Conventional wisdom traces blitzkrieg, “lightning war,” to the development in Germany between 1918 and 1939 of a body of doctrine using mobility to prevent repetition of the attritional deadlock of World War I. Soldiers such as Hans von Seeckt and Heinz Guderian allegedly perceived more clearly than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe the military potential of the internal-combustion engine combined with modern communications technology. Large formations moving on tracks and wheels, directed by radios, could rupture an enemy’s front and so disorganize its rear that countermeasures would be paralyzed. First tested in Poland, the concept reached perihelion in France and the Low Countries in 1940, when in less than six weeks the German army crushed the combined forces of four nations. Applied a year later against the Soviet Union, blitzkrieg purportedly brought the Wehrmacht to the gates of Moscow in six months. Some accounts insist that only Adolf Hitler’s incompetent interference tipped the war’s balance so far against Germany that even blitzkrieg’s most sophisticated refinements could do no more than stave off the Reich’s collapse.
Seldom in the history of military thought have such elaborate interpretive structures been built on a more limited foundation. The term blitzkrieg was in fact never used in the title of a German military manual or handbook. Nor is it to be widely found in the memoirs or correspondence of German generals. The word was used in the Wehrmacht during World War II but was commonly considered to be of foreign origin. Guderian wrote in Panzer Leader that “our enemies coined the word.” The first known use of the word blitzkrieg in an English publication occurred in an article in Time magazine in September 25, 1939, discussing the Polish campaign. From there the word came into general circulation as a shorthand description of a form of war that seemed to have no convenient existing frame of reference. From Western sources it expanded into German popular military literature, and from there into history. The transmission process was facilitated by the British theorists J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart, who insisted that their concepts of mobile war were fundamental to the German victories of 1939-1941.
Some prisoners—usually Aryan—were assigned positions of authority, such as Blockschreiber ("block clerk"), Funktionshäftling ("functionary"), Kapo ("head" or "overseer"), and Stubendienst ("barracks orderly"). They were considered members of the camp elite, and had better food and lodgings than the other prisoners. The Kapos in particular wielded tremendous power over other prisoners, whom they often abused. Very few Kapos were prosecuted after the war, because of the difficulty in determining which Kapo atrocities had been performed under SS orders and which had been individual actions.
Military historians have defined blitzkrieg as the employment of the concepts of maneuver and combined arms warfare developed in Germany during both the interwar period and the Second World War. Strategically, the ideal was to swiftly effect an adversary's collapse through a short campaign fought by a small, professional army. Operationally, its goal was to use indirect means, such as, mobility and shock, to render an adversary's plans irrelevant or impractical. To do this, self-propelled formations of tanks; motorized infantry, engineers, artillery; and ground-attack aircraft operated as a combined-arms team. Historians have termed it a period form of the longstanding German principle of Bewegungskrieg, or movement war.
On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, "marked the beinning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended" (Yahil, The Holocaust, p. 318).
Among the key revelations in Crowe’s book: Oskar Schindler did not write out a list of people to save, he didn’t break down in tears because he thought he could have saved more people, and it is unlikely he experienced a defining moment, such as seeing a girl in a red coat, that led to his decision to save the lives of his Jewish workers. Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List, while important, impressive and admirable in many ways, took creative license on these and other issues.
The origin of the term blitzkrieg is obscure. It was never used in the title of a military doctrine or handbook of the German army or air force, and no "coherent doctrine" or "unifying concept of blitzkrieg" existed. The term seems rarely to have been used in the German military press before 1939 and recent research at the German Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt at Potsdam found it in only two military articles from the 1930s. Both used the term to mean a swift strategic knock-out, rather than a radical new military doctrine or approach to war. The first article (1935) deals primarily with supplies of food and materiel in wartime. The term blitzkrieg is used with reference to German efforts to win a quick victory in the First World War but is not associated with the use of armoured, mechanised or air forces. It argued that Germany must develop self-sufficiency in food, because it might again prove impossible to deal a swift knock-out to its enemies, leading to a long war. In the second article (1938), launching a swift strategic knock-out is described as an attractive idea for Germany but difficult to achieve on land under modern conditions (especially against systems of fortification like the Maginot Line), unless an exceptionally high degree of surprise could be achieved. The author vaguely suggests that a massive strategic air attack might hold out better prospects but the topic is not explored in detail. A third relatively early use of the term in German occurs in Die Deutsche Kriegsstärke (German War Strength) by Fritz Sternberg, a Jewish, Marxist, political economist and refugee from the Third Reich, published in 1938 in Paris and in London as Germany and a Lightning War. Sternberg wrote that Germany was not prepared economically for a long war but might win a quick war ("Blitzkrieg"). He did not go into detail about tactics or suggest that the German armed forces had evolved a radically new operational method. His book offers scant clues as to how German lightning victories might be won.
No matter the ethical background of a student, the lesson that true good and true evil exist in the world is invaluable. This can be a difficult concept to convey without controversy. The concept of what is good and what is evil is not constant. This changes from person to person based on belief. There is, however, an area of absolutes that ought to be discussed so that students can know where and when to take a stand and for what cause. There are a few examples from history that can be used to have this discussion productively. One such example is the Nazi Holocaust. This terrifying case has absolutes that do not change. Thus persons and events from World War II can be used as examples of good and evil, and therefore can lead to productive discussions of ethics. A very good text to use in order to encourage this discussion is Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally.
Eventually, Birkenau held the majority of prisoners in the Auschwitz complex, including Jews, Poles, Germans, and Gypsies. Furthermore, it maintained the most degrading and inhumane conditions–inclusive of the complex’s gas chambers and crematoria. A third section, Auschwitz III, was constructed in nearby Monowitz, and consisted of a forced labor camp called Buna-Monowitz.
This is not a pleasant site, not one that will distract from the pressures of everyday existence. But Birkenau, the largest and most lethal of the Auschwitz camps, is as much a part of the world as any aspiration for freedom and peace. In this sense, the authors and publishers of this exhibition feel we need to constantly explore this place and the ideas that created it, in the hope that eventually we will understand why people do such terrible things to other human beings, and why some were able, despite the tremendous role luck played, to find the strength to survive it. The search for this kind of meaning has, as paradoxical as it may sound, enriched our lives.
On 25 November 1947, the Auschwitz trial began in Kraków, when Poland's Supreme National Tribunal brought to court 40 former Auschwitz staff. The trial's defendants included commandant Arthur Liebehenschel, women's camp leader Maria Mandel, and camp leader Hans Aumeier. The trials ended on 22 December 1947, with 23 death sentences, 7 life sentences, and 9 prison sentences ranging from three to fifteen years. Hans Münch, an SS doctor who had several former prisoners testify on his behalf, was the only person to be acquitted.
The deportation of Jews to the ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", discussed by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. As German forces captured territories in the East, all anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings were committed within Germany itself, throughout occupied Europe, and across all territories controlled by the Axis powers. Paramilitary death squads called Einsatzgruppen, in cooperation with Wehrmacht police battalions and local collaborators, murdered around 1.3 million Jews in mass shootings between 1941 and 1945. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from the ghettos in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were killed in gas chambers. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.
Despite the horrible conditions, prisoners in Auschwitz managed to resist the Nazis, including some instances of escape and armed resistance. In October 1944, members of the Sonderkommando, who worked in the crematoria, succeeded in killing several SS men and destroying one gas chamber. All of the rebels died, leaving behind diaries that provided authentic documentation of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz.
Jerzy Tabeau (prisoner no. 27273, registered as Jerzy Wesołowski) and Roman Cieliczko (no. 27089), both Polish prisoners, escaped on 19 November 1943; Tabeau made contact with the Polish underground and, between December 1943 and early 1944, wrote what became known as the Polish Major's report about the situation in the camp. On 27 April 1944, Rudolf Vrba (no. 44070) and Alfréd Wetzler (no. 29162) escaped to Slovakia, carrying detailed information to the Slovak Jewish Council about the gas chambers. The distribution of the Vrba-Wetzler report, and publication of parts of it in June 1944, helped to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. On 27 May 1944, Arnost Rosin (no. 29858) and Czesław Mordowicz (no. 84216) also escaped to Slovakia; the Rosin-Mordowicz report was added to the Vrba-Wetzler and Tabeau reports to become what is known as the Auschwitz Protocols. The reports were first published in their entirety in November 1944 by the United States War Refugee Board, in a document entitled The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia.
After the Allied landings at Normandy, Germany made attempts to overwhelm the landing force with armored attacks, but these failed for lack of co-ordination and Allied air superiority. The most notable attempt to use deep penetration operations in Normandy was at Mortain, which exacerbated the German position in the already-forming Falaise Pocket and assisted in the ultimate destruction of German forces in Normandy. The Mortain counter-attack was effectively destroyed by U.S. 12th Army Group with little effect on its own offensive operations.
Hitler’s Wehrmacht suffered its first major defeat outside Moscow in December 1941. This put an end to the blitzkrieg as a phenomenon of that period of history. However, three and a half more years of bloody battles lay ahead as part of World War II, which saw the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, China and France act as allies against a most dangerous common enemy.
Jewish deportees arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau immediately underwent selection. The SS staff chose some of the able-bodied for forced labor and sent the rest directly to the gas chambers, which were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The belongings of all deportees were confiscated and sorted in the "Kanada" (Canada) warehouse for shipment back to Germany. Canada symbolized wealth to the prisoners.