In June 1945 the Soviet authorities took over Auschwitz I and converted it into a POW camp for German prisoners. The hospital had to move beyond the camp perimeter into former administrative buildings, where it functioned until October 1945. Many of the barracks at Birkenau were taken apart by civilians, who used the materials to rebuild their own homes, which had been levelled out in the construction of Auschwitz II. The poorest residents sifted the crematoria ashes in search of nuggets from melted gold, before warning shots were fired. The POW camp for German prisoners of war was used until 1947 by the Soviet NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs). The NKVD and its Polish counterpart, the MBP, used the Auschwitz Neu-Dachs sub-camp at Jaworzno to the north of Oświęcim as a concentration camp from 1945 to 1956. The Soviets dismantled and exported the IG Farben factories to the USSR. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish investigators worked to document the war crimes of the SS. After the site became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.
These guards were the core of what became, a few years later, the much feared Death’s-Head S.S. The name, along with the skull-and-crossbones insignia, was meant to reinforce the idea that the men who bore it were not mere prison guards but front-line soldiers in the Nazi war against enemies of the people. Himmler declared, “No other service is more devastating and strenuous for the troops than just that of guarding villains and criminals.” The ideology of combat had been part of the DNA of Nazism from its origin, as a movement of First World War veterans, through the years of street battles against Communists, which established the Party’s reputation for violence. Now, in the years before actual war came, the K.L. was imagined as the site of virtual combat—against Communists, criminals, dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews, all forces working to undermine the German nation.
Hitler’s intellectual viewpoint was influenced during his youth not only by these currents in the German tradition but also by specific Austrian movements that professed various political sentiments, notably those of pan-Germanic expansionism and anti-Semitism. Hitler’s ferocious nationalism, his contempt of the Slavs, and his hatred of the Jews can largely be explained by his bitter experiences as an unsuccessful artist living a threadbare existence on the streets of Vienna, the capital of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Soon afterwards, the gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed on Himmler's orders, since the regime wanted to hide the traces of its murdering machine ahead of the advancing Red Army. As Soviet troops came near to the camp in January 1945, it was hurriedly evacuated and 58 000 prisoners were driven out on a death march, during which most were killed. On the 27th of January 1945, the Red Army entered the camp (link in Czech). They found 7 650 exhausted and starving prisoners and a number of pieces of evidence of crimes that the Nazis had not had time to destroy. In the camp stores they found almost eight tonnes of human hair and over a million men's suits and women's dresses.
Probably my earliest memories of anything at all are of walking through the streets of Trenčín and people stopping in their tracks and saying with amazement: “You’re back!” “What a miracle that you’re alive!” I understood as a three-and-a-half to four-year-old that I was a miracle because I got to hear it so many times, but I didn’t really understand what the word meant. Only much later could I recognise what a miracle it really was that I had survived, when I learned that of the thousands of Slovak men and women who were deported to Auschwitz, only a few hundred returned.
Hayden’s comment, for example, that he had walked the ramp at Birkenau where women and children were separated, is essentially false; Jewish women with children arriving at Auschwitz were generally all murdered immediately upon arrival. After seeing the inside of the U.S. refugee facilities, we can also safely say they aren’t the kind of summer camps we would send our children to, either.
Then there is the severe yet largely hidden repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, where as many as one million are reported to be held in modern concentration camps. — Michael Auslin, WSJ, "Backlash Builds Against Beijing," 30 Oct. 2018 Starting in March, a variety of killing centers opened including Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II, separate from the original concentration camp known as Treblinka. — David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Study Shows Precisely How Nazi Infrastructure Enabled the Worst of the Holocaust," 2 Jan. 2019 Niemöller earned his reputation for defiance with eight years (1937 to 1945) in Moabit prison then Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. — Doris Bergen, WSJ, "‘Then They Came for Me’ Review: Germany’s Tortured Conscience," 7 Dec. 2018 The six pillars feature quotes from figures like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and Philadelphia native and concentration camp liberator Leon Bass. — Kristen De Groot, The Seattle Times, "1st US public Holocaust memorial merges past with new tech," 22 Oct. 2018 We were enslaved in Egypt, tortured and murdered during the Spanish Inquisition, slaughtered throughout the Crusades, thrown into concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. — Carolyn Twersky, Seventeen, "Moving On and Making a Difference in the Wake of the Tree of Life Shooting," 2 Nov. 2018 Their efforts to eradicate homosexuality left gay men subject to imprisonment, castration, institutionalization and deportation to concentration camps. — Lisa J. Huriash, southflorida.com, "Museum documents persecution of gays in Nazi Germany," 10 July 2018 In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and in Katowice, S.S. officers came to round up Jews to take to concentration camps like Auschwitz. — Erin Coulehan, Glamour, "A Holocaust Survivor Reflects on the Lasting Impact of Family Separation and Deportation," 28 June 2018 The 80-year-old Hungarian native had come face to face with evil once before, in a Nazi concentration camp. — Allen G. Breed, The Seattle Times, "Holocaust survivor faces evil, cheats death for second time," 30 Oct. 2018
Hitler ruled Germany autocratically by asserting the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"), which called for absolute obedience of all subordinates. He viewed the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex. Party rank was not determined by elections, and positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank. The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler. Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator. Roger Gill states: "His moving speeches captured the minds and hearts of a vast number of the German people: he virtually hypnotized his audiences".
By then, Auschwitz was serving as both a slave labor facility and a death camp. As the Germans brought more and more Jews from all over Europe to the sprawling complex, SS doctors selected the fittest for work. Other prisoners were sent directly to Birkenau’s gas chambers for what was euphemistically known as a special action. “Was present for first time at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s Inferno seems almost a comedy,” SS doctor Johann Paul Kremer wrote in his diary on September 2, 1942. Camp records show the transport he observed contained 957 Jews from France; only 12 men and 27 women were selected for work.
The Franks realized that conditions in Germany were only going to get worse and decided to leave the country. Otto traveled to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, that summer believing that his family would be safer there than in Germany. In September he established an independent branch of Opekta Werk, which made fruit pectin for jams and jellies, and a few years later, Pectacon, which made meat spices. When Otto left for Amsterdam, Edith and the girls went to stay with Grandmother Holländer, Edith’s mother, in Aachen, Germany. In December, Edith and Margot joined Otto in Amsterdam and Anne followed in February 1934. In March 1939, Grandmother Holländer joined them also.
At some point during her induction, Lasker-Wallfisch mentioned she played the cello. “That is fantastic,” the inmate processing her said. “You will be saved.” The Birkenau women’s orchestra, responsible for keeping prisoners in step as they marched to work assignments, needed a cellist. “It was a complete coincidence,” Lasker-Wallfisch said, shaking her head. “The whole thing was complete insanity from beginning to end.”
A concentration camp to house Soviet prisoners of war and Poles had been established at Majdanek, close to the Polish city of Lublin, during 1941. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers and crematoria were added, turning Majdanek into an extermination camp that would murder 78,000 people. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, was a massive concentration, forced labour and extermination camp at the centre of a network of more than 40 satellite camps. Upwards of 80 per cent of those Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were selected for immediate death.
At the same time, public interest in the camp has never been higher. Visits have doubled this decade, from 492,500 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2009. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Krakow has become a popular destination for foreign tourists, and Auschwitz is a must stop on many itineraries. A visit is also part of education programs in Israel, Britain and other countries. On peak days, as many as 30,000 visitors file through the camp’s buildings.
The commander of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rudolf Höss, stated in his autobiography that in 1941 (no exact date is given) he was summoned to Berlin, where Himmler informed him that Hitler had issued an order to solve the “Jewish Question” for good, and that the order was to be implemented by the SS. “The existing extermination places in the east are unsuited to a large scale, long-term action. I have designated Auschwitz for this purpose,” Himmler said.
During the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis began the first mass killings of Jews. Between June and September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen supported by local collaborators murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews across Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Soviet Union. Having observed the killings, Adolf Eichmann ordered a more efficient method of killing the Jews of Europe be developed.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte accused Jews in Germany of having been and inevitably of continuing to be a "state within a state" that threatened German national unity. Fichte promoted two options in order to address this, his first one being the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine so the Jews could be impelled to leave Europe. His second option was violence against Jews and he said that the goal of the violence would be "to cut off all their heads in one night, and set new ones on their shoulders, which should not contain a single Jewish idea".
The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct regarding sexual matters and was sympathetic to women who bore children out of wedlock. Promiscuity increased as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often intimately involved with several women simultaneously. Soldier's wives were frequently involved in extramarital relationships. Sex was sometimes used as a commodity to obtain better work from a foreign labourer. Pamphlets enjoined German women to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers as a danger to their blood.
After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, all located in Germany. Following the violent Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms in November 1938, the Nazis conducted mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in camps for brief periods.
Army photographers and cameramen, along with leading war correspondents, recorded the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen's liberation. This photograph was taken by Sergeant Harry Oakes of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. It shows prisoners sitting by a wire fence which divided two sections of the camp. They are eating their first meal after the liberation of the camp.
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.
My sister was sent with my mother, while I went to the opposite side. That was the first chance I had to survive. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, two Nazi soldiers had been asked to make a photographic document of the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the moment they got off the train – through the entire system of arriving, going to the bath house and getting their prison clothes – so I ended up in a picture at the very moment I was separated from my sister. It captures me standing alone without my family on the Auschwitz platform, and I’m leaning inwards to see where my little sister has gone.
At the end of 1944 and early in 1945, a complete deterioration of living conditions set in as thousands of survivors of death marches began to arrive at the camp. The large numbers arriving at the camp soon overwhelmed the meagre resources available. The camp administration did not attempt to house them. Serious overcrowding and a lack of sanitary facilities resulted in the break-out of a typhus epidemic. From January to mid-April 1945, some 35,000 prisoners died due to typhus, starvation and the terrible conditions within the camp.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.