Who Betrayed Anne Frank?

On the morning of 4 August 1944, a car drew up outside 263 Prinsengracht, a warehouse and office building in central Amsterdam. Several men exited the vehicle and made their way inside, among them an Austrian officer named Karl Josef Silberbauer and some members of the Dutch Nazi Party. They had been tipped off that Jews were hiding on the premises. Whoever had made the anonymous phone call that day was correct: in an annexe at the back of the building, Silberbauer and his men discovered eight Jews. The youngest among them was a 15-year-old girl named Anne Frank.

The Arrest

Anne FrankThe warehouse staff had pointed Silberbauer in the direction of the first floor offices on his arrival to 263 Prinsengracht. Upon entering, a pistol was drawn and Viktor Kugler, the director of the company, was ordered to show the men where the Jews were hiding. Unwillingly, Kugler took them to a bookcase, which concealed the door to what people around the world now know as the Secret Annexe. This was where the Frank family, the van Pels family and a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer had been living clandestinely since 1942, supported by Kugler and other helpers. All of them were German Jews who had fled Nazi rule in the 1930s, only to find their lives endangered once more following the occupation of the Netherlands and the implementation of anti-Semitic laws.

Otto FrankOtto Frank (pictured) was giving 17-year-old Peter van Pels an English lesson when the Nazis entered the Annexe. They joined their families and Pfeffer on the lower floor, where they were ordered to give up their valuables. Looking for something in which to transport the loot, Silberbauer picked up Otto’s leather briefcase, the private place where his youngest daughter Anne had chosen to keep her diaries. Her writings were unceremoniously emptied on to the floor as what little cash the Franks had was stashed away by the Gestapo.

Initially, the Jews were told they had just a few minutes to pack a small bag, but Silberbauer then saw Otto’s trunk, evidently the property of a German war veteran. He was astonished that a Jew had served in the German army and subsequently told everyone to take their time. Similarly astounding was Otto’s revelation that they had been in hiding for over two years. As proof, Silberbauer was shown the pencil lines where Otto had charted Anne and Margot’s growth since 1942 and a map studded with colourful pins, charting the progress of the Allied invasion. D-Day, on 6 June 1944, had been jubilantly celebrated in the Annexe, as everyone had believed that the liberation could not be far away. Now, however, it was evident that for them, the Allied invasion had begun too late.

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Hannah Szenes – a summary

Hannah Szenes was one of thirty-two Jews from Palestine who parachuted into Europe as members of the British Army in the spring of 1944. Their goal was to rescue other Jews, although their British leaders emphasized that this objective must be secondary to reconnaissance tasks and enabling the escape of captured Allied airmen. After working with partisans in Yugoslavia, Hannah attempted to cross the border into her native Hungary, but was captured and executed five months later, aged just 23. A passionate Zionist and a gifted writer during her brief lifetime, Hannah is remembered as a national heroine in Israel.

Hannah SzenesHannah Szenes (also known as Hannah Senesh) was born in Budapest on 17 July 1921. Her father, a journalist and playwright, died when she was six, but Hannah inherited his gift for writing, becoming a talented poet and regular diarist as she matured. Although the Szenes family were assimilated Jews, Hannah experienced anti-Semitism first-hand when she enrolled at a private high school in the early 1930s and was forced to pay triple tuition fees because of her religion. An intelligent and studious pupil, she became increasingly interested in Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Emigrating to Palestine

In September 1939, the same month that the Second World War broke out, Hannah’s dream of travelling to Palestine became a reality. Despite her strong academic performance, she chose to enrol in the Nahalal Agricultural School instead of a traditional university, as she firmly believed that Jewish youth should build the new country. She became particularly interested in poultry farming and after two years of study, joined a new kibbutz near the ruins of an ancient Roman city, between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

As news of the war and the increasing persecution of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe trickled through to Palestine, Hannah grew ever more concerned for her brother George, who was studying in Paris, and for her mother, who was still living in Budapest. Despite the natural beauty of the kibbutz’s location, Hannah failed to find contentment in her new work and longed to actively assist her compatriots in Hungary. In 1943 she joined the Haganah (an underground Jewish military force) and was subsequently accepted for a British Army mission that would enable her to travel back to Central Europe. Her seemingly fearless nature, particularly when it came to parachute training, earned the respect and admiration of her fellow volunteers.

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Joseph Goebbels – a summary

Paul Joseph Goebbels was the third of five children born to a Catholic family in Germany, on 29 October 1897. An educated and intelligent man, he swiftly rose through the ranks of the Nazi Party in the 1920s, ultimately becoming the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and one of Hitler’s closest associates. A man of below average height, Goebbels was occasionally referred to as ‘the Poison Dwarf’ and was the force behind the indomitable National Socialist propaganda machine. As the Third Reich crumbled in the final days of World War Two, the Führer named Goebbels as the next Chancellor, a position he held for just one day.

Bild 183-L04035Rise to Prominence

Although of an eligible age to fight, Joseph Goebbels had a club foot that prevented him seeing action during World War One and gave him a permanent limp, facts he resented greatly throughout his life and endeavoured to disguise. He wrote a novel, and studied philosophy and literature and was awarded his doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1921.

Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and after ascending to the rank of Gauleiter of Berlin within four years, he was appointed the party’s propaganda minister in 1929. He edited a weekly newspaper called Der Angriff (The Assault) and also drew attention to National Socialist principles through provocative speeches. In 1933, following Hitler’s assumption of power, he became the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

In spite of his own club foot and diminutive stature, Goebbels ardently preached the physical superiority of the Aryan master race. With control over all media channels and cultural output in the Third Reich, Goebbels oversaw the dissemination of Nazi racial ideology to the masses; from celebrations of classical German culture and history, to warnings about the dangers that Jews and other supposedly subversive peoples posed to society.

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Oskar Schindler – a summary

Oskar Schindler was born into a German family in the Czech Sudetenland on 28 April 1908. He joined the Nazi Party at the age of 30, following the absorption of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Nearly forty years after his death, he is remembered as a ‘good Nazi’ who saved an estimated 1,200 Polish Jews from almost certain death in concentration camps during World War Two. His posthumous fame is largely due to the 1993 blockbuster film Schindler’s List.

The Emalia Factory

Oskar SchindlerAn enterprising businessman, Oskar Schindler recognised the lucrative opportunities that war could present and took over an enamelware factory in Krakow in the autumn of 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War Two. This was within the Generalgouvernement area of Poland, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were forcibly resettled by occupying Nazi forces. Officially named the Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik, his factory became more commonly known as Emalia.

Anti-Semitic feeling and action in Poland escalated swiftly following the Nazi invasion. Mass shootings were carried out throughout the country and those Jews who survived the exodus from their homes were crowded into sealed ghettoes. Although Schindler remained a member of the Nazi Party, he became increasingly opposed to the violent persecution of Jews and by late 1942, 370 Jews from the Krakow ghetto were among the workers employed in his factory.

Besides enamelware, Schindler’s factory also manufactured ammunitions. As ammunitions were vital to the German war effort, Schindler argued that the Jews employed in Emalia were indispensable if high production levels were to be maintained, thus preventing their deportation to labour and extermination camps. He protected his workers while the Krakow ghetto was liquidated in March 1943 by allowing them to remain in the factory overnight and subsequently established his own sub-camp, so they would not be subjected to harsh forced labour in nearby Plaszow.

Averting Deportations

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Primo Levi – a summary

After almost four years of warfare, Italy capitulated to the Allies in the summer of 1943 and was subsequently occupied by German forces in September. Until this time Italian Jews had not been subject to arrests and deportations, but now, in a period of around eighteen months, an estimated 10,000 were sent to Nazi concentration camps. Among these deportees was a young chemist named Primo Levi. He would survive almost a year in Auschwitz and, in the second half of the twentieth century, become respected as one of the most significant literary voices to emerge from the Holocaust.

Primo LeviPrimo Levi was born into an assimilated Jewish family in Turin on 31 July 1919. While virulent anti-Semitic policies had been increasingly enforced in Nazi Germany from 1933, Italian Jews suffered relatively little under Mussolini’s rule until the introduction of racial laws in 1938. These included legislation that forbade Jews from entering university, but as he had already commenced his studies, Levi was permitted to continue reading for his degree in chemistry. It was nevertheless hard for him to find secure work after graduating and in 1943, he joined the Italian partisans. He was captured by fascists in December of that year, handed to Nazi soldiers, and deported to Auschwitz in February 1944.

Surviving Monowitz

Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp and extermination centre built by the Nazis; a vast complex formed of three main camps and around forty sub-camps. Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp, was an old Polish army barracks that predominantly housed male prisoners. Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, was the women’s camp and also evolved into the main killing centre. Auschwitz III, Buna-Monowitz, was the location of the I.G. Farben industrial factory, which manufactured synthetic rubber. This was where Primo Levi was sent after he passed the initial selection upon his arrival to the camp.

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Dr Josef Mengele: The Angel of Death – a summary

In addition to being sites of slave labour and human annihilation, many Nazi concentration camps also functioned as medical experimentation centres throughout the Holocaust. Under the guise of researching new treatments or investigating racial eugenics, doctors conducted painful and often fatal experiments on thousands of prisoners without consent. The man most commonly associated with these pseudo-medical experiments is Dr Josef Mengele, whose notoriety among the inmates of Auschwitz earned him the nickname ‘the Angel of Death’.

Josef MengeleJosef Mengele was born on 16 March 1911, the eldest of three brothers. He studied in both Munich and Frankfurt, specializing first in philosophy and then in medicine. He shared Hitler’s racial views, believing in the supremacy of the Aryan people, and joined the Nazi Party in 1937. Mengele served in the medical corps on the Eastern Front from 1940, but returned to Germany in early 1943 after sustaining an injury. No longer able to fight, he arrived at Auschwitz in the spring of 1943, where his cruel experiments on prisoners swiftly made him more infamous than any of the other camp physicians.

An Obsession with Twins

Auschwitz-Birkenau was both a concentration camp and an extermination centre, thus from the summer of 1942, whenever new convoys of Jewish deportees arrived at Auschwitz, there would be a selection to determine which people were fit to work and which would be killed. Mengele was regularly involved in these selections on the arrivals ramp, where in addition to deciding which of the incoming prisoners would perish immediately, he searched for twins and people with unusual physical conditions.

Mengele had a particular obsession with twins and conducted experiments on around 1,500 pairs of siblings during his time at Auschwitz, the majority of whom were young Jewish or Romani children. If one twin died, the other would also be killed so that he could perform a comparative autopsy. Mengele’s fascination with twins may have been linked to the Nazi desire for an increased Aryan birth rate.

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Rutka Laskier – a summary

Rutka Laskier was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1929, the eldest of two children. Her exact date of birth is unknown, but is generally considered to be 12 June 1929, the same date as Anne Frank. Her father was a prosperous banker and Rutka enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood in the 1930s, learning to ski on family holidays and making many friends at her private school. Like millions of Jews in Europe, however, Rutka’s life was irrevocably altered with the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, when Nazi troops invaded Poland.

Rutka LaskierRutka’s hometown of Bedzin was occupied within days of the invasion and the family would have been quick to realise the danger they now faced. On 8 September, members of Bedzin’s Jewish community were burned to death while praying in the local synagogue. Such anti-Semitic brutality was commonplace and the Nazis soon began forcing Jews throughout Poland into areas of towns and cities where they were segregated from non-Jewish society.  The Laskiers were no exception: they were moved from their comfortable home into a house that the Nazis had repossessed from a Catholic family to be part of Bedzin’s new Jewish ghetto.

Ghetto Life

Conditions in the ghettos were overcrowded, unsanitary and demoralizing. Several generations often dwelled in one small room and indeed Rutka, her parents, her brother and her grandmother all shared the same cramped living space. Over three years after the start of the war, in January 1943, the teenage Rutka began writing a diary, chronicling her life in the Bedzin ghetto in sixty pages of a notebook. Among the horrors she witnessed under the Nazi occupation was the brutal murder of a Jewish baby by a German soldier. She also recounted an ‘action’ that had taken place in August 1942, when Bedzin’s Jews were herded into a local sports stadium and subjected to a selection. Rutka had been selected for hard labour on this occasion; however, she escaped by jumping from a first floor window and returned to her family.

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Rudolf Höss – a Summary

Rudolf Höss was born to Catholic parents in Baden-Baden on 25 November 1900. His early life mirrored that of many of his generation who went on to adopt radical National Socialist views: he saw action in World War One and identified the Jewish community as having betrayed the Fatherland when Germany did not emerge victorious from the conflict. He joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and began working in the concentration camp system in late 1934; going on to play a key role in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ in the 1940s.

Dachau and Sachsenhausen

The first concentration camp in the Third Reich was established in 1933 to imprison people who were politically opposed to the new Nazi regime. Among the prisoners of Dachau were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to swear allegiance to Hitler, and homosexuals, who were deemed subversive and a threat to a high national birth rate. The concentration camp system was administered by the Schutzstaffel (SS), an elite police corps led by Heinrich Himmler.

HossRudolf Höss, having recently joined the SS at Himmler’s invitation, began work as a guard at Dachau in November 1934. He also assumed an administration role and in 1936 became a lieutenant at the Sachsenhausen camp. At both Dachau and Sachsenhausen he was further moulded into the SS mind-set that orders were to be obeyed without question and that no compassion should be felt towards camp inmates, who were subjected to both physical and mental brutality on a daily basis.

In early 1940, Höss was awarded the promotion that would later make him infamous. With his wife Hedwig and their young family (they eventually had five children) he relocated to Poland to take charge of a new camp called Auschwitz.

Commandant of Auschwitz

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Kristallnacht – a summary

On 7 November 1938, a German diplomat named Ernst vom Rath was shot and fatally wounded by Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew. In retribution for vom Rath’s death, the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels instigated an anti-Jewish pogrom across Germany. Such was the ferocity of this pogrom that the night of 9-10 November, on which it took place, became known as Kristallnacht; the Night of Broken Glass.

An Act of Desperation

Herschel GrynszpanAnti-Semitic persecution had been rising in Germany since the Nazi accession of power in early 1933. Grynszpan’s parents were Polish immigrants who had lived in Hannover for over twenty years, but in late October 1938, they were among thousands of foreign Jews forcibly expelled from the Reich. Horrified by their plight, 17-year-old Grynszpan (pictured), who was living in Paris, walked into the German Embassy with a pistol. By shooting a German diplomat, he sought to avenge the persecuted Jews and alert the world to the gravity of the situation in Hitler’s Germany.

Vom Rath sustained multiple wounds and died two days after Grynszpan’s desperate act, on 9 November. Under the direction of Goebbels and other senior Nazis, his death became a pretext for a wave of public attacks against the Jewish community. In Germany, Austria and the Czech Sudetenland, Storm Troopers and members of the Hitler Youth took to the streets on the night of 9-10 November, determined to unleash violence.

The Pogrom

Synagoge KristallnachtNearly two-thirds of Jewish businesses in Germany had been Aryanized (transferred to gentile ownership) by April 1938, but well over 7,000 Jewish-owned stores were nevertheless pillaged throughout Kristallnacht, the shattered glass from their windows covering the streets. One hundred and ninety-one synagogues were destroyed, many burned to the ground, and Jewish cemeteries were also attacked. To add insult to injury, the Jewish community was subsequently declared liable for the material damage and ordered to pay a fine of 1 billion Reichsmarks to the treasury.

The violence of Kristallnacht was not limited to destruction of property and religious centres. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps, often after being cruelly beaten. Although the majority were detained temporarily in Dachau, Sachsenhausen or Buchenwald, hundreds still died while incarcerated due to maltreatment. Ninety-one Jews were killed on 9-10 November alone, but the ultimate death toll far exceeds this number: fearing that subsequent persecution on a similar or worse scale was inevitable, many Jews committed suicide in the months following Kristallnacht, thereby becoming indirect victims of the pogrom.

A Turning Point

The Kristallnacht pogrom is widely considered a crucial turning point in the escalation of anti-Semitic persecution in Nazi Germany. It was the first occasion on which the Nazis violently attacked, rounded up and interned Jews en masse. Thousands of Jews had left Germany since 1933 due to the increasing intolerance they faced, but the unprecedented violence of 9-10 November prompted another wave of immigration. Legal decrees, such as those declared at Nuremberg in September 1935, continued to ensure that those Jews who did not or could not leave the Reich were segregated, restricted and demeaned.

Herschel Grynszpan was arrested by French police following the assassination of vom Rath and later taken to Germany. He was interned for a time in Sachsenhausen, but his final whereabouts and ultimate fate remain unknown. It is likely, however, that he was one of the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Holocaust IAHJemma Saunders

The Holocaust: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

The Nuremberg Race Laws – a brief summary

On 15 September 1935, the Nuremberg Race Laws were instituted in Nazi Germany. Since Hitler’s rise to power in early 1933, Jews in German society had been subjected to increasingly discriminatory legislation, which mainly restricted their public rights. The Nuremberg Laws, however, went further still in alienating the Jewish population from mainstream society and even dictated on private matters such as relationships.

The Protection of German Blood and Honour

Nuremberg was the medieval city in which the Nazis held their annual party rallies. Famed for their scale and spectacle, these rallies were showcases of German nationalism and also an opportunity to publicly present new legislation. At the 1935 rally, the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour were announced, which together became known as the Nuremberg Racial Laws.

Nuremberg LawsUnder these laws, a system was devised that defined whether a person was Jewish according to their ancestry, rather than their religious beliefs and practices. Anybody with at least three Jewish grandparents, or with just two Jewish grandparents but who was religious or married to a Jew, was now deemed wholly Jewish under Nazi law. Everyone categorized as such was stripped of their German citizenship, disenfranchised, and forbidden to marry or to have sexual liaisons with non-Jews. An extension of the laws in November 1935 also made it illegal for Roma or people of black ethnicity to have relationships with gentile Germans. (Pictured is a chart of the different permutations. Click to enlarge. The white circles denote ‘German blood’, the black circles Jewish).

Full Jew or Partial Jew?

The Nuremberg Laws also determined who was a Mischling, or part-Jew. Two Jewish grandparents made you a first degree Mischling, whilst one Jewish grandparent resulted in a second degree categorization. These definitions meant that over 1.5 million people in Germany were considered either full Jews or Mischlinge in 1935 – approximately 2.3 per cent of the population. Many people who had never practised Judaism and who considered themselves ethnically German were now declared members of a supposedly inferior, non-German racial group.

Although there were brief reprieves in the negativity directed at the Jewish community during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Nuremberg Laws marked a dangerous shift in Nazi racial policy. Persecution intensified as the 1930s progressed and within a decade had escalated to the physical annihilation of millions of human beings, in what is now known as the Holocaust. For many, the categorizations of Jewishness established in the Nuremberg Laws were pivotal in determining their ultimate fate.

Holocaust IAHJemma Saunders

The Holocaust: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also article on the 1942 Wannsee Conference.