"The Final Solution of the Jewish Question" also known as The Holocaust (called in German "entgultige Lösung der Judenfrage" and in Hebrew "Ha-Shoah") is the euphemism for both Nazi Germany's plan to annihilate completely all European Jews and their attempt to do so between 1941 and 1945.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, Director of the International Center for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, was asked in an interview in 1998:
"What led to “The Final Solution”; was it a self-motivated bureaucratic process, or was it an ideological process that was led by the topmost levels of the Nazi regime?"
We reproduce below excerpts from the Bauer response in that interview.
Bauer: The leading historians who have explained how it happened had to take many things into account: how the bureaucracy operated; how the structure of German society attuned itself to a development that led to the Holocaust; how certain initiatives came from the lower ranks. But it doesn't explain why the bureaucrats did what they did. It doesn't explain why the structures of German society killed the Jews and not, say, all people with green eyes. I think the central motivation -- and recent evidence has shown this to be quite clear -- was a radical, racist = biological, antisemitic ideology. It is perfectly clear that the decision to mass-murder the Jews came from above, from a central group of ideologically motivated leaders of the Nazi movement. They in stages, decided to kill Jews because of an ideology, and not because they were forced into it by anything else. This central issue has to be borne in mind whenever we speak about the Holocaust...
...The question remains as to whether, without an ideological motivation, the Holocaust would have happened. I think not. We now have convincing proof, in that only recently did we discover the famous Hitler statement about destroying the Jews. On December 12, 1941, Hitler spoke in front of about 50 Party leaders in the Reich's Chancellery in Berlin. He said that now, with Germany's declaration of war against the United States, the time had come for his January 1939 prophecy about the annihilation of the Jews to be fulfilled. A speech by Hitler in front of the top leadership of the Party, on the “Jewish question,” in those terms, is a Hitler's wish, interpreted as an order. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it was that “wish” -- culminating, from the beginning of the war, after various plans to deport Jews to other places. This was after the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and it led to the development of the “Final Solution .”
As we have explained in the Historical Background the build-up of hate for the Jewish people had grown throughout the period in power of the Nazi party. This hatred culminated in the decision in July 1941 by Hermann Goering (who held the number two position in the German Reich), to give the responsibility for carrying through the Final Solution to Reinhard Heydrich.
Reinhard Heydrich had created special forces (Einsatzgruppen - mobile killing units) which would follow behind German military advances, gather intelligence and murder anyone who could be considered a threat. The Einsatzgruppen were not part of the military but the police (SS); it was they who followed German forces into Poland and then Soviet Russia creating ghettos where Jews were held, pending their removal elsewhere.
In September 1941 a regulation was introduced requiring all Jews over the age of six to wear a yellow badge visibly on the left side of their chests. This publicly visible stigma made it much more likely that Jews would become the victims of attack.
In January 1942, Heydrich gathered together key officials from various German ministries at a conference in Wannsee, close to Berlin, to inform them of plans authorised by Hitler to annihilate all European Jews so implementing the start of the Final Solution. A letter of instruction to various units under Heydrich's control was issued on 25 January 1942 explaining that he was now implementing the "total solution to the Jewish question in Europe".
By this time over a million Jews had already perished in various initiatives. The new plans meant the creation of extermination camps whose primary purpose was to sort the weak from the strong, to kill the weak and to use the strong to aid the German war effort as slave labour.
Heydrich was assassinated in June 1942 in Prague by Czech resistance fighters, but his plans moved on apace despite his death.
When Heinrich Himmler was informed that one of the Czech assassins had come from the village of Lidice, close to Prague, he ordered that it be razed to the ground. As a reprisal all the men in the village were taken and shot, subsequently most of the women and children were killed by various means. In the end 192 men, 60 women and 88 children from Lidice died. Unlike many atrocities, which were kept secret, this one was widely proclaimed by the Nazi regime in order to act as a deterrent. Overlooking the site of the massacre there is now a memorial to all the children who died.
Heinrich Himmler was one of the leading figures in the Nazi regime who, from the earliest days, was committed to the purity of the German race. He was made responsible for internal security and Head of the feared SS. All the police forces of Germany reported to him. The outbreak of war allowed Himmler to pursue another racial goal, which was to eliminate all Jews and others designated as "sub-humans". Following the invasion of Poland, Himmler was given total control of the annexed lands and within a year more than one million Poles and 300,000 Jews had been forced out to be replaced by German settlers. Himmler controlled the concentration camps set up in the 1930s and the new extermination camps which were to be the means for achiving the Final Solution.
Himmler made plain the objectives of the Final Solution when on October 6 1943 he made a speech at a conference of leading German figures in Posen:
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It's one of those things that is easily said: 'The Jewish people are being exterminated', says every party member, 'this is very obvious, it's in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we're doing it, hah, a small matter.' [...] But of all those who talk this way, none had observed it, none had endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when 500 lie there or when 1,000 are lined up. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person - with exceptions due to human weaknesses - had made us tough. This is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. [...] We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who wanted to kill us.
And in another speech in 1944:
It was the most terrible task and the most terrible order which could have been given to an organisation: the order to solve the Jewish question. In this circle, I may say it frankly with a few sentences. It is good that we had the severity to exterminate the Jews in our domain.
One of the key means of achieving Himmler's goals was the creation of the extermination camps.
The extermination camps
For the first time in history the process of eliminating a section of human society was made into an industrial process with extermination camps being the factories created to carry out the dreadful mission.
Concentration camps had been in existence since the coming to power of the Nazi regime and many hundreds of thousands had died within them, but with the advent of the extermination camps mass slaughter became the main purpose.
The extermination camps were mainly constructed in the German-occupied lands to the east of Germany.
For the Jewish people of Oradea, as we shall discover later on in our analysis, the extermination camp of Auschwitz and the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen were locations where many thousands of Oradea citizens perished.
It is estimated that over 1.1 million men, women and children were put to death in Auschwitz.
In order to kill so many people in such a relatively short space of time and to do it out of the glare of publicity was a major enterprise and owes much to the meticulous planning of Heinrich Himmler and his SS organisation.
It was a major transportation challenge in the first place and the rail networks were utilised.
The train routes were many....
The sealed truck was the chosen rail transport and people were herded, like cattle, from numerous departure points across Europe. Many people died on the journeys as in these sealed carriages there was not necessarily any food and water and the transportation could be in the intense heat of summer or the extreme cold of winter. Aside from a bucket there was no sanitary facility.
Between May and July 1944 alone some 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary (including occupied Transylvania) to Auschwitz by a combination of Hungarian gendarmes and German security police.
When the trains arrived on the ramp at Auschwitz the deportees were segregated into the fit who might be allowed to live and become slave labour and the very young, the very old and those with disabilities who were led to the gas chambers.
It is difficult to understand how human beings can become so brain-washed with hate so as to lose all sense of humanity and to participate in such atrocities. Below are two photographs which illustrate the issue. In the first, a group of SS guards and administrators at Auschwitz pose for a photograph, whilst in the second young children are forced to pose to record the results of medical experiments carried out on them, before they met their death.
We are grateful to the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau for access to these photographs.
The BBC have a comprehensive interactive map of Auschwitz which shows the complete history of the place which was to become the location for the largest mass murder in history. The place where many thousands of citizens from Oradea perished.
There is a facility to search for the names of prisoners in Auschwitz on the Memorial and Museum site. It can only be a partial listing.
The camp was liberated by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945.
Significant numbers of Auschwitz prisoners were transferred at the end of 1944 and early 1945 to Bergen-Belsen a concentration camp in Germany. This was both to provide slave labour for factories in Northern Germany and to protect the most useful prisoners from the advancing Soviet troops.
The camp was liberated in April 1945 by British and Canadian troops who found more bodies lying unburied than people alive. Around 40,000 people had survived, including some who had been transferred from Auschwitz.
The English broadcaster Richard Dimbleby described what he saw a few days after the liberation of the camp.
This is the camp where Anne Frank died of typhus.
Not everyone perished and women from Oradea who had been liberated from Bergen-Belsen and other camps by British troops posed with those troops, following a period of recovery.
Included among the women above are 8 members of the Hitter and Adler families.
Top row in the centre is Erika Hitter. First row, third from left is Lilli Hitter and fifth from left is Marta Adler; second row, second from left is Piliu Hitter; third from right is Anna Adler; third row, second from left and standing is Zsuzsi Hitter; third from left Erzsi Hitter; fourth row in the centre in a white blouse is Sari Hitter.
If you have information about the identities of others please let us know.
Photos are reproduced with the kind permission of Yad Vashem