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About the Holocaust

The Holocaust was the "systematic bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder (USHMM)" of nearly six million Jews and five million others including Gypsies, Polish Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Nazi regime. It was a historical turning point in which the world witnessed genocide at its extremity. The time frame of the Holocaust is understood to be the period of 1933 to 1945—the era of Adolf Hitler’s reign over Germany. While the Nazi persecution of Jews was a constant theme in this period, the methods and degree of persecution evolved over time, becoming increasingly malignant, ultimately building up to the "Final Solution," an operation designed to destroy completely European Jewry as well as the Gypsies. The Jewish population was reduced from nine million in pre-Holocaust Europe to only three million at the end of World War II. In addition, three million Polish Christians, half a million Gypsies, and tens of thousands of other groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and the disabled were massacred.

Instilled with a belief in so-called Aryan supremacy, the Nazis publicized a brand of nationalism that sought to rid German life of Jewish presence and cleanse Europe of those groups that they deemed inferior. In the the early years after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Nazi policies were geared towards the isolation of Jews economically and socially. The next level of persecution—between 1939 and 1941—was the ghettoization of Jews in Nazi occupied territories in worsening conditions, while many were also sent to concentration camps. In the subsequent phase of the Nazi era, Polish and most Eastern European Jews were deported from the ghettos to concentration camps. With tens of thousands of Jews already massacred by 1941 in Eastern Europe by Einsatzgruppen (Nazi task forces), the next phase was the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question," a Nazi euphemism for the total annihilation of the Jews. Killing units began mass murdering entire Jewish communities through asphyxiation with poison gas, shooting, and other means in extermination centers established in Nazi territories—Chelmno, the Operation Reinhard camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. During this period, the Nazi killing methodology shifted from mobile killers and stationary victims, to stationary killing centers and mobile victims. In its entirety, the Holocaust consumed the lives of two-thirds of the pre-World War II European Jewry and almost all of its Gypsy population.


January 30 German president von Hindenburg names Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany
March 22 Dachau concentration camp opens
April 1 Boycott of Jewish shops and businesses begins
April 7 Jews and other political opponents are dismissed from civil service positions
April 25 Jewish enrollment in public schools is limited
April 26 Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, is formed
May 2 Free trade unions are dissolved
May 10 Nazis organize public burning in Germany of books written by Jews and opponents of Nazism
July 14

All political parties except the Nazi Party are outlawed

Law stripping East European Jewish immigrants of German citizenship is enacted

Forced sterilization begins on certain people with physical and mental disabilities

October 4 “Non-Aryans” are forbidden to work in journalism
October 14 Germany quits the League of Nations
November 24 Courts are allowed to order indefinite imprisonment
December 1 Hitler declares legal unity of the German state and Nazi Party                                                                                 


August 2 German President von Hindenburg dies—Hitler becomes head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces
August 19 Hitler declares himself Führer of Germany


May 1 German government bans Jehovah’s Witness organizations
May 31 Jews barred from serving in the German armed forces
June 28 German criminal code is revised to facilitate persecution of homosexual men
September 15 Reichstag passes antisemitic “Nuremberg Race Laws,” stripping Jews of citizenship and most civil rights            


February 10 Gestapo, under Heinrich Himmler, assumes absolute control of internal German security                                       
March 3 Jewish doctors barred from practicing medicine in German institutions
August 1 Olympic Games open in Berlin
November 1 Hitler and Mussolini announce Rome-Berlin Axis
November 25 Germany and Japan sign military pact against Soviet Union and communism


July 7 Japan invades China, initiating WWII in the Pacific                                                                                                             
July 15 Buchenwald concentration camp opens


March 13        Germany announces union (“Anschluss”) with Austria; antisemitic laws implemented immediately
July 6 International conference at Evian, France, fails to provide refuge for Jews
September 30                “Munich Agreement” between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain cedes Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Germany
October 5 Passports of Jews are marked with a letter “J”
November 9-10 Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). Antisemitic rioters in Germany and Austria burn synagogues, loot homes and businesses, kill at least 91 Jews
November 12 All Jews must transfer retail businesses to Aryan hands
November 15 Jewish children are expelled from German schools
December 12 One billion Marks fine levied against German Jews for the destruction of property during Kristallnacht            


January 30 Reichstag Speech. Hitler declares the outbreak of war would mean the end of European Jewry
May 1 Gassing of mentally and physically disabled begins
May 13 The St. Louis sets sail for Havanna, Cuba, carrying almost 900 Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe
August 23 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact—non-aggression pact between Soviet Union and Germany that divides eastern Europe into spheres of influence—is signed
September 1 World War II in Europe begins: Germany invades Poland
October 12 Germany begins deportation of Austrian and Czech Jews to Poland
November 23          Polish Jews are ordered to wear yellow stars


April 9 German forces occupy Denmark and southern Norway
May 10 German forces invades Holland, Belgium, and France
May 20 Auschwitz camp is established
June 22 France surrenders
August 30 Second Vienna Award divides Transylvania between Romania and Hungary                                                         
September 27      Germany, Italy, and Japan sign Tripartite Pact
November 15 Warsaw Ghetto is sealed: 500,000 people are imprisoned


April 6 German forces attack Yugoslavia and Greece; occupation follows
June 22 Operation Barbarossa. German forces and Axis partners invade the Soviet Union
July 31 Goering appoints Heydrich to begin implementation of “Final Solution” (extermination of all Jews in Europe)     
September 19     German forces occupy Kiev, capital of Ukraine
October 8 Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is established to exterminate Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and others
October 15 Operation Reinhard begins, eventually killing 1.7 million Jews in occupied Poland
November 24 Theresienstadt camp/ghetto is established
December 7 Japanese forces bomb Pearl Harbor
December 8

United States enters World War II

Chelmno extermination camp opens in Poland


January 20 Nazis hold Wannsee Conference to coordinate “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”                                                 
March 17 Belzec extermination camp begins operation
May 30 British forces begin bombing Cologne, bringing war to Germany for first time
Spring Sobibor extermination camp begins operation
July 22 Germans establish Treblinka extermination camp
July 28 Jewish resistance organization is established in the Warsaw ghetto
June 28 German forces and Axis partners attack Soviet Union from the south
October 17 Allied nations pledge to punish Germans for their policy of genocide


February 2 German Sixth Army surrenders at Stalingrad
April 19 Warsaw ghetto uprising begins as German forces attempt to liquidate ghetto
May 13 Axis forces in Tunisia surrender to Allies, ending North African campaign
May 16 Warsaw ghetto is liquidated
June 23 Himmler orders liquidation of all remaining Polish Jewish ghettos
August 2 Jewish prisoners revolt at Treblinka extermination camp
Sept. 20-October Nearly 7,000 Danish Jews escape to Sweden with help of Danish resistance movement                                    
September 23 Vilna ghetto is liquidated
October 14 Jewish prisoners revolt at Sobibor killing center
October 20 United Nations War Crimes Commission is established
November 2 Riga ghetto is liquidated


March 19 German troops occupy Hungary
May 15-July 9 440,000 Jews are deported from Hungary to Auschwitz
June 6 D-Day. Allies launch invasion at Normandy, France
June 22 Soviets launch offensive in Belarus, driving westward to central Poland
July 20 German military officers attempt to assassinate Hitler in his East Prussian headquarters
July 24 Soviet forces liberate Majdanek death camp
August 25 Allied forces liberate Paris
October 7 Group of inmates stage revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau; one crematorium is destroyed
October 20 U.S. troops land in the Philippines
November 25 Himmler orders destruction of Auschwitz crematoria as Nazis try to hide evidence of the death camps
December 16 “Battle of the Bulge”: Germans launch final offensive in the west to attempt to split Allied forces along German border


January 17

Auschwitz is evacuated; prisoners forced on death march

Soviet troops liberate Warsaw

January 27 Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz
April 11 American troops liberate Buchenwald camp
April 16 Soviets launch final offensive, encircling Berlin
April 30 Hitler commits suicide
May 7-9 Germany surrenders; end of Third Reich
August 6 U.S. drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima
August 8 Soviet Union declares war on Japan and invades Manchuria
August 9 U.S. drops atomic bomb on Nagasaki
September 2 Japan signs a surrender document; World War II officially ends                                                                          
October 24 United Nations is founded
November 20 Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal commences


October 1 Nuremberg Trials conclude. 18 defendants are convicted, three are acquitted, and 11 are sentenced to death



According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, eugenics is defined as "the biosocial movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population—usually referring to a human population." This was an international movement in the early twentieth century spanning across North America and Europe. On the outset the movement did not profess a racist element as much as emphasizing the importance of multiplying the “best” and the attrition of “bad genes” in a population. However, it soon evolved both in America and Europe into a desire to propagate the superior Nordic race (Aryan in Nazi nomenclature) and prevent "contamination" from races that were classified as inferior. During the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act in the United States, policymakers advocated the need to limit the entry of Slavs, Latin Americans, and even the Irish, as they regarded them as inferior races that would pollute the American blood. In Nazi Germany however, the eugenics movement reached unmatched heights, with its extreme anti-Semitic character. Many of Germany’s top scientists joined the Nazis, actively aiding in the implementation of “racial hygiene” programs.

Dr. Josef Mengele was the most widely known SS physician, infamous for his medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. His racial dogma and inhumane inclinations toward Jews and other non-Aryans were informed by a key influence in his early adult life. Upon earning a Ph.D. in physical anthropology from the University of Munich, the young German became the assistant of Dr. Otmar von Verschuer, a renowned human biologist who shared the Nazi concern for “racial hygiene." Molded by such a mentor, coupled with his own zeal for excelling in his field, Mengele developed into a soldier of biology whose quest it was to understand human genetics and propagate the master (Aryan) race. In particular, both he and his mentor were exponents of twin research. As the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz offered the most abundant supply of human specimen, among whom were likely to be some twins. Under the patronage of Verschuer, Mengele won grants to undertake two research projects and was appointed an SS doctor at Auschwitz.

Mengele came to be known as the “Angel of Death” in Auschwitz, as one of his high profile tasks was the selection of humans for experimentation or death. In other words, he decided who among the incoming prisoners would be retained as test subjects and who would be sent immediately to the gas chambers. Mengele performed a wide range of gruesome and lethal experiments with Jewish and Roma twins. He was particularly partial toward children in his selection of test subjects. Many of the Mengele victims died as a result of the procedures inflicted upon them. Many were also murdered for the purpose of conducting autopsies. A minority of the twins survived, some of whom have shared the story of Auschwitz and Josef Mengele with the world.

Handwritten Letters From Nazi SS Doctor Joseph Mengele

These pieces are on loan from the Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation . These documents are currently on display at CANDLES. Visit us during our normal hours to see them in person.

Both letters were sent by Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele to his wife, Irene, while he was stationed at Auschwitz. The letters offer rare insight into the life and mind of the man who has been nicknamed the “Angel of Death” and the “God of Auschwitz” for his seeming mastery over who lived and who died in the camp. These letters offer a jarring juxtaposition to what we know of Mengele and the horrific medical experiments he performed on camp prisoners, including the twin sisters Miriam Mozes Zeiger and Eva Mozes Kor, the founder of CANDLES.

“Every morning after roll call, Mengele came to our barracks for inspection. Smiling, he called us meine kinde, my children. Some of the twins liked him and called him Uncle Mengele. Not I. I was terrified of him. Even in those days I knew he did not care for us like a real doctor.”
                    - Eva Mozes Kor, A-7063, Surviving the Angel of Death


Letter from April 26, 1944

The medal Mengele describes, the Kriegsverdienstkreuz or War Merit Cross, was created in 1939 by Adolph Hitler to replace the non-combatant Iron Cross. The medal had two grades, 2nd class and 1st class, and was awarded with swords and without swords. The version with swords that Mengele received was awarded for service above and beyond the call of duty, though not necessarily in direct combat.



Auschwitz, 4.26.44

My dear, sweet Butzel!

Once in a while there’s a small ray of light in my bleak daily routine in this concentration camp business. This afternoon at 4pm I was ordered to the commanding officer, and I was awarded a medal (Kriegsverdienstkreuz, second degree with swords). Even though this is not a rare honor, and even though I already possess more valuable decorations, I was touched by the acknowledgment of my work and my dedication. My work sometimes jeopardizes my own health and even my life; therefore I was very appreciative. (You can see my dear Butzele that the medals are coming in slowly one after another to stay on this hero’s chest!!) I was supposed to get it on 4.20.44, the Führer’s birthday, but I wasn’t here since I was home with you. Dr. Thilo got the same honor; we now call it the “typhus medal.”

When I came back they were already waiting for me with 3 bottles of wine and one bottle of champagne. I was with a group of nice people (Fischer, Frank, Mulsow, plus their wives), and we drank whatever we had. During our gathering I also raised a glass to Rolf and his lovely mother.

I’m doing okay so far. My work is going ahead, but I’ve decided that I want to be altogether more reclusive. Berlin doesn’t suit me. I’m feeling better now, but after the long hours on the train my legs were swollen. I will check myself into the field hospital later for a thorough examination. Berlin was quite cold. Especially nurse Emmi took good care of me. Schade used every moment of his free time to be around me. With my boss, I could talk about everything.

I have already mentioned my visit to Lambertz to you. He is still the same: He pretends to be audacious, but in reality he is just shy and inhibited. He still hasn’t found a nice girl, even though he has a casual relationship with a waitress. (Please keep this to yourself, and never, ever let him know that I told you!) I want to introduce him to Schlicks. Maybe Mrs. Schlick can introduce him to nice girls that she knows or something like that!

How are you, Butzele, and how is the boy? I hope everything is just fine. I’m sending kisses from me to both of you.

Yours, Papili.

Letter from December 14, 1944

The format of the stationery, written in such a way that it can be folded to form its own envelope, is typical of the time the letter was written. The brown stamp was used to seal the letter, which resulted in it being cut into quarters when opened. Also, note the Auschwitz postmark on the red stamp. Mengele addresses his wife as “Butzele” and himself as “Butz,” which are common German terms of endearment.



Frau Irene Maria Mengele
Am Stadtbach 4

SS Doctor Mengele
Auschwitz 0/S
Concentration Camp SS Precinct

Auschwitz, 12.14.44

My beloved Butzele!

Your letters from November 29th, December 8th and December 9th have arrived. I thank you for them from the very bottom of my heart. In these letters you address the question of our moving, and I’m glad to see that we agree on major points that we have to consider. The date is the only thing that’s difficult. You don’t want to come for Christmas; you prefer the time after the Holidays. I don’t think that’s a good idea since the days before the holidays are really bad to start your journey. It would also mean that we’re once again not together on Christmas Eve!

Naturally, I cannot come to visit you, and I won’t be able to pick you up. I might be able to ask Wirths to send a nurse to travel with you. But I know you understand that I would like to avoid asking him. Do you really think it’s impossible for Karl to come along? Or maybe your father? If it looks like he’s being evacuated, they will have to give him a travel permit! I forwarded your wishes to our man who’s responsible for housing (Wilks). I think your requests will be met.

It’s too bad that you didn’t decide earlier, since you had planned on being here by now. But since it takes such a long time to send mail nowadays, you have to decide and act on your own. This letter will probably reach you after you started your journey. It would be awful if you weren’t able to come at all! Perhaps, and this is what I hope, you got the letter that Dr. Precht carried with him, and I hope the letter helped you to make a quick decision to come as soon as possible. Maybe my telegram could have had the same effect?! That would’ve been beautiful!

Please send my regards to everybody, and let me kiss you.

Yours, Butz.

Why haven’t I heard anything about Loes? Do you know how he’s doing?