The history of Auschwitz-Birkenau as an extermination center is complex. From late 1941 to October 1942, the mortuary at Auschwitz main camp, which was already equipped with a crematorium, was adapted as a gas chamber. It measured approximately 835 square feet. In the spring of 1942, two provisional gas chambers at Birkenau were constructed out of peasant huts, known as the 'bunkers'.
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. The death camps, in which more than one and a half million Jews were gassed—at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka—were never officially part of the K.L. system. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.L., set up in June, 1940, to house Polish prisoners. The first people to be gassed there, in September, 1941, were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in 1943, after other camps closed. The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II and the end of the Holocaust, overt expressions of support for Nazi ideas were prohibited in Germany and other European countries. Nonetheless, movements which self-identify as National Socialist or which are described as adhering to National Socialism continue to exist on the fringes of politics in many western societies. Usually espousing a white supremacist ideology, many deliberately adopt the symbols of Nazi Germany.
From as early as 1934, concentration camp commandants used prisoners as forced laborers for SS construction projects such as the construction or expansion of the camps themselves. By 1938, SS leaders envisioned using the supply of forced laborers incarcerated in the camps for a variety of SS-commissioned construction projects. To mobilize and finance such projects, Himmler revamped and expanded the administrative offices of the SS and created a new SS office for business operations. Both agencies were led by SS Major General Oswald Pohl, who would take over the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in 1942.
At the Birkenau camp, a five-minute shuttle-bus ride from the Auschwitz visitor center, the scene was so peaceful it was almost impossible to imagine the sea of stinking mud that survivors describe. The vast expanse was covered in neatly mowed grass. Flocks of Israeli teenagers in matching white-and-blue hoodies wandered from ruin to ruin. As I stood at the stairs leading down into the ruined gas chambers, a dozen Brits posed for a group picture on the steps of a memorial just a few yards away.
The atrocities of Nazi Germany began well before the first shots of World War II were fired in 1939. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, and five weeks later, the Nazis established their first concentration camp. In 1935, the Nazis issued the Nuremberg Laws: "racial purity" laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Violence broke out in November 1938, when Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, and synagogues, killed nearly 100 and arrested some 30,000 Jewish men in what came to be known as Kristallnacht. By 1939, 300,000 Jewish refugees had fled Nazi controlled territories. By the war's end in 1945, six million Jews and millions of other victims had died in the Holocaust.
Another prisoner, Max Drimmer, devised an escape plan and brought it to Shine. Thanks to the help of a Polish partisan, they managed to break out of Auschwitz and hide on the Pole’s farm for three months. Later, they hid in the home of Marianne’s family. Both men immigrated to the United States and Shine married Marianne. Their story was told in the documentary, “Escape from Auschwitz: Portrait of a Friendship.”
To help carry out the "Final Solution" (the genocide or mass destruction of Jews), the Nazis established killing centers in German-occupied Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population. Killing centers were designed for efficient mass murder. The first one, which opened in December 1941, was Chelmno, where Jews and Roma were gassed in mobile gas vans. In 1942, the Nazis opened the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers to systematically murder the Jews of the Generalgouvernement (the territory in the interior of German-occupied Poland).
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Johann Gottlieb Fichte accused Jews in Germany of having been and inevitably of continuing to be a "state within a state" that threatened German national unity. Fichte promoted two options in order to address this, his first one being the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine so the Jews could be impelled to leave Europe. His second option was violence against Jews and he said that the goal of the violence would be "to cut off all their heads in one night, and set new ones on their shoulders, which should not contain a single Jewish idea".
The Security Police had held this exclusive authority de facto since 1936. The “legal” instrument of incarceration was either the “protective detention” (Schutzhaft) order or the “preventative detention” (Vorbeugungshaft) order. The Gestapo could issue a “protective detention” order for persons considered a political danger after 1933. The Criminal Police could issue a “preventative detention” order after December 1937 for persons considered to be habitual and professional criminals, or to be engaging in what the regime defined as “asocial” behavior. Neither order was subject to judicial review, or any review by any German agency outside of the German Security Police.
After the war, laws were made in Germany and other countries, especially countries in Europe, that make it illegal to say the Holocaust never happened. Sometimes they also ban questioning the number of people affected by it, which is saying that not so many people were killed as most people think. There has been some controversy over whether this affects people's free speech. Certain countries, such as Germany, Austria, and France also ban the use of Nazi symbols to stop Nazis from using them.
Chelmno was the first extermination camp to be established as part of the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ – the Nazis’ systematic effort to exterminate the Jews. This was quickly followed by the establishment of three more extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. They were established under the code-name Operation Reinhard – the starting signal to the extermination of the approximately 3 million Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Poland. In the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek two further extermination camps were established.
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.