On August 4, 1944, the police discovered the secret annex after receiving an anonymous tip. The group in the annex were taken completely by surprise—the SS officer and the four Dutch Nazis who conducted the raid proceeded quickly, drawing guns to keep the employees from warning those in hiding and forcing Kugler to reveal the entrance to the annex, which was concealed by a movable bookcase. Everyone in the annex was taken into custody along with Kleiman and Kugler, who were imprisoned for helping to conceal the group. The Franks, the van Pels, and Pfeffer were taken to a police station in Amsterdam and four days later, taken to the Westerbork transit camp. On September 3 they were transported in a sealed cattle car to Auschwitz in Poland—the last transport to ever leave Westerbork. Three days later, Hermann van Pels was gassed at Auschwitz.
Hitler primarily viewed the German economy as an instrument of power and believed the economy was not about creating wealth and technical progress so as to improve the quality of life for a nation's citizenry, but rather that economic success was paramount for providing the means and material foundations necessary for military conquest. While economic progress generated by National Socialist programs had its role in appeasing the German people, the Nazis and Hitler in particular did not believe that economic solutions alone were sufficient to thrust Germany onto the stage as a world power. The Nazis thus sought to secure a general economic revival accompanied by massive military spending for rearmament, especially later through the implementation of the Four Year Plan, which consolidated their rule and firmly secured a command relationship between the German arms industry and the National Socialist government. Between 1933 and 1939, military expenditures were upwards of 82 billion Reichsmarks and represented 23 percent of Germany's gross national product as the Nazis mobilised their people and economy for war.
In 1934, Hitler told his military leaders that a war in the east should begin in 1942. The Saarland, which had been placed under League of Nations supervision for 15 years at the end of World War I, voted in January 1935 to become part of Germany. In March 1935, Hitler announced the creation of an air force, and that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men. Britain agreed to Germany building a naval fleet with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935.
After Kristallnacht (the ‘Night of broken glass’) in November 1938, the Nazis and their supporters arrested many thousands of male Jews above the age of 14 years. They imprisoned them in camps for days or sometimes weeks. They were kept in poor conditions, given little food or water and subjected to brutal treatment and torture. When the German army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, the SS set up many concentration camps to house Polish political prisoners and many thousands of Polish Jews. Many of the inmates of these camps were subjected to increasingly poor conditions. In addition they were subjected to forced labour, the result of which was often death.
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.
Various other German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own subcamps. There were around 40 or 50 such camps, 28 of them near industrial plants, each camp holding hundreds or thousands of prisoners. Designated as Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), or Arbeitslager (labor camp), camps were built at Blechhammer, Jawiszowice, Jaworzno, Lagisze, Mysłowice, Trzebinia, and centers as far afield as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia. Industries with satellite camps included coal mines, foundries and other metal works, and chemical plants. Prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming. Budy, for example, was a farming subcamp where prisoners worked 12-hour days, often in the fields, but sometimes tending animals, cleaning ponds, digging ditches, and making compost. Human ashes from the crematorium were mixed with sod and manure to make the compost. Incidents of sabotage to decrease production took place in several subcamps, including Charlottengrube, Gleiwitz II, and Rajsko.
On 22 June 1941, contravening the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 5.5 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. In addition to Hitler's stated purpose of acquiring Lebensraum, this large-scale offensive—codenamed Operation Barbarossa—was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers. The reaction among Germans was one of surprise and trepidation as many were concerned about how much longer the war would continue or suspected that Germany could not win a war fought on two fronts.
One of the first people I encountered was Mengele. He told us to undress and stand in line and he went through the ranks deciding who was strong and healthy and fit for work, and who was only fit for the gas chamber. After inspecting me, he put his thumb up high, so they gave me the striped uniform and sent me to get a number tattooed on to my arm. I don’t remember the number. It’s there still, but I never look at it because it brings back too many painful memories.
When the Nazis seized power in 1933, roughly 67 percent of the population of Germany was Protestant, 33 percent was Roman Catholic, while Jews made up less than 1 percent. According to 1939 census, 54 percent considered themselves Protestant, 40 percent Roman Catholic, 3.5 percent Gottgläubig (God-believing; a Nazi religious movement) and 1.5 percent nonreligious.
During the second half of the war the prisoners, who now included women for the first time, were increasingly used as forced labourers in the arms industry. In order to accommodate the prisoners where they worked, the SS established several subcamps. Newly-arrived prisoners were transferred to these camps from the main camp. More and more, Mauthausen itself became a camp were the sick and weak were sent to die.
Entrance is free in general, but visitor numbers are regulated by a ticket system. Be aware that because of the large numbers of visitors, entry to the Auschwitz I site is done exclusively on a paid guided (yet unfortunately rather rushed) tour between 10:00 to 15:00 during the period from 1 April to 31 October. You can visit the site on your own (which is highly recommended, as visitors can go at their own pace, see what they want to see, and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before 10:00 (better 8:00-9:00) or after 15:00 (depending on the season and day of week). This is recommended if you're staying nearby in Katowice or Kraków and don't have your own car, with some trains from Kraków and Katowice Główny arriving between 8-10. Guided tours cost 45PLN (discounted price for students up to 24 years of age is 30PLN). Students with an ISIC card are granted free entrance during tour hours. If you're a small group (~4 or less), it's not too hard to buy tickets on site (but depending on the season, you might have to wait depending on availability), but larger groups should book tickets in advance.
From a contemporary U.S. perspective, however, the most interesting area of influence that Whitman explores is in immigration law. From the outset, the United States had a racially restricted immigration regime. The Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by the First Congress, limited immigration to “free white person[s].” In the 1800s, the United States passed more racially exclusionary immigration laws because of the perceived threat of Asians. As Whitman notes, the Nazis “almost never mentioned the American treatment of blacks without also mentioning the American treatment of other groups, in particular Asians and Native-Americans.” The Chinese were excluded from citizenship in the late 1800s, and the Asiatic Barred Zone of 1917 expressly banned immigration from a whole swath of Asia. Finally, the Immigration Act of 1924 set racial quotas for those who could enter the United States, and banned Indians, Japanese, Chinese, and other Asians outright, along with nearly all Arabs. Under the Cable Act of 1922, if a woman married an Asian man, her U.S. citizenship would be revoked. There were similar race-based immigration laws in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Discrimination against immigrants on the basis of race was the norm, and in the United States it survived until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which is also the principal legislation that today’s white nationalists seek to undo. The Nazis had much to envy, what with the porous borders of Europe and the humiliating foreign treaties that had crippled Germany.
Pope Pius XI had the "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") encyclical smuggled into Germany for Passion Sunday 1937 and read from every pulpit as it denounced the systematic hostility of the regime toward the church. In response, Goebbels renewed the regime's crackdown and propaganda against Catholics. Enrolment in denominational schools dropped sharply and by 1939 all such schools were disbanded or converted to public facilities. Later Catholic protests included the 22 March 1942 pastoral letter by the German bishops on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church". About 30 percent of Catholic priests were disciplined by police during the Nazi era. A vast security network spied on the activities of clergy and priests were frequently denounced, arrested or sent to concentration camps – many to the dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau. In the areas of Poland annexed in 1939, the Nazis instigated a brutal suppression and systematic dismantling of the Catholic Church.
On July 15, 1944, three weeks before the hiding place where she lived with her family and several others was discovered, Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Anne Frank’s diary, particularly these sentences, became one of the central symbols of the Holocaust and of humanity faced with suffering: the strength of spirit that led a young girl to write such words after two years of imprisonment hidden in a small, crowded attic, decreed on her by senseless evil; and the opening which her words offer for a new era of hope and reconciliation after a world war that claimed tens of millions of victims. These words aroused great admiration for her diary and for the girl herself. Translated into more than fifty languages, the diary sold more than thirty million copies all over the world. Streets and squares, coins and stamps bear Anne’s name, along with prizes, conventions, exhibits, memorials, schools and youth institutions, to say nothing of films and plays that bring her diary to life, and thorough research of various kinds into her character and her diary, its translations and the different uses that have been made and still are being made of it.
By the time the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, unleashing World War II, there were six concentration camps in the so-called Greater German Reich: Dachau (founded 1933), Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937), Flossenbürg in northeastern Bavaria near the 1937 Czech border (1938), Mauthausen, near Linz, Austria (1938), and Ravensbrück, the women's camp, established in Brandenburg Province, southeast of Berlin (1939), after the dissolution of Lichtenburg.
In Germany the words 'protective custody' have a double meaning. Originally the term meant the incarceration of people who were threatened by others and who were guarded for their own safety so that they might be protected from their enemies. Now, however, men in protective custody are mostly those who are brought, for the 'protection of the people and the State,' into a concentration camp without hearing, without court sentence, without the possibility of redress, and for an indefinite time. Frequently people sentenced by a court are taken into protective custody by the Gestapo after serving their prison sentence, often directly from the prison gate. Such, for example, was the fate of Pastor Niemöller, who, after being released from prison, was taken into the camp Sachsenhausen near Oranienburg, the camp with which we shall be concerned here. He is in solitary confinement there, and I never saw him.
At the same time, the Nazis cannot be placed in a special category outside history, outside the human condition—a sui generis episode beyond comparison. They must be demythologized and studied closely, because the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its leader emerged out of a particular context, in a particular time, with a particular set of ideas that won greater and greater purchase the more they were propagated. Moreover, this band of extremist reactionaries were incrementalists. As Whitman emphasizes, “it is simply not the case that the drafters of the Nuremburg Laws were already aiming at the annihilation of the Jews in 1935.” At that point, the Nazis wanted to exile and marginalize the Jewish minority, turning them into second-class citizens.
But, in May 1944, a railroad spur line was built right into the camp to accelerate and simplify the handling of the tens of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews deported in the spring and summer of 1944. From then to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.
Nazi society had elements supportive of animal rights and many people were fond of zoos and wildlife. The government took several measures to ensure the protection of animals and the environment. In 1933, the Nazis enacted a stringent animal-protection law that affected what was allowed for medical research. The law was only loosely enforced, and in spite of a ban on vivisection, the Ministry of the Interior readily handed out permits for experiments on animals.
The prisoners’ camp routine consisted of many duties. The daily schedule included waking at dawn, straightening one’s sleep area, morning roll call, the trip to work, long hours of hard labor, standing in line for a pitiful meal, the return to camp, block inspection, and evening roll call. During roll call, prisoners were made to stand completely motionless and quiet for hours, in extremely thin clothing, irrespective of the weather. Whoever fell or even stumbled was killed. Prisoners had to focus all their energy merely on surviving the day’s tortures.
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).
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the occupation government began to persecute Jews by the implementation of restrictive and discriminatory laws; mandatory registration and segregation soon followed. Otto Frank tried to arrange for the family to emigrate to the United States – the only destination that seemed to him to be viable – but Frank's application for a visa was never processed, due to circumstances such as the closing of the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam and the loss of all the paperwork there, including the visa application. Even if it had been processed, the U.S. government at the time was concerned that people with close relatives still in Germany could be blackmailed into becoming Nazi spies.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
When unemployment began to drop in Germany in late 1932, the Nazi Party’s vote also dropped, to about 12,000,000 (33 percent of the vote) in the November 1932 elections. Nevertheless, Hitler’s shrewd maneuvering behind the scenes prompted the president of the German republic, Paul von Hindenburg, to name him chancellor on January 30, 1933. Hitler used the powers of his office to solidify the Nazis’ position in the government during the following months. The elections of March 5, 1933—precipitated by the burning of the Reichstag building only days earlier—gave the Nazi Party 44 percent of the votes, and further unscrupulous tactics on Hitler’s part turned the voting balance in the Reichstag in the Nazis’ favour. On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which “enabled” Hitler’s government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency; Hitler in effect assumed dictatorial powers.
Probably my earliest memories of anything at all are of walking through the streets of Trenčín and people stopping in their tracks and saying with amazement: “You’re back!” “What a miracle that you’re alive!” I understood as a three-and-a-half to four-year-old that I was a miracle because I got to hear it so many times, but I didn’t really understand what the word meant. Only much later could I recognise what a miracle it really was that I had survived, when I learned that of the thousands of Slovak men and women who were deported to Auschwitz, only a few hundred returned.
The history of Nazism after 1934 can be divided into two periods of about equal length. Between 1934 and 1939 the party established full control of all phases of life in Germany. With many Germans weary of party conflicts, economic and political instability, and the disorderly freedom that characterized the last years of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Hitler and his movement gained the support and even the enthusiasm of a majority of the German population. In particular, the public welcomed the strong, decisive, and apparently effective government provided by the Nazis. Germany’s endless ranks of unemployed rapidly dwindled as the jobless were put to work in extensive public-works projects and in rapidly multiplying armaments factories. Germans were swept up in this orderly, intensely purposeful mass movement bent on restoring their country to its dignity, pride, and grandeur, as well as to dominance on the European stage. Economic recovery from the effects of the Great Depression and the forceful assertion of German nationalism were key factors in Nazism’s appeal to the German population. Further, Hitler’s continuous string of diplomatic successes and foreign conquests from 1934 through the early years of World War II secured the unqualified support of most Germans, including many who had previously opposed him.
A parallel system to the main camp in Auschwitz began to operate at the Birkenau camp by 1942. The exception, though, was that the majority of “showers” used to delouse the incoming prisoners proved to be gas chambers. At Birkenau, only about 10 percent of Jewish transports were registered, disinfected, shaven and showered in the “central sauna” before being assigned barracks as opposed to being sent directly to the death chambers.
When we think of the crimes of Nazi doctors, what comes to mind are their cruel and sometimes fatal experiments… Yet when we turn to the Nazi doctors’ role in Auschwitz, it was not the experiments that were most significant. Rather, it was his participation in the killing process—indeed his supervision of Auschwitz mass murder from beginning to end. 1
Women were expected to be strong, healthy, and vital. The sturdy peasant woman who worked the land and bore strong children was considered ideal, and women were praised for being athletic and tanned from working outdoors. Organisations were created for the indoctrination of Nazi values. From 25 March 1939 membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all children over the age of ten. The Jungmädelbund (Young Girls League) section of the Hitler Youth was for girls age 10 to 14 and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM; League of German Girls) was for young women age 14 to 18. The BDM's activities focused on physical education, with activities such as running, long jumping, somersaulting, tightrope walking, marching, and swimming.
Precise numbers are still debated, but according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German SS systematically killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 from other nationalities. More people died at Auschwitz than at any other Nazi concentration camp and probably than at any death camp in history.
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.
The Nazis captured 5.75 million Soviet prisoners of war, more than they took from all the other Allied powers combined. Of these, they killed an estimated 3.3 million, with 2.8 million of them being killed between June 1941 and January 1942. Many POWs starved to death or resorted to cannibalism while being held in open-air pens at Auschwitz and elsewhere.
Nine out of 10 victims in Auschwitz-Birkenau were Jews. The remaining victims were mainly Poles, gypsies, and Soviet POW’s. Majdanek began its gassings in October 1942. The camp functioned in the same way as Auschwitz-Birkenau, and also included a concentration- and work camp. In the autumn of 1943 the camp was closed after claiming between 60,000 and 80,000 Jewish victims.
Following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis increased the number of prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. Some new camps were built at existing concentration camp complexes (such as Auschwitz) in occupied Poland. The camp at Lublin, later known as Majdanek, was established in the autumn of 1941 as a POW camp and became a concentration camp in 1943. Thousands of Soviet POWs were shot or gassed there.
In 2015, Flemish journalist Jeroen de Bruyn and Joop van Wijk, Bep Voskuijl's youngest son, wrote a biography, Bep Voskuijl, het zwijgen voorbij: een biografie van de jongste helper van het Achterhuis (Bep Voskuijl, the Silence is Over: A Biography of the Youngest Helper of the Secret Annex), in which they alleged that Bep's younger sister Nelly (1923–2001) could have betrayed the Frank family. According to the book, Bep's sister Diny and her fiancé Bertus Hulsman recollected Nelly telephoning the Gestapo on the morning of 4 August 1944. Nelly had been critical of Bep and their father, Johannes Voskuijl, helping the Jews. (Johannes was the one who constructed the bookcase covering the entrance to the hiding place.) Nelly was a Nazi collaborator between the ages of 19 and 23. Karl Silberbauer, the SS officer who received the phone call and made the arrest, was documented to say that the informer had "the voice of a young woman".
Levin’s play was performed in Israel in 1966 to resounding, though shortlived success. Since he had not obtained the rights to perform it anywhere, legal action on the part of Otto Frank, led to an immediate close-down of the production. His success in Israel was not surprising: In 1950s Israel, every fourth Israeli was a Holocaust survivor who had personal experience of the worst actions humanity could commit. By the 1960s there were already 360,000 survivors in Israel. So Anne’s statement about people being good at heart, which served as the Hollywood production’s final line, the very motto of the Hollywood production, required a different response. In the adaptation of Levin’s play staged in Israel, when Anne tells her father that she still believes in people, he replies: “I don’t know, my child. I don’t know.” In another version, Peter falls at Anne’s feet and says: “Oh, Anne, if only I could believe!” The sentence about the human heart was written before Anne was captured and banished to the hell from which she never returned, before she saw Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen. Who knows whether she would have left it in place if she had lived to re-read her diary?
The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was the largest Communist Party in the world outside of the Soviet Union, until it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. In the 1920s and early 30s, Communists and Nazis often fought each other directly in street violence, with the Nazi paramilitary organizations being opposed by the Communist Red Front and Anti-Fascist Action. After the beginning of the Great Depression, both Communists and Nazis saw their share of the vote increase. However, while the Nazis were willing to form alliances with other parties of the right, the Communists refused to form an alliance with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the largest party of the left. After the Nazis came to power, they quickly banned the Communist Party under the allegation that it was preparing for revolution and that it had caused the Reichstag fire. Four thousand KPD officials were arrested in February 1933, and by the end of the year 130,000 communists had been sent to concentration camps.
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.
The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939 and the absorption of the Baltic states in 1940 led to the incarceration of large numbers of non-Soviet citizens. Following the outbreak of war with Germany in 1941, the camps received Axis prisoners of war and Soviet nationals accused of collaboration with the enemy. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, many prisoners were released and the number of camps was drastically reduced. See also Gulag.