The process of Anne’s transformation into a universal teenager continued with the Americanization of her diary. “These are the thoughts and expression of a young girl living under extraordinary conditions, and for this reason her diary tell us much about ourselves and about our own children. And for this reason, too, I felt how close we all are to Anne’s experience, how very much involved we are in her short life and in the entire world,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her introduction. Were Americans living in 1952 really close to Anne’s experiences? Were they really capable of understanding her and becoming involved in her life? Perhaps they were, though not as a Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis, but as an “Everygirl.” In her foreword, Eleanor Roosevelt makes no reference to Jews or to Anne’s Jewishness, nor to the way her brief life ended, nor to the Holocaust, thus distancing the diary even more from Jews and from the Holocaust by referring to human problems in general.
Hitler found this common denominator in the Jews, whom he identified with both Bolshevism and a kind of cosmic evil. The Jews were to be discriminated against not according to their religion but according to their “race.” Nazism declared the Jews—whatever their educational and social development—to be forever fundamentally different from and inimical to Germans.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the concentration and extermination camps established on Polish soil, served concurrently as a labor camp and as a center for the rapid extermination of Jews. Chosen as the central location for the annihilation of the Jewish people, it was equipped with several extermination facilities and crematoria. Extermination was carried out by means of Zyklon B gas, a substance that had previously been tested on Russian prisoners of war.
Nazism emphasized German nationalism, including both irredentism and expansionism. Nazism held racial theories based upon a belief in the existence of an Aryan master race that was superior to all other races. The Nazis emphasised the existence of racial conflict between the Aryan race and others—particularly Jews, whom the Nazis viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated multiple societies and was responsible for exploitation and repression of the Aryan race. The Nazis also categorised Slavs as Untermensch (sub-human).
In 2018 the Polish government passed an amendment to its Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, making it a criminal offence to make false suggestions of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, which would include referring to Auschwitz and other camps as "Polish death camps". After discussions with Israel's prime minister, amid international concern that the law would stifle research, the Polish government adjusted the amendment so that anyone falsely accusing Poland of complicity would be guilty only of a civil offence.
By the end of the war, the number of people who had died in the concentration camps, from all causes—starvation, sickness, exhaustion, beating, shooting, gassing—was more than eight hundred thousand. The figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of Jews gassed on arrival at Auschwitz. If the K.L. were indeed a battlefront, as the Death’s-Head S.S. liked to believe, the deaths, in the course of twelve years, roughly equalled the casualties sustained by the Axis during the Battle of Stalingrad, among the deadliest actual engagements of the war. But in the camps the Nazis fought against helpless enemies. Considered as prisons, too, the K.L. were paradoxical: it was impossible to correct or rehabilitate people whose very nature, according to Nazi propaganda, was criminal or sick. And as economic institutions they were utterly counterproductive, wasting huge numbers of lives even as the need for workers in Germany became more and more acute.
It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.
On our arrival at Auschwitz they chased us off the cattle wagon, which stopped right in front of the gate with the sign Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free). I thought I was entering a labour camp, but little did I know. They asked me my profession, and I said painter as I’d picked up the advice en route to say something practical and useful. If I’d said I’d just finished high school they’d have sent me straight to the gas chambers.
Auschwitz originally was conceived as a concentration camp, to be used as a detention center for the many Polish citizens arrested after Germany annexed the country in 1939. These detainees included anti-Nazi activists, politicians, resistance members and luminaries from the cultural and scientific communities. Once Hitler’s Final Solution became official Nazi policy, however, Auschwitz was deemed an ideal death camp locale. For one thing, it was situated near the center of all German-occupied countries on the European continent. For another, it was in close proximity to the string of rail lines used to transport detainees to the network of Nazi camps.
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.
The most pressing economic matter the Nazis initially faced was the 30 percent national unemployment rate. Economist Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics, created a scheme for deficit financing in May 1933. Capital projects were paid for with the issuance of promissory notes called Mefo bills. When the notes were presented for payment, the Reichsbank printed money. Hitler and his economic team expected that the upcoming territorial expansion would provide the means of repaying the soaring national debt. Schacht's administration achieved a rapid decline in the unemployment rate, the largest of any country during the Great Depression. Economic recovery was uneven, with reduced hours of work and erratic availability of necessities, leading to disenchantment with the regime as early as 1934.
On August 4, 1944, the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) discovered the hiding place. It has been long thought that the authorities acted after being tipped off by an anonymous Dutch caller. But a more recent theory is that the German SD discovered the hiding place by chance, while investigating reports that illegal work and fraud with ration coupons were occurring at the house.
After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, all located in Germany. Following the violent Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms in November 1938, the Nazis conducted mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in camps for brief periods.
When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they found these pitiful survivors as well as 836,525 items of women clothing, 348,820 items of men clothing, 43,525 pairs of shoes and vast numbers of toothbrushes, glasses and other personal effects. They found also 460 artificial limbs and seven tons of human hair shaved from Jews before they were murdered. The human hairs were used by the company "Alex Zink" (located in Bavaria) for confection of cloth. This company was paying the human hairs 50 pfennig/kilo.
During the course of the war, the Nazis extracted considerable plunder from occupied Europe. Historian and war correspondent William L. Shirer writes: "The total amount of [Nazi] loot will never be known; it has proved beyond man's capacity to accurately compute." Gold reserves and other foreign holdings were seized from the national banks of occupied nations, while large "occupation costs" were usually imposed. By the end of the war, occupation costs were calculated by the Nazis at 60 billion Reichsmarks, with France alone paying 31.5 billion. The Bank of France was forced to provide 4.5 billion Reichsmarks in "credits" to Germany, while a further 500,000 Reichsmarks were assessed against Vichy France by the Nazis in the form of "fees" and other miscellaneous charges. The Nazis exploited other conquered nations in a similar way. After the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded Germany had obtained 104 billion Reichsmarks in the form of occupation costs and other wealth transfers from occupied Europe, including two-thirds of the gross domestic product of Belgium and the Netherlands.
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.