Birkenau was the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex. It became primarily a centre for the mass murder of Jews brought there for extermination, and of Roma and Sinti prisoners during its final period. Sick prisoners and those selected for death from the whole Auschwitz complex – and, to a smaller extent, from other camps – were also gathered and systematically killed here. It ultimately became a place for the concentration of prisoners before they were transferred inside the Third Reich to work for German industry. Most of the victims of the Auschwitz complex, probably about 90%, were killed in the Birkenau camp.
Blitzkrieg (German: "lightning war") is a method of fast-moving, air-and-land warfare first used extensively during World War II. German armies invading Poland in 1939 used tanks, armored trucks, self-propelled guns, and dive bombers to break through opposing forces and penetrate far behind their lines. During the invasion of the Low Countries and France in 1940, the German armored columns again used these tactics to shock and disorganize the defenders. On the Allied side, U.S. general George S. Patton exhibited (1944) particular skill in mobile warfare in Europe.
As a member of the Nazi Party and the Abwehr intelligence service, Schindler was in danger of being arrested as a war criminal. Bankier, Stern, and several others prepared a statement he could present to the Americans attesting to his role in saving Jewish lives. He was also given a ring, made using gold from dental work taken out of the mouth of Schindlerjude Simon Jeret. The ring was inscribed "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." To escape being captured by the Russians, Schindler and his wife departed westward in their vehicle, a two-seater Horch, initially with several fleeing German soldiers riding on the running boards. A truck containing Schindler's mistress Marta, several Jewish workers, and a load of black market trade goods followed behind. The Horch was confiscated by Russian troops at the town of Budweis, which had already been captured by Russian troops. The Schindlers were unable to recover a diamond that Oskar had hidden under the seat. They continued by train and on foot until they reached the American lines at the town of Lenora, and then travelled to Passau, where an American Jewish officer arranged for them to travel to Switzerland by train. They moved to Bavaria in Germany in the fall of 1945.
When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, it gained control of about 2 million Jews in the occupied territory. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which had control of the rest of Poland's pre-war population of 3.3–3.5 million Jews. German plans for Poland included expelling gentile Poles from large areas, confining Jews, and settling Germans on the emptied lands. The Germans initiated a policy of sending Jews from all territories they had recently annexed (Austria, Czechoslovakia, and western Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. There, the Jews were concentrated in ghettos in major cities, chosen for their railway lines to facilitate later deportation. Food supplies were restricted, public hygiene was difficult, and the inhabitants were often subjected to forced labor. In the work camps and ghettos, at least half a million Jews died of starvation, disease, and poor living conditions. Jeremy Black writes that the ghettos were not intended, in 1939, as a step towards the extermination of the Jews. Instead, they were viewed as part of a policy of creating a territorial reservation to contain them.[l]
Use of armoured 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 motorised forces. Its goal according to Führer Directive 21 (18 December 1940) was "to destroy the Russian forces deployed in the West and to prevent their escape into the wide-open spaces of Russia." The Red Army was to be destroyed west of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers, which were about 500 kilometres (310 mi) east of the Soviet border, to be followed by a mopping-up operation. The surprise attack resulted in the near annihilation of the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS, Soviet Air Force) by simultaneous attacks on airfields, allowing the Luftwaffe to achieve total air supremacy over all the battlefields within the first week. On the ground, four German panzer groups outflanked and encircled disorganised Red Army units, while the marching infantry completed the encirclements and defeated the trapped forces. In late July, after 2nd Panzer Group (commanded by Guderian) captured the watersheds of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers near Smolensk, the panzers had to defend the encirclement, because the marching infantry divisions were still hundreds of kilometres to the west.
What the arms, whose charges can be partly traced in tithing seals and boundary stones back to the 16th century, mean is unclear. The charge that the German blazon describes as a “wall anchor” (Maueranker) is not accepted as such by everyone, with some saying it could have been meant to be taken as a weaver’s reel. With a document from 22 July 1926, the interior minister of the People's State of Hesse granted the community the right to bear these arms.
The photo above shows the gate house which is the main entrance into Birkenau, also known as the Auschwitz II concentration camp. Beginning around the middle of May 1944, freight trains that were 40 to 50 cars long rolled through this gate, day and night, bringing thousands of Hungarian Jews to be gassed at the four Birkenau gas chambers. The prisoners called it the "Gate of Death."
In the first phase of World War II in Europe, Germany sought to avoid a long war. Germany's strategy was to defeat its opponents in a series of short campaigns. Germany quickly overran much of Europe and was victorious for more than two years by relying on a new military tactic called the "Blitzkrieg" (lightning war). Blitzkrieg tactics required the concentration of offensive weapons (such as tanks, planes, and artillery) along a narrow front. These forces would drive a breach in enemy defenses, permitting armored tank divisions to penetrate rapidly and roam freely behind enemy lines, causing shock and disorganization among the enemy defenses. German air power prevented the enemy from adequately resupplying or redeploying forces and thereby from sending reinforcements to seal breaches in the front. German forces could in turn encircle opposing troops and force surrender.
In 1939, shortly after the war began, the Germans initiated the T4 Program—framed euphemistically as a “euthanasia” program—for the murder of intellectually or physically disabled and emotionally disturbed Germans who by their very existence violated the Nazi ideal of Aryan supremacy. They were termed “life unworthy of life.” An economic justification was also employed as these Germans were considered “useless eaters.” The Nazis pioneered the use of gas chambers and mass crematoria under this program. The murder of the disabled was the training ground for key personnel who were to later staff the death camps of Aktion Reinhard. The German public protested these murders. The Roman Catholic bishop of Münster, Clemens August, Graf von Galen, preached against them, and the T4 program was formally halted. Nonetheless, the murder and sterilization of these German “Aryans” continued secretly throughout the war.
The concentration and death-camp complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest killing center in the entire Nazi universe; the very heart of their system. Of the many sub-camps affiliated with Auschwitz, Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, was by far the largest. The main camp, Auschwitz I was on the outskirts of the Polish city Oswiecim. Birkenau was in a suiburb named Zasole.
In March 1941, Himmler ordered a second, larger complex to be built next to the original camp. It was called Auschwitz II - Birkenau. The camp at Birkenau was divided into subsections surrounded by electric fences with barbed wire. During 1943 and 1944 the BIIb section became the location of the „Terezín family camp“. At its summit, Birkenau had over 100 000 inmates. In March 1942, the Auschwitz III camp was set up at nearby Monowitz, also known as Buna Monowitz. German company I.G. Farben set up a synthetic rubber factory there, in which it used the prisoners' slave labour. Auschwitz also had a further 45 auxiliary camps, where prisoners were forced to engage in slave labour, mostly for German companies.
The period between Germany's defeat of Poland in October 1939 and her invasion of Norway in April 1940 is often referred to as the "Phony War." Not much happened. The French stiffened their defenses while the British moved troops to the continent. The British wanted to send their air force to bomb targets inside Germany but were persuaded not to by the French who feared German reprisal. The major activity consisted of dueling propaganda messages blared from loud speakers across the German and French lines.
Tested by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War in 1938 and against Poland in 1939, the blitzkrieg proved to be a formidable combination of land and air action. Germany’s success with the tactic at the beginning of World War II hinged largely on the fact that it was the only country that had effectively linked its combined forces with radio communications. The use of mobility, shock, and locally concentrated firepower in a skillfully coordinated attack paralyzed an adversary’s capacity to organize defenses, rather than attempting to physically overcome them, and then exploited that paralysis by penetrating to the adversary’s rear areas and disrupting its whole system of communications and administration. The tactics, as employed by the Germans, consisted of a splitting thrust on a narrow front by combat groups using tanks, dive bombers, and motorized artillery to disrupt the main enemy battle position at the Schwerpunkt. Wide sweeps by armoured vehicles followed, establishing the Kessel that trapped and immobilized enemy forces. Those tactics were remarkably economical of both lives and matériel, primarily for the attackers but also, because of the speed and short duration of the campaign, among the victims.
After the U.S. government refused to permit the passenger’s refuge, the St. Louis left Cuba for Europe. The St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami. The passengers were able to find refuge in other European countries so they didn’t have to return to Germany. Great Britain took 288, the Netherlands admitted 181; Belgium took 214, and 224 passengers found temporary refuge in France. When Germany invaded Western Europe, 532 of the original passengers were trapped. Just over half survived the Holocaust.
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.
As Soviet armies advanced in 1944 and early 1945, Auschwitz was gradually abandoned. On January 18, 1945, some 60,000 prisoners were marched to Wodzisław Śląski, where they were put on freight trains (many in open cars) and sent westward to concentration camps away from the front. One in four died en route from starvation, cold, exhaustion, and despair. Many were shot along the way in what became known as the “death marches.” The 7,650 sick or starving prisoners who remained were found by arriving Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Although the term "concentration camps" is often used to describe all Nazi camps, there were actually a number of different kinds of camps, including transit camps, forced-labor camps, and death camps. In some of these camps there was at least a small chance to survive; while in others, there was no chance at all. When and where were these camps built? How many people were murdered in each one?
Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority over anything but the army's needs on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942. Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and the killing of skilled Jewish workers, but Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations.
Blitzkrieg was not a doctrine, or an operational scheme, or even a tactical system. In fact, it simply doesn’t exist, at least not in the way we usually think it does. The Germans never used the term Blitzkrieg in any precise sense, and almost never used it outside of quotations. It simply meant a rapid and decisive victory (lightning war)... The Germans didn’t invent anything new in the interwar period, but rather used new technologies like tanks and air and radio-controlled command to restore an old way of war that they still found to be valid, Bewegungskrieg.
Before World War II, Germany considered mass deportation from Europe of German, and later European, Jewry. Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine and French Madagascar. After the war began, German leaders considered deporting Europe's Jews to Siberia. Palestine was the only location to which any German relocation plan produced results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government. This resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100 million from Germany to Palestine, but it ended with the outbreak of World War II. In May 1940 Madagascar became the focus of new deportation efforts because it had unfavorable living conditions that would hasten deaths. Several German leaders had discussed the idea in 1938, and Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to carry out resettlement planning, but no evidence of planning exists until after the fall of France in June 1940. But the inability to defeat Britain prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, and the end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10 February 1942.
Schindler never developed any ideologically motivated resistance against the Nazi regime. However, his growing revulsion and horror at the senseless brutality of the Nazi persecution of the helpless Jewish population wrought a curious transformation in the unprincipled opportunist. Gradually, the egoistic goal of lining his pockets with money took second place to the all-consuming desire of rescuing as many of his Jews as he could from the clutches of the Nazi executioners. In the long run, in his efforts to bring his Jewish workers safely through the war, he was not only prepared to squander all his money but also to put his own life on line.
Other historians wrote that blitzkrieg was an operational doctrine of the German armed forces and a strategic concept on which the leadership of the Third Reich based its strategic and economic planning. Military planners and bureaucrats in the war economy appear rarely, if ever, to have employed the term blitzkrieg in official documents. That the German army had a "blitzkrieg doctrine" was rejected in the late 1970s by Matthew Cooper. The concept of a blitzkrieg Luftwaffe was challenged by Richard Overy in the late 1970s and by Williamson Murray in the mid-1980s. That the Third Reich went to war on the basis of "blitzkrieg economics" was criticised by Richard Overy in the 1980s and George Raudzens described the contradictory senses in which historians have used the word. The notion of a German blitzkrieg concept or doctrine survives in popular history and many historians still support the thesis.
Not long after acquiring his “Emalia” factory - which produced enamel goods and munitions to supply the German front - the removal of Jews to death camps began in earnest. Schindler's Jewish accountant put him in touch with the few Jews with any remaining wealth. They invested in his factory, and in return they would be able to work there and perhaps be spared. He was persuaded to hire more Jewish workers, designating their skills as “essential,” paying off the Nazis so they would allow them to stay in Kraków. Schindler was making money, but everyone in his factory was fed, no-one was beaten, no-one was killed. It became an oasis of humanity in a desert of moral torpor.
Infiltration tactics invented by the German Army during the First World War became the basis for later tactics. German infantry had advanced in small, decentralised groups which bypassed resistance in favour of advancing at weak points and attacking rear-area communications. This was aided by co-ordinated artillery and air bombardments, and followed by larger infantry forces with heavy guns, which destroyed centres of resistance. These concepts formed the basis of the Wehrmacht's tactics during the Second World War.
Using gas vans, Chełmno had its roots in the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Majdanek began as a POW camp, but in August 1942 it had gas chambers installed. A few other camps are occasionally named as extermination camps, but there is no scholarly agreement on the additional camps; commonly mentioned are Mauthausen in Austria and Stutthof. There may also have been plans for camps at Mogilev and Lvov.
Birkenau was subdivided into several sections, fairly isolated from one another, and each supporting its own unique cultural scene. There was a men’s camp, a women’s camp, and two ‘family camps’, one for Roma and Sinti, and the other for Jews brought from Theresienstadt. Both ‘family camps’ were eventually liquidated, but before then the inmates were allowed to live in relatively better conditions than the other inmates. They were not required to have their heads shaved, at least initially were given more generous rations and various other 'privileges', and above all were allowed to stay together as families. Each of these mini-camps supported its own band, as well as a variety of singing, performing and instrumental groups.
During World War I, Fuller had been a staff officer attached to the new tank corps. He developed Plan 1919 for massive, independent tank operations, which he claimed were subsequently studied by the German military. It is variously argued that Fuller's wartime plans and post-war writings were an inspiration or that his readership was low and German experiences during the war received more attention. The German view of themselves as the losers of the war, may be linked to the senior and experienced officers' undertaking a thorough review, studying and rewriting of all their Army doctrine and training manuals.
In early April 2009, a carbon copy of one version of the list was discovered at the State Library of New South Wales by workers combing through boxes of materials collected by author Thomas Keneally. The 13-page document, yellow and fragile, was filed among research notes and original newspaper clippings. The document was given to Keneally in 1980 by Pfefferberg when he was persuading him to write Schindler's story. This version of the list contains 801 names and is dated 18 April 1945; Pfefferberg is listed as worker number 173. Several authentic versions of the list exist, because the names were re-typed several times as conditions changed in the hectic days at the end of the war.