The main camp population grew from 18,000 in December 1942 to 30,000 in March 1943. In July or August 1941, Himmler briefed Höss about the 'Final Solution'. On September 3th, 1941, Soviet POWs at the Auschwitz main camp were used in trials of the poison gas Zyklon-B. This poison gas was produced by the German company "Degesch" (Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Schädlingsbekämpfung). The were gassed in underground cells in Block 11. After this trial, a gas chamber was rigged-up just outside the main camp and in February 1942, two temporary gas chambers opened at Birkenau. The crematories were built by the German company "Topf & son" located at Erfurt.
The early 1950s literature transformed blitzkrieg into a historical military doctrine, which carried the signature of Liddell Hart and Guderian. The main evidence of Liddell Hart's deceit and "tendentious" report of history can be found in his letters to Erich von Manstein, Heinz Guderian and the relatives and associates of Erwin Rommel. Liddell Hart, in letters to Guderian, "imposed his own fabricated version of blitzkrieg on the latter and compelled him to proclaim it as original formula". Kenneth Macksey found Liddell Hart's original letters to Guderian in the General's papers, requesting that Guderian give him credit for "impressing him" with his ideas of armoured warfare. When Liddell Hart was questioned about this in 1968 and the discrepancy between the English and German editions of Guderian's memoirs, "he gave a conveniently unhelpful though strictly truthful reply. ('There is nothing about the matter in my file of correspondence with Guderian himself except...that I thanked him...for what he said in that additional paragraph'.)".
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.
Reality is at once more limited and more complex. On one level, mobile warfare was a faute de mieux improvisation that arose from the restrictions on conventional forces stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles. The German high command in the 1920s and 1930s also sought inspiration for the future in its own past–specifically in the ideas of Helmuth Karl von Moltke and Alfred von Schlieffen. Tanks, aircraft, and motor trucks were regarded as force multipliers facilitating traditional operational approaches. The aim of German military planners in both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich was to achieve victory by enveloping enemy armies, threatening their lines of supply and communications, and forcing them to fight in an unexpected direction. The anticipated result would be quick, decisive victories for a state that since the days of Frederick the Great had been convinced of its inability to win a drawn-out war of attrition.
The rioting was triggered by the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by a Polish Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, on November 7th. Grynszpan did not attempt to escape and claimed that the assassination was motivated by the persecution of the Jewish people. Despite being attended to by Hitler’s personal physician, vom Rath died two days later.
Schindler's ties with the Abwehr and his connections in the Wehrmacht and its Armaments Inspectorate enabled him to obtain contracts to produce enamel cookware for the military. These connections also later helped him protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death. 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. Bankier, a key black market connection, obtained goods for bribes as well as extra materials for use in the factory. Schindler himself enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and pursued extramarital relationships with his secretary, Viktoria Klonowska, and Eva Kisch Scheuer, a merchant specialising in enamelware from DEF. Emilie Schindler visited for a few months in 1940 and moved to Kraków to live with Oskar in 1941.
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.
One of the most remarkable humanitarian acts performed by Oskar and Emilie Schindler involved the case of 120 Jewish male prisoners from Goleszow, a sub-camp of Auschwitz. The men had been working there in a quarry plant that belonged to the SS-operated company “German Earth and Stone Works.” With the approach of the Russian front in January 1945, they were evacuated from Goleszow and transported westward in sealed cattle-wagons, without food or water. At the end of a seven-day grueling journey in the dead of winter, the SS guards finally stationed the two sealed cattle-cars with their human cargo at the gates of Brunnlitz. Emilie Schindler was just in time to stop the SS camp commandant from sending the train back. Schindler, who had rushed back to the camp from some food-procuring errand outside, barely managed to convince the commandant that he desperately needed the people who were locked in the train for work.
In March 1941, Himmler ordered a second, larger complex to be built next to the original camp. It was called Auschwitz II - Birkenau. The camp at Birkenau was divided into subsections surrounded by electric fences with barbed wire. During 1943 and 1944 the BIIb section became the location of the „Terezín family camp“. At its summit, Birkenau had over 100 000 inmates. In March 1942, the Auschwitz III camp was set up at nearby Monowitz, also known as Buna Monowitz. German company I.G. Farben set up a synthetic rubber factory there, in which it used the prisoners' slave labour. Auschwitz also had a further 45 auxiliary camps, where prisoners were forced to engage in slave labour, mostly for German companies.
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.
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.
In 1933, Jews in Germany numbered around 525,000, or only 1 percent of the total German population. During the next six years, Nazis undertook an “Aryanization” of Germany, dismissing non-Aryans from civil service, liquidating Jewish-owned businesses and stripping Jewish lawyers and doctors of their clients. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew, while those with two Jewish grandparents were designated Mischlinge (half-breeds).
To more than 1200 Jews Oscar Schindler was all that stood between them and death at the hands of the Nazis. A man full of flaws like the rest of us - the unlikeliest of all role models who started by earning millions as a war profiteer and ended by spending his last pfennig and risking his life to save his Jews. An ordinary man who even in the worst of circumstances did extraordinary things, matched by no one. He remained true to his Jews, the workers he referred to as my children. In the shadow of Auschwitz he kept the SS out and everyone alive.
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Some Germans, even some Nazis, dissented from the murder of the Jews and came to their aid. The most famous was Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman, who had set up operations using involuntary labour in German-occupied Poland in order to profit from the war. Eventually, he moved to protect his Jewish workers from deportation to extermination camps. In all occupied countries, there were individuals who came to the rescue of Jews, offering a place to hide, some food, or shelter for days or weeks or even for the duration of the war. Most of the rescuers did not see their actions as heroic but felt bound to the Jews by a common sense of humanity. Israel later recognized rescuers with honorary citizenship and commemoration at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.
Perhaps the most famous orchestra to have come out of Birkenau was the women’s orchestra. Known through Fania Fénelon’s memoirs and the movie Playing for Time, this group — the only all-women SS-sponsored musical organisation established under Nazi internment — was founded in the spring of 1943. Originally directed by the Polish inmate Zofia Czajkowska, it reached its peak under the guidance of the violin virtuoso and conductor Alma Rosé. As with other camp bands, the women were required to play at the gates every morning and evening, to accompany the workers’ arrival and departure from the camp. This job won them the animosity of many prisoners, who remembered returning to their barracks, sick, exhausted, and often carrying or dragging their dead comrades, while
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."
In the final months of the war, SS guards moved camp inmates by train or on forced marches, often called “death marches,” in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners. As Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, as well as prisoners en route by forced march from one camp to another. The marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939, thirty-one-year-old Schindler showed up in occupied Krakow. The ancient city, home to some 60,000 Jews and seat of the German occupation administration, the Generalgouvernement, proved highly attractive to German entrepreneurs, hoping to capitalize on the misfortunes of the subjugated country and make a fortune. Naturally cunning and none too scrupulous, Schindler appeared at first to thrive in these surroundings. In October 1939, he took over a run-down enamelware factory that had previously belonged to a Jew. He cleverly maneuvered his steps- acting upon the shrewd commercial advice of a Polish-Jewish accountant, Isaak Stern - and began to build himself a fortune. The small concern in Zablocie outside Krakow, which started producing kitchenware for the German army, began to grow by leaps and bounds. After only three months it already had a task-force of some 250 Polish workers, among them seven Jews. By the end of 1942, it had expanded into a mammoth enamel and ammunitions production plant, occupying some 45,000 square meters and employing almost 800 men and women. Of these, 370 were Jews from the Krakow ghetto, which the Germans had established after they entered the city.
These gassing facilities soon proved inadequate for the task of murdering the large numbers of Jewish deportees being sent to Auschwitz. Between March and June 1943, four large crematoria were built within Auschwitz-Birkenau, each with a gas chamber, a disrobing area, and crematory ovens. Gassings ceased at Bunkers I and II when Crematoria II through V began operating, although Bunker II was put back into operation during the deportation of Hungary’s Jews in 1944. Gassing of newly arrived transports ceased at Auschwitz by early November 1944.
These concepts remained tactical and operational. Grand-strategic and economic planning in Adolf Hitler’s Reich were not shaped by a doctrine of lightning war. A familiar argument is that Nazi Germany deliberately rearmed in breadth rather than depth, proposing to tailor its force mix to specific situations in the context of a diplomatic strategy designed to keep Germany’s enemies isolated from one another. However, no significant data support such a grand design. Instead, the best evidence indicates that Hitler sought rearmament in both breadth and depth, with an economy oriented to military needs as completely as possible. Instead, far from coordinating their specific preparations, the army, navy, and air force competed so intensely for scarce raw materials that as early as 1938 their demands seriously overheated the ramshackle Nazi economy. Throughout the war the Wehrmacht’s inability to cooperate internally was one of Germany’s most significant military weaknesses–a far cry from the smoothly working machine that is the essence of blitzkrieg in popular myths.
In Autumn 1943, the camp administration was reorganized following a corruption scandal. By the end of 1943, the prisoner population of Auschwitz main camp, Birkenau, Monowitz and other subcamps was over 80,000: 18,437 in the main camp, 49,114 in Birkenau, and 13,288 at Monowitz where I G Farben had its synthetic rubber plant. Up to 50,000 prisoners were scattered around 51 subcamps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine (see The List of the Camps for a complete list of those subcamps).
Heinz Guderian is widely regarded as being highly influential in developing the military methods of warfare used by Germany's tank men at the start of the Second World War. This style of warfare brought manoeuvre back to the fore, and placed an emphasis on the offensive. This style, along with the shockingly rapid collapse in the armies that opposed it, came to be branded as blitzkrieg warfare.
Nearly all lectures concerned the strategic uses of airpower; virtually none discussed tactical co-operation with the Army. Similarly in the military journals, emphasis centred on 'strategic’ bombing. The prestigious Militärwissenschaftliche Rundeschau, the War Ministry's journal, which was founded in 1936, published a number of theoretical pieces on future developments in air warfare. Nearly all discussed the use of strategic airpower, some emphasising that aspect of air warfare to the exclusion of others. One author commented that European military powers were increasingly making the bomber force the heart of their airpower. The manoeuvrability and technical capability of the next generation of bombers would be ’as unstoppable as the flight of a shell.
This is the punishment card of a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau, dated 24 October 1942. In German it reads: “Trotz verbot hinter haus 7 seine Grossnotdurft verrichtete”. In English this means: “Despite being forbidden, the prisoner went behind block 7 to relieve themselves”. The prisoner would have been severely punished for going to the toilet without permission as a warning to other prisoners.
Medical experiments conducted on camp inmates by the SS were another distinctive feature. At least 7,000 prisoners were subjected to experiments; most died as a result, during the experiments or later. Twenty-three senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg, after the war, with crimes against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors, and biomedical researchers. Experiments took place at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and elsewhere. Some dealt with sterilization of men and women, the treatment of war wounds, ways to counteract chemical weapons, research into new vaccines and drugs, and the survival of harsh conditions.
His tasks for the Abwehr included collecting information on railways, military installations, and troop movements, as well as recruiting other spies within Czechoslovakia, in advance of a planned invasion of the country by Nazi Germany. He was arrested by the Czech government for espionage on 18 July 1938 and immediately imprisoned, but was released as a political prisoner under the terms of the Munich Agreement, the instrument under which the Czech Sudetenland was annexed into Germany on 1 October. Schindler applied for membership in the Nazi Party on 1 November and was accepted the following year.