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.
My whole world was turned upside down by the brutality of it. We had not in any way understood what had been going on, only later recognising all the sources and streams that led to the Holocaust. In my small Hungarian village, information had been very restricted. We didn’t know about anything, like the Wannsee conference (where the Final Solution was planned), and neither could we have imagined it. We were told by the authorities that we were being resettled, which is why I took my sewing machine with me. I took my sewing machine!
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.
^ This was the result of either a club foot or osteomyelitis. Goebbels is commonly said to have had club foot (talipes equinovarus), a congenital condition. William L. Shirer, who worked in Berlin as a journalist in the 1930s and was acquainted with Goebbels, wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) that the deformity was caused by a childhood attack of osteomyelitis and a failed operation to correct it.
Germany's war in the East was based on Hitler's long-standing view that Jews were the great enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. Hitler focused his attention on Eastern Europe, aiming to conquer Poland and the Soviet Union. After the occupation of Poland in 1939, all Jews living in the General Government were confined to ghettos, and those who were physically fit were required to perform compulsory labour. In 1941 Hitler decided to destroy the Polish nation completely; within 15 to 20 years the General Government was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists. About 3.8 to 4 million Poles would remain as slaves, part of a slave labour force of 14 million the Nazis intended to create using citizens of conquered nations.
The Theresienstadt family camp, which existed between September 1943 and July 1944, served a different purpose. A group of around 5,000 Jews had arrived in Auschwitz in September 1943 from the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. The families were allowed to stay together, their heads were not shaved, and they could wear their own clothes. Correspondence between Adolf Eichmann's office and the International Red Cross suggests that the Germans set up the camp to cast doubt on reports, in time for a planned Red Cross visit to Auschwitz, that mass murder was taking place in Auschwitz. A second group of 5,000 arrived from Theresienstadt in December 1943. On 7 March 1944, the first group was sent to the gas chamber at crematorium III; before they died, they were asked to send postcards to relatives, postdated to 25 March. This was the largest massacre of Czechoslovak citizens in history. News of the liquidation reached the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, which initiated diplomatic manoeuvers to save the remaining Jews. After the Red Cross visited Theresienstadt in June 1944 and were persuaded by the SS that no deportations were taking place from there, about 3,500 Jews were removed from the family camp to other sections of Auschwitz. The remaining 6,500 were murdered in the gas chambers between 10 and 12 July 1944.
To write the history of such an institution, as Nikolaus Wachsmann sets out to do in another new book, “KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), might seem impossible, like writing the history of Hell. And, certainly, both his book and Helm’s are full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions. Helm devotes a chapter to Ravensbrück’s Kinderzimmer, or “children’s room,” where inmates who came to the camp pregnant were forced to abandon their babies; the newborns were left to die of starvation or be eaten alive by rats. Wachsmann quotes a prisoner at Dachau who saw a transport of men afflicted by dysentery arrive at the camp: “We saw dozens . . . with excrement running out of their trousers. Their hands, too, were full of excrement and they screamed and rubbed their dirty hands across their faces.”
Höss was succeeded as Auschwitz commandant in November 1943 by SS Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel, who served until 15 May 1944. SS Sturmbannführer Richard Baer became commandant of Auschwitz I on 11 May 1944, and SS Obersturmbannführer Fritz Hartjenstein of Auschwitz II from 22 November 1943, followed by SS Obersturmbannführer Josef Kramer from 15 May 1944 until the camp's liquidation in January 1945. Heinrich Schwarz was commandant of Auschwitz III from the point at which it became an autonomous camp in November 1943 until its liquidation.
Auschwitz is enshrined in history in part because, as a work camp, there were survivors. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was a 14-year-old Jewish cello student living in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) when the war broke out. Two years later, she and her sister Renate were sent to work in a nearby paper factory. In 1942, after the Germans deported her parents to a death camp, the sisters doctored their identity papers and tried to escape.
What of those immigrants who became citizens, or those beleaguered minorities to whom the United States granted the privileges of citizenship? Despite an avowed declaration of constitutional equality, citizenship was under its own separate-but-equal doctrine. Until 1924, Native Americans were considered “nationals” and not citizens. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos were legally classified as “non-citizen nationals.” Most infamously, the 1857 Dred Scott decision held that African Americans were not citizens, and even after the Civil War, black people were legally relegated to third-class status. The Nazis took interest in all of this; the second Nuremburg Law confined citizenship to that person who “is exclusively a national of German blood, or racially related blood.” Jews were denaturalized, rendered subjects. The U.S. precedent laid out how to create a hierarchy of citizens, nationals, and subjects. Tiered citizenship and the capricious revocations of civil rights were of great interest to Nazi intellectuals.
In Italy I joined the Irgun, the Zionist underground organisation fighting for Israeli independence led by Menachem Begin (later prime minister of Israel), and travelled with an arms smuggling ship, the Altalena, to Tel Aviv. All the time I kept with me my prison uniform, as proof of what had happened to me. We arrived on the shores of Tel Aviv on 20 June 1948 and I found myself at a pivotal moment in Israeli history, in a boat full of weapons that Ben-Gurion would not let on shore. It could easily have turned into a civil war. I was shot at by Israel Defence Force troopers as I jumped into the water and the Altalena was set ablaze and sunk by the IDF. With it sank my suitcase of clothes and my striped prisoner uniform, including my hat, coat, shirt and a knife.
During the Röhm Purge of 30 June to 2 July 1934 (also known as the "Night of the Long Knives"), Hitler disempowered the SA's leadership—most of whom belonged to the Strasserist (national revolutionary) faction within the NSDAP—and ordered them killed. He accused them of having conspired to stage a coup d'état, but it is believed that this was only a pretence to justify the suppression of any intraparty opposition. The purge was executed by the SS, assisted by the Gestapo and Reichswehr units. Aside from Strasserist Nazis, they also murdered anti-Nazi conservative figures like former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher. After this, the SA continued to exist but lost much of its importance, while the role of the SS grew significantly. Formerly only a sub-organisation of the SA, it was made into a separate organisation of the NSDAP in July 1934.
Although all SS units wore the Death's-Head symbol (skull and crossbones) on their caps, only the SS Death's-Head Units were authorized to wear the Death's Head Symbol on their lapels. The “SS Death's-Head Division” of the Waffen SS was created in 1940. Its officers were recruited from concentration camp service. They also wore the Death's-Head symbol on their lapel.
Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.
A reorganisation of the Gaue was enacted on 1 October 1928. The given numbers were the official ordering numbers. The statistics are from 1941, for which the Gau organisation of that moment in time forms the basis. Their size and populations are not exact; for instance, according to the official party statistics the Gau Kurmark/Mark Brandenburg was the largest in the German Reich. By 1941, there were 42 territorial Gaue for Germany, 7 of them for Austria, the Sudetenland (in Czechoslovakia), Danzig and the Territory of the Saar Basin, along with the unincorporated regions under German control known as the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and the General Government, established after the joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the onset of World War II. Getting the leadership of the individual Gaue to co-operate with one another proved difficult at times since there was constant administrative and financial jockeying for control going on between them.
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.
Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.
Upon arrival in Gliwice and Wodzislaw, the prisoners were put on unheated freight trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany, particularly to Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and also to Mauthausen in Austria. The rail journey lasted for days. Without food, water, shelter, or blankets, many prisoners did not survive the transport.
In August 1934, civil servants and members of the military were required to swear an oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler. These laws became the basis of the Führerprinzip, the concept that Hitler's word overrode all existing laws. Any acts that were sanctioned by Hitler—even murder—thus became legal. All legislation proposed by cabinet ministers had to be approved by the office of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, who could also veto top civil service appointments.
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.
In 1976, Otto Frank took action against Heinz Roth of Frankfurt, who published pamphlets stating that the diary was "a forgery". The judge ruled that if Roth was to publish any further statements he would be subjected to a fine of 500,000 German marks and a six-month jail sentence. Roth appealed against the court's decision. He died in 1978, and after a year his appeal was rejected.
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.
The Auschwitz complex was divided in three major camps: Auschwitz I main camp or Stammlager; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, established on October 8th, 1941 as a 'Vernichtungslager' (extermination camp); Auschwitz III or Monowitz, established on May 31th, 1942 as an 'Arbeitslager' or work camp; also several sub-camps. There were up to seven gas chambers using Zyklon-B poison gas and three crematoria. Auschwitz II included a camp for new arrivals and those to be sent on to labor elsewhere; a Gypsy camp; a family camp; a camp for holding and sorting plundered goods and a women's camp. Auschwitz III provided slave labor for a major industrial plant run by I G Farben for producing synthetic rubber (see Blechhammer). Highest number of inmates, including sub-camps: 155,000. The estimated number of deaths: 2.1 to 2.5 million killed in gas chambers, of whom about 2 million were Jews, and Poles, Gypsies and Soviet POWs. About 330,000 deaths from other causes.
In most camps, prisoners were forced to wear identifying overalls with colored badges according to their categorization: red triangles for Communists and other political prisoners, green triangles for common criminals, pink triangles for homosexual men, purple triangles for Jehovah's Witnesses, black triangles for asocials and the "work shy", yellow triangle for Jews, and later the brown triangle for Romanis.