In less than 24 hours I shall be departing with my wife and two friends for a holiday in Krakow. As a minority of one I have been outvoted on whether we should visit Auschwitz Berkenau. Very reluctantly I will go. As an ex soldier, I am hardly a shrinking violet and perhaps more aware than some of the horrors of war or even lesser conflicts. I don't need to pore over such things. But many seem to cherish a ghoulish and prurient interest in such places. They are right to remember what happened there. From such knowledge mankind just might avoid or prevent anything similar happening again...but I doubt it. Look around the world. Horrors have existed, still exist and almost certainly will happen again. The scale is not the most significant factor. One child or adult butchered with machettes, bombs or bullets or bombs or tortured to death is just as horrific. Somehow I already feel guilty for allowing myself to go. For me it is almost on a par with digging up a coffin just to observe the putrefying remains of some departed soul. Why do some feel compelled to do that...does it awake in some a compassion that they did not previously have? No number of visits to such places can possibly make anyone feel and suffer as the inmates undoubtedly did. It takes some considerable effort to understand how a post-Auschwitz society can promote and run profiteering bus tours to one of the closest places humanity has to Hell. History cannot be changed by tears. Perhaps it is a forlorn hope but we would all do well to remember such places and events and then move forwards, using our best efforts to stop the slaughters that are occurring right now. That is where our consciences and efforts are most needed.
Historians are divided about the motivations of the members of these mobile killing units. American historian Christopher Browning described one such unit, Police Battalion 101, as ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances in which conformity, peer pressure, careerism, obedience to orders, and group solidarity gradually overcame moral inhibitions. American writer Daniel Goldhagen viewed the very same unit as “willing executioners,” sharing Hitler’s vision of genocidal anti-Semitism and finding their tasks unpleasant but necessary. The diversity of the killers has challenged Goldhagen’s view that the motivation was a distinct form of German anti-Semitism. Yet both Browning and Goldhagen concurred that none of these killers faced punishment if he asked to be excused. Individuals had a choice whether to participate or not. Almost all chose to become killers.
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered the establishment of the Judenräte (“Jewish Councils”), comprising up to 24 men—rabbis and Jewish leaders. Heydrich’s order made these councils personally responsible in “the literal sense of the term” for carrying out German orders. When the Nazis sealed the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of German-occupied Poland’s 400 ghettos, in the fall of 1940, the Jews—then 30 percent of Warsaw’s population—were forced into 2.4 percent of the city’s area. The ghetto’s population reached a density of more than 200,000 persons per square mile (77,000 per square km) and 9.2 per room. Disease, malnutrition, hunger, and poverty took their toll even before the first bullet was fired.
Once Germany took over Poland in 1939, it created forced-labor camps. Thousands of prisoners died from working conditions, exhaustion, and starvation. After the outbreak of World War II, the number of concentration camps increased exponentially. The number of prisoners of war camps also rose, but after the first years of the war most were converted into concentration camps. Nazis forcibly relocated Jews from ghettos to concentration camps.
Beginning with the British air raids on Cologne in May of 1942, the Allies launched a strategic bombing campaign that would target cities and industrial plants across the Reich for the next three years. In the summer of 1942, Germany and its allies focused on the Soviet Union unsuccessfully. The Soviet Union gained the dominant role, which it would maintain for the rest of the war.
German-occupied Denmark rescued most of its own Jews by spiriting them to Sweden by sea in October 1943. This was possible partly because the German presence in Denmark was relatively small. Moreover, while anti-Semitism in the general population of many other countries led to collaboration with the Germans, Jews were an integrated part of Danish culture. Under these unique circumstances, Danish humanitarianism flourished.
The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals[z] and seven organizations—the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command". The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'".
He went on to say that the use of tanks "left much to be desired...Fear of enemy action against the flanks of the advance, fear which was to prove so disastrous to German prospects in the west in 1940 and in the Soviet Union in 1941, was present from the beginning of the war." John Ellis further asserted that "...there is considerable justice in Matthew Cooper's assertion that the panzer divisions were not given the kind of strategic mission that was to characterize authentic armored blitzkrieg, and were almost always closely subordinated to the various mass infantry armies."
^ 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).
After roll call, to the sound of "Arbeitskommandos formieren" ("form work details"), prisoners walked to their place of work, five abreast, to begin a working day that was normally 11 hours long—longer in summer and shorter in winter. A prison orchestra, such as the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz, was forced to play cheerful music as the workers left the camp. Kapos were responsible for the prisoners' behavior while they worked, as was an SS escort. Much of the work took place outdoors at construction sites, gravel pits, and lumber yards. No rest periods were allowed. One prisoner was assigned to the latrines to measure the time the workers took to empty their bladders and bowels.
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.
On October 7, 1944, several hundred prisoners assigned to Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau rebelled after learning that they were going to be killed. During the uprising, the prisoners killed three guards and blew up the crematorium and adjacent gas chamber. The prisoners used explosives smuggled into the camp by Jewish women who had been assigned to forced labor in a nearby armaments factory.
After becoming Chancellor of Germany (head of government) in 1933, Adolf Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty provisions. Within the Wehrmacht (established in 1935) the command for motorised armored forces was named the Panzerwaffe in 1936. The Luftwaffe (the German air force) was officially established in February 1935, and development began on ground-attack aircraft and doctrines. Hitler strongly supported this new strategy. He read Guderian's 1937 book Achtung – Panzer! and upon observing armoured field exercises at Kummersdorf he remarked, "That is what I want – and that is what I will have."
During World War I, Fuller had been a staff officer attached to the new tank corps. He developed Plan 1919 for massive, independent tank operations, which he claimed were subsequently studied by the German military. It is variously argued that Fuller's wartime plans and post-war writings were an inspiration or that his readership was low and German experiences during the war received more attention. The German view of themselves as the losers of the war, may be linked to the senior and experienced officers' undertaking a thorough review, studying and rewriting of all their Army doctrine and training manuals.
Płaszów concentration camp opened in March 1943 on the former site of two Jewish cemeteries on Jerozilimska Street, about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) from the DEF factory. In charge of the camp was SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth, a sadist who would shoot inmates of the camp at random. Inmates at Płaszów lived in constant fear for their lives. Emilie Schindler called Göth "the most despicable man I have ever met."