Auschwitz-Birkenau was also a killing center and played a central role in the German effort to kill the Jews of Europe. Around the beginning of September, 1941, the SS at Auschwitz I conducted the first tests of Zyklon B as a mass murder agent, using Soviet POWs and debilitated Polish prisoners as victims. The “success” of these experiments led to the construction of a chamber in the crematorium of Auschwitz I that, like the subsequent gas chambers at Auschwitz, used Zyklon B to murder victims. The first transports of Jewish men, women, and children sent to Auschwitz as part of the “final solution” were murdered in this gas chamber (Crematorium I) in February and March 1942.
In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.
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.
Blitzkrieg is vulnerable to an enemy that is robust enough to weather the shock of the attack and that does not panic at the idea of enemy formations in its rear area. This is especially true if the attacking formation lacks the reserve to keep funnelling forces into the spearhead, or lacks the mobility to provide infantry, artillery and supplies into the attack. If the defender can hold the shoulders of the breach they will have the opportunity to counter-attack into the flank of the attacker, potentially cutting off the van as happened to Kampfgruppe Peiper in the Ardennes.
Birkenau was also home to two so-called family camps. Inmates from the Czech ‘model ghetto’ Theresienstadt were deported in several transports to Birkenau, where they lived in the ‘family camp’, did not have their heads shaved, were better fed, and were freed from slave labour assignments. They were also allowed far more freedom to create and continue the cultural production that had been the hallmark of life in Theresienstadt. As was the case in Theresienstadt, however, this ‘generosity’ was solely for the sake of propaganda, only temporarily delaying the killing. There was in the family camp a small musical group that was frequently required to play for the SS while they were drinking, as well as during public beatings. Perhaps the cruellest freedom allowed the Czech camp was the freedom to educate their children. Lessons were given in reading and counting. There were also singing and recorder lessons, with a focus on Jewish and Czech music. In two major killing waves of March and July 1944, the Theresienstadt family camp was liquidated.
^ These are some of the many notable historians that have casually used the term blitzkrieg—including some who have written on its misconception—to describe several Wehrmacht military operations that were spearheaded by a dense concentration of armoured and motorised formations with the aim of delivering a breakthrough, and exploiting it with speed to paralyse and encircle the enemy: David Glantz (Glantz 2010, p. 14; Glantz 2009, p. 164; Glantz 2001), Jonathan House (Glantz & House 1999, pp. 254, 269; Glantz & House 1995, pp. 61, 125, 167, 226, 274, 286, 288), Lloyd Clark (Clark 2012, pp. 22–27, 187), Antony Beevor (Beevor 1999, pp. 13, 148; Beevor 2006, p. 157), Mungo Melvin (Melvin 2011, pp. 46, 79–80, 199), John Erickson (Erickson 2001, pp. 558, 567) and Steven Mercatante (Mercatante 2012, pp. 65, 77, 91, 301).
[Steinlauf says] ‘…even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilisation. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but… … we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets…. …for dignity… We must walk erect, without dragging our feet… …to remain alive, not to begin to die.’”
In September 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland. German police soon forced tens of thousands of Polish Jews from their homes and into ghettoes, giving their confiscated properties to ethnic Germans (non-Jews outside Germany who identified as German), Germans from the Reich or Polish gentiles. Surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, the Jewish ghettoes in Poland functioned like captive city-states, governed by Jewish Councils. In addition to widespread unemployment, poverty and hunger, overpopulation made the ghettoes breeding grounds for disease such as typhus.
Many Jews attempted to flee Germany, and thousands succeeded by immigrating to such countries as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, England, France and Holland. It was much more difficult to get out of Europe. Jews encountered stiff immigration quotas in most of the world's countries. Even if they obtained the necessary documents, they often had to wait months or years before leaving. Many families out of desperation sent their children first.
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.
^ Some of the military historians who consider Operation Citadel, or at least the southern pincer, as envisioning a blitzkrieg attack or state it was intended as such are: Lloyd Clark (Clark 2012, p. 187), Roger Moorhouse (Moorhouse 2011, p. 342), Mary Kathryn Barbier (Barbier 2002, p. 10), David Glantz (; Glantz & House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Jonathan House (Glantz & House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Hedley Paul Willmott (Willmott 1990, p. 300), Oscar Pinkus (Pinkus 2005, p. 35) and others.
What the arms, whose charges can be partly traced in tithing seals and boundary stones back to the 16th century, mean is unclear. The charge that the German blazon describes as a “wall anchor” (Maueranker) is not accepted as such by everyone, with some saying it could have been meant to be taken as a weaver’s reel. With a document from 22 July 1926, the interior minister of the People's State of Hesse granted the community the right to bear these arms.
In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. Schindler left his wife and traveled to Krakow, hoping to profit from the impending war. Looking for business opportunities, he quickly became involved in the black market. By October, Schindler used his charm and doled out “gifts of gratitude” (contraband goods) to bribe high-ranking German officers. Wanting to expand his business interests, Schindler obtained a former Jewish enamelware factory to produce goods for the German military.
During the Battle of France in 1940, De Gaulle's 4th Armour Division and elements of the British 1st Army Tank Brigade in the British Expeditionary Force both made probing attacks on the German flank, actually pushing into the rear of the advancing armored columns at times (See Battle of Arras (1940) ). This may have been a reason for Hitler to call a halt to the German advance. Those attacks combined with Maxime Weygand's Hedgehog tactic would become the major basis for responding to blitzkrieg attacks in the future: deployment in depth, permitting enemy forces to bypass defensive concentrations, reliance on anti-tank guns, strong force employment on the flanks of the enemy attack, followed by counter-attacks at the base to destroy the enemy advance in detail. Holding the flanks or 'shoulders' of a penetration was essential to channeling the enemy attack, and artillery, properly employed at the shoulders, could take a heavy toll of attackers. While Allied forces in 1940 lacked the experience to successfully develop these strategies, resulting in France's capitulation with heavy losses, they characterized later Allied operations. For example, at the Battle of Kursk the Red Army employed a combination of defense in great depth, extensive minefields, and tenacious defense of breakthrough shoulders. In this way they depleted German combat power even as German forces advanced. In August 1944 at Mortain, stout defense and counterattacks by the US and Canadian armies closed the Falaise Gap. In the Ardennes, a combination of hedgehog defense at Bastogne, St Vith and other locations, and a counterattack by the US 3rd Army were employed.
In November, attacks erupted against Jewish businesses. At least 91 Jews died and 267 synagogues were destroyed in a centrally coordinated plot passed off as spontaneous violence across Germany. Thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps and were only released if they agreed to leave the Nazi territory. Many Jews decided to flee, though options were limited. Britain agreed to house Jewish children, eventually taking in 10,000 minors, but refused to change its policy for Jewish adults.
Although effective in quick campaigns against Poland and France, mobile operations could not be sustained by Germany in later years. Strategies based on manoeuvre have the inherent danger of the attacking force overextending its supply lines, and can be defeated by a determined foe who is willing and able to sacrifice territory for time in which to regroup and rearm, as the Soviets did on the Eastern Front (as opposed to, for example, the Dutch who had no territory to sacrifice). Tank and vehicle production was a constant problem for Germany; indeed, late in the war many panzer "divisions" had no more than a few dozen tanks. As the end of the war approached, Germany also experienced critical shortages in fuel and ammunition stocks as a result of Anglo-American strategic bombing and blockade. Although production of Luftwaffe fighter aircraft continued, they would be unable to fly for lack of fuel. What fuel there was went to panzer divisions, and even then they were not able to operate normally. Of those Tiger tanks lost against the United States Army, nearly half of them were abandoned for lack of fuel.
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.
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.
In 1980, Australian author Thomas Keneally by chance visited Pfefferberg's luggage store in Beverly Hills while en route home from a film festival in Europe. Pfefferberg took the opportunity to tell Keneally the story of Oskar Schindler. He gave him copies of some materials he had on file, and Keneally soon decided to make a fictionalised treatment of the story. After extensive research and interviews with surviving Schindlerjuden, his 1982 historical novel Schindler's Ark (published in the United States as Schindler's List) was the result.
Irena Adamowicz Gino Bartali Archbishop Damaskinos Odoardo Focherini Francis Foley Helen of Greece and Denmark Princess Alice of Battenberg Marianne Golz Jane Haining Feng-Shan Ho Wilm Hosenfeld Constantin Karadja Jan Karski Valdemar Langlet Carl Lutz Aristides de Sousa Mendes Tadeusz Pankiewicz Giorgio Perlasca Marion Pritchard Ángel Sanz Briz Oskar Schindler Anton Schmid Irena Sendler Klymentiy Sheptytsky Ona Šimaitė Henryk Sławik Tina Strobos Chiune Sugihara Casper ten Boom Corrie ten Boom Johan van Hulst Raimondo Viale Raoul Wallenberg Johan Hendrik Weidner Rudolf Weigl Jan Zwartendijk