Indeed, in some cases trainloads carrying Jews to their final destination were held up without any water, food or evacuation facilities to allow military cargo to speed by, sometimes to the extent that when the trains arrived at their destination, all that was left to unload were corpses wallowing in filth and excrement. But with few exceptions the Wannsee creed regarding the Ausrottung – total destruction of the Jews, was not negotiable. So deep was the hatred for the Jew in the German soul that the killing had to be carried out to the bitter end, even when Germany found itself short of labor and could have used Jewish hands in strategic locations.
Delivering the victim to the executioner in the East was only one aspect in expediting the process of freeing Europe from the Jewish pest. The slow, inefficient and cumbersome method of executing Jews, besides being very costly in ammunition, also left alarming traces behind. Mass graves filled with thousands of bodies, shot in a lineup or burned in synagogues, slaughterhouses or ritual baths, dotted the countryside in the German-occupied territories. A new destruction process was needed that would be less costly and more speedy and efficient while not leaving behind incriminating evidence.
The new method called for the establishment of murder factories of unprecedented dimensions. In short order a new industry of death came into being – the likes of which defied all former generations of mankind, drawing on the human ingenuity for limitless evil.
Once the unsuspecting victims were unloaded at their final destination, believing they had reached the much-sought-after point of resettlement, it was of paramount importance for the Germans to utilize the precious minutes of surprise and shock. From the moment of entry into this Realm of Satan, the victims were greeted with reassuring signs reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” and “Disinfectant Rooms.”
Deceit dominated every step, leading through the “showers” to the crematoria and including postcards written to those still at home about the delights of the new settlement. It was indeed an unreal planet, where time was not measured by years, months or days but by hours and minutes.
The new official state policy of the Third Reich – total war against the Jews – has its starting date in the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942. By Hitler’s decree, in the words of Himmler’s secretary: “The Reichsfuhrer desires that no mention be made of the ‘special treatment of Jews.’ It must be called ‘transportation of Jews toward the Russian East.’ ”
In October 1943, Himmler told a small group in the Nazi inner circle: “We have written a glorious page of our history, but it shall never appear on paper.”
Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel; taught at City University of New York, Haifa University and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker.