“Responsibility is extremely direct in face-to-face shootings,” Dwork says. “In gassing and cremation, each person is given only a small part.” Eventually, Germans took part only by tossing the cyanide pellets into the gas chambers. Everything else—herding prisoners into the chambers, ripping out gold fillings and loading corpses into the crematoria—was handled by groups of prisoners, known as Sonderkommandos.
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.
All of the extermination camps were thoroughly organised and resembled industrial plants to an alarming degree. However, only Auschwitz-Birkenau, with its advanced gassing facilities and crematoria, was marked by high technology. In crematoria I and II there were elevators from the gas chambers underground, where the Jews were murdered, to the crematoria, where the bodies were burned.
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.
Tours are provided by the museum for a fee in various languages, and are recommended if you want a deeper understanding of the site, but they are unfortunately somewhat rushed, and you can get a pretty good feel by buying a guidebook and map (a small, simple guide for 5PLN; more detailed "souvenir" guides are around 12PLN) and wandering around on your own left to contemplate the site. Each exhibit is described in Polish with other language translations. The scope of the evil and terror that occurred here is almost unimaginable, and a guide can help to put in context what a room full of human hair or what a thousand pairs of infant shoes means. They'll also tell you about former prisoners who have returned to see the museum.
The arrests took place in various ways, partly through the S.A. or S.S., partly through uniformed police, partly through plain-clothes men or secret police. It was the latter in my case. There appeared suddenly at our door a group of three men in civilian clothes, identified by their badges as policemen, who took us away in a car after having established through questioning that we were 'non-Aryans.' They also arrested a gentleman who happened to be visiting us. They had no warrants, and declined to give any information about our further destiny; our families for days were without any idea of what had happened to us. We were brought into the courtyard of the police headquarters, our names and addresses were taken down, and without any further hearing we were loaded into large trucks covered with canvas, in which benches had been placed. For the older people—and the majority were over fifty—a chair had been provided so that they might climb into the truck more easily. We mention this here especially because the treatment of the uniformed police in charge of the transportation differed pleasantly from the treatment we suffered in the camp at the hands of the S.S. The crowds in the streets took little notice of the police trucks driving in a row. Only a few urchins around the police headquarters greeted us with howling.
What does Rivesaltes tell us about the current crisis in the United States? First, the problem with maintaining temporary facilities for holding large groups of people is that they often become permanent, without improvement, readily available for unknown future purposes. Second, Rivesaltes illustrates the dangers faced by interned populations: They remain unseen, isolated within a country, and subject to all manner of abuse with little oversight; children are, of course, the most vulnerable.
For the man in charge of Auschwitz, the gas chamber was a welcome innovation. “I had always shuddered at the prospect of carrying out executions by shooting,” commandant Rudolf Höss wrote in a lengthy confession while awaiting execution after the war. “Many members of the Einsatzkommandos, unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad.”
In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.