Overnight on November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis incited a pogrom against Jews in Austria and Germany called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, or literally translated from German, "Crystal Night"). This included the pillaging and burning of synagogues, the breaking of windows of Jewish-owned businesses and the looting of those stores. In the morning, broken glass littered the ground. Many Jews were physically attacked or harassed, and approximately 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
As the mass shootings continued in Russia, the Germans began to search for new methods of mass murder. This was driven by a need to have a more efficient method than simply shooting millions of victims. Himmler also feared that the mass shootings were causing psychological problems in the SS. His concerns were shared by his subordinates in the field. In December 1939 and January 1940, another method besides shooting was tried. Experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment were used to kill the disabled and mentally-ill in occupied Poland. Similar vans, but using the exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and some were used in the occupied Soviet Union, for example in smaller clearing actions in the Minsk ghetto. They also were used for murder in Yugoslavia.
German operational theories were revised after the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles limited the Reichswehr to a maximum of 100,000 men, making impossible the deployment of mass armies. The German General Staff was abolished by the treaty but continued covertly as the Truppenamt (Troop Office), disguised as an administrative body. Committees of veteran staff officers were formed within the Truppenamt to evaluate 57 issues of the war. By the time of the Second World War, their reports had led to doctrinal and training publications, including H. Dv. 487, Führung und Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen (Command and Battle of the Combined Arms), known as das Fug (1921–23) and Truppenführung (1933–34), containing standard procedures for combined-arms warfare. The Reichswehr was influenced by its analysis of pre-war German military thought, in particular infiltration tactics, which at the end of the war had seen some breakthroughs on the Western Front and the manoeuvre warfare which dominated the Eastern Front.
Auschwitz became one of the camps used for the mass extermination of Jews. In summer 1941, Heinrich Himmler gave orders to Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß to build a centre at Auschwitz for the mass murder of Jews. In September 1941, the lethal effects of Zyklon B - a substance normally used for pest control - were first tested and verified there. Later, four large gas chambers were built at Birkenau, capable of killing up to six thousand people each day. The gas chambers were disguised as showers, meant to persuade the victims that these were disinfection measures which they had to undergo before they were sent to work in the camp.
This photographic exhibit shows the camp as it exists today, empty and quiet. Many hundreds of thousands of people visit here from all over the world each year. Every day one can observe, in addition to people of many lands, numerous bus-loads of Polish students walking the camp with their teachers and guides. These days, thanks to a new treaty and better relations between Israel and Poland, one can observe many Israeli youth with their teachers, visiting the camp.
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 French battery now opened rapid fire on our wood and at any moment we could expect their fire to be aimed at our tank, which was in full view. I therefore decided to abandon it as fast as I could, taking the crew with me. At that moment the subaltern in command of the tanks escorting the infantry reported himself wounded, with the words: 'Herr General, my left arm has been shot off.' We clamored up through the sandy pit, shells crashing and splintering all round. Close in front of us trundled Rothenburg's tank with flames pouring out of the rear. The adjutant of the Panzer Regiment had also left his tank. I thought at first that the command tank had been set alight by a hit in petrol tank and was extremely worried for Colonel Rothenbttrg's safety. However, it turned out to be only the smoke candles that had caught light, the smoke from which now served us very well. In the meantime Lieutenant Most had driven my armored signals vehicle into the wood, where it had been hit in the engine and now stood immobilized. The crew was unhurt."
A memorandum dated July 31, 1941, from Hitler’s top commander Hermann Goering to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the SD (the security service of the SS), referred to the need for an Endlösung (final solution) to “the Jewish question.” Beginning in September 1941, every person designated as a Jew in German-held territory was marked with a yellow star, making them open targets. Tens of thousands were soon being deported to the Polish ghettoes and German-occupied cities in the USSR.
The prisoners working in the Kanada Kommando lived in barracks. The barracks were inside the warehouse, away from the rest of the prisoners in the camp. They were in a better position than the other inmates. They could take extra food on which to survive, a pair of shoes or extra clothing to protect themselves from the severe winter weather. Some smuggled valuables to bribe the kapos or guards. If they were caught, they were killed.
More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were also founded, mainly as various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant, six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. The factory was built during the war by the German IG Farbenindustrie cartel, and the SS supplied prisoner labor. On November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp, Auschwitz III, to which some other Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated.
The Nazis considered Jews to be the main danger to Germany. Jews were the primary victims of Nazi racism, but other victims included Roma (Gypsies) and people with mental or physical disabilities. The Nazis murdered some 200,000 Roma. And they murdered at least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled patients, mainly German and living in institutions, in the so-called Euthanasia Program.
Sometimes the mere presence of German troops in the vicinity was sufficient to spur a massacre. One example is what happened in the Polish village of Jedwabne, where neighbours murdered their Jewish neighbours. For years the massacre was blamed on the Germans, though many Poles likely knew that the local population had turned against its own Jews. In the Baltics, where the Germans were greeted as liberators by some segments of the population, the lure of political independence and the desire to erase any collaboration with the previous Soviet occupiers led nationalist bands to murder local Jews.
Moreover, one of the key successes of the Blitzkrieg was its use of FM radios – these enabled the forces that had broken through the lines to inform support units as to their progress and relay information on what was behind enemy lines. This superior intelligence was a crucial tool at the German’s disposal and allowed them to perform far more organised assaults on the enemy. The communication technology promoted quick, decentralised decision-making that was key to this speed focused approach.
Inmates at Birkenau numbered around 100,000 at their peak. They were of many different nationalities, but the vast majority of those that entered the camp were unregistered Jews, many of whom were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. Women and children stood the least chance of survival, and many died even before arriving at Birkenau due to the appalling conditions of the railway journeys. The unloading platform, where the brisk selection process was conducted, remains. Apart from physically fit men (who often perished later from the rigours of the camp) it was often only an accident of birth that merited a possibility of survival. Large numbers of twins survived until liberation as they were objects of interest to the research of Dr. Josef Mengele - a man disliked even by his Nazi peers.
^ Nothing appeared in Luftwaffe 'doctrine' stipulating "terror" as a major operational factor. The method of "terror", was denied to German aerial operations (and strategic bombing methods) by the Luftwaffe field manual The Conduct of Air Operations, Regulation 16, issued in 1935 (Corum 1992, pp. 167–169). Regulation 16 denied "terror" operations against civilians, and it was not until 1942 when indiscriminate "terror" operations, in which terror and civilian casualties become the primary target, took place (Corum 1997, pp. 7, 143).
According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, "[a]ll the serious research" confirms that between five and six million Jews died. Early postwar calculations were 4.2 to 4.5 million from Gerald Reitlinger; 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg; and 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. In 1986 Lucy S. Dawidowicz used the pre-war census figures to estimate 5.934 million. Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990) estimated 5.59–5.86 million. A 1996 study led by Wolfgang Benz suggested 5.29 to 6.2 million, based on comparing pre- and post-war census records and surviving German documentation on deportations and killings. Martin Gilbert arrived at a minimum of 5.75 million. The figures include over one million children.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
After the war, Albert Speer claimed that the German economy achieved greater armaments output, not because of diversions of capacity from civilian to military industry but through streamlining of the economy. Richard Overy pointed out some 23 percent of German output was military by 1939. Between 1937 and 1939, 70 percent of investment capital went into the rubber, synthetic fuel, aircraft and shipbuilding industries. Hermann Göring had consistently stated that the task of the Four Year Plan was to rearm Germany for total war. Hitler's correspondence with his economists also reveals that his intent was to wage war in 1943–1945, when the resources of central Europe had been absorbed into the Third Reich.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Several, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allies did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
In late 1944, Plaszow and all its sub-camps had to be evacuated in face of the Russian advance. Most of the camp inmates—more than 20,000 men, women, and children—were sent to extermination camps. On receiving the order to evacuate, Schindler, who had approached the appropriate section in the Supreme Command of the Army (OKW), managed to obtain official authorization to continue production in a factory that he and his wife had set up in Brünnlitz, in their native Sudetenland. The entire work force from Zablocie—to which were furtively added many new names from the Plaszow camp—was supposed to move to the new factory site. However, instead of being brought to Brünnlitz, the 800 men—among them 700 Jews—and the 300 women on Schindler’s list were diverted to Gross-Rosen and to Auschwitz, respectively.
Born on April 28, 1908 in Austria-Hungary, Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who built his career on finding opportunities to get rich. Although married, he was also known for his womanizing and his excessive drinking. Not the kind of individual you'd picture as a hero, right? But Schindler, despite his flaws, was just that to over 1,100 Jews whose lives he saved during the Holocaust in World War II. Perhaps it was because of — not despite — his duplicitous character that his story is made all the richer.
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.
Initially, Schindler was mostly interested in the money-making potential of the business and hired Jews because they were cheaper than Poles—the wages were set by the occupying Nazi regime. Later he began shielding his workers without regard for cost. The status of his factory as a business essential to the war effort became a decisive factor enabling him to help his Jewish workers. Whenever Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews) were threatened with deportation, he claimed exemptions for them. He claimed wives, children, and even people with disabilities were necessary mechanics and metalworkers. On one occasion, the Gestapo came to Schindler demanding that he hand over a family that possessed forged identity papers. "Three hours after they walked in," Schindler said, "two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded."