia did not suffice to deal with all the Jews arriving at an accelerated rate. Furthermore, he demanded twenty new gas hoses [carrying the carbon monoxide from the engines back into the vans], as those in use were no longer airtight.112 In fact the functioning of the vans occasioned a series of complaints that, in turn, led to a spirited response from “Referat IID3” of the RSHA, on June 5, 1942.

The author of the lengthy report reminded his critics that three of the vans [in Chelmno] “had processed 97,000 since December 1941, without any visible defects.” Nonetheless he suggested a series of six major technical improvements to deal more efficiently with the “number of pieces” (Stückzahl) usually loaded in each van.113 Regarding the “97,000,” the expert had probably deemed it safer to avoid any further identification. In the second section of the report he referred to “pieces” and in the sixth section, he changed the identification once more: “It has been noted from experience that upon the shutting of the back door [of the van] the load [Ladung] presses against the door [when the lights are turned off]. This stems from the fact that once darkness sets in, the load pushes itself towards light.”114

Apparently the single van sent from Berlin to Belgrade to kill the 8,000 Jewish women and children of the Sajmište concentration camp gave no reason for any complaints. After the Wehrmacht had shot most of the men as hostages in the “antipartisan” warfare during the summer and fall of 1941, the women and children were moved to a makeshift camp—a few dilapidated buildings—near Belgrade until their fate was decided. It remains unclear who in the German administration in Belgrade, whether SS Gruppenführer Harald Turner, head of the civilian administration, or SS Standartenführer Emanuel Schäfer, the chief of the security police in Belgrade, asked the RSHA to send the van.115 Whatever the case may be, the van reached Belgrade at the end of February 1942. In early March the killings started, and by May 9, 1942, the Jewish women and children of Sajmište, as well as the patients and staff of the Jewish hospital in Belgrade and Jewish prisoners from a nearby camp had all been asphyxiated. On June 9 Schäfer informed the head of the carpool at the RSHA: “Subject: Special Saurer type van. The drivers…Götz and Meier finished their special assignment. They are returning with the van. Because of damage to the rear part of the van…I ordered its transportation by train.”116

In August 1942 Turner reported: “Serbia is the only country in Europe where the Jewish problem has been solved.”117

Killings could not be extended at will, however, to other groups than the designated Jews even when a high-ranking party official deemed them necessary. Thus, on May 1, 1942, in a message to Himmler, Greiser expressed his confidence that within two to three months the “special treatment” of some 100,000 Jews in Chelmno would be completed. He asked for the authorization to murder some 35,000 Poles suffering from open tuberculosis.118 The authorization was granted at first but then canceled by Hitler; the Nazi leader wished to avoid any rumors about the resumption of euthanasia.

Calls for Jewish armed resistance, such as Kovner’s manifesto in Vilna, arose from the ranks of politically motivated Jewish youth movements, and the first Jews to fight the Germans as “partisans,” in the East or in the West, usually belonged to non-Jewish underground political-military organizations. In western Belorussia, however, a uniquely Jewish unit, without any political allegiance except for its aim of saving Jews sprung up in early 1942: the already briefly mentioned Bielski brothers’ group. The Bielskis were villagers who had lived for more than six decades in Stankiewicze, between Lida and Novogrodek, two midsize Belorussian towns.119 Like their peasant neighbors they were poor, notwithstanding the mill and the land they owned. The only Jews in their village, they fully belonged to it in most ways. They knew the people and the environment, particularly the nearby forests. The younger generation included four brothers: Tuvia, Asael, Zus, and Arczik.

In December 1941 the Germans murdered 4,000 inhabitants of the Novogrodek ghetto, among them the Bielski parents, Tuvia’s first wife, and Zus’s wife. In two successive groups, the one led by Asael, the second by Tuvia, the brothers moved to the forests, in March and then in May 1942. Soon all deferred to Tuvia’s leadership: An even larger number of family members and other Jews fleeing the surrounding ghettos joined the “Otriad” (a partisan detachment); weapons were acquired and food was secured. By the end of the German occupation, the Bielski brothers had assembled some 1,500 Jews in their forest camp, notwithstanding almost insuperable odds.120

While the Bielski group was one of its kind, other Jewish resistance movements organized within the ghettos of the occupied Soviet Union did often receive support from the council leadership. In Minsk, for example, the noncommunist Ilya Moshkin, an engineer who knew some German and was probably appointed head of the Judenrat precisely for that reason, was in regular (weekly) contact with the commander of the communist underground in the ghetto and the city, Hersh Smolar. Such regular cooperation—for which Moshkin ultimately paid with his life—was entirely atypical farther west, in the Baltic countries and in former Poland, be it from fear of German repraisals against the ghetto population.121 The only partly comparable situation to that in Minsk was, for a time at least, that of the Bialystok ghetto, where Ephraïm Barash’s Judenrat did keep in touch for more than a year with Mordechai Tenenbaum’s underground organization, a case to which we shall return.


In mid-March 1942, the sixty-seven-year-old former owner of a shoe business and chairman of the Nuremberg Jewish community, Leo Israel Katzenberger, was interrogated by the criminal police, then put on trial for Rassenschande, race defilement. The codefendant was the thirty-two-year-old “full-German” woman, Irene Seiler (born Scheffler), owner of a photo business, also in Nuremberg; she was accused of race defilement and perjury. The presiding judge, regional court director and head of the special court, Dr. Oswald Rothaug, had been handed a choice case: He rose to the occasion, the more so because the trial attracted wide public interest. “The courtroom was filled to capacity with leading jurists, Party members, and military personnel.”122

During the interrogation the defendants readily confirmed that for many years they had been acquainted and on affectionate terms (Seiler had been introduced to Katzenberger by her own father, a friend of his), that Katzenberger had at times helped Seiler financially and advised her in her business. Moreover, they lived in the same housing complex and thus were in close and frequent contact. Yet both strenuously denied, also under oath, that their mutual affection, which at times had led her to kiss him as a natural expression of her feelings, ever led to any sexual relations. At times Katzenberger brought Seiler some chocolates, cigarettes, or flowers and also occasionally gave her shoes. Seiler married on the eve of the war, and according to her testimony, her husband had met Katzenberger and knew of their longtime friendship. In 1941 and early 1942, as Katzenberger and Seiler were arrested and prosecuted, Seiler’s husband was at the front.

“Rothaug,” Seiler testified after the war, “reproached me that as a German woman whose husband was on the front, I had forgotten myself to the point of having an affair with the little syphilitic Jew…. He told me that from Katzenberger’s point of view it [the affair with me] would not have constituted race pollution since the Talmud permitted it.”123 The witnesses for the prosecution, whose testimonies Seiler reported in detail, were sworn in by the judge whenever the accusations against the defendants appeared sufficiently incriminating. The examination of the witness Paul Kleylein was typical: “Rothaug asked the witness to describe his observations. He began by stating that Katzenberger’s conduct had been unbearable and that both he and his wife had been profoundly shocked by my immoral behavior, particularly since my husband was a soldier. Asked to furnish further details, Kleylein stated that the tenant Oesterleicher had said to me, in the presence of other persons in an air-raid shelter: ‘You Jewish bitch, I am going to give it to you.’ Yet, I had not replied to this, and I had also not done anything about it later. He therefore had concluded that I had not undertaken anything out of shame and because of a guilty conscience.”124

Witnesses for the defense, such as Ilse Graentzel, an employee in Seiler’s photo business, were also called. Rothaug asked Graentzel “whether Jews had not been photographed in my photo-studio up to the end. Mrs. Graentzel said yes, and I also confirmed it. Rothaug accepted this as a new proof of my attachment to the Jews.”125

Seiler was condemned to two years in a penitentiary for perjury. As for Katzenberger, there was no doubt about the outcome. As Rothaug put it: “It is enough for me that this swine said that a German girl was sitting on his lap.”126 On June 3, 1942, the Jew was condemned to death.127Nobody was surprised.

On January 6, 1942, on his way home after shopping at Chemnitzer Platz, Klemperer was arrested on the tram and brought to Gestapo headquarters. The official in charge yelled at him: “Take your filth (briefcase and hat) off the table. Put the hat on. Isn’t that what you do? Where you stand, that’s holy ground.”—“I’m Protestant.”—“What are you? Baptized? That’s just a cover-up. As a professor you must know the book by…by somebody Levysohn, it’s all in there. Are you circumcised? It’s not true that it’s a hygienic prescription. It’s all in the book.” And so it went. Klemperer was forced to empty his briefcase, to have every item checked. Then: “Who is going to win the war? You or us?”—“What do you mean?”—“Well, you pray for our defeat every day, don’t you?—To Yahweh, or whatever it’s called. It is the Jewish War, isn’t it. Adolf Hitler said so—(shouting theatrically) and what Adolf Hitler says is true!”128

In early 1942 Goebbels had prohibited the sale of any media items (newspapers, journals, periodicals) to Jews.129 Some two weeks earlier the use of public phones had also been forbidden.130 Private telephones and radios had already been confiscated long ago; the new instructions would close another gap. Moreover, the growing scarcity of paper seemed to add greater urgency to curtailing the distribution of newsprint. The minister of posts and communications was ready to adopt the new measure, despite some technical difficulties. Unexpected opposition arose, however, from the RSHA. In a February 4 letter to Goebbels, Heydrich argued that it would be impossible to inform the Jews, particularly their representatives both nationally and locally, of all the measures they had to heed, only by way of the Jewish News Bulletin ( Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt). Moreover, professional periodicals were essential for Jewish “caretakers of the sick” or “consultants.” “As I have to keep the Jews firmly in hand,” Heydrich added, “I must ask to ease these instructions, the more so since they were issued without the essential consultation with my office.”131By March, Goebbels’s regulations had been partly abandoned.

The prohibition of Jewish emigration led to the closing, on February 14, 1942, of the Reichsvereinigung offices, which advised and helped the emigrants.132 As for the public identification of Jews, the individual star did not suffice; on March 13, the RSHA ordered the fixing of a white paper star to the entrance door of every apartment inhabited by Jews or to the entrance of any Jewish institution.133

The display of signs and badges favored by the RSHA was in turn questioned by the propaganda minister. Thus on March 11 Goebbels rejected an SD proposal that Jews allowed to use public transportation should display a special badge. The minister, who wanted to avoid further public discussion of the star issue, suggested that these Jews be given a special permit to be presented to the ticket taker or, on demand, to army officers and party officials.134 On March 24 Heydrich forbade the use of public transportation to Jews, except for holders of the special police permit.135

Random Gestapo raids on Jews’ houses were particularly feared. At the Klemperers’, the first of these “house visits” took place on May 22, 1942, a Friday afternoon, while Victor K. was not at home: the house was left upside down, its inhabitants had been slapped, beaten, spat on, but, as Klemperer noted, “we got away not too badly this time.”136

On May 15, Jews were forbidden to keep pets. “Jews with the star,” Klemperer recorded, “and anyone who lives with them, are, effective immediately, forbidden to keep pets (dogs, cats, birds); it is also forbidden to give the animals away to be looked after. This is the death sentence for [their cat] Muschel, whom we have had for more than eleven years and to whom Eva is very attached. Tomorrow he is to be taken to the vet.”137

In mid-June, as already mentioned, Jews had to give up all electrical appliances, including any electric cooking and household appliances, as well as cameras, binoculars, and bicycles.138 On June 20, the Reichsvereinigung was informed that by the end of the month, all Jewish schools would be closed: No further schooling was available for Jews in Germany.139 A few days later, an order that apparently originated with the Propaganda Ministry, but was issued by the Reich Transportation Ministry on June 27, forbade the use of freight cars for the transportation of the corpses of Jews. “In doubtful cases evidence had to be produced that the corpse belonged to an Aryan.”140 On September 2, upon decree from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Supply, Jews would no longer receive meat, milk, white bread, or smoking wares or any scarce commodities; no exceptions were made for pregnant women and sick people.141

While the rhythm of deportations from the Reich accelerated, the availability of Jewish homes nonetheless declined well below the demand for them, due to the housing shortage created, among other things, by the Allied bombings. Some painful situations led to interventions from the highest authority. Thus the newly appointed general director of the Munich State Opera Orchestra and Hitler protégé, Clemens Krauss, could not find suitable apartments for the musicians he brought to the Bavarian capital. On April 1, 1942, Martin Bormann, who had been apprised of the difficulties, wrote to the Munich lord mayor, Karl Fiehler: “Today I reported to the Führer about the correspondence from general director Krauss. The Führer wished you to check one more time to see whether a few more Jewish apartments could be made available for the newly contracted members of the Bavarian State Opera.” Fiehler answered right away that no Jewish apartments were left as he had distributed some to members of the party office (Bormann’s agency) and—according to Krauss’s own wishes—the last six had been given to three choir singers, two orchestra musicians and one lead dancer.142

On the eve of the assembly date for the Jews slated for deportation, neighbors in the Jews’ house would try to extend a helping hand. “Yesterday with the Kreidls,” Klemperer recorded on January 20, 1942, “downstairs until midnight. Eva helped sew straps for Paul Kreidl, so that he can carry his suitcase on his back. Then a feather bed was stuffed, which one has to hand over (and apparently one does not always see again). Today Paul Kreidl carted it to the prescribed forwarding agent on a little handcart.”143 The next day Klemperer added: “Before a deportee goes, the Gestapo seals up everything he leaves behind. Everything is forfeit. Yesterday evening, Paul Kreidl brought me a pair of shoes that fit me exactly and are most welcome given the terrible condition of my own. Also a little tobacco which Eva mixes with blackberry tea and rolls in cigarettes…. The transport now includes 240 persons; there are said to be people among them who are so old, weak and sick that it is unlikely that everyone will still be alive on arrival.”144

The information available about the trains’ destinations was scant, often disbelieved, mixed with fantastic rumors, and yet sometimes astonishingly close to reality. “In the last few days,” Klemperer noted on March 16, “I heard Auschwitz (or something like it), near Königshütte in Upper Silesia, mentioned as the most dreadful concentration camp. Work in a mine, death within a few days. Kornblum, the father of Frau Seligsohn, died there, likewise—not known to me—Stern and Müller.”145 In March 1942 Auschwitz was just becoming an extermination center, as we saw. Yet, through channels hard to trace, rumors seeped back to the Reich.

At the end of November 1941, Hertha Feiner had been dismissed from her teaching position and was employed at the Berlin community offices. In veiled words she informed her daughters of the worsening situation, in a letter on January 11, 1942: “We are in a very serious time. Now it has been Walter Matzoff ’s turn and that of many of my girl students. I have to be very much involved and I try to assist as many people as possible.”146

Feiner was only a recent employee, and although she apparently worked in the community office that established the lists of Berlin Jews she hardly could have an overview of the process or any knowledge of its outcome. But, in and of itself, the updating of these lists and mainly of the addresses of the remaining Jews was of help to the Gestapo. Of course, to keep the deportation trains rolling, the Germans also had lists of their own. Nonetheless, in this domain in particular, the Reichsvereinigung and the Berlin community leadership became involved in the same kind of collaboration as most Jewish Councils throughout occupied Western and Central Europe.147

The registration efforts of the Berlin community may have been questionable; but the assistance offered to those summoned for deportation by the Reichsvereinigung or by community employees, in Berlin or in various parts of the Reich, cannot be considered in the same way, despite the severe interpretation of some historians.148 Although local employees of the Jewish organizations informed the Jews of the decision, the procedure, the time, and the assembly place, there is no indication that the victims followed instructions just because they trusted their coreligionists. All knew that the orders were issued by the Gestapo and that the Jewish representatives had no influence whatsoever on the process as such.

On March 29, 1942, for example, the main office of the association in Baden-Westphalia [located in Karlsruhe] wrote to its Mannheim branch concerning the 125 Jews of Baden whom they had to inform “on instructions from the authorities” that they were to get ready for deportation. The list of those to be sent away was attached. “We ask you,” the main office wrote to the Mannheim employees, “that you visit the persons who are going to take part in the journey as soon as possible and extend to them advice and assistance.” Given the number of those involved, Karlsruhe suggested finding “tactful” volunteers to assist the deportees. The volunteers did not have to be members of the Reichsvereinigung, but, obviously, they had to belong to “the Jewish race.” As time was very short, employees and volunteers had to be available “in the coming days” to stand by those to be evacuated. The Karlsruhe office added that if one of the persons designated was totally unable to travel for health reasons, a medical certificate should immediately be sent to them and they would submit it to “the authorities.” “However,” the letter ended, “we cannot foresee how far the authorities will be ready to change their orders in these cases.”149

It was probably in regard to the same transport that, on April 4, Frau Henny Wertheimer, an employee of the Reichsvereinigung in Offenburg, wrote to Dr. Eisenmann, head of the Karlsruhe office. She informed him first that Joseph Greilsheimer from Friesenheim, one of the people designated for deportation, had hanged himself. “It is naturally difficult for the wife who must now move away [abwandern] alone. It is good that the mother is with her.” More difficulties in Schmieheim: “Old Frau Grumbacher is in bed with some sort of flu; if I only knew what to do with the old lady and with paralyzed Bella and how I could transport the sick from Schmieheim.” Frau Wertheimer inquired at the Gestapo and was told to use an ambulance to bring the sick to the local railway station and from there by train to Mannheim [the ambulance had to be paid by the Reichsvereinigung]. She added a postscript: “I also have to ask for a few more stars to sew on the clothes.”150

Eisenmann had more problems on his hands: what, he asked the local Gestapo, was to be done with the seventy inmates of the sick ward of the Jewish old people’s home in Mannheim, as the staff of the institution was being deported and as the mayor had rejected a demand to transfer these elderly invalids to a municipal institution.151 We can surmise the Karlsruhe Gestapo’s answer to Eisenmann’s query.

While the deportations from the Reich were engulfing all segments of the Jewish population, a few small groups of Germans, mainly in Berlin, offered their help; they hid Jews on the run, they produced forged identity papers, fake draft deferrals, food ration cards, and the like. And, beyond the immediate practical help, they offered humaneness and some hope. Of course there was only so much that two or three dozen anti-Nazis determined to help Jews could do, mainly in 1942 or 1943. In her diary Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, a journalist, bestselling writer, and the driving force behind the “Uncle Emil” group, admits to many a tragic failure in this first half of 1942.

Margot Rosenthal, one of the Jewish women whom the group was hiding, was denounced by her concierge as she briefly slipped back into her apartment. On April 30, 1942, Ruth and her friends received a piece of tissue paper: Margot and 450 other Jews were about to be sent away: “knapsack, blanket roll, and as much baggage as one can carry. I can’t carry anything, and so shall simply leave everything by the roadside. This is farewell to life. I weep and weep. God be with you forever, and think of me!”152 One after another most of Ruth’s Jewish friends were caught: “Heinrich Muehsam, Mother Lehmann, Peter Tarnowsky, Dr. Jakob, his little Evelyn, his wife and the Bernsteins, his father- and mother-in-law.”153 Some other hiding strategies would have to be devised, for the few and by the few.


The first transport of Jewish deportees from Slovakia left for Auschwitz on March 26, 1942. It carried 999 young women. Tiso’s country thereby acquired the doubtful distinction of immediately following the Reich and the Protectorate in delivering its Jews to the camps. The deportation was not the result of German pressure but of a Slovak request. The Slovak initiative had its own rationality. Once the Aryanization measures had despoiled most Jews of their property, getting rid of this impoverished population followed strict economic logic. In early 1942 the Germans had demanded 20,000 Slovak workers for their armament factories; Tuka’s government offered 20,000 able-bodied Jews. After some hesitation Eichmann accepted; he could use young Jewish workers to accelerate the building of Birkenau after Soviet prisoners had almost all died, as we saw; he could even take their families along. The Slovaks would pay 500 reichsmarks per deported Jew (to cover German expenses), and in exchange the Reich allowed them to keep the deportees’ property. Moreover, they received the assurance that the deported Jews would not return. This was the “Slovak model” Eichmann hoped to apply elsewhere over time.

By the end of June 1942, some 52,000 Slovak Jews had been deported, mainly to Auschwitz and to their death. Then, however, the deportations slowed to a standstill.154 Tuka insisted on forging ahead, but Tiso hesitated. The intervention of the Vatican, followed by the bribing of Slovak officials on the initiative of a group of local Jews, did eventually play a role.

Vatican Secretary of State Luigi Maglione twice summoned the Slovak minister between April and July 1942. However, as the second intervention took place in April, while the deportations went on until July (to be briefly resumed in September), it is doubtful that a mere diplomatic query—and Maglione worded his protest as such—unknown to the Slovak public and to the world—did suffice.155 Moreover, the attitude of the Slovak church remained ambiguous at first. A pastoral letter issued in April 1942 demanded that the treatment of Jews remain within the limits of civil and natural law but deemed it necessary to berate them for rejecting Christ and for having prepared an “ignominious death for Him on the cross.”156 There were however dissenting attitudes, such as that of Bishop Pavol Jantausch of Trnava and also of the small Slovak Lutheran Church, which issued a courageous plea in favor of the Jews “as human beings.”157 Once the devoutly Catholic populations became fully aware of the mistreatment of the Jews by the Hlinka guard and by Slovak ethnic Germans, on hand to help the guard in loading the deportees into cattle cars, the atmosphere started to change; even the local church would modify its stance, as we shall see.158

On June 26, 1942, the German minister to Bratislava, Hans Ludin, informed the Wilhelmstrasse: “Evacuation of Jews from Slovakia has reached deadlock. Because of clerical influence and the corruption of individual officials, 35,000 Jews have received special consideration on the basis of which they need not be evacuated…. Prime Minister Tuka wishes to continue the deportations, however, and requests strong support by diplomatic pressure on the part of the Reich.”159 On June 30, Ernst von Weizsäcker, state secretary of the Foreign Ministry, responded: “You can render the diplomatic assistance requested by Prime Minister Tuka by stating that stopping the deportation of the Jews and excluding 35,000 Jews would cause surprise [the initial formulation “would leave a very bad impression” was crossed out and replaced by “would cause surprise”] in Germany, particularly since the previous cooperation of Slovakia in the Jewish question has been much appreciated here.”160

The “corruption of individual officials” referred to by Ludin was almost certainly the bribing operation initiated by the “Working Group,” led by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissmandel, a Zionist female activist, Gisi Fleischmann, and other individuals representing the main segments of Slovak Jewry. The “Working Group,” thoroughly researched by historian Yehuda Bauer, also made substantial payments to Eichmann’s representative in Bratislava, Dieter Wisliceny.161 That bribing the Slovaks contributed to a halt in the deportations for two years is most likely; whether the sums transferred to the SS had any influence remains an open question. Completing the deportations from Slovakia was not a German priority, as we shall see; this may have allowed the SS to trick the “Working Group” into paying much needed foreign currency in the belief that they were helping postpone the dispatch of the remaining Slovak Jews, and possibly of other European Jews, to their death.

The major operational decision regarding the deportations from France, Holland, and Belgium was taken after Heydrich’s death, at a meeting convened by Eichmann at the RSHA on June 11. Present were the heads of the Jewish sections of the SD in Paris, Brussels, and The Hague. According to Dannecker’s summary of the meeting, Himmler had demanded the increase of deportations either from Romania or from the West, due to the impossibility—for military reasons—of continuing deportations from Germany during the summer. The deportees, both men and women, were to be between ages sixteen and forty, with an additional number (10 percent of Jews unable to work. The plan was to deport 15,000 Jews from Holland, 10,000 from Belgium, and a total of 100,000 from both French zones. Eichmann suggested that, in France, a law similar to the Eleventh Ordinance be passed; thereby French citizenship of any Jew having left French territory would be abolished, and all Jewish property would be transferred to the French state. In the same way as in Slovakia, the Reich would be paid approximately 700 reichsmarks per deported Jew.162

Clearly Himmler wanted a regular inflow of Jewish slave labor during the summer months, while masses of Polish Jews unfit for work would fill the extermination centers to capacity. The Reichsführer’s instructions predated the radical change of policy that was about to take place regarding Jewish workers. During the second half of June it became obvious to the Germans that they would not be able to arrest and transport more than 40,000 Jews from France during a first three-month phase; to make up for the loss, the number of deportees from Holland, where direct German domination simplified matters, was raised from 15,000 to 40,000.163

The Germans could rely upon the subservience of the Dutch police and of the civil service; the grip on the country’s Jews progressively tightened. On October 31, 1941, the Germans appointed the Amsterdam Jewish Council as the sole council for the whole country.164 Soon thereafter the deportation of Jewish workers to special labor camps started.165 On January 7, 1942, the council called on the first contingent of workers: unemployed men on public welfare. Over the following weeks the German demands for laborers steadily increased, and the array of those being called up grew.166 Although the council operated in coordination with the Amsterdam and The Hague labor offices, the admonishments to report originated essentially from Jewish leaders. Historian Jacob Presser, no admirer of the council, emphasized the role of Asscher, Cohen, and Meijer de Vries in their relentless recruitment campaign.167 What the alternative might have been, apart from disbanding the council, remains unclear.

The labor camps—in fact concentration camps using Jewish and non-Jewish forced labor, such as, over time, Amersfoort, Vught (near ’s-Hertogenbosch), as well as smaller camps—were mainly staffed by Dutch Nazis who often outdid the Germans in sheer sadism. Westerbork (from July 1942 on, the main transit camp to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Bergen Belsen, and Theresienstadt) had been a camp for a few hundred German Jewish refugees since the beginning of the war; by 1942 they had become “old-timers” and de facto ruled the camp under the supervision of a German commandant. In early 1942 transports of foreign Jews were increasingly sent to Westerbork, while Dutch Jews from the provinces were being concentrated in Amsterdam. Dutch police supervised the transfer operations and access to vacated Jewish homes. The Germans dutifully registered furniture and household objects, which Einsatzstab Rosenberg then carted off to the Reich. During the same months a Dutch equivalent of the Nuremberg laws, prohibiting marriage between Jews and non-Jews (among other things), became mandatory.

All of this still remained less important for Etty Hillesum than her intense love affair with a German Jewish refugee, Hans Spier, a spiritual guide of sorts and a highly idiosyncratic psychotherapist. The German measures did not spare her, of course. “Yesterday Lippmann and Rosenthal [to hand over assets],” she noted on April 15, 1942, “Robbed and hunted.”168 Yet she perceived most of the measures through the prism of her emotions: “I am so glad that he [Spier] is a Jew and I am a Jewess,” she wrote on April 29. “And I shall do what I can to remain with him so that we get through these times together. And I shall tell him this evening: I am not really frightened of anything, I feel so strong; it matters little whether you have to sleep on a hard floor, or whether you are only allowed to walk through certain specified streets, and so on—these are only minor vexations, so insignificant compared with the infinite riches and possibilities we carry within us.”169

On June 12 Etty’s notes dealt again with the everyday persecution: “And now Jews may no longer visit greengrocers’ shops, they will soon have to hand in their bicycles, they may no longer travel by train and they must be off the streets by 8 o’clock at night.”170 On Saturday, June 20, less than a month before the beginning of the deportations from Amsterdam to Westerbork and from Westerbork to Auschwitz, Etty directed her thoughts to Jewish attitudes and responses: “Humiliation always involves two. The one who does the humiliating and the one who allows himself to be humiliated. If the second is missing, that is if the passive party is immune to humiliation, then the humiliation vanishes into thin air…. We Jews should remember that…they can’t do anything to us, they really can’t. They can harass us, they can rob us of our material goods, of our freedom of movement, but we ourselves forfeit our greatest assets by our misguided compliance. By our feelings of being persecuted, humiliated and oppressed…. Our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves.”171


A day after the departure of the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz, a transport with 1,000 Jews detained in Compiègne left France for the Upper Silesian camp. On March 1 Eichmann received the Wilhelmstrasse’s authorization to start this first deportation from France; on the twelfth, the head of IVB4 informed Dannecker that, in response to a request of the French authorities, a further batch of 5,000 Jews could be deported.

The early deportations from France did not encounter any difficulties, either in the occupied zone or in Vichy. In the occupied zone French authorities were far more worried about the increasing number of attacks on Wehrmacht personnel. The execution of hostages did not have the desired effect (in December 1941, ninety-five hostages had been shot, among them fifty-eight Jews). In early 1942 the commander in chief, Otto von Stülpnagel, deemed too lenient, was replaced by his cousin, Karl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, a brutal anti-Semite who showed his colors on the Eastern front; on June 1, SS general Karl Oberg, previously posted in Radom, in the General Government, arrived in France as higher SS and police leader.

Before taking office Oberg had paid a visit to the French capital on May 7, in the company of Heydrich. The atmosphere was favorable for closer collaboration between France and the Reich, as, since the end of April, Laval was back at the head of the Vichy government. Vallat had been replaced at the head of the CGQJ by a much fiercer Jew hater, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, and the French police in the occupied zone were now headed by a brilliant and ambitious newcomer, René Bousquet, all too ready to play his part in the German-French rapprochement.

During Heydrich’s visit Bousquet again requested the further deportation of some 5,000 Jews from Drancy to the East. Although Heydrich made his agreement conditional on the availability of transportation, four trains with approximately 1,000 Jews each left for Auschwitz in the course of June.172

Two major points of contention between the Germans and Vichy remained unresolved at the end of spring: the inclusion of French Jews in the deportations, and the use of French police in the roundups. As Vichy did not appear ready to agree to either German demand, a serious crisis loomed during the last week of June; it brought Eichmann to Paris on June 30 for a reassessment. Finally, in a July 2 meeting with Oberg and his acolytes, Bousquet gave in to the Germans, and, on the fourth he conveyed Vichy’s official stand. According to Dannecker’s notes, “Bousquet declared that, at the recent cabinet meeting, Marshal Pétain, the head of the state, and Pierre Laval, the head of the government, agreed to the deportation, as a first step [dans un premier temps], of all stateless Jews from the Occupied and Unoccupied zones.”173 French police forces would arrest the Jews in both zones.

Moreover, as Dannecker reported on July 6, in a conversation with Eichmann, while all “stateless” Jews (that is, formerly German, Polish, Czechoslovak, Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian Jews) were to be deported, Laval had also suggested, on his own initiative, the deportation of children under age sixteen from the unoccupied zone. As for children in the occupied zone, Laval declared that their fate was of no interest to him. Dannecker added that in a second phase, Jews naturalized after 1919 or after 1927 would be included in the deportations.174

In this deal each party had its own agenda. The Germans were intent in achieving complete success both in Holland and in France, the first mass deportations from the West. They did not have sufficient police forces of their own on hand and had to rely on the full participation of each national police. For Laval full collaboration had become his unquestioned policy in the hope of extracting a peace treaty from Germany and ensuring a rightful place for France within the new German-led Europe. And, in the late spring of 1942, as the head of the French government was maneuvering to deliver enough foreign Jews to postpone any decision regarding the fate of French Jews (whose deportation, he thought, French opinion would not readily accept), Hitler seemed, once more, to march on the road to victory.

In early May the Jewish star was introduced in Holland and, a month later, in France.175 In both countries the measure caused momentary indignation in part of the population and expressions of sympathy for the “decorated” Jews, as had been the case in Germany. Yet individual gestures of support for the victims did not derail German policy in the least. The Germans had given the council exactly three days to implement the measure. A prolongation was grudgingly granted by Ferdinand Aus der Fünten (de facto in charge of the “Emigration Office” and increasingly so of Jewish affairs in Amsterdam) when it became clear that the distribution of stars on such short notice was impossible; after May 4, the newly set date, measures against Jews not wearing the star were rigorously enforced.176 On June 8, 1942, the head of IVB4 in Holland gave a somewhat mixed report about public reactions. Zöpf first described at some length manifestations of solidarity with the Jews, but nonetheless concluded on an upbeat note: “The members of the Jewish race who at first wore the star with pride, have since climbed down, afraid as they are of further legislation by the Occupying Power.”177

On June 7 the star became mandatory in the occupied zone of France. Vichy refused to enforce the decree on its territory, in order to avoid the accusation that a French government stigmatized Jews of French citizenship (the more so because Jewish nationals of countries allied with Germany, as well as of neutral or even enemy countries, were exempted from the star decree by the Germans). There was some irony and much embarrassment in the fact that Vichy had to beg the Germans to exempt the Jewish spouses of some of its highest officials in the occupied zone. Thus, Pétain’s delegate in Paris, the anti-Semitic and actively collaborationist Fernand de Brinon, had to ask the favor for his wife, née Frank.178 Among Catholic intellectuals, communists, and many students, reactions to the German measure were particularly negative.179 The Jews themselves quickly recognized the mood of part of the population and, at the outset at least, the star was worn with a measure of pride and defiance.180

In fact indications about French attitudes were contradictory: “Lazare Lévy, professor at the Conservatory, has been dismissed,” Biélinky noted on February 20. “If his non-Jewish colleagues had expressed the wish to keep him, he would have remained as professor, as he was the only Jew at the Conservatory. But they did not make the move; cowardice has become a civic virtue.”181 On May 16 Biélinky noted some strange inconsistencies in Parisian cultural life: “The Jews are eliminated from everywhere and yet René Julliard published a new book by Elian J. Finbert, La Vie Pastorale. Finbert is a Jew of Russian origin raised in Egypt. He is even young enough to inhabit a concentration camp…. Although Jews are not allowed to exhibit their work anywhere, one finds Jewish artists at the Salon [the largest biannual painting exhibition in Paris]. They had to sign that they did not belong to the ‘Jewish race’…. A concert by Boris Zadri, a Romanian Jew, is announced for May 18, at the Salle Gaveau [a well-known Paris concert hall].”182 And on May 19 Biélinky recorded the opinion voiced by a concierge: “What is done to the Jews is really disgusting…. If one didn’t want them, one should not have let them enter France; if they have been accepted for many years, one has to let them live as everybody else…. Moreover, they are no worse than we Catholics.”183 And, from early June on, Biélinky’s diary indeed recorded numerous expressions of sympathy addressed to him and to other Jews tagged with the star, in various everyday encounters.184

Yet individual manifestations of sympathy were not indicative of any basic shifts in public opinion regarding the anti-Jewish measures. Despite the negative response to the introduction of the star and soon thereafter to the deportations, an undercurrent of traditional anti-Semitism persisted in both zones. However, both the Germans and Vichy recognized that the population reacted differently to foreign and to French Jews. Thus in a survey that Abetz sent to Berlin on July 2, 1942, he emphasized “the surge of anti-Semitism” due to the influx of foreign Jews and recommended, along the lines of the agreement reached on the same day between Oberg and Bousquet, that the deportations should start with the foreign Jews in order to achieve “the right psychological effect” among the population.185

“I hate the Jews,” the writer Pierre Drieu la Rochelle was to confide to his diary on November 8, 1942. “I always knew that I hated them.”186 In this case at least, Drieu’s outburst remained hidden in his diary. On the eve of the war, however, he had been less discreet (but far less extreme) in Gilles, an autobiographical novel that became a classic of French literature. Compared to some of his literary peers, Drieu was in fact relatively moderate. In Les Décombres, published in the spring of 1942, Lucien Rebatet showed a more Nazi-like anti-Jewish rage: “Jewish spirit is in the intellectual life of France a poisonous weed that must be pulled out right to its most minuscule roots…. Auto-da-fés will be ordered for the greatest number of Jewish or Judaic works of literature, paintings, or musical compositions that have worked toward the decadence of our people.”187Rebatet’s stand regarding the Jews was part and parcel of an unconditional allegiance to Hitler’s Reich: “I wish for the the victory of Germany because the war it is waging is my war, our war…. I don’t admire Germany for being Germany but for having produced Hitler. I praise it for having known how…to create for itself the political leader in whom I recognize my desires. I think that Hitler has conceived of a magnificent future for our continent, and I passionately want him to realize it.”188

Céline, possibly the most significant writer (in terms of literary importance) of this anti-Semitic phalanx, took up the same themes in an even more vitriolic form; however, his manic style and his insane outbursts marginalized him to a point. In December 1941 the German novelist Ernst Jünger encountered Céline at the German Institute in Paris: “He says,” Jünger noted, “how surprised and stupefied he is that we soldiers do not shoot, hang, exterminate the Jews—he is stupefied that someone availed of a bayonet should not make unrestricted use of it.” Jünger, no Nazi himself but nonetheless quite a connoisseur in matters of violence, strikingly defined Céline and—undoubtedly—also a vast category of his own compatriots: “Such men hear only one melody, but that is singularly insistent. They’re like those machines that go about their business until somebody smashes them. It is curious to hear such minds speak of science—of biology, for instance. They use it the way the Stone Age man would; for them, it is exclusively a means of killing others.”189

Robert Brasillach was outwardly more polished, but his anti-Jewish hatred was no less extreme and persistent than that of Céline or Rebatet. His anti-Jewish tirades in Je Suis Partout had started in the 1930s, and for him the ecstatic admiration of German victories and German dominance had a clearly erotic dimension: “The French of different persuasions have all more or less been sleeping with the Germans during these last years,” he wrote in 1944, “and the memory will remain sweet.”190 As for the French and German policies regarding the Jews, Brasillach applauded at each step but, as far as the French measures went, they appeared to him at times too incomplete: “Families should be kept together and Jewish children deported with their parents,” he demanded in a notorious Je Suis Partout article on September 25, 1942.191

How far the virulent anti-Semitism spewed by the Paris collaborationists influenced public opinion beyond the rather limited segment of French society that supported them politically is hard to assess. Be that as it may, Rebatet’s Les Décombres became a runaway bestseller and could have sold about 200,000 copies (given the orders for the book) despite its very high price, had the publisher been able to receive a sufficient allocation of paper. It was the greatest publishing success in occupied France.192

Les Décombres was published by the notoriously collaborationist Denoël. More-respected publishers found other ways to make some profit under the circumstances. Thus on January 20, 1942, Gaston Gallimard made a bid for the acquisition of the previously Jewish-owned publishing house Calmann-Lévy. In a registered letter sent that day to the provisional administrator of Calmann-Lévy, with a copy to the CGQJ, Gallimard stated: “We herewith confirm our offer to buy the publishing and bookselling firm known under the name of Calmann-Lévy…. This offer is based on a price of two million five hundred thousand francs payable in cash. It is understood that the Librairie Gallimard (Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française) will not absorb the Calmann-Lévy company, which will remain autonomous and have its editorial board, of which Mssrs Drieu la Rochelle and Paul Morand [also a notorious anti-Semite] will no doubt agree to be members. We wish to inform you at this time that the Librairie Gallimard…is an Aryan firm backed by Aryan capital.”193

Neither UGIF-North nor UGIF-South played much of a role during the first six months of 1942. In the occupied zone the council, which had been fined one billion francs by the Germans, was mainly trying to find ways of repaying the loans taken from French banks without imposing heavy new taxes on the impoverished community. The situation was quieter in the South but for both councils, apart from dealing with the growing welfare needs, much time was spent in fending off demands of all sorts from the Germans or from the CGQJ, and dealing with difficulties created by the Consistoire and with the Fédération’s warring leaders.194 “The very rich Jews, the majority of the Consistoire,” Lambert noted on March 29, 1942, “are afraid that the Union (the UGIF) will compel them to pay too much for the poor; and, look at the scandal: at the instigation of two or three young Turks, they prefer to give money to the “Amitiés Chrétiennes” than to leave it to the welfare organizations that are part of the Union.”195


After most of the Jewish population of Vilna had been murdered in the summer and fall of 1941, a “quiet” period (that was to last for some eighteen months) set in at the beginning of 1942. Now more than ever, Kruk and Rudashevski tried to record the “everyday.” And the everyday offered its ordinary lot of misery but also quite unexpected dilemmas: For example, should one allow a theater in the ghetto? Kruk, a moralist in the Bundist-socialist tradition, was appalled: “Today,” he recorded on January 17, “I received a formal invitation from a founding group of Jewish artists in the ghetto announcing that the first evening of the local artistic circle will be held on Sunday, January 18, in the auditorium of the Real Gymnasium at Rudnicka 6…. I felt offended, personally offended about the whole thing, let alone the festive evening. In every ghetto you can amuse yourself, cultivating art is certainly a good deed. But here, in the doleful situation of the Vilna Ghetto, in the shadow of Ponar, where of the 76,000 Vilna Jews, only 15,000 remain—here, at this moment, this is a disgrace. An offense to all our feelings. But, as we know, the real initiators of the evening are the Jewish police. Furthermore, important guests, Germans, will come to the concert. Lyuba Bewicka, the brilliant German singer, is even trying to have some Jewish songs ‘on hand.’ In case, God forbid, a German will ask for them!…You don’t make a theater in a graveyard.

“The organized Jewish labor movement [the Bund] has decided to respond to the invitation with a boycott. Not one of them will go to the ‘crows’ concert.’ But the streets of the ghetto are to be strewn with leaflets: ‘About today’s concert. You don’t make theater in a graveyard!’ The police and the artists will amuse themselves, and the Vilna ghetto will mourn.”196

Notwithstanding the Bund’s initial qualms, intense cultural activity developed in the ghetto throughout 1942 and early 1943: “The number of cultural events in March [1942],” a contemporary record indicated, “was exceptionally high, because all existing suitable premises in the ghetto, like the theater, gymnasium, youth club and school quarters, were used. Every Sunday, six to seven events took place with over two thousand participants.” However, lack of space soon became a problem: “At the end of the month the Culture Department had to give up to the incoming outof-town Jews a number of premises like the gymnasium, School No. 2, Kindergarten No. 2, and a part of School No. 1. This will greatly affect the work of the schools, the sports division, and also the theater, which had to take into its building the sports division and the workers’ assemblies.” The section of the report dealing with the activity of the lending library indicated that as of April 1 the library had 2,592 [subscribing] readers. “An average of 206 persons visited the reading room daily (155 in February)…. During the month the Archives collected 101 documents. Besides that, 124 folklore items were assembled.197

In Kovno, the German presence was more direct than in Vilna, even during the respite period. On January 13, 1942, a German Ghetto Guard was established inside the Jewish area.198 Moreover, the local Germans seem to have been more inventive: “An order,” Tory noted on January 14, “to bring all dogs and cats to the small synagogue in Veliounos Street, where they were shot [the bodies of the cats and dogs remained in the synagogue for several months; the Jews were forbidden to remove them].”199 On February 28 Tory recorded: “Today is the deadline for handing over all the books in the ghetto, without exception, as ordered by the representative of the Rosenberg organization, Dr. Benker.” (Benker had threatened anybody failing to hand in books with the death penalty.)200


From the beginning of 1942 mass killings of Jews were spreading throughout the Warthegau and the General Government, as the days of total annihilation were rapidly approaching. One may wonder whether the exceptional and exceptionally visible German bestiality had any impact upon the traditional attitudes of the majority of Poles toward their Jewish countrymen. The answer seems negative. “Only in Poland,” Alexander Smolar wrote in the 1980s, “was anti-Semitism compatible with patriotism (a correlation considerably strengthened under the Soviet occupation in 1939–1941) and also with democracy. The anti-Semitic National Democratic Party was represented both in the Polish government in London and in the structures of the underground within Poland. Precisely because Polish anti-Semitism was not tainted by any trace of collaboration with the Germans, it could prosper—not only in the street but also in the underground press, in political parties, and in the armed forces.”201

Polonsky, who quoted Smolar, rephrased the argument by pointing out that “whereas the socialist and democratic organizations continued to advocate full equality for the Jews in a future liberated Poland, pre-war antisemitic parties did not abandon their hostility to the Jews merely because the Nazis were also anti-semites.”202 The socialist and democratic organizations represented a minority in relation to the anti-Semitic camp. And among the anti-Semites themselves there were nuances. Thus in January 1942, Narod, the paper of the Christian Democratic Party of Labor, a party that belonged to the government-in-exile coalition, phrased its stance as clearly as could be: “The Jewish question is now a burning issue. We insist that the Jews cannot regain their political rights and the property they have lost. Moreover, in the future they must entirely leave the territories of our country. The matter is complicated by the fact that once we demand that the Jews leave Poland, we will not be able to tolerate them on the territories of the future federation of Slavic nations [which the journal advocated.] This means that we will have to cleanse all of Central and Southern Europe of the Jewish element, which amounts to removing some 8 to 9 million Jews.”203

Is there much difference between the views expressed in Narod, considered moderately anti-Semitic, and those carried in these same days of January 1942 by Szaniec, the organ of prewar Polish fascists? Szaniec put it thus: “Jews were, are and will be against us, always and everywhere…. And now the question arises, how are the Poles to treat the Jews…. We, and certainly 90 percent of Poles, have only one answer to this question: like enemies.”204

Szaniec’s emphatic statement seems indeed to have expressed widely held views. Even German anti-Jewish propaganda was manifestly well accepted and internalized by many Poles. On January 16, 1942, Dawid Rubinowicz, the young diarist from the Kielce area, noted that on that evening the mayor of nearby Bieliny visited his family’s home: “Father fetched some vodka and they finished it off together because he [the mayor] was a bit chilled…. The mayor said all Jews would have to be shot because they were enemies. If I could only write down just a part of all he said at our house, but I simply can’t.”205 German anti-Jewish posters adorned the walls of the smallest villages and the populace enjoyed it. On February 12 Dawid described one of the posters put up by the “village constable”: “A Jew is shown mincing meat and putting a rat into the mincer. Another is pouring water from a bucket into milk. In the third picture a Jew is shown stamping dough with his feet and worms are crawling over him and the dough. The heading of the notice reads: ‘The Jew is a Cheat, Your only Enemy.’ A ditty followed commenting on each caricature; The last two lines rendered the tone of the entire ‘poem’: ‘Worms infest their home-made bread/Because the dough with feet they tread.’ When the village constable had put it up,” Dawid added, “some people came along, and their laughter gave me a headache from the shame that the Jews suffer nowadays.”206

During the weeks and months that followed, Dawid’s diary repeatedly evoked the killing spree that engulfed his region. On June 1, the diary entry started untypically: “A happy day.” Dawid’s father, who had been arrested, was back. Then, however, the tone changed: “I have forgotten to write down the most important and most terrible news of all. This morning, a mother and a daughter had gone out into the country. Unfortunately the Germans were driving from Rudki to Bodzentyn…. When the two women caught sight of the Germans they began to flee, but were overtaken and arrested. They intended shooting them on the spot in the village, but the mayor wouldn’t allow it. They then went into the woods and shot them there. The Jewish police immediately went there to bury them in the cemetery. When the cart returned it was full of blood. Who—”207 There, in midsentence, Dawid Rubinowicz’s diary ended.

In his straightforward way Dawid described events as they happened before his eyes. Some of the other Jewish diarists in the Polish provinces, more “sophisticated” and older by a few years, were more reflective. But for most of them, be they in the neighborhood of Kielce or a few hundred miles away, the writing would also suddenly end, in the same month of June 1942. In the early spring Elisheva from Stanislawów had inserted the notes of an anonymous friend in her own chronicle: “We are utterly exhausted,” the “guest diarist” recorded on March 13, 1942. “We only have illusions that something will change; this hope keeps us alive. But how long can we live on the power of the spirit that is also fading? Sometimes there are rumors in the ghetto that graves are being dug. Seemingly strong people, both young and old, submit to the gossip. It is a terrible feeling. You feel that you have a halter on your neck and the guards are watching you very carefully, and on the other hand you are aware that you could live longer since you are healthy and strong but without any human rights…. Yesterday, Elsa [Elisheva] told me that a man who had died of starvation couldn’t fit into the coffin, so his legs had to be broken. Unbelievable!”208

On May 14 Elisheva reminisced that the situation in Stanislawów had suddenly changed at the end of March: “It started in March. All the handicapped on the Aryan side were killed. It was a signal that something ominous was coming. And it was a disaster. On March 31, they started searching for the handicapped and old people, and later several thousand young and healthy people were taken. We were hiding in the attic and through the window I saw the transports of Hungarian Jews [who had been expelled from Hungary to Galicia in the late summer of 1941] leaving Rudolfsmühle [an improvised German prison]. I saw children from the orphanage wrapped in bed sheets. The houses around the ghetto were on fire. I heard some shooting, children crying, mothers calling, and Germans breaking into the neighboring houses. We survived.”209

On June 9 Elisheva recognized that her own survival had been but a short reprieve: “Well, this whole scribbling does not make any sense. It is a fact we are not going to survive. The world will know about everything even without my wise notes. The members of the Jewish Council have been imprisoned. The hell with them, the thieves. But what does it mean to us? Rudolfsmühle has finally been liquidated. Eight hundred people have been taken to the cemetery [the killing site of Stanislawów]…. The situation is hopeless but some people say it is going to be better. Let us hope so! Is being alive after the war worth so much suffering and pain? I doubt it. But I don’t want to die like an animal.”210 Ten days later Elisheva’s diary ended. The circumstances of Elisheva’s death are not known. Her diary was discovered in a ditch along the road leading to the Stanislawów cemetery.211

In Lodz, Sierakowiak’s chronicling resumed in mid-March. In his saddler’s workshop, the food, it seems, was sufficient for “workshop workers” like him (category A). “The deportations are in progress, while the workshops are receiving huge orders, and there is enough work for several months,” he noted on March 26.212 The deportations were temporarily halted on April 3. On that day the diarist recorded: “The deportations have been halted again, but nobody knows for how long. Meanwhile winter has returned with thick snow. Rumkowski has posted an announcement that there will be a cleaning of the ghetto on Monday. From eight in the morning to three in the afternoon, all inhabitants from the ages of fifteen to fifty will have to clean apartments and courtyards. There won’t be any other work anywhere. All I care about, however, is that there is soup in my workshop.”213

By mid-May 1942 the number of deportees from Lodz had reached 55,000.214 The last wave, between May 4 and 15, included exclusively 10,600 “Western Jews” from a total of 17,000 of these Jews still alive in the ghetto at that time.215 It remains unclear why none of the “Western Jews” were included in the earlier deportations and why at the beginning of May they were the only deportees. After considering various possibilities, historian Avraham Barkai interpreted the earlier reprieve as the probable result of German orders: To secure the orderly pace of deportations from the Reich, it was imperative to avoid the spreading of any rumors about Lodz.216 As we saw, Hitler’s new judicial powers could also offer an explanation, as the German Jews deported to Chelmno from Lodz were still German subjects who were deported to an extermination site located within the borders of the Greater Reich. In any case, once the impediments were dealt with, it is probable that the Germans decided to dispose of Jews who were elderly, the majority of whom could not be integrated into the work force. Whether Rumkowski was involved in the decision is not known, although he did not hide his growing hostility to the “newcomers.”217

The forthcoming “resettlement” of the “Western Jews” had been announced during the last days of April. Immediately frantic attempts began to trade whatever remaining possessions could not be taken along, all the more so since luggage was forbidden. The deportees were a particularly pitiful crowd in the eyes of the chroniclers: “Schooled by the experience of recent days, some people have struck on the old idea of putting on a few suits, a few changes of underwear and, quite frequently, two overcoats. They tie the first coat with a belt from which they hang an extra pair of shoes and other small items. And so their faces, cadaverously white or waxy yellow, swollen, and despairing, sway disjointedly on top of disproportionately wide bodies that bend and droop under their own weight. They are possessed by a single thought: To save the little that remains of what they own, even at the expense of the last of their strength. Some people have been overcome by utter helplessness, whereas some still believe in something.”218

At the same time Jews from small towns in the Warthegau (mainly Pabianice and Breziny) moved into the ghetto. On May 21 one of the “official” chroniclers (Bernard Ostrowsky) visited and described a refugee asylum where more than a thousand women from Pabianice had been quartered. “In every room, in every corner, one sees mothers, sisters, grandmothers, shaken by sobs, quietly lamenting for their little children. All children up to the age of ten have been sent off to parts unknown [Chelmno]. Some have lost three, four, even six children.”219 Two days later Ostrowsky added: “The Jews from Pabianice who were recently settled in the ghetto saw that in the village of Dobrowa, located about three kilometers from Pabianice, in the direction of Lodz, warehouses for old clothes have recently been set up…. Every day trucks deliver mountains of packages, knapsacks, and parcels of every sort to Dobrowa…each day, thirty or so Jews from the Pabianice ghetto are sent to sort the goods. Among other things they have noticed that, among the waste papers, there were some of our Rumkis [money used in the Lodz ghetto, also called chaimki], which had fallen out of billfolds. The obvious conclusion is that some of the clothing belongs to people deported from this ghetto.”220 No comment was added.

The department of statistics of the ghetto indicated that during the month of May 1942, the total population (110,806 persons at the beginning of the month) had increased by 7,122, practically all of whom were new arrivals. During that same month there were fifty-eight births and 1,779 deaths; moreover, 10,914 persons were ‘resettled.’”221

On July 2 the Lodz Gestapo wrote its own monthly report. At the outset the report mentioned that the population had not given the Gestapo any reason for intervention, although “the evacuations have caused a certain measure of disquiet.” The total interruption of all postal links with the ghetto, “introduced in order to facilitate the evacuations,” ensured that the Jews “have no way to communicate with the outside world.”222


During the first half of 1942, the rapidly expanding deportations to the extermination centers had yet to reach the Jews of Warsaw. In the largest ghetto, death remained ordinary: starving, freezing, disease. As before, the refugees from the provinces were the worst off: “The plight of the refugees is simply intolerable,” Ringelblum noted in January 1942. “They are freezing to death for lack of coal. During the month, 22 percent of over a thousand refugees died in the center at 9 Stawki Street…. The number of those who have frozen to death grows daily; it is literally a commonplace matter.” Ringelblum also noted: “There is no coal to be had for the refugee centers, but there is plenty for the coffee houses.”223 Kaplan recorded on January 18: “All along the sidewalks, on days of cold so fierce as to be unendurable, entire families bundled up in rags wander about, not begging but merely moaning with heartrending voices. A father and mother with their sick little children, crying and wailing, fill the street with the sound of their sobs. No one turns to them, no one offers them a penny, because the number of panhandlers has hardened our hearts.”224 In January 1942, 5,123 inhabitants died in the Warsaw ghetto.225

On February 20 Czerniaków noted a case of cannibalism: a mother had cut off a piece of the buttock of her twelve-year-old son who had died on the previous day.226 But there was also inventiveness in the ghetto in those early weeks of 1942: “contraceptives made of baby pacifiers, carbide lamps made from the metal ‘Mewa’ cigarette boxes.”227 On March 22 Czerniaków gave some indications about the situation in the Jewish prison: “Every day two detainees die in the Jewish prison. Corpses lie there for eight or more days because of unsettled formalities. On March 10, 1942, there were 1,261 prisoners and 22 corpses in the detention facility. The capacity of these two buildings is 350 persons.”228 April 1: “(The Seder night) tomorrow Passover. News from Lublin. Ninety percent of the Jews are to leave Lublin within the next few days. The 16 Council members together with the chairman, Becker, were reportedly arrested. Relatives of the older councilors, aside from their wives and children, must also leave Lublin. The Kommissar [Auerswald] telephoned to say that a transport of 1,000–2,000 Jews from Berlin will arrive at 11:30 p.m…. In the morning hours about 1,000 expellees from Hannover, Gelsenkirchen, etc were sent over. They were put in the quarantine…at 10 a.m. I witnessed the distribution of food. The expellees had brought only small packages with them…Older people, many women, small children.”229 April 11: “The Kommissar sent me a letter yesterday suspending performances of the orchestra for two months for having played the works of Aryan composers. When I tried to explain, I was told that the Propaganda and Culture Department has a list of the Jewish composers.”230

Further information about the systematic extermination campaign was spreading in the ghetto, mainly among activists of the various clandestine political movements. In mid-March, Zuckerman as representative of Hechalutz and other members of left-wing Zionist parties invited leaders of the Bund to attend a meeting to discuss the setting up of a common defense organization. Previous attempts to contact the Bund had not been successful: The ideological differences were too extreme, mainly in the eyes of the Bundists. The Bund, let us remember, was socialist-internationalist and hence opposed to the Zionist kind of separatist nationalism. Historically allied to the Polish Socialist Party, the PPS, the Bund strove for a common struggle with Eastern European Socialist parties to establish a new social order, within which the Jewish people would have the right to an autonomous life and a cultural identity rooted in a secular Yiddish culture.

The clandestine meeting took place at the Workers’ Kitchen on Orla Street sometime in mid-March 1942 (none of the reports on the meeting gives an exact date).231 After summing up the available information about the expanding extermination, Zuckerman came up with his proposal for a common Jewish defense organization that would also act in common with the Polish military underground and reading the acquisition of weapons outside the ghetto.232 These suggestions were rejected by the two Bund representatives, dogmatically by one (Mauricy Orzech), more diplomatically by the other (Abrasza Blum). Orzech’s main argument seems to have been that the Bund was bound by its relations with the PPS and that, as far as the Polish Socialist Party was concerned, the time for rebellion had not yet come.233

Once the Bund had stated his position, the representative of the Poalei Zion left, Hersch Berlinski, defended Zuckerman’s position, but his party decided that given the situation (the Bund’s refusal), they would not participate either.234 The Zionists, although recognizing the sufferings of the Poles, were increasingly convinced that the Germans were planning a special fate for the Jews: total extermination. Even on the brink of annihilation, the traditional hostility between Bundists and Zionists exacerbated their contrary interpretations of the events.235

The importance of the Bund in the setting up of a common fighting underground derived of course from its relations with the PPS; in principle, the Polish Socialists could be willing to provide at least some weapons. Moreover, the Bund had better channels to the outside world than its Zionist counterparts. Cooperation would ultimately be established some seven months later—in radically changed circumstances.

Incidentally, the Bund’s contacts with the outside world came to play an important role in May 1942, when one of its leading members in Warsaw, Leon Feiner, sent a lengthy report to London. The information was precise; it mentioned the extermination of approximately 1,000 victims per day in the Chelmno gas vans and the estimate that some 700,000 Polish Jews had already been murdered. The Bund report was given significant publicity in the British press and on the BBC.236 In the United States, however, the echo of the horrendous details was relatively weak. The New York Times, generally considered the most reliable source about the international scene and the events in Europe in particular, published a brief story on page 5 of the June 27 issue, at the bottom of a column including several short items. The information was attributed to the Polish government in London; it reported the number of 700,000 Jewish victims.237 The attribution of the information and its modest display could in fact convey serious doubts about its reliability.

On April 17 Czerniaków recorded a sudden and bloody upheaval: “In the afternoon panic erupted in the ghetto. Stores are being closed. People are crowding in the streets in front of their apartment buildings. To calm the population I took a stroll through several streets. The Order Service detachment was to report at 9:30 p.m. in front of the Pawiak (prison). It is now 10:30 and I am waiting for a report from the Order Service headquarters on what has transpired. It arrived at 7 a.m. Fifty-one persons had been shot.”238Fifty-one or fifty-two Jews, some members of the Bund, some of those working for the underground press, and some just Jews in the Gestapo’s path were pulled out of their apartments and shot in the back of the neck, on the streets.239

To this day the reasons for the massacre of April 17–18 are not entirely clear. The Germans were probably becoming aware of the first attempts to organize a Jewish underground in the Polish capital and mainly of the growing influence of the clandestine press (such as Yedies, launched by Zuckerman and his group). According to Zuckerman’s memoirs, the Gestapo had his name and usual address (he did not stay there on the night of April 17), but otherwise it did not have much precise information.240 The main aim of the executions was therefore, as Zuckerman surmised, “to instill terror.”241 An additional aim may have been to paralyze any underground plans ahead of the forthcoming Aktion. And indeed, as a result of the April massacres, the council attempted to convince the clandestine groups to put an end to their meetings. In fact the underground movements did not manage to establish any coordinated plan of action before the fateful days of July.242

With hindsight, the silencing of Rubinstein the ghetto jester, could be considered as an indication of the end: “Rubinstein is finished,” Wasser noted on May 10, 1942. “The most popular philosopher of ‘Oh boy, keep your head,’ renowned throughout the Warsaw ghetto is expiring. In rags and tatters, he wallows in the streets…taking the sun, almost naked. Thus expires an idea, a symbol that dazzled everyone with its truth and lie of ‘All Men Are Equal.’”243 In fact, the sentence was Alle Glaich, all equal before death. Within weeks, what had already been almost true in the ghetto was to become an absolute reality that no jester—or anybody else—could imagine. The new reality was about to obliterate the jest, the jester, and the population that, notwithstanding all misery—or because of it—needed a jester and loved his sayings and antics.244

On July 15, 1942, a week before the beginning of the deportations, Janusz Korczak invited the ghetto’s who’s who to a performance of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office staged and acted by the staff and the children of his orphanage. Korczak (Dr. Henryk Goldszmit) was a widely known educator and writer—mainly of highly prized children’s books; for three decades he had been the director of the most important Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. After the establishment of the ghetto, the “old doctor,” as he was affectionately nicknamed, had to move his two hundred small charges within the walls. As we saw, a few of these children addressed a petition to the curate of All Saints to be allowed a visit to the church’s gardens.

The play, the story of a sick boy confined to his dark room in a hut, expressed the same yearning as the children’s letter: to wander among trees and flowers, to hear the birds singing…. In the play a supernatural being enables Amal (the hero’s name) to walk an invisible path to the paradise he dreamed about.245 “Perhaps illusions would be a good subject for the Wednesday dormitory talk,” Korczak wrote in his diary on July 18. “Illusions, their role in the life of mankind.246

The Germans wanted to keep a “record” of it all—“for the education of future generations,” in Goebbels’s words. Film was the medium of choice. “The filming that the Germans have been carrying out in the ghetto continues,” Abraham Lewin noted in his diary on May 19, 1942. Lewin, both a deeply religious Jew and a fervent Zionist, was a teacher and administrator at the Yehudia School, a private high school for girls. He was a member of Oneg Shabbat, and his diary was probably linked to Ringelblum’s collective historical enterprise.247

“Today,” Lewin went on, “they set up a film session in Szulc’s restaurant…. They brought in Jews they had rounded up, ordinary Jews and well-dressed Jews, and also women who were respectably dressed, sat them down at the tables and ordered that they be served with all kinds of food and drinks at the expense of the Jewish community: meat, fish, liqueurs, white pastries and other delicacies. The Jews ate and the Germans filmed. It is not hard to imagine the motivation behind this. Let the world see the kind of paradise the Jews are living in. They stuff themselves with fish and goose and drink liqueur and wine.”

On the same day Lewin recorded another such scene. “The Germans set up an original film set at the corner of Nowolipie and Smocza Streets. It involved the finest funeral wagon in the possession of the Jewish community. Around it gathered all the cantors of Warsaw, ten in number…. It seems that they want to show that Jews not only live a cheerful decent existence, but that they also die with dignity and even get a luxury burial.248

Although members of the Warsaw ghetto underground had understood that the mass murder of the Jews in Lithuania, in the Warthegau, and in Lublin were indications of an overall German extermination plan, it remains unclear whether they fully grasped what the rapid construction of a second camp in Treblinka, next to the labor camp, meant before the onset of the deportations. Messages did reach them from outside the ghetto during June 1942, as the construction of Treblinka II was entering its final stage. Thus, in early June, an unknown survivor of the extermination in Włodawa sent an easily decipherable code letter into the ghetto: “Uncle has the intention to celebrate the wedding of his children also at your place; he has rented a house close to you, very close to you. You probably don’t know a thing about it. We write to you, so that you may be informed and do find a house outside of the city, for yourself and also for all our brethren and children, as the uncle has already prepared a new house for all, the same as in our case.” The Jews of Włodawa had been exterminated in Sobibor.249

On July 8 Czerniaków noted in his diary: “Many people hold a grudge against us for organizing play activities for the children, for arranging festive openings of playgrounds, for the music, etc. I am reminded of a film: a ship is sinking and the captain, to raise the spirits of the passengers, orders the orchestra to play a jazz piece. I have made up my mind to emulate the captain.”250

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