Serena now lives in New Jersey with her family, including three children and grandchildren. We’ve both managed to hang on in there, but she can’t come to Auschwitz because her elderly husband is sick. For years when we talked about our experience she’d say to me: “You probably don’t remember, you were too young,” as I was four years younger, but some things I remembered even more sharply than her and my aunt.
Auschwitz is the generic name given to the cluster of concentration, labour and extermination camps built by the Germans during the Second World War, located outside the town of Oświęcim in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, southern Poland, 65 km (40 mi) west of Kraków. The camps have become a place of pilgrimage for survivors, their families, and all who wish to remember and contemplate the Holocaust. The grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In October 1941, work began on Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka. There the SS later developed a huge concentration camp and extermination complex that included some 300 prison barracks; four large so-called Badeanstalten (German: “bathhouses”), in which prisoners were gassed to death; Leichenkeller (“corpse cellars”), in which their bodies were stored; and Einäscherungsöfen (“cremating ovens”). Another camp (Buna-Monowitz), near the village of Dwory, later called Auschwitz III, became in May 1942 a slave-labour camp supplying workers for the nearby chemical and synthetic-rubber works of IG Farben. In addition, Auschwitz became the nexus of a complex of 45 smaller subcamps in the region, most of which housed slave labourers. During most of the period from 1940 to 1945, the commandant of the central Auschwitz camps was SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) and ultimately SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieut. Col.) Rudolf Franz Hoess (Höss).
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".
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the occupation government began to persecute Jews by the implementation of restrictive and discriminatory laws; mandatory registration and segregation soon followed. Otto Frank tried to arrange for the family to emigrate to the United States – the only destination that seemed to him to be viable – but Frank's application for a visa was never processed, due to circumstances such as the closing of the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam and the loss of all the paperwork there, including the visa application. Even if it had been processed, the U.S. government at the time was concerned that people with close relatives still in Germany could be blackmailed into becoming Nazi spies.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP; Nazi Party) was founded in 1920. It was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party (DAP) formed one year earlier, and one of several far-right political parties then active in Germany. The NSDAP party platform included destruction of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum ("living space") for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement. The party, especially its paramilitary organisation Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), used physical violence to advance their political position, disrupting the meetings of rival organisations and attacking their members (as well as Jewish people) on the streets. Such far-right armed groups were common in Bavaria, and were tolerated by the sympathetic far-right state government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr.
Of the seven people who hid in the secret annex, only Otto Frank survived. Upon returning to Amsterdam on June 3, he discovered that his employees had faithfully kept his business running, awaiting his return. He stayed with Miep Gies and her husband and immediately began searching for his daughters—in mid-July, he learned of their deaths at Bergen-Belsen.
These sights, like the truck full of bodies, are not beyond belief—we know that they were true—but they are, in some sense, beyond imagination. It is very hard, maybe impossible, to imagine being one of those men, still less one of those infants. And such sights raise the question of why, exactly, we read about the camps. If it is merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead. If it is to exercise sympathy or pay a debt to memory, then it quickly becomes clear that the exercise is hopeless, the debt overwhelming: there is no way to feel as much, remember as much, imagine as much as the dead justly demand. What remains as a justification is the future: the determination never again to allow something like the Nazi camps to exist.
Deportees were brought to Auschwitz crammed in wretched conditions into goods or cattle wagons, arriving near a railway station or at one of several dedicated trackside ramps, including one next to Auschwitz I. The Altejudenrampe (old Jewish ramp), part of the Oświęcim freight railway station, was used from 1942 to 1944 for Jewish transports. Located between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, arriving at this ramp meant a 2.5 km journey to Auschwitz II and the gas chambers. Most deportees were forced to walk, accompanied by SS men and a car with a Red Cross symbol that carried the Zyklon B, as well as an SS doctor in case officers were poisoned by mistake. Inmates arriving at night, or who were too weak to walk, were taken by truck. Work on another railway line and Judenrampe (pictured right) between sectors BI and BII in Auschwitz II, was completed in May 1944 for the arrival of Hungarian Jews, who between May and early July 1944 were deported to Auschwitz II at a rate of 12,000 a day. The rails led directly to the area around the gas chambers.
German business leaders disliked Nazi ideology but came to support Hitler, because they saw the Nazis as a useful ally to promote their interests. Business groups made significant financial contributions to the Nazi Party both before and after the Nazi seizure of power, in the hope that a Nazi dictatorship would eliminate the organized labour movement and the left-wing parties. Hitler actively sought to gain the support of business leaders by arguing that private enterprise is incompatible with democracy.
After a fortnight we were able to use the money which we had brought in or was sent to us, and it became possible to complete and improve our diet from the canteen at our own expense. We were lined up in rows exactly in the order of our prison numbers, which had been sewed in black on white on our clothes. (This also is penitentiary procedure, for an inmate of the penitentiary is not an individual any more, but only a numbered being without a name.) Then we were led into the barracks where an S.S. man sitting behind a sort of teller's window disbursed the desired sum, up to fifteen marks a week. Somehow I must have transgressed against the military discipline in this procedure. I presume that I had my cap in the wrong hand. Instead of the money I received a violent blow on the back of my hand with a heavy stick which was lying next to the paymaster on his table, obviously for such purposes. Many weeks after this experience the back of my hand was still painful and swollen.
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".
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real and potential opposition. The general public was intimidated by the arbitrary psychological terror that was used by the special courts (Sondergerichte). Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.