[Updated 28 Jan 21 to include a news story about a priest who saved Jews in Warsaw.]
On 27 Jan 1945, Soviet Union troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In doing so, it revealed the horrors the Germans had perpetrated there. Auschwitz was a series of camps designated I, II, and III with also smaller satellite camps. Auschwitz II at Birkenau was the place where most of the exterminations at Auschwitz were done. Using four “bath houses,” prisoners were gassed to death and cremated. Prisoners were also used for ghastly medical experiments overseen by the infamous Josef Mengele (the “angel of death”).
As the Red Army approached, the SS began a murder spree and blew up the crematoria to try to cover up the evidence. When the Red Army finally got there, they found 648 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. They also found six storehouses full of men’s and women’s clothes and other items the Germans were not able to burn before they left.
On 15 Dec 1961, an Israeli War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Adolf Eichmann to death. Eichmann joined the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) in November 1932. The SS were an elite organization that had broad powers of authority (policing and intelligence) and enforcement of antisemitic policies. Eichmann rose within the SS and in 1938 was sent to Austria after Germany annexed it. In Vienna, he was given the task of ridding the Jews. After setting up an efficient deportation system, he was sent to Prague to do the same thing. Then he was sent back to Berlin to help run the Jewish section of the SS central security office in Berlin.
He was also part of the now infamous Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior government officials from government ministries and the SS to discuss the coordination of the “total solution of the Jewish question” as ordered by Reichmarschall Herman Göring. This order was given to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich who headed the Reich Main Security Office. The decision had been made to eliminate Jews and would need the assistance of many government agencies in order for it to be done. Eichmann was given the task to coordinate the major aspects of this program from identifying Jews, assembling them, and transporting them to the Nazi death camps. Eichmann proved to be ruthlessly efficient in carrying out this task.
He was captured by U.S. troops after the war but escaped in 1946 before the Nuremberg trials began. Using an assumed name, he traveled in Europe and the Middle East before arriving in Argentina in 1950. Israel was informed in 1957 by a German prosecutor that Eichmann was in Argentina. Agents from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, were sent to Argentina and located him in 1960. He was found living in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires using the name Richard Klement.
Using the 150th anniversary of Argentina’s revolution against Spain in May 1960, the Mossad used this as an opportunity to send more agents to Argentina. Believing that Argentina would not extradite him, it was decided to abduct him and bring him to Israel for trial. On 11 May 1960, Mossad agents abducted him as was walking home from the bus stop to home on Garabaldi Street. He was disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident (he was in fact drugged to prevent him from attempting escape). He arrived in Tel Aviv and three days later Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced Eichmann was in Israeli custody.
Argentina did protest but Israel charged Eichmann with 15 crimes against humanity. His trial was covered on live television. He claimed he was following orders but the judges disagreed finding him guilty of all counts on 15 December 1961. He would be executed by hanging on 31 May 1962 and was cremated with his ashes thrown into the sea.
SS-Obergruppenführer was equivalent to Lieutenant General in the American and British armies.