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Section: What was the Final Solution?

Who were the perpetrators?

The persecutors and collaborators were not just German. In this photograph we see Ukrainian and German collaborators checking farmers' papers.
The persecutors and collaborators were not just German. In this photograph we see Ukrainian and German collaborators checking farmers' papers. © 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

The genocide of the Jews was a central policy of the Nazi state. Many people involved in the process of murder were volunteers; others claimed to have been ‘simply obeying orders’.

Many of the high-ranking Nazis and members of the SS were extremely well educated and understood the consequences.

However, there were many ordinary people who won status through committing crimes, and others who used the situation for personal gain. We call these people the collaborators.

Perpetrators and collaborators were to be found in every country of occupation. The Nazis relied upon them in order to carry out their terrible acts against individuals and communities across Europe.

Commandant Rudolph Hoess

Rudolph Hoess joined the SS in 1934 and was appointed first commandant of Auschwitz I in May 1940. He organised the building of the extermination camp at Birkenau in the autumn of 1941. In November 1943, he was transferred back to Germany as an inspector of concentration camps. From May to June 1944, he returned temporarily to Auschwitz-Birkenau to deal with the extermination of Hungarian Jewry.

Hoess lived with his wife and children in a house within Auschwitz I. His wife said her years at Auschwitz were the happiest time of her life and described Hoess as a good husband and father.

At the end of the war, Hoess went on the run. He was arrested by British soldiers in 1946. They sent him to Poland where he was sentenced to death.

In prison he wrote his autobiography, Commandant at Auschwitz. Below are extracts:

“…In the summer of 1941 I was summoned to Himmler

“He said, ‘The Fuhrer has ordered that the Jewish question be solved once and for all and that we, the SS, are to implement that order…The Jews are the sworn enemies of the German people and must be eradicated. Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed, without exception…We discussed the ways and means of effecting the extermination. This could only be done by gassing, since it would have been absolutely impossible to dispose by shooting of the large numbers of people that were expected. It would have placed too heavy a burden on the SS men who had to carry it out, especially because of the women and children among the victims.'”

Hoess was hanged in Auschwitz in 1947.

Dr Johannes Paul Kremer

Photographs of Dr Johannes Paul Kremer after his arrest
Photographs of Dr Johannes Paul Kremer after his arrest © Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, www.auschwitz.org.pl

Dr Johannes Paul Kremer was a senior lecturer at the University of Münster. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and rose to a high position in the SS. In the university holiday, he went to the SS hospital in Prague and then was sent to Auschwitz where for a period he worked as the camp doctor overseeing executions by gas.

He kept a diary during his period in Auschwitz. Below are extracts:

1st September 1942

Wrote to Berlin for officer’s cap, belt, braces. In afternoon, attended block gassing with Zyklon B against lice.

2nd September 1942

3am Attended my first Sonderaktion… They don’t call Auschwitz the extermination camp for nothing!

6th September 1942

Today Sunday, excellent luncheon: tomato soup, half a chicken with potatoes and red cabbage, dessert and wonderful vanilla ice cream.

In 1943, Dr Kremer returned to teaching at Munster University. He was extradited to Poland in 1946 and sentenced to death in 1947 for crimes committed in Auschwitz. His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and he was released in January 1958 for good behaviour.

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Responses to the Holocaust

Responses to the Holocaust