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.
Schlieffen's ideas were largely aimed at operational-level leaders, that is, the commanders of Germany's divisions and army corps. The biggest problems in World War One, however, were at the lower, tactical level. And the German solution to these problems was to apply Schlieffen's operational principles to small units as well as to large ones. Thus, by decentralising command and by increasing the firepower of the infantry, they created a large number of platoon-sized units capable of independent action on the battlefield.
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.
The Germans did not achieve surprise and were not able to outflank or break through into enemy rear areas during the operation. Several historians assert that Operation Citadel was planned and intended to be a blitzkrieg operation.[i] Many of the German participants who wrote about the operation after the war, including Manstein, make no mention of blitzkrieg in their accounts.[j] In 2000, Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson characterised only the southern pincer of the German offensive as a "classical blitzkrieg attack". Pier Battistelli wrote that the operational planning marked a change in German offensive thinking away from blitzkrieg and that more priority was given to brute force and fire power than to speed and manoeuvre.
During World War One, the armies of the two Allies had dug in for what became a long, drawn-out conflict. And in 1940, influenced by this experience, the British and French leaders of World War Two were still expecting to fight a war in which the defensive would dominate. With this approach in mind, the French army was sent to man France's heavily fortified border with Germany, the Maginot Line, and to await a German attack. The BEF was sent to join the line of French troops defending the border with Belgium.
The first 'bunker', with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra 'capacity' was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the 'bunkers' were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open. Between January 1942 and March 1943, 175,000 Jews were gassed to death here, of whom 105,000 were killed from January to March 1943.
"Rothenburg [a subordinate tank commander] now drove off through a hollow to the left with the five tanks which were to accompany the infantry, thus giving these tanks a lead of 100 to 150 yards. There was no sound of enemy fire. Some 20 to 30 tanks followed up behind. When the commander of the five tanks reached the rifle company on the southern edge of Onhaye wood, Colonel Rothenburg moved off with his leading tanks along the edge of the wood going west. We had just reached the southwest corner of the wood and were about to cross a low plantation, from which we could see the five tanks escorting the infantry below us to our left front, when suddenly we came under heavy artillery and anti-tank gunfire from the west. Shells landed all round us and my tank received two hits one after the other, the first on the upper edge of the turret and the second in the periscope.
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.
A hedonist and gambler by nature, Schindler soon adopted a profligate lifestyle, carousing into the small hours of the night, hobnobbing with high ranking SS-officers, and philandering with beautiful Polish women. Schindler seemed to be no different from other Germans who had come to Poland as part of the occupation administration and their associates. The only thing that set him apart from other war-profiteers, was his humane treatment of his workers, especially the Jews.
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.
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.