From 1942 onwards, Auschwitz became one of the greatest scenes of mass murder in recorded history. The vast majority of the camp's 1.1 million Jewish men, women, and children, deported from their homes across occupied Europe to Auschwitz, were sent immediately to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival, usually transported into the camp by overcrowded cattle wagons. Their bodies were afterwards cremated in industrial furnaces in the crematoria. Those who were not killed in the gas chambers often died of disease, starvation, medical experiments, forced labor, or execution.
The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum is easily navigated on foot. There is a free shuttle bus between the Auschwitz I and Birkenau sites, leaving every half hour at the top of the hour from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, and going the opposite way every 15 minutes of the hour at half hourly intervals. Please check the timetable at the bus stop as intervals and shuttle operation hours may change depending on the season, or you can walk the two miles between the camps. If you've just missed a bus, a taxi between the sites will cost about 15PLN.
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.
In most of the concentration camps, the Nazi SS either installed or had plans to install gas chambers to assist in their daily business of killing prisoners who were too weak or sick to work. Gas chambers were also to kill small targeted groups of individuals whom the Nazis wanted to eliminate (Polish resistance fighters, Soviet POWs, etc.). This was the purpose of the installation of gas chambers at Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Auschwitz I, Ravensbrück, Lublin/Majdanek, etc.
A column of inmates reached the Gross-Rosen complex. Throughout February, the terribly overcrowded main camp at Gross-Rosen was cleared, and all 44,000 inmates were moved further west. An unknown number died in this last journey. In March 1945, Himmler ordered that no more prisoners should be killed, as he hoped to use them as hostages in negotiations with the Allies. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
The chief of construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau was Karl Bischoff, a competent and dynamic bureaucrat who, in spite of the ongoing war, carried out the construction deemed necessary. The Birkenau camp, the four crematoria, a new reception building, and hundreds of other buildings were planned and constructed. Bischoff's plans, based on an initial budget of RM 8.9 million, called for each barracks to hold 550 prisoners. He later changed this to 744 per barracks, which meant the camp could hold 125,000, rather than 97,000. The SS designed the barracks not so much to house people as to destroy them. There were 174 barracks, each measuring 116 by 36 ft, divided into 62 bays of 43 sq. ft. The bays were divided into "roosts", initially for three inmates and later for four. With personal space of 11 sq. ft to sleep and place whatever belongings they had, inmates were deprived, Robert-Jan van Pelt wrote, "of the minimum space needed to exist".
“It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
The Nazi Terror Begins After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933, he moved quickly to turn Germany into a one-party dictatorship and to organize the police power necessary to enforce Nazi policies. He persuaded his Cabinet to declare a state of emergency and end individual freedoms, including freedom of press, speech, and assembly. Individuals lost the right to privacy, which meant that officials could read people's mail, listen in on telephone conversations, and search private homes without a warrant.
Historians regard the equation of National Socialism as 'Hitlerism' as too simplistic since the term was used prior to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and the different ideologies incorporated into Nazism were already well established in certain parts of German society before World War I. The Nazis were strongly influenced by the post–World War I far-right in Germany, which held common beliefs such as anti-Marxism, anti-liberalism and antisemitism, along with nationalism, contempt for the Treaty of Versailles and condemnation of the Weimar Republic for signing the armistice in November 1918 which later led it to sign the Treaty of Versailles. A major inspiration for the Nazis were the far-right nationalist Freikorps, paramilitary organizations that engaged in political violence after World War I. Initially, the post–World War I German far-right was dominated by monarchists, but the younger generation, which was associated with Völkisch nationalism, was more radical and it did not express any emphasis on the restoration of the German monarchy. This younger generation desired to dismantle the Weimar Republic and create a new radical and strong state based upon a martial ruling ethic that could revive the "Spirit of 1914" which was associated with German national unity (Volksgemeinschaft).
All of their clothes and any remaining personal belongings were taken from them and their hair was shorn completely off. They were given striped prison outfits and a pair of shoes, all of which were usually the wrong size. They were then registered, had their arms tattooed with a number, and transferred to one of Auschwitz's camps for forced labor.
Fewer than 200 Jews escaped from the camps. Herman Shine, one of the last survivors to have escaped Auschwitz, died in July 2018. He was born in Berlin to a Polish father and they were arrested in that city in 1939. Along with 1,700 other Polish Jews, they were deported to Sachsenhausen. To survive, Shine claimed to be a roofer and learned how to build roofs before being transferred to Auschwitz in 1942.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real and potential opposition. The general public was intimidated by the arbitrary psychological terror that was used by the special courts (Sondergerichte). Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.