Nazism’s principal instrument of control was the unification, under Heinrich Himmler and his chief lieutenant, Reinhard Heydrich, of the SS (the uniformed police force of the Nazi Party) and all other police and security organizations. Opposition to the regime was destroyed either by outright terror or, more frequently, by the all-pervading fear of possible repression. Opponents of the regime were branded enemies of the state and of the people, and an elaborate web of informers—often members of the family or intimate friends—imposed utmost caution on all expressions and activities. Justice was no longer recognized as objective but was completely subordinated to the alleged needs and interests of the Volk. In addition to the now-debased methods of the normal judicial process, special detention camps were erected. In these camps the SS exercised supreme authority and introduced a system of sadistic brutality unrivaled in modern times.
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.
Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps due to deliberate maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or they were executed as unfit for labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their final destination. The prisoners were confined in the boxcars for days or even weeks, with little or no food or water. Many died of dehydration in the intense heat of summer or froze to death in winter. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while they were not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many of their inmates perished because of harsh conditions or they were executed.
German eagle: The Nazi Party used the traditional German eagle, standing atop of a swastika inside a wreath of oak leaves. It is also known as the "Iron Eagle". When the eagle is looking to its left shoulder, it symbolises the Nazi Party and was called the Parteiadler. In contrast, when the eagle is looking to its right shoulder, it symbolises the country (Reich) and was therefore called the Reichsadler. After the Nazi Party came to national power in Germany, they replaced the traditional version of the German eagle with the modified party symbol throughout the country and all its institutions.
The political programme espoused by Hitler and the NSDAP brought about a world war, leaving behind a devastated and impoverished Europe. Germany itself suffered wholesale destruction, characterised as Stunde Null (Zero Hour). The number of civilians killed during the Second World War was unprecedented in the history of warfare. As a result, Nazi ideology and the actions taken by the regime are almost universally regarded as gravely immoral. Historians, philosophers, and politicians often use the word "evil" to describe Hitler and the Nazi regime. Interest in Nazi Germany continues in the media and the academic world. While Evans remarks that the era "exerts an almost universal appeal because its murderous racism stands as a warning to the whole of humanity", young neo-Nazis enjoy the shock value the use Nazi symbols or slogans provides. The display or use of Nazi symbolism such as flags, swastikas, or greetings is illegal in Germany and Austria.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the concentration and extermination camps established on Polish soil, served concurrently as a labor camp and as a center for the rapid extermination of Jews. Chosen as the central location for the annihilation of the Jewish people, it was equipped with several extermination facilities and crematoria. Extermination was carried out by means of Zyklon B gas, a substance that had previously been tested on Russian prisoners of war.
My father surveyed the scene from the train and could see prisoners, uniforms and barracks so we immediately thought it was a work camp, and that was reassuring – if we can work, it can’t be such a dreadful place. We had heard about the stories in Poland of lots of mass shootings of Jews or people being taken into the forest and shot, so it was a relief to see out the window that there was actually a system. Even though we were victims of discrimination at that stage that’s all it was, as we had no clue then that this was a very carefully orchestrated plan of genocide. We could not have imagined that they would kill little children, until we realised that killing children was their primary goal to prevent any new generations. Because desperate people will always look to find some sign of hope, we thought to ourselves even if we have to work, at least we’ll see each other occasionally.
The destruction of valuable property, of irretrievable art treasures, as well as of valuable tapestries in Munich, of Rembrandt pictures in Hesse, was not enough. The decision was made to bring a great number of Jews into camps for protective custody. Rough estimate places the number of victims at about sixty thousand males. In the camp with which we are dealing there were probably about six to seven thousand men.
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.
After examining several sites for a new plant to manufacture Buna-N, a type of synthetic rubber essential to the war effort, the German chemical cartel IG Farben chose a site near the towns of Dwory and Monowice (Monowitz in German), about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east of Auschwitz I. Tax exemptions were available to corporations prepared to develop industries in the frontier regions under the Eastern Fiscal Assistance Law, passed in December 1940. The site had good railway connections and access to raw materials. In February 1941, Himmler ordered that the Jewish population of Oświęcim be expelled to make way for skilled laborers; that all Poles able to work remain in the town and work on building the factory; and that Auschwitz prisoners be used in the construction work.
The Allies received information about the murders from the Polish government-in-exile and Polish leadership in Warsaw, based mostly on intelligence from the Polish underground. German citizens had access to information about what was happening, as soldiers returning from the occupied territories reported on what they had seen and done. Historian Richard J. Evans states that most German citizens disapproved of the genocide.[h]
The majority of scholars identify Nazism in both theory and practice as a form of far-right politics. Far-right themes in Nazism include the argument that superior people have a right to dominate other people and purge society of supposed inferior elements. Adolf Hitler and other proponents denied that Nazism was either left-wing or right-wing, instead they officially portrayed Nazism as a syncretic movement. In Mein Kampf, Hitler directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany, saying:
Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party, grew into a mass movement and ruled Germany through totalitarian means from 1933 to 1945. Founded in 1919 as the German Workers’ Party, the group promoted German pride and anti-Semitism, and expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the 1919 peace settlement that ended World War I (1914-1918) and required Germany to make numerous concessions and reparations. Hitler joined the party the year it was founded and became its leader in 1921. In 1933, he became chancellor of Germany and his Nazi government soon assumed dictatorial powers. After Germany’s defeat in World War II (1939-45), the Nazi Party was outlawed and many of its top officials were convicted of war crimes related to the murder of some 6 million European Jews during the Nazis’ reign.
Chelmno was the first extermination camp to be established as part of the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ – the Nazis’ systematic effort to exterminate the Jews. This was quickly followed by the establishment of three more extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. They were established under the code-name Operation Reinhard – the starting signal to the extermination of the approximately 3 million Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Poland. In the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek two further extermination camps were established.
Nazism emphasized German nationalism, including both irredentism and expansionism. Nazism held racial theories based upon a belief in the existence of an Aryan master race that was superior to all other races. The Nazis emphasised the existence of racial conflict between the Aryan race and others—particularly Jews, whom the Nazis viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated multiple societies and was responsible for exploitation and repression of the Aryan race. The Nazis also categorised Slavs as Untermensch (sub-human).
The Nazi Party won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, making them the largest party in the legislature by far, but still short of an outright majority. Because none of the parties were willing or able to put together a coalition government, in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg, through the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees by Hindenburg, and a change in the Weimar Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing both Hindenburg and the Reichstag, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.
I now live in Hanover, Germany, which doesn’t feel strange to me to be living in the land of the murderers, because it’s a different country now. At least people listen to my story here. When I travel to the US nobody asks me, so I never say anything. But I have a hunch that as soon as his feet touch the ground in Auschwitz, my nephew’s son will start to ask questions.
According to the numbers provided by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Auschwitz was the site of the most deaths (1.1 million) of any of the six dedicated extermination camps. By these estimates, Auschwitz was the site of at least one out of every six deaths during the Holocaust. The only camp with comparable figures was Treblinka in north-east Poland, where about 850,000 are thought to have died.
Germany's wartime foreign policy involved the creation of allied governments controlled directly or indirectly from Berlin. They intended to obtain soldiers from allies such as Italy and Hungary and workers and food supplies from allies such as Vichy France. Hungary was the fourth nation to join the Axis, signing the Tripartite Pact on 27 September 1940. Bulgaria signed the pact on 17 November. German efforts to secure oil included negotiating a supply from their new ally, Romania, who signed the Pact on 23 November, alongside the Slovak Republic. By late 1942, there were 24 divisions from Romania on the Eastern Front, 10 from Italy, and 10 from Hungary. Germany assumed full control in France in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Hungary in 1944. Although Japan was a powerful ally, the relationship was distant, with little co-ordination or co-operation. For example, Germany refused to share their formula for synthetic oil from coal until late in the war.
During the second half of the war the prisoners, who now included women for the first time, were increasingly used as forced labourers in the arms industry. In order to accommodate the prisoners where they worked, the SS established several subcamps. Newly-arrived prisoners were transferred to these camps from the main camp. More and more, Mauthausen itself became a camp were the sick and weak were sent to die.
On 5 January 1919, Drexler created a new political party and proposed it should be named the "German Socialist Workers' Party", but Harrer objected to the term "socialist"; so the term was removed and the party was named the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP). To ease concerns among potential middle-class supporters, Drexler made clear that unlike Marxists the party supported the middle-class and that its socialist policy was meant to give social welfare to German citizens deemed part of the Aryan race. They became one of many völkisch movements that existed in Germany. Like other völkisch groups, the DAP advocated the belief that through profit-sharing instead of socialisation Germany should become a unified "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly antisemitic. As early as 1920, the party was raising money by selling a tobacco called Anti-Semit.
The Zyklon B was delivered by ambulance to the crematoria by a special SS bureau known as the Hygienic Institute. The actual delivery of the gas to the victims was always handled by the SS, on the order of the supervising SS doctor. After the doors were shut, SS men dumped in the Zyklon B pellets through vents in the roof or holes in the side of the chamber. The victims were dead within 20 minutes. Despite the thick concrete walls, screaming and moaning from within could be heard outside. In one failed attempt to muffle the noise, two motorcycle engines were revved up to full throttle nearby, but the sound of yelling could still be heard over the engines.
Early in the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Anne’s father, Otto Frank (1889–1980), a German businessman, took his wife and two daughters to live in Amsterdam. In 1941, after German forces occupied the Netherlands, Anne was compelled to transfer from a public school to a Jewish one. On June 12, 1942, she received a red-and-white plaid diary for her 13th birthday. That day she began writing in the book: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”
From 1942 onwards, Auschwitz became one of the greatest scenes of mass murder in recorded history. The vast majority of the camp's 1.1 million Jewish men, women, and children, deported from their homes across occupied Europe to Auschwitz, were sent immediately to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival, usually transported into the camp by overcrowded cattle wagons. Their bodies were afterwards cremated in industrial furnaces in the crematoria. Those who were not killed in the gas chambers often died of disease, starvation, medical experiments, forced labor, or execution.
During the course of the war, the Nazis extracted considerable plunder from occupied Europe. Historian and war correspondent William L. Shirer writes: "The total amount of [Nazi] loot will never be known; it has proved beyond man's capacity to accurately compute." Gold reserves and other foreign holdings were seized from the national banks of occupied nations, while large "occupation costs" were usually imposed. By the end of the war, occupation costs were calculated by the Nazis at 60 billion Reichsmarks, with France alone paying 31.5 billion. The Bank of France was forced to provide 4.5 billion Reichsmarks in "credits" to Germany, while a further 500,000 Reichsmarks were assessed against Vichy France by the Nazis in the form of "fees" and other miscellaneous charges. The Nazis exploited other conquered nations in a similar way. After the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded Germany had obtained 104 billion Reichsmarks in the form of occupation costs and other wealth transfers from occupied Europe, including two-thirds of the gross domestic product of Belgium and the Netherlands.
The Soviet troops found grisly evidence of the horror. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp. Millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children were discovered along with 6,350kg of human hair. The Auschwitz museum holds more than 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments.
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.
Auschwitz, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, opened in 1940 and was the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps. Located in southern Poland, Auschwitz initially served as a detention center for political prisoners. However, it evolved into a network of camps where Jewish people and other perceived enemies of the Nazi state were exterminated, often in gas chambers, or used as slave labor. Some prisoners were also subjected to barbaric medical experiments led by Josef Mengele (1911-79). During World War II (1939-45), more than 1 million people, by some accounts, lost their lives at Auschwitz. In January 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, Nazi officials ordered the camp abandoned and sent an estimated 60,000 prisoners on a forced march to other locations. When the Soviets entered Auschwitz, they found thousands of emaciated detainees and piles of corpses left behind.
Among the key elements of Nazism were anti-parliamentarism, Pan-Germanism (a political movement aiming for unity of the German-speaking peoples of Europe), racism, collectivism (any moral, political, or social outlook, that stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective, rather than the importance of separate individuals), antisemitism (intense dislike for and prejudice against Jewish people), anti-communism, totalitarianism and opposition to economic liberalism and political liberalism, and eugenics (scientific field involving the selective breeding of humans in order to achieve desirable traits in future generations).
Jews, Gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, asocials, criminals, and prisoners of war were gathered, stuffed into cattle cars on trains, and sent to Auschwitz. When the trains stopped at Auschwitz II: Birkenau, the newly arrived were told to leave all their belongings on board and were then forced to disembark from the train and gather upon the railway platform, known as "the ramp."
Nazism rejected the Marxist concept of class conflict, and it praised both German capitalists and German workers as essential to the Volksgemeinschaft. In the Volksgemeinschaft, social classes would continue to exist, but there would be no class conflict between them. Hitler said that "the capitalists have worked their way to the top through their capacity, and as the basis of this selection, which again only proves their higher race, they have a right to lead." German business leaders co-operated with the Nazis during their rise to power and received substantial benefits from the Nazi state after it was established, including high profits and state-sanctioned monopolies and cartels. Large celebrations and symbolism were used extensively to encourage those engaged in physical labour on behalf of Germany, with leading National Socialists often praising the "honour of labour", which fostered a sense of community (Gemeinschaft) for the German people and promoted solidarity towards the Nazi cause. To win workers away from Marxism, Nazi propaganda sometimes presented its expansionist foreign policy goals as a "class struggle between nations." Bonfires were made of school children's differently coloured caps as symbolic of the unity of different social classes.
What is troubling about Hitler’s American Model—though Whitman never mentions it—is how closely the events of the 1930s mirror our own. Such statements are bound to seem exaggerated. But even by the early 1930s, Germany was not destined to arrive at catastrophe. The ideas in the air at the time, including anti-Semitism specifically, are still the object of white nationalist fantasy today. What is most alarming is an unstated implication of Whitman’s thesis: if U.S. racism, anti-immigrant hostility, and third-class citizenship influenced the Nazi regime, then remnants of such influence must still exist today. Indeed, they appear to be resurgent.
In chambers II and III, the killings took place in underground rooms, and the corpses were carried to the five ovens by an electrically operated lift. Before cremation gold teeth and any other valuables, such as rings, were removed from the corpses. In IV and V the gas chambers and ovens were on the same level, but the ovens were so poorly built and the usage was so great that they repeatedly malfunctioned and had to be abandoned. The corpses were finally burned outside, in the open, as in 1943. Jewish Sonderkommandos worked the crematoria under SS supervision.
The line most often quoted from Frank’s diary—“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”—is often called “inspiring,” by which we mean that it flatters us. It makes us feel forgiven for those lapses of our civilization that allow for piles of murdered girls—and if those words came from a murdered girl, well, then, we must be absolved, because they must be true. That gift of grace and absolution from a murdered Jew (exactly the gift, it is worth noting, at the heart of Christianity) is what millions of people are so eager to find in Frank’s hiding place, in her writings, in her “legacy.” It is far more gratifying to believe that an innocent dead girl has offered us grace than to recognize the obvious: Frank wrote about people being “truly good at heart” three weeks before she met people who weren’t.
In December 1942, Professor Carl Clauberg came to the deathcamp Auschwitz and started his medical experimental activities. He injected chemical substances into wombs during his experiments. Thousands of Jewish and Gypsy women were subjected to this treatment. They were sterilized by the injections, producing horrible pain, inflamed ovaries, bursting spasms in the stomach, and bleeding. The injections seriously damaged the ovaries of the victims, which were then removed and sent to Berlin.
Fewer than 200 Jews escaped from the camps. Herman Shine, one of the last survivors to have escaped Auschwitz, died in July 2018. He was born in Berlin to a Polish father and they were arrested in that city in 1939. Along with 1,700 other Polish Jews, they were deported to Sachsenhausen. To survive, Shine claimed to be a roofer and learned how to build roofs before being transferred to Auschwitz in 1942.
Overall 268,657 male and 131,560 female prisoners were registered in Auschwitz, 400,207 in total. Many prisoners were never registered and much evidence was destroyed by the SS in the final days of the war, making the number of victims hard to ascertain. Himmler visited the camp on 17 July 1942 and watched a gassing; a few days later, according to Höss's post-war memoir, Höss received an order from Himmler, via Adolf Eichmann's office and SS commander Paul Blobel, that "[a]ll mass graves were to be opened and the corpses burned. In addition the ashes were to be disposed of in such a way that it would be impossible at some future time to calculate the number of corpses burned."
The general membership of the Nazi Party mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class. In early 1933, just before Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship, the party showed an under-representation of "workers", who made up 29.7% of the membership but 46.3% of German society. Conversely, white-collar employees (18.6% of members and 12% of Germans), the self-employed (19.8% of members and 9.6% of Germans) and civil servants (15.2% of members and 4.8% of the German population) had joined in proportions greater than their share of the general population. These members were affiliated with local branches of the party, of which there were 1,378 throughout the country in 1928. In 1932, the number had risen to 11,845, reflecting the party's growth in this period.
Though we tend to think of Hitler’s Germany as a highly regimented dictatorship, in practice Nazi rule was chaotic and improvisatory. Rival power bases in the Party and the German state competed to carry out what they believed to be Hitler’s wishes. This system of “working towards the Fuhrer,” as it was called by Hitler’s biographer Ian Kershaw, was clearly in evidence when it came to the concentration camps. The K.L. system, during its twelve years of existence, included twenty-seven main camps and more than a thousand subcamps. At its peak, in early 1945, it housed more than seven hundred thousand inmates. In addition to being a major penal and economic institution, it was a central symbol of Hitler’s rule. Yet Hitler plays almost no role in Wachsmann’s book, and Wachsmann writes that Hitler was never seen to visit a camp. It was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S., who was in charge of the camp system, and its growth was due in part to his ambition to make the S.S. the most powerful force in Germany.
Over the weeks that ensued, most of the remaining inmates of Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazis’ more than 400,000 camps and incarceration facilities, were marched to other camps near and far, walking tens and sometimes even hundreds of miles. Along the way, Beller saw Nazi guards murder prisoners who tried to escape and shoot those who lagged—including women and children so exhausted from starvation and the brutal conditions they could no longer go on. As he marched on, his feet protected by the shoes he’d grabbed before leaving Auschwitz, he saw ordinary Germans standing along the road, watching the prisoners go by.
As the German leader (Führer) of Nazi Germany, Hitler began moving Nazi armies into neighboring countries. When Germany attacked Poland, World War II started. Western countries like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands were occupied and to be treated by Germany as colonies. However, in Eastern countries, such as Poland and the Soviet Union, the Nazis planned to kill or enslave the Slavic peoples, so that German settlers could take their land.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (help·info), abbreviated NSDAP), commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party (English: /ˈnɑːtsi, ˈnætsi/), was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of Nazism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; DAP), existed from 1919 to 1920.
The prisoners put up various forms of resistance to the tyranny of the camp. Resistance organisations helped inmates to obtain medicine and food, documented Nazi crimes, supported attempts to escape and sabotage, tried to put political prisoners into positions of responsibility, and prepared for an uprising. A total of 667 prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, but 270 of them were caught in the vicinity of the camp and immediately executed. The best-known escape was that of two Slovak Jews, Alfred Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (Rudolf Vrba) (link in Czech). They managed to cross into Slovakia and to tell Jewish leaders - and through them the world - about the terrible reality of Auschwitz, about which they wrote an extensive report. On the 7th of October 1944, there was an uprising by the Sonderkommando working in the gas chambers. The prisoners managed to destroy one of the gas chambers, and thus to hinder the extermination process. All the rebels died. A group of young female prisoners was also executed for having smuggled gunpowder to the rebels from the factory in Monowitz.
Peterson, who is researching the long history of the Rivesaltes camp, also told me that the camp remained more or less in operation from 1939 through 1967 and then after 1985. Prisoners and refugees after the war included POWs, collaborators, Algerians and, in the 1980s, migrants waiting to be expelled from the country. The French government did little in the meantime to improve facilities from their wartime conditions.
The death camp and slave-labour camp were interrelated. Newly arrived prisoners at the death camp were divided in a process known as Selektion. The young and the able-bodied were sent to work. Young children and their mothers and the old and infirm were sent directly to the gas chambers. Thousands of prisoners were also selected by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele, for medical experiments. Auschwitz doctors tested methods of sterilization on the prisoners, using massive doses of radiation, uterine injections, and other barbaric procedures. Experiments involving the killing of twins, upon whom autopsies were performed, were meant to provide information that would supposedly lead to the rapid expansion of the “Aryan race.”
In 2018 the Polish government passed an amendment to its Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, making it a criminal offence to make false suggestions of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, which would include referring to Auschwitz and other camps as "Polish death camps". After discussions with Israel's prime minister, amid international concern that the law would stifle research, the Polish government adjusted the amendment so that anyone falsely accusing Poland of complicity would be guilty only of a civil offence.
Between 1933 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than 3.5 million Germans were forced to spend time in concentration camps and prisons for political reasons, and approximately 77,000 Germans were executed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts-martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.