Frequently Asked Questions

Secondary school

  • 1 - What exactly is meant by the Shoah and what historical period does it refer to ?

    Shoah is a Hebrew word that means catastrophe. It refers to the Nazis’ genocide of the Jews during the Second World War. The word Shoah covers the genocide itself, that is, from the start of the massacres in summer 1941 to the end of the war in Europe in spring 1945, when European Jews were out of danger. But the persecution of European Jews began long before that, with humiliation and violence day after day, legal and social exclusion, and spoliation, which started in the very first weeks after the Nazis came to power on January 30, 1933.

  • 2 - How many Jews were killed during the Shoah?

    Today, historians who have studied the Shoah put the estimated number of Jewish victims at around five to six million. It’s impossible to be absolutely precise because the Nazis did not keep a systematic count of the killings they committed. This was particularly true in Poland and Russia, where Europe’s biggest Jewish communities lived before the war, and where many Jews died, either in the ghettos, executed by the Einsatzgruppen or gassed in the killing centers.
    More precise figures exist for some countries. For instance in France, the deportation lists the Nazis left in the archives provide a basis for calculation. Nearly 76,000 Jews from France were deported to the killing centers but Jews who were killed in resistance activities on French soil, shot as hostages in concentration camps or died in French internment camps must be added to this figure, raising it to nearly 80,000.

    The American historian Raul Hilberg said 5,100,000 Jews died during the Holocaust. He gives the following breakdown:

    Died in the ghettos: 800,000
    Killed by execution (Einsatzgruppen): 1,300,000
    Died in extermination camps: 2,700,000
    Died in concentration camps: 300,000
    The Washington Holocaust Museum puts the estimated number of Jewish victims at over 5,860,000.
    In any event, most competent authorities put forward and accept the figure of approximately six million.
    In fact, 50% of European Jews and 40% of global Jewry, which at the time was mainly European, were killed.

  • 3 - How many Holocaust victims were there in each country?

    According to The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, the number of victims per country was as follows:
    Austria: 50,000, i.e. 27% of the Jewish population in 1939.
    Belgium: 28,900, i.e. 44%
    Bulgaria: 0
    Bohemia/Moravia: 78,150, i.e. 66.1%
    Denmark: 60, i.e. 0.7%
    Estonia: 2,000, i.e. 44.4%
    Finland: 7, i.e. 0.3%
    France: 77,320, i.e. 22.1%
    Germany: 141,500, i.e. 25%
    Greece: 67,000, i.e. 86.6%
    Hungary: 569,000, i.e. 69%
    Italy: 7,680, i.e. 17.3%
    Latvia: 71,500, i.e. 78.1%
    Lithuania: 143,000, i.e. 85.1%
    Luxembourg: 1,950, i.e. 55.7%
    The Netherlands: 100,000, i.e. 71.4%
    Norway: 762, i.e. 44.8%
    Poland: 3,000,000, i.e. 90.9%
    Romania: 287,000, i.e. 47.1%
    Slovakia: 71,000, i.e. 79.8%
    USSR: 1,100,000, i.e. 36.4%
    Yugoslavia: 63,300, i.e. 81.2%

  • 4 - What is a death camp? A killing center? A concentration camp? An internment camp in France?

    Extermination camps. Death camps. Killing centers.
    Many books, including primary and secondary school textbooks, use the term “extermination camps” to describe the places where European Jews were gassed. There were six such camps, all of them on Polish soil in 1939 that later came under the rule of the Third Reich:

    • Auschwitz-Birkenau
    • Belzec
    • Chelmno
    • Majdanek
    • Sobibor
    • Treblinka

    These camps were built for the destruction of the Jewish population in Europe. The historian Raul Hilberg prefers the term “killing centers”, which he considers to be a more accurate description. Apart from Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek, which were mixed camps, meaning that some of the detainees were kept there to be used as forced labor, the other four (Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor and Treblinka) were built solely for the purpose of installing gas chambers or gas vans; only a few dozen resident prisoners were tasked with processing the victims (collecting and sorting clothes, cleaning the gas chambers, cremation, etc.). In those circumstances, camp is hardly the right word, since deportees were either gassed immediately upon arrival or never survived for any length of time.

    Concentration camps
    Concentration camps were set up as soon as the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. Dachau, near Munich, was the first, opening in March 1933. Originally, they were supposed to “reeducate” the regime’s opponents and people considered antisocial by forcing them to do hard labor. When the war started, many more camps were set up on German soil for resistance members and the regime’s opponents from all over Europe. The principle of death by forced labor in the service of Germany then became the rule.

    Internment camps in France
    The first internment camps in France were established for the Spanish Republican refugees in 1938. They soon held Germans and Austrians because the French authorities considered them enemy aliens, even though most of them had sought asylum in France because they were anti-Nazi or Jewish refugees. After France fell in June 1940, the Vichy government handed over them over to the Nazis.
    Starting in the spring of 1941, the first Jewish men rounded up in Paris were sent to these internment camps. After that, and until the liberation of France, over 75,000, men, women and children were held in them camps after being arrested in major roundups such as the Vélodrome d’Hiver (July 16-17, 1942) and Marseilles (January 21, 1943) or individual arrests. They were then deported in cattle cars to the killing centers in Poland.
    Most transports from France (77) left from Drancy near Paris (67), which became the antechamber of death. Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolande and Compiègne were the main French internment camps where detainees waited to be deported but were not put to work.

  • 5 - What does the expression "Final Solution" mean and where does it come from?

    The term “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (in German, Endlösung den Judenfrage) refers to the Nazi plan for destruction of the Jews. it is deliberately vague because the Nazis wanted to conceal the reality of their plan, the actions of the “Einsatzgruppen” and the deportation’s organizers by using euphemisms. Nazi officials used it at the Wannsee conference. The Final Solution, a Nazi priority, targeted the eleven million Jews in Europe. The plan included their arrest and transfer to the East, where those who were not eliminated “naturally”, that is by forced labor and deprivation, would receive “appropriate treatment”, in other words gassing in gas chambers or trucks.

    Historians hold divergent views on what made Hitler and the Nazis decide to exterminate European Jews under the guise of this euphemistic vocabulary. The debate between “intentionalists” and “functionalists”, which raged in the 1970s and 1980s, now seems out of date. The intentionalists argued that the will to exterminate European Jews was clearly stated in long-established, deliberate and programmed plans Hitler made public when he rose to power in 1933. The functionalists’ theory is that the invasion of the USSR changed the nature of the war, which became a war of total annihilation, escalating through radicalization to the decision to implement “the final solution to the Jewish question”.
    Today, however, although the intentionalist theory is no longer held in much regard, some historians see exclusive German nationalism as fertile soil for biological anti-Semitism bent on eradication as early as the late 19th century. The decision to implement the “Final Solution” was taken in that fertile soil, in circumstances relating to the war in the East.

  • 6 - When was the Final Solution decided and when did it begin?

    The Final Solution seems to have been decided during summer 1941, when the first major massacres in the East took place. According to recent research, the decision came soon after Germany invaded the USSR. European Jews had been persecuted, expelled and randomly killed before June 1941, but once the war in the East began, massacres became systematic and marked the start of the Final Solution.
    Christopher Browning says that Hitler, emboldened by the quick success of his offensive in the East, decided on extermination during summer 1941. Philippe Burin, on the contrary, says that during summer 1941 Hitler had come to understand that his plan for a lightning victory in the East was doomed to failure. He faced the prospect of a long war, which he then rationalized as a war of the Reich against a global coalition (the United States, USSR and United Kingdom) inspired by “international Jewry”, which should be made to pay as soon as possible for the blood already shed and to be shed later by German soldiers. It was at this point, he believes, that Hitler decided to exterminate European Jews.
    Responsibility for carrying out the Final Solution was first given to special forces, the Einsatzgruppen, following the advancing German army in the East. Later, in December 1941, gas trucks started operating at the Belzec killing center in Poland. All six killing centers were running at full capacity by 1942.

  • 7 - What was the difference between persecution of the Jews and persecution of other groups the Nazis viewed as enemies of the Third Reich?

    The Jews were the only group the Nazis singled out for total, systematic extermination. Anyone they considered Jewish was in danger of death throughout the Nazi-dominated world, whatever his or her personal circumstances (man, woman, child, old, sick, rich, poor, handicapped, etc.). Gypsies (Roma) were also victims of mass eradication, but not systematically throughout the Nazi-occupied territories.
    The families of other groups the Nazis classified as enemies of the Reich were not threatened because they belonged to a given, defined group. Opponents’ families were unlikely to be sent to concentration or extermination camps. Furthermore, most people in these groups chose to become the Nazis’ enemies through military or political action. They were guilty because of the choices they made. The Jews were guilty solely because they were born Jewish.

  • 8 - What did the German people know about the persecution and extermination of the Jews?

    Persecution of the Jews became public policy in Germany as soon as the Nazis came to power. For example, the boycott of Jewish shops launched on April 1, 1933 was known to the whole of German society. The Nuremberg racial laws enacted in 1935 excluding Jews from German society were published and openly implemented. On November 9-10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, the Nazis arrested 30,000 Jews, killed several dozen and destroyed hundreds of synagogues and other places of worship. In September 1941, Jews had to start wearing a yellow star and the Nazis began rounding up Germans of the Jewish faith or of Jewish origin in full public view.
    They tried to conceal the Final Solution behind deliberately vague wording. It’s probably true that many Germans believed that the Jews who had disappeared from their midst had most likely been sent east to be resettled or to work and were unaware of their true fate. However, it seems very probably that large segments of German public opinion had some knowledge about what was happening. Despite being shut up in his apartment and cut off from all sources of information and contact with German society, Professor Victor Klemperer mentions Auschwitz in his diary on March 16, 1942, adding that atrocities were being committed there.
    Many Reichsbahn (German railway) employees drove death trains or saw them go past. Numerous civil servants dealt with these matters, not to mention the Ordnung Polizei and Einsatzgruppen tasked with slaughtering the Jews in Poland and Russia. Altogether, many people knew; many must have spoken about what they saw happening around them. For that matter, it’s very interesting to note that as soon as clergymen, in particular C. A. von Galen, Bishop of Münster, publicly voiced their opposition to the T4 program for exterminating disabled and anti-social people, the Nazis put an end to the killings.

  • 9 - Were the people of occupied Europe aware of the “special treatment” reserved for the Jews? How did they react? Did they collaborate with the Nazis against the Jews?

    People in Nazi-occupied Europe reacted to the persecution and deportation of the Jews in very different ways. It’s very hard to generalize. In every country, some people chose to help the Nazis hunt down Jews. Their actions ranged from informing on Jews in hiding to actively participating in police units or armed organizations. However, many people also helped Jews.
    Jews lived in different circumstances depending on the country, but Nazi Germany was able to enlist effective collaboration with its discrimination, persecution and deportation policies everywhere. This was particularly true in Eastern Europe, where an old anti-Semitic tradition encouraged collaboration in the pursuit of annihilation of European Jewry.
    Jews in Eastern Europe suffered from the local population’s active collaboration much more than anywhere else. Poignant accounts regarding their plight in Poland, in particular Calel Perechodnik’s extraordinary testimony, show to what extent some of the Polish population was satisfied with their fate.
    Furthermore, Jews in Eastern Europe were killed on the spot, in plain sight of the whole population, which was well aware of what was happening to them. Auxiliary forces even served the Nazis, especially in the conquered Baltic republics. Local anti-Semitic movements, for example the Romanian Iron Guard and the Hungarian Arrow-Cross, participated in anti-Jewish actions. Elsewhere in Europe, especially Western Europe, people were less informed about the details of the Final Solution.
    However, it must be emphasized that individuals across occupied Europe risked their lives to save thousands of people by hiding them, protecting them or helping them flee. Polish assistance and resistance groups such as Zegota, the resistance in Assisi, Italy and the Joop Westerweel group in the Netherlands also helped Jews escape.

  • 10 - What did the Allies and people in the free world know?

    The Nazi regime’s declared anti-Semitism was well known and obvious very early on in the United States and in Europe. The media reported on it extensively.
    Once war broke out and the Final Solution was under way, the Nazis did not allow as much information to seep out. However, less than a year after the systematic destruction of European Jewry began, information began to filter through.
    In spring 1942, activists from the Bund (the Socialist Jewish labor union) smuggled the first explicit report about a systematic mass murder plan out of Poland and into England. In summer 1942, Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva, sent the British and American governments a cable confirming the report. Richard Lichtheim (1885-1963), a Jewish Agency representative in Switzerland, sent messages to the Vatican and various Allied governments informing them of the tragic developments. It was not until late 1942 that multiple confirmations put an end to lingering doubts. The US government then confirmed the contents of various reports from Eastern Europe sent by governments in exile, for example, to American Jewish leaders. Jan Karski, a Polish resistance member, managed to infiltrate the Warsaw ghetto and see what was happening.
    The Royal Air Force even took some photographs of the Birkenau extermination camp in which the smoke from the crematoria chimneys is clearly visible. The Allies knew most of the facts about the extermination of the Jews as early as 1942. On December 17 of that year, they adopted a joint declaration denouncing the massacres. The House of Commons observed a minute of silence to honor the victims.

  • 11 - How did the Allies react to the persecution of the Jews?

    The Allied response to the persecution and annihilation of European Jews was never proportionate to the gravity of the situation. Between 1933 and 1937, 150,000 Jews left Nazi Germany, including 20,000 to 30,000 who went to France, which soon stopped letting them in. Another 27,000 went to the United States, which still had immigration quotas. Abiding by the 1939 White Paper, the United Kingdom refused to open Palestine up to Jewish immigration for fear of antagonizing the Arabs.
    The 1938 Evian Conference, called by President Roosevelt, aimed to find countries willing to take in refugees fleeing the Nazis. But the countries invited by the United States and the United Kingdom refused to change their immigration laws and the conference ended in failure. Despite the creation of the ICR (Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees), Jews wanting to leave Germany and Europe were left stranded. During the war itself, the Allies made just one statement condemning atrocities the Nazis committed against the Jews, on December 17, 1942.
    In April 1943, the United States and the United Kingdom convened the Bermuda Conference to discuss the refugee issue and standardize Allied policy. The delegations expressed sympathy but took no specific decision and countries did not loosen up their immigration policies. The conference did not lead to any agreement on rescuing European Jews, confirming that their cause was lost. In despair at this indifference, on May 12, 1943 Samuel Zygelbojm, a Bund leader and member of the Polish government in exile, committed suicide in London, hoping that his action would prompt the free world to react. But the United States and the United Kingdom were never ready to take on the possible consequences of a rescue plan.
    In January 1944, the War Refugee Board was created to help victims of Nazi persecution. Its activities, mainly financed by private donations from American Jews, consisted of sending parcels and rescuing people when possible.
    Specific steps could have been taken, such as bombing the killing centers that the Allies knew about. But although they were aware of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, thanks in particular to aerial photographs taken by the Royal Air Force, they refused to bomb them or even the railway lines leading to them. However, they did bomb factories near various camps in the complex. Nothing was ever attempted to specifically rescue the Jewish population, none of the killing centers was ever attacked and liberating the camps was never a military objective. The Allies had no intention of making specific diplomatic efforts or allocating military personnel or logistics to save the Jews.

  • 12 - Did the Jews realize they were being exterminated?

    The Nazis tried to keep the aim of the Final Solution secret and avoided any overt mention of the subject. They did everything they could to deceive the victims in order to prevent resistance. Deportation transports were always referred to as “population movements” and “transfers to the East”. Jews were told that they’d be better off in the East than in Polish ghettos or that they were being sent off to work. As soon as they arrived in the camps, some were even forced to write home to family or friends to describe the pleasant conditions in which they now were going to live.
    Moreover, the fact that human beings could design and construct buildings for the purpose of mass murder on an unprecedented scale seemed unimaginable and inconceivable. In the circumstances, the few individuals who managed to escape from transports or even camps received very little attention, if any. Another factor was that information circulated only with the greatest difficulty in wartime, and Europe’s Jewish communities were very isolated from each other to begin with.

  • 13 - How many Jews escaped from Europe before the Holocaust began?

    Accurate figures are hard to come by. Estimating the number of Jews who were able to escape from Europe before the war started is a matter of guesswork. The estimated number of German and Austrian Jews who fled their countries from 1933 to 1939 is put at over 350,000. Some went to countries that the Nazis occupied later (Anne Frank’s family is an example). Almost 20,000 made it to Shanghai, where no entrance visas were required. Slightly over 80,000 Polish Jews immigrated to Palestine and more than 50,000 European Jews went to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In 1938-1939, 35,000 Jews from Bohemia-Moravia emigrated after the creation of the Nazi protectorate.
    It’s impossible to know the exact number because many countries cannot provide specific figures on the community or faith to which immigrants of that period belonged.
    In 1940, 11 million European Jews were under the threat of the Nazis.

  • 14 - Whom did the Final Solution target?

    The Final Solution targeted Jews and only Jews, as the expression the Nazis used makes clear: Die Endlösung den Judenfrage, “the final solution to the Jewish question”.
    On September 15, 1935, the Nuremberg racial laws were adopted “for the protection of German blood and German honor”. Two months later, on November 14, a decree was enacted defining who, according to the Nazis, was a Jew: individuals with at least three Jewish grandparents, or with two grandparents if they themselves were Jewish, married to a Jew or born of a marriage or an extra-marital relationship between a Jew and a non-Jew after September 15, 1935.

    In France, the Vichy government defined membership in the “Jewish race” in two statutes. The first was enacted on October 3, 1940. Article 1 stated that, “Any person with three Jewish grandparents or two grandparents of the same race if his or her spouse is also Jewish is considered Jewish.”
    The second statute, dated June 2, 1941 modified and broadened the definition. Article 1 stated that, “Any person, of any or no religious persuasion, with at least three grandparents of the Jewish race is considered a member of the Jewish race.”
    Article 2 adds that, “He or she who is of Jewish faith, or who was so on June 25, 1940, and who is the descendant of two grandparents of the Jewish race, is considered Jewish. Non-Jewish faith is established by proof of membership in one or another of the other religions recognized by the State before the law dated December 9, 1905. Actions of disavowal or annulment of recognition of a child defined as Jewish are without effect as regards the measures above.”

  • 15 - Did the Jews try to fight the Nazis or defend themselves?

    Despite the great hardship Jews suffered trying to survive in occupied Europe, many did engage in armed combat against the Nazis. There were different kinds of conflict and commitment, due in particular to the combatants’ personalities and the different circumstances they were living in.

    Jews who were already active members of political parties joined the struggle their own party was waging. In France, for example, the Germans shot many Communist members of the FTP-MOI (Francs-tireurs et partisans-Main d’oeuvre immigrée, an immigrant workers’ movement). They included Rayman, Wasjbrot, Elek, Fingerweig and other young members of the Affiche Rouge (“Red Poster”) movement who had become active resistance fighters as early as 1942. Jewish members of political parties followed the policies laid down by the party’s underground leaders.

    Jewish partisan groups were active in many places throughout occupied Europe, particularly in the East, for example Baranovichi, Minsk, the Naliboki Forest and Vilnius. In France, between autumn 1943 and spring 1944, Robert Gamzon organized the EIF maquis (Eclaireurs Israélites de France, Jewish Scouts of France), whose underground activity was intense. In the Tarn department they organized the Marc Haguenau fighting group, named after the EIF Secretary-General, who was killed by the Gestapo in 1944.
    A Jewish Army maquis, part of the free fighters of the Montagne Noire, was called the “Trumpeldor Squad”. These two maquis fought side by side for the liberation of southwest France. So, although these groups of Jewish resistance fighters in occupied Europe did not always play a very substantial military role, they helped rescue many Jews and may have inflicted limited though significant losses on the Germans. The occupiers’ pride was occasionally hurt by the fact that people they considered an inferior race of slaves could actually fight back, inflict casualties and die fighting.

    That’s why the five-week Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on April 19, 1943, took the Nazis by surprise. The insurrection may not have been an isolated case — other ghettos also rose up in rebellion — but it was the greatest example of Jewish armed resistance.
    The Jewish resistance was also active at the very sites built to destroy them: revolts broke out in Treblinka (August 2, 1943), Sobibor (October 14, 1943) and Birkenau (October 7, 1944). In each case, extermination ceased shortly afterwards. Uprisings also occurred in the Janowska camp near Lvov (November 19, 1943) and at Babi Yar (September 29, 1943).

  • 16 - What were the Judenräte (Jewish Councils)?

    Following a decision by the head of the RSHA (Reich Security), Reinhard Heydrich, on September 21, 1939, the Nazis set up Judenräte, or Jewish councils, in every ghetto or Jewish community in occupied Poland. Their members were local Jewish notables. They were in charge not just of running the ghettos but also and above all of applying Nazi decrees concerning the Jews.
    Given the circumstances, the Judenräte were in the most uncomfortable position possible. Under constant pressure from Nazis threatening to deport or kill the ghettos’ residents or even their families, they were forced to accept the Germans’ demands in order to try and save whom or what they thought might yet be.
    The behavior of some, such as Mordechai Rumkowski in Lodz and Jacob Gens in Vilnius, is controversial. The Jewish councils’ ambiguous role was the topic of widely publicized debates between the philosophers Hannah Arendt and Gershom Sholem. In Arendt’s book on the Eichmann trial, she accused the Judenräte of collaborating with the Nazis in the slaughter of European Jews.
    That there were abuses and excesses cannot be denied, but today there is reason to believe that many Judenräte members did their best to save as many lives as they could in the eye of the storm.
    Their total helplessness in the face of the Nazi machine of destruction now seems very obvious but was felt by many Judenräte members themselves even then. In his testimony, Hillel Seidmann, for instance, gives a clear impression of a steamroller nobody could resist.
    On July 22, 1942, the Nazis ordered the head of the Warsaw Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow, to deliver 6,000 Jews a day for deportation, failing which they threatened to immediately execute 100 hostages, including his wife. After unsuccessful attempts to save children in orphanages, he chose to commit suicide. In the note he left his wife, he explained: “I can no longer bear all this. My act will prove to everyone that it is the only thing to do.” The mass deportation of Warsaw’s Jews to the Treblinka killing center began on the same day.

  • 17 - Did international organizations like the Red Cross help the victims of Nazi persecution?

    Between September 1939 and summer 1944, the Red Cross did little to help Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. From September 1939 to June 1941, the German Red Cross sent food parcels to people in need. Jews in the Polish ghettos were not allowed to receive them under the pretext that the Nazis considered them a threat to the Reich’s security. The German Red Cross obeyed their orders.
    Nor did the Red Cross take any particular action when the Final Solution began. They tried to continue sending parcels but made no official protest regarding the imprisonment and slaughter of European Jews. Since the Red Cross was a charitable non-governmental organization, Jewish bodies worldwide, especially in the United States, questioned its attitude. The Red Cross replied that taking action or lodging protests might worsen the plight of European Jews.
    It was not until summer 1944 that the Red Cross sent an appeal to Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, asking him to stop the deportation of Hungarian Jews, which had been going on for quite some time — after the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and King Gustav V of Sweden, had already written to him personally.

    Shortly before then, the Red Cross had obtained permission to visit the Theresienstadt camp in Bohemia. The Danish and Swedish Red Cross finally enquired about the deportees’ fate after Jews from Denmark arrived at that camp on October 5, 1943. The Nazis agreed to their request to visit without revealing the real situation. Under the orders of the camp commander, SS Colonel Karl Rahm, the camp was renovated and over 7,500 Jews, including hundreds of orphans and sick people, were deported to reduce crowding.
    By June 23, 1944, the day of the visit — nine months after the first request had been made — the Nazis had finally completed all their preparations. The Red Cross representatives were treated to the sight of bakers making bread, stalls of fresh vegetables and happy workers. The detainees even put on a show to entertain them. As a result, the Red Cross wrote a glowing report that brought protests from Jewish organizations.
    In the weeks after the visit, the Therensienstadt detainees were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and killed.

  • 18 - What were the Nuremberg trials?

    After the war, there were two sets of trials to judge Nazi criminals. The four-part London agreement (the United Kingdom, USSR, United States and France) established the Nuremberg Tribunal on August 8, 1945.
    The first set of trials opened on November 20, 1945 and lasted until October 1, 1946. The International Military Tribunal was made up of representatives from France, the UK, the USSR and the United States. Twenty-two defendants — Nazi leaders, German military officers and State officials — went on trial. They were charged with four types of crimes: “conspiracy”; “crimes against peace” — in other words, planning or organizing war; “war crimes” — i.e., breaking the rules of war by, for example executing POWs and violating the Geneva Convention; and “crimes against humanity”, for organizing the deportation and/or systematic extermination of unarmed populations, especially in concentration and extermination camps. On October 1, 1946, 12 of the defendants were sentenced to death, including Martin Bormann in absentia and Hermann Goering, who committed suicide in his cell on October 15. The other 10 were hanged on October 16. They were Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Julius Streicher and Joachim von Ribbentrop.
    Other results were:
    Karl Doenitz: 10 years
    Hans Fritzsche: acquitted
    Walter Funk: life sentence
    Rudolf Hess: life sentence, committed suicide in 1987 at age 92
    Erich Raeder: life sentence
    Hjalmar Schacht: acquitted
    Albert Speer: 20 years
    Konstantin von Neurath: 15 years
    Franz von Papen: acquitted
    Baldur von Schirach: 20 years.

    Four organizations were condemned for criminal activities: the NSDAP (the Nazi party), the SS, the SD (Reich security) and the Gestapo.

    The Nuremberg Military Tribunal held the second set of trials, 11 in all, between December 9, 1946 and April 13, 1949. The US military authorities in Germany drafted the indictment. All the judges were American, but the tribunal was deemed international. The approximately 185 defendants included doctors who had performed medical experiments on POWs and concentration camp detainees; judges who committed murder or other crimes under the guise of judicial procedure; industrialists who took part in the plunder of occupied countries and used slave labor; senior SS officers who had been in charge of concentration camps, implemented Nazi racial laws and acted to exterminate Jews and other groups in eastern Europe; and high-ranking civil servants and military officers who applied the policies of the Third Reich. A number of doctors and SS men were condemned to death by hanging, 120 people sentenced to prison and 35 defendants acquitted.

  • 19 - Who were the Nazi war criminals and how many were there? How many stood trial?

    The exact number of Nazi war criminals or soldiers, policemen or auxiliaries who participated in killing hundreds of thousands of people is unknown. To avoid leaving evidence, the Nazis destroyed many documents. Many of those who were responsible or obeyed orders were never identified.
    Some war criminals are obvious, especially those who took a direct part in the massacres: the SS of the Einsatzgruppen, the Ordnungpolizei, the SS guards in the killing centers and troops who witnessed or even participated in the massacres in Poland and the USSR. In addition, there were those who planned, managed or oversaw the killing operations: leaders of the Nazi party, the Nazi State and the Reich Security forces who initiated the Final Solution and the massacres. In fact, thousands of people participated in the Final Solution, not to mention the zealous Nazi collaborators who lent them a helping hand.
    After the Nuremberg Military Tribunal sentenced the main Nazi leaders in custody (November 20, 1945-October 1, 1946), the Allies continued to try Nazi criminals in courts in each Occupation Zone. American, British and French courts in Germany convicted 5,025 Nazi war criminals between 1945 and 1949. The number of individuals the Soviets tried is unknown to us.

    Courts in Allied countries as well as in those occupied by the Nazis during the war also held trials on the basis of a list drawn up by the United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes. In all, nearly 80,000 Germans and tens of thousands of collaborators were convicted of crimes against humanity. Poland tried 40,000 people, including, in 1947, the Auschwitz camp commander, Rudolf Hoess, who was sentenced to death and executed at the scene of his crimes. Germany itself began trials as early as 1945, investigating nearly 80,000 Germans and convicting over 6,000 by 1969. In 1958, the Federal Republic of Germany set up a special agency in Ludwigsburg tasked with investigating crimes committed by Germans outside Germany. It carried out 1,200 investigations between 1958 and 1985. In 1963, SS guards at Auschwitz stood trial in Frankfurt. However, sentences meted out by German courts were sometimes controversial because they seemed too lenient compared to the crimes committed.
    Israel organized the abduction and trial of one of the Final Solution’s main perpetrators, Adolf Eichmann, who had been hiding in Argentina under an assumed named. He was sentenced to death and executed in Jerusalem in 1961.
    Individuals and non-governmental organizations were also involved in locating and capturing numerous war criminals who had escaped justice. Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were the instigators of the arrest of former Nazi criminals such as Kurt Lischka, Herbert Hagen and Ernst Heinrichsohn in the early 1970s, Klaus Barbie in 1987 and others. The Simon Wiesenthal Center helped capture approximately 1,000 Nazi criminals. However, thousands of others escaped justice, because either they died before standing trial or vanished without a trace under their own or assumed names in South America, Germany and even the United States. For example, Alois Brunner, an SS officer in charge of the Drancy camp and responsible, among other things, for the deportation of French Jews, was tried in absentia in France in 2001 and sentenced to life. At the time, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had located him in Syria.

  • 20 - Who are the Righteous among the Nations?

    The Righteous among the Nations are non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust, often at the risk of their own lives and those of their families. Most Europeans remained silent and did not intervene, some collaborated with the Nazis, but a few others chose to help Jews in distress. There were Righteous among the Nations in every country where Jews were threatened.
    The State of Israel (founded in 1948) and Yad Vashem, its National Shoah Memorial, created this special distinction by law in 1963. It is awarded to individuals who came to the aid of Jews threatened by Nazism. Survivors who were saved by non-Jews present each case to Yad Vashem. The case is carefully reviewed before the “Righteous among the Nations” distinction is granted. The honor is based on testimony by individuals who were saved or on eyewitness accounts and reliable evidence. By January 1, 2005, Yad Vashem had awarded the Medal of the Righteous and an honorary certificate to 20,757 individuals. Close relatives can accept the distinction posthumously. The recipients’ names are engraved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. This is the highest honor the State of Israel awards to non-Jews on behalf of the Jewish people. Two European towns have been named Righteous among the Nations: Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Haute-Loire (France) and Niewlande (Netherlands).
    Poland has the highest number of the Righteous in absolute terms, but the Netherlands has the highest number in proportion to the population. The figure of 20,757 is certainly very low: many people never came forward or were never identified because the Jews they helped are no longer alive.
    According to the Israeli government, the following criteria must be met for being recognized as Righteous among the Nations:

    • Providing aid in situations where Jews were powerless and threatened by death or deportation to concentration camps
    • Being aware that by providing aid they were risking their lives, safety and freedom (the Nazis considered aiding Jews a serious crime),
    • No compensation or payment was requested in exchange for help.
      The aid provided must be confirmed by the person saved or attested by direct eyewitnesses and, if possible, by authentic records or archives.

    Non-Jews aided Jews in a variety of ways, including:

    • Providing shelter in private homes or religious or lay institutions hidden from the outside world,
    • Helping them pass for non-Jews by providing false IDs or baptismal certificates (issued by clergy in order to obtain authentic ID papers),
    • Helping them reach a safe haven or cross a border into a safe country,
    • Temporarily adopting Jewish children for the duration of the war.

    The exact number of Jews saved thanks to the aid of non-Jews is unknown but believed to be in the several tens of thousands. In France, the number of Righteous who have been recognized is about 2,500.

  • 21 - How did Germany's allies treat the Jews?

    Although Italy and Japan were Germany’s Allies, they did not participate in the Final Solution. Upon the Germans’ insistence, the Italian Fascist regime adopted anti-Semitic laws on August 3, 1938. However, Mussolini’s government refused to take part in the Final Solution and to deport Italian Jews. What’s more, the Italians protected Jews and prevented their deportation in the areas they occupied in France, Greece and Yugoslavia. When Germany and Italy invaded France’s Unoccupied Zone on November 11, 1942, Italy’s General Consul, Calisse, who administered a large part of the southeast, including Nice and Savoy, contested the Nazis’ demand to enforce anti-Semitic laws. He refused to have the word “Jew” stamped on their ID cards. None of the few dozen Jews living In Corsica, which Italy also occupied in November 1942, were deported. But when Mussolini fell in September 1943 and the Badoglio government came to power, the Germans invaded Italy to keep it from making a separate peace with the Allies. Deportations of Italian Jews, and of Jews from other parts of Europe who had sought refuge in areas under Italian control, began at that time. Almost 8,000 Italian Jews — nearly 20% of the Jewish population — died either at Auschwitz or in massacres such as the one that took place in the Ardeatine caves near Rome in March 1944, when the Nazis killed 335 people, including 75 Jews.
    The Japanese authorities were also more tolerant of Jews in Japan up to 1941 and, until 1943, in the territory they occupied. They refused to take the measures against the Jews that the Nazis demanded. Jews found refuge in Japan until spring 1941, and Jews in Japanese-occupied China were well treated. In summer 1941, however, Jewish refugees in Japan were transferred to Shanghai. No particular steps were taken against them until February 1943, when refugees who had arrived after 1937 were forced into the Hongkew ghetto. This neighborhood of about 15 blocks quickly became overcrowded with Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Hundreds died of malnutrition and disease, although living conditions there were incomparably better than in the German-controlled European ghettos. A Nazi officer visited the ghetto to prepare for the extermination of Shanghai’s Jews, but the Japanese never put the plan into effect. The ghetto was liberated on September 3, 1945.

  • 22 - How were people of Jewish origin, but not classified as Jews, treated?

    The Nazis distinguished German Jews from Germans of Jewish origin — in other words, as they saw it, those with Jewish blood. According to the definitions decreed on November 14, 1935, a person was considered totally Jewish if he or she had at least three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if he or she belonged to the Jewish faith or was married to a Jew, or if was born of a marriage or extra-marital relationship between a Jew and a non-Jew after September 15, 1935. Individuals with Jewish origins were classified into two Mischlinge (mixed race) categories:

    • First-degree Mischlinge were descendants of two Jewish grandparents.
    • Second-degree Mischlinge had one Jewish grandparent.

    Mischlinge were not allowed to join the Nazi Party or any Nazi organization (the SA, SS, etc.). In 1940, first-degree Mischlinge were expelled from the army. The expulsion order was renewed each year. Second-degree Mischlinge could remain in the army but not become officers, nor were they allowed to work in the civil service or in certain professions. The Nazis devised a plan to sterilize Mischlinge in order to safeguard the purity of the Aryan race, but never implemented it. During the war, first-degree Mischlinge interned in concentration camps were sent to the killing centers.

  • 23 - What is negationism?

    Negationism refers to denying, contesting or calling into question the Holocaust’s reality, the genocide’s magnitude, the means used and the Nazis’ desire to exterminate the Jews.

    The basic hypothesis is groundless. Holocaust deniers claim that the genocide of the Jews never took place. From this false hypothesis, they proceed to conclude that they are right. Negationists use various techniques. They obsessively search for “evidence” enabling them to discredit testimony, studying everything in order to disprove that the Holocaust ever occurred on the basis of a minor detail in a testimony or document. They believe that all sources are suspect and that the truth — Nazi and SS officials’ trial confessions, testimony, documents, lists of deportees and statistics about lost Jewish communities — has been manipulated.
    Negationists downplay the perpetrators’ testimony and documents, including Himmler’s speech in which he speaks of the “extermination of the Jewish people”. Other speeches or testimonies are interpreted to mean that the Jews were merely leaving. Historians know that the Nazis used coded language in order to dissimulate the genocide (evacuation instead of liquidation, for example). Holocaust deniers take that language at face value. They claim that the gas chambers were used for disinfection and delousing and the ovens to incinerate the bodies of people who died of typhus or other diseases. On the basis of technicalities, they try to prove that mass murder by gassing is technically impossible and call on self-proclaimed “experts” to back up those claims. Lastly, the general context is entirely ignored. The actions of the Einsatzgruppen or program T4 to eliminate criminals, which preceded the Holocaust, are ignored. Negationists are obsessed with conspiracy theory. They believe they are the only ones who can see that fraud and forgery have been committed on a global scale and analyze every document through the lens of that obsession.
    At first, people who held such views were called “revisionists”. Now they are known as “negationists”. They themselves had chosen the word “revisionist”, thereby claiming to be historians. Historians continuously revise history as new sources, analyses, theories or research come to light. This is a legitimate intellectual pursuit based on rules governing the historian’s profession and the field of critical history. Negationists ignore those rules, which are also used in literary criticism and technical debate. They know nothing about the true profession of historian: their claims are based on forgeries and lies. In 1987, historian Henry Rousso decided to put an end to the ambiguity arising from the use of the term “revisionism”. “The public at large,” he said, “has discovered the equivocal milieu of the ‘revisionists’, a word they shamelessly use to describe themselves. However, historical revisionism is part of the traditional scientific review method, and in this case the rather inelegant but perhaps more appropriate term ‘negationism’ should be preferred. It is a school of thought, an ideology, and in no way a scientific or critical approach.”

    Pierre Vidal-Naquet said that negationism is based on six premises.

    1. There was no genocide and the instrument that symbolizes the genocide, the gas chambers, never existed.
    2. The final solution meant the expulsion of Jews to Eastern Europe.
    3. The number of Nazism’s Jewish victims is much lower than claimed, which denies the genocide or any attempt at genocide on the part of Nazi Germany.
    4. Hitler and the Nazis bear no responsibility whatsoever for the Second World War, or if they do, it is shared with the Jews.
    5. Humanity’s main enemy during the 1930’s and 1940’s was not Nazi Germany, but the USSR, Stalin and Bolshevism.
    6. The genocide is an invention of Allied — essentially Jewish and Zionist —propaganda that can be explained by the Jews’ inclination to pull imaginary figures out of the air and their desire for financial gain.

    Such statements actually mask an ideology. Anti-Semitism lurks behind obsessive anti-Zionism. Jews are accused of lying to achieve their ends. Negationists aim to erase the Holocaust’s singular nature. Their goal is to make the genocidal Nazi regime seem commonplace. Some even wish to rehabilitate it.

  • 24 - What popular support was there for Nazi anti-Semitism and extermination?

    Obviously, the entire German population cannot be accused of backing Hitler and his policy of persecuting the Jews. But the fact is that there are no known examples of a wide protest movement against the way the Jews were treated. However, one must take account of Nazi terror, which threatened anyone who openly criticized their policy. Some Germans rejected the boycott organized on April 1, 1933 and kept shopping in Jewish stores. Others, few in number, helped Jews hide or escape arrest. Some who opposed Hitler and the Nazis had no objection to the persecution of the Jews.
    The clergy protested against the Jews’ fate, but in no way comparable to the sermon C.A. von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, delivered against the treatment of criminals and the disabled under the T4 program. The provost of Berlin’s cathedral, Bernhard Lichtenberg, prayed in public for the Jews every day. He was sent to a concentration camp. Other men of the cloth were imprisoned for criticizing or refusing to collaborate with Nazi anti-Semitic policy. But the majority, along with the population at large, did not publicly protest.

  • 25 - What were the first steps the Nazis took against the Jews?

    The Nazis took the first steps against the Jews in April 1933:

    • April 1, 1933: the boycott of Jewish shops and businesses.
    • April 7, 1933: the law restoring conscription excluded non-Aryans (defined on April 11, 1933 as anyone with a Jewish parent or grandparent). Initially, there were exceptions for Jews who had served or lost a father or son in the First World War.
    • April 7, 1933: the law on admission to the legal professions excluded non-Aryans from the bar and banned already admitted non-Aryans from practicing. Similar decisions were made for assessors, jury members and commercial court judges.
    • April 22, 1933: the decree on doctors’ participation in the national health insurance system forbade the reimbursement of patients’ expenses if they saw a non-Aryan physician, unless he had served in or otherwise suffered during the First World War.
    • April 25, 1933: the law imposing a quota on Jewish secondary school students equivalent to 1.5% of the total student body. In areas where Jews accounted for over 5% of the population, they could make up over 5% of the student body. As was the case for the other measures, initially there were exceptions for children of Jewish war veterans. Under this law, a student was considered Jewish if he had two non-Aryan parents.
      These measures were followed by others throughout the long Nazi dictatorship.
  • 26 – What were the main anti-Semitic laws applied in France during the Occupation?
    Date French Law German Law
    July 22, 1940 Law-decree adopted by Vichy to revise the naturalization process. Revision of all French naturalizations since 8/10/1927. Jews are not specifically mentioned but over 7,000 have their citizenship revoked.
    September 27, 1940 First German decree applied in the occupied zone, requiring the census of Jews from 10/20/1940 and referring to “Jewish businesses”.
    October 3, 1940 The first Jewish statute. Jews are excluded from the civil service, press, cinema and liberal professions. The law is based on the concept of the “Jewish race”.
    October 4, 1940 Prefects are given the power to detain “foreigners of the Jewish race” in special camps.
    October 7, 1940 Repeal of the 1870 “Crémieux decree”, which granted Algerian Jews French citizenship. Jews required to have the word “Juif” or “Juive” stamped on their ID cards.
    October 18, 1940 Second German decree requiring the census of all Jewish businesses and the appointment of non-Jewish administrators (commissaires-gérants) to run them.
    March 29, 1941 Creation of the General Commission for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ) in charge of economic “Aryanization” and applying anti-Jewish laws.
    April 26, 1941 Third German decree: new definition of Jew. Jews are barred from certain professions and it becomes illegal to employ them.
    May 28, 1941 Fourth German decree, banning the movement of goods and capital from Jewish businesses.
    June 2, 1941 Second Jewish statute orders the removal of Jews from the civil service, liberal professions, business, industry, handicrafts, press and service sector. Severe sanctions imposed on any offender. Compulsory census of Jews.
    June 21, 1941 Law limiting the percentage of Jewish university students to 3%.
    July 16, 1941 Decree on the law profession: the number of Jews must be less than 2% of the total number of lawyers.
    July 22, 1941 Law on Jewish-owned businesses and property. Appointment of liquidators for Jewish businesses.
    August 11, 1941 Decree setting a 2% quota in the medical profession.
    August 13, 1941 Decree on the confiscation of radios belonging to Jews.
    September 28, 1941 Fifth German decree containing anti-Jewish measures.
    October 19, 1941 Creation of the “Police for Jewish Affairs”, which collaborated with the CGQJ, investigated infractions of the June 2, 1941 law and provided intelligence to other police forces on Jews’ “suspicious activities”.
    September 24, 1941 Decree setting a 2% quota in the architecture profession.
    November 17, 1941 Law barring Jews from banking, finance, trade, the press, publishing and entertainment.
    November 29, 1941 Law creating the UGIF (Union Générale des Israelites de France); all Jewish organizations are forced to join except cultural ones.
    December 17,1941 Jews in the occupied zone are fined one billion francs, to be paid by the UGIF to the German authorities.
    December 29,1941 Decree setting a 2% quota in the pharmacy and midwife professions.
    February 7, 1942 Sixth German decree: Jews in the occupied zone must observe an 8pm to 6am curfew and are prohibited from changing their place of residence.
    March 24, 1942 Seventh German decree: a new definition of Jewishness.
    March 29, 1942 Eighth German decree: Jews over the age of five in the occupied zone must wear a yellow star starting on June 7, 1942.
    June 5, 1942 A 2% quota is set for Jewish dentists
    June 6, 1942 Jews are barred from working in theater, film and other forms of Entertainment.
    October 6, 1942 German ordinance requiring Jews to travel in the last car of the Paris metro.
    July 1, 1942 Jews are forbidden to own a telephone.
    August 7, 1942 Ninth German decree, forbidding Jews to go to shows, other places open to the public and shops, except from 3 to 4pm.
    November 9,1942 Jews of foreign nationality are forbidden to leave their town of residence without a pass from the police.
    December 11,1942 Law requiring the word “Juif” or “Juive” to be stamped on ID and ration cards of both foreign and French Jews.
  • 27 - To whom did the Jewish statutes adopted by the French State apply? To whom did the German anti-Semitic measures apply?

    In France, the Vichy government defined the Jewish race in two statutes. The first, published on October 3, 1940, stated in article 1: “Any person with three Jewish grandparents, or two Jewish grandparents if his or her spouse is Jewish, is considered a Jew.”
    The second statute, adopted on June 2, 1941, widened the definition. Article 1 stated, “Any person, regardless of religious affiliation, with at least three grandparents of the Jewish race, or two if his or her spouse has two grandparents of the Jewish race, is considered Jewish. A grandparent of the Jewish faith is considered a member of the Jewish race”.
    Article 2 added that, “Any person belonging to the Jewish religion, or who belonged until June 25, 1940, and who has two Jewish grandparents, is considered a Jew. Membership in one of the other religions recognized by the State before the law passed on December 9, 1905 establishes proof of non-affiliation with the Jewish faith. Annulment or disavowal of the recognition of a child considered Jewish has no effect under the above provisions.”
    The first German decree, adopted on September 27, 1940, declared as Jewish “anyone who belongs or belonged to the Jewish faith or has more than two Jewish grandparents. Grandparents who belong or have belonged to the Jewish religion are considered Jews”. Thus, the Vichy laws proclaimed the idea of the Jewish “race”, whereas the German decree referred to the Jewish religion.
    The third German decree, dated April 26, 1941, revised the previous definition, stating in article 1: “Any person with at least three grandparents of ‘pure Jewish race’ is considered Jewish. A grandparent who belonged to a Jewish religious community is considered to be of ‘pure Jewish race‘. Any person who has two grandparents of ‘pure Jewish race’ and a) belongs to a Jewish religious community at the time of the present decree’s publication or who joins later or b) is married to a Jew or marries one at a later date is considered Jewish. If in doubt, any person who belongs or has belonged to a Jewish religious community is considered Jewish.”
    The seventh German decree, dated March 24, 1942, gave a new definition of Jewishness: “1) Any person with at least three grandparents of pure Jewish race shall be considered a Jew. Any grandparent who belongs to the Jewish religion shall be considered as being of pure Jewish race. Any person with two grandparents of pure Jewish race who: a) belonged to the Jewish religion as of June 25, 1940 or joined at a later date or b) was married to a Jewish spouse as of June 25, 1940 or married a Jew after that date, is considered Jewish. If in doubt, any person who belongs or has belonged to a Jewish religious community is considered Jewish.”

  • 28 - How many Jews were deported from France?

    Serge Klarsfeld published the Memorial de la déportation des Juifs de France (“Memorial of the deportation of the Jews of France”) and compiled a list of deported Jews. Individuals to be deported were listed in records kept by the Gestapo’s Office of Jewish Affairs. However, some deportees were not on those lists because the Nazi authorities added them at the last minute.
    Klarsfeld puts the estimated number of Jews deported from France between March 27, 1942 and August 18, 1944 at 76,000. Nearly 74,000 were deported in the 79 transports that left mainly from Drancy, but also from camps in the Loiret department, Compiègne and Angers.
    In addition, around 1,000 Jews were deported from the North (Nord and Pas de Calais departments) through Belgium, 277 Jewish wives of French POWs were deported to Bergen-Belsen with their children, at least 350 Jews were deported from Noé, Saint-Sulpice and Toulouse to Buchenwald on July 30, 1944 and at least 100 were deported individually to Auschwitz in the “Aryan” transports on July 8, 1942 and April 30, 1944. Jews were also deported on transports of resistance members.
    Over 11,000 children were deported, including about 2,000 under the age of six. The estimated number of survivors in 1945, most of whom had been deported in 1944, is put at around 2,500, or 3%.
    With regard to nationality, Polish Jews paid the highest price: around 25,000 were deported. Next come German Jews (about 7,000), Russian Jews (about 4,000), Romanians and Austrians (about 3,000 each), Greeks (about 1,500), Turks (about 1,300) and Hungarians (about 1,200).
    The French Jews deported numbered 24,700, including at least 8,000 children born in France of foreign or stateless parents, 8,000 of whom had been naturalized.
    According to the most recent figures, there were 87,800 political deportees. Men were sent mainly to Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen, women to Ravensbrück. By 1945, nearly 60% had perished.

  • 29 - Where were the main French internment camps in France holding Jews in transit before deportation?

    In March 1939, the first internment camps opened in Rivesaltes, Récébedou, Noé, Argelès and Gurs, in southwest France, to house Spanish Republican refugees. By the time the war broke out in September, many of the Spanish detainees had gone home. Shortly afterwards, 15,000 foreigners, including hundreds of eminent anti-Nazi refugees, arrested during a nationwide roundup quickly filled the camps. When Germany invaded France in May 1940, many foreign refugees — men and women suspected of being enemies or spies — were again victims of “administrative internment” in the camps in the southwest by order of the French authorities. Many were Jews, mostly from Germany and Austria.
    Jews were rounded up along with other foreigners; in fact, being Jewish seems to have increased their vulnerability. Most were poor and stateless and spoke with heavy accents. They accounted for around 70% of the 40,000 civilians interned in unoccupied France toward the end of 1940. The camp system became a fact of life and officials became used to assembling large groups of foreigners, most of them Jews. The advent of the new regime in July 1940, then, did not mark a significant change. Vichy’s refugee policy was practically the same as that of the late Third Republic. It just continued and strengthened that policy. The main difference was that the new regime made it more acceptable to express anti-Jewish sentiment by doing away with Republican laws and values.
    After the fall of France and during the occupation, when both Nazis and French authorities targeted Jews, new internment camps opened up in the occupied zone. The main internment and transit camps for Jews deported from France were in the Loiret department, Compiègne and Drancy.
    Drancy was the main French internment and transit camp for Jews before deportation. The “Cité de la Muette”, a square U-shaped apartment complex built in 1935-36 as low-cost housing in the Seine department, held the first Jews rounded up in Paris in August 1941. Of the 77 transports to the death camps, 62 left from the nearby train stations in Le Bourget (until July 1943) and Bobigny: around 65,000 people were deported. In 1942, 32 of the total 43 transports left from Drancy. Only one of the 17 transports that left France in 1943 and the 14 that left in 1944 did not start in Drancy: the August 11, 1944 transport, which departed from Lyon. Only six of these 62 transports did not go to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Transport 50 and 51 went to Majdanek and Sobibor, transports 52 and 53 to Sobibor and transport 73 to Kaunas, Lithuania. The last transport, which also took Aloïs Brunner back to Germany, left for Buchenwald with 51 deportees aboard.
    The French authorities ran Drancy until July 1943. The Seine Department’s Prefecture of Police appointed the three French officers who were successively in charge. The camp’s French administration was under constant surveillance by the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service). On July 2, 1943, the Nazis took over the camp’s administration and appointed Aloïs Brunner to run it. French gendarmes guarded the exterior. From then on, Drancy functioned like a Nazi concentration camp.

    Pithiviers and Beaune-La-Rolande
    French officials administered both of these camps, which were under the authority of the Prefect of the Loiret Department, as a single unit. Just 23 kilometers apart, they were intended for the internment of Jews. Around 100 gendarmes and customs officers guarded them.
    The Pithiviers camp was about 500 meters from town. Although built as a German POW camp, initially it had been a Frontstalag for French POWs. It had 19 barracks, including two for the infirmary.
    The Beaune-la-Rolande camp was on a plateau east of town and had 18 barracks, 14 of which were used to house prisoners. It covered three hectares and was surrounded by a double row of barbed wire.
    The first Jews detained in the Loiret camps — 1,693 in Pithiviers and roughly 2,000 in Beaune-La-Rolande — left the Austerlitz train station in Paris after the first wave of arrests in the capital on May 14, 1941.
    After the Paris roundups in July 1942, families with children were put on trains to the Loiret camps, which became so overcrowded that epidemics broke out. Between July 31 and August 7, 1942, four transports of adolescents and adults left the Loiret camps for Auschwitz. At each departure, gendarmes separated the women and children by hitting them with rifle butts. The 1,800 children from Pithiviers and 1,500 from Beaune-La-Rolande were left behind and had to fend for themselves. Later, they were then deported on seven transports, which left Drancy between August 19 and September 2, 1942. They were transferred from the Loiret camps (south of Paris) to Drancy (north of Paris) on four transports between August 19 and August 25, 1942.
    On the same day that the first children’s transport left the Loiret for Drancy, some of the children in Drancy were deported to Auschwitz on transport 21. From then until transport 27 left on September 2, 1942, orphans were deported from the Loiret camps to Auschwitz and killed on arrival.
    Six transports left from Pithiviers: number four on June 25, 1942, six on July 17, 13 on July 31, 14 on August 3, 16 on August 7, and 35 on September 21. Six left from Beaune-la-Rolande.

    This camp was at a place on the outskirts of Compiègne called Royallieu. It had the form of a quadrilateral, each side being 400 meters long. The Germans used existing barracks that had first served to hold French and British POWs before becoming an internment camp on June 22, 1941. There were four sub-camps holding different categories of detainees. The biggest, most stable quarters — a dozen buildings — housed political prisoners. Foreign detainees, including American and Soviet nationals, were held in special buildings. Jews were kept apart and their living conditions were worse. A double wall preventing any contact with other prisoners separated them from the rest of the camp. Compiègne was the only transit camp in France that had always been under German control. It is also known for being the first deportation center for French political prisoners. Jews accounted for about 12% of the camp’s population. Detained in Compiègne early in the Occupation, all were later sent to Drancy.
    The sub-camp for Jews opened on the night of December 12-13, 1941, when 743 detainees arrested that day were sent there on the same train with 300 foreigners from Drancy. From then on, there were repeated transfers between Drancy and Compiègne as detainees were sent back and forth. Altogether, 49,860 deportees left Compiègne on 54 different transports, 52 of which went to concentration camps. Around 1,000 people were deported on each transport between March 1942 and August 1944. The number of transports rose from five in 1942 to 22 in 1943 and 27 in 1944. Sixteen led to Buchenwald, eight to Mauthausen and five to Ravensbrück. The first two transports of Jews deported to Auschwitz left on March 27 and June 5, 1942.

  • 30 - What is anti-Semitism?

    The term anti-Semitism refers to prejudice against Jewish people. First appearing in 1860s Germany, it was popularized by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr, who in 1879 wrote a pamphlet called The Way to the Victory of Germanism over Judaism. Marr and his contemporaries, such as Ernest Renan in France, said Jews belonged to the “Semitic race”, but the word “Semitic” actually refers to a linguistic group including Hebrew, Arabic, Aramean, Babylonian, Assyrian and Ethiopian, not a people. Marr limited the meaning of “Semitic” to Jews alone. Once the term was coined, it referred to hatred of Jews. Today it is still commonly used to refer exclusively to hostility toward Jews. When Marr coined the term and spread the modern meaning of anti-Semitism, hatred of Jews as a race developed. This was the same period as the birth and rise of “nation-states”, sometimes considered “racially homogeneous”: Jews were deemed a “foreign body” within the nation, endangering its unity and requiring excision.  Germany’s late 19th-century völkisch movement advocated this idea.
    The fact that the term “anti-Semitism” was the result of a racist ideology and has become common in everyday language reveals its ambiguity. The term’s very use accredits the myth it claims to fight by lending credence to the fantasy of racial differences between “Aryans” and “Semites”.

  • 31 - Where do the prejudice and legends at the root of anti-Semitism come from?

    The writings of the Fathers of the Church, such as Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine, planted the seeds of modern anti-Semitism, but the Christian view of the diabolical Jew did not start spreading until the Middle Ages. The turning point was the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, when myths in Western Europe about the Jews’ satanic practices made them outcasts. They were said to murder children in order to re-enact Christ’s crucifixion (ritual murder), drink their blood or steal their organs. In La Peur en Occident (“Fear in the Western World”, 1978, chapter 8, “The Jew: Absolute Evil”), French historian Jean Delumeau wrote that the myth of the cannibalistic Jew, along with others about witches, the devil or the plague, were the Christian West’s major fears in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The fantasy dates back to the time very early in history when both princes and the Church barred Jews from practically every occupation except one: usury. This was highly convenient because the Church forbade Christians from lending money for interest. This gave rise to the idea that Jews were sucking Christians’ blood, economically speaking. Accusations against them began to fly. Ritual murder was mentioned for the first time in 1144 in Norwich, England, where Jews were accused of re-enacting the Passion of Christ with a baby. An assembly of rabbis was said to have premeditated the crime, giving rise to the idea of a plot that quickly spread across Europe.
    In the 19th century, it reappeared and was popularized by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document forged by Czar Alexander III’s political police that continued the anti-Semitic tradition throughout the 19th century of falsely accusing Jews of fomenting plots.
    In Germany, the “Jewish conspiracy” theme emerged in Hermann Goedsche’s 1868 novel Biarritz. In the chapter “At the Jewish Cemetery in Prague”, he describes a secret rabbinical cabal, the Council of Representatives of The Twelve Tribes of Israel, which gathers in the cemetery at midnight for one of their regular meetings. They discuss the progress of their long-term conspiracy to establish world domination. At the end of the meeting, the chairman, who is none other than the devil himself, announces that the Jews will one day rule the world. In July 1881, Le Contemporain published a French version called The Rabbi’s Speech. It was relatively successful, and a number of other books expanding on the same theme were published during the period.
    The sinister legend about the Jew as a thief and child abuser who burned the Communion host in order to kill Jesus yet again appeared in the 12th century and spread after the 1215 Council of Lateran, which dealt with the Eucharist.
    The accusation of cannibalism, or the “blood libel”, first appeared in Fulda, in present-day Germany, in 1235. After a Christian miller’s five children were found dead, two Jews were accused of murder and 30 Jewish families had their throats slit. The goal was to de-humanize Jews by accusing them of beastly crimes.
    In 1096, thousands of Jews were slaughtered in Speyer, Cologne, Treffen and Worms during the First Crusade. In 1248, during the Seventh Crusade, the Jews of Worms were massacred.

    During the 19th century’s nationalistic struggles and founding of nation-states, the diabolical vision of the Jew became secularized, leading to something like collective paranoia expressed in the distinction between “them” and “us” and resulting in systematic separation, banishment and even death. This development arose concomitantly with the biological metaphor of the nation, considered a homogeneous body that the Jews could corrupt and sully. The concept eventually led to the genocidal discourse. “Rid the nation of the Jews” became a slogan because Jews were accused of plotting against the nation’s interests and the nation itself.

  • 32 - Can anti-Semitism be considered a particular form of racism?

    Racism is hatred of people considered to be members of a group defined as racially different. Anti-Semitism, which is hatred of Jews, is almost always used in connection with the idea of a conspiracy, plot or contaminated blood, which gives rise to a discourse involving the devil and death. In addition, some individuals’ fascination with the very object of their fears is a source of agitation for anti-Semites; unlike racists who hate and disdain the other, anti-Semites harbor no disdain but do hate.
    Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas explained the difference between racism and anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism,” he wrote, “is not just the hostility felt by a majority towards a minority, nor just a xenophobia or some form of racism, even if it is the ultimate reason for these phenomena, which are derived from it. Anti-Semitism is the repugnance felt towards the unknown of the other’s psyche, the mystery of his interiority or, beyond any conglomeration into a whole or organization into an organism, the pure proximity of the other — in other words, social living itself.” (Beyond the Verse, Talmudic Readings and Lectures, translated by Gary D. Mole, Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 190 (original French title: Au delà du Verset. Lectures et discours talmudiques, 1982).