Auschwitz-Birkenau was also a killing center and played a central role in the German effort to kill the Jews of Europe. Around the beginning of September, 1941, the SS at Auschwitz I conducted the first tests of Zyklon B as a mass murder agent, using Soviet POWs and debilitated Polish prisoners as victims. The “success” of these experiments led to the construction of a chamber in the crematorium of Auschwitz I that, like the subsequent gas chambers at Auschwitz, used Zyklon B to murder victims. The first transports of Jewish men, women, and children sent to Auschwitz as part of the “final solution” were murdered in this gas chamber (Crematorium I) in February and March 1942.
In 2017 a Körber Foundation survey found that 40 percent of 14-year-olds in Germany did not know what Auschwitz was. The following year a survey organized by the Claims Conference, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and others found that 41 percent of 1,350 American adults surveyed, and 66 percent of millennials, did not know what Auschwitz was, while 22 percent said they had never heard of the Holocaust. A CNN-ComRes poll in 2018 found a similar situation in Europe.
Tours are provided by the museum for a fee in various languages, and are recommended if you want a deeper understanding of the site, but they are unfortunately somewhat rushed, and you can get a pretty good feel by buying a guidebook and map (a small, simple guide for 5PLN; more detailed "souvenir" guides are around 12PLN) and wandering around on your own left to contemplate the site. Each exhibit is described in Polish with other language translations. The scope of the evil and terror that occurred here is almost unimaginable, and a guide can help to put in context what a room full of human hair or what a thousand pairs of infant shoes means. They'll also tell you about former prisoners who have returned to see the museum.
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.
Witnesses later testified Margot fell from her bunk in her weakened state and was killed by the shock. Anne died a few days after Margot. The exact dates of Margot's and Anne's deaths were not recorded. It was long thought that their deaths occurred only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp on 15 April 1945, but research in 2015 indicated that they may have died as early as February. Among other evidence, witnesses recalled that the Franks displayed typhus symptoms by 7 February, and Dutch health authorities reported that most untreated typhus victims died within 12 days of their first symptoms. After liberation, the camp was burned in an effort to prevent further spread of disease; the sisters were buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.
In April 1940, Rudolph Höss, who become the first commandant of Auschwitz, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim in Poland as a possible site for a concentration camp. Initially, the camp was meant to intimidate Poles to prevent them from protesting German rule and to serve as a prison for those who did resist. It was also perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia, which had once been a German region, with “pure Aryans.” When the plans for the camp were approved, the Nazi’s changed the name of the area to Auschwitz.
This intellectual preparation would probably not have been sufficient for the growth of Nazism in Germany but for that country’s defeat in World War I. The defeat and the resulting disillusionment, pauperization, and frustration—particularly among the lower middle classes—paved the way for the success of the propaganda of Hitler and the Nazis. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), the formal settlement of World War I drafted without German participation, alienated many Germans with its imposition of harsh monetary and territorial reparations. The significant resentment expressed toward the peace treaty gave Hitler a starting point. Because German representatives (branded the “November criminals” by National Socialists) agreed to cease hostilities and did not unconditionally surrender in the armistice of November 11, 1918, there was a widespread feeling—particularly in the military—that Germany’s defeat had been orchestrated by diplomats at the Versailles meetings. From the beginning, Hitler’s propaganda of revenge for this “traitorous” act, through which the German people had been “stabbed in the back,” and his call for rearmament had strong appeal within military circles, which regarded the peace only as a temporary setback in Germany’s expansionist program. The ruinous inflation of the German currency in 1923 wiped out the savings of many middle-class households and led to further public alienation and dissatisfaction.
Then, on January 27, 1945, the Red Army reached the camp. Inside, they found prisoners covered in excrement and starving to death, children who had been used for medical experiments, and other shocking evidence of the Nazis’ crimes. At Birkenau, the guards had failed to destroy some of the storerooms where prisoners’ stolen belongings were stored before being transported back to the Reich. Among the remainingitems were 7.7 tons of human hair, 370,000 men’s suits and 837,000 women’s coats and dresses.
The commander of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rudolf Höss, stated in his autobiography that in 1941 (no exact date is given) he was summoned to Berlin, where Himmler informed him that Hitler had issued an order to solve the “Jewish Question” for good, and that the order was to be implemented by the SS. “The existing extermination places in the east are unsuited to a large scale, long-term action. I have designated Auschwitz for this purpose,” Himmler said.