Auschwitz-Birkenau is the generic name given to the cluster of concentration, labour and extermination camps established by the Nazis during the Second World War and located near the towns of Oświęcim and Brzezinka in southern Poland, some 60 km from Kraków. The camps have become a place of pilgrimage for survivors, their families and all who wish to travel to remember the Holocaust.
The photo below shows the railroad siding inside the camp, called the ramp, where the Jews exited from the trains and the selection process took place. Those who were fit for work were allowed to live for a few months, until they inevitably died of disease or overwork. The others were sent immediately to one of the four gas chambers at the far end of the camp. The gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III were at the end of the main camp road, which is shown on the left in the photo below. The railroad tracks extend about a mile into the camp, all the way to the gas chambers II and III; some of the Hungarian Jews were immediately gassed without going through a selection process, even though the Nazis were desperately in need of workers for their munitions factories. This photo was taken in the early morning, looking west from the gate house tower.
Around one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died in Auschwitz. By nation, the greatest number of Auschwitz's Jewish victims originated from Hungary, accounting for 430,000 deaths, followed by Poland (300,000), France (69,000), Netherlands (60,000), Greece (55,000), Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (46,000), other camps (34,000), Slovakia (27,000), Belgium (25,000), Germany and Austria (23,000), Yugoslavia (10,000), Italy (7,500), and Norway (690). Fewer than one percent of Soviet Jews murdered in the Holocaust were killed in Auschwitz; German forces had already been driven from Russia when the killing at Auschwitz reached its peak in 1944. Of the 400 Jehovah's Witnesses who were imprisoned at Auschwitz, 132 died there.
Following Germany's military reforms of the 1920s, Heinz Guderian emerged as a strong proponent of mechanized forces. Within the Inspectorate of Transport Troops, Guderian and colleagues performed theoretical and field exercise work. There was opposition from many officers who gave primacy to the infantry or simply doubted the usefulness of the tank. Among them was Chief of the General Staff Ludwig Beck (1935–38), who skeptical that armored forces could be decisive. Nonetheless, the panzer divisions were established during his tenure.
Timothy D. Snyder (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010): "In this book the term Holocaust signifies the final version of the Final Solution, the German policy to eliminate the Jews of Europe by murdering them. Although Hitler certainly wished to remove the Jews from Europe in a Final Solution earlier, the Holocaust on this definition begins in summer 1941, with the shooting of Jewish women and children in the occupied Soviet Union. The term Holocaust is sometimes used in two other ways: to mean all German killing policies during the war, or to mean all oppression of Jews by the Nazi regime. In this book, Holocaust means the murder of the Jews in Europe, as carried out by the Germans by guns and gas between 1941 and 1945."
As some needed to point out, this is a fictionalized account of historical events and a genuine hero. Some historical persons were combined to make one character in the book and some time frames were condensed. Oskar Schindler was a deeply flawed man, brought to greatness by living through a time of horror in a position where he could make a small, but real difference. The condensations of those true events in this book are masterful. A great book!
"Blitzkrieg" has since expanded into multiple meanings in more popular usage. From its original military definition, "blitzkrieg" may be applied to any military operation emphasizing the surprise, speed, or concentration stressed in accounts of the Invasion of Poland. During the war, the Luftwaffe terror bombings of London came to be known as The Blitz. Similarly, blitz has come to describe the " blitz" (rush) tactic of American football, and the blitz form of chess in which players are allotted very little time. Blitz or blitzkrieg is used in many other non-military contexts.
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.
The courtyard between blocks 10 and 11, known as the "death wall" served as an execution area for Poles not in Auschwitz who had been sentenced to death by a criminal court—presided over by German judges—including for petty crimes such as stealing food. Several rooms in block 11 were deemed the Polizei-Ersatz-Gefängnis Myslowitz in Auschwitz ("Alternative jail of the police station at Mysłowice"). There were also Sonderbehandlung cases ("special treatment") for Poles and others regarded as dangerous to the Third Reich. Members of the camp resistance were shot there, as were 200 of the Sonderkommandos who took part in the Sonderkommando revolt in October 1944. Thousands of Poles were executed at the death wall; Höss wrote that "execution orders arrived in an unbroken stream".
The British army took lessons from the successful infantry and artillery offensives on the Western Front in late 1918. To obtain the best co-operation between all arms, emphasis was placed on detailed planning, rigid control and adherence to orders. Mechanization of the army was considered a means to avoid mass casualties and indecisive nature of offensives, as part of a combined-arms theory of war. The four editions of Field Service Regulations published after 1918 held that only combined-arms operations could create enough fire power to enable mobility on a battlefield. This theory of war also emphasized consolidation, recommending caution against overconfidence and ruthless exploitation.
Revisionism must not be taken to extremes. German operational successes in the early years of World War II were by no means the product of sheer good fortune. But neither did they reflect a coherent, planned approach to the diplomatic, economic, and military challenges that after 1918 confronted a state unwilling to accept the consequences of its defeat in World War I. What are commonly called blitzkrieg operations developed out of experiences gained on the field between 1939 to 1941. In that sense blitzkrieg is best understood as a post facto construction for explaining a complex structure of events and ideas.
Historians increasingly view the Holocaust as a pan-European phenomenon, or a series of holocausts impossible to conduct without the help of local collaborators. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators; without them, the Germans would not have been able to extend the Holocaust across most of Europe. Some Christian churches tried to defend the Jews by declaring that converted Jews were "part of the flock," according to Saul Friedländer, "but even then only up to a point". Otherwise, Friedländer writes, "[n]ot one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews."
The book’s existence as something of a quasi-novel/biography serves the needs of Young Adult Readers in two very important ways. First, it makes factual accounts accessible and exciting. Rather than dispassionately seek the stark facts of The Holocaust and those who resisted it, readers are able to pathetically experience the suffering and moral conflict. Thus the faculties of imagination and empiricism are both equally engaged. This can lead to more exciting and productive discussions. Second, the reliability of this kind of novel in representing fact portrays the ethical difficulties inherent in The Holocaust. We Goeth as the monstrous sadist and mass murderer, but also as the companion, connoisseur, and host. We see Schindler as the philanthropist, but also as the womanizer and profiteer. The net result is that a Young Adult is presented with an ethical reality in which there are absolutes being encountered by fallible people, people who are not absolute.
Birkenau was created in 1941 as a satellite of the Auschwitz camp. The village of Brzezinka was evacuated for this purpose, and a handful of farm buildings were woven into the structure of the camp. This was even the case with the main gas chambers, which were located at the northern end of the site, where the railway tracks meet their end. Transits of prisoners were brought here from across Europe, and it was here that the 'Final Solution' was conducted at its most relentless level.
Blitzkrieg's widest influence was within the Western Allied leadership of the war, some of whom drew inspiration from the Wehrmacht's approach. United States General George S. Patton emphasized fast pursuit, the use of an armored spearhead to effect a breakthrough, then cut off and disrupt enemy forces prior to their flight. In his comments of the time, he credited Guderian and Rommel's work, notably Infantry Attacks, for this insight. He also put into practice the idea attributed to cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, "Get there fastest with the mostest." (Get there fastest, with the most forces).
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.
The Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life) in reference to the disabled and mentally ill. On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed, allowing for compulsory sterilization. The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases; 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000.
General Erwin Rommel, who would later gain fame in the African desert as the "Desert Fox", led the 7th Panzer Division as it crashed through the Belgian defenses into France, skirting the Maginot Line and then smashing it from behind. This was a new kind of warfare integrating tanks, air power, artillery, and motorized infantry into a steel juggernaut emphasizing speedy movement and maximization of battlefield opportunities. Rommel kept a journal of his experiences. In this excerpt, he describes the action on May 14 as he leads a tank attack against French forces near the Muese River on the Belgian border:
^ French Jews were active in the French Resistance. Zionist Jews formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, smuggled Jews out of the country, and participated in the liberation of Paris and other cities. As many as 1.5 million Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the U.S. Army, 100,000 in the Polish army, and 30,000 in the British army. About 200,000 Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army died in the war, either in combat or after capture. The Jewish Brigade, a unit of 5,000 Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine, fought in the British Army.
Museum curators consider visitors who pick up items from the ground to be thieves, and local police will charge them as such. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of ten years. In June 2015, two British youths from the Perse School were convicted of theft after picking up buttons and shards of decorative glass from the ground near the area where camp victims' personal effects were stored. Curators said that similar incidents happen once or twice a year. The 16-ft Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the main camp's gate was stolen in December 2009 by a Swedish former neo-Nazi and two Polish men. The sign was later recovered.
It is badly lighted, full of draughts, with the brick floor covered by a layer of mud. The water is not drinkable; it has a revolting smell and often fails for many hours. The walls are covered by curious didactic frescoes: for example, there is the good Häftling [prisoner], portrayed stripped to the waist, about to diligently soap his sheared and rosy cranium, and the bad Häftling, with a strong Semitic nose and a greenish colour, bundled up in his ostentatiously stained clothes with a beret on his head, who cautiously dips a finger into the water of the washbasin. Under the first is written: "So bist du rein" (like this you are clean), and under the second, "So gehst du ein" (like this you come to a bad end); and lower down, in doubtful French but in Gothic script: "La propreté, c'est la santé" [cleanliness is health].
In the first few decades after the Holocaust, scholars argued that it was unique as a genocide in its reach and specificity. This began to change in the 1980s during the West German Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute"), an attempt to re-position the Holocaust within German historiography. Ernst Nolte triggered the dispute in June 1986 with an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will: Eine Rede, die geschrieben, aber nicht mehr gehalten werden konnte" ("The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but not delivered"), in which he compared Auschwitz to the Gulag and suggested that the Holocaust was a response to Hitler's fear of the Soviet Union: "Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the 'racial murder' of National Socialism? ... Was the source of Auschwitz a past that would not go away?"[aa]
The existing legal system provides appropriate tools for the effective protection and management of the property. The Museum Council, whose members are appointed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, supervises the performance of the Museum’s duties regarding its collections, in particular the execution of its statutory tasks. In addition, the International Auschwitz Council acts as a consultative and advisory body to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland on the protection and management of the site of the former Auschwitz Birkenau camp and other places of extermination and former concentration camps situated within the present territory of Poland.
Innovators such as Heinz Guderian and Erich von Manstein recognised that the protection given by tanks increased the ability of the German army to manoeuvre in the face of enemy artillery, and that this enhanced speed and mobility. However, the modern technology was merely used to enhance the capabilities that had already been provided, thanks to the army's strategic doctrine.
The Polish government-in-exile in London first reported the gassing of prisoners in Auschwitz on 21 July 1942, and reported the gassing of Soviet POWs and Jews on 4 September 1942. In 1943, the Kampfgruppe Auschwitz (Combat Group Auschwitz) was organized within the camp with the aim of sending out information about what was happening. Sonderkommandos buried notes in the ground, hoping they would be found by the camp's liberators. The group also smuggled out photographs; the Sonderkommando photographs, of events around the gas chambers in Auschwitz II, were smuggled out of the camp in September 1944 in a toothpaste tube. According to Fleming, the British press responded, in 1943 and the first half of 1944, either by not publishing reports about Auschwitz or by burying them on the inside pages. The exception was the Polish Jewish Observer, published as a supplement to the City and East London Observer and edited by Joel Cang, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. The British reticence stemmed from a Foreign Office concern that the public might pressure the government to respond or provide refuge for the Jews, and that British actions on behalf of the Jews might affect its relationships in the Middle East. There was similar reticence in the United States, and indeed within the Polish government-in-exile and the Polish resistance. According to Fleming, the scholarship suggests that the Polish resistance distributed information about the Holocaust in Auschwitz without challenging the Allies' reluctance to highlight it.
December 8, 1941 - In occupied Poland, near Lodz, Chelmno extermination camp becomes operational. Jews taken there are placed in mobile gas vans and driven to a burial place while carbon monoxide from the engine exhaust is fed into the sealed rear compartment, killing them. The first gassing victims include 5,000 Gypsies who had been deported from the Reich to Lodz.
Hitler’s worldview revolved around two concepts: territorial expansion (that is, greater Lebensraum—“living space”—for the German people) and racial supremacy. After World War I the Allies denied Germany colonies in Africa, so Hitler sought to expand German territory and secure food and resources—scarce during World War I—in Europe itself. Hitler viewed the Jews as racial polluters, a cancer on German society in what has been termed by Holocaust survivor and historian Saul Friedländer “redemptive anti-Semitism,” focused on redeeming Germany from its ills and ridding it of a cancer on the body politic. Historian Timothy Snyder characterized the struggle as even more elemental, as “zoological,” and “ecological,” a struggle of the species. Hitler opposed Jews for the values they brought into the world. Social justice and compassionate assistance to the weak stood in the way of what he perceived as the natural order, in which the powerful exercise unrestrained power. In Hitler’s view, such restraint on the exercise of power would inevitably lead to the weakening, even the defeat, of the master race.
Oscar Schindler was all that stood between them and death at the hands of the Nazis. A man all too human, full of flaws like the rest of us. The unlikeliest of all role models - a Nazi, a womanisor, a war profiteer. An ordinary man who answered the call of conscience. Even in the worst of circumstances Oscar Schindler did extraordinary things, matched by no one. He remained true to his Jews, the workers he referred to as my children. He kept the SS out and everyone alive.
The impact of the Holocaust varied from region to region and from year to year in the 21 countries that were directly affected. Nowhere was the Holocaust more intense and sudden than in Hungary. What took place over several years in Germany occurred over 16 weeks in Hungary. Entering the war as a German ally, Hungary had persecuted its Jews but not permitted the deportation of Hungarian citizens. In 1941 foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Hungary and were shot by Germans in Kam’yanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine. After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, the situation changed dramatically. By mid-April the Nazis had confined Jews to ghettos. On May 15, deportations began, and over the next 55 days the Nazis deported more than 437,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz on 147 trains.
Though the Nazis tried to keep operation of camps secret, the scale of the killing made this virtually impossible. Eyewitnesses brought reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland to the Allied governments, who were harshly criticized after the war for their failure to respond, or to publicize news of the mass slaughter. This lack of action was likely mostly due to the Allied focus on winning the war at hand, but was also a result of the general incomprehension with which news of the Holocaust was met and the denial and disbelief that such atrocities could be occurring on such a scale.
In October 1944, after the SS transferred the Emalia Jews to Plaszow, Schindler sought and obtained authorization to relocate his plant to Brünnlitz (Brnenec) in Moravia, and reopen it exclusively as an armaments factory. One of his assistants drew several versions of a list of up to 1,200 Jewish prisoners needed to work in the new factory. These lists came to be known collectively as “Schindler's List.” Schindler met the specifications required by the SS to classify Brünnlitz as a subcamp of Gross-Rosen concentration camp and thereby facilitated the survival of around 800 Jewish men whom the SS deported from Plaszow via Gross-Rosen to Brünnlitz and between 300 and 400 Jewish women from Plaszow via Auschwitz.
The prisoners' days began at 4:30 am for the men (an hour later in winter), and earlier for the women, when the block supervisor sounded a gong and started beating inmates with sticks to encourage them to wash and use the latrines quickly. Sanitary arrangements were atrocious, with few latrines and a lack of clean water. Each washhouse had to service thousands of prisoners. In sectors BIa and BIb in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, two buildings containing latrines and washrooms were installed in 1943. These contained troughs for washing and 90 faucets; the toilet facilities were "sewage channels" covered by concrete with 58 holes for seating. There were three barracks with washing facilities or toilets to serve 16 residential barracks in BIIa, and six washrooms/latrines for 32 barracks in BIIb, BIIc, BIId, and BIIe. Primo Levi described a 1944 Auschwitz III washroom:
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.
Most troops were moved by half-track vehicles so there was no real need for roads though these were repaired so that they could be used by the Germans at a later date. Once a target had been taken, the Germans did not stop to celebrate victory; they moved on to the next target. Retreating civilians hindered any work done by the army being attacked. Those civilians fleeing the fighting were also attacked to create further mayhem.
For historical generals, from Alexander the Great of ancient Macedonia to Frederick II of 18th-century Prussia, their armies functioned as the centre of gravity. If the army was destroyed, the commander would be considered a failure. In smaller countries or countries engaged in internal strife, according to Clausewitz’s reasoning, the capital becomes the centre of gravity and should be identified as the Schwerpunkt. Beginning in the 20th century, technological advances such as radio, aircraft, and motorized vehicles allowed a commander to concentrate force at the Schwerpunkt so as to annihilate the opposition and achieve victory. During World War II each blitzkrieg campaign contained a Schwerpunkt that gave it meaning and substance, with doctrines of mobile warfare expounded by British military theorists J.F.C. Fuller and Sir Basil Liddell Hart providing the tactics necessary to translate the theory into action.
Known as block 13 until 1941, block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. To extract information from them, guards would hold inmates' heads held against the stove, burning their faces and eyes. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. Measuring 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), the cells held four men who could do nothing but stand, and who were forced the following day to work as usual. In other cells, inmates were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. In the basement were the "dark cells", which had only a 5 x 5 cm opening and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they ran out of oxygen; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
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."
To prosecute the leaders of the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was formed in 1946. The U.S., the UK, the Soviet Union and France each supplied two judges (a primary and an alternate) and a prosecution team for the trial. Twelve leading Nazi officials were sentenced to death for the crimes they had committed, while three received life sentences in prison, and four had prison terms for up to twenty years.
The crematoria consisted of a dressing room, gas chamber, and furnace room. In crematoria II and III, the dressing room and gas chamber were underground; in IV and V, they were on the ground floor. The dressing room had numbered hooks on the wall to hang clothes. In crematorium II, there was also a dissection room (Sezierraum). SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims undressed in the dressing room and walked into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility; signs in German said "To the baths" and "To disinfection". Some inmates were even given soap and a towel.
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.
Oscar Schindler rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, his respect for human life - and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it and pulled it off by using the very same talents that made him a war profiteer - his flair for presentation, bribery, and grand gestures.