Early one morning I met Stos, a retired architect, at his small first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Krakow. We sat in his small, dark dining room, a plate of jam-filled ginger cookies on the starched white tablecloth between us. He said he grew up in Tarnow, Poland, about 50 miles from Krakow. He remembers the day the Nazis shipped him off to Auschwitz: June 13, 1940. It had been almost a year since Germany invaded Poland and launched its campaign to destroy the nation. Following instructions issued by SS chief Reinhard Heydrich—“the leading strata of the population should be rendered harmless”—the SS killed some 20,000 Poles, mainly priests, politicians and academics, in September and October 1939. Stos was an 18-year-old Boy Scout and a member of a Catholic youth organization. Germans put him and 727 other Poles, mostly university and trade-school students, in first-class train cars and told them they were going to work on German farms.
In June 1945 the Soviet authorities took over Auschwitz I and converted it into a POW camp for German prisoners. The hospital had to move beyond the camp perimeter into former administrative buildings, where it functioned until October 1945.[254] Many of the barracks at Birkenau were taken apart by civilians, who used the materials to rebuild their own homes, which had been levelled out in the construction of Auschwitz II. The poorest residents sifted the crematoria ashes in search of nuggets from melted gold, before warning shots were fired.[255] The POW camp for German prisoners of war was used until 1947 by the Soviet NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs).[256] The NKVD and its Polish counterpart, the MBP, used the Auschwitz Neu-Dachs sub-camp at Jaworzno to the north of Oświęcim as a concentration camp from 1945 to 1956.[257] The Soviets dismantled and exported the IG Farben factories to the USSR.[258] Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish investigators worked to document the war crimes of the SS.[259] After the site became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.[185]
In Autumn 1943, the camp administration was reorganized following a corruption scandal. By the end of 1943, the prisoner population of Auschwitz main camp, Birkenau, Monowitz and other sub-camps was over 80,000: 18,437 in the main camp, 49,114 in Birkenau, and 13,288 at Monowitz where I G Farben had its synthetic rubber plant. Up to 50,000 prisoners were scattered around 51 sub-camps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine (see The List of the Camps for a complete list of those sub-camps).
On 1 September 1939, when Anne was 10 years old, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and so the Second World War began. Not long after, on 10 May 1940, the Nazis also invaded the Netherlands. Five days later, the Dutch army surrendered. Slowly but surely, the Nazis introduced more and more laws and regulations that made the lives of Jews more difficult. For instance, Jews could no longer visit parks, cinemas, or non-Jewish shops. The rules meant that more and more places became off-limits to Anne. Her father lost his company, since Jews were no longer allowed to run their own businesses. All Jewish children, including Anne, had to go to separate Jewish schools.
Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, some 438,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped on 147 trains to Birkenau, stretching the camp’s resources for killing beyond all limits. Because the crematoria were overcrowded, bodies were burned in pyres fueled partly by the victims’ own fat. Just prior to the deportation of Hungarian Jewry, two prisoners escaped with plans of the camp. They met with resistance leaders in Slovakia and compiled a detailed report including maps. As this report made its way to Western intelligence services in the summer of 1944, there were requests to bomb Auschwitz. Although the industrial complex adjacent to Auschwitz was bombed, the death camp and its crematoria were left untouched, a subject of controversy more than 50 years later. (See Why Wasn’t Auschwitz Bombed?)
Jews, Gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, asocials, criminals, and prisoners of war were gathered, stuffed into cattle cars on trains, and sent to Auschwitz. When the trains stopped at Auschwitz II: Birkenau, the newly arrived were told to leave all their belongings on board and were then forced to disembark from the train and gather upon the railway platform, known as "the ramp."

Though we tend to think of Hitler’s Germany as a highly regimented dictatorship, in practice Nazi rule was chaotic and improvisatory. Rival power bases in the Party and the German state competed to carry out what they believed to be Hitler’s wishes. This system of “working towards the Fuhrer,” as it was called by Hitler’s biographer Ian Kershaw, was clearly in evidence when it came to the concentration camps. The K.L. system, during its twelve years of existence, included twenty-seven main camps and more than a thousand subcamps. At its peak, in early 1945, it housed more than seven hundred thousand inmates. In addition to being a major penal and economic institution, it was a central symbol of Hitler’s rule. Yet Hitler plays almost no role in Wachsmann’s book, and Wachsmann writes that Hitler was never seen to visit a camp. It was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S., who was in charge of the camp system, and its growth was due in part to his ambition to make the S.S. the most powerful force in Germany.


By the fall of 1933, Otto Frank moved to Amsterdam, where he established a small but successful company that produced a gelling substance used to make jam. After staying behind in Germany with her grandmother in the city of Aachen, Anne joined her parents and sister Margot (1926-45) in the Dutch capital in February 1934. In 1935, Anne started school in Amsterdam and earned a reputation as an energetic, popular girl.
Frank soon found the traction to publish Margot, a novel that imagined her sister living the life she once dreamed of, as a midwife in the Galilee. A surreal work that breaks the boundaries between novel and memoir, and leaves ambiguous which of its characters are dead or alive, Margot became wildly popular in Israel. Its English translation allowed Frank to find a small but appreciative audience in the United States.

The crisis led to war preparations by Britain, Czechoslovakia, and France (Czechoslovakia's ally). Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Czechoslovak government was forced to accept the Sudetenland's annexation into Germany. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London, saying the agreement brought "peace for our time".[70] The agreement lasted six months before Hitler seized the rest of Czech territory in March 1939.[71]
The women selected from this transport, including Anne, Edith, and Margot, were marked with numbers between A-25060 and A-25271. Records indicating their exact numbers have not been preserved. Approximately eight weeks later, in late October 1944, Anne and Margot were transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died sometime in March 1945. Though Anne’s death certificate documents her movement between camps, it, too, does not include her tattoo ID number.

To write the history of such an institution, as Nikolaus Wachsmann sets out to do in another new book, “KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), might seem impossible, like writing the history of Hell. And, certainly, both his book and Helm’s are full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions. Helm devotes a chapter to Ravensbrück’s Kinderzimmer, or “children’s room,” where inmates who came to the camp pregnant were forced to abandon their babies; the newborns were left to die of starvation or be eaten alive by rats. Wachsmann quotes a prisoner at Dachau who saw a transport of men afflicted by dysentery arrive at the camp: “We saw dozens . . . with excrement running out of their trousers. Their hands, too, were full of excrement and they screamed and rubbed their dirty hands across their faces.”


That same day, Gestapo official SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer and two Dutch police collaborators arrested the Franks. The Gestapo sent them to Westerbork on Aug. 8. One month later, in September 1944, SS and police authorities placed the Franks, and the four others hiding with them, on a train transport from Westerbork to the Auschwitz camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Selected for labor due to their youth, Anne and her sister, Margot were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Celle, in northern Germany, in late October 1944.
German authorities established camps all over Germany on an ad hoc basis to handle the masses of people arrested as alleged subversives. The SS established larger camps in Oranienburg, north of Berlin; Esterwegen, near Hamburg; Dachau, northwest of Munich; and Lichtenburg, in Saxony. In Berlin itself, the Columbia Haus facility held prisoners under investigation by the Gestapo (the German secret state police) until 1936.
The Security Police had held this exclusive authority de facto since 1936. The “legal” instrument of incarceration was either the “protective detention” (Schutzhaft) order or the “preventative detention” (Vorbeugungshaft) order. The Gestapo could issue a “protective detention” order for persons considered a political danger after 1933. The Criminal Police could issue a “preventative detention” order after December 1937 for persons considered to be habitual and professional criminals, or to be engaging in what the regime defined as “asocial” behavior. Neither order was subject to judicial review, or any review by any German agency outside of the German Security Police.
The crisis led to war preparations by Britain, Czechoslovakia, and France (Czechoslovakia's ally). Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Czechoslovak government was forced to accept the Sudetenland's annexation into Germany. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London, saying the agreement brought "peace for our time".[70] The agreement lasted six months before Hitler seized the rest of Czech territory in March 1939.[71]
Several SS personnel oversaw the killings at each gas chamber, while the bulk of the work was done by the mostly Jewish prisoners known as Sonderkommandos (special squads).[91][92] Hungarian doctor Miklós Nyiszli reported that the Sonderkommando numbered around 860 prisoners when the Hungarian Jews were being killed in May–July 1944.[93] Their responsibilities included removing goods and corpses from the incoming trains, guiding victims to the dressing rooms and gas chambers, and working in the "Canada" barracks, where the victims' possessions were stored.[94] Housed separately from other prisoners, in somewhat better conditions, their quality of life was further improved by access to the goods taken from murdered prisoners, which they were sometimes able to steal and trade on Auschwitz's black market.[95] Many Sonderkommandos committed suicide in response to the horrors of their work; others were generally shot by the SS in a matter of weeks. New Sonderkommando units were formed from incoming transports. Almost none of the 2,000 prisoners placed in these units survived to the camp's liberation.[96]
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.
A survey published last summer by the American Press Institute revealed that forty-two per cent of the public thinks that “most of the news reporting they see is opinion and commentary posing as news reporting.” An additional seventeen per cent said that there was too much analysis. People wanted facts, they wanted them “verified,” and, though they wanted some background and context, they mostly wanted to be allowed to come to their own conclusions. For many journalists reporting on the new right in the U.S. and Europe, it may be difficult to shake the feeling that this is somehow irresponsible. There is a strong argument to be made that anyone who professes bigotry and hatred doesn’t deserve to be considered seriously, let alone objectively. But that could preclude us from understanding the social circumstances that led to someone such as Richard Spencer, a figurehead of the alt-right, attaining a platform in the first place. If reporters do engage, what is to be done about the strong desire to condemn their subjects?
The twin pairs of gas chambers were numbered II and III, and IV and V. The first opened on March 31, 1943, the last on April 4, 1943. The total area of the gas chambers was 2,255 square meters; the capacity of these crematoria was 4,420 people. Those selected to die were undressed in the undressing room and then pushed into the gas chambers. It took about 20 minutes for all the people to death. In II and III, the killings took place in underground rooms, and the corpses were carried to the five ovens by an electrically operated lift. Before cremation gold teeth and any other valuables, such as rings, were removed from the corpses. In IV and V the gas chambers and ovens were on the same level, but the ovens were so poorly built and the usage was so great that they repeatedly malfunctioned and had to be abandoned. The corpses were finally burned outside, in the open, as in 1943. Jewish sonderkommandos worked the crematoria under SS supervision.
were of a revolutionary nature: destruction of existing political and social structures and their supporting elites; profound dispain for civic order, for human and moral values, for Habsburg and Hohenzollern, for liberal and Marxist ideas. The middle class and middle-class values, bourgeois nationalism and capitalism, the professionals, the intelligentsia and the upper class were dealt the sharpest rebuff. These were the groups which had to be uprooted...[278]

The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia whilst trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway, and Sweden.[76] Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop arranged in negotiations with the Soviet Union a non-aggression pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed in August 1939.[77] The treaty also contained secret protocols dividing Poland and the Baltic states into German and Soviet spheres of influence.[78]

Poles were viewed by Nazis as subhuman non-Aryans, and during the German occupation of Poland 2.7 million ethnic Poles were killed.[342] Polish civilians were subject to forced labour in German industry, internment, wholesale expulsions to make way for German colonists, and mass executions. The German authorities engaged in a systematic effort to destroy Polish culture and national identity. During operation AB-Aktion, many university professors and members of the Polish intelligentsia were arrested, transported to concentration camps, or executed. During the war, Poland lost an estimated 39 to 45 percent of its physicians and dentists, 26 to 57 percent of its lawyers, 15 to 30 percent of its teachers, 30 to 40 percent of its scientists and university professors, and 18 to 28 percent of its clergy.[343]
And for that purpose it is necessary not to think of the camps simply as a hellscape. Reading Wachsmann’s deeply researched, groundbreaking history of the entire camp system makes clear that Dachau and Buchenwald were the products of institutional and ideological forces that we can understand, perhaps all too well. Indeed, it’s possible to think of the camps as what happens when you cross three disciplinary institutions that all societies possess—the prison, the army, and the factory. Over the several phases of their existence, the Nazi camps took on the aspects of all of these, so that prisoners were treated simultaneously as inmates to be corrected, enemies to be combatted, and workers to be exploited. When these forms of dehumanization were combined, and amplified to the maximum by ideology and war, the result was the Konzentrationlager, or K.L.
The existing legal system provides appropriate tools for the effective protection and management of the property. The Museum Council, whose members are appointed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, supervises the performance of the Museum’s duties regarding its collections, in particular the execution of its statutory tasks. In addition, the International Auschwitz Council acts as a consultative and advisory body to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland on the protection and management of the site of the former Auschwitz Birkenau camp and other places of extermination and former concentration camps situated within the present territory of Poland.
When asked[when?] whether he supported the "bourgeois right-wing", Hitler claimed that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and he indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".[26]
Germany's war in the East was based on Hitler's long-standing view that Jews were the great enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. Hitler focused his attention on Eastern Europe, aiming to conquer Poland and the Soviet Union.[182][183] After the occupation of Poland in 1939, all Jews living in the General Government were confined to ghettos, and those who were physically fit were required to perform compulsory labour.[317] In 1941 Hitler decided to destroy the Polish nation completely; within 15 to 20 years the General Government was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists.[318] About 3.8 to 4 million Poles would remain as slaves,[319] part of a slave labour force of 14 million the Nazis intended to create using citizens of conquered nations.[183][320]
In September 1933, an important policy document known as the Prussian Memorandum began circulating among lawmakers and jurists of the Third Reich. The Nazi regime was still in its infancy; Hitler had been named chancellor just nine months prior, the result of a power-sharing arrangement with nationalist conservatives who thought they could control the mercurial Austrian. Following the Reichstag Fire in February of that year, Hitler had assumed emergency powers and within weeks usurped the authority of the parliament. By that critical autumn, the Third Reich had begun Nazifying the German legal code. The Prussian Memorandum that passed between Nazi legal hands was an early blueprint for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and criminalized sexual relations between Germans and those thought to have impure blood. It was the foundational text of Nazi legal thinking. Incredibly, the Prussian Memorandum expressly cited the gold standard of racist lawmaking at the time: the United States of America.
During the Holocaust, concentration camp prisoners received tattoos only at one location, Auschwitz. Incoming prisoners were assigned a camp serial number which was sewn to their prison uniforms. Only those prisoners selected for work were issued serial numbers; those prisoners sent directly to the gas chambers were not registered and received no tattoos.
Between 1942 and 1944, the SS authorities at Auschwitz established 44 subcamps. Some of them were established within the officially designated “development” zone, including Budy, Rajsko, Tschechowitz, Harmense, and Babitz. Others, such as Blechhammer, Gleiwitz, Althammer, Fürstengrube, Laurahuette, and Eintrachthuette were located in Upper Silesia north and west of the Vistula River. Some subcamps, such as Freudenthal and Bruenn (Brno), were located in Moravia.

When I met her at her house in London, Lasker-Wallfisch, 84, explained that she and her sister avoided the dreaded selection process because they went to Birkenau as convicts. “People shipped from prisons weren’t shipped in huge trainloads of Jews,” Lasker-Wallfisch said. “They were shipped as individuals, which was an advantage. It’s not worth turning the gas on for one Jew, I suppose.” Instead, Lasker-Wallfisch was stripped, guards shaved her head and an inmate tattooed her with an identification number (a practice unique to Auschwitz).


Auschwitz originally was conceived as a concentration camp, to be used as a detention center for the many Polish citizens arrested after Germany annexed the country in 1939. These detainees included anti-Nazi activists, politicians, resistance members and luminaries from the cultural and scientific communities. Once Hitler’s Final Solution became official Nazi policy, however, Auschwitz was deemed an ideal death camp locale. For one thing, it was situated near the center of all German-occupied countries on the European continent. For another, it was in close proximity to the string of rail lines used to transport detainees to the network of Nazi camps.

The first camp in Germany, Dachau, was founded in March 1933.[13] The press announcement said that "the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5,000 people. All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated there, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons."[13] Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the German coalition government of National Socialist Workers' Party (Nazi Party) and the Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."[13]
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