The United States is a nation with two radically different ideas at its heart: white supremacy and equality under the law. A nation that currently has more immigrants than any country in the world but is undergoing traumatic convulsions at the very mention of immigrants. A nation with a pessimistic mind and an optimistic soul, founded and codified by white men, whose geographic expansion was made possible by the violent clearing out of the original inhabitants, whose economic growth was purchased through slavery, but also a land where millions of immigrants have come in search of work and opportunity. The question of who counts in the “we” and who belongs to the “them” is being argued and fought every day, from the courtroom to the classroom to the streets. It is a conversation that has been taking place since the founding of the United States, and one that was taking place in Germany when the Nazi cabal seized the state. How this nation answers that question will determine which of the two American ideas lives on.
I later qualified as a psychotherapist, a job which I enjoy immensely, but which confronts me with the suffering caused by the Holocaust on a daily basis. My patients are from “both sides” – either victims or perpetrators, or their relatives – and many are what you’d call transgenerationally affected – carrying around with them the issues and traumas that their parents or grandparents never dealt with, and which unless cured are like a contagious disease that they’ll pass on to the next generation.
National Socialist politics was based on competition and struggle as its organizing principle, and the Nazis believed that "human life consisted of eternal struggle and competition and derived its meaning from struggle and competition." The Nazis saw this eternal struggle in military terms, and advocated a society organized like an army in order to achieve success. They promoted the idea of a national-racial "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft) in order to accomplish "the efficient prosecution of the struggle against other peoples and states." Like an army, the Volksgemeinschaft was meant to consist of a hierarchy of ranks or classes of people, some commanding and others obeying, all working together for a common goal. This concept was rooted in the writings of 19th century völkisch authors who glorified medieval German society, viewing it as a "community rooted in the land and bound together by custom and tradition," in which there was neither class conflict nor selfish individualism.
Otto had prepared a secret hideout next to his place of work. The door was hidden behind some bookshelves. The hideout was small. The first floor had a bathroom and a small kitchen. The second floor had two rooms, one for Anne and Margot and one for her parents. There was also an attic where they stored food and where Anne would sometimes go to be alone.
When I finally returned to Czemierniki in 1993, despite the years in which Jews had lived there I could not find a trace either of my family or of Jewish life. Even the cemetery where my grandfather had been buried had been razed. The synagogue was gone. I went to ask the local priest, who said they had taken the tombstones and crushed them for building materials or something like that. I believe they deliberately destroyed any sign of Jewish life so as to be rid of us for ever.
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.
The prisoners put up various forms of resistance to the tyranny of the camp. Resistance organisations helped inmates to obtain medicine and food, documented Nazi crimes, supported attempts to escape and sabotage, tried to put political prisoners into positions of responsibility, and prepared for an uprising. A total of 667 prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, but 270 of them were caught in the vicinity of the camp and immediately executed. The best-known escape was that of two Slovak Jews, Alfred Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (Rudolf Vrba) (link in Czech). They managed to cross into Slovakia and to tell Jewish leaders - and through them the world - about the terrible reality of Auschwitz, about which they wrote an extensive report. On the 7th of October 1944, there was an uprising by the Sonderkommando working in the gas chambers. The prisoners managed to destroy one of the gas chambers, and thus to hinder the extermination process. All the rebels died. A group of young female prisoners was also executed for having smuggled gunpowder to the rebels from the factory in Monowitz.
The first “bunker,” with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra “capacity” was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the “bunkers” were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open.
His strategy proved successful; at a special party congress on 29 July 1921, he replaced Drexler as party chairman by a vote of 533 to 1. The committee was dissolved, and Hitler was granted nearly absolute powers as the party's sole leader. He would hold the post for the remainder of his life. Hitler soon acquired the title Führer ("leader") and after a series of sharp internal conflicts it was accepted that the party would be governed by the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). Under this principle, the party was a highly centralised entity that functioned strictly from the top down, with Hitler at the apex as the party's absolute leader. Hitler saw the party as a revolutionary organisation, whose aim was the overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the "November criminals" who had betrayed the German soldiers in 1918. The SA ("storm troopers", also known as "Brownshirts") were founded as a party militia in 1921 and began violent attacks on other parties.
When the Nazis realized that the Russians were successfully pushing their way toward Germany in late 1944, they decided to start destroying evidence of their atrocities at Auschwitz. Himmler ordered the destruction of the crematoria and the human ashes were buried in huge pits and covered with grass. Many of the warehouses were emptied, with their contents shipped back to Germany.
^ Gerda Bormann was concerned by the ratio of racially valuable women that outnumbered men and she thought that the war would make the situation worse in terms of childbirths, so much so that she advocated a law (never realised however) which allowed healthy Aryan men to have two wives. See: Anna Maria Sigmund, Women of the Third Reich (Ontario: NDE, 2000), pp. 17-19.
The Republic of Czechoslovakia was home to a substantial minority of Germans, who lived mostly in the Sudetenland. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Sudeten German Party, the Czechoslovak government offered economic concessions to the region. Hitler decided to incorporate not just the Sudetenland but all of Czechoslovakia into the Reich. The Nazis undertook a propaganda campaign to try to generate support for an invasion. Top German military leaders opposed the plan, as Germany was not yet ready for war.
The Hitler cabinet used the terms of the Reichstag Fire Decree and later the Enabling Act to initiate the process of Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination"), which brought all aspects of life under party control. Individual states not controlled by elected Nazi governments or Nazi-led coalitions were forced to agree to the appointment of Reich Commissars to bring the states in line with the policies of the central government. These Commissars had the power to appoint and remove local governments, state parliaments, officials, and judges. In this way Germany became a de facto unitary state, with all state governments controlled by the central government under the NSDAP. The state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934, with all state powers being transferred to the central government.
Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.