In the bitter winter of 1941–42 two exhausted armies faced one another across a frozen landscape of snow and ice. The Soviet winter offensive gained ground in December and January but staggered to a halt in February; for the duration of the long dark winter, the Eastern Front saw no significant action. Both armies were recuperating, replenishing their supplies, waiting for spring and the return of good campaigning weather. In North Africa General Erwin Rommel, with his underequipped and undermanned Afrika Korps, drove across the desert into Egypt, almost reaching Alexandria before being driven back, while in the North Atlantic, German U-boats were sinking Allied shipping at an alarming rate. For German submariners it was “the second happy time,” the first having come in the first months of war in 1939–40, when the U-boats sank almost a million and a half tons of Allied shipping. But for Hitler, North Africa remained a side show and although he followed the Battle of the Atlantic with satisfaction, the real war remained in the East, where the fate of the Third Reich hung in the balance. And while an uneasy lull hovered over military operations there, Hitler’s war against the Jews escalated dramatically, entering a new, even more monstrous phase.
On January 20, 1942, light snow falling from a bleak overcast sky, fifteen men—officials of the Nazi party and state—began arriving at an imposing lakefront villa in the elegant Berlin suburb of Wannsee. They were there at the invitation of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office, to discuss developments in Nazi Jewish policy. In October, Hitler had appointed Heydrich as the Reich protector of Bohemia and Moravia. The Protectorate occupied a particularly important role in Nazi plans for the East; unlike the other conquered territories, the protectorate, with its highly developed munitions industry and supply of skilled workers, was to be incorporated in the Greater German Reich at war’s end. Heydrich’s appointment signaled a radicalization of Nazi policy. Heydrich was determined to crush any hint of resistance and strictly enforce Nazi racial policies. The Protectorate would be cleansed of racial undesirables before its entry into the Greater German Reich, and Hitler believed Heydrich was the man to do it.
Among those present at noon, chatting, lunching at the buffet, were Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo; Josef Bühler, state secretary to Hans Frank in the General Government; Wilhelm Stuckart, coauthor of the Nuremberg Laws and state secretary in the Interior Ministry; Roland Freisler, of the Justice Ministry; Erwin Neumann, of the Four Year Plan; Martin Luther, of the Foreign Office; SS Sturmbahnführer Rudolf Lange, commander of the Security Police and SD in Latvia; and several other SS officials and party functionaries. Neither Hitler nor Himmler was present. This was Heydrich’s show, and he presided over the meeting, dominating the proceedings. His deputy, Adolf Eichmann, from the Jewish section of the Reich Security Main Office, made the arrangements and kept the minutes.
From the beginning it was clear that the meeting had two purposes. As the first order of business, Heydrich would unveil for the first time his plan for the “final solution” to the “Jewish question,” and, second, he would assert his ultimate authority over it. The plan was to be executed by the SS, and the various party and state agencies represented there were to pledge their readiness to cooperate in full with its demands. Some of those present were surprised at the thrust of Heydrich’s remarks, but others were not. Josef Bühler arrived at Wannsee knowing full well what to expect. He had been briefed in December and had reported to Hans Frank, whose General Government had become, in Frank’s words, an overcrowded dumping ground for unwanted Jews. Something had to be done. On December 16, Frank explained to a group of senior officials in the General Government. “As for the Jews,” he said,
I will be quite open with you—they will have to be finished off one way or the other. . . . I know that many of the measures now being taken against the Jews in the Reich are criticized. It is clear from the reports on popular opinion that there are accusations of cruelty and harshness. . . . As an old National Socialist, I must state that if the Jewish clan were to survive the war in Europe, while we had sacrificed our best blood in the defense of Europe, then this war would only represent a partial success. With respect to the Jews, therefore, I will only operate on the assumption that they will disappear. They must go. . . . But what will happen to the Jews? Do you imagine that they will actually be settled in the Ostland in villages? . . . I must ask you to arm yourselves against any feelings of compassion. We must exterminate the Jews wherever we find them.
That would occur through methods beyond the framework of the legal process. “One cannot apply views held up to now to such gigantic and unique events.” There were currently 3.5 million Jews in the General Government, and Frank was anxious to be rid of them. It was clear, he said, “that we cannot shoot these 3.5 million Jews; we cannot poison them, but we must be able to intervene in a way which somehow achieves a successful extermination.” The General Government “must be just as free of Jews as the Reich is.”
Heydrich opened the meeting by emphasizing to the participants in no uncertain terms that Reich Marshal Göring, with the Führer’s approval, had commissioned him to direct the conduct of the regime’s Jewish policy. Establishing the RSHA’s authority over all potential challengers was the second message of the meeting. The different agencies that would be called upon to participate were expected to recognize their subordination to the SS and to pledge their cooperation. Order would now be brought to the hitherto haphazard Jewish policy of the regime; local initiative would give way to a centrally directed plan with an apparatus to execute it.
Although there was some grousing around the table and mild assertions of bureaucratic preeminence in some aspect of Jewish policy, those voices were quickly silenced by Heydrich’s smooth but intimidating demeanor. He then proceeded to outline the “final solution” he had developed. There would be no more talk about emigration; instead the Jews of Europe would be “evacuated to the East”—a solution taken “with the prior permission of the Führer”—not only the Jews currently under German control but in all Europe, from Britain to Switzerland to Sweden to Spain, eleven million in total. Europe would be combed through from west to east, and the Jews would initially be moved in stages to transit ghettos before being transported farther east. The Foreign Ministry, working with the Security Police and the SD, would deal with the appropriate local authorities. Although bureaucratic euphemisms dominated the formal minutes, “evacuation,” his listeners clearly understood, meant “extermination.” The Nuremberg Laws would be the basis for the selection process, but the definition of who was a Jew would be significantly broadened. Due to the severe labor shortage in the Reich, able-bodied Jews would be assigned to hard labor, building roads in the East, which, Heydrich estimated, would greatly reduce their number. He did not elaborate on the fate of the others, the vast majority, but that was hardly necessary. Jews over sixty-five or Jews with military decorations would be evacuated to the newly constructed “old people’s ghetto” at Theresienstadt in Bohemia, which would be shown to the outside world as a model concentration camp. A number of those present, apparently uneasy with Heydrich’s cold-blooded plan for mass murder, spoke up instead for mass sterilization of the Jews, but their suggestions were cast aside.
The gigantic scale of Heydrich’s evacuation plan clearly assumed a German military victory, which in the winter of 1941–42 was anything but certain. The full realization of the “final solution” would have to wait until war’s end. Bühler, however, insisted that conditions in the General Government made immediate action imperative, and argued that steps could be taken there now since transportation would be no problem. Three million Jews were already there, concentrated in teeming, overcrowded ghettos, and could be easily transported. Heydrich did not disagree. With that the conference was concluded. No notes were permitted; only Eichmann’s minutes. Afterward the participants stood or sat in small groups, servants passed cognac; cigars appeared, and a relieved atmosphere of conviviality prevailed. The fate of Europe’s Jews had been settled in only ninety minutes.
The mass murder of the Jews in the General Government got under way almost immediately. The SS had already taken action on this front in late 1941, with mass shootings, deportations to extermination camps, and forced labor. The Belzec extermination camp had been under construction since November 1941, and the gates swung open for the first time on March 17, 1942, when a transport of between forty and sixty railcars arrived bearing Jews from the Lublin area. The camp was the first of the extermination camps to go into operation and in many ways served as a model for the others. Belzec was situated about five hundred meters from a train station, which was outfitted to look like an ordinary small-town station, with timetables and travel notices posted around the site. The camp was divided into two parts: on one side was a reception area with two barracks—one for undressing and where the women had their hair shorn and the other for storing clothes and luggage. It was called “the cloak room.” Camp II contained the gas chambers and mass graves and two barracks for Jewish work details, one as living quarters and one containing a kitchen. The gas chambers were surrounded by birch trees and had camouflage nets on the roof. A narrow path some seventy-five meters in length, known as “the tube,” connected the two. The Jews were herded along this path from the undressing barracks in Camp I to the gas chambers in Camp II. A powerful diesel tank engine was installed outside the chambers and its exhaust fumes were fed into the chambers. A sign on the entrance read: “To the inhalation and bath rooms.” In front of the building cheerful red geraniums had been planted. As a cruel joke, a Star of David had been installed on the roof.
A witness to the killing procedure described what happened when a shipment of Jews arrived at the camp. Forty-five cattle cars carrying 6,700 people, 1,450 of whom had died in transit, arrived at the station. Ukrainian guards armed with leather whips slid open the doors, and the human cargo spilled out onto the ramp. A large loudspeaker barked instructions. The prisoners were to undress completely, including artificial limbs and spectacles. Shoes were to be tied together before they were tossed into the twenty-five-meter-high pile of shoes. Then the women and girls had their hair shorn; the fallen clumps were stuffed into potato sacks to be used as insulation on submarines. From there, the procession of men, women, and children, cripples and the aged, were marched down “the tube.” The SS man in charge tried to calm their nerves. He explained soothingly that “well, naturally, the men will have to work, build houses and roads, but the women won’t need to work. Only if they want to, they can do housework or help in the kitchen.” But the smell, the sinister darkness of the low building, and the Ukrainian guards caused the Jews to hold back. They hesitated but entered the death chambers, driven by the others behind them or by the leather whips of the SS, the majority without saying a word. “One Jewess of about forty, eyes blazing, curses the murderers. She receives five or six lashes with the riding whip from Captain Wirth [commander of the operation] personally and then disappears into the chamber. Many people pray.”
The chambers were packed tight, one person per square foot, seven to eight hundred pressed so close together they could not move, fall, or lean over. The large steel door slammed shut, and the diesel engine ground into gear. Outside the thick walls one could hear sobbing, prayers. Through a peephole the SS could watch the death throes. In twenty-five minutes the chamber was at last silent. The doors were thrown open and a special prison work detail (a Sonderkommando composed of Jewish prisoners) entered to empty the tomb. “The dead stand like basalt pillars . . . and even in death one can tell which are the families. They are holding hands in death and it is difficult to tear them apart in order to empty the chambers for the next batch.” From the gas chamber the corpses are carried on wooden stretchers only a few meters to the ditches, which are 100 x 20 x 12 meters in size. “After a few days, the corpses swell up and then collapse so that one can throw another layer on top of this one. Then ten centimeters of sand are strewn on the top so that only the occasional head or arms stick out.”
Mass exterminations using carbon monoxide gas began in the other camps in the late spring. The camp at Sobibor opened in March, Chelmno in April, and Treblinka, which would emerge as the most deadly, in July. By the end of the year, 1,274,256 had been murdered in Aktion Reinhardcamps, 713,555 in Treblinka, another 434,598 in Belzec, 101,370 in Sobibor, and 24,733 in Majdanek, an associated camp near Warsaw. Of the original 2.3 million Jews in the General Government at the outset of the program, only 298,000 remained. Another hundred thousand Jews were murdered in Galicia in the summer and fall of 1941, and it is estimated that 1.5 million Polish Jews died in actions to clear ghettos in 1942, making Aktion Reinhard the largest murder campaign of the Holocaust.
Hitler never committed himself to paper on Heydrich’s plan, nor was it to be discussed in his presence. But it is evident from private conversations Hitler had with Himmler in the days immediately following the Wannsee Conference and on into February that he was fully briefed. At lunch on January 23, just three days after the Wannsee meeting, the Führer, in conversation with Himmler, defended the measures taken. “One must act radically. . . . The Jew must clear out of Europe. . . . For my part, I restrict myself to telling them they must go away. . . . But if they refuse to go voluntarily, I see no other solution but extermination. . . . Where the Jews are concerned, I’m devoid of all sense of pity. They’ll always be the ferment that moves peoples one against the other. They sow discord everywhere, as much between individuals as between peoples.” The extermination could not be restricted to Germany, he continued. “It’s entirely natural that we should concern ourselves with the question on the European level. It’s clearly not enough to expel them from Germany. We cannot allow them to retain bases of withdrawal at our doors. We want to be out of danger of all kinds of infiltration.” A month later, again with Himmler as his guest, Hitler dilated on the danger posed by the Jews. “The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that have taken place in the world,” he averred. “The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! . . . We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews.”
This was a matter of the utmost secrecy; it was not to be discussed in public, but broad if vague knowledge seeped throughout the regime—and the public. The Jews were being “resettled” in the East, but what did that mean? What happened to them there? Goebbels certainly knew the answer. To his diary on March 27, he confided that “beginning in Lublin, the Jews in the General Government are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitively. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 percent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 percent can be used for forced labor.” He was impressed that Globocnik was carrying out this mission “with considerable circumspection and according to a method that does not attract too much attention.” To Goebbels it was clear that “a judgment is being carried out on the Jews which is barbaric, but fully deserved. The prophecy which the Führer gave them along the way for bringing about a new world war is beginning to become true in the most terrible fashion. . . . Here, too, the Führer is the unswerving champion and spokesman of a radical solution.”
While little specific was known about what awaited the Jews at the end of the train journey, the deportations, of course, were quite public, and, as the Gestapo noted, the response of the public was mixed. In Minden, “the evacuation of the Jews provoked great alarm.” Some “expressed concern that, given the cold weather many Jews would die in transit.” A widely circulated rumor claimed that the Jews were being transported to Russia—in passenger carriages to Warsaw and from there in cattle cars. Healthy Jews would then be subjected to hard labor in former Russian factories, while the older and infirm would be shot. Such rumors, the local Gestapo complained, triggered expressions of sympathy for the Jews. “It is beyond understanding,” one people’s comrade was heard to say, “how human beings could be treated so brutally, whether Jew or Aryan. . . . Germans in America would have to pay dearly because the Jews in Germany are badly treated.” A Gestapo report from Bremen explained that “while the politically educated of the population generally greeted the ‘evacuation of the Jews,’ religious and commercial circles show no understanding [for the policy] and continue to believe that they need to speak up for the Jews.” The Gestapo in Magdeburg sounded a similar refrain, reporting that “persons of German blood continue to maintain friendly relations with Jews and by that sort of behavior prove that even today they have no understanding for the most elementary principles of National Socialism.”
Domestic opinion could be shaped by the regime, but international opinion was another matter. In December, the Allied powers issued a declaration accusing the Germans of conducting the systematic mass murder of the Jews in Eastern Europe, and for a brief time made such allegations the centerpiece of their public attacks on the Third Reich. Instead of attempting to mount a counter-campaign denying the charges, Goebbels surprised his subordinates by concluding that it was best if the regime simply chose to ignore the accusations. In a remarkably revealing statement to a ministerial conference on December 12, he explained quite openly that “Since the enemy reports about alleged German atrocities against the Jews and Poles are threatening to grow even more massive, we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have counter arguments to offer.” Two days later he returned to the theme. “We cannot answer these things. When the Jews say we have shot two and a half million Jews in Poland . . . we can’t answer that it is only two and one third million.” Nineteen forty-two would prove to be the deadliest year of the Holocaust. One third of the Jews who would perish in the “Final Solution” would die in that year.
The architect of the Final Solution did not live to see it implemented. Reinhard Heydrich, who had been appointed protector of Bohemia and Moravia to crush the resistance there, was assassinated by the Czech underground while being driven in an open car through Prague. The Czech assassins had been selected by the Czech government in exile in London and trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in clandestine operations. They were dropped into a field on the outskirts of Prague with the express mission of eliminating Heydrich. On May 27, they struck, attacking him with a grenade and small arms fire. Heydrich was severely wounded and lingered for eight days before dying. Hitler gave him grandiose state funerals in both Prague and Berlin. The Czech agents were trapped in a church, fought bravely for several hours, and then committed suicide. Hitler wanted to shoot ten thousand Czechs in reprisal, but Heydrich’s successor as protector, Karl Hermann Frank, managed to persuade him to make an example of one Czech village instead. On June 10, the entire population of Lidice was charged with having harbored the assassins. All the men were shot; the women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Eighty-one of the children were deemed racially unworthy and were murdered, the other seventeen were given new German identities and placed with German families. The village was burned to the ground. The Jews, Goebbels claimed, were behind the attack.
Despite a frenzy of anti-Semitic propaganda spewing from Goebbels’s office, other concerns laid a greater claim on the attention of the German public in 1942. During the first two years of the war, British bombers had launched raids against German cities, primarily in the west and along the coast. These operations had been small in scale and largely ineffective, and though they were an embarrassment to the Nazi authorities, their impact on the war effort or civilian morale was minimal. The spring of 1942 would change that. On the night of March 27–28 British planes raided the city of Lübeck on the Baltic coast. Flying at two thousand feet, the attackers unleashed four hundred tons of bombs on the historic city center that night, two thirds of which were incendiaries. Three hundred inhabitants of the city were killed, by far the highest casualty count of any raid to that point, and rumors quickly spread that ten times that number were dead and three thousand left homeless. The raid sent shockwaves through the country. Before these reverberations could be absorbed, the RAF followed with a series of firebomb attacks on Rostock, another port city on the Baltic. For several days, air raid sirens, soon to be a dreaded feature of everyday life for the urban population of the Reich, howled over the city. One hundred thousand dwellings were destroyed, and one hundred thousand residents were evacuated from the city.
These raids signaled an ominous shift in the British approach to bombing. An Air Directive of February 14 indicated that the targets of future operations were to be Germany’s large industrial cities. The RAF had decided to embark on a strategy of area bombing. By concentrating on cities of over 100,000 in population, large targets that were easy to find and hit, it could render over one third of the German population homeless and demoralized. Henceforth, Bomber Command would measure its success by acres of built-up area destroyed and a calculation of acres of concentrated urban devastation and industrial man-hours lost.
The man who executed this policy was the new head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris. Harris was convinced that the way to defeat Nazi Germany was to destroy its cities, devastating the Reich’s war-making capabilities and, in the process, breaking the morale of its citizens. This meant smashing the civic infrastructure of Germany’s cities—housing, electricity, water, sanitation—to such an extent that their inhabitants simply could not function. It also meant large-scale killing. During the spring and summer of 1942, Harris provided a terrifying hint of what was to come. Mustering every available aircraft and all combat crews—including raw trainees and their instructors—Bomber Command launched three monster raids on German cities. On May 30–31, one thousand British planes attacked Cologne in what RAF Bomber Command called Operation Millennium. The bombers dropped 1,400 tons of explosives on the city, leaving 500 dead, 5,000 wounded, and 60,000 homeless. In early June 900 aircraft raided Essen, and 1,000 appeared in the night skies over Bremen. Harris could not sustain these numbers and the subsequent raids would be lighter, but he had made his point. In the following summer months, RAF bombers ranged far and wide over Germany, attacking not only the factory cities of the Ruhr but Frankfurt, Kassel, and deep in Bavaria, Nuremberg and Munich. The nature of the air war was undergoing a radical change.
The Americans joined the air assault on Germany in 1942, flying daylight missions to complement the British nighttime raids. In January 1943, at a conference in Casablanca, attended by Roosevelt and Churchill and their military staffs, American air commander Ira Eaker coined the term “Round the Clock Bombing.” The formulation implied a coordinated plan of attack—the Americans would hit key targets during the day, the RAF would go over at night. Churchill was particularly taken with the phrase, and the Casablanca Directive from the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff ordered the two air commanders to embark on the systematic demolition of a range of German target systems as essential preliminaries to an invasion of Europe: submarine yards and bases, the German aircraft industry, ball bearings, oil, synthetic rubber, and military transportation. Yet, despite the apparent unity, genuine coordination remained something of a mirage; rather than “a Combined Bomber Offensive” there were two distinct, parallel efforts. Harris routinely ignored pressure to send his planes against the priority targets and instead continued to bomb large urban centers. These attacks occasionally overlapped with the American raids but were rarely coordinated.
Still, the Anglo-American raids presaged a dramatic intensification of the air campaign in 1942 and made a deeply unsettling impression on the German public. Events in Russia were troubling, but, the Gestapo reported, “of far greater concern to the public in all parts of the Reich is the increasing British bombing of German cities. That worry is exacerbated by the regime’s failure to give information about the extent of casualties and physical damage. One fears that the coming months will see an increase in the number of British raids whose objective is to destroy one industrial city after another.” Worries about the stalled war in the East, the Anglo-American bombing campaign, and a tightening of rationing as the food supply dwindled, led to the first real signs of war weariness and pessimism. “The hope for a quick collapse of Bolshevism has perhaps given way to a conviction that the Soviet Union cannot be defeated by the offensive war in its current form but by a war of attrition whose distant end is not yet in view.” This was not the war the Nazis and their early, easy victories promised, not the war the German people had come to expect.
Despite the pounding the Wehrmacht had taken in the East, Hitler was preparing to undertake a new campaign in the spring of 1942. He decided to abandon the ambitious objectives of Barbarossa and concentrate his forces on one primary objective: seizing the Caucasus oil fields to deny Soviet resupply and claim this valuable asset for the Reich. The plan, code-named Operation Blue, called for a three-phase campaign in the south. First, German troops would encircle Soviet troops west of the Don River, then dash southward along the Volga to Stalingrad. There General Friedrich Paulus’s Sixth Army and Hermann Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army would establish a blocking position near the city to protect the southern force. Finally, phase three—a drive deep into the Caucasus. It was not as audacious as Barbarossa, but its scale was still extraordinary—over five hundred miles from Kiev to the heart of the Caucasus, and the German army in the Soviet Union had 350,000 fewer troops than the year before. Total tank strength was slightly less than in 1941, but the offensive would concentrate them in the south. The Wehrmacht would therefore be forced to rely on Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian units, and these were neither as well equipped nor as committed as their German allies.
The Russian position was also shaky as the spring approached. The winter offensive—during the worst winter in Russia in 140 years—had left the Red Army spent. The Russians had suffered almost incomprehensible losses—both of men and matériel—and Stalin was convinced that when the Germans attacked in late spring, as he knew they would, they would renew their drive on Moscow. As a result, the Red Army’s best units remained on the approaches to the capital. The Germans planned to preface their offensive in June by eliminating a Soviet salient in their line south of Kharkov. But before they could do so, they were preempted by the Russians. Kharkov was the hub of the German communications network in the south and was a prime objective. Stalin and the Russian commander there, General Semyon Timoshenko, decided to launch an offensive from the salient in May. The attack began on May 12 with great initial success, but the Russians had played into German hands. Five days later, the Germans cut off the Soviet spearhead, capturing 240,000 prisoners and destroying more than 600 tanks. To the south, Manstein, who had conquered the Crimea in the fall of 1941, began a siege of Sebastopol in early June, and although the Russians held out for a month, Sebastopol fell on July 3, yielding 100,000 more prisoners and 200 tanks. The German offensive began with a replay of 1941, and Hitler was ecstatic.
The main offensive began on June 28 and made rapid progress against weakened Soviet forces. The Russian position was made worse by the failed Kharkov offensive and by Stalin’s continued conviction that the major German thrust would still be directed at Moscow. Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army drove one hundred miles in eight days, reaching the Don near Voronezh. The Russians fought tenaciously there, allowing a withdrawal toward Stalingrad. For the Russians, it had all the makings of a catastrophe. “The Russian is finished,” Hitler enthused, and even the sober Halder agreed. At this point, Hitler altered the original plan of the offensive with fateful consequences. He decided that it was now possible to move to Phase Three of the operation—the advance into the Caucasus—without first securing his flank at Stalingrad. According to the plan, the Fourth Panzer Army was to lead the Sixth Army, composed of infantry units, into Stalingrad. The panzers would take the city; the infantry would hold it. But now Hitler decided to divert Hoth’s tanks away from Stalingrad and left the task of securing that sprawling industrial city to Paulus’s Sixth. The diversion proved costly. Hoth’s panzer army would probably have reached Stalingrad before Soviet defenses were established, and its presence proved unnecessary to forces moving south across the Don.
By August, the First Panzer Army had streaked southeastward against weak Russian defenses. Within days it had pressed two hundred miles southeast of Rostov and reached the Maikop oil fields in the foothills of the Caucasus. A sense of victory surged through the German army, from headquarters to the lowly foot soldier. On July 29, a soldier in the Sixth Army recorded in his diary: “The company commander says the Russian Troops are completely broken and cannot hold out any longer. To reach the Volga and take Stalingrad is not so difficult for us. The Führer knows where the Russians’ weak point is. Victory is not far away.” A week later he added, “Our company is tearing ahead. Today I wrote to Elsa, ‘We shall soon see each other. All of us feel that the end, victory, is near.’ ”
At this point Hitler made another critical decision. He split his forces, one element moving east toward the Grozny oil fields, while the other pushed south toward the Black Sea. In September, the offensive slowed, and in October, Russian resistance stiffened. German troops did reach Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, and a team of climbers placed the German flag near the summit. But here the problems began to multiply. German forces were stretched to their absolute limit; resupply was difficult and fuel was short. Army Group South had begun the offensive covering a 500-mile front. Now it was stretched dangerously thin over almost 1,300 miles. Hitler grew impatient, then furious, at the slow progress in Stalingrad and the Caucasus, and in September he sacked General Wilhelm List, commander of Army Group South, as well as Army Chief of Staff Halder, against whose cautious judgment he had constantly battled. He replaced both with younger, more pliable officers.
Meanwhile progress was being made toward Stalingrad. On August 22, the Germans broke through Russian defenses and a panzer corps fought its way into the northern suburbs, reaching the Volga the next day. The Russians seemed trapped in the city, and the Luftwaffe was called in to seal their fate. On August 23 the Luftwaffe carried out its largest raid since the opening day of Barbarossa. Air units from all over the Eastern Front were brought to bear on the city. Over half the bombs dropped were incendiaries, and the results were horrifyingly spectacular. Nearly every wooden structure, including acres of workers’ housing, burned. The fires were so intense, so vast, that German soldiers could read a paper forty miles away by the light of their flames. It was a terror raid to kill civilians, overload public services, and create panic. “The whole city is on fire,” a German soldier wrote home, “on the Führer’s orders our Luftwaffe has sent it up in flames. That’s what the Russians need, to stop them resisting.”
But the city did not surrender. Instead, the Regional Party Committee proclaimed a state of siege. The Russians were grimly determined to hold the city and the Germans resolutely determined to take it. As the fighting intensified, the Battle of Stalingrad assumed epic symbolic meaning for both sides. The fighting turned into a ferocious struggle of attrition, fought block by block, house by house, floor by floor, room by room. The city itself was reduced to rubble, and movement was measured in meters. There had been nothing like it since the colossal carnage of the World War I battlefields.
In the midst of the fighting, as the German home front soberly marked the third anniversary of the war, the Gestapo reported an unmistakable mood of resignation, symptomatic, it believed, of a disconcerting war weariness. That report closed with a comment that concealed, barely, a condemnation of Hitler’s war. “The mounting difficulties of supply, three years of shortages in all spheres of everyday life, the intensity and extent of the steadily increasing enemy air attacks, worries about the life of family members at the front and not least the blood sacrifices of . . . the civilian victims of the enemy air attacks are factors that exert an ever greater influence on the mood of wide circles and increasingly the desire for an end to the war soon.”
By early November, the Germans held nine tenths of Stalingrad. On November 9, Hitler was in Munich, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of party leaders on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch. His topic was the epic struggle in Stalingrad. “I wanted to get to the Volga, to a certain point, near a certain town. As it happens, its name is that of Stalin himself. But please don’t think I marched there for that reason—it could be called something quite different.” It was an important place. There followed his usual impressive recitation of statistics—how many tons of wheat, of manganese, of oil pass through there. For that reason he wanted to take it, and, “you know,” he confided smugly, “we are being modest, for we have got it! There are only a few very small places left not captured.”
Ten days later, the Russians unleashed an offensive against the Romanian troops northwest and southeast of the city. In yet another intelligence failure, the German High Command was caught off guard. The Romanians quickly buckled, and on November 3 the two Russian spearheads linked up forty-five miles west of Stalingrad, encircling the entire Sixth Army. General Paulus asked Hitler’s permission to break out of the devastated city, but Hitler refused. Göring promised that the Luftwaffe could supply the German forces in Stalingrad by air drop, but that proved impossible. Instead, Hitler ordered General Manstein to break the encirclement and rescue the trapped Sixth Army. To stiffen Paulus’s resolve, Hitler promoted him to the rank of field marshal, a not so subtle reminder that no German field marshal had ever surrendered. Paulus should draw inspiration by this action. The field marshal’s baton was parachuted into the city. The troops couldn’t receive adequate food or ammunition, but a field marshal’s baton would have to serve to strengthen their will to resist. They were to fight to the last man, to the last bullet. The whole issue was rendered moot by a second Russian offensive on December 16, pressing from the Don toward Rostov, with the intention of cutting off all German forces to the south. A rescue of the troops in Stalingrad was now out of the question. Hopelessly surrounded, out of food and ammunition, the Sixth Army held out in the blustery bitter cold until February 2, 1943, when Paulus at last surrendered.
It was a catastrophe of colossal proportions. The Germans and their Axis allies suffered 500,000 dead as well as the 91,000 taken prisoner, including twenty-two German generals. The Sixth Army and the Fourth Panzer Army had been destroyed, along with four Axis armies; the Luftwaffe suffered grievous losses in bombers, fighters, and Stuka dive-bombers as well as almost 500 transport planes that had attempted to deliver supplies to surrounded troops in the cauldron of Stalingrad. That Stalingrad was a turning point in the Nazi war against the Soviet Union was obvious to all. In Germany, the news of the calamity was not broadcast immediately. When it came a few days later, the announcement was accompanied by the first strains of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was a funeral dirge for Hitler’s ambitions in the East.
In an effort to rally German morale after the shattering defeat at Stalingrad, Goebbels took a new tack in the regime’s propaganda. For some time the propaganda minister had worried that the public had fallen into a comfortable optimism about the war in the East, that the steady stream of good news from Otto Dietrich’s press office had lulled the people into an unwarranted overconfidence. Victory would ultimately come, he believed, but the price was going to be high, and the public should be prepared for it. He had begun to introduce a more realistic depiction of the situation even before the disaster at Stalingrad; now he had the nation’s attention. On February 18, in what would be his most famous speech, he addressed a packed Sportpalast and a national radio audience. Speaking beneath a gigantic banner that read “Total War, Shortest War,” Goebbels addressed a screaming crowd of carefully selected party members, dignitaries, and wounded veterans. Germany, indeed, Western civilization, he told them, now faced an immediate danger, and that danger was not just the Red Army but International Jewry. Once again Jewry had revealed itself “as the incarnation of evil, as the plastic demon of decay and the bearer of an international culture-destroying chaos.” It was a threat to every nation. “Jewry is a contagious infection,” and Germany would not bow before this threat, “but rather intends to take the most radical measures, if necessary, in good time.” In a remarkable passage, he described the onrushing Russian forces in a way that was a near-perfect description of German operations in the East. “Behind the oncoming Soviet divisions we see the Jewish liquidation commandos, and behind them, terror, the specter of mass starvation and complete anarchy.”
Warming to his theme, he shrieked, “Total war is the demand of the hour. We must put an end to the bourgeois attitude that we have seen in this war: ‘Wash my back, but don’t get me wet’! The time has come,” he bellowed, “to remove the kid gloves and use our fists.” The frenzied crowd broke into howls of approval. He announced new measures that would express that austere situation. Luxury restaurants and spas would be closed; alcohol restricted; theaters closed, food rations cut. Women, whom Hitler had been reluctant to mobilize for industrial work, would be conscripted. “This is no time to entertain wistful dreams of peace. The German people can only rely on thoughts of war. This will not lead to a prolongation of this war, but rather an acceleration. The most radical war is also the shortest.”
He closed the rousing two-hour speech by posing ten rhetorical questions to his audience, made up, he falsely claimed, of a cross section of the German people. To each question the hysterical crowd roared the appropriate response: “Are you ready to follow the Führer . . . and stand and fight with the Army and with wild determination through all turns of fate until the victory is in our hands? ‘JA!’ Do you want if necessary a war more total and radical than anything you ever could have imagined? ‘JA!’ The English claim that the German people are war weary—‘NEIN!’ ” Amid a crescendo of frenzied screaming, the speech ended with the question of the evening: “Do you want total war?” which his audience, on its feet, answered with a resounding “JA.” Then, with his voice rising to a thunderous cry, he bellowed the words of a Prussian poet from the days of the Napoleonic Wars: “Now people rise up, and storm burst forth!” Later Goebbels, with his unparalleled cynicism, remarked to his entourage that it had been “an hour of idiocy. . . . If I had asked these people to jump from the fourth floor of the Columbus House they would have done it.”
Goebbels’s derisive condescension notwithstanding, he considered the speech a great success, as did Hitler, but the psychological shock of Stalingrad was not so easily overcome. Bombast and willpower could not conceal the magnitude of the defeat or slow the mounting desperation over Germany’s situation. The last months of 1942 and early months of 1943 saw the momentum of the war change dramatically. Catastrophe followed catastrophe, as Germany’s ability to set the pace and direction of events slipped ineluctably away. At home criticism mounted against not only the party but, for the first time, against the Führer himself. The criticism was muted and indirect, but it was clear from Gestapo reports that Hitler’s ability to insulate himself from the blunders and failures of the regime was ebbing away.
The defeat at Stalingrad was not the end of the calamities. Anglo-American troops landed in French Morocco and Algiers in November (Operation Torch), and by late fall Rommel’s Afrika Korps was trapped between British general Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army pushing westward from Egypt and Anglo-American troops surging eastward toward Tunisia. In March Rommel traveled to Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia to plead for reinforcements and supplies, or, if they were not forthcoming, for an evacuation of the Afrika Korps while there was still time. But Hitler, who had always viewed the desert war as a sideshow, brusquely refused. No surrender, no evacuation. Like the beleaguered troops at Stalingrad, the Afrika Korps should fight to the last man and die a hero’s death. During that same visit Rommel was relieved of his command and ordered to take sick leave in the Austrian Alps, but Hitler made sure that the popular “Desert Fox” was celebrated as a military hero. On May 13, 1943, the last Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. The Wehrmacht had been driven from Africa, and 170,000 German soldiers were marched into captivity. In Germany the debacle was referred to as “Tunisgrad.” “Military Events in Africa,” the Gestapo reported, “have produced deep shock in the German public.” Within the span of three months, the Third Reich had suffered two disastrous defeats, and the people’s faith in the regime was badly shaken. Even within the High Command many were convinced that the war could no longer be won militarily.
More disturbing, the public had always drawn a distinction between the party and the Führer, attributing every misstep, every outrage, to the party and its functionaries. But in the wake of Stalingrad the aura of infallibility that had clung to Hitler for so long had begun to dissolve. Gestapo reports from all over the Reich indicated that for the first time criticism of Hitler, though often muted and indirect, was widespread. Some criticism was leveled against the generals who had presumably misled him or Göring’s Luftwaffe that had failed him, but Stalingrad marked a turning point in what historian Ian Kershaw has called “the Hitler Myth.” That myth was not punctured suddenly or in response to a specific event but slowly and steadily deflated as the promised victory seemed to be slipping away. The gap between the wildly inflated image drawn by Nazi propaganda and the dark reality Germany was experiencing was unmistakably widening, and the Führer who towered above the crassness, corruption, pettiness, and the raging fanaticism of the party was at last laid open to criticism. Without new victories to trumpet, Hitler withdrew gradually from view, rarely appearing in public or even addressing the nation via the radio. Little by little the bond between the Führer and his people began to loosen.
Most debilitating for German morale in 1943 was the relentless Allied bombing, which grew in intensity and scale as the year progressed. In March the Royal Air Force devastated the industrial city of Essen, leaving it smoldering in ruins, but that was only a grisly prelude to the RAF’s horrifying attacks on Hamburg in July. Aptly named Operation Gomorrah, the raid on the night of July 27–28 was only one in a ten-day joint Allied assault on the city, but its effects were horrific. Over seven hundred aircraft dropped 2,236 tons of incendiaries in an hour’s time, turning Germany’s fourth largest city into a raging inferno. Cyclones of fire swept through the city; temperature at ground level reached an unbelievable 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit; asphalt bubbled and burned; people were swept into the flames or suffocated in their cellars or on the street as the uncontrollable fire created a vacuum that sucked the oxygen from the air itself. A pillar of scalding wind carrying bodies and debris rose more than ten thousand feet above the stricken city. Forty thousand people lost their lives in the raid, a nightmarish figure that boggled the imagination. In the following days the streets were littered with shrunken, carbonized corpses, and the air was yellow with sulfur. Scenes of unspeakable horror were everywhere. Rats and flies swarmed through the streets. One woman, climbing into a truck for evacuation, tripped and her suitcase fell open. Out toppled an assortment of toys and the shrunken, blackened corpse of her child.
The military effectiveness of the air raids was uncertain, but their psychological impact was unmistakable. As news of the Hamburg attack spread across the Reich, it triggered a surge of fear that bordered on panic. It was spoken of simply as “die Katastrophe.” Albert Speer, since February Hitler’s new armaments chief, wrote, “Hamburg put the fear of God into me.” To Hitler he warned that “a series of attacks of this sort, extended to six more major cities, would bring Germany’s armaments production to a total halt.” Unfazed, the Führer, who never visited even one of the bomb-ravaged cities, merely remarked, “You’ll straighten all that out again.” Hamburg was the most appallingly destructive air raid of the war in Europe, a frightful portent of things to come, and Speer could never “straighten all that out again.”
Despite the cascade of disasters on the battle fronts and in German cities, the Nazi war against the Jews did not slacken but moved into a new, more sinister phase. The early actions of Operation Reinhard had systematically decimated the Jewish population of Poland, but now began a new wave of deportations from Western Europe. The Gestapo, often aided by local police forces, undertook sweeps of Holland, Belgium, and France, rounding up Jews to be transported east. Their destination was not the camps of Operation Reinhard but the rapidly expanding camp at Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was the centerpiece of this new phase of Nazi policy. Located thirty-seven miles west of Cracow in Upper Silesia, Auschwitz had been in operation since 1940, housing primarily Polish political prisoners and Soviet POWs. Until summer 1942, it had played a relatively small part in the “Final Solution.” It was not part of Operation Reinhard but, like Majdanek, was controlled by the SS Economic and Administrative Central Office in Berlin. Himmler appointed SS-Obersturmbahnführer Rudolf Höss, an official at Sachsenhausen, to take charge of the new camp, and in June 1941 he ordered Höss to Berlin for an important meeting. There Himmler explained that Auschwitz, which at the time held roughly ten thousand mostly Polish prisoners, was to be transformed into a major concentration camp. As Höss testified after the war, Himmler told him at that time that “the Führer has ordered the final solution of the Jewish question and we—the SS have to carry out that order.” Adolf Eichmann of the RSHA would provide further details. Höss was to “maintain the strictest silence concerning this order,” even vis-à-vis his superiors. “The Jews are the eternal enemies of the German people and must be exterminated. Every Jew we can lay our hands on must be exterminated during the war without exception. If we now fail to destroy the biological basis of Jewry then one day the Jews will destroy the German people.”
Shortly after this meeting, Eichmann visited the camp. It was ideally suited for the sort of heavy activity that Himmler had in mind—good transportation connections, isolated area, and room to expand. Given the anticipated crush of new arrivals, a new camp was constructed at Birkenau about three kilometers from the main camp. At Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, where in 1943 most of the killing took place, two rustic cottages stood on the grounds, separated by a birch woods. At first glance they appeared innocent, well-tended peasant dwellings with thatched roofs, surrounded by fruit trees, but closer examination revealed that the cottages had no windows and an unusual number of heavy doors with rubber seals. The two cottages, one called “the little red house” because of its brick exterior, the other “the little white house” because of its plaster facade, were, in fact, bunkers with gas chambers and undressing rooms. In the camp they were referred to as Bunkers 1 and 2. With a capacity for 800 victims, Bunker 1 was dismantled in the fall of 1942, and Bunker 2, which contained four gas chambers, three undressing rooms, and a crematorium that could “accommodate” 1,200 people at a time, would continue operations until the camp was shut down in the fall of 1944. It is estimated that 1,140 corpses could be burned in this crematorium every twenty-four hours. Eventually Auschwitz-Birkenau would operate four more crematoria with attached gas chambers, where hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children would perish.
Höss was told to expect transports from all over Europe. Between July 1942 and February 1943, 46,455 Jews arrived at the expanding camp at Auschwitz; by the end of the year 42,500 French Jews were transported there. On August 24, a transport left Drancy, a French concentration camp, bound for Auschwitz. It carried 1,000 Jews, of whom 553 were children under the age of seventeen, 465 were under twelve, 131 under six. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, 92 men, age twenty to forty-five, were selected for work; the rest were dispatched immediately to the gas chambers. In Belgium approximately 25,000 Jews were deported by war’s end, the largest number coming in 1943. In Norway the tiny Jewish community was hunted down and sent to their deaths; by February 1943 it had ceased to exist. In Germany, the last despairing remnants of the once proud Jewish community—some 18,000—were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz. Even the ailing patients of Berlin’s Jewish hospital were sent to Theresienstadt. To make room for them, 10,000 elderly prisoners already there were shipped to Treblinka, where they were gassed. In the summer of 1943 Treblinka operated three gas chambers; within three months, the SS had added an additional ten gas chambers to deal with the mushrooming number of “evacuees.” And, of course, the Nazis continued to empty the Polish ghettos, sending additional thousands to their death. The systematic mass murder of the Jews would not wait until the end of the war, as Heydrich had intimated at Wannsee. By the end of 1943, the “Final Solution” was a smoothly functioning European-wide industrial operation.
The trains with their crammed boxcars would arrive at the camp night and day, sometimes pulling in one after the other. They carried thousands of victims. The exhausted, famished Jews would tumble out onto a platform, where “selections” were made.
The unloading ramp was the site of unbearable heartbreak and chaos. “To start with,” an SS man testified after the war, “the men and women are separated. Mothers wave good-bye to their sons for the last time. The two columns stand in ranks of five several meters apart from one another on the ramp. Anyone who is overcome with grief and tries to rush over to embrace his or her loved one once more and give them words of comfort is hurled back by a blow from one of the SS men.” A survivor recalled that wrenching scene when as a child he arrived with his mother from the Lodz ghetto. “It was at night that we arrived at Auschwitz. We came in the minute the gates open up, we heard screams, barking of dogs, blows. . . . And then we got off the train. And everything went so fast: left, right, right, left. Men separated from women. Children torn from the arms of mothers. The elderly chased like cattle. The sick, the disabled were handled like packs of garbage. They were thrown [to the] side together with broken suitcases, with boxes. My mother ran over to me and grabbed me by the shoulders, and she told me, ‘Leibele, I’m not going to see you no more. Take care of your brother.’ ”
After the selection, those doomed to die were directed along a path to one of the bunkers. In soothing tones SS officers told the victims that they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. A French doctor assigned to the Jewish “special commando” responsible for removing the bodies from the gas chambers described the procedure. The victims “were addressed in a very polite and friendly way: ‘You have been on a journey. You are dirty. You will take a bath. Get undressed quickly.’ Towels and soap were handed out, and then suddenly the brutes woke up and showed their true faces: this horde of people, these men and women were driven outside with hard blows and forced both summer and winter to go the few hundred meters to the ‘Shower Room.’ Above the entry door was the word ‘Shower.’ One could even see shower heads which were cemented in the ceiling but never had water flowing through them. These poor innocents were crammed together, pressed against each other. Then panic broke out, for at last they realized the fate in store for them. But blows with rifle butts and revolver shots soon restored order and finally they all entered the death chamber. The doors were shut and, ten minutes later, the temperature was high enough to facilitate the condensation of the hydrogen cyanide. . . . This was the ‘Zyklon B’ gravel pellets saturated with twenty percent hydrogen cyanide which was used by the German barbarians.” Then the pellets were thrown in through a small vent. One could hear fearful screams, but a few moments later there was complete silence. Twenty to twenty-five minutes later, the door and windows were opened to ventilate the rooms and the corpses were thrown at once into pits to be burnt. But beforehand, the dentists had searched every mouth to pull out the gold teeth. The women were also searched to see if they had hidden jewelry in the intimate parts of their bodies, and their hair was cut off and methodically placed in sacks for industrial purposes.” The men who carried out these macabre tasks were Jewish prisoners selected by the Nazis to serve as Sonderkommandos, or special aides. After serving in this grim capacity for a time, they were executed, and a new batch of prisoners took their place. No one would survive. There would be no witnesses. The corpses were burned in the nearby incinerators, and the ashes were buried, thrown in the river, or used for fertilizer. In some cases the dead were thrown into an open pit. The stench was unbearable.
Despite the fact that rumors about the death camps were in wide circulation, Himmler continued to insist on complete secrecy. It was imperative for three reasons. First, in order to stifle any disruption or resistance, the victims should be ignorant of their fate awaiting them at the end of the train journey. Second, Hitler was always very impressed by the success of British propaganda during World War I. Those efforts had created the image of barbaric “Germans bayoneting babies in Belgium,” and he wanted to give the Allies no ammunition for new propaganda campaigns. And finally, neither he nor Himmler was convinced that the German people were ready for a confrontation with this gruesome reality. All of this was reflected in a speech delivered by Himmler to a gathering of SS men in Poznan in June 1943. “I want to talk to you quite frankly about a very grave matter,” he began.
We can talk about it quite frankly among ourselves and yet we will never speak of it publicly. . . . I am referring to the Jewish evacuation program, the extermination of the Jewish people. ‘The Jewish people will be exterminated,’ says every party comrade. ‘It’s clear, it’s in our program. Elimination of the Jews, extermination and we’ll do it.’ . . . Not one of those who talk like that has watched it happening, not one of them has been through it. Most of you will know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred or a thousand are lying there. To have stuck it out and—apart from a few exceptions due to human weakness—to have remained decent, that is what has made us tough. This is a glorious page in our history and one that has never been written and can never be written.
Eventually more crematoria and gas chambers were constructed to deal with hundreds of thousands of victims, and the killing continued with increasing speed and efficiency into November 1944. At the peak of its operations in the summer of 1944, Auschwitz could murder 9,000 people per day, and by the close of the year, when the giant killing factory was closed down due to the approach of the Red Army, 1.1 million people, the vast majority Jews, had been murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Together with the massacres of the Einsatzgruppen, the ongoing mass murders at Treblinka, and other death camps with their dozens of brutal satellite labor camps, the Nazi crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism claimed the lives of roughly six million Jews—and millions of other undesirables—Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Communists, as well as millions of Polish and Russian civilians, Untermenschen (subhumans) all.
While the Nazi campaign against the Jews was reaching its bloody climax, the war in 1943–44 turned decisively against the Third Reich. In the East, the Russians for the first time assumed—and sustained—the offensive, initiating a series of ever-larger and -deadlier operations that drove the Wehr-macht out of the Soviet Union. It would not conclude until 1945 when Red Army troops were standing in the ruins of Berlin. In the high summer of 1943 the Red Army smashed the last German offensive at Kursk, about 320 miles south of Moscow. The Germans threw twelve panzer divisions and five panzer grenadier divisions, each employing heavy Tiger tanks and the new Panthers (Panzers). In a battle that raged into August, the Soviets mauled the Wehrmacht’s best armored forces in the largest tank battle in history. The greatly outnumbered Germans suffered crushing losses in both infantry and armor in the fighting. After receiving word of the Allied invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943, Hitler, over General Manstein’s objections, abruptly broke off the operation, and Germany’s last offensive on the Eastern Front was over. It was, Guderian ruminated, “a decisive defeat. Needless to say, the Russians exploited their victory to the full. There were to be no more periods of quiet on the Eastern Front. From now on the enemy was in undisputed possession of the initiative.” With the Wehrmacht reeling, the Russians retook Orel and Kharkov, and in November they drove the Germans from Kiev. In January 1944 the long agony of Leningrad came to an end when an 872-day siege was at last lifted. By the end of the month, the Red Army had reached the prewar Soviet border of Poland.
In the course of 1943 the Germans suffered one setback after another. The Allies invaded mainland Italy in September. Mussolini was deposed by King Victor Emmanuel and his own Fascist Council, and although Hitler would install him as head of a puppet Fascist state in northern Italy, the Duce was a spent political and military force. German troops overran the country, rushing south to meet the Allied invaders, but they found themselves fighting a costly defensive war as British and American troops struggled slowly but steadily up the peninsula toward Rome. At sea, the Battle of the Atlantic was basically over, as the Allies’ use of convoys and aircraft threatened to sink Germany’s entire submarine force. Everywhere, Germany was in retreat. And yet, while German forces fell back on every front, the Nazi war against the Jews gathered momentum, reaching its crescendo in the lengthening shadow of the Reich’s mounting defeats. Here there would be no retreat.