The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.
The first gassings at Auschwitz took place in early September 1941, when around 850 inmates—Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates—were killed with Zyklon B in the basement of block 11 in Auschwitz I. The building proved unsuitable, so gassings were conducted instead in crematorium I, also in at Auschwitz I, which operated until December 1942. There, more than 700 victims could be killed at once. Tens of thousands were killed in crematorium I. To keep the victims calm, they were told they were to undergo disinfection and de-lousing; they were ordered to undress outside, then were locked in the building and gassed. After its decommissioning as a gas chamber, the building was converted to a storage facility and later served as an SS air raid shelter. The gas chamber and crematorium were reconstructed after the war. Dwork and van Pelt write that a chimney was recreated; four openings in the roof were installed to show where the Zyklon B had entered; and two of the three furnaces were rebuilt with the original components.
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.
After December 1934, the SS became the only agency authorized to establish and manage facilities that were formally called concentration camps. Local civilian authorities did continue to establish and manage forced-labor camps and detention camps throughout Germany. In 1937, only four concentration camps were left: Dachau, near Munich; Sachsenhausen near Berlin; Buchenwald near Weimar; and Lichtenburg near Merseburg in Saxony for female prisoners.
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.
Both in public and in private, Hitler expressed disdain for capitalism, arguing that it holds nations ransom in the interests of a parasitic cosmopolitan rentier class. He opposed free market capitalism because it "could not be trusted to put national interests first," and he desired an economy that would direct resources "in ways that matched the many national goals of the regime," such as the buildup of the military, building programs for cities and roads, and economic self-sufficiency. Hitler also distrusted capitalism for being unreliable due to its egotism and he preferred a state-directed economy that maintains private property and competition but subordinates them to the interests of the Volk.
A week after they had gone into hiding, the Franks were joined by Otto’s business associate Hermann van Pels (1898-1944), along with his wife Auguste (1900-45) and their son Peter (1926-45), who were also Jewish. A small group of Otto Frank’s employees, including his Austrian-born secretary, Miep Gies (1909-2010), risked their own lives to smuggle food, supplies and news of the outside world into the secret apartment, whose entrance was situated behind a movable bookcase. In November 1942, the Franks and Van Pels were joined by Fritz Pfeffer (1889-1944), Miep Gies’ Jewish dentist.
"Like the adults, the kids were only a mere bag of bones, without muscles or fat, and the thin skin like pergament scrubbed through and through beyond the hard bones of the skeleton and ignited itself to ulcerated wounds. Abscesses covered the underfed body from the top to the bottom and thus deprived it from the last rest of energy. The mouth was deeply gnawed by noma-abscesses, hollowed out the jaw and perforated the cheeks like cancer". Many decaying bodies were full of water because of the burning hunger, they swelled to shapeless bulks which could not move anymore. Diarrhoea, lasting for weeks, dissolved their irresistant bodies until nothing remained ....."
Adolf Hitler, the party's leader since 1921, was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933. Hitler rapidly established a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich. Following the defeat of the Third Reich at the conclusion of World War II in Europe, the party was "declared to be illegal" by the Allied powers, who carried out denazification in the years after the war.
Hitler's belief that abstract, Dadaist, expressionist and modern art were decadent became the basis for policy. Many art museum directors lost their posts in 1933 and were replaced by party members. Some 6,500 modern works of art were removed from museums and replaced with works chosen by a Nazi jury. Exhibitions of the rejected pieces, under titles such as "Decadence in Art", were launched in sixteen different cities by 1935. The Degenerate Art Exhibition, organised by Goebbels, ran in Munich from July to November 1937. The exhibition proved wildly popular, attracting over two million visitors.
Many of the horrors associated with Auschwitz—gas chambers, medical experiments, working prisoners to death—had been pioneered in earlier concentration camps. In the late thirties, driven largely by Himmler’s ambition to make the S.S. an independent economic and military power within the state, the K.L. began a transformation from a site of punishment to a site of production. The two missions were connected: the “work-shy” and other unproductive elements were seen as “useless mouths,” and forced labor was a way of making them contribute to the community. Oswald Pohl, the S.S. bureaucrat in charge of economic affairs, had gained control of the camps by 1938, and began a series of grandiose building projects. The most ambitious was the construction of a brick factory near Sachsenhausen, which was intended to produce a hundred and fifty million bricks a year, using cutting-edge equipment and camp labor.
What of those immigrants who became citizens, or those beleaguered minorities to whom the United States granted the privileges of citizenship? Despite an avowed declaration of constitutional equality, citizenship was under its own separate-but-equal doctrine. Until 1924, Native Americans were considered “nationals” and not citizens. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos were legally classified as “non-citizen nationals.” Most infamously, the 1857 Dred Scott decision held that African Americans were not citizens, and even after the Civil War, black people were legally relegated to third-class status. The Nazis took interest in all of this; the second Nuremburg Law confined citizenship to that person who “is exclusively a national of German blood, or racially related blood.” Jews were denaturalized, rendered subjects. The U.S. precedent laid out how to create a hierarchy of citizens, nationals, and subjects. Tiered citizenship and the capricious revocations of civil rights were of great interest to Nazi intellectuals.
Here’s how much some people dislike living Jews: They murdered six million of them. Anne Frank’s writings do not describe this process. Readers know that the author was a victim of genocide, but that does not mean they are reading a work about genocide. If that were her subject, it is unlikely that those writings would have been universally embraced.
Since the beginning of the war, special SS units called Einsatzgruppen had carried out mass executions of Jews and others in conquered territories; these commandos rounded up entire villages, forced them to dig their own graves and shot them. The massacres took a toll even on the German firing squads, says Debórah Dwork, a Holocaust historian at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and co-author (with van Pelt) of Holocaust: A History. “It’s totally clear from Nazi documents,” she says, “that Germans were looking for a way to murder masses of people without having such a traumatic impact on the murderers.”
German authorities established camps all over Germany on an ad hoc basis to handle the masses of people arrested as alleged subversives. The SS established larger camps in Oranienburg, north of Berlin; Esterwegen, near Hamburg; Dachau, northwest of Munich; and Lichtenburg, in Saxony. In Berlin itself, the Columbia Haus facility held prisoners under investigation by the Gestapo (the German secret state police) until 1936.
After moving to Amsterdam, Anne and Margot Frank were enrolled in school—Margot in public school and Anne in a Montessori school. Margot demonstrated ability in arithmetic, and Anne showed aptitude for reading and writing. Anne's friend, Hanneli Goslar, later recalled that from early childhood, Frank frequently wrote, although she shielded her work with her hands and refused to discuss the content of her writing.
The line most often quoted from Frank’s diary—“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”—is often called “inspiring,” by which we mean that it flatters us. It makes us feel forgiven for those lapses of our civilization that allow for piles of murdered girls—and if those words came from a murdered girl, well, then, we must be absolved, because they must be true. That gift of grace and absolution from a murdered Jew (exactly the gift, it is worth noting, at the heart of Christianity) is what millions of people are so eager to find in Frank’s hiding place, in her writings, in her “legacy.” It is far more gratifying to believe that an innocent dead girl has offered us grace than to recognize the obvious: Frank wrote about people being “truly good at heart” three weeks before she met people who weren’t.
I worked out pretty quickly certain survival tricks. That if the guards called us to line up in front of the barracks, I should hide or sneak into another barracks. The safest place I could find to hide was in the yard near the bathrooms where all the dead bodies were brought and piled up … I would get on the pile, lie down next to the dead bodies and pretend I was one of them.
The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament (the Reichstag) and to the state legislature (the Landtage) from 1924, although at first with little success. The "National-Socialist Freedom Movement" polled 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections and this fell to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results and despite Germany's relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the Nazi Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organisation to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz and business manager Max Amann. The party had a capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organizational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organizational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor nationalist groups, such as the German National People's Party (DNVP). As Hitler became the recognised head of the German nationalists, other groups declined or were absorbed.
I started looking for work as soon as I arrived, finding a job earning $35 (£23) a week and by 1955 I had opened up my own business in Brooklyn, Queens, as a tailor and I think I did OK. I worked for some dignitaries, including Henry Kissinger and Nancy Reagan, and I also did a lot for the Johnsons. I’d be putting together the garments designed for them by the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene.
Food was in short supply in the conquered areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, as the retreating armies had burned the crops in some areas, and much of the remainder was sent back to the Reich. In Germany, rations were cut in 1942. In his role as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, Hermann Göring demanded increased shipments of grain from France and fish from Norway. The 1942 harvest was good, and food supplies remained adequate in Western Europe.
I remember the night of the packing very well. Things went in the suitcase, things were taken out of the suitcase. In the end my mother filled it with food she had cooked and warm clothing and bedding. Then it was full. Plus we took a watch, some earrings, a wedding ring with us to exchange for food if necessary. The next day my father was forced to hand over his remaining money to a delegation that included the mayor and the school principal as they rounded us up at the town hall.
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Later that evening we were lined up at the outskirts of the camp, while trucks, arriving constantly, brought new inmates who suffered the same reception as we had before them. After the collective defamation the individual ones began. The camp commander, Baranowsky, a stocky, common-looking man with the insignia of a high rank in the S.S., passed along our rows with his staff. He addressed some, asked their profession, and, in the case of former officials, inquired the amount of their pension, usually commenting that it was too high, especially for a Jew. Arrivals who stood out because of some physical defect were especially ridiculed by him and his staff. Some men wore hearing aids that connected the ear through a wire with a microphone. These were torn out of the ear with rude force, and afterwards inspected by the whole staff as something incredibly strange.
We lived in Bótrágy, a very small, mostly poor town in Czechoslovakia with a population of approximately 1,000 mainly farming families, including about 10 Jewish families. The town was a typical low-income community with a tailor, a shoemaker, a grocery store, where people struggled to get by, but where everyone knew each other and there was easy communication between the neighbours, though that didn’t mean we were equal.
After Nazi Germany unleashed World War II in September 1939, vast new territorial conquests and larger groups of potential prisoners led to the rapid expansion of the concentration camp system to the east. The war did not change the original function of the concentration camps as detention sites for the incarceration of political enemies. The climate of national emergency that the conflict granted to the Nazi leaders, however, permitted the SS to expand the functions of the camps.
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).
Hitler expressed opposition to capitalism, regarding it as having Jewish origins and accusing capitalism of holding nations ransom to the interests of a parasitic cosmopolitan rentier class. He also expressed opposition to communism and egalitarian forms of socialism, arguing that inequality and hierarchy are beneficial to the nation. He believed that communism was invented by the Jews to weaken nations by promoting class struggle. After his rise to power, Hitler took a pragmatic position on economics, accepting private property and allowing capitalist private enterprises to exist so long as they adhered to the goals of the Nazi state, but not tolerating enterprises that he saw as being opposed to the national interest.
Steven Spielberg's famous film Schindler's List focused attention on people like Oscar Schindler and his wife Emilie Schindler, who - at great risk to themselves and their families - helped Jews escape the Nazi genocide. In those years, millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, but Oscar Schindler's Jews miraculously survived. Schindler spent millions to protect and save his Jews, everything he possessed. He died penniless.
In the decades since its liberation, Auschwitz has become a primary symbol of the Holocaust. Historian Timothy D. Snyder attributes this to the camp's high death toll and "unusual combination of an industrial camp complex and a killing facility", which left behind far more witnesses than single-purpose killing facilities such as Chełmno or Treblinka. In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly designated 27 January, the date of the camp's liberation, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Helmut Schmidt visited the site in November 1977, the first West German chancellor to do so, followed by his successor, Helmut Kohl, in November 1989. In a written statement on the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation, Kohl described Auschwitz as the "darkest and most horrific chapter of German history".
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.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)—documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally—and Olympia (1938)—covering the 1936 Summer Olympics—pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of National Socialist ideals.
With the other women and girls not selected for immediate death, Frank was forced to strip naked to be disinfected, had her head shaved, and was tattooed with an identifying number on her arm. By day, the women were used as slave labour and Frank was forced to haul rocks and dig rolls of sod; by night, they were crammed into overcrowded barracks. Some witnesses later testified Frank became withdrawn and tearful when she saw children being led to the gas chambers; others reported that more often she displayed strength and courage. Her gregarious and confident nature allowed her to obtain extra bread rations for her mother, sister, and herself. Disease was rampant; before long, Frank's skin became badly infected by scabies. The Frank sisters were moved into an infirmary, which was in a state of constant darkness and infested with rats and mice. Edith Frank stopped eating, saving every morsel of food for her daughters and passing her rations to them through a hole she made at the bottom of the infirmary wall.
Joseph Goebbels, who would later go on to become the Nazi Propaganda Minister, was strongly opposed to both capitalism and communism, viewing them as the "two great pillars of materialism" that were "part of the international Jewish conspiracy for world domination." Nevertheless, he wrote in his diary in 1925 that if he were forced to choose between them, "in the final analysis", "it would be better for us to go down with Bolshevism than live in eternal slavery under capitalism". He also linked his anti-Semitism to his anti-capitalism, stating in a 1929 pamphlet that "we see, in the Hebrews, the incarnation of capitalism, the misuse of the nation's goods."
After September 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps became places where millions of ordinary people were enslaved as part of the war effort, often starved, tortured and killed. During the war, new Nazi concentration camps for "undesirables" spread throughout the continent. According to statistics by the German Ministry of Justice, about 1,200 camps and subcamps were run in countries occupied by Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that the number of Nazi camps was closer to 15,000 in all of occupied Europe and that many of these camps were run for a limited amount of time before they were closed. Camps were being created near the centers of dense populations, often focusing on areas with large communities of Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Communists or Romani. Since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, most camps were located in the area of the General Government in occupied Poland, for logistical reasons. The location also allowed the Nazis to quickly remove the German Jews from within Germany proper.