As the Russians closed in on Auschwitz, the Germans became desperate, destroying as much evidence of war crimes as they could, including records and property seized from prisoners, and forcing as many prisoners as they could on what became death marches. The day before the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz, Edith died there. On January 27 Otto was liberated and taken to Odessa and then France before being allowed to return to Amsterdam in June 1945.
However, this regulation was soon waived and there is ample evidence that full Nazi Party members served in the Wehrmacht in particular after the outbreak of World War II. The Wehrmacht Reserves also saw a high number of senior Nazis enlisting, with Reinhard Heydrich and Fritz Todt joining the Luftwaffe, as well as Karl Hanke who served in the army.

The Frank family was transported to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, and from there to Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland, on September 3, 1944, on the last transport to leave Westerbork for Auschwitz. Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen the following month. Anne’s mother died in early January, just before the evacuation of Auschwitz on January 18, 1945. It was established by the Dutch government that both Anne and Margot died in a typhus epidemic in March 1945, only weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, but scholars in 2015 revealed new research, including analysis of archival data and first-person accounts, indicating that the sisters might have perished in February 1945. Otto Frank was found hospitalized at Auschwitz when it was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.


Most of the POWs died within weeks. “When it was time to get up in the morning, those who were alive moved, and around them would be two or three dead people,” one Russian survivor says in the 2005 book Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees. “Death at night, death in the morning, death in the afternoon. There was death all the time.” The prisoners built the barracks at Birkenau in a rush, laying a single course of bricks on poorly made foundations. The flood of Soviet POWs overwhelmed the already crowded camp. Pressure to “eliminate” people—the Nazi euphemism—grew.

Successive Reichsstatthalter decrees between 1933 and 1935 abolished the existing Länder (constituent states) of Germany and replaced them with new administrative divisions, the Gaue, governed by NSDAP leaders (Gauleiters).[199] The change was never fully implemented, as the Länder were still used as administrative divisions for some government departments such as education. This led to a bureaucratic tangle of overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities typical of the administrative style of the Nazi regime.[200]
The Reich Forestry Office under Göring enforced regulations that required foresters to plant a variety of trees to ensure suitable habitat for wildlife, and a new Reich Animal Protection Act became law in 1933.[402] The regime enacted the Reich Nature Protection Act in 1935 to protect the natural landscape from excessive economic development. It allowed for the expropriation of privately owned land to create nature preserves and aided in long-range planning.[403] Perfunctory efforts were made to curb air pollution, but little enforcement of existing legislation was undertaken once the war began.[404]
In the Holocaust, millions of Jews, as well as Roma people (also called "Gypsies"), people with disabilities, homosexuals, political opponents, and many other people were sent to concentration camps and death camps in Poland and Germany. The Nazis killed millions of these people at the concentration camps with poison gas. The Nazis also killed millions of people in these groups by forcing them to do slave labor without giving them much food or clothing. In total, 17 million people died- 6 million of them Jews.
As the government and military began to collapse within Germany, Nazi officials in both Germany and occupied Poland began to think about their endgame. In November 1944, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and one of the architects of the Holocaust, issued an abruptorder to destroy the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of Auschwitz’s three main camps. Historians disagree on why he issued the command, which was in direct opposition to a previous order by Adolf Hitler to destroy the remaining Jews in Europe.
Many of the forced labour camps were satellite camps or sections of concentration camps. Auschwitz, in Poland, had over 40 such satellite camps. Inmates of the labour camps were kept in terrible conditions, with the intention by the Nazis that death would be the result. ‘Extermination by labour’ was a policy under which the Nazis could supply the German war effort, while also continuing to carry out ‘the final solution’.
The Polish government-in-exile in London first reported the gassing of prisoners in Auschwitz on 21 July 1942,[210] and reported the gassing of Soviet POWs and Jews on 4 September 1942.[211] In 1943, the Kampfgruppe Auschwitz (Combat Group Auschwitz) was organized within the camp with the aim of sending out information about what was happening.[212] Sonderkommandos buried notes in the ground, hoping they would be found by the camp's liberators.[213] The group also smuggled out photographs; the Sonderkommando photographs, of events around the gas chambers in Auschwitz II, were smuggled out of the camp in September 1944 in a toothpaste tube.[214] According to Fleming, the British press responded, in 1943 and the first half of 1944, either by not publishing reports about Auschwitz or by burying them on the inside pages. The exception was the Polish Jewish Observer, published as a supplement to the City and East London Observer and edited by Joel Cang, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. The British reticence stemmed from a Foreign Office concern that the public might pressure the government to respond or provide refuge for the Jews, and that British actions on behalf of the Jews might affect its relationships in the Middle East. There was similar reticence in the United States, and indeed within the Polish government-in-exile and the Polish resistance. According to Fleming, the scholarship suggests that the Polish resistance distributed information about the Holocaust in Auschwitz without challenging the Allies' reluctance to highlight it.[215]
The atrocities of Nazi Germany began well before the first shots of World War II were fired in 1939. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, and five weeks later, the Nazis established their first concentration camp. In 1935, the Nazis issued the Nuremberg Laws: "racial purity" laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Violence broke out in November 1938, when Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, and synagogues, killed nearly 100 and arrested some 30,000 Jewish men in what came to be known as Kristallnacht. By 1939, 300,000 Jewish refugees had fled Nazi controlled territories. By the war's end in 1945, six million Jews and millions of other victims had died in the Holocaust.
The enormous expansion of the camps resulted in an exponential increase in the misery of the prisoners. Food rations, always meagre, were cut to less than minimal: a bowl of rutabaga soup and some ersatz bread would have to sustain a prisoner doing heavy labor. The result was desperate black marketing and theft. Wachsmann writes, “In Sachsenhausen, a young French prisoner was battered to death in 1941 by an SS block leader for taking two carrots from a sheep pen.” Starvation was endemic and rendered prisoners easy prey for typhus and dysentery. At the same time, the need to keep control of so many prisoners made the S.S. even more brutal, and sadistic new punishments were invented. The “standing commando” forced prisoners to stand absolutely still for eight hours at a time; any movement or noise was punished by beatings. The murder of prisoners by guards, formerly an exceptional event in the camps, now became unremarkable.

In January 1945, as the Soviet army entered Krakow, the Germans ordered that Auschwitz be abandoned. Before the end of the month, in what came to be known as the Auschwitz death marches, an estimated 60,000 detainees, accompanied by Nazi guards, departed the camp and were forced to march to the Polish towns of Gliwice or Wodzislaw, some 30 miles away. Countless prisoners died during this process; those who made it to the sites were sent on trains to concentration camps in Germany.


Racism and antisemitism were basic tenets of the NSDAP and the Nazi regime. Nazi Germany's racial policy was based on their belief in the existence of a superior master race. The Nazis postulated the existence of a racial conflict between the Aryan master race and inferior races, particularly Jews, who were viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated society and were responsible for the exploitation and repression of the Aryan race.[298]
During the era of Imperial Germany, Völkisch nationalism was overshadowed by both Prussian patriotism and the federalist tradition of its various component states.[71] The events of World War I, including the end of the Prussian monarchy in Germany, resulted in a surge of revolutionary Völkisch nationalism.[72] The Nazis supported such revolutionary Völkisch nationalist policies[71] and they claimed that their ideology was influenced by the leadership and policies of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire.[73] The Nazis declared that they were dedicated to continuing the process of creating a unified German nation state that Bismarck had begun and desired to achieve.[74] While Hitler was supportive of Bismarck's creation of the German Empire, he was critical of Bismarck's moderate domestic policies.[75] On the issue of Bismarck's support of a Kleindeutschland ("Lesser Germany", excluding Austria) versus the Pan-German Großdeutschland ("Greater Germany") which the Nazis advocated, Hitler stated that Bismarck's attainment of Kleindeutschland was the "highest achievement" Bismarck could have achieved "within the limits possible at that time".[76] In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler presented himself as a "second Bismarck".[76]
Major public works projects financed with deficit spending included the construction of a network of Autobahnen and providing funding for programmes initiated by the previous government for housing and agricultural improvements.[258] To stimulate the construction industry, credit was offered to private businesses and subsidies were made available for home purchases and repairs.[259] On the condition that the wife would leave the workforce, a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks could be accessed by young couples of Aryan descent who intended to marry, and the amount that had to be repaid was reduced by 25 percent for each child born.[260] The caveat that the woman had to remain unemployed outside the home was dropped by 1937 due to a shortage of skilled labourers.[261]
Hitler’s intellectual viewpoint was influenced during his youth not only by these currents in the German tradition but also by specific Austrian movements that professed various political sentiments, notably those of pan-Germanic expansionism and anti-Semitism. Hitler’s ferocious nationalism, his contempt of the Slavs, and his hatred of the Jews can largely be explained by his bitter experiences as an unsuccessful artist living a threadbare existence on the streets of Vienna, the capital of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Around 7,000 SS personnel were posted to Auschwitz during the war.[84] Of these, 4 percent of SS personnel were officers and 26 percent were non-commissioned officers, while the remainder were rank-and-file members.[85] Camp guards were members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units).[86] Approximately three in four SS personnel worked in security. Others worked in the medical or political departments, in the camp headquarters, or in the economic administration, which was responsible for the property of dead prisoners.[85] SS personnel at the camp included 200 women, who worked as guards, nurses, or messengers.[80] About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria.[87]

While unmarried until the very end of the regime, Hitler often made excuses about his busy life hindering any chance for marriage.[188] Among National Socialist ideologues, marriage was valued not for moral considerations but because it provided an optimal breeding environment. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler reportedly told a confidant that when he established the Lebensborn program, an organisation that would dramatically increase the birth rate of "Aryan" children through extramarital relations between women classified as racially pure and their male equals, he had only the purest male "conception assistants" in mind.[189]
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power. Following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses and synagogues, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses.[299] The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service passed on 7 April forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service.[300] Similar legislation soon deprived other Jewish professionals of their right to practise, and on 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan.[301] As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May.[302]

Birkenau was the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex. It became primarily a centre for the mass murder of Jews brought there for extermination, and of Roma and Sinti prisoners during its final period. Sick prisoners and those selected for death from the whole Auschwitz complex – and, to a smaller extent, from other camps – were also gathered and systematically killed here. It ultimately became a place for the concentration of prisoners before they were transferred inside the Third Reich to work for German industry. Most of the victims of the Auschwitz complex, probably about 90%, were killed in the Birkenau camp.

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party, grew into a mass movement and ruled Germany through totalitarian means from 1933 to 1945. Founded in 1919 as the German Workers’ Party, the group promoted German pride and anti-Semitism, and expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the 1919 peace settlement that ended World War I (1914-1918) and required Germany to make numerous concessions and reparations. Hitler joined the party the year it was founded and became its leader in 1921. In 1933, he became chancellor of Germany and his Nazi government soon assumed dictatorial powers. After Germany’s defeat in World War II (1939-45), the Nazi Party was outlawed and many of its top officials were convicted of war crimes related to the murder of some 6 million European Jews during the Nazis’ reign.
Upon his release Hitler quickly set about rebuilding his moribund party, vowing to achieve power only through legal political means thereafter. The Nazi Party’s membership grew from 25,000 in 1925 to about 180,000 in 1929. Its organizational system of gauleiters (“district leaders”) spread through Germany at this time, and the party began contesting municipal, state, and federal elections with increasing frequency.

After the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler promoted Himmler and the SS, who then zealously suppressed homosexuality by saying: "We must exterminate these people root and branch ... the homosexual must be eliminated".[201] In 1936, Himmler established the "Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung der Homosexualität und Abtreibung" ("Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion").[202] The Nazi regime incarcerated some 100,000 homosexuals during the 1930s.[203] As concentration camp prisoners, homosexual men were forced to wear pink triangle badges.[204][205] Nazi ideology still viewed German men who were gay as a part of the Aryan master race, but the Nazi regime attempted to force them into sexual and social conformity. Homosexuals were viewed as failing in their duty to procreate and reproduce for the Aryan nation. Gay men who would not change or feign a change in their sexual orientation were sent to concentration camps under the "Extermination Through Work" campaign.[206]


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.
Under Nazi rule, all other political parties were banned. In 1933, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp, in Dachau, Germany, to house political prisoners. Dachau evolved into a death camp where countless thousands of Jews died from malnutrition, disease and overwork or were executed. In addition to Jews, the camp’s prisoners included members of other groups Hitler considered unfit for the new Germany, including artists, intellectuals, Gypsies, the physically and mentally handicapped and homosexuals.
On 26 June 1933, Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke commandant of Dachau, who in 1934 was also appointed the first Inspector of Concentration Camps (CCI). In addition, the remaining SA-run camps were taken over by the SS.[14][15][16] Dachau served as both a prototype and a model for the other Nazi concentration camps. Almost every community in Germany had members who were taken there. The newspapers continuously reported on "the removal of the enemies of the Reich to concentration camps" making the general population more aware of their presence. There were jingles warning as early as 1935: "Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not come to Dachau."[17]
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