Entering conquered Soviet territories alongside the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) were 3,000 men of the Einsatzgruppen (“Deployment Groups”), special mobile killing units. Their task was to murder Jews, Soviet commissars, and Roma in the areas conquered by the army. Alone or with the help of local police, native anti-Semitic populations, and accompanying Axis troops, the Einsatzgruppen would enter a town, round up their victims, herd them to the outskirts of the town, and shoot them. They killed Jews in family units. Just outside Kiev, Ukraine, in the ravine of Babi Yar, an Einsatzgruppe killed 33,771 Jews on September 28–29, 1941. In the Rumbula Forest outside the ghetto in Riga, Latvia, 25,000–28,000 Jews were shot on November 30 and December 8–9. Beginning in the summer of 1941, Einsatzgruppen murdered more than 70,000 Jews at Ponary, outside Vilna (now Vilnius) in Lithuania. They slaughtered 9,000 Jews, half of them children, at the Ninth Fort, adjacent to Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, on October 28.
By January 1945 Soviet troops were advancing towards Auschwitz. In desperation to withdraw, the Nazis sent most of the 58,000 remaining prisoners on a death march to Germany, and most prisoners were killed en route. When the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, soldiers found only 7,650 barely living prisoners throughout the entire camp complex. In all, approximately one million Jews had been murdered there.
The understanding of operations in Poland has shifted considerably since the Second World War. Many early postwar histories incorrectly attribute German victory to "enormous development in military technique which occurred between 1918 and 1940", incorrectly citing that "Germany, who translated (British inter-war) theories into action...called the result Blitzkrieg." More recent histories identify German operations in Poland as relatively cautious and traditional. Matthew Cooper wrote that
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Einsatzgruppen and, later, militarized battalions of Order Police officials, moved behind German lines to carry out mass-murder operations against Jews, Roma, and Soviet state and Communist Party officials. German SS and police units, supported by units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, murdered more than a million Jewish men, women, and children, and hundreds of thousands of others.
On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws, prohibiting marriages between Jews and people of Germanic extraction, extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law defined as citizens those of "German or kindred blood". Thus Jews and other minorities were stripped of their citizenship. By the start of World War II in 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Palestine, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, just outside OÅ›wiÄ™cim, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), commander of the “Schutzstaffel” (or Select Guard/Protection Squad, more commonly known as the SS), which operated all Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau.More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prisoners.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The remaining prisoners were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947 Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Ultimately, three SS guards were killed—one of whom was burned alive by the prisoners in the oven of Crematorium II—and 451 Sonderkommandos were killed. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but all were soon captured and executed, along with an additional group who had participated in the revolt. Crematorium IV was destroyed in the fighting. A group of prisoners in the gas chamber of Crematorium V was spared in the chaos.
The train station of Oświęcim is about 2 km from the museum and there are public town buses connecting them (2.70 zł). There are several local trains each day, both from Kraków and from Katowice, about each 1.5-2 hours. The trip to or from Kraków central station takes a leisurely 2 hours, as the train goes slowly and stops frequently. It costs 9.50 zł.
From the overpass, the road leads directly to the Gate of Death. The railroad spur line that goes through the gate house begins on the left side of the gate, about a quarter of a mile away, and curves around until it forms a straight line in front of the gate. Trains coming from the west entered the Birkenau camp from tracks on the left side of the gate, as you are facing it, and did not pass the railroad station in the town of Auschwitz. Trains coming from the opposite direction passed the train station in Auschwitz and then entered the camp on the spur line. The train tracks end only a few yards from two of the gas chambers inside the Birkenau camp.
The twin goals of racial purity and spatial expansion were the core of Hitler’s worldview, and from 1933 onward they would combine to form the driving force behind his foreign and domestic policy. At first, the Nazis reserved their harshest persecution for political opponents such as Communists or Social Democrats. The first official concentration camp opened at Dachau (near Munich) in March 1933, and many of the first prisoners sent there were Communists.
The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death", who worked in Auschwitz II from 30 May 1943, at first in the gypsy family camp. Particularly interested in performing research on identical twins, dwarfs, and those with hereditary disease, Mengele set up a kindergarten in barracks 29 and 31 for children he was experimenting on, and for all Romani children under six, where they were given better food rations. From May 1944, he would select twins and dwarfs during selection on the Judenrampe, reportedly calling for twins with "Zwillinge heraus!" ("twins step forward!"). He and other doctors (the latter prisoners) would measure the twins' body parts, photograph them, and subject them to dental, sight and hearing tests, x-rays, blood tests, surgery, and blood transfusions between them. Then he would have them killed and dissected. Kurt Heissmeyer, another German doctor and SS officer, took 20 Jewish children from Auschwitz to use in pseudoscientific medical experiments at the Neuengamme concentration camp. In April 1945, the children were killed by hanging to conceal the project.
With the appointment in January 1933 of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, and the establishment of the Third Reich, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). Nazi policies divided the population into two groups: the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the "racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma; political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists, liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades"; and moral opponents, such as gay men, the work shy, and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be removed from society.
Several resistance groups were formed, such as the Jewish Combat Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto and the United Partisan Organization in Vilna. Over 100 revolts and uprisings occurred in at least 19 ghettos and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, when around 1,000 poorly armed Jewish fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks.[q] During a revolt in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, inmates killed five or six guards and set fire to camp buildings; several managed to escape. In the Białystok Ghetto on 16 August 1943, Jewish insurgents fought for five days when the Germans announced mass deportations. On 14 October 1943, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór, including Jewish-Soviet prisoners of war, attempted an escape, killing 11 SS officers and a couple of Ukrainian camp guards. Around 300 escaped, but 100 were recaptured and shot. On 7 October 1944, 300 Jewish members of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, who learned they were about to be killed, attacked their guards and blew up crematorium IV. Three SS officers were killed, one of whom was stuffed into an oven, as was a German kapo. None of the Sonderkommando rebels survived the uprising.
While concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death, extermination camps (also known as death camps) were built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently. The Nazis built six extermination camps, all in Poland: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. (Auschwitz and Majdanek were both concentration and extermination camps.)
There was one latrine for thirty to thirty-two thousand women and we were permitted to use it only at certain hours of the day. We stood in line to get in to this tiny building, knee-deep in human excrement. As we all suffered from dysentry, we could barely wait until our turn came, and soiled our ragged clothes, which never came off our bodies, thus adding to the horror of our existence by the terrible smell that surrounded us like a cloud. The latrine consisted of a deep ditch with planks thrown across it at certain intervals. We squatted on those planks like birds perched on a telegraph wire, so close together that we could not help soiling one another.
"The tanks now rolled in a long column through the line of fortifications and on towards the first houses, which had been set alight by our fire. In the moonlight we could see the men Of 7th Motorcycle Battalion moving forward on foot beside us. Occasionally an enemy machine-gun or anti-tank gun fired, but none of their shots came anywhere near us. Our artillery was dropping heavy harassing fire on villages and the road far ahead of the regiment. Gradually the speed increased. Before long we were 500 -1,000 - 2,000 - 3,000 yards into the fortified zone. Engines roared, tank tracks clanked and clattered. Whether or not the enemy was firing was impossible to tell in the ear-splitting noise. We crossed the railway line a mile or so
What is clear is the practical implementation of this doctrine in a wide and successful range of scenarios by Guderian and other Germans during the war. From early combined-arms river crossings and penetration exploitations during the advance in France in 1940 to massive sweeping advances in Russia in 1941, Guderian showed a mastery and innovation that inspired many others. This leadership was supported and fostered by the Reichswehr General Staff system, which worked the Army to greater and greater levels of capability through massive and systematic Movement Warfare war games in the 1930s.
Remarkably, there were instances of individual resistance and collective efforts at fighting back inside Auschwitz. Poles, Communists and other national groups established networks in the main camp. Some Jews assaulted Nazi guards, even at the entrance to the gas chambers. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando crew at crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematoria. It was never used again.
Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and expulsions. The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in the German empire and Austria-Hungary of the völkisch movement, which was developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. These ideas became commonplace throughout Germany, with the professional classes adopting an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. Although the völkisch parties had support in elections at first, by 1914 they were no longer influential. This did not mean that antisemitism had disappeared; instead it was incorporated into the platforms of several mainstream political parties.
Use of armored forces was crucial for both sides on the Eastern Front. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, involved a number of breakthroughs and encirclements by motorized forces. Its stated goal was "to destroy the Russian forces deployed in the West and to prevent their escape into the wide-open spaces of Russia." This was generally achieved by four panzer armies which encircled surprised and disorganized Soviet forces, followed by marching infantry which completed the encirclement and defeated the trapped forces. The first year of the Eastern Front offensive can generally be considered to have had the last successful major blitzkrieg operations.
As the tide of World War II turned against the Nazis, they began a systematic plan to eliminate or "liquidate" the ghettos they had established, by a combination of mass murder on the spot and transferring the remaining residents to extermination camps. When the Nazis attempted to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on April 13, 1943, the remaining Jews fought back in what has become known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Jewish resistance fighters held out against the entire Nazi regime for 28 days, longer than many European countries had been able to withstand Nazi conquest.
Nazi racial policy aimed at forcing Jews to emigrate. Fifty thousand German Jews had left Germany by the end of 1934, and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left the country. Among the prominent Jews who left was the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences and his citizenship was revoked. Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country. On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Austrian Nazis broke into Jewish shops, stole from Jewish homes and businesses, and forced Jews to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets. Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed. In August that year, Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien). About 100,000 Austrian Jews had left the country by May 1939, including Sigmund Freud and his family, who moved to London. The Évian Conference was held in July 1938 by 32 countries as an attempt to help the increased refugees from Germany, but aside from establishing the largely ineffectual Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, little was accomplished and most countries participating did not increase the number of refugees they would accept.
Around Birkenau are several nature conservation areas and a considerable number of hiking paths. These are found on the one hand in the woods around Birkenau, but on the other hand, the Höhenweg (“Height Way”, European walking route E1, plateau path between Birkenau and Reisen), for example, is also worth visiting, as there is a striking view over Birkenau and Nieder-Liebersbach.
Reality is at once more limited and more complex. On one level, mobile warfare was a faute de mieux improvisation that arose from the restrictions on conventional forces stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles. The German high command in the 1920s and 1930s also sought inspiration for the future in its own past–specifically in the ideas of Helmuth Karl von Moltke and Alfred von Schlieffen. Tanks, aircraft, and motor trucks were regarded as force multipliers facilitating traditional operational approaches. The aim of German military planners in both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich was to achieve victory by enveloping enemy armies, threatening their lines of supply and communications, and forcing them to fight in an unexpected direction. The anticipated result would be quick, decisive victories for a state that since the days of Frederick the Great had been convinced of its inability to win a drawn-out war of attrition.