“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.”
During the era of Imperial Germany, Völkisch nationalism was overshadowed by both Prussian patriotism and the federalist tradition of its various component states. The events of World War I, including the end of the Prussian monarchy in Germany, resulted in a surge of revolutionary Völkisch nationalism. The Nazis supported such revolutionary Völkisch nationalist policies and they claimed that their ideology was influenced by the leadership and policies of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire. The Nazis declared that they were dedicated to continuing the process of creating a unified German nation state that Bismarck had begun and desired to achieve. While Hitler was supportive of Bismarck's creation of the German Empire, he was critical of Bismarck's moderate domestic policies. On the issue of Bismarck's support of a Kleindeutschland ("Lesser Germany", excluding Austria) versus the Pan-German Großdeutschland ("Greater Germany") which the Nazis advocated, Hitler stated that Bismarck's attainment of Kleindeutschland was the "highest achievement" Bismarck could have achieved "within the limits possible at that time". In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler presented himself as a "second Bismarck".
Auschwitz I (or "the Main Camp") was the original camp. This camp housed prisoners, was the location of medical experiments, and the site of Block 11 (a place of severe torture) and the Black Wall (a place of execution). At the entrance of Auschwitz, I stood the infamous sign that stated "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("work makes one free"). Auschwitz I also housed the Nazi staff that ran the entire camp complex.
At the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees, its economy had collapsed, and 70 percent of its industrial infrastructure was destroyed. Between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from central, eastern, and southeastern Europe to Germany. The West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union. This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths. In 2006, the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.[f]
The Nazis were hostile to the idea of social welfare in principle, upholding instead the social Darwinist concept that the weak and feeble should perish. They condemned the welfare system of the Weimar Republic as well as private charity, accusing them of supporting people regarded as racially inferior and weak, who should have been weeded out in the process of natural selection. Nevertheless, faced with the mass unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression, the Nazis found it necessary to set up charitable institutions to help racially-pure Germans in order to maintain popular support, while arguing that this represented "racial self-help" and not indiscriminate charity or universal social welfare. Thus, Nazi programs such as the Winter Relief of the German People and the broader National Socialist People's Welfare (NSV) were organized as quasi-private institutions, officially relying on private donations from Germans to help others of their race - although in practice those who refused to donate could face severe consequences. Unlike the social welfare institutions of the Weimar Republic and the Christian charities, the NSV distributed assistance on explicitly racial grounds. It provided support only to those who were "racially sound, capable of and willing to work, politically reliable, and willing and able to reproduce." Non-Aryans were excluded, as well as the "work-shy", "asocials" and the "hereditarily ill." Successful efforts were made to get middle-class women involved in social work assisting large families, and the Winter Relief campaigns acted as a ritual to generate public sympathy.
After conquering Poland, Hitler focused on defeating Britain and France. As the war expanded, the Nazi Party formed alliances with Japan and Italy in the Tripartite Pact of 1940, and honored its 1939 Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union until 1941, when Germany launched a massive blitzkrieg invasion of the Soviet Union. In the brutal fighting that followed, Nazi troops tried to realize the long-held goal of crushing the world’s major communist power. After the United States entered the war in 1941, Germany found itself fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, the Balkans and in a counterattacking Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war, Hitler and his Nazi Party were fighting to dominate Europe; five years later they were fighting to exist.
Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were arrested and jailed at the penal camp for enemies of the regime at Amersfoort. Kleiman was released after seven weeks, but Kugler was held in various work camps until the war's end. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were questioned and threatened by the Security Police but not detained. They returned to the Achterhuis the following day, and found Anne's papers strewn on the floor. They collected them, as well as several family photograph albums, and Gies resolved to return them to Anne after the war. On 7 August 1944, Gies attempted to facilitate the release of the prisoners by confronting Silberbauer and offering him money to intervene, but he refused.
Radical Antisemitism was promoted by prominent advocates of Völkisch nationalism, including Eugen Diederichs, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn. De Lagarde called the Jews a "bacillus, the carriers of decay ... who pollute every national culture ... and destroy all faiths with their materialistic liberalism" and he called for the extermination of the Jews. Langbehn called for a war of annihilation against the Jews, and his genocidal policies were later published by the Nazis and given to soldiers on the front during World War II. One antisemitic ideologue of the period, Friedrich Lange, even used the term "National Socialism" to describe his own anti-capitalist take on the Völkisch nationalist template.
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party won the federal election, Edith Frank and the children went to stay with Edith's mother Rosa in Aachen. Otto Frank remained in Frankfurt, but after receiving an offer to start a company in Amsterdam, he moved there to organize the business and to arrange accommodations for his family. He began working at the Opekta Works, a company that sold the fruit extract pectin, and found an apartment on the Merwedeplein (Merwede Square) in the Rivierenbuurt neighbourhood of Amsterdam. By February 1934, Edith and the children had joined him in Amsterdam. The Franks were among 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939.
The concentration camps make sense only if they are understood as products not of reason but of ideology, which is to say, of fantasy. Nazism taught the Germans to see themselves as a beleaguered nation, constantly set upon by enemies external and internal. Metaphors of infection and disease, of betrayal and stabs in the back, were central to Nazi discourse. The concentration camp became the place where those metaphorical evils could be rendered concrete and visible. Here, behind barbed wire, were the traitors, Bolsheviks, parasites, and Jews who were intent on destroying the Fatherland.
An inmate's first encounter with the camp, if they were being registered and not sent straight to the gas chamber, would be at the prisoner reception centre, where they were tattooed, shaved, disinfected, and given their striped prison uniform. Built between 1942 and 1944, the center contained a bathhouse, laundry, and 19 gas chambers for delousing clothes. Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt write that inmates would then leave this area via a porch that faced the gate with the Arbeit macht frei sign. The prisoner reception center of Auschwitz I became the visitor reception center of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
The eight residents of the secret annex were transported to Auschwitz on the last train leaving the transit camp Westerbork. After a month at Auschwitz, Anne and her sister Margot were transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where thousands of people died everyday from hunger and sickness. Margot and Anne both contracted typhus and died within a short time of each other in March 1945, only a few weeks before the liberation.
A concentration camp to house Soviet prisoners of war and Poles had been established at Majdanek, close to the Polish city of Lublin, during 1941. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers and crematoria were added, turning Majdanek into an extermination camp that would murder 78,000 people. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, was a massive concentration, forced labour and extermination camp at the centre of a network of more than 40 satellite camps. Upwards of 80 per cent of those Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were selected for immediate death.
Hitler was not influenced by the United States alone. “Let’s learn from the English,” Hitler said repeatedly, “who, with two hundred and fifty thousand men in all, including fifty thousand soldiers, govern four hundred million Indians.” According to multiple sources, Hitler was also fascinated by Islam, which he saw as a muscular, militant religion in contrast to the meek faith of suffering that was Christianity—despite the fact that Arabs were Semites, and that non-Arab Muslims were considered racially inferior. Even closer to Hitler’s mind was Mustafa Kemal Pasha, or Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who had resisted the Versailles Treaty and whose regime’s genocide of the Armenians was an early example of exterminationist policy.
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.
But even within a democratic constitutional system, white supremacy in the United States has persisted, ebbing and flowing along the course of history, receding at times and then returning with a vengeance. At the heart of the current white nationalist project is the racial supremacy of people who believe that America was exclusively founded for them. Race madness has taken over the Trump base, and the White House has become home to those who seek racial purification. The project to erode citizenship rights, restrict immigration, and reclaim the American idea as a white idea is already underway. The United States is denying passports to citizens on the southern border. Denying bond hearings to those immigrants—even permanent residents—who are incarcerated. Separating children from their parents. Banning Muslim travelers. Refusing green cards to Americans who need public assistance. Politicians and law professors debate the merits of ending birthright citizenship; while currently a fringe idea, a future Supreme Court decision severely limiting birthright citizenship seems foreseeable. This purification agenda is being carried out by deportation squads roving the country in search of targets. Alarm bells ought to be going off about this program of national cleansing. We do not yet know where this ends.
In spite of their rhetoric condemning big business prior to their rise to power, the Nazis quickly entered into a partnership with German business from as early as February 1933. That month, after being appointed Chancellor but before gaining dictatorial powers, Hitler made a personal appeal to German business leaders to help fund the Nazi Party for the crucial months that were to follow. He argued that they should support him in establishing a dictatorship because "private enterprise cannot be maintained in the age of democracy" and because democracy would allegedly lead to communism. He promised to destroy the German left and the trade unions, without any mention of anti-Jewish policies or foreign conquests. In the following weeks, the Nazi Party received contributions from seventeen different business groups, with the largest coming from IG Farben and Deutsche Bank. Historian Adam Tooze writes that the leaders of German business were therefore "willing partners in the destruction of political pluralism in Germany." In exchange, owners and managers of German businesses were granted unprecedented powers to control their workforce, collective bargaining was abolished and wages were frozen at a relatively low level. Business profits also rose very rapidly, as did corporate investment. In addition, the Nazis privatised public properties and public services, but at the same time they increased economic state control through regulations. Hitler believed that private ownership was useful in that it encouraged creative competition and technical innovation, but insisted that it had to conform to national interests and be "productive" rather than "parasitical". Private property rights were conditional upon following the economic priorities set by the Nazi leadership, with high profits as a reward for firms who followed them and the threat of nationalization being used against those who did not. Under Nazi economics, free competition and self-regulating markets diminished, but Hitler's social Darwinist beliefs made him retain business competition and private property as economic engines.
A play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based upon the diary premiered in New York City on 5 October 1955, and later won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was followed by the film The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), which was a critical and commercial success. Biographer Melissa Müller later wrote that the dramatization had "contributed greatly to the romanticizing, sentimentalizing and universalizing of Anne's story." Over the years the popularity of the diary grew, and in many schools, particularly in the United States, it was included as part of the curriculum, introducing Anne Frank to new generations of readers.
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.
A useful analogy requires that we move beyond a Google image search and truly interrogate history. If we do, we may arrive at the Camp de Rivesaltes, an ad hoc facility created from an empty military camp in southern France. Its first prisoners in 1938 were not Jews but Spanish refugees who had fought against Francisco Franco’s victorious fascists. They were fleeing inevitable persecution from the Spanish dictator. The goal of that temporary concentration camp was to prevent the further dispersion of the Spanish refugees and their settlement in France while a repatriation solution was found. It never was.
On the morning of Monday, 6 July 1942, the Frank family moved into their hiding place, a three-story space entered from a landing above the Opekta offices on the Prinsengracht, where some of his most trusted employees would be their helpers. This hiding place became known as the Achterhuis (translated into "Secret Annex" in English editions of the diary). Their apartment was left in a state of disarray to create the impression that they had left suddenly, and Otto left a note that hinted they were going to Switzerland. The need for secrecy forced them to leave behind Anne's cat, Moortje. As Jews were not allowed to use public transport, they walked several kilometres from their home. The door to the Achterhuis was later covered by a bookcase to ensure it remained undiscovered.
For the first 5 years of her life, Anne lived with her parents and older sister, Margot, in an apartment on the outskirts of Frankfurt. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Otto Frank fled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where he had business connections. The rest of the Frank family soon followed, with Anne being the last of the family to arrive in February 1934 after staying with her grandparents in Aachen.
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.
Early one morning I met Stos, a retired architect, at his small first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Krakow. We sat in his small, dark dining room, a plate of jam-filled ginger cookies on the starched white tablecloth between us. He said he grew up in Tarnow, Poland, about 50 miles from Krakow. He remembers the day the Nazis shipped him off to Auschwitz: June 13, 1940. It had been almost a year since Germany invaded Poland and launched its campaign to destroy the nation. Following instructions issued by SS chief Reinhard Heydrich—“the leading strata of the population should be rendered harmless”—the SS killed some 20,000 Poles, mainly priests, politicians and academics, in September and October 1939. Stos was an 18-year-old Boy Scout and a member of a Catholic youth organization. Germans put him and 727 other Poles, mostly university and trade-school students, in first-class train cars and told them they were going to work on German farms.
I bought this book to prepare for a trip to the Anne Frank Museum. It was a sad but fascinating read - and when I got to the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam, I knew exactly what I was looking at, who slept where - and who all the individuals were that helped Anne, her family, and their companions survive for as long as they did. I think I got more out of the visit than I would have without reading this book.
But the effort to preserve the site is not without its critics. One is Robert Jan van Pelt, a cultural historian in the school of architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and the leading expert on the construction of Auschwitz. He supports the preservation of the Auschwitz main camp, although he acknowledges it is a “kind of theme park, cleaned up for tourists.” In any event, it’s a fully equipped museum, complete with exhibits and conservation facilities, where most of the original buildings still stand. But van Pelt views the Birkenau site in a different light. For one thing, 80 to 90 percent of the original structures are gone or in a state of ruin. Most important, it’s where most of the killings took place, so it is a core site of the Holocaust itself. He says letting Birkenau disintegrate completely would be a more fitting memorial than constantly repairing the scant remains. Birkenau is “the ultimate nihilistic place. A million people literally disappeared. Shouldn’t we confront people with the nothingness of the place? Seal it up. Don’t give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there.”
Mindful that no mere visit can convey what the concentration camp was like when the Nazis ran it, I met with survivors. The week before I arrived in Krakow, I had called Jozef Stos, 89, to ask if he would discuss his years in captivity. “If I’m still alive then, sure—it’s my civic responsibility,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty darn old, you know.”
The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.
Drancy held 5,000 prisoners. Around 70,000 mainly Jewish prisoners passed through the camp between August 1941 and August 1944. On 22 June 1942, the Nazis began systematic deportations of Jews from Drancy to the extermination camps in occupied Poland. In the first transport 1,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the last transport on 31 July 1944, 64,759 Jews had been deported from Drancy in 64 transports. Approximately 61,000 of these Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. A further 3,753 Jews had been transported to Sobibor.
Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” said Jonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.
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.
After the war, the Allies occupied Germany, outlawed the Nazi Party and worked to purge its influence from every aspect of German life. The party’s swastika flag quickly became a symbol of evil in modern postwar culture. Although Hitler killed himself before he could be brought to justice, a number of Nazi officials were convicted of war crimes in the Nuremberg trials, which took place in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1949.
Around the time of the failed offensive against Moscow in December 1941, Hitler resolved that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated immediately. While the murder of Jewish civilians had been ongoing in the occupied territories of Poland and the Soviet Union, plans for the total eradication of the Jewish population of Europe—eleven million people—were formalised at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Some would be worked to death and the rest would be killed in the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Initially the victims were killed by Einsatzgruppen firing squads, then by stationary gas chambers or by gas vans, but these methods proved impractical for an operation of this scale. By 1942 extermination camps equipped with gas chambers were established at Auschwitz, Chełmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, and elsewhere. The total number of Jews murdered is estimated at 5.5 to six million, including over a million children.
Primary and secondary education focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography, and physical fitness. The curriculum in most subjects, including biology, geography, and even arithmetic, was altered to change the focus to race. Military education became the central component of physical education, and education in physics was oriented toward subjects with military applications, such as ballistics and aerodynamics. Students were required to watch all films prepared by the school division of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was pressured to abdicate the throne and flee into exile amidst an attempted communist revolution in Germany, initially supported the Nazi Party. His four sons, including Prince Eitel Friedrich and Prince Oskar, became members of the Nazi Party in hopes that in exchange for their support, the Nazis would permit the restoration of the monarchy.
Modern Germany fundamentally rejects, and assumes complete responsibility for, the heinous crimes committed under the Third Reich. The Nazis occupy a uniquely menacing place in the Western imagination, the embodiment of humanity’s darkest instincts for racial hatred and barbarism—what Hannah Arendt called “radical evil” in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Whitman uses the word Nefandum, “an abyss of unexampled modern horror against which we can define ourselves.” It is appropriate to be wary of invoking the Nazis, especially in an online environment that has turned the words “Hitler” and “Nazi” into clichés, devaluing their meaning and cheapening the historical lessons to be learned.
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.