Auschwitz Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the six concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany to implement its Final Solution policy which had as its aim the mass murder of the Jewish people in Europe. Built in Poland under Nazi German occupation initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a prison for a number of other nationalities. Between the years 1942-1944 it became the main mass extermination camp where Jews were tortured and killed for their so-called racial origins. In addition to the mass murder of well over a million Jewish men, women and children, and tens of thousands of Polish victims, Auschwitz also served as a camp for the racial murder of thousands of Roma and Sinti and prisoners of several European nationalities.
Writer Herbert Steinhouse, who interviewed him in 1948, wrote that "Schindler's exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him." In a 1983 television documentary, Schindler was quoted as saying, "I felt that the Jews were being destroyed. I had to help them; there was no choice."
A concentration camp was established by the Nazis in the suburbs of the Polish towns of Oświęcim and Brzezinka which - like the rest of Poland - were occupied by the Germans from the beginning of the Second World War (1939) till it was liberated in 1945 near the war's end. The name of the city of Oświęcim was changed ('germanized') to Auschwitz, as well as the name of Brzezinka - Birkenau; which became the name of the camp as well.
The Gestapo arrested him several times and interrogated him on charges of irregularities and of favoring Jews. However, Schindler would not desist. In 1943, at the invitation of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, he undertook a highly risky journey to Budapest, where he met with two representatives of Hungarian Jewry. He reported to them about the desperate plight of the Jews in Poland and discussed possible ways of relief.
The mass killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories were assigned to four SS formations called Einsatzgruppen ("task groups"), which were under Heydrich's overall command. Similar formations had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but the ones operating in the Soviet territories were much larger. The Einsatzgruppen's commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals and most were intellectuals. By the winter of 1941–1942, the four Einsatzgruppen and their helpers had killed almost 500,000 people. The largest massacre of Jews by the mobile killing squads in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.[n] A mixture of SS and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not actively participate in the killings, men of the German 6th Army helped round up the Jews of Kiev and transport them to be shot. By the end of the war, around two million are thought to have been victims of the Einsatzgruppen and their helpers in the local population and the German Army. Of those, about 1.3 million were Jews and up to a quarter of a million Roma.
The Auschwitz Birkenau camp complex comprises 155 brick and wooden structures (57 in Auschwitz and 98 in Birkenau) and about 300 ruins. There are also ruins of gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau, which were dynamited in January 1945. The overall length of fencing supported by concrete poles is more than 13 km. Individual structures of high historical significance, such as railway sidings and ramps, food stores and industrial buildings, are dispersed in the immediate setting of the property. These structures, along with traces in the landscape, remain poignant testimonies to this tragic history.
The influence of air forces over forces on the ground changed significantly over the course of the Second World War. Early German successes were conducted when Allied aircraft could not make a significant impact on the battlefield. In May 1940, there was near parity in numbers of aircraft between the Luftwaffe and the Allies, but the Luftwaffe had been developed to support Germany's ground forces, had liaison officers with the mobile formations, and operated a higher number of sorties per aircraft. In addition, German air parity or superiority allowed the unencumbered movement of ground forces, their unhindered assembly into concentrated attack formations, aerial reconnaissance, aerial resupply of fast moving formations and close air support at the point of attack. The Allied air forces had no close air support aircraft, training or doctrine. The Allies flew 434 French and 160 British sorties a day but methods of attacking ground targets had yet to be developed; therefore Allied aircraft caused negligible damage. Against these 600 sorties the Luftwaffe on average flew 1,500 sorties a day. On May 13, Fliegerkorps VIII flew 1,000 sorties in support of the crossing of the Meuse. The following day the Allies made repeated attempts to destroy the German pontoon bridges, but German fighter aircraft, ground fire and Luftwaffe flak batteries with the panzer forces destroyed 56 percent of the attacking Allied aircraft while the bridges remained intact.
"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.
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.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of access to clean water, soap and a change of clothes, many prisoners continued to go through the motions of washing each morning. This was because, even though it was not possible to carry out the activities of a normal life, it was extremely important to preserve the ‘spirit’ of life, not to give up. This can be seen so vividly in the writings of Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, who went on to become a distinguished writer,
Allied air superiority became a significant hindrance to German operations during the later years of the war. Early German successes enjoyed air superiority with unencumbered movement of ground forces, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance. However, the Western Allies' air-to-ground aircraft were so greatly feared out of proportion to their actual tactical success, that following the lead up to Operation Overlord German vehicle crews showed reluctance to move en masse during daylight. Indeed, the final German blitzkrieg operation in the west, Operation Wacht am Rhein, was planned to take place during poor weather which grounded Allied aircraft. Under these conditions, it was difficult for German commanders to employ the "armoured idea" to its envisioned potential.
He began by turning his factory into an official subcamp of a newly constructed labor camp at Plazów. For a time, it was a haven for about 500 Jews. Then, in the fall of 1944, the Nazis ordered both camps closed and all workers shipped to Auschwitz, a killing center. Schindler refused to let that happen. He put together a list of 1,100 men, women, and children that he claimed as his workers. He then used his money and influence to transport those workers to a new factory he was building at Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia. When the Jewish women who worked in his factory were transported to Auschwitz by mistake, he accomplished the impossible: he managed to get the women back by offering Nazi officials a fortune in bribes.
Despite the term blitzkrieg being coined by journalists during the Invasion of Poland of 1939, historians Matthew Cooper and J. P. Harris have written that German operations during it were consistent with traditional methods. The Wehrmacht strategy was more in line with Vernichtungsgedanken a focus on envelopment to create pockets in broad-front annihilation. Panzer forces were dispersed among the three German concentrations with little emphasis on independent use, being used to create or destroy close pockets of Polish forces and seize operational-depth terrain in support of the largely un-motorized infantry which followed.
^ Jump up to: a b Dan Stone (Histories of the Holocaust, 2010): "Europe's Romany (Gypsy) population was also the victim of genocide under the Nazis. Many other population groups, notably Poles, Ukrainians, and Soviet prisoners of war were killed in huge numbers, and smaller groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Black Germans, and homosexuals suffered terribly under Nazi rule. The evidence suggests that the Slav nations of Europe were also destined, had Germany won the war, to become victims of systematic mass murder; and even the terrible brutality of the occupation in eastern Europe, especially in Poland, can be understood as genocidal according to the definition put forward by Raphael Lemkin in his major study, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), the book that introduced the term 'genocide' to our vocabulary. Part of the reason for today's understanding, though, is a correct assessment of the fact that for the Nazis the Jews were regarded in a kind of 'metaphysical' way; they were not just considered as racially inferior (like Romanies), deviants (like homosexuals) or enemy nationals standing in the way of German colonial expression (like Slavs). ... [T]he Jews were to some extent outside of the racial scheme as defined by racial philosophers and anthropologists. They were not mere Untermenschen (sub-humans) ... but were regarded as a Gegenrasse: "a 'counter-race', that is to say, not really human at all. ... 'Holocaust', then, refers to the genocide of the Jews, which by no means excludes an understanding that other groups—notably Romanies and Slavs—were victims of genocide. Indeed ... the murder of the Jews, although a project in its own right, cannot be properly historically situated without understanding the 'Nazi empire' with its grandiose demographic plans."
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.
You can visit the site on your own (highly recommended because you can go at your own pace, see what you want to see and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before the guided tours start. Another option is to visit the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site first and then return after the guided tours finish to the first camp to avoid having to use the tour. The Auschwitz II-Birkenau site is open for visitors without the guide during the opening hours of the Memorial.
The Holocaust Resource Center provides you with easy access to in-depth information about the Holocaust. It can help you integrating the info you already have. The Center has a large collection of sources from the Yad Vashem Archives, including various kinds of original Holocaust-era documentation provided in English including letters and diaries written by Jews during the Holocaust, numerous photographs and original documents. More...
Around 7,000 SS personnel were posted to Auschwitz during the war. Of these, 4 percent of SS personnel were officers and 26 percent were non-commissioned officers, while the remainder were rank-and-file members. Camp guards were members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units). Approximately three in four SS personnel worked in security. Others worked in the medical or political departments, in the camp headquarters, or in the economic administration, which was responsible for the property of dead prisoners. SS personnel at the camp included 200 women, who worked as guards, nurses, or messengers. About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria.
Almost all Jews within areas occupied by the Germans were killed. There were 3,020,000 Jews in the Soviet Union in 1939, and the losses were 1–1.1 million. Around one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet territories. Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. Many more died in the ghettos of Poland before they could be deported. The death camps accounted for half the number of Jews killed; 80–90 percent of death-camp victims are estimated to have been Jews. At Auschwitz-Birkenau the Jewish death toll was 1.1 million; Treblinka 870,000–925,000; Bełżec 434,000–600,000; Chełmno 152,000–320,000; Sobibór 170,000–250,000; and Majdanek 79,000.
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."
Discussing moral absolutes is effective in a classroom to encourage critical thinking and to help students develop a chosen, rather than an indoctrinated, moral ideology for themselves. Schindler’s List is particularly effective here since it presents readers with two ethical questions that in fact have right and a wrong answers: was it ethically moral for the Nazis to attempt to eliminate ethnic Jewry, and was it ethical for Oskar Schindler to resist this attempt? The lesson here is that there are moral absolutes despite one’s political or religious background. The lesson becomes even more effective when the follow up question: were Goeth and Schindler moral men is asked.
In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients—estimated at several thousands—were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where several were adopted by Polish families, or placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice. The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.
Meanwhile, beginning in the fall of 1939, Nazi officials selected around 70,000 Germans institutionalized for mental illness or disabilities to be gassed to death in the so-called Euthanasia Program. After prominent German religious leaders protested, Hitler put an end to the program in August 1941, though killings of the disabled continued in secrecy, and by 1945 some 275,000 people deemed handicapped from all over Europe had been killed. In hindsight, it seems clear that the Euthanasia Program functioned as a pilot for the Holocaust.
Political dissidents, trade unionists, and Social Democrats were among the first to be arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Under the Weimar government, centuries-old prohibitions against homosexuality had been overlooked, but this tolerance ended violently when the SA (Storm Troopers) began raiding gay bars in 1933. Homosexual intent became just cause for prosecution. The Nazis arrested German and Austrian male homosexuals—there was no systematic persecution of lesbians—and interned them in concentration camps, where they were forced to wear special yellow armbands and later pink triangles. The goal of persecuting male homosexuals was either for reeducation—what might now be called conversion therapy—or punishment. Jehovah’s Witnesses were a problem for the Nazis because they refused to swear allegiance to the state, register for the draft, or utter the words “Heil Hitler.” As a result, the Nazis imprisoned many of the roughly 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. They could be released from concentration camps if they signed a document renouncing their faith and promising not to proselytize. Few availed themselves of that option, preferring martyrdom to apostasy. Germans of African descent—many of whom, called “Rhineland bastards” by the Nazis, were the offspring of German mothers and French colonial African troops who had occupied the Rhineland after World War I—were also persecuted by the Nazis. Although their victimization was less systematic, it included forced sterilization and, often, internment in concentration camps. The fear was that they would “further pollute” and thereby diminish the race. The Nazis also singled out the Roma and Sinti, pejoratively known as Gypsies. They were the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas chambers alongside the Jews. For the Roma and Sinti, too, racial pollution and their depiction as asocials was the justification for their persecution and murder.
Schindler joined the separatist Sudeten German Party in 1935. Although he was a citizen of Czechoslovakia, Schindler became a spy for the Abwehr, the military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. He was assigned to Abwehrstelle II Commando VIII, based in Breslau. He later told Czech police that he did it because he needed the money; by this time Schindler had a drinking problem and was chronically in debt.