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.

For Hitler, the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and antisemitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany's external enemies – Britain, France and the Soviet Union – were controlled by the Jews and that Germany's future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war against the Jews.[64] For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika or Hakenkreuz. In German nationalist circles, the swastika was considered a symbol of an "Aryan race" and it symbolised the replacement of the Christian Cross with allegiance to a National Socialist State.

In November 1938 a young Jewish man requested an interview with the German ambassador in Paris and met with a legation secretary, whom he shot and killed to protest his family's treatment in Germany. This incident provided the pretext for a pogrom the NSDAP incited against the Jews on 9 November 1938. Members of the SA damaged or destroyed synagogues and Jewish property throughout Germany. At least 91 German Jews were killed during this pogrom, later called Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.[306][307] Further restrictions were imposed on Jews in the coming months – they were forbidden to own businesses or work in retail shops, drive cars, go to the cinema, visit the library, or own weapons, and Jewish pupils were removed from schools. The Jewish community was fined one billion marks to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht and told that any insurance settlements would be confiscated.[308] By 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Argentina, Great Britain, Palestine, and other countries.[309][310] Many chose to stay in continental Europe. Emigrants to Palestine were allowed to transfer property there under the terms of the Haavara Agreement, but those moving to other countries had to leave virtually all their property behind, and it was seized by the government.[310]
A treaty between the German government and the Vatican (the highest authority in the Roman Catholic church) guarantees Catholics the freedom of private religious practice, but dissolves Catholic political and trade union organizations. The Vatican (which had the status of a sovereign state) was the first state to recognize formally the legitimacy of Adolf Hitler's government. Despite the treaty, the Nazis continue to persecute Catholic religious and cultural organizations, priests, and schools.

As far as we could see, there was no possibility in camp for any religious services. Sundays are workdays for the inmates. Among the Jewish prisoners the rabbis were treated especially badly. Officially the fight against religious affiliations is not admitted, but as a matter of fact National Socialism is no less antireligious than Bolshevism, with the only difference that it has not yet developed quite so far in the amalgamation of political and religious ideologies.

I had become aware of antisemitism from a young age, when my uncle had his head chopped in two when he was attacked by fascists while driving up to Novograd where he lived. While his attacker was convicted, he was hardly punished, and continued to live opposite my uncle’s wife and child. But as a child you don’t think about these things all that much. My family had a wood and coal business and, like most people in those days, my father was self-employed. As they started to restrict us, he lost his licence to operate and then he faced the enormous task of trying to find work. Meanwhile, my mother was at home trying to keep the family together, with all of us all involved in domestic life.

In January 1934, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Poland.[73] In March 1939, Hitler demanded the return of the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, a strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The British announced they would come to the aid of Poland if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the British would not actually take action, ordered an invasion plan should be readied for September 1939.[74] On 23 May, Hitler described to his generals his overall plan of not only seizing the Polish Corridor but greatly expanding German territory eastward at the expense of Poland. He expected this time they would be met by force.[75]
Historian Michael Burleigh claims that Nazism used Christianity for political purposes, but such use required that "fundamental tenets were stripped out, but the remaining diffuse religious emotionality had its uses".[215] Burleigh claims that Nazism's conception of spirituality was "self-consciously pagan and primitive".[215] However, historian Roger Griffin rejects the claim that Nazism was primarily pagan, noting that although there were some influential neo-paganists in the Nazi Party, such as Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg, they represented a minority and their views did not influence Nazi ideology beyond its use for symbolism. It is noted that Hitler denounced Germanic paganism in Mein Kampf and condemned Rosenberg's and Himmler's paganism as "nonsense".[216]

On 26 June 1933, Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke commandant of Dachau, who in 1934 was also appointed the first Inspector of Concentration Camps (CCI). In addition, the remaining SA-run camps were taken over by the SS.[14][15][16] Dachau served as both a prototype and a model for the other Nazi concentration camps. Almost every community in Germany had members who were taken there. The newspapers continuously reported on "the removal of the enemies of the Reich to concentration camps" making the general population more aware of their presence. There were jingles warning as early as 1935: "Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not come to Dachau."[17]