“I just couldn’t stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do…”
~ Oskar Schindler, Righteous Among the Nations.
Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories near Krakow. These Jews were registered on what came to be known as “Schindler’s List”.
Thousands of descendants of “Schindler’s Jews” are alive today thanks to his brave actions.
Oskar Schindler died on the 9th of October 1974 in Germany, and is buried in Jerusalem. Before his death, a tree was planted in his and Emilie’s honor in Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous. He is pictured standing next to his tree on Yad Vashem’s campus.
Oskar and Emilie Schindler are among the 27,000+ heroic non-Jews recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
7 October 1944 | Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the Sonderkommando at the German Nazi Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp organized a revolt – the biggest and most spectacular mutiny and escape attempt in the history of Auschwitz.
Prisoners set crematorium IV on fire, causing serious damage, and attacked the SS men in the vicinity. A group of prisoners from crematorium II (approximately 80) cut through the barbed wire fences enclosing of the crematorium as well as the adjacent women’s camp and fled in a southerly direction. SS units gave chase and caught up with them some 1.5 km from the crematorium.
Around 250 Jewish prisoners were killed during the revolt, including resistance leaders and organizers of the revolt, including Załmen Gradowski and Józef Deresiński. The SS lost three men killed and more than ten wounded.
Later, as the result of repressions, another 200 Sonderkommando prisoners were killed. The female prisoners who were employed in the Union factory and who had supplied the explosives, were publicly hanged in early January 1945.
On September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. By September 8th they had reached the suburbs of Warsaw and began a siege. That siege continued until September 28th, 1939 when the Warsaw surrendered. The Nazis entered Warsaw on October 1st
After approximately a year of German occupation, during which time the Jews of Warsaw suffered through a reign of terror, arrests, Nazi-sanctioned beatings at the hands of Polish street gangs, kidnappings forced labor, theft and confiscation of property, and a long list of anti-Jewish decrees and laws, the Warsaw Ghetto was sealed off in November 1940.
In April 1940, the Judenrat was ordered to construct walls to prevent the movement of Jews into “Aryan” neighborhoods. After a few SS attempts to establish a Ghetto in the city, a decision was reached in the fall of that year, to confine the Jews in a Ghetto. On Yom Kippur, October 12th, 1940, the decision to establish a Ghetto was announced. According to German data, 113,000 Poles were removed from the area marked for the Ghetto, and 138,000 Jews, from all over the city, were transferred to the site.
On November 16th, the Ghetto in the Jewish neighborhood in the northern part of the city was sealed off. Thirty percent of the population of the city was squeezed into an area the size of 2.4% of the total city land mass. German statistics report six to seven people per room. In an area comprising 73 city streets, 450,000 people lived during the period of greatest population concentration in the Ghetto. Some of the residents had been transported from other parts of Poland, and later, people arrived from the Reich territories. With the move to the Ghetto, many lost their livelihoods. Survival depended on finding some way to make a living inside the Ghetto. About 9,000 Jews who worked in the “platzovki” [placowki – crews accompanied by guards] went out to the “Aryan” side to work.
In 1941, living conditions in the Ghetto became even more unbearable. Official German food allocations were set at 184 calories a day per person and the Judenrat, (the Jewish Council), under Adam Czerniakow, failed to meet both the needs of the Jews and the demands of the Germans. An intricate system of smuggling arose in the Ghetto. Organized Jewish underworld criminal gangs, working hand in hand with Poles, smuggled food and raw materials for underground industries into the Ghetto and also smuggled finished goods out to the “Aryan” side. At the same time, independent smugglers, mainly women and children, managed to bring in food for their starving families. The Germans used all the means at their disposal to combat the smuggling activity especially because smuggling entailed leaving the Ghetto and necessitated contact between Jews and Poles, who, despite their “racial inferiority” (in the opinion of the Germans), still belonged to the “Aryan” race. Starting in November 1941, Jews caught outside of the Ghetto were executed. As part of the campaign against smuggling, the Germans decreed that buildings found to be used by smugglers would no longer be part of the Ghetto. Fences, later replaced by walls, were erected even in the middle of streets.
In the winter of 1941, the situation became even more desperate as typhus epidemics caused many deaths. Until the summer of 1942, there was no systematic German policy regarding the murder of Jews. In essence, the German program was an assault on human dignity, aimed at humiliating and debasing the Jews. In light of this, the help people gave each other, and the struggle to maintain humane relationships in the Ghetto was remarkable. Public figures and Jewish businessmen representing the entire range of political affiliations joined together to form the Jewish Mutual Aid Society and in addition to welfare projects, they founded soup kitchens, developed a network of Building Committees, organized cultural affairs, and strove desperately to alleviate the hunger of thousands of starving children in the Ghetto. These activities and the determination of many to lead Jewish lives reflect the struggle to preserve basic human values, while fighting for survival.
On July 22, 1942, the Great Deportation began in the Ghetto. [Aktzia Action; the term used for the deportation to the death camps]. In the four escalating stages of the deportation approximately 265,000 Jews were sent to the death camp at Treblinka. About 50,000 received “life numbers” – official permission to live and work in order to support the German military effort. Another 10,000 “wild” Jews (without this German permit) managed to survive the Great Deportation. These survivors were concentrated in an area known as the Main Ghetto, around the German factories in which they worked.
On January 18,1943, the Germans initiated the second stage of the deportation, designed to dilute the Jewish population in the remaining Ghetto area. This provoked the first Jewish armed insurgence against the Nazis, carried out by members of the Jewish Fighting Organization. On April 19th 1943, Passover Seder night, the final deportation began and served as the spark that ignited the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the Ghetto’s last months, 20,000 Jews found shelter on the Polish side of the city. Many were assisted by members of the Polish Underground movement, who formed the Council to Aid the Jews, known under its code name Zegota, The few thousand Jews who did not perish in the flames that devoured the Ghetto, or were not murdered during the German attempts to crush the Uprising, were sent to the Majdanek concentration camp, or to various other work camps.
As a symbol of the suppression of the Uprising and the German victory over the insurgent Jews, the SS General Jurgen Stroop ordered the destruction of the Great Synagogue on Tlomacka St. on May 16th 1943, and in his report he wrote, “the Warsaw Ghetto is no more”.
Sobibór extermination camp was built in a marshy forest area by 80 Jewish forced laborers who were murdered immediately following the completion of their work. During the construction process, the German’s put into practice lessons learned in Bełżec. The infrastructure of the murder facilities was improved, particularly the sealing of the gas chamber doors. Transporting Jews to the facility was better organized, based on meticulous planning for the regional population. It was also decided to create a permanent core of Jewish prisoners as “skilled” staff, in order to make camp maintenance and the extermination process more efficient.
The camp at Sobibór occupied an area of 400 600 meters. Here, some 250,000 Jews were killed. The camp at Sobibór was in operation for 18 months — much longer than its two sister camps Bełżec (which operated for eight months) and Treblinka (which operated for 13 months). The extermination camps in the Lublin District were initially intended to exterminate Polish Jewry alone, while the more sophisticated gas chambers at Birkenau, which began operating in the late summer of 1942, were meant primarily for the extermination of Jews from the other countries of Europe.
Beginning in the early spring of 1943, in accordance with regional planning, dozens of long trains moved back and forth across Poland, picking up human cargo, transporting it to the death camps, and making additional runs. The camp at Bełżec was closed after it completed its task of murdering the Jews of the Lublin District and Galicia. Treblinka began operating as the extermination camp for the Warsaw ghetto, which had a Jewish population that outnumbered that of most of the occupied countries. When the number of transports dwindled toward mid-summer 1943, it appeared increasingly possible that the camp would soon be closed.
At Sobibór, located at the heart of the regional network of forced labor camps, labor selections for the various camps took place regularly, in contrast to Bełżec and Treblinka. For this reason, and despite its relatively long period of operation, far fewer people were murdered at Sobibór than at the two other camps. On July 5, 1943, after Bełżec had already been closed and when Treblinka was about to be closed, Himmler ordered the conversion of Sobibór into a concentration camp. Prisoners in the camp, who were of course unaware of this changed function, feared that the construction of the new wing, the mining of the area (aimed at defending the future concentration camp from partisan attacks), and the less frequent transports reflected an intention on the part of the Germans to close the camp and murder the hundreds of Jews it still held.
Evidence of this fear can be found in the notes in the clothes of the final 300 prisoners who arrived from Bełżec and were murdered at Sobibór in the early summer of 1943, after the camp was dismantled. The moment the sealed car doors were opened in Sobibór, the prisoners sprang from the cars and ran in all directions. All of them were shot and killed before they were able to leave the ramp. The notes found in their clothing reveal that they had made a firm decision not to enter the gas chambers.
This is the general background for the crystallization of a Jewish underground in Sobibór. Prisoners tried to escape throughout its entire period of operation, and some attempts were successful. However, most escapees were caught, and in reprisal the Germans carried out public executions of dozens of Jewish prisoners. In this context, the Jewish underground resolved to organize a rebellion during which all the prisoners would escape, making it impossible to inflict collective punishment on prisoners who remained in the camp.
Most of the plans considered were rejected by the underground due to their lack of military expertise. But in September 1943, the transports of Jews from Vilna, Lida, and Minsk included Jewish prisoners of war from the Red Army who supplied the underground with the operational knowledge they lacked. Eventually, the underground produced a daring plan for an uprising that would involve killing the SS soldiers, securing weapons, and breaching the camp fence in battle in an area that was not mined, to enable all the prisoners to escape. Although the plan encountered serious difficulties as a result of unanticipated developments, the uprising was carried out, resulting in the death of 11 SS soldiers and a few Ukrainians. Some 600 camp prisoners began to escape, but approximately half were killed in the minefields or by German fire. Some of the prisoners did not even try to escape, in some cases due to physical exhaustion and in other cases — mostly non-Poles — because they were unfamiliar with the surrounding area and did not know the language.
Prisoners who worked in the camp’s extermination area did not participate in the uprising because the other Jews in the camp had no way of contacting them, and they knew nothing about the plan. Despite the problems encountered, approximately 300 prisoners succeeded in reaching the woods, though most were subsequently killed during the chase. The few who survived were killed after the war in pogroms that took place in Poland. Of all the prisoners of Sobibór, only 50 survived. After the uprising, it was decided to close the camp. The last Jews to work dismantling the camp — particularly those who worked in the extermination area and covering the traces of the extermination process — were shot when their work was completed.
By July 1944, the Germans were using the facilities in the proximity of the ramp and huts that remained standing as a construction services camp. Between 1945 and 1947, the ramp served as a major railway junction for the transport of Poles from the east in preparation for their resettlement in western Poland, and the transport of Ukrainians from Poland for “resettlement” in the Ukraine. At times, large masses of displaced persons had to stay at Sobibór for a few days, and the camp’s remaining huts provided them with wood to burn for heating and cooking. The forester’s watchtower and the kommandant’s building were eventually returned to their rightful owners. The train station in Sobibór operated regularly until 1999.
Today in History –> Seventy-eight years ago today Sophie Scholl (along with Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst) a twenty-one year old German student and anti-Nazi political activist, active within the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany having been convicted of treason was executed by the guillotine.
In February of 1943, the [White Rose group] was apprehended when leaving pamphlets in suitcases all across the University of Munich. Sophie took to a balcony that overlooked a courtyard and scattered reams of flyers as students exited classes. Her action was witnessed by the school’s janitor, who reported Sophie and Hans to the Gestapo. After being interrogated for nearly 24 hours, Sophie emerged from questioning with a broken leg but a steely spirit. She was quoted as saying, “I’ll make no bargain with the Nazis.”
The students’ hearing began a mere four days after their arrest and, because all pled guilty, they were not allowed to testify. Still, Sophie did not sit quietly throughout the proceedings. She interrupted the judge throughout, with statements like: “Somebody had to make a start! What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!” and “You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”
She was allowed one official statement: “Time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely un-Christian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up to a righteous cause? I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences.” She and her fellow defendants were sentenced to death by execution, which was carried out within hours of the decision. On the back of Sophie’s indictment, she wrote the word “Freedom”. Her reported last words were, “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”
Her last words:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” ~ Sophie Scholl
Today in Holocaust History –> On this day 17 January 1945, Righteous Among the Nations, Raoul Wallenberg was taken away by Russian soldiers. He was never seen again.
Just prior to the Soviet army entering Budapest, Wallenberg said to his colleague in the Swedish embassy:
“I’ve taken on this assignment, and I will never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing … that I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible”.
~ Raoul Wallenberg, Righteous Among the Nations
Raoul Wallenberg was sent to Budapest in 1944 to rescue Jews with connections to Sweden. He arrived with a list of Jews whom he was to help and 650 protective passports. However, he quickly widened the scope of his efforts by issuing 1000’s of “protective letters” and setting up a network of protective houses for Jews .
As the situation in Hungary deteriorated, Wallenberg abandoned all diplomatic protocol and attempted to rescue as many Jews as he could at great risk to himself.
Wallenberg used unconventional methods, including bribery and blackmail, to finance and run his huge rescue operation, successfully saving thousands of Jews. When Adolf Eichmann ordered a “death march” of tens of thousands of persons to the Austrian border, Wallenberg followed the marchers in their vehicles, and distributed food, clothing, and medications. He was able to free Jews from the death march by claiming that they were his “protected” Jews.
In 1956, 11 years after his disappearance, the Soviets finally stated that Raoul Wallenberg had died in prison in 1947.
In 1963 Yad Vashem recognized Raoul Wallenberg as Righteous Among the Nations.
Simone Segouin, mostly known by her codename, Nicole Minet, was only 18-years-old when the Germans invaded. Her first act of rebellion was to steal a bicycle from a German military administration, and to slice the tires of all of the other bikes and motorcycles so they couldn’t pursue her. She found a pocket of the Resistance and joined the fight, using the stolen bike to deliver messages between Resistance groups.
She was an extremely fast learner and quickly became an expert at tactics and explosives. She led teams of Resistance fighters to capture German troops, set traps, and sabotage German equipment. As the war dragged on, her deeds escalated to derailing German trains, blocking roads, blowing up bridges and helping to create a German-free path to help the Allied forces retake France from the inside. She was never caught.
Segouin was present at the liberation of Chartres on August 23, 1944, and then the liberation of Paris two days later. She was promoted to lieutenant and awarded several medals, including the Croix de Guerre. After the war, she studied medicine and became a pediatric nurse. She is still going strong, and this October (2021) she will turn 96.
“I will never forget the excitement when a leaflet was pressed into my hand by somebody in the editorial room of the Allgemeine Zeitung. The leaflets were being circulated by White Rose followers in Hamburg. Something inflammatory, heartening—yes, magical!—emanated from these typewritten and hectographed [mimeographed] lines.
We copied them off and passed them on. A wave of enthusiasm swept over us—we who risked so damned little in comparison.”
~ Ursula von Kardoff (reporter at Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, 1945)
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
~ Sophie Scholl, Her last words before execution.
Sophie Scholl (1921-1943), German student and anti-Nazi political activist, active within the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany. Convicted of high treason after having been found distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich (LMU). As a result, she was executed by guillotine.
In 1942, five young German students and one professor at the University of Munich (LMU) crossed the threshold of toleration to enter the realms of resistance, danger and death. Protesting in the name of principles Hitler thought he had killed forever, Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose realized that the ‘Germanization’ Hitler sought to enforce was cruel and inhuman, and that they could not be content to remain silent in its midst…