After WWII had ended, photographs of the Holocaust stunned the public. Newspapers in the United States had reported on the oppression of the Jews in Germany during the war. In 1942, many newspapers were writing details of the Holocaust, but these stories were short and were not widely read. In 1943, after sources had confirmed the killings of at least two million Jews in concentration camps across Europe a Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans believed these reports to be true; 28% thought they were “just a rumor”. The reports were unconfirmed and sometimes denied by the United States government.
Around Birkenau are several nature conservation areas and a considerable number of hiking paths. These are found on the one hand in the woods around Birkenau, but on the other hand, the Höhenweg (“Height Way”, European walking route E1, plateau path between Birkenau and Reisen), for example, is also worth visiting, as there is a striking view over Birkenau and Nieder-Liebersbach.
Another important correction to the historical record: Itzhak Stern, played in the movie by Ben Kingsley, was actually a composite of a number of people, including Mietek Pemper, who played a crucial role in putting Oskar Schindler in the position to save many people. Pemper had the unfortunate task of being forced to work as the assistant to Amon Goth, the sadistic commandant of the Krakow-Płaszow concentration camp. In that position, Pemper passed along valuable information to Oskar. As the German war effort neared collapse, Pemper told Schindler he needed to expand into armaments because only factories deemed vital to the war effort would be viewed worth saving, along with, it was hoped, the workers in those factories.
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On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe ended, and the next day Schindler and his wife fled the country with the help of several of the Schindlerjuden, as the Jews he saved came to be known. Schindler was wanted for war crimes in Czechoslovakia due to his earlier espionage activities. In 1949 they settled in Argentina with several of the Jewish families they had saved. Having spent the bulk of his profiteering fortune on bribes, Schindler unsuccessfully attempted to farm. He went bankrupt in 1957 and the next year traveled alone to West Germany, where he made an abortive entry into the cement business. Schindler spent the rest of his life supported by donations from the Schindlerjuden. He was named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1962 and was interred in the Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
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.
The Auschwitz concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) and administrative headquarters, in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II–Birkenau, a combined concentration/extermination camp three kilometers away in Brzezinka; Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labor camp seven kilometers from Auschwitz I, set up to staff an IG Farben synthetic-rubber factory; and dozens of other subcamps.
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.
The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I (1914–1918) contributed to the rise of virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated, which gave birth to the stab-in-the-back myth. This insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, who had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
Tested by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War in 1938 and against Poland in 1939, the blitzkrieg proved to be a formidable combination of land and air action. Germany’s success with the tactic at the beginning of World War II hinged largely on the fact that it was the only country that had effectively linked its combined forces with radio communications. The use of mobility, shock, and locally concentrated firepower in a skillfully coordinated attack paralyzed an adversary’s capacity to organize defenses, rather than attempting to physically overcome them, and then exploited that paralysis by penetrating to the adversary’s rear areas and disrupting its whole system of communications and administration. The tactics, as employed by the Germans, consisted of a splitting thrust on a narrow front by combat groups using tanks, dive bombers, and motorized artillery to disrupt the main enemy battle position at the Schwerpunkt. Wide sweeps by armoured vehicles followed, establishing the Kessel that trapped and immobilized enemy forces. Those tactics were remarkably economical of both lives and matériel, primarily for the attackers but also, because of the speed and short duration of the campaign, among the victims.
^ 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.
At this time only the main camp, later known as Auschwitz I, had been established. Himmler ordered the construction of a second camp for 100,000 inmates on the site of the village of Brzezinka, roughly two miles from the main camp. This second camp, now known as Birkenau or Auschwitz II, was initially intended to be filled with captured Russian POWs who would provide the slave labor to build the SS “utopia” in Upper Silesia. Chemical giant I G Farben expressed an interest in utilizing this labor force, and extensive construction work began in October 1941 under terrible conditions and with massive loss of life. About 10,000 Russian POWs died in this process. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was eventually built in the Birkenau camp and the majority of the victims were murdered here.
After World War II, Schindler and his wife Emilie settled in Regensburg, Germany, until 1949, when they immigrated to Argentina. In 1957, permanently separated but not divorced from Emilie, Schindler returned alone to Germany. Schindler died in Germany, penniless and almost unknown, in October 1974. Many of those whose survival he facilitated—and their descendants—lobbied for and financed the transfer of his body for burial in Israel.
After the liquidation of the Polish state and its institutions, the fundamental goal of German policy in occupied Poland was the exploitation of material and labor resources, and the removal of the local Polish population and ethnic minorities. This was done through expulsion and systematic extermination. The Polish lands were to be completely germanized, through German settlement in the depopulated area.
There was "practically no resistance" in the ghettos in Poland by the end of 1942, according to Peter Longerich. Raul Hilberg accounted for this by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: as had been the case before, appealing to their oppressors and complying with orders might avoid inflaming the situation until the onslaught abated. Henri Michel argued that resistance consisted not only of physical opposition but of any activity that gave the Jews humanity in inhumane conditions, while Yehuda Bauer defined resistance as actions that in any way opposed the German directives, laws, or conduct. Hilberg cautioned against overstating the extent of Jewish resistance, arguing that turning isolated incidents into resistance elevates the slaughter of innocent people into some kind of battle, diminishes the heroism of those who took active measures to resist, and deflects questions about the survival strategies and leadership of the Jewish community. Timothy Snyder noted that it was only during the three months after the deportations of July–September 1942 that agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached.
The gas chambers in the Auschwitz complex constituted the largest and most efficient extermination method employed by the Nazis. Four chambers were in use at Birkenau, each with the potential to kill 6,000 people daily. They were built to look like shower rooms in order to confuse the victims. New arrivals at Birkenau were told that they were being sent to work, but first needed to shower and be disinfected. They would be led into the shower-like chambers, where they were quickly gassed to death with the highly poisonous Zyklon B gas.
The Germans' overwhelming repression and the presence of many collaborators in the various local populations severely limited the ability of the Jews to resist. Jewish resistance did occur, however, in several forms. Staying alive, clean, and observing Jewish religious traditions constituted resistance under the dehumanizing conditions imposed by the Nazis. Other forms of resistance involved escape attempts from the ghettos and camps. Many who succeeded in escaping the ghettos lived in the forests and mountains in family camps and in fighting partisan units. Once free, though, the Jews had to contend with local residents and partisan groups who were often openly hostile. Jews also staged armed revolts in the ghettos of Vilna, Bialystok, Bedzin-Sosnowiec, krakow, and Warsaw.
The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. Immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, boycotts of German Jews and acts of violence against them became ubiquitous, and legislation was passed excluding them from the civil service and certain professions, including the law.[a] Harassment and economic pressure were used to encourage them to leave Germany; their businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of government contracts.
Italy introduced some antisemitic measures, but there was less antisemitism there than in Germany, and Italian-occupied countries were generally safer for Jews than German-occupied territories. In some areas, the Italian authorities even tried to protect Jews, such as in the Croatian areas of the Balkans. But while Italian forces in Russia were not as vicious towards Jews as the Germans, they did not try to stop German atrocities either. There were no deportations of Italian Jews to Germany while Italy remained an ally. Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Italian-controlled Libya. Almost 2,600 Libyan Jews were sent to camps, where 562 died.
The last part of an offensive operation was the destruction of un-subdued pockets of resistance, which had been enveloped earlier and by-passed by the fast-moving armoured and motorised spearheads. The Kesselschlacht 'cauldron battle' was a concentric attack on such pockets. It was here that most losses were inflicted upon the enemy, primarily through the mass capture of prisoners and weapons. During Operation Barbarossa, huge encirclements in 1941 produced nearly 3.5 million Soviet prisoners, along with masses of equipment.[f]
The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons. The first transport of Poles reached KL Auschwitz from Tarnów prison on June 14, 1940. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.
Victims usually arrived at the camps by freight train. Almost all arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps of Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were sent directly to the gas chambers, with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. At Auschwitz, camp officials usually subjected individuals to selections; about 25% of the new arrivals were selected to work. Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. The procedure at Chełmno was slightly different. Victims there were placed in a mobile gas van and asphyxiated, while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. There the corpses were unloaded and buried.
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.