Auschwitz I, a former Polish army barracks, was the main camp (Stammlager) and administrative headquarters of the camp complex. Intending to use it to house political prisoners, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), approved the site in April 1940 on the recommendation of SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) Rudolf Höss, then of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate. Höss oversaw the development of the camp and served as its first commandant, with SS-Obersturmführer (senior lieutenant) Josef Kramer as his deputy.[21] Around 1,000 m long and 400 m wide,[22] Auschwitz I consisted of 20 brick buildings, six of them two-story; a second story was added to the others in 1943 and eight new blocks were built.[23] The camp housed the SS barracks and by 1943 held 30,000 inmates.[22] The first 30 prisoners arrived on 20 May 1940 after being transported from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. Convicted German criminals (Berufsverbrecher), the men were known as "greens" after the green triangles they were required to wear on their prison clothing. Brought to the camp as functionaries, this group did much to establish the sadism of early camp life, which was directed particularly at Polish inmates, until the political prisoners began to take over their roles.[4]
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.

With the financial backing of several Jewish investors, including one of the owners, Abraham Bankier, Schindler signed an informal lease agreement on the factory on 13 November 1939 and formalised the arrangement on 15 January 1940.[b] He renamed it Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (German Enamelware Factory) or DEF, and it soon became known by the nickname "Emalia".[25][26] He initially acquired a staff of seven Jewish workers (including Abraham Bankier, who helped him manage the company[27]) and 250 non-Jewish Poles.[28] At its peak in 1944, the business employed around 1,750 workers, a thousand of whom were Jews.[29] Schindler also helped run Schlomo Wiener Ltd, a wholesale outfit that sold his enamelware, and was leaseholder of Prokosziner Glashütte, a glass factory.[30]


Blitzkrieg was based on speed, co-ordination and movement; the major science of this approach was the ability to get large mobile forces through weak points in the enemies defences and then cause damage when behind his static lines. With large formations cut off from communication and logistics, pressure could then be put on interior defences. Its aim was to create panic amongst the civilian population. A civil population on the move can be absolute havoc for a defending army trying to get its forces to the war front. With so much focus placed on the frontline, if this could be penetrated then the ensuing doubt, confusion and rumour were sure to paralyse both the government and the defending military.
Buses leave Auschwitz I for Birkenau at a half past the hour, every hour. It costs two zloty and takes no more than five minutes. The experience of the camp is very different from Auschwitz I. For one thing it is much larger, covering over four hundred acres. It also retains the air of the place as it was when abandoned to a greater degree than the former camp. Some sixty seven buildings have survived virtually intact, and the interiors, with their stark wooden furnishings, take you right back to the war era. The other buildings remain as they were - some burnt to the ground and others massed up in heaps of rubble.
The death camp and slave-labour camp were interrelated. Newly arrived prisoners at the death camp were divided in a process known as Selektion. The young and the able-bodied were sent to work. Young children and their mothers and the old and infirm were sent directly to the gas chambers. Thousands of prisoners were also selected by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele, for medical experiments. Auschwitz doctors tested methods of sterilization on the prisoners, using massive doses of radiation, uterine injections, and other barbaric procedures. Experiments involving the killing of twins, upon whom autopsies were performed, were meant to provide information that would supposedly lead to the rapid expansion of the “Aryan race.”
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.

In July 1938, representatives of 32 countries met in the French town of Evian to discuss the refugee and immigration problems created by the Nazis in Germany. Nothing substantial was done or decided at the Evian Conference, and it became apparent to Hitler that no one wanted the Jews and that he would not meet resistance in instituting his Jewish policies. By the autumn of 1941, Europe was in effect sealed to most legal emigration. The Jews were trapped.
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The impact of the Holocaust varied from region to region and from year to year in the 21 countries that were directly affected. Nowhere was the Holocaust more intense and sudden than in Hungary. What took place over several years in Germany occurred over 16 weeks in Hungary. Entering the war as a German ally, Hungary had persecuted its Jews but not permitted the deportation of Hungarian citizens. In 1941 foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Hungary and were shot by Germans in Kam’yanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine. After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, the situation changed dramatically. By mid-April the Nazis had confined Jews to ghettos. On May 15, deportations began, and over the next 55 days the Nazis deported more than 437,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz on 147 trains.

From 1942, members of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Warsaw-area Home Army published reports based on the accounts of escapees. The first was a fictional memoir, "Oświęcim. Pamiętnik więźnia" ("Auschwitz: Diary of a prisoner") by Halina Krahelska, published in April 1942 in Warsaw.[205] Also published in 1942 was the pamphlet Obóz śmierci (Camp of Death) by Natalia Zarembina,[206] and W piekle (In Hell) by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, founder of Żegota.[207] In March 1944, the Polish Labor Group in New York published a report in English, "Oswiecim, Camp of Death (Underground Report)", with a foreword by Florence Jaffray Harriman, which described the gassing of prisoners from 1942.[208]

The British and American governments were reluctant to publicize the intelligence they had received. A BBC Hungarian Service memo, written by Carlile Macartney, a BBC broadcaster and senior Foreign Office adviser on Hungary, stated in 1942: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all." The British government's view was that the Hungarian people's antisemitism would make them distrust the Allies if Allied broadcasts focused on the Jews.[346] The US government similarly feared turning the war into one about the Jews; antisemitism and isolationism were common in the US before its entry into the war.[347] Although governments and the German public appear to have understood what was happening, it seems the Jews themselves did not. According to Saul Friedländer, "[t]estimonies left by Jews from all over occupied Europe indicate that, in contradistinction to vast segments of surrounding society, the victims did not understand what was ultimately in store for them." In Western Europe, he writes, Jewish communities seem to have failed to piece the information together, while in Eastern Europe, they could not accept that the stories they heard from elsewhere would end up applying to them too.[348]


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.

By the end of the war, Schindler had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black market purchases of supplies for his workers.[80] Virtually destitute, he moved briefly to Regensburg and later Munich, but did not prosper in postwar Germany. In fact, he was reduced to receiving assistance from Jewish organisations.[39] In 1948 he presented a claim for reimbursement of his wartime expenses to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and received $15,000.[81] He estimated his expenditures at over $1,056,000, including the costs of camp construction, bribes, and expenditures for black market goods, including food.[82] Schindler emigrated to Argentina in 1949, where he tried raising chickens and then nutria, a small animal raised for its fur. When the business went bankrupt in 1958, he left his wife and returned to Germany, where he had a series of unsuccessful business ventures, including a cement factory.[83][84] He declared bankruptcy in 1963 and suffered a heart attack the next year, which led to a month-long stay in hospital.[85] Remaining in contact with many of the Jews he had met during the war, including Stern and Pfefferberg, Schindler survived on donations sent by Schindlerjuden from all over the world.[84][86] He died on 9 October 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way.[39][84] For his work during the war, on 8 May 1962, Yad Vashem invited Schindler to a ceremony during which a carob tree planted in his honor on the Avenue of the Righteous.[87] He and his wife, Emilie, were named Righteous Among the Nations, an award bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who took an active role to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, on 24 June 1993.[88] Other awards include the German Order of Merit (1966).[89]
Whether you are just beginning to learn about the Holocaust or you are looking for more in-depth stories about the subject, this page is for you. The beginner will find a glossary, a timeline, a list of the camps, a map, and much more. Those more knowledgeable about the topic will find interesting stories about spies in the SS, detailed overviews of some of the camps, a history of the yellow badge, medical experimentation, and much more. Please read, learn, and remember.

Schwerpunktprinzip was a heuristic device (conceptual tool or thinking formula) used in the German army since the nineteenth century, to make decisions from tactics to strategy about priority. Schwerpunkt has been translated as centre of gravity, crucial, focal point and point of main effort. None of these forms is sufficient to describe the universal importance of the term and the concept of Schwerpunktprinzip. Every unit in the army, from the company to the supreme command, decided on a Schwerpunkt through schwerpunktbildung, as did the support services, which meant that commanders always knew what was most important and why. The German army was trained to support the Schwerpunkt, even when risks had to be taken elsewhere to support the point of main effort.[61] Through Schwerpunktbildung, the German army could achieve superiority at the Schwerpunkt, whether attacking or defending, to turn local success at the Schwerpunkt into the progressive disorganisation of the opposing force, creating more opportunities to exploit this advantage, even if numerically and strategically inferior in general. In the 1930s, Guderian summarised this as "Klotzen, nicht kleckern!" ("Kick, don't spatter them!").[62][63]
SS officers, including the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, would conduct selections among these lines, sending most victims to one side and thus condemning them to death in the gas chambers. A minority was sent to the other side, destined for forced labor. Those who were sent to their deaths were killed that same day and their corpses were burnt in the crematoria. Those not sent to the gas chambers were taken to “quarantine,” where their hair was shaved, striped prison uniforms distributed, and registration took place. Prisoners’ individual registration numbers were tattooed onto their left arm.
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.
The fire signaled the demise of German democracy. On the next day, the government, under the pretense of controlling the Communists, abolished individual rights and protections: freedom of the press, assembly, and expression were nullified, as well as the right to privacy. When the elections were held on March 5, the Nazis received nearly 44 percent of the vote, and with 8 percent offered by the Conservatives, won a majority in the government.
Entering conquered Soviet territories alongside the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) were 3,000 men of the Einsatzgruppen (“Deployment Groups”), special mobile killing units. Their task was to murder Jews, Soviet commissars, and Roma in the areas conquered by the army. Alone or with the help of local police, native anti-Semitic populations, and accompanying Axis troops, the Einsatzgruppen would enter a town, round up their victims, herd them to the outskirts of the town, and shoot them. They killed Jews in family units. Just outside Kiev, Ukraine, in the ravine of Babi Yar, an Einsatzgruppe killed 33,771 Jews on September 28–29, 1941. In the Rumbula Forest outside the ghetto in Riga, Latvia, 25,000–28,000 Jews were shot on November 30 and December 8–9. Beginning in the summer of 1941, Einsatzgruppen murdered more than 70,000 Jews at Ponary, outside Vilna (now Vilnius) in Lithuania. They slaughtered 9,000 Jews, half of them children, at the Ninth Fort, adjacent to Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, on October 28.
"For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future." Elie Wiesel, Night, Preface to the New Translation (New York: Hill and Wang, c2006), page xv.

In July 1938, representatives of 32 countries met in the French town of Evian to discuss the refugee and immigration problems created by the Nazis in Germany. Nothing substantial was done or decided at the Evian Conference, and it became apparent to Hitler that no one wanted the Jews and that he would not meet resistance in instituting his Jewish policies. By the autumn of 1941, Europe was in effect sealed to most legal emigration. The Jews were trapped.
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.[31] These connections also later helped him protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death.[32] 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.[33] Bankier, a key black market connection, obtained goods for bribes as well as extra materials for use in the factory.[34] 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.[35] Emilie Schindler visited for a few months in 1940 and moved to Kraków to live with Oskar in 1941.[36][37]
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