After the arrival of a transport at the ramp in Birkenau, the process known as selection took place. SS officers decided who would be taken to work, and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers. Often it was mere chance or the mood of the SS officer that decided whether someone died immediately or had a hope of survival. The prisoners selected for slave labour were sent to one of the many auxiliary camps at Auschwitz or elsewhere in the Nazi concentration camp system. Their aim was „Vernichtung durch Arbeit“ - extermination through labour.
The camp was continually expanded over the next five years and ultimately consisted of three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Auschwitz-Birkenau also had over 40 sub-camps in the neighboring cities and in the surrounding area. Initially, only Poles and Jews were imprisoned, enslaved and murdered in the camp. Subsequently, Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), Romani/Sinti (Gypsies), and prisoners of other nationalities and minorities were also incarcerated, enslaved and murdered there.
By August 1944 there were 105,168 prisoners in Auschwitz whilst another 50,000 Jewish prisoners lived in Auschwitz’s satellite camps. The camp’s population grew constantly, despite the high mortality rate caused by exterminations, starvation, hard labor, and contagious diseases. Upon arrival at the platform in Birkenau, Jews were thrown out of their train cars without their belongings and forced to form two lines, men and women separately.
When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they found these pitiful survivors as well as 836,525 items of women clothing, 348,820 items of men clothing, 43,525 pairs of shoes and vast numbers of toothbrushes, glasses and other personal effects. They found also 460 artificial limbs and seven tons of human hair shaved from Jews before they were murdered. The human hairs were used by the company "Alex Zink" (located in Bavaria) for confection of cloth. This company was paying the human hairs 50 pfennig/kilo.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
Blitzkrieg's immediate development began with Germany's defeat in the First World War. Shortly after the war, the new Reichswehr created committees of veteran officers to evaluate 57 issues of the war. The reports of these committees formed doctrinal and training publications which were the standards in the Second World War. The Reichswehr was influenced by its analysis of pre-war German military thought, in particular its infiltration tactics of the war, and the maneuver warfare which dominated the Eastern Front.
Those Jews selected for work were sent to a separate building for registration. Prisoners would be registered, before undressing, placing their clothes on a hook, together with their shoes. They would then be tattooed with a registration number, shaved of all body hair, disinfected and forced through showers that were either extremely cold or painfully hot.
The first experimental gassing took place in September 1941, when Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch, at the instruction of Rudolf Höss, killed a group of Soviet prisoners of war by throwing Zyklon B crystals into their basement cell in block 11 of Auschwitz I. A second group of 600 Soviet prisoners of war and around 250 sick Polish prisoners was gassed on 3–5 September. The morgue was later converted to a gas chamber able to hold at least 700–800 people. Zyklon B was dropped into the room through slits in the ceiling. In the view of Filip Müller, one of the Sonderkommando who worked in crematorium I, tens of thousands of Jews were killed there from France, Holland, Slovakia, Upper Silesia, Yugoslavia, and from the Theresienstadt, Ciechanow, and Grodno ghettos. The last inmates to be gassed in Auschwitz I, in December 1942, were 300–400 members of the Auschwitz II Sonderkommando, who had been forced to dig up that camp's mass graves, thought to hold 100,000 corpses, and burn the remains.
^ Now came the riposte - a counter-attack [...] from the forest of Villers-Cotterets [...]. The French had developed a light and fast-moving tank. Two generals, Debeney on the British right, and Mangin, to his right, began the tactics that were to become famous in 1940 as Blitzkrieg - tanks, fast-moving infantry, and aircraft flying low to keep the German gunners' heads down. Three hundred tanks (Renault) and eighteen divisions, two of them American, struck in open cornfield, entirely by surprise, and went five miles forward. With the whole of the German force in the Marne salient threatened by a cut-off, Ludendorff pulled back from it, back to Chemin des Dames. By 4 August the French had taken 30,000 prisoners and 600 guns.
Initially Göth's plan was that all the factories, including Schindler's, should be moved inside the camp gates. However, Schindler, with a combination of diplomacy, flattery, and bribery, not only prevented his factory from being moved, but convinced Göth to allow him to build (at Schindler's own expense) a subcamp at Emalia to house his workers plus 450 Jews from other nearby factories. There they were safe from the threat of random execution, were well fed and housed, and were permitted to undertake religious observances.
I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau five times over seven years. The Main Camp offers graphic examples of man's cruelty to man (such as the hair exhibit in Block 5). Don't forget to witness the antechambers of hell in Block 11. It is Birkenau, however,which offers the true measure of the cost of following a tyrant into his madness. Enter the main gate and visit the womens' camp (to your left) and the primitive horror of Block 25. Follow the ramp to the monument and witness the ruins of Kremas II and III, Just beyond the sauna, turn left to the mass graves surrounding Bunker 2/5 and return to that corner, this time straight to the ruins of Kremas IV and V. Stand in front of the sauna and witness the vast expanse of hatred that fuels genocide. Auschwitz-Birkenau was God's test of our humanity - we failed!
In the first few decades after the Holocaust, scholars argued that it was unique as a genocide in its reach and specificity. This began to change in the 1980s during the West German Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute"), an attempt to re-position the Holocaust within German historiography. Ernst Nolte triggered the dispute in June 1986 with an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will: Eine Rede, die geschrieben, aber nicht mehr gehalten werden konnte" ("The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but not delivered"), in which he compared Auschwitz to the Gulag and suggested that the Holocaust was a response to Hitler's fear of the Soviet Union: "Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the 'racial murder' of National Socialism? ... Was the source of Auschwitz a past that would not go away?"[aa]
Although many people responded with obstructionism and doubt, several rescue operations were run throughout Axis-controlled Europe. Some were the work of prominent individuals like Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who worked largely alone while other operations were far more complex. A network of Catholic bishops and clergymen organized local protests and shelter campaigns throughout much of Europe that are today estimated to have saved 860,000 lives. Danish fishermen clandestinely ferried more than 7,000 Jews into neutral Sweden while the French town of Chambon-sur-Lignon sheltered between 3,000 and 5,000 refugees.
At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, releasing toxic prussic acid, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed, gold fillings in their teeth were extracted, and women's hair was cut. The work was done by the Sonderkommando, work groups of mostly Jewish prisoners. At Auschwitz, the bodies were at first buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.
The prisoners' days began at 4:30 am for the men (an hour later in winter), and earlier for the women, when the block supervisor sounded a gong and started beating inmates with sticks to encourage them to wash and use the latrines quickly. Sanitary arrangements were atrocious, with few latrines and a lack of clean water. Each washhouse had to service thousands of prisoners. In sectors BIa and BIb in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, two buildings containing latrines and washrooms were installed in 1943. These contained troughs for washing and 90 faucets; the toilet facilities were "sewage channels" covered by concrete with 58 holes for seating. There were three barracks with washing facilities or toilets to serve 16 residential barracks in BIIa, and six washrooms/latrines for 32 barracks in BIIb, BIIc, BIId, and BIIe. Primo Levi described a 1944 Auschwitz III washroom:
When the Nazi’s rose to power they built facilities to hold and, eventually kill, their enemies. When the first concentration camps were built in 1933, this primarily meant political dissidents and opponents of the Nazi government, such as German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats but would grow to include asocial groups – Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the homeless, the mentally ill and homosexuals. It was not until Kristallnacht that the prisoners became primarily Jewish.
The French battery now opened rapid fire on our wood and at any moment we could expect their fire to be aimed at our tank, which was in full view. I therefore decided to abandon it as fast as I could, taking the crew with me. At that moment the subaltern in command of the tanks escorting the infantry reported himself wounded, with the words: 'Herr General, my left arm has been shot off.' We clamored up through the sandy pit, shells crashing and splintering all round. Close in front of us trundled Rothenburg's tank with flames pouring out of the rear. The adjutant of the Panzer Regiment had also left his tank. I thought at first that the command tank had been set alight by a hit in petrol tank and was extremely worried for Colonel Rothenbttrg's safety. However, it turned out to be only the smoke candles that had caught light, the smoke from which now served us very well. In the meantime Lieutenant Most had driven my armored signals vehicle into the wood, where it had been hit in the engine and now stood immobilized. The crew was unhurt."
^ 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.
Auschwitz was the Nazis' largest concentration and extermination camp. It was founded on Himmler's orders on the 27th of April 1940, close to the small Polish town of Oświęcim. The first inmates - mostly Polish political prisoners - were brought there in June 1940 and were used for slave labour. By March 1941, more than 10 000 prisoners were registered here. The Auschwitz camp was renowned for its harshness, with the most infamous being Block 11 (known as the bunker), where prisoners received the cruellest punishments. In front of it stood the „black wall“, the site of frequent executions. The inscription „Arbeit macht frei!“ above the main gate of the original camp at Auschwitz was merely a cynical mockery.
Known as block 13 until 1941, block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. To extract information from them, guards would hold inmates' heads held against the stove, burning their faces and eyes. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. Measuring 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), the cells held four men who could do nothing but stand, and who were forced the following day to work as usual. In other cells, inmates were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. In the basement were the "dark cells", which had only a 5 x 5 cm opening and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they ran out of oxygen; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
Allied air superiority became a significant hindrance to German operations during the later years of the war. Early German successes enjoyed air superiority with unencumbered movement of ground forces, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance. However, the Western Allies' air-to-ground aircraft were so greatly feared out of proportion to their actual tactical success, that following the lead up to Operation Overlord German vehicle crews showed reluctance to move en masse during daylight. Indeed, the final German blitzkrieg operation in the west, Operation Wacht am Rhein, was planned to take place during poor weather which grounded Allied aircraft. Under these conditions, it was difficult for German commanders to employ the "armoured idea" to its envisioned potential.
Responding with alarm to Hitler’s rise, the Jewish community sought to defend their rights as Germans. For those Jews who felt themselves fully German and who had patriotically fought in World War I, the Nazification of German society was especially painful. Zionist activity intensified. “Wear it with pride,” journalist Robert Weltsch wrote in 1933 of the Jewish identity the Nazis had so stigmatized. Religious philosopher Martin Buber led an effort at Jewish adult education, preparing the community for the long journey ahead. Rabbi Leo Baeck circulated a prayer for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 1935 that instructed Jews on how to behave: “We bow down before God; we stand erect before man.” Yet while few, if any, could foresee its eventual outcome, the Jewish condition was increasingly perilous and was expected to worsen.
Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941 and surrendered before the end of the month. Germany and Italy divided Greece into occupation zones but did not eliminate it as a country. Yugoslavia, home to around 80,000 Jews, was dismembered; regions in the north were annexed by Germany and regions along the coast made part of Italy. The rest of the country was divided into the Independent State of Croatia, nominally an ally of Germany, and Serbia, which was governed by a combination of military and police administrators. According to historian Jeremy Black, Serbia was declared free of Jews in August 1942. Croatia's ruling party, the Ustashe, killed the country's Jews, and killed or expelled Orthodox Christian Serbs and Muslims. Jews and Serbs alike were "hacked to death and burned in barns", according to Black. One difference between the Germans and Croatians was that the Ustashe allowed its Jewish and Serbian victims to convert to Catholicism so they could escape death.
On 27 January 1945, the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front, a unit of the Soviet Army, opened the gates and entered the Auschwitz camp complex. The liberators discovered around 7,000 surviving prisoners across the three main camps of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buna Monowitz. Amongst the survivors were 180 children; 52 of them under the age of eight.
Up to this point, though, Auschwitz-Birkenau accounted for “only” 11 percent of the victims of the “Final Solution.” In August 1942, however, construction began on four large-scale gassing facilities. It appears from the plans that the first two gas chambers were adapted from mortuaries which, with the huge crematoria attached to them, were initially intended to cope with mortalities amongst the slave labor force in the camp, now approaching 100,000 and subject to a horrifying death rate. But from the autumn of 1942, it seems clear that the SS planners and civilian contractors were intending to build a mass-murder plant.
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.
Schindler grew up in Svitavy, Moravia, and worked in several trades until he joined the Abwehr, the military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. He joined the Nazi Party in 1939. Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he collected information on railways and troop movements for the German government. He was arrested for espionage by the Czechoslovak government but was released under the terms of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Schindler continued to collect information for the Nazis, working in Poland in 1939 before the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II. In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, which employed at the factory's peak in 1944 about 1,750 workers, of whom 1,000 were Jews. His Abwehr connections helped Schindler protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. 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.