The people in the houses were rudely awoken by the din of our tanks, the clatter and roar of tracks and engines. Troops lay bivouacked beside the road, military vehicles stood parked in farmyards and in some places on the road itself. Civilians and French troops, their faces distorted with terror, lay huddled in the ditches, alongside hedges and in every hollow beside the road. We passed refugee columns, the carts abandoned by their owners, who had fled in panic into the fields. On we went, at a steady speed, towards our objective. Every so often a quick glance at the map by a shaded light and a short wireless message to Divisional H.Q. to report the position and thus the success of 25th Panzer Regiment. Every so often a look out of the hatch to assure myself that there was still no resistance and that contact was being maintained to the rear. The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the moon. We were through the Maginot Line! It was hardly conceivable. Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half long years before this self-same enemy and had won victory after victory and yet finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory. It was not just a beautiful dream. It was reality."
Political dissidents, trade unionists, and Social Democrats were among the first to be arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Under the Weimar government, centuries-old prohibitions against homosexuality had been overlooked, but this tolerance ended violently when the SA (Storm Troopers) began raiding gay bars in 1933. Homosexual intent became just cause for prosecution. The Nazis arrested German and Austrian male homosexuals—there was no systematic persecution of lesbians—and interned them in concentration camps, where they were forced to wear special yellow armbands and later pink triangles. The goal of persecuting male homosexuals was either for reeducation—what might now be called conversion therapy—or punishment. Jehovah’s Witnesses were a problem for the Nazis because they refused to swear allegiance to the state, register for the draft, or utter the words “Heil Hitler.” As a result, the Nazis imprisoned many of the roughly 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. They could be released from concentration camps if they signed a document renouncing their faith and promising not to proselytize. Few availed themselves of that option, preferring martyrdom to apostasy. Germans of African descent—many of whom, called “Rhineland bastards” by the Nazis, were the offspring of German mothers and French colonial African troops who had occupied the Rhineland after World War I—were also persecuted by the Nazis. Although their victimization was less systematic, it included forced sterilization and, often, internment in concentration camps. The fear was that they would “further pollute” and thereby diminish the race. The Nazis also singled out the Roma and Sinti, pejoratively known as Gypsies. They were the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas chambers alongside the Jews. For the Roma and Sinti, too, racial pollution and their depiction as asocials was the justification for their persecution and murder.
Uniquely at Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with a serial number, on their left breast for Soviet prisoners of war and on the left arm for civilians. Categories of prisoner were distinguishable by triangular pieces of cloth (German: Winkel) sewn onto on their jackets below their prisoner number. Political prisoners (Schutzhäftlinge or Sch), mostly Poles, had a red triangle, while criminals (Berufsverbrecher or BV) were mostly German and wore green. Asocial prisoners (Asoziale or Aso), which included vagrants, prostitutes and the Roma, wore black. Purple was for Jehovah's Witnesses (Internationale Bibelforscher-Vereinigung or IBV)'s and pink for gay men, who were mostly German. An estimated 5,000–15,000 gay men prosecuted under German Penal Code Section 175 (proscribing sexual acts between men) were detained in concentration camps, of which an unknown number were sent to Auschwitz. Jews wore a yellow badge, the shape of the Star of David, overlaid by a second triangle if they also belonged to a second category. The nationality of the inmate was indicated by a letter stitched onto the cloth. A racial hierarchy existed, with German prisoners at the top. Next were non-Jewish prisoners from other countries. Jewish prisoners were at the bottom.
Camp commandant Rudolf Höss was arrested by the British at a farm near Flensburg, Germany, on 11 March 1946, where he had been working under the pseudonym Franz Lang. He was imprisoned in Heide, then transferred to Minden for interrogation, part of the British occupation zone. From there he was taken to Nuremberg to testify for the defense in the trial of SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Höss was straightforward about his own role in the mass murder and said he had followed the orders of Heinrich Himmler.[g] Extradited to Poland on 25 May 1946, he wrote his memoirs in custody, first published in Polish in 1951 then in German in 1958 as Kommandant in Auschwitz. His trial before the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw opened on 11 March 1947; he was sentenced to death on 2 April and hanged in Auschwitz I, near crematorium I, on 16 April.
The gate house at Birkeanu is located three kilometers, or about two miles, from the main Auschwitz camp, known as Auschwitz I. To get to the Birkenau camp from the main camp, turn right after exiting from the parking lot. The road curves to the left and goes over the railroad overpass where Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler stood on March 1, 1941 when he selected the village of Birkenau to be the location of a new addition to the Auschwitz camp. At that time, the invasion of the Soviet Union and the plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe was only months away.
A parallel system to the main camp in Auschwitz began to operate at the Birkenau camp by 1942. The exception, though, was that the majority of “showers” used to delouse the incoming prisoners proved to be gas chambers. At Birkenau, only about 10 percent of Jewish transports were registered, disinfected, shaven and showered in the “central sauna” before being assigned barracks as opposed to being sent directly to the death chambers.
After attending primary and secondary school, Schindler enrolled in a technical school, from which he was expelled in 1924 for forging his report card. He later graduated, but did not take the Abitur exams that would have enabled him to go to college or university. Instead, he took courses in Brno in several trades, including chauffeuring and machinery, and worked for his father for three years. A fan of motorcycles since his youth, Schindler bought a 250-cc Moto Guzzi racing motorcycle and competed recreationally in mountain races for the next few years.