Jon Reisfeld, the author of the new book, The Last Way Station: Hitler’s Final Journey is my guest today. We had a bit of a mix up on getting the material to me in time to post this this morning, so it is coming just a bit late in the day. I don’t normallly have guests on Friday, but he wanted to share this piece today for obvious reasons.
A Dark and Infamous Anniversary
Seventy years ago, today, 15 Nazi government officials, many mid-level bureaucrats with Ph.D.s, met at a conference center in the Berlin suburb of Wansee to conduct official state business. They had come together to coordinate Hitler’s planned evacuation, asset seizure, enslavement and eventual mass-murder of millions of Jewish civilians living in Nazi-occupied lands in Europe and North Africa.
Reinhard Heydrich, the man Hitler had hand-picked to spear-head the “Final Solution,” as the Nazis euphemistically called it, “kicked-off” the meeting by outlining the challenge these bureaucrats faced and the game plan for achieving it.
Heydrich noted that only about half of Europe’s estimated 11 million Jews “currently” lived in countries under Nazi rule. Since the government had outlawed Jewish emigration, the authorities had worked out a different solution. All Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa, he said, would be evacuated to the “east” behind the German’s 1,000 mile front, in a vast region representing approximately half-a-million square miles of recently conquered Soviet territory. “Under proper guidance,” he said, “in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the
course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival”.
What Heydrich didn’t mention was what would immediately happen to those who were not considered robust enough to join the slave-labor road work columns. But everyone in the room already knew their fates. Mass local killings of Jews already had begun in the newly occupied Soviet territories and new “death camps” were rapidly coming on line. Earlier that month, the death camp at Auschwitz-Berkenow had started testing Zyclon-b gas, in its newly constructed gas chambers. Early results had been most favorable, and the test subjects had been disposed of in huge, mass graves. By the end of that year, far fewer Jews would be alive within German-held lands.
Adolf Eichman, the man who would later send 440,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps in a record 6 weeks, testified at his war crimes and crimes against humanity trial, in Israel, that Heydrich had ordered him to cleanse the minutes of any direct references to death, extermination and murder. At the end of the 90-minute meeting, he recalled, cognac was served and the men became more relaxed and discussed the subject “quite bluntly, quite differently from the language which I had to use later in the record. During the conversation they minced no words about it at all … they spoke about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination.” Heydrich, he added, had been pleasantly surprised by the lack of resistance he had encountered. (A major purpose of the meeting was for Heydrich’s RSHA to formally exert its control over implementation of the deportation policy.)
Wansee represented an unprecedented act in the history of civilization. It marked the first and, hopefully, the last time that a government would formally turn itself into an ongoing criminal enterprise by making a central tenet of its official state policy the systematic eradication of a people on a global scale. At Wansee, the Nazis took the first, formal step toward implementing that policy and coordinating it through its various agencies.
Those decisions rapidly took their toll in human terms.
* On January 31st, SS Einsatzgruppe A reported it already had killed 229,052 Jews in local actions, in occupied Soviet Territory.
*On March 17th, the Nazis began deporting Jews from Lublin, Poland to the Belzec death camp
*A week later, they began deporting Slovak Jews to Auschwitz
*Three days later, on March 27th, they began deporting French Jews to Auschwitz, with the first of these from Paris arriving there on March 30th.
*In April, the first Jewish deportees arrive at Majdanek
*In May, the Sobidor Extermination Camp comes online in Poland with 3 gas chanbers, initially using carbon monoxide from engines. These are later fitted to use Zyclon-B gas.
*On May 18, the New York Times reports that the Nazis already have used machine guns to kill: 100,000 Jews in Poland, 100,000 in the Baltic States and more than 200,000 in occupied Russia.
*By June 5th, the SS reports that 97,000 people have been successfully “processed” by such vans
*On July 14th, the SS starts deporting Dutch Jews to Auschwitz
*On July 19th, Himmler authorizes Operation Reinhard, which begins the mass deportation of Polish Jews to Auschwitz
*On July 22nd, the SS starts deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto and from Belgium to the new death camp at Treblinka. Two buildings with 10 gas chambers in each, can “process” 4,000 inmates at a time. The dead are then burned in open pits.
*In August, the SS starts deporting Croatian Jews to Auschwitz
*In September, the SS starts transferring victims’ assets to SS and German government banks. By the following February, more than 800 boxcars, filled with confiscated Jewish possessions will leave Auschwitz. Much of the personal items and clothing are destined for troops and German citizens.
*On Octobrer 5th, Himmler signs orders to deport all Jews still in German concentration camps to Auschwitz
*October 25th, the deportation of Norwegian Jews begins
*In November, German death squads murder 170,000 Jews near Bialystok
*In December, after killing more than 600,000 Jews, the Belzec camp is dismantled and plowed under.
To see the video trailer for Jon’s Book The Last Way Station CLICK HERE