The Simon Wiesenthal Center's
36 Questions About the Holocaust (30-36)
Answer: Despite the difficult conditions to which Jews were subjected in
Nazi-occupied Europe, many engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis. This resistance can
be divided into three basic types of armed activities: ghetto revolts, resistance in concentration
and death camps, and partisan warfare.
The Warsaw Ghetto revolt, which lasted for about five weeks beginning on April 19, 1943, is
probably the best-known example of armed Jewish resistance, but there were many ghetto revolts
in which Jews fought against the Nazis.
Despite the terrible conditions in the death, concentration, and labor camps, Jewish inmates
fought against the Nazis at the following sites: Treblinka (August 2, 1943); Babi Yar
(September 29, 1943); Sobibr (October 14, 1943); Janwska (November 19, 1943); and
Auschwitz (October 7, 1944).
Jewish partisan units were active in many areas, including Baranovichi, Minsk, Naliboki forest,
and Vilna. While the sum total of armed resistance efforts by Jews was not militarily
overwhelming and did not play a significant role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, these acts of
resistance did lead to the rescue of an undetermined number of Jews, Nazi casualties, and untold
damage to German property and self-esteem.
Answer: The Judenrat was the council of Jews, appointed by the Nazis in
each Jewish community or ghetto. According to the directive from Reinhard Heydrich of the
SS on September 21, 1939, a Judenrat was to be established in every
concentration of Jews in the occupied areas of Poland. They were led by noted community
leaders. Enforcement of Nazi decrees affecting Jews and administration of the affairs of the
Jewish community were the responsibilities of the Judenrat. These functions placed the
Judenrat in a highly responsible, but controversial position, and many of their actions
continue to be the subject of debate among historians. While the intentions of the heads of
councils were rarely challenged, their tactics and methods have been questioned. Among the
most controversial were Mordechai Rumkowski in Lodz and Jacob Gens in Vilna, both of whom
justified the sacrifice of some Jews in order to save others. Leaders and members of the
Judenrat were guided, for the most part, by a sense of communal responsibility, but
lacked the power and the means to successfully thwart Nazi plans for annihilation of all
Answer: During the course of World War II, the International Red Cross (IRC)
did very little to aid the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Its activities can basically be
divided into three periods:
1. September, 1939 - June 22, 1941:
The IRC confined its activities to sending food packages to those in distress in Nazi-occupied
Europe. Packages were distributed in accordance with the directives of the German Red Cross.
Throughout this time, the IRC complied with the German contention that those in ghettos and
camps constituted a threat to the security of the Reich and, therefore, were not allowed to receive
aid from the IRC.
2. June 22, 1941 - Summer 1944:
Despite numerous requests by Jewish organizations, the IRC refused to publicly protest the mass
annihilation of Jews and non-Jews in the camps, or to intervene on their behalf. It maintained that
any public action on behalf of those under Nazi rule would ultimately prove detrimental to their
welfare. At the same time, the IRC attempted to send food parcels to those individuals whose
addresses it possessed.
3. Summer 1944 - May 1945:
Following intervention by such prominent figures as President Franklin Roosevelt and the King
of Sweden, the IRC appealed to Mikls Horthy, Regent of Hungary, to stop the deportation of
The IRC did insist that it be allowed to visit concentration camps, and a delegation did visit the
"model ghetto" of Terezin (Theresienstadt). The IRC request came following the receipt of
information about the harsh living conditions in the camp.
The IRC requested permission to investigate the situation, but the Germans only agreed to allow
the visit nine months after submission of the request. This delay provided time for the Nazis to
complete a "beautification" program, designed to fool the delegation into thinking that conditions
at Terezin were quite good and that inmates were allowed to live out their lives in relative
The visit, which took place on July 23, 1944, was followed by a favorable report on Terezin to
the members of the IRC which Jewish organizations protested vigorously, demanding that
another delegation visit the camp. Such a visit was not permitted until shortly before the end of
the war. In reality, the majority were subsequently deported to Auschwitz where they were
Answer: Neither the Italians
nor the Japanese, both of whom were Germany's allies
during World War II, cooperated regarding the "Final Solution." Although the Italians did,
upon German urging, institute discriminatory legislation against Italian Jews, Mussolini's
government refused to participate in the "Final Solution" and consistently refused to deport its
Jewish residents. Moreover, in their occupied areas of France, Greece, and Yugoslavia, the
Italians protected the Jews and did not allow them to be deported. However, when the Germans
overthrew the Badoglio government in 1943, the Jews of Italy, as well as those under Italian
protection in occupied areas, were subject to the "Final
The Japanese were also relatively tolerant toward the Jews in their country as well as in the areas
which they occupied. Despite pressure by their German allies urging them to take stringent
measures against Jews, the Japanese refused to do so. Refugees were allowed to enter Japan
until the spring of 1941, and Jews in Japanese-occupied China were treated well. In the summer
and fall of 1941, refugees in Japan were transferred to Shanghai but no measures were taken
against them until early 1943, when they were forced to move into the Hongkew Ghetto. While
conditions were hardly satisfactory, they were far superior to those in the ghettos under German
Answer: The head of the
Catholic Church at the time of the Nazi rise to
power was Pope Pius XI. Although he stated that
the myths of "race" and "blood" were
contrary to Christian teaching (in a papal encyclical,
March 1937), he neither mentioned nor criticized
antisemitism. His successor, Pius XII (Cardinal
Pacelli) was a Germanophile who maintained his
neutrality throughout the course of World War II.
Although as early as 1942 the Vatican received
detailed information on the murder of Jews in concentration
camps, the Pope confined his public statements
to expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice
and to calls for a more humane conduct of the war.
Despite the lack of response by Pope Pius XII, several papal nuncios played an important role in
rescue efforts, particularly the nuncios in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey. It is not
clear to what, if any, extent they operated upon instructions from the Vatican. In Germany, the
Catholic Church did not oppose the Nazis' antisemitic campaign. Church records were supplied
to state authorities which assisted in the detection of people of Jewish origin, and efforts to aid
the persecuted were confined to Catholic non-Aryans. While Catholic clergymen protested the
Nazi euthanasia program, few, with the exception of Bernhard Lichtenberg, spoke out against the
murder of the Jews.
In Western Europe, Catholic clergy spoke out publicly against the persecution of the Jews and
actively helped in the rescue of Jews. In Eastern Europe, however, the Catholic clergy was
generally more reluctant to help. Dr. Jozef Tiso, the head of state of Slovakia and a Catholic
priest, actively cooperated with the Germans as did many other Catholic priests.
The response of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches varied. In Germany, for example,
Nazi supporters within Protestant churches complied with the anti-Jewish legislation and even
excluded Christians of Jewish origin from membership. Pastor Martin Niem"ller's Confessing
Church defended the rights of Christians of Jewish origin within the church, but did not publicly
protest their persecution, nor did it condemn the measures taken against the Jews, with the
exception of a memorandum sent to Hitler in May 1936.
In occupied Europe, the position of the Protestant churches varied. In several countries
(Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway) local churches and/or leading clergymen issued
public protests when the Nazis began deporting Jews. In other countries (Bulgaria, Greece, and
Yugoslavia), some Orthodox church leaders intervened on behalf of the Jews and took steps
which, in certain cases, led to the rescue of many Jews.
Answer: We do not know the exact number of Nazi criminals since the available
documentation is incomplete. The Nazis themselves destroyed many incriminating documents
and there are still many criminals who are unidentified and/or unindicted.
Those who committed war crimes include those individuals who initiated, planned and directed
the killing operations, as well as those with whose knowledge, agreement, and passive
participation the murder of European Jewry was carried out.
Those who actually implemented the "Final Solution" include the leaders of Nazi Germany, the
heads of the Nazi Party, and the Reich Security Main Office. Also included are hundreds of
thousands of members of the Gestapo, the SS, the Einsatzgruppen, the police and
the armed forces, as well as those bureaucrats who were involved in the persecution and
destruction of European Jewry. In addition, there were thousands of individuals throughout
occupied Europe who cooperated with the Nazis in killing Jews and other innocent civilians.
We do not have complete statistics on the number of criminals brought to justice, but the number
is certainly far less than the total of those who were involved in the "Final Solution." The leaders
of the Third Reich, who were caught by the Allies, were tried by the International Military
Tribunal in Nuremberg from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. Afterwards, the Allied
occupation authorities continued to try Nazis, with the most significant trials held in the
American zone (the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings). In total, 5,025 Nazi criminals were
convicted between 1945-1949 in the American, British and French zones, in addition to an
unspecified number of people who were tried in the Soviet zone. In addition, the United Nations
War Crimes Commission prepared lists of war criminals who were later tried by the judicial
authorities of Allied countries and those countries under Nazi rule during the war. The latter
countries have conducted a large number of trials regarding crimes committed in their lands.
The Polish tribunals, for example, tried approximately 40,000 persons, and large numbers of
criminals were tried in other countries. In all, about 80,000 Germans have been convicted for
committing crimes against humanity, while the number of local collaborators is in the tens of
thousands. Special mention should be made of Simon Wiesenthal, whose activities led to the
capture of over one thousand Nazi criminals.
Courts in Germany began, in some cases, to function as early as 1945. By 1969, almost 80,000
Germans had been investigated and over 6,000 had been convicted. In 1958, the Federal
Republic of Germany (FRG; West Germany) established a special agency in Ludwigsburg to aid
in the investigation of crimes committed by Germans outside Germany, an agency which, since
its establishment, has been involved in hundreds of major investigations. One of the major
problems regarding the trial of war criminals in the FRG (as well as in Austria) has been the fact
that the sentences have been disproportionately lenient for the crimes committed. Some trials
were also conducted in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR; East Germany), yet no
statistics exist as to the number of those convicted or the extent of their sentences.
Answer: The term "Nuremberg Trials" refers to two sets of trials of Nazi war
criminals conducted after the war. The first trials were held November 20, 1945 to October 1,
1946, before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which was made up of representatives of
France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It consisted of the trials of the
political, military and economic leaders of the Third Reich captured by the Allies. Among the
defendants were: G"ring, Rosenberg, Streicher,
Kaltenbrunner, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Ribbentrop and
Hess (many of the most prominent Nazis -- Hitler,
Himmler, and Goebbels -- committed suicide and were
not brought to trial). The second set of trials,
known as the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings, was
conducted before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals
(NMT), established by the Office of the United States
Government for Germany (OMGUS). While the judges
on the NMT were American citizens, the tribunal considered
itself international. Twelve high-ranking officials
were tried, among whom were cabinet ministers, diplomats,
doctors involved in medical experiments, and SS officers
involved in crimes in concentration camps or in genocide
in Nazi-occupied areas.
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