Before the outbreak of war, Poland had been a relative haven for European Jews - Krakow's Jewish population numbered over 50,000. But when Germany invaded, destruction began immediately and it was merciless. Jews were herded into crowded ghettos, randomly beaten and humiliated, capriciously killed. Jewish property and businesses were summarily destroyed, or appropriated by the SS and 'sold' to Nazi 'investors', one of whom was the fast talking, womanizing, money hungry Schindler.
German military history had been influenced heavily by Carl von Clausewitz, Alfred von Schlieffen and von Moltke the Elder, who were proponents of maneuver, mass, and envelopment. Their concepts were employed in the successful Franco-Prussian War and attempted "knock-out blow" of the Schlieffen Plan. Following the war, these concepts were modified by the Reichswehr. Its Chief of Staff, Hans von Seeckt, moved doctrine away from what he argued was an excessive focus on encirclement towards one based on speed. Speed gives surprise, surprise allows exploitation if decisions can be reached quickly and mobility gives flexibility and speed. Von Seeckt advocated effecting breakthroughs against the enemy's centre when it was more profitable than encirclement or where encirclement was not practical. Under his command a modern update of the doctrinal system called "Bewegungskrieg" and its associated tactical system called " Auftragstaktik" was developed which resulted in the popularly known blitzkrieg effect. He additionally rejected the notion of mass which von Schlieffen and von Moltke had advocated. While reserves had comprised up to four-tenths of German forces in pre-war campaigns, von Seeckt sought the creation of a small, professional (volunteer) military backed by a defense-oriented militia. In modern warfare, he argued, such a force was more capable of offensive action, faster to ready, and less expensive to equip with more modern weapons. The Reichswehr was forced to adopt a small and professional army quite aside from any German plans, for the Treaty of Versailles limited it to 100,000 men.
Birkenau had its first documentary mention in 795 in the Lorsch Codex as a cell of the Lorsch Abbey. As one of the Abbey’s holdings, it passed into the ownership of the Archbishopric of Mainz in 1232. The centres of Hornbach and Balzenbach, on the other hand, belonged to the Electorate of the Palatinate, meaning that after the Reformation, they belonged to different denominations. In 1532 the town hall was built, and in 1771 the palace, Schloss Birkenau, of the Lords of Wambolt von Umstadt. By 1964, the population had grown to more than 5,000. In 1967 the community was recognized as a recreational resort (Erholungsort) and in 1979 as an open-air resort (Luftkurort). Owing to the only slight tourism, however, it has not reapplied for this designation. In 1995, Birkenau celebrated its 1,200-year jubilee.
The gate house at Birkeanu is located three kilometers, or about two miles, from the main Auschwitz camp, known as Auschwitz I. To get to the Birkenau camp from the main camp, turn right after exiting from the parking lot. The road curves to the left and goes over the railroad overpass where Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler stood on March 1, 1941 when he selected the village of Birkenau to be the location of a new addition to the Auschwitz camp. At that time, the invasion of the Soviet Union and the plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe was only months away.
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference at a lakeside villa in Berlin to organize the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Around the table were 15 men representing government agencies necessary to implement so bold and sweeping a policy. The language of the meeting was clear, but the meeting notes were circumspect:
During the Battle of France in 1940, the 4th Armoured Division (Major-General Charles de Gaulle) and elements of the 1st Army Tank Brigade (British Expeditionary Force) made probing attacks on the German flank, pushing into the rear of the advancing armoured columns at times. This may have been a reason for Hitler to call a halt to the German advance. Those attacks combined with Maxime Weygand's Hedgehog tactic would become the major basis for responding to blitzkrieg attacks in the future: deployment in depth, permitting enemy or "shoulders" of a penetration was essential to channelling the enemy attack, and artillery, properly employed at the shoulders, could take a heavy toll of attackers. While Allied forces in 1940 lacked the experience to successfully develop these strategies, resulting in France's capitulation with heavy losses, they characterised later Allied operations. At the Battle of Kursk the Red Army employed a combination of defence in great depth, extensive minefields, and tenacious defence of breakthrough shoulders. In this way they depleted German combat power even as German forces advanced. The reverse can be seen in the Russian summer offensive of 1944, Operation Bagration, which resulted in the destruction of Army Group Center. German attempts to weather the storm and fight out of encirclements failed due to the Russian ability to continue to feed armoured units into the attack, maintaining the mobility and strength of the offensive, arriving in force deep in the rear areas, faster than the Germans could regroup.
But the personalities and characteristics of human beings cannot be spliced. Sometimes character flaws, such as hubris, also lead to great achievements through a willingness to attempt something most people never would. Oskar’s espionage activities on behalf of Germany, while regrettable to enemies of Germany, later put him in a position to save many lives.
The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943. Interested in genetics and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects from the new arrivals during "selection" on the ramp, shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!). They would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer , director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem.[i] Mengele's experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change their eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and amputations and other surgeries.
A separate camp for the Roma, the Zigeunerfamilienlager ("Gypsy family camp"), was set up in the BIIe sector of Auschwitz II-Birkenau in February 1943. For unknown reasons, they were not subject to selection and families were allowed to stay together. The first transport of German Roma arrived at Auschwitz II on 26 February that year. There had been a small number of Romani inmates before that; two Czech Romani prisoners, Ignatz and Frank Denhel, tried to escape in December 1942, the latter successfully, and a Polish Romani woman, Stefania Ciuron, arrived on 12 February 1943 and escaped in April.
Having achieved a breakthrough into the enemy's rear areas, German forces attempted to paralyze the enemy's decision making and implementation process. Moving faster than enemy forces, mobile forces exploited weaknesses and acted before opposing forces could formulate a response. Guderian wrote that "Success must be exploited without respite and with every ounce of strength, even by night. The defeated enemy must be given no peace."
Fuller and Liddell Hart were "outsiders": Liddell Hart was unable to serve as a soldier after 1916 after being gassed on the Somme and Fuller's abrasive personality resulted in his premature retirement in 1933. Their views had limited impact in the British army; the War Office permitted the formation of an Experimental Mechanized Force on 1 May 1927, composed of tanks, lorried infantry, self-propelled artillery and motorised engineers but the force was disbanded in 1928 on the grounds that it had served its purpose. A new experimental brigade was intended for the next year and became a permanent formation in 1933, during the cuts of the 1932/33–1934/35 financial years.
The gate house was built in 1943, long after the Birkenau camp was first opened. The first inmates, who were Soviet Prisoners of War, arrived at Birkenau on October 7, 1941. At first, the gate shown in the photo above was for trucks and pedestrians. Railroad tracks were not laid through the gate until the Spring of 1944, just before transports of Hungarian Jews began to arrive. According to the Auschwitz Museum, 434,351 of these Hungarian Jews were not registered at Birkenau; instead, they were gassed immediately upon arrival. At the height of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, during a 10 week period, up to 12,000 Jews were gassed and burned each day.
Under the Nuremberg Laws, Jews became routine targets for stigmatization and persecution. This culminated in Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass” in November 1938, when German synagogues were burned and windows in Jewish shops were smashed; some 100 Jews were killed and thousands more arrested. From 1933 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jews who were able to leave Germany did, while those who remained lived in a constant state of uncertainty and fear.
In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
Transportation between camps was often carried out in freight cars with prisoners packed tightly. Long delays would take place; prisoners might be confined in the cars on sidings for days. In mid-1942 work camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be placed in quarantine for four weeks. Prisoners wore colored triangles on their uniforms, the color of the triangle denoting the reason for their incarceration. Red signified a political prisoner, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple triangles, "asocials" and criminals wore black and green. Badges were pink for gay men and yellow for Jews. Jews had a second yellow triangle worn with their original triangle, the two forming a six-pointed star. In Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with an identification number on arrival.
The Allied offensive in central France, spearheaded by armored units from George S. Patton's Third Army, used breakthrough and penetration techniques that were essentially identical to Guderian's prewar "armoured idea." Patton acknowledged that he had read both Guderian and Rommel before the war, and his tactics shared the traditional cavalry emphasis on speed and attack. A phrase commonly used in his units was "haul ass and bypass."
When Hitler came to power legally on January 30, 1933, as the head of a coalition government, his first objective was to consolidate power and to eliminate political opposition. The assault against the Jews began on April 1 with a boycott of Jewish businesses. A week later the Nazis dismissed Jews from the civil service, and by the end of the month the participation of Jews in German schools was restricted by a quota. On May 10 thousands of Nazi students, together with many professors, stormed university libraries and bookstores in 30 cities throughout Germany to remove tens of thousands of books written by non-Aryans and those opposed to Nazi ideology. The books were tossed into bonfires in an effort to cleanse German culture of “un-Germanic” writings. A century earlier Heinrich Heine—a German poet of Jewish origin—had said, “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” In Nazi Germany the time between the burning of Jewish books and the burning of Jews was eight years.
Deportees were brought to Auschwitz crammed in wretched conditions into goods or cattle wagons, arriving near a railway station or at one of several dedicated trackside ramps, including one next to Auschwitz I. The Altejudenrampe (old Jewish ramp), part of the Oświęcim freight railway station, was used from 1942 to 1944 for Jewish transports. Located between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, arriving at this ramp meant a 2.5 km journey to Auschwitz II and the gas chambers. Most deportees were forced to walk, accompanied by SS men and a car with a Red Cross symbol that carried the Zyklon B, as well as an SS doctor in case officers were poisoned by mistake. Inmates arriving at night, or who were too weak to walk, were taken by truck. Work on another railway line and Judenrampe (pictured right) between sectors BI and BII in Auschwitz II, was completed in May 1944 for the arrival of Hungarian Jews, who between May and early July 1944 were deported to Auschwitz II at a rate of 12,000 a day. The rails led directly to the area around the gas chambers.
The Roma refer to the genocide of the Romani people as the Pořajmos. Because they are traditionally a private people with a culture based on oral history, less is known about their experience than that of any other group. Bauer writes that this can be attributed to the Roma's distrust and suspicion, and to their humiliation because some of the taboos in Romani culture regarding hygiene and sex were violated at Auschwitz. In May 1942, the Roma were placed under similar laws to the Jews. On 16 December 1942, Himmler issued a decree that "Gypsy Mischlinge [mixed breeds], Roma Gypsies, and members of the clans of Balkan origins who are not of German blood" should be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. He adjusted the order on 15 November 1943; in the occupied Soviet areas, "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be treated as citizens of the country. Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." Bauer argues that this adjustment reflected Nazi ideology that the Roma, originally an Aryan population, had been "spoiled" by non-Romani blood.
The vital industries and transportation centers that would be targeted for shutdown were valid military targets. Civilians were not to be targeted directly, but the breakdown of production would affect their morale and will to fight. German legal scholars of the 1930s carefully worked out guidelines for what type of bombing was permissible under international law. While direct attacks against civilians were ruled out as "terror bombing", the concept of the attacking the vital war industries – and probable heavy civilian casualties and breakdown of civilian morale – was ruled as acceptable.
By July 1944, Germany was losing the war; the SS began closing down the easternmost concentration camps and deporting the remaining prisoners westward. Many were killed in Auschwitz and the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Schindler convinced SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth, commandant of the nearby Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, to allow him to move his factory to Brněnec in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, thus sparing his workers from almost certain death in the gas chambers. Using names provided by Jewish Ghetto Police officer Marcel Goldberg, Göth's secretary Mietek Pemper compiled and typed the list of 1,200 Jews who travelled to Brünnlitz in October 1944. Schindler continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black market purchases of supplies for his workers.