Action T4 was a programme of systematic murder of the physically and mentally handicapped and patients in psychiatric hospitals that took place mainly from 1939 to 1941, and continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims were shot by the Einsatzgruppen and others; gas chambers and gas vans using carbon monoxide were used by early 1940. Under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, enacted on 14 July 1933, over 400,000 individuals underwent compulsory sterilisation. Over half were those considered mentally deficient, which included not only people who scored poorly on intelligence tests, but those who deviated from expected standards of behaviour regarding thrift, sexual behaviour, and cleanliness. Most of the victims came from disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes, the poor, the homeless, and criminals. Other groups persecuted and killed included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, social misfits, and members of the political and religious opposition.
Categories: 1940 establishments in GermanyAuschwitz concentration campBayer AGGerman extermination camps in PolandHuman rights abusesIG FarbenNazi concentration camps in PolandNazi war crimes in PolandRegistered museums in PolandThe HolocaustTourism in Eastern EuropeWorld Heritage Sites in PolandWorld War II sites in PolandWorld War II sites of Nazi Germany
The first experimental gassing took place in September 1941, when Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch, at the instruction of Rudolf Höss, killed a group of Soviet prisoners of war by throwing Zyklon B crystals into their basement cell in block 11 of Auschwitz I. A second group of 600 Soviet prisoners of war and around 250 sick Polish prisoners was gassed on 3–5 September. The morgue was later converted to a gas chamber able to hold at least 700–800 people. Zyklon B was dropped into the room through slits in the ceiling. In the view of Filip Müller, one of the Sonderkommando who worked in crematorium I, tens of thousands of Jews were killed there from France, Holland, Slovakia, Upper Silesia, Yugoslavia, and from the Theresienstadt, Ciechanow, and Grodno ghettos. The last inmates to be gassed in Auschwitz I, in December 1942, were 300–400 members of the Auschwitz II Sonderkommando, who had been forced to dig up that camp's mass graves, thought to hold 100,000 corpses, and burn the remains.
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.
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.
Returning to Auschwitz is going to be a cold, painful and tearful experience. It is a shadow that has always been with me and I’m hoping that by facing it for one last time at the age of 84 I will be able to live my life more peacefully, but I am extremely anxious. I lost my husband just days ago and I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to release my emotions when I’m there, as I’ve never really been able to cry much about anything. I’m comforted by the thought that there will be strength in numbers and that I’ll be there with perhaps 100 or so other survivors, which makes it easier. I would not go on my own. I appear to be a strong person, but inside I’m really quite fragile.
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler assumed power in the German government, the usage of "Nazi" diminished in Germany, although Austrian anti-Nazis continued to use the term, and the use of "Nazi Germany" and "Nazi regime" was popularised by anti-Nazis and German exiles abroad. Thereafter, the term spread into other languages and eventually was brought back to Germany after World War II. In English, the term is not considered slang, and has such derivatives as Nazism and denazification.
We were sent to the Radom ghetto, where I spent the first years of the war working for the Jewish committee. But when they started taking the ghetto leaders to Auschwitz, I quickly changed jobs and began working in a munitions factory instead, hoping that if I kept my head down, I might be OK. But after moving from one factory to another, I too was deported to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated in 1942. I was separated from my parents and three sisters, all of whom were taken to Treblinka.
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.
For the preservation staff, the burden of remembrance informs every aspect of their restoration efforts. “If there’s damage to an object as part of its history, we leave it that way,” Banas says. She points to crates of shoes stacked in a hallway, most with worn insoles and uneven heels—signs of human use that will be left as they are. The International Auschwitz Council—museum officials and survivors from around the world dedicated to the conservation of Auschwitz—has decided that the mounds of hair will be allowed to decay naturally because they are human remains.
Eight hundred to a thousand people were crammed into the superimposed compartments of each barracks. Unable to stretch out completely, they slept there both lengthwise and crosswise, with one man's feet on another's head, neck, or chest. Stripped of all human dignity, they pushed and shoved and bit and kicked each other in an effort to get a few more inches' space on which to sleep a little more comfortably. For they did not have long to sleep.
Fleeing Germans also torched a couple of dozen of the wooden barracks at Birkenau. Many of the camp buildings that were left largely intact were later taken apart by Poles desperate for shelter. Birkenau remains the starkest, most tangible, most haunting reminder of what Dwork says was the “greatest catastrophe Western civilization permitted, and endured.”
Against the advice of many of his senior military officers, Hitler ordered an attack on France and the Low Countries, which began in May 1940. They quickly conquered Luxembourg and the Netherlands. After outmanoeuvring the Allies in Belgium and forcing the evacuation of many British and French troops at Dunkirk, France fell as well, surrendering to Germany on 22 June. The victory in France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and an upsurge in war fever in Germany.
After Auschwitz they transferred me to Mauthausen, then Gozen and Hanover. From there they sent us on foot to Bergen-Belsen, where I was finally liberated. It was 14 April (1945). I was so weak I could hardly stand and it was all I could do to lift my head slightly from the ground where I was lying as British army tanks started arriving to save us. But for all the great things the British did then, I can only say they made many other mistakes and what’s going on in Israel now is largely Britain’s fault.
With Hitler's approval, Himmler intended that the new society of the Nazi regime should destigmatise illegitimate births, particularly of children fathered by members of the SS, who were vetted for racial purity. His hope was that each SS family would have between four and six children. The Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) association, founded by Himmler in 1935, created a series of maternity homes to accommodate single mothers during their pregnancies. Both parents were examined for racial suitability before acceptance. The resulting children were often adopted into SS families. The homes were also made available to the wives of SS and NSDAP members, who quickly filled over half the available spots.
Nazi ideology advocated excluding women from political involvement and confining them to the spheres of "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (Children, Kitchen, Church). Many women enthusiastically supported the regime, but formed their own internal hierarchies. Hitler's own opinion on the matter of women in Nazi Germany was that while other eras of German history had experienced the development and liberation of the female mind, the National Socialist goal was essentially singular in that it wished for them to produce a child. Based on this theme, Hitler once remarked about women that "with every child that she brings into the world, she fights her battle for the nation. The man stands up for the Volk, exactly as the woman stands up for the family". Proto-natalist programs in Nazi Germany offered favourable loans and grants to newlyweds and encouraged them to give birth to offspring by providing them with additional incentives. Contraception was discouraged for racially valuable women in Nazi Germany and abortion was forbidden by strict legal mandates, including prison sentences for women who sought them as well as prison sentences for doctors who performed them, whereas abortion for racially "undesirable" persons was encouraged.
Nevertheless, the Nazi Party's voter base consisted mainly of farmers and the middle class, including groups such as Weimar government officials, school teachers, doctors, clerks, self-employed businessmen, salesmen, retired officers, engineers, and students. Their demands included lower taxes, higher prices for food, restrictions on department stores and consumer co-operatives, and reductions in social services and wages. The need to maintain the support of these groups made it difficult for the Nazis to appeal to the working class, since the working class often had opposite demands.
And that was not all: the book was later translated into around 70 languages and adapted for stage and screen. People all over the world were introduced to Anne's story and in 1960 the hiding place became a museum: the Anne Frank House. Until his death in 1980, Otto remained closely involved with the Anne Frank House and the museum: he hoped that readers of the diary would become aware of the dangers of discrimination, racism, and hatred of Jews.
As we read the diary we see how much potential was lost not only in Anne but in her entire family. Anne Frank was an intelligent and well-read young woman who studied multiple languages and had an analytical mind. I believe we lost a shining beacon of women's intelligence when she died. She was an emerging feminist, activist, and writer! I think she would have been an amazing woman who would have gone on to do great things. All that potential was lost millions of times over during WWII, and this is what we feel deep in our hearts upon closing the book.
There are only two possibilities in Germany; do not imagine that the people will forever go with the middle party, the party of compromises; one day it will turn to those who have most consistently foretold the coming ruin and have sought to dissociate themselves from it. And that party is either the Left: and then God help us! for it will lead us to complete destruction - to Bolshevism, or else it is a party of the Right which at the last, when the people is in utter despair, when it has lost all its spirit and has no longer any faith in anything, is determined for its part ruthlessly to seize the reins of power - that is the beginning of resistance of which I spoke a few minutes ago.
To protect the supposed purity and strength of the Aryan race, the Nazis sought to exterminate Jews, Romani, Poles and most other Slavs, along with the physically and mentally handicapped. They disenfranchised and segregated homosexuals, Africans, Jehovah's Witnesses and political opponents. The persecution reached its climax when the party-controlled German state set in motion the Final Solution–an industrial system of genocide which achieved the murder of an estimated 5.5 to 6 million Jews and millions of other targeted victims, in what has become known as the Holocaust.
Les enceintes, les barbelés, les miradors, les baraquements, les potences, les chambres à gaz et les fours crématoires de l'ancien camp de concentration et d'extermination d'Auschwitz-Birkenau, le plus vaste du IIIe Reich, attestent les conditions dans lesquelles fonctionnait le génocide hitlérien. Selon des recherches historiques, 1,1 à 1,5 million de personnes – dont de très nombreux Juifs – furent systématiquement affamées, torturées et assassinées dans ce camp, symbole de la cruauté de l'homme pour l'homme au XXe siècle.
Primary and secondary education focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography, and physical fitness. The curriculum in most subjects, including biology, geography, and even arithmetic, was altered to change the focus to race. Military education became the central component of physical education, and education in physics was oriented toward subjects with military applications, such as ballistics and aerodynamics. Students were required to watch all films prepared by the school division of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
At the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees, its economy had collapsed, and 70 percent of its industrial infrastructure was destroyed. Between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from central, eastern, and southeastern Europe to Germany. The West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union. This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths. In 2006, the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.[f]
When asked[when?] whether he supported the "bourgeois right-wing", Hitler claimed that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and he indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".
The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s, the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party's regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau ("region"). Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter ("county leaders"), Zellenleiter ("cell leaders") and Blockleiter ("block leaders"). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. Being composed largely of unemployed workers, many SA men took the Nazis' socialist rhetoric seriously. At this time, the Hitler salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting "Heil Hitler!" were adopted throughout the party.
However, this regulation was soon waived and there is ample evidence that full Nazi Party members served in the Wehrmacht in particular after the outbreak of World War II. The Wehrmacht Reserves also saw a high number of senior Nazis enlisting, with Reinhard Heydrich and Fritz Todt joining the Luftwaffe, as well as Karl Hanke who served in the army.
It was a frigid day in occupied Poland, and for all Shmuel Beller knew, it could be his last. As Russian forces advanced toward Auschwitz, Beller and other prisoners had been told by their captors that they had to leave the death camp. So he ran into one of the storage facilities and rifled through a pile of clothing—the belongings of some of the 6,000 Jews gassedeach day at the camp. Finally, he found what he was looking for: a pair of leather shoes.
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.
^ "Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism. … These organisations (ie Fascism and social democracy) are not antipodes, they are twins." (J.V. Stalin: Concerning the International Situation (September 1924), in Works, Volume 6, 1953; p. 294.) This later led Otto Wille Kuusinen to conclude that "The aims of the fascists and the social-fascists are the same." (Report To the 10th Plenum of ECCI, in International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no.40, (20 August 1929), p. 848.)
One evening at inspection, the camp commander gave us an address in which he said that we were responsible for the murder of Herr vom Rath and that therefore we had committed a crime against the nation and the state; that we were in a camp for protective custody, which was not a prison or a penitentiary at all, nor a sanitarium either, but solely an educational institution; that we should learn here how to behave in dealing with a 'guest nation' (he really said 'guest' nation instead of 'host' nation); that the main thing was unconditional obedience and that all S.S. men were our superior officers; that each attempt at disobedience would be punished, in some cases by corporal punishment, and that all S. S. men were entitled to use their arms in any attempt at resistance or escape.
The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose intended to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”
Then, on January 27, 1945, the Red Army reached the camp. Inside, they found prisoners covered in excrement and starving to death, children who had been used for medical experiments, and other shocking evidence of the Nazis’ crimes. At Birkenau, the guards had failed to destroy some of the storerooms where prisoners’ stolen belongings were stored before being transported back to the Reich. Among the remainingitems were 7.7 tons of human hair, 370,000 men’s suits and 837,000 women’s coats and dresses.
If, up to now, we had interpreted our fate only as a privation of liberty, our experience changed rapidly. We had to jump down from the truck without the aid of a chair, and the request for a helping hand was denied with abuse. One of our comrades, an older man lacking the agility of youth, fell in this enforced jump and hurt the back of his head so badly that his skin had to be sewed with several stitches. Hardly were we standing on the ground when a pack of young men in S.S. uniforms, with yells and abuse, chased us to the other end of the large, inner, so-called inspection ground, which is surrounded by the barracks of the prisoners. Those who couldn't run fast enough were kicked.
In June 2016, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in the Polish town of Oswiecim re-discovered over 16,000 personal items belonging to victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau that had been lost in 1968. The items were originally discovered in 1967 by archaeologists excavating the concentration camp site, and were placed in 48 cardboard boxes in the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw before being lost due to an anti-Semitic communist regime coming to power in 1968.
Precise numbers are still debated, but according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German SS systematically killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 from other nationalities. More people died at Auschwitz than at any other Nazi concentration camp and probably than at any death camp in history.
Until 1990, the museum’s directors were all former prisoners. Cywinski is just 37. His office is on the first floor of a former SS administration building directly across from a former gas chamber and crematorium. He tells me that Auschwitz is about to slip into history. The last survivors will soon die, and with them the living links to what happened here. Preserving the site becomes increasingly important, Cywinski believes: younger generations raised on TV and movie special effects need to see and touch the real thing.
Created by the Government of Poland in 1947 at the request of survivors, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum comprises almost 472 acres (191 hectares) and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The Memorial today consists of Collections, Archives, a research, education, conservation and publishing center. Millions of people have visited the complex to learn its crucial significance, honor survivors and victims, and carry forward the memory of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)—documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally—and Olympia (1938)—covering the 1936 Summer Olympics—pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of National Socialist ideals.
In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients—estimated at several thousands—were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where several were adopted by Polish families, or placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice. The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.
Known as block 13 until 1941, block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. To extract information from them, guards would hold inmates' heads held against the stove, burning their faces and eyes. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. Measuring 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), the cells held four men who could do nothing but stand, and who were forced the following day to work as usual. In other cells, inmates were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. In the basement were the "dark cells", which had only a 5 x 5 cm opening and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they ran out of oxygen; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
As the number of prisoners grew, the camp expanded from the original barracks facility. Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in the nearby village in Brzezinka, underwent construction in October 1941 with the original purpose to house Soviet prisoners of war. Together with Polish inmates, Soviet soldiers were subjected to Zyklon B tests by the camp's SS commanders towards the end of 1941. Beginning in 1942, Jews in massive numbers began to be sent to the camp complex, along with thousands of Roma prisoners. The complex later expanded to include Auschwitz III-Monowitz in October 1942, a slave labor camp providing work for the I.G. Farben industrial complex nearby. By the middle of the war, Auschwitz had grown to include 40 sub-camps in neighboring towns in the region.
On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire. Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda campaign that led to public support for the measure. Violent suppression of communists by the SA was undertaken nationwide and 4,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested.
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.
One could call this a simple mistake, except that it echoed a similar incident the previous year, when visitors noticed a discrepancy in the museum’s audioguide displays. Each audioguide language was represented by a national flag—with the exception of Hebrew, which was represented only by the language’s name in its alphabet. The display was eventually corrected to include the Israeli flag.
After Nazi Germany unleashed World War II in September 1939, vast new territorial conquests and larger groups of potential prisoners led to the rapid expansion of the concentration camp system to the east. The war did not change the original function of the concentration camps as detention sites for the incarceration of political enemies. The climate of national emergency that the conflict granted to the Nazi leaders, however, permitted the SS to expand the functions of the camps.