The French armies were much reduced in strength and the confidence of their commanders shaken. With much of their own armour and heavy equipment lost in Northern France, they lacked the means to fight a mobile war. The Germans followed their initial success with Operation Red, a triple-pronged offensive. The XV Panzer Corps attacked towards Brest, XIV Panzer Corps attacked east of Paris, towards Lyon and the XIX Panzer Corps encircled the Maginot Line. The French were hard pressed to organise any sort of counter-attack and were continually ordered to form new defensive lines and found that German forces had already by-passed them and moved on. An armoured counter-attack organised by Colonel de Gaulle could not be sustained and he had to retreat.
The fortified walls, barbed wire, railway sidings, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz Birkenau show clearly how the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi German policy of mass murder and forced labour took place. The collections at the site preserve the evidence of those who were premeditatedly murdered, as well as presenting the systematic mechanism by which this was done. The personal items in the collections are testimony to the lives of the victims before they were brought to the extermination camps, as well as to the cynical use of their possessions and remains. The site and its landscape have high levels of authenticity and integrity since the original evidence has been carefully conserved without any unnecessary restoration.
The victories of Operation Barbarossa in the summer and fall of 1941 against Hitler's new enemy, the Soviet Union, led to dramatic changes in Nazi anti-Jewish ideology and the profile of prisoners brought to Auschwitz. Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), intended the camp to house 50,000 prisoners of war, who would be interned as forced laborers. Plans called for the expansion of the camp first to house 150,000 and eventually as many as 200,000 inmates. An initial contingent of 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz I in October 1941, but by March 1942 only 945 were still alive, and these were transferred to Birkenau, where most of them died from disease or starvation by May. By this time the Nazis had decided to annihilate the Jewish people, so Birkenau became a labor and extermination camp.
The Nazis regarded the Slavs as subhuman, or Untermenschen. In a secret memorandum dated 25 May 1940, Himmler stated that it was in German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to schools that would only teach them how to write their own name, count up to 500, and obey Germans.[y] In November 1939 German planners called for "the complete destruction" of all Poles and resettlement of the land by German colonists. The Polish political leadership was the target of a campaign of murder (Intelligenzaktion and AB-Aktion). Between 1.8 and 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished at German hands during the course of the war; about four-fifths were ethnic Poles and the rest Ukrainians and Belarusians. At least 200,000 died in concentration camps, around 146,000 in Auschwitz. Others died in massacres or in uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising, where 120,000–200,000 were killed. During the occupation, the Germans adopted a policy of restricting food and medical services, as well as degrading sanitation and public hygiene. The death rate rose from 13 per 1000 before the war to 18 per 1000 during the war. Around 6 million of World War II victims were Polish citizens; half the death toll were Jews. Over the course of the war Poland lost 20 percent of its pre-war population. Over 90 percent of the death toll came through non-military losses, through various deliberate actions by Germany and the Soviet Union. Polish children were also kidnapped by Germans to be "Germanized", with perhaps as many as 200,000 children stolen from their families.
Around 50,000 German gay men were jailed between 1933 and 1945, and 5,000–15,000 are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. It is not known how many died during the Holocaust. James Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than acts, and the "gesundes Volksempfinden" ("healthy sensibility of the people") became the guiding legal principle. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors. Lesbians were left relatively unaffected; the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. Gay men convicted between 1933 and 1944 were sent to camps for "rehabilitation", where they were identified by pink triangles. Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.
Dr. Adelaide Hautval was a French Psychiatrist who protested against the treatment of Jews. In 1943 she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she used her medical knowledge to treat Jewish women inmates suffering typhus and other diseases. She became known as ‘The Saint’. Dr Joseph Mengele ordered Hautval to operate on Jewish twins as part of his experiments. She refused, but was given no further punishment. Adelaide Hautval was liberated in Auschwitz in January 1945.
Schindler’s profits were extraordinarily high because he used low-paid Jewish workers from the ghetto the Nazis established in the city. During the war, many industrialists like Schindler used the forced labor of Jews living in Nazi ghettos or concentration camps. Major German companies, including Volkswagen, Bayer, and IG Farben, the largest chemical company in the world at the time, profited handsomely from coerced labor. This labor often occurred in the worst conditions possible, and many workers died as a result of being subjected to excessively long, arduous work shifts without adequate food.
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.
Despite the continuing war with Great Britain, German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. At first, the German Blitzkrieg seemed to succeed. Soviet forces were driven back more than 600 miles to the gates of Moscow, with staggering losses. In December 1941, Hitler unilaterally declared war on the United States, which consequently added its tremendous economic and military power to the coalition arrayed against him. A second German offensive against the Soviet Union in 1942 brought German forces in the east to the shores of the Volga River and the city of Stalingrad. However, the Soviet Union launched a counteroffensive in November 1942, trapping and destroying an entire German army at Stalingrad.
Other former staff were hanged for war crimes in the Dachau Trials and the Belsen Trial, including camp leaders Josef Kramer, Franz Hössler, and Vinzenz Schöttl; doctor Friedrich Entress; and guards Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath. The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, held in West Germany from 20 December 1963 to 20 August 1965, convicted 17 of 22 defendants, giving them prison sentences ranging from life to three years and three months. Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, the owner and the chief executive officer of the firm Tesch & Stabenow, one of the suppliers of Zyklon B, were executed for knowingly supplying the chemical for use on humans.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
In early 1942 the Nazis built killing centres at Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec in occupied Poland. The death camps were to be the essential instrument of the “final solution.” The Einsatzgruppen had traveled to kill their victims. With the killing centres, the process was reversed. The victims were taken by train, often in cattle cars, to their killers. The extermination camps became factories producing corpses, effectively and efficiently, at minimal physical and psychological cost to German personnel. Assisted by Ukrainian and Latvian collaborators and prisoners of war, a few Germans could kill tens of thousands of prisoners each month. At Chelmno, the first of the extermination camps, the Nazis used mobile gas vans. Elsewhere they built permanent gas chambers linked to the crematoria where bodies were burned. Carbon monoxide was the gas of choice at most camps. Zyklon-B, an especially lethal killing agent, was employed primarily at Auschwitz and later at Majdanek.
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 origins of blitzkrieg are in some doubt: if it existed, who contributed to it, whether it was part of German war strategy from 1933–1939. There has been a great deal of debate about whether it existed as a coherent military strategy. Many historians[who?] now think that blitzkrieg was not a military theory and the campaigns conducted by the Germans from 1939 to circa 1942 (with the exception of Operation Barbarossa) were improvised, rather than being based on a particular military strategy. Blitzkrieg had been called a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) but many writers and historians have concluded that the Germans did not invent a new form of warfare but applied new technologies to traditional ideas of Bewegungskrieg (manoeuvre warfare) to achieve decisive victory.
The core principle behind Blitzkrieg was to concentrate the force on a single point. The German called this penetration or breakthrough, and its purpose was to rupture enemy defenses. The main objective: apply overwhelming force at a weak point in the enemy line to force an opening. This opening functions as the first stage of tactical deep battle in its Blitzkrieg form, and it was so effective that the Germans often referred to it as “the beginning of the end”.
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."
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.
Schindler grew up in Svitavy, Moravia, and worked in several trades until he joined the Abwehr, the military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. He joined the Nazi Party in 1939. Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he collected information on railways and troop movements for the German government. He was arrested for espionage by the Czechoslovak government but was released under the terms of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Schindler continued to collect information for the Nazis, working in Poland in 1939 before the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II. In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, which employed at the factory's peak in 1944 about 1,750 workers, of whom 1,000 were Jews. His Abwehr connections helped Schindler protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. As time went on, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever larger bribes and gifts of luxury items obtainable only on the black market to keep his workers safe.