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.
Up to this point, though, Auschwitz-Birkenau accounted for “only” 11 percent of the victims of the “Final Solution.” In August 1942, however, construction began on four large-scale gassing facilities. It appears from the plans that the first two gas chambers were adapted from mortuaries which, with the huge crematoria attached to them, were initially intended to cope with mortalities amongst the slave labor force in the camp, now approaching 100,000 and subject to a horrifying death rate. But from the autumn of 1942, it seems clear that the SS planners and civilian contractors were intending to build a mass-murder plant.
Lt.-Col. Anatoly Shapiro, Ukrainian Jew, commanded the Red Army’s 1085th ‘Tarnopol’ Rifle Regiment that liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. The soldiers found about 650 corpses inside the barracks and near them — mostly women who died of exhaustion or were shot by the SS the night before. Altogether, the Soviet troops found at least 1,200 emaciated survivors in Auschwitz and another 5,800 at Birkenau. They fed them but most could not eat because they were too malnourished. Ultimately, another soldier said the Red Army managed to save 2,819 inmates in Red Army Military Hospital 2962.
Although there have been persistent claims of betrayal by an informant, the source of the information that led the authorities to raid the Achterhuis has never been identified. Night watchman Martin Sleegers and an unidentified police officer investigated a burglary at the premises in April 1944 and came across the bookcase concealing the secret door. Tonny Ahlers, a member of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB), was suspected of being the informant by Carol Ann Lee, biographer of Otto Frank. Another suspect is stockroom manager Willem van Maaren. The Annex occupants did not trust him, as he seemed inquisitive regarding people entering the stockroom after hours. He once unexpectedly asked the employees whether there had previously been a Mr. Frank at the office. Lena Hartog was suspected of being the informant by Anne Frank's biographer Melissa Müller. Several of these suspects knew one another and might have worked in collaboration. While virtually everyone connected with the betrayal was interrogated after the war, no one was definitively identified as being the informant.
How many men have become the victims of medical treatment—or rather of the lack of it—it is hard to say. I at least have learned about a case where an inmate of our category, about fifty years old, was rejected by the infirmary, treated unprofessionally in the first-aid station, and died the next day. I am not in a position to give statistical data as to whether, and to what extent, suicides of desperate prisoners have taken place. I had occasion only twice to see how prisoners tried to run into the charged wires of the fence in order to commit suicide. They were stopped at the last moment. One morning the corpse of a man who had succeeded in his undertaking was hanging in the meshes. It was said that it was the prisoner whose punishment we had witnessed on the day of our arrival at the camp.
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.
On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws, prohibiting marriages between Jews and people of Germanic extraction, extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law defined as citizens those of "German or kindred blood". Thus Jews and other minorities were stripped of their citizenship. By the start of World War II in 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Palestine, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
The enormous expansion of the camps resulted in an exponential increase in the misery of the prisoners. Food rations, always meagre, were cut to less than minimal: a bowl of rutabaga soup and some ersatz bread would have to sustain a prisoner doing heavy labor. The result was desperate black marketing and theft. Wachsmann writes, “In Sachsenhausen, a young French prisoner was battered to death in 1941 by an SS block leader for taking two carrots from a sheep pen.” Starvation was endemic and rendered prisoners easy prey for typhus and dysentery. At the same time, the need to keep control of so many prisoners made the S.S. even more brutal, and sadistic new punishments were invented. The “standing commando” forced prisoners to stand absolutely still for eight hours at a time; any movement or noise was punished by beatings. The murder of prisoners by guards, formerly an exceptional event in the camps, now became unremarkable.
When your relatives die, there’s usually a place you can go to pay your respects, like a cemetery with a grave where you can lay a stone and talk to them. The only place I have is Auschwitz and going back there for the first time will be the first and last chance I have to be able to return to the people I loved who I lost there and in other concentration camps.
Popular support for Hitler almost completely disappeared as the war drew to a close. Suicide rates in Germany increased, particularly in areas where the Red Army was advancing. Among soldiers and party personnel, suicide was often deemed an honourable and heroic alternative to surrender. First-hand accounts and propaganda about the uncivilised behaviour of the advancing Soviet troops caused panic among civilians on the Eastern Front, especially women, who feared being raped. More than a thousand people (out of a population of around 16,000) committed suicide in Demmin on and around 1 May 1945 as the 65th Army of 2nd Belorussian Front first broke into a distillery and then rampaged through the town, committing mass rapes, arbitrarily executing civilians, and setting fire to buildings. High numbers of suicides took place in many other locations, including Neubrandenburg (600 dead), Stolp in Pommern (1,000 dead), and Berlin, where at least 7,057 people committed suicide in 1945.
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 Mein Kampf, Hitler stated his desire to "make war upon the Marxist principle that all men are equal." He believed that "the notion of equality was a sin against nature." Nazism upheld the "natural inequality of men," including inequality between races and also within each race. The National Socialist state aimed to advance those individuals with special talents or intelligence, so they could rule over the masses. Nazi ideology relied on elitism and the Führerprinzip (leadership principle), arguing that elite minorities should assume leadership roles over the majority, and that the elite minority should itself be organized according to a "hierarchy of talent," with a single leader - the Führer - at the top. The Führerprinzip held that each member of the hierarchy owed absolute obedience to those above him and should hold absolute power over those below him.
Some of the most notorious slave labour camps included a network of subcamps. Gross-Rosen had 100 subcamps, Auschwitz had 44 subcamps, Stutthof had 40 sub-camps set up contingently. Prisoners in these subcamps were dying from starvation, untreated disease and summary executions by the tens of thousands already since the beginning of war.
In November 2007, the Anne Frank tree—by then infected with a fungal disease affecting the tree trunk—was scheduled to be cut down to prevent it from falling on the surrounding buildings. Dutch economist Arnold Heertje said about the tree: "This is not just any tree. The Anne Frank tree is bound up with the persecution of the Jews." The Tree Foundation, a group of tree conservationists, started a civil case to stop the felling of the horse chestnut, which received international media attention. A Dutch court ordered city officials and conservationists to explore alternatives and come to a solution. The parties built a steel construction that was expected to prolong the life of the tree up to 15 years. However, it was only three years later, on 23 August 2010, that gale-force winds blew down the tree. Eleven saplings from the tree were distributed to museums, schools, parks and Holocaust remembrance centres through a project led by the Anne Frank Center USA. The first sapling was planted in April 2013 at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Saplings were also sent to a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the scene of a desegregation battle; Liberty Park (Manhattan), which honours victims of the September 11 attacks; and other sites in the United States. Another horse chestnut tree honoring Frank was planted in 2010 at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Since our clothing did not offer enough protection against the prevailing cold—the temperatures were around freezing point—the restriction resulted in many diseases of the respiratory organs. These affected us in two ways: for one, the prisoners with colds were much tormented by coughing, and, for another, the rest of us suffered much from their comforts. In the room in which we were lying penned up together on the straw, with two covers at the most, the snoring alone of the many men produced a noise like a spinning mill. Now the barking and panting noise of the coughing was added to that. We were given only one handkerchief every two weeks. To make matters worse, there was no warm water for washing our handkerchiefs and it was impossible to dry them at the stove.
A parallel system operated later at Birkenau in 1942-43, except that for the majority the 'showers' proved to be gas chambers. Only about 10 percent of Jewish transports were registered, disinfected, shaven and showered in the 'central sauna' before being assigned barracks. In May 1944, a spur line was built right into the camp to accelerate and simplify the handling of the tens of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews deported in the spring and summer of 1944.
Auschwitz was probably chosen to play a central role in the “final solution” because it was located at a railway junction with 44 parallel tracks—rail lines that were used to transport Jews from throughout Europe to their death. Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary corps, ordered the establishment of the first camp, the prison camp, on April 27, 1940, and the first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived on June 14. This small camp, Auschwitz I, was reserved throughout its history for political prisoners, mainly Poles and Germans.
When the day of release came we were at first searched most carefully for any sort of written notes. Notes from our family—a short, well-watched exchange was allowed every week—had to be left behind. Then we were permitted to put on our civilian clothes, but how they looked! They had been disinfected under high steam pressure and had been wrapped in bundles. They looked like the outfits of tramps, all creased and out of shape. Soft felt hats had turned into cardboard-like monsters no longer usable, and even on our short trip back they could not be worn.
During the first half of July, Anne and her family hid in an apartment that would eventually hide four Dutch Jews as well—Hermann, Auguste, and Peter van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer. For two years, they lived in a secret attic apartment behind the office of the family-owned business at 263 Prinsengracht Street, which Anne referred to in her diary as the Secret Annex. Otto Frank's friends and colleagues, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Jan Gies, and Miep Gies, had helped to prepare the hiding place and smuggled food and clothing to the Franks at great risk to their own lives.
As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that rearmament must begin, albeit clandestinely at first, as to do so was in violation of the Versailles Treaty. On 17 May 1933, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag outlining his desire for world peace and accepted an offer from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt for military disarmament, provided the other nations of Europe did the same. When the other European powers failed to accept this offer, Hitler pulled Germany out of the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October, claiming its disarmament clauses were unfair if they applied only to Germany. In a referendum held in November, 95 percent of voters supported Germany's withdrawal.
Under this extermination program, known to S.S. bureaucrats by the code Action 14f13, some sixty-five hundred prisoners were killed in the course of a year. By early 1942, it had become obsolete, as the scale of death in the camps increased. Now the killing of weak and sick prisoners was carried out by guards or camp doctors, sometimes in gas chambers built on site. Those who were still able to work were increasingly auctioned off to private industry for use as slave labor, in the many subcamps that began to spring up around the main K.L. At Ravensbrück, the Siemens corporation established a factory where six hundred women worked twelve-hour shifts building electrical components. The work was brutally demanding, especially for women who were sick, starved, and exhausted. Helm writes that “Siemens women suffered severely from boils, swollen legs, diarrhea and TB,” and also from an epidemic of nervous twitching. When a worker reached the end of her usefulness, she was sent back to the camp, most likely to be killed. It was in this phase of the camp’s life that sights like the one Loulou Le Porz saw at Ravensbrück—a truck full of prisoners’ corpses—became commonplace.
More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were also founded, mainly as various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant, six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. The factory was built during the war by the German IG Farbenindustrie cartel, and the SS supplied prisoner labor. On November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp, Auschwitz III, to which some other Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated.
Working from these principles, Hitler carried his party from its inauspicious beginnings in a beer cellar in Munich to a dominant position in world politics 20 years later. The Nazi Party originated in 1919 and was led by Hitler from 1920. Through both successful electioneering and intimidation, the party came to power in Germany in 1933 and governed through totalitarian methods until 1945, when Hitler committed suicide and Germany was defeated and occupied by the Allies at the close of World War II.
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
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.
Perhaps the most famous child and most famous memoirist to have been a victim of World War II, the young Anne Frank (1929 – 1945) did not survive the Holocaust—but her diary did. With more than fifty language translations and more than thirty million copies sold, The Diary of Anne Frank today remains at the center of discussions of antisemitism, Holocaust memory, national guilt and responsibility, Jewish identity, acculturation, literature, drama, child psychology, and even historical revisionism, but above all, as the symbol of a young girl's belief in humankind's innate goodness and her hope for a better future.
At the bottom of the K.L. hierarchy, even below the criminals, were the Jews. Today, the words “concentration camp” immediately summon up the idea of the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews by the Nazis; and we tend to think of the camps as the primary sites of that genocide. In fact, as Wachsmann writes, as late as 1942 “Jews made up fewer than five thousand of the eighty thousand KL inmates.” There had been a temporary spike in the Jewish inmate population in November, 1938, after Kristallnacht, when the Nazis rounded up tens of thousands of Jewish men. But, for most of the camps’ first decade, Jewish prisoners had usually been sent there not for their religion, per se, but for specific offenses, such as political dissent or illicit sexual relations with an Aryan. Once there, however, they found themselves subject to special torments, ranging from running a gantlet of truncheons to heavy labor, like rock-breaking. As the chief enemies in the Nazi imagination, Jews were also the natural targets for spontaneous S.S. violence—blows, kicks, attacks by savage dogs.
The SS gained its independence from the SA in July 1934, in the wake of the Röhm purge. Hitler then authorized SS leader Heinrich Himmler to centralize the administration of the concentration camps and formalize them into a system. Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke for this task. Eicke had been the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since June 1933. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, a new section of the SS subordinate to the SS Main Office.
In the spring of 1941, the SS—along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program—introduced the Action 14f13 programme meant for extermination of selected concentration camp prisoners. The Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps categorized all files dealing with the death of prisoners as 14f, and those of prisoners sent to the T-4 gas chambers as 14f13. Under the language regulations of the SS, selected prisoners were designated for "special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung) 14f13". Prisoners were officially selected based on their medical condition; namely, those permanently unfit for labor due to illness. Unofficially, racial and eugenic criteria were used: Jews, the handicapped, and those with criminal or antisocial records were selected.:p.144 For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician's "diagnosis".:pp. 147–148 In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational, Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Action 14f13.:p.150