The beginning of World War II
WORLD WAR II BEGAN IN SEPTEMBER OF 1939, WHEN GERMANY LAUNCHED ITS ATTACK ON POLAND, HOME TO EUROPE’S LARGEST JEWISH POPULATION. EICHMANN’S OFFICE GAVE GERMAN TROOPS ORDERS TO KILL JEWS THEY CONSIDERED SECURITY THREATS.
EXPULSION AND MURDER WERE INADEQUATE TO DEAL WITH THE 3 MILLION POLISH JEWS. FROM BERLIN, EICHMANN ROUNDED UP AND FORCED THEM INTO GHETTOS AND LABOR CAMPS.
Although he denied it at his trial, official documents indicated that Eichmann himself suggested ghettoization as an interim method to kill large numbers of Jews. The ghetto was to be Step One in the “Final Solution,” which culminated insurvivors being sent to death camps.
In October 1939, Eichmann was put in charge of a newly created office that had asits purpose the deportation of Jews from occupied Poland so that ethnic Germans from other countries could return to “Greater Germany.” The objective of the office was to deport 190,000 Jews, Poles, and Gypsies. Those who survived the deportations ended up in ghettos. Thousands who ended up in these ghettos died of starvation and disease. And those who survived the horrible conditions of the ghettos were deported to labor camps, concentration camps, or death camps. Few survived to tell of their experiences.
Although the Nazis were successful in isolating Jews socially and economically,their actual physical isolation did not begin until December 1939. Jews had known the ghetto since the Middle Ages, although Jews were then permitted toleave the ghetto during the day and participate in the business of the general community. The purpose of the Nazi ghetto, however, was to confine the entire Jewish population, turning entire neighborhoods into a prison unlike the ghettos of centuries past.
Eichmann hoped that the abominable conditions in the ghettos would deplete the Jewish population quickly and naturally through starvation, disease, and cold. The ghetto served as a holding area for eventual transportation to the deathcamps for the hardy ones who survived brutal conditions.
There was no medicine permitted in the ghettos. The food ration allowed to inhabitants was a quarter of that available to the Germans, barely enough to permit survival. The water supply was often contaminated. Epidemics of tuberculosis, typhoid, and lice were common.
IN 1940, HENRYK ROSS, A PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER BEFORE THE WAR, WAS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY AND SHIPPED TO THE JEWISH GHETTO IN THE TOWN OF LODZ. HE SECRETLY PHOTOGRAPHED THE BRUTAL CONDITIONS THERE.
WITH PHOTOS TAKEN BY ROSS AND OTHERS, PROSECUTORS PAINTED A PICTURE OF GHETTO LIFE, INCLUDING THE ONE IN LODZ, WHERE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND PEOPLE WE REPACKED INTO AN AREA SMALLER THAN THREE SQUARE MILES. WHEN EICHMANN FORCED ANOTHER TWENTY-THOUSAND INTO LODZ, THE DISTRICT COMMISSIONER NAIVELY COMPLAINED THAT EICHMANN MUST HAVE HAD INACCURATE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CAPACITY OF THE GHETTO. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND JEWS IN THE LODZ GHETTO DIED OFS TARVATION. THE JEWS WHO WERE NOT FORCED INTO GHETTOS WERE CONDEMNED TO POLAND’S 300 LABOR CAMPS.
IN JUNE OF 1941, GERMANY INVADED THE SOVIET UNION. SPECIAL GERMAN UNITS CALLED EINSATZGRUPPEN FOLLOWED IMMEDIATELY BEHIND THE ADVANCING TROOPS. UNDER ORDERS FROM EICHMANN, THESE UNITS HUNTED DOWN THE JEWS AND KILLED THEM.
Eichmann was the supervisor of the these units. THE MAIN AND PRINCIPLE OBJECTIVE OF THE EINSATZGRUPPEN WAS TO KILL JEWS AND ROB THEM OF THEIR PROPERTY. An estimated 1.4 million Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen. All reports about their activities went to Eichmann.
Records of the Gestapo were destroyed after the collapse of Germany. However,one order which survived and was used as evidence at the trial was from Eichmann to several Gestapo officers to deport 50,000 Jews.
A SPECIAL TRIAL OF EINSATZGRUPPEN OFFICERS HAD BEEN CONVENED AFTER THE WAR AND AN AMERICAN JUDGE, MICHAEL MUSMANNO, HAD PRESIDED OVER IT. HE WAS CONSIDERED AN EXPERT ON THESE SPECIAL UNITS AND HAUSNER CALLED HIM AS A WITNESS TO TIE THEM TO EICHMANN.
The gas chambers
The Eizengruppen’s methods of mass murder were considered inefficient, and it was Eichmann’s duty to develop and implement methods to hasten the annihilation ofthe Jews under Nazi occupation.
The use of gas to kill the mentally insane had been employed in Germany as earlyas 1939. At an October 1941 meeting where Eichmann was present, a decision wa smade to use poison gas to kill Jews. Auschwitz, a camp in Poland, was chosen to test this new method, and it was Eichmann who met with the Auschwitz commandant,Rudoph Hoess, to accomplish this. By the end of 1941, zyclon B gas, which hadfirst been tested on Russian prisoners of war, was found to be a faster methodthat carbon monoxide poisoning (using the exhaust gas from diesel engines).
Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution
THE EINSATZGRUPPEN KILLED NEARLY A MILLION JEWS IN JUST SIX MONTHS. BUT NAZI LEADERS WORRIED THAT CARRYING OUT SO MANY CLOSE UP COLD-BLOODED MURDERS WOULD BETOO MUCH OF A STRAIN ON THEIR TROOPS. EICHMANN BEGAN TO FEEL THE NEED FOR WHATHE CALLED A “MORE ELEGANT SOLUTION,” AND IN A SUBURB OF BERLIN CALLED WANNSEE, HEHELPED ORGANIZE A MEETING OF THE NAZI BRASS TO FIND IT. THE NOTORIOUS WANNSEE CONFERENCE LASTED ONLY AN HOUR AND A HALF, BUT IT PUT INTO MOTION THE PROGRAM FOR THE SYSTEMATIC EXTERMINATION OF THE JEWS AT THE DEATH CAMPS.
AT THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE, EICHMANN PRESENTED ESTIMATES OF THE NUMBERS OF JEWS THAT WOULD BE DEPORTED FROM EACH COUNTRY AND GASSED IN THE CAMPS.
Fifteen high-ranking Nazi officials were in attendance, including Heydrich, for whom Eichmann prepared the conference’s opening speech. At this meeting, the Third Reich adopted a plan to deport Jews to death camps, in what became known asthe “Final Solution.” Most of the debate centered not on the morality of this,but rather what proportion of Jewish blood would merit this “special treatment” and the methods used to effect genocide. Heydrich made it clear that all organizational and logistical requirements would be the responsibility of Adolf Eichmann.
Throughout most of the war, Eichmann was the top official of a bureaucracy designed to deport, concentrate, and murder millions of Jews. He would travel from occupied country to occupied country and assist in making the arrangementsfor the Jews to be slaughtered.
According to Eichmann, it was he who coined the term “Final Solution” to mean the annihilation of the Jewish people. In 1941, Hitler ordered that all Jews in the Reich be killed. A written order to that effect was found to be sent from Gestapo Chief Hermann Goerring to Heydrich. Eichmann, as the Nazi war machine’sJewish expert, was the central instrument in the German War bureaucracy to seethat this order was fulfilled. At his trial in Nuremberg, Goerring denied thatthe words in the directive meant that the Jews were to be killed. In his Sasseninterviews, Eichmann took the credit for drafting Goerring’s directive. It is generally believed that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust was six million. Five million others also perished as a result of Nazi atrocities.
The end of the war
The Third Reich’s initial military victories were overtaken by stunning defeats.BY THE FALL OF 1944, HEAVY ALLIED BOMBING HAD TAKEN A TOLL ON THE EUROPEAN RAILROAD SYSTEM, WHICH WAS NEEDED FOR BOTH THE WAR EFFORT AND THE DEPORTATION OFJEWS. THE GERMANS WERE ALSO SUFFERING LOSSES ON THE EASTERN FRONT. HOPING TO INGRATIATE HIMSELF WITH THE RUSSIANS, WHO WERE FAST APPROACHING BUDAPEST, HIMMLER TRIED TO HALT THE FINAL SOLUTION. HE ORDERED EICHMANN TO STOP ALL DEPORTATIONS FROM HUNGARY. EICHMANN IGNORED HIMMLER’S ORDERS, AND ROUNDED UP ANOTHER 50,000JEWS. UNABLE TO DEPORT THEM BY TRAINS, HE DECIDED TO MARCH THEM TO THEIR DEATH CAMPS IN POLAND.
With the war seemingly lost, Eichmann set to work with two goals in mind:destroying all documents he could find which implicated him in the most heinous mass murder in human history, and murdering as many Jews as could be accomplished before the cover of war was lifted.
According to one account, he knew that he would be high on the list of war criminals who would be dealt with following the inevitable Allied victory.
by Gary Grobman
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Eichmann Classroom Activities