Political concentration camps instituted primarily to reinforce the state’s control have been established in various forms under many totalitarian regimes—most extensively in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. To a considerable extent, the camps served as the special prisons of the secret police. Nazi concentration camps were under the administration of the SS; forced-labour camps of the Soviet Union were operated by a succession of organizations beginning in 1917 with the Cheka and ending in the early 1990s with the KGB.
According to the numbers provided by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Auschwitz was the site of the most deaths (1.1 million) of any of the six dedicated extermination camps. By these estimates, Auschwitz was the site of at least one out of every six deaths during the Holocaust. The only camp with comparable figures was Treblinka in north-east Poland, where about 850,000 are thought to have died.
In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free,” which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign’s theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.
The site was first suggested as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberführer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia. After this part of Poland was annexed by Nazi Germany, Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was located administratively in Germany, in the Province of Upper Silesia, Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz, Landkreis Bielitz. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to hold prisoners in the Silesia region, as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glücks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site, which housed 16 dilapidated one-story buildings that had served as an Austrian and later Polish Army barracks and a camp for transient workers. German citizens were offered tax concessions and other benefits if they would relocate to the area. By October 1943, more than 6,000 Reich Germans had arrived. The Nazis planned to build a model modern residential area for incoming Germans, including schools, playing fields, and other amenities. Some of the plans went forward, including the construction of several hundred apartments, but many were never fully implemented. Basic amenities such as water and sewage disposal were inadequate, and water-borne illnesses were commonplace.
The term "National Socialism" arose out of attempts to create a nationalist redefinition of "socialism", as an alternative to both international socialism and free market capitalism. Nazism rejected the Marxist concept of class conflict, opposed cosmopolitan internationalism, and sought to convince all parts of the new German society to subordinate their personal interests to the "common good", accepting political interests as the main priority of economic organization.
The public wants facts. But, as evidenced by the outrage at Esquire’s story, something more than what we think of as objective facts is required to craft a representation of reality. Esquire may have wanted to make “Wisconsin a stand-in for the state of our country,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote, to capture the subtle social forces of alienation and resentment that turned out to be strong enough to elect Trump President. But the story also seemed to deliberately withhold judgment; to its detractors, this didn’t feel like objectivity. In an environment that, to many, is the source of perpetual moral crisis, the objective becomes subjective, and vice versa.
Through the 1920s, Hitler gave speech after speech in which he stated that unemployment, rampant inflation, hunger and economic stagnation in postwar Germany would continue until there was a total revolution in German life. Most problems could be solved, he explained, if communists and Jews were driven from the nation. His fiery speeches swelled the ranks of the Nazi Party, especially among young, economically disadvantaged Germans.
After the death of President Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, Hitler merged the offices of party leader, head of state and chief of government in one, taking the title of Führer und Reichskanzler. The Chancellery of the Führer, officially an organisation of the Nazi Party, took over the functions of the Office of the President (a government agency), blurring the distinction between structures of party and state even further. The SS increasingly exerted police functions, a development which was formally documented by the merger of the offices of Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police on 17 June 1936, as the position was held by Heinrich Himmler who derived his authority directly from Hitler. The Sicherheitsdienst (SD, formally the "Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS") that had been created in 1931 as an intraparty intelligence became the de facto intelligence agency of Nazi Germany. It was put under the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in 1939, which then coordinated SD, Gestapo and criminal police, therefore functioning as a hybrid organisation of state and party structures.
The Frank sisters each hoped to return to school as soon as they were able, and continued with their studies while in hiding. Margot took a shorthand course by correspondence in Bep Voskuijl's name and received high marks. Most of Anne's time was spent reading and studying, and she regularly wrote and edited her diary entries. In addition to providing a narrative of events as they occurred, she wrote about her feelings, beliefs, and ambitions, subjects she felt she could not discuss with anyone. As her confidence in her writing grew, and as she began to mature, she wrote of more abstract subjects such as her belief in God, and how she defined human nature.
Action T4 was a programme of systematic murder of the physically and mentally handicapped and patients in psychiatric hospitals that took place mainly from 1939 to 1941, and continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims were shot by the Einsatzgruppen and others; gas chambers and gas vans using carbon monoxide were used by early 1940. Under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, enacted on 14 July 1933, over 400,000 individuals underwent compulsory sterilisation. Over half were those considered mentally deficient, which included not only people who scored poorly on intelligence tests, but those who deviated from expected standards of behaviour regarding thrift, sexual behaviour, and cleanliness. Most of the victims came from disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes, the poor, the homeless, and criminals. Other groups persecuted and killed included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, social misfits, and members of the political and religious opposition.
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. The death camps, in which more than one and a half million Jews were gassed—at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka—were never officially part of the K.L. system. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.L., set up in June, 1940, to house Polish prisoners. The first people to be gassed there, in September, 1941, were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in 1943, after other camps closed. The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
Even the distinction between guard and prisoner could become blurred. From early on, the S.S. delegated much of the day-to-day control of camp life to chosen prisoners known as Kapos. This system spared the S.S. the need to interact too closely with prisoners, whom they regarded as bearers of filth and disease, and also helped to divide the inmate population against itself. Helm shows that, in Ravensbrück, where the term “Blockova” was used, rather than Kapo, power struggles took place among prisoner factions over who would occupy the Blockova position in each barrack. Political prisoners favored fellow-activists over criminals and “asocials”—a category that included the homeless, the mentally ill, and prostitutes—whom they regarded as practically subhuman. In some cases, Kapos became almost as privileged, as violent, and as hated as the S.S. officers. In Ravensbrück, the most feared Blockova was the Swiss ex-spy Carmen Mory, who was known as the Black Angel. She was in charge of the infirmary, where, Helm writes, she “would lash out at the sick with the whip or her fists.” After the war, she was one of the defendants tried for crimes at Ravensbrück, along with S.S. leaders and doctors. Mory was sentenced to death but managed to commit suicide first.
All of the extermination camps were thoroughly organised and resembled industrial plants to an alarming degree. However, only Auschwitz-Birkenau, with its advanced gassing facilities and crematoria, was marked by high technology. In crematoria I and II there were elevators from the gas chambers underground, where the Jews were murdered, to the crematoria, where the bodies were burned.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Several, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allies did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
In June 2016, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in the Polish town of Oswiecim re-discovered over 16,000 personal items belonging to victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau that had been lost in 1968. The items were originally discovered in 1967 by archaeologists excavating the concentration camp site, and were placed in 48 cardboard boxes in the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw before being lost due to an anti-Semitic communist regime coming to power in 1968.
It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and before long his energy and oratorical skills would enable him to take over the party, which was renamed National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1920. That year Hitler also formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic gambit designed to attract support from the working class. By 1921 Hitler had ousted the party’s other leaders and taken over.
Germany and Europe as a whole was almost totally dependent on foreign oil imports. In an attempt to resolve the shortage, in June 1942 Germany launched Fall Blau ("Case Blue"), an offensive against the Caucasian oilfields. The Red Army launched a counter-offensive on 19 November and encircled the Axis forces, who were trapped in Stalingrad on 23 November. Göring assured Hitler that the 6th Army could be supplied by air, but this turned out to be infeasible. Hitler's refusal to allow a retreat led to the deaths of 200,000 German and Romanian soldiers; of the 91,000 men who surrendered in the city on 31 January 1943, only 6,000 survivors returned to Germany after the war.
Auschwitz-Birkenau became the killing centre where the largest numbers of European Jews were killed during the Holocaust. After an experimental gassing there in September 1941 of 850 malnourished and ill prisoners, mass murder became a daily routine. By mid 1942, mass gassing of Jews using Zyklon-B began at Auschwitz, where extermination was conducted on an industrial scale with some estimates running as high as three million persons eventually killed through gassing, starvation, disease, shooting, and burning ...
Our daily occupation differed according to age. Prisoners below the forty-fifth year were used for especially hard labor outside the camp in the 'clinker works.' Heavy bags of cement had to be carried for long distances, and the return to the starting point had to be covered at a running pace. For a while the older prisoners were also used outside the camp working on an S.S. settlement. They had to dig or carry cement blocks. All this work was done under the supervision of young S.S. men, most of whom were boys of sixteen to twenty years from former Austria. They circled around us armed with loaded guns or light machine guns. They drove us on and misused their position of superiority with all sorts of torments. If presumably a little offense had been committed, especially if our speed of work didn't satisfy them, they might demand that the prisoner should do knee-bends until he was exhausted or that he roll down the slope a dozen times. In our camp were prisoners ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-four.
As a result of the Holocaust, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. Because of these ominous connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer terms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.