On the morning of 4 August 1944, the Achterhuis was stormed by a group of German uniformed police (Grüne Polizei) led by SS-Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer of the Sicherheitsdienst. The Franks, van Pelses, and Pfeffer were taken to RSHA headquarters, where they were interrogated and held overnight. On 5 August they were transferred to the Huis van Bewaring (House of Detention), an overcrowded prison on the Weteringschans. Two days later they were transported to the Westerbork transit camp, through which by that time more than 100,000 Jews, mostly Dutch and German, had passed. Having been arrested in hiding, they were considered criminals and sent to the Punishment Barracks for hard labour.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, ul. Ofiar Faszyzmu 12. The second and largest part of the camp complex, located 3 km from Auschwitz I in the village of Brzezinka, site of the notorious railway gate. Visitors can see the remains of buildings where incoming prisoners were shaved and given their "new" clothing, the ruins of the five gas chambers and crematories, numerous surviving barracks, ponds where the ashes of hundreds of thousands were dumped without ceremony, and a large stone memorial written in a multitude of languages. Walking through the entire site may take several hours. Some visitors may find the experience harrowing. edit
The Nazis’ goal wasn’t only to destroy evidence of the camp: They had plans to force the prisoners to serve as slave laborers for the Reich. Some prisoners were stuffed into train cars to complete their journey to Germany; others escaped into the sub-zero temperatures. Of those forced to walk, some died along the way, though it remains unclear how many were killed over the course of the marches.
In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients—estimated at several thousands—were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where several were adopted by Polish families, or placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice. The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.
We lived in a white-painted brick house on Kodur Street in Dej, which had a population of about 15,000, around a quarter of whom were Jewish. I was the youngest of five, and we spoke Yiddish within the community and Hungarian and Romanian outside. We had a garden and backyard, full of plums, peaches, cherries and apples. Among the smells of my childhood were my mother’s goulash and the scent of Shabbat candles. My father was a merchant, a travelling salesman. My mother had the full-time job of keeping the house and family. I remember the lullaby she used to sing me, Schaefeleh, schluf mein tier kind (Sleep well, my precious little child). The synagogue or shul was the centre of communal life, and the centre of my life from three years upwards. I don’t remember any overt antisemitism, just my parents warning me to be inside before dark: “Lest some Christian kids decide they don’t like the look of your sidelocks and pick on you.” I just thought my parents were being overprotective.
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials, and museums. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II. In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.
Banas introduces me to conservators working to preserve evidence of camp life: fragments of a mural depicting an idealized German family that once decorated the SS canteen, floor tiles from a prisoners barrack. In one room, a team wielding erasers, brushes and purified water clean and scan 39,000 yellowing medical records written on everything from card stock to toilet paper.
In “Ravensbrück,” Helm gives a further example of the erratic way the Nazis treated their own regulations, even late in the war. In 1943, Himmler agreed to allow the Red Cross to deliver food parcels to some prisoners in the camps. To send a parcel, however, the Red Cross had to mark it with the name, number, and camp location of the recipient; requests for these details were always refused, so that there was no way to get desperately needed supplies into the camps. Yet when Wanda Hjort, a young Norwegian woman living in Germany, got hold of some prisoners’ names and numbers—thanks to inmates who smuggled the information to her when she visited the camp at Sachsenhausen—she was able to pass them on to the Norwegian Red Cross, whose packages were duly delivered. This game of hide-and-seek with the rules, this combination of hyper-regimentation and anarchy, is what makes Kafka’s “The Trial” seem to foretell the Nazi regime.
Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.
On August 4, 1944, German and Dutch SS men led by SS Oberscharführer Josef Zilberbauer raided the hiding place. The identity of the Dutch citizen who informed on the fugitives is uncertain, but the most probable suspect (and until 2002 the only one) is Willem van Maaren, who worked in the warehouse of the building where they were hidden. On September 3, 1944 all eight of them were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport from Westerbork, which numbered about a thousand people. Edith Frank died of starvation in Auschwitz at the beginning of January 1945. Margot and Anne, who were taken to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 1944, died there in the typhus epidemic that killed thousands of prisoners at the end of February and the beginning of March, 1945. On liberation, Otto returned to Holland to discover, after long searching, that he was the only one of the eight who had survived.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the concentration and extermination camps established on Polish soil, served concurrently as a labor camp and as a center for the rapid extermination of Jews. Chosen as the central location for the annihilation of the Jewish people, it was equipped with several extermination facilities and crematoria. Extermination was carried out by means of Zyklon B gas, a substance that had previously been tested on Russian prisoners of war.
Around one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died in Auschwitz. By nation, the greatest number of Auschwitz's Jewish victims originated from Hungary, accounting for 430,000 deaths, followed by Poland (300,000), France (69,000), Netherlands (60,000), Greece (55,000), Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (46,000), other camps (34,000), Slovakia (27,000), Belgium (25,000), Germany and Austria (23,000), Yugoslavia (10,000), Italy (7,500), and Norway (690). Fewer than one percent of Soviet Jews murdered in the Holocaust were killed in Auschwitz; German forces had already been driven from Russia when the killing at Auschwitz reached its peak in 1944. Of the 400 Jehovah's Witnesses who were imprisoned at Auschwitz, 132 died there.
Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, just outside OÅ›wiÄ™cim, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), commander of the “Schutzstaffel” (or Select Guard/Protection Squad, more commonly known as the SS), which operated all Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau.More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prisoners.
When the day of release came we were at first searched most carefully for any sort of written notes. Notes from our family—a short, well-watched exchange was allowed every week—had to be left behind. Then we were permitted to put on our civilian clothes, but how they looked! They had been disinfected under high steam pressure and had been wrapped in bundles. They looked like the outfits of tramps, all creased and out of shape. Soft felt hats had turned into cardboard-like monsters no longer usable, and even on our short trip back they could not be worn.
Those unable to work – the old, women and children – were immediately sent to the gas chambers or shot in the "camp hospital". Even those able to work ended up in the gas chamber sooner or later, or they fell victim to random shooting actions within a few months, when they had been worn out by the tough work. That is, if they had not died already. Those able to work for instance helped carry the bodies to the crematoria or search the bodies for valuables.
^ One of the best-known examples was the 168 British Commonwealth and U.S. aviators held for a time at Buchenwald concentration camp. (See: luvnbdy/secondwar/fact_sheets/pow Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006, "Prisoners of War in the Second World War" and National Museum of the USAF, "Allied Victims of the Holocaust" Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine.) Two different reasons are suggested for this: the Nazis wanted to make an example of theTerrorflieger ("terror-instilling aviators"), or they classified the downed fliers as spies because they were out of uniform, carrying false papers, or both when apprehended.
However, on August 4, 1944 the Germans stormed into the Frank's hideout. They took everyone captive and sent them to concentration camps. The men and women were separated. Eventually the girls were separated and sent to a camp. Both Anne and her sister died of the disease Typhus in March of 1945, only a month before Allied soldiers arrived at the camp.
On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich", which stated that upon Hindenburg's death the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government and was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Chancellor") – although eventually Reichskanzler was dropped. Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head. As head of state, Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The new law provided an altered loyalty oath for servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the state. On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 90 percent of the electorate in a plebiscite.
The Auschwitz registry (Hauptbücher) shows that 20,946 Roma were registered prisoners, and another 3,000 are thought to have entered unregistered. On 22 March 1943, one transport of 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma was gassed on arrival because of illness, as was a second group of 1,035 on 25 May 1943. The SS tried to liquidate the camp on 16 May 1944, but the Roma fought them, armed with knives and iron pipes, and the SS retreated. Shortly after this, the SS removed nearly 2,908 from the family camp to work, and on 2 August 1944 gassed the other 2,897. Ten thousand remain unaccounted for.
Until the German invasion, Anne’s childhood in Amsterdam was filled with school and friends—she had attended the Sixth Montessori school in Amsterdam until September 1941, when Jewish children are no longer allowed to go to school with non-Jews. The following spring, in May 1942, all Dutch Jews were required to wear a yellow star of David on their clothing with the word Jood (Jew) written on it. They also had to observe curfews and were barred from public transportation and from using the telephone. In June, Anne turned 13 and received a diary for her birthday—the first volume of three she would keep during the war.
Mindful that no mere visit can convey what the concentration camp was like when the Nazis ran it, I met with survivors. The week before I arrived in Krakow, I had called Jozef Stos, 89, to ask if he would discuss his years in captivity. “If I’m still alive then, sure—it’s my civic responsibility,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty darn old, you know.”
As the Soviet Army advanced from the east, the Nazis transported prisoners away from the front and deep into Germany. Some prisoners were taken from the camps by train, but most were force-marched hundreds of miles, often in freezing weather and without proper clothing or shoes. Over the course of these death marches, which sometimes lasted weeks, tens of thousands of people died from cold or hunger, or were shot because they could not keep up.
Nazi racial theorist Hans F. K. Günther argued that European peoples were divided into five races: Nordic, Mediterranean, Dinaric, Alpine and East Baltic. Günther applied a Nordicist conception in order to justify his belief that Nordics were the highest in the racial hierarchy. In his book Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922) ("Racial Science of the German People"), Günther recognised Germans as being composed of all five races, but emphasized the strong Nordic heritage among them. Hitler read Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes, which influenced his racial policy. Gunther believed that Slavs belonged to an "Eastern race" and he warned against Germans mixing with them. The Nazis described Jews as being a racially mixed group of primarily Near Eastern and Oriental racial types. Because such racial groups were concentrated outside Europe, the Nazis claimed that Jews were "racially alien" to all European peoples and that they did not have deep racial roots in Europe.
One could call this a simple mistake, except that it echoed a similar incident the previous year, when visitors noticed a discrepancy in the museum’s audioguide displays. Each audioguide language was represented by a national flag—with the exception of Hebrew, which was represented only by the language’s name in its alphabet. The display was eventually corrected to include the Israeli flag.
Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.
Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” said Jonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.
A week after they had gone into hiding, the Franks were joined by Otto’s business associate Hermann van Pels (1898-1944), along with his wife Auguste (1900-45) and their son Peter (1926-45), who were also Jewish. A small group of Otto Frank’s employees, including his Austrian-born secretary, Miep Gies (1909-2010), risked their own lives to smuggle food, supplies and news of the outside world into the secret apartment, whose entrance was situated behind a movable bookcase. In November 1942, the Franks and Van Pels were joined by Fritz Pfeffer (1889-1944), Miep Gies’ Jewish dentist.
But some characteristics are more pertinent. Schneidermann’s analysis begins with the St. Louis, the ship that carried around a thousand mostly German and Austrian Jewish refugees across the Atlantic in May, 1939, only to see its passengers refused entry into both the U.S. and Cuba. (At the time, the newspapers reported that the U.S. had fulfilled an annual quota for German and Austrian immigrants, a claim that was later revealed to be likely false.) Viewed from the distance of eighty years, the tone of the coverage seems, to Schneidermann, woefully insufficient. He cites the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s encyclopedia entry for the event, which notes, “though US newspapers generally portrayed the plight of the passengers with great sympathy, only a few journalists and editors suggested that the refugees be admitted into the United States.” Schneidermann compares this to the media’s more admirable response to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” in 2017, which sent a mass of journalists to airports across the U.S. to tell the stories of people—stranded and separated from their families—whose rights had been violated.
After three days at Auschwitz, I was left with the feeling that for some visitors, the former concentration camp is a box to check off on a tourist “to-do” list. But many people appeared genuinely moved. I saw Israeli teenagers crying and hugging each other and groups of people transfixed by the mug shots of prisoners that line the walls of one of the Auschwitz barracks. Walking through the room full of hair still makes my stomach churn. But what I hadn’t remembered from my first visit was the room next door filled with battered cooking pots and pans, brought by people who believed until the last moment that there was a future wherever they were being taken. And when Banas told me about the carefully folded math test that conservationists found hidden in a child’s shoe, I choked up. Even if only a fraction of the people who come here each year are profoundly affected, a fraction of a million is still a lot of people.
Between 1940 and 1942, the French interned Jewish refugee families fleeing Nazi oppression elsewhere in Europe in Rivesaltes for the same reason. Lists of those incarcerated include a transport of Czech Jewish children: Brothers Salomon and Abraham Davidovic were 13 and 14 when they arrived. Conditions deteriorated. Directors complained in 1941 of no heat. Illness spread. Babies and the elderly died. The situation worsened when the Nazi-puppet Vichy regime assumed control of the camp in 1942 and began deporting its 7,000 foreign Jewish refugee prisoners to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. There, mothers and children were not separated but instead went to their deaths together.
After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labor. IG Farben established a synthetic rubber plant in 1942 at Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz III); other camps were set up next to airplane factories, coal mines and rocket propellant plants. Conditions were brutal and prisoners were often sent to the gas chambers or killed on site if they did not work quickly enough.