By 1942, Auschwitz had mushroomed into a massive money-making complex that included the original camp, Birkenau (officially labeled Auschwitz II) and 40 sub-camps (mostly located in and around the nearby town of Oswiecim but some as far away as Czechoslovakia) set up to provide slave labor for chemical plants, coal mines, shoe factories and other ventures. In their eagerness to carry out orders, advance their careers and line their own pockets, mid-level bureaucrats like Höss implemented what came to be known as the Holocaust.
By August 1944 there were 105,168 prisoners in Auschwitz whilst another 50,000 Jewish prisoners lived in Auschwitz’s satellite camps. The camp’s population grew constantly, despite the high mortality rate caused by exterminations, starvation, hard labor, and contagious diseases. Upon arrival at the platform in Birkenau, Jews were thrown out of their train cars without their belongings and forced to form two lines, men and women separately.
The Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande ("race defilement") to justify the need for racial laws. In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws initially prohibited sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring". The law also forbade the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of "German or related blood" could be citizens. Thus Jews and other non-Aryans were stripped of their German citizenship. The law also permitted the Nazis to deny citizenship to anyone who was not supportive enough of the regime. A supplementary decree issued in November defined as Jewish anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if the Jewish faith was followed.
There is a serious anachronism at work: the coverage that speaks to Schneidermann on an emotional level now was largely ineffective at the time it was printed. He muses that the journalists in the thirties needed to invent a new language, but he doesn’t quite define what that language should have looked like—dry facts didn’t allow an audience truly to comprehend the incomprehensible, but irony didn’t work, either, and neither did outcry. He faults the news outlets, above all, for not publishing vivid portraits of the victims. “Facts. Raw facts,” Schneidermann writes of press descriptions of Jewish refugees in 1939. “We can’t accuse the New York Times of having avoided the raw facts. Except that the raw facts don’t suffice. They never suffice. In order for a piece of news to touch consciences and hearts, there must be emotion running through it.”
Adolf Hitler envisioned the eventual extermination of what he called “the Jewish plague,” but the Führer didn’t draw up the plans for the gas chambers or the timetables for the transports. And while it was senior SS officials who gave general instructions about how the camps should function, it was ordinary Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, who worked out the deadly details. “There wasn’t a grand strategy in 1940 that the camp would accrue a number of functions and ultimately become a death camp,” Dwork says. “I do not see it as planned at all. Way led to way, and step led to step.”
The Diary, which has been translated into more than 65 languages, is the most widely read diary of the Holocaust, and Anne is probably the best known of Holocaust victims. The Diary was also made into a play that premiered on Broadway in October 1955, and in 1956 it won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. A film version directed by George Stevens was produced in 1959. The play was controversial: it was challenged by screenwriter Meyer Levin, who wrote an early version of the play (later realized as a 35-minute radio play) and accused Otto Frank and his chosen screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, of sanitizing and de-Judaizing the story. The play was often performed in high schools throughout the world and was revived (with additions) on Broadway in 1997–98.
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.
Eventually, Birkenau held the majority of prisoners in the Auschwitz complex, including Jews, Poles, Germans, and Gypsies. Furthermore, it maintained the most degrading and inhumane conditions–inclusive of the complex’s gas chambers and crematoria. A third section, Auschwitz III, was constructed in nearby Monowitz, and consisted of a forced labor camp called Buna-Monowitz.
Other former staff were hanged for war crimes in the Dachau Trials and the Belsen Trial, including camp leaders Josef Kramer, Franz Hössler, and Vinzenz Schöttl; doctor Friedrich Entress; and guards Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath. The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, held in West Germany from 20 December 1963 to 20 August 1965, convicted 17 of 22 defendants, giving them prison sentences ranging from life to three years and three months. Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, the owner and the chief executive officer of the firm Tesch & Stabenow, one of the suppliers of Zyklon B, were executed for knowingly supplying the chemical for use on humans.
The Nazi regime abolished the symbols of the Weimar Republic—including the black, red, and gold tricolour flag—and adopted reworked symbolism. The previous imperial black, white, and red tricolour was restored as one of Germany's two official flags; the second was the swastika flag of the NSDAP, which became the sole national flag in 1935. The NSDAP anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became a second national anthem.
Auschwitz became a significant source of slave labor locally and functioned as an international clearing house. Of 2.5 million people who were deported to Auschwitz, 405,000 were given prisoner status and serial numbers. Of these, approximately 50 percent were Jews and 50 percent were Poles and other nationalities. Of those who received numbers, 65,000 survived. It is estimated that about 200,000 people passed through the Auschwitz camps and survived.
The last days of Auschwitz, which was opened by the Nazis in Oswiecim, Poland, in 1940, were marked by chaos, cowardice and an attempt to destroy what was once one of Nazi Germany’s most efficient tools in the quest to eradicate European Jews. By late 1944, as the Allied forces of World War II wrested much of occupied Europe out of Nazi hands, it had become clear that the Nazi military—once a mighty force that had invaded and occupied most of Europe after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933—was headed toward a spectacular defeat.
Those who were selected for work were set on a whole range of tasks. These included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp and heavy manual work. Some Jewish prisoners were put into units called Sonderkommandos, whose role was to work in the gas chambers and crematorium. They were kept apart from the rest of the camp prisoners, but were also sent to their deaths in the gas chambers after a few weeks or months of work.
In September 1933, an important policy document known as the Prussian Memorandum began circulating among lawmakers and jurists of the Third Reich. The Nazi regime was still in its infancy; Hitler had been named chancellor just nine months prior, the result of a power-sharing arrangement with nationalist conservatives who thought they could control the mercurial Austrian. Following the Reichstag Fire in February of that year, Hitler had assumed emergency powers and within weeks usurped the authority of the parliament. By that critical autumn, the Third Reich had begun Nazifying the German legal code. The Prussian Memorandum that passed between Nazi legal hands was an early blueprint for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and criminalized sexual relations between Germans and those thought to have impure blood. It was the foundational text of Nazi legal thinking. Incredibly, the Prussian Memorandum expressly cited the gold standard of racist lawmaking at the time: the United States of America.
I remember the chimneys with dark, thick smoke rising from them; dogs barking all the time. From Auschwitz, they moved us to Birkenau, then to Mauthausen-Gusen. Every morning there were dead bodies along the barbed wire fences around the camp. The electrified fences instantly killed anyone who touched them. Perhaps these were simply acts of suicide.
Gradowski was not poetic; he was prophetic. He did not gaze into this inferno and ask why. He knew. Aware of both the long recurring arc of destruction in Jewish history, and of the universal fact of cruelty’s origins in feelings of worthlessness, he writes: “This fire was ignited long ago by the barbarians and murderers of the world, who had hoped to drive darkness from their brutal lives with its light.”
A beloved classic since its initial publication in 1947, this vivid, insightful journal is a fitting memorial to the gifted Jewish teenager who died at Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in 1945. Born in 1929, Anne Frank received a blank diary on her 13th birthday, just weeks before she and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Her marvelously detailed, engagingly personal entries chronicle 25 trying months of claustrophobic, quarrelsome intimacy with her parents, sister, a second family, and a middle-aged dentist who has little tolerance for Anne's vivacity. The diary's universal appeal stems from its riveting blend of the grubby particulars of life during wartime (scant, bad food; shabby, outgrown clothes that can't be replaced; constant fear of discovery) and candid discussion of emotions familiar to every adolescent (everyone criticizes me, no one sees my real nature, when will I be loved?). Yet Frank was no ordinary teen: the later entries reveal a sense of compassion and a spiritual depth remarkable in a girl barely 15. Her death epitomizes the madness of the Holocaust, but for the millions who meet Anne through her diary, it is also a very individual loss. --Wendy Smith
The Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), founded in 1921, was the first paramilitary wing of the NSDAP; their initial assignment was to protect Nazi leaders at rallies and assemblies. They also took part in street battles against the forces of rival political parties and violent actions against Jews and others. Under Ernst Röhm's leadership the SA grew by 1934 to over half a million members—4.5 million including reserves—at a time when the regular army was still limited to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty.
With Otto Frank's death in 1980, the original diary, including letters and loose sheets, was willed to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation, which commissioned a forensic study of the diary through the Netherlands Ministry of Justice in 1986. They examined the handwriting against known examples and found that they matched. They determined that the paper, glue, and ink were readily available during the time the diary was said to have been written. They concluded that the diary is authentic, and their findings were published in what has become known as the "Critical Edition" of the diary. In 1990, the Hamburg Regional Court confirmed the diary's authenticity.
Despite such tactical breaks necessitated by pragmatic concerns, which were typical for Hitler during his rise to power and in the early years of his regime, Hitler never ceased being a revolutionary dedicated to the radical transformation of Germany, especially when it concerned racial matters. In his monograph, Hitler: Study of a Revolutionary?, Martyn Housden concludes:
Hitler had the final say in both domestic legislation and German foreign policy. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that Germany was biologically destined to expand eastward by military force and that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Here, women played a vital role. The Third Reich's aggressive population policy encouraged "racially pure" women to bear as many "Aryan" children as possible.
On 23 March, the parliament passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of parliament. In effect, this gave Hitler dictatorial powers. Now possessing virtually absolute power, the Nazis established totalitarian control as they abolished labour unions and other political parties and imprisoned their political opponents, first at wilde Lager, improvised camps, then in concentration camps. Nazi Germany had been established, yet the Reichswehr remained impartial. Nazi power over Germany remained virtual, not absolute.
Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was established in October 1941, three kilometers from Auschwitz. Exterminations in Birkenau began in March 1942. There were four gas chambers in the camp that used Zyklon B gas. Until November 1944 the camp functioned as a factory for mass murder, receiving transports from all over Europe. Most of those brought to the camp were Jews and nearly all were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Only a small percentage was selected for labor in the camp itself, labor in munitions plants at satellite camps, or the “medical” experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele and his staff. In the spring and summer of 1944, the rate of extermination was increased as the Jews of Hungary and the Lodz ghetto were brought to the camp.
While top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, they had considerable autonomy. He expected officials to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with party goals and Hitler's wishes, without his involvement in day-to-day decision-making. The government was a disorganised collection of factions led by the party elite, who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour. Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped. In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.
The first German concentration camps were established in 1933 for the confinement of opponents of the Nazi Party—Communists and Social Democrats. Political opposition soon was enlarged to include minority groups, chiefly Jews, but by the end of World War II many Roma, homosexuals, and anti-Nazi civilians from the occupied territories had also been liquidated. After the outbreak of World War II the camp inmates were used as a supplementary labour supply, and such camps mushroomed throughout Europe. Inmates were required to work for their wages in food; those unable to work usually died of starvation, and those who did not starve often died of overwork. The most shocking extension of this system was the establishment after 1940 of extermination centres, or “death camps.” They were located primarily in Poland, which Adolf Hitler had selected as the setting for his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” The most notorious were Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. (See extermination camp.) At some camps, notably Buchenwald, medical experimentation was conducted. New toxins and antitoxins were tried out, new surgical techniques devised, and studies made of the effects of artificially induced diseases, all by experimenting on living human beings.
The first 'bunker', with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra 'capacity' was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the 'bunkers' were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open. Between January 1942 and March 1943, 175,000 Jews were gassed to death here, of whom 105,000 were killed from January to March 1943.
Aware that as witnesses to the killings they would eventually be killed themselves, the Sonderkommandos of Birkenau Kommando III staged an uprising on 7 October 1944, following an announcement that some of them would be selected to be "transferred to another camp"—a common Nazi ruse for the murder of prisoners. They attacked the SS guards with stones, axes, and makeshift hand grenades, which they also used to damage Crematorium IV and set it on fire. As the SS set up machine guns to attack the prisoners in Crematorium IV, the Sonderkommandos in Crematorium II also revolted, some of them managing to escape the compound. The rebellion was suppressed by nightfall.
As Soviet troops closed in on Auschwitz in late January 1945, the SS hurriedly evacuated some 56,000 prisoners on death marches to the west, then blew up the Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria to erase evidence of the mass murders. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Some 6,000 people were still alive at Birkenau. Another 1,000 were found at the main camp.
When the victims arrived to the extermination camps in overcrowded trains, they were herded out onto the arrival ramp. Here, German SS-men and perhaps brutal Ukrainian guards forced them to hand over their belongings and their clothes. Most of the victims had been told that they were merely to be moved to the east for new jobs and living places, and most of them had brought their favourite belongings.
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.
Frank frequently wrote of her difficult relationship with her mother, and of her ambivalence towards her. On 7 November 1942 she described her "contempt" for her mother and her inability to "confront her with her carelessness, her sarcasm and her hard-heartedness," before concluding, "She's not a mother to me." Later, as she revised her diary, Frank felt ashamed of her harsh attitude, writing: "Anne, is it really you who mentioned hate, oh Anne, how could you?" She came to understand that their differences resulted from misunderstandings that were as much her fault as her mother's, and saw that she had added unnecessarily to her mother's suffering. With this realization, Frank began to treat her mother with a degree of tolerance and respect.
There was one latrine for thirty to thirty-two thousand women and we were permitted to use it only at certain hours of the day. We stood in line to get in to this tiny building, knee-deep in human excrement. As we all suffered from dysentry, we could barely wait until our turn came, and soiled our ragged clothes, which never came off our bodies, thus adding to the horror of our existence by the terrible smell that surrounded us like a cloud. The latrine consisted of a deep ditch with planks thrown across it at certain intervals. We squatted on those planks like birds perched on a telegraph wire, so close together that we could not help soiling one another.
Fascism was a major influence on Nazism. The seizure of power by Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in the March on Rome in 1922 drew admiration by Hitler, who less than a month later had begun to model himself and the Nazi Party upon Mussolini and the Fascists. Hitler presented the Nazis as a form of German fascism. In November 1923, the Nazis attempted a "March on Berlin" modelled after the March on Rome, which resulted in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.
Please remember that you are essentially visiting a mass grave site, as well as a site that has an almost incalculable meaning to a significant portion of the world's population. There are still many men and women alive today who survived their internment here, and many more who had loved ones murdered on these grounds, Jews and non-Jews alike. Please treat the site with the dignity and respect it solemnly deserves. Do not make jokes about the Holocaust or the Nazis. Do not deface the site by marking or scratching graffiti into structures. Pictures are permitted in outdoor areas, but remember this is a memorial rather than a tourist attraction, and there will undoubtedly be visitors who have a personal connection with the site, so be discreet with cameras.
Germany invaded Poland and captured the Free City of Danzig on 1 September 1939, beginning World War II in Europe. Honouring their treaty obligations, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Poland fell quickly, as the Soviet Union attacked from the east on 17 September. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo; Security Police) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service), ordered on 21 September that Polish Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport them further east, or possibly to Madagascar. Using lists prepared in advance, some 65,000 Polish intelligentsia, noblemen, clergy, and teachers were killed by the end of 1939 in an attempt to destroy Poland's identity as a nation. Soviet forces advanced into Finland in the Winter War, and German forces saw action at sea. But little other activity occurred until May, so the period became known as the "Phoney War".
The first concentration camps in Germany were established soon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor in January 1933. In the weeks after the Nazis came to power, The SA (Sturmabteilungen; commonly known as Storm Troopers), the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons—the elite guard of the Nazi party), the police, and local civilian authorities organized numerous detention camps to incarcerate real and perceived political opponents of Nazi policy.