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.[176] Their demands included lower taxes, higher prices for food, restrictions on department stores and consumer co-operatives, and reductions in social services and wages.[177] 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.[177]
[Hitler] compiled a most extensive set of revolutionary goals (calling for radical social and political change); he mobilized a revolutionary following so extensive and powerful that many of his aims were achieved; he established and ran a dictatorial revolutionary state; and he disseminated his ideas abroad through a revolutionary foreign policy and war. In short, he defined and controlled the National Socialist revolution in all its phases.[283]
The twin pairs of gas chambers were numbered II and III, and IV and V. The first opened on March 31, 1943, the last on April 4, 1943. The total area of the gas chambers was 2,255 square meters; the capacity of these crematoria was 4,420 people. Those selected to die were undressed in the undressing room and then pushed into the gas chambers. It took about 20 minutes for all the people to death. In 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.
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.
Most of the POWs died within weeks. “When it was time to get up in the morning, those who were alive moved, and around them would be two or three dead people,” one Russian survivor says in the 2005 book Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees. “Death at night, death in the morning, death in the afternoon. There was death all the time.” The prisoners built the barracks at Birkenau in a rush, laying a single course of bricks on poorly made foundations. The flood of Soviet POWs overwhelmed the already crowded camp. Pressure to “eliminate” people—the Nazi euphemism—grew.
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.
The Nazis were initially very hostile to Catholics because most Catholics supported the German Centre Party. Catholics opposed the Nazis' promotion of compulsory sterilization of those whom they deemed inferior and the Catholic Church forbade its members to vote for the Nazis. In 1933, extensive Nazi violence occurred against Catholics due to their association with the Centre Party and their opposition to the Nazi regime's sterilization laws.[212] The Nazis demanded that Catholics declare their loyalty to the German state.[213] In their propaganda, the Nazis used elements of Germany's Catholic history, in particular the German Catholic Teutonic Knights and their campaigns in Eastern Europe. The Nazis identified them as "sentinels" in the East against "Slavic chaos", though beyond that symbolism, the influence of the Teutonic Knights on Nazism was limited.[214] Hitler also admitted that the Nazis' night rallies were inspired by the Catholic rituals which he had witnessed during his Catholic upbringing.[215] The Nazis did seek official reconciliation with the Catholic Church and they endorsed the creation of the pro-Nazi Catholic Kreuz und Adler, an organization which advocated a form of national Catholicism that would reconcile the Catholic Church's beliefs with Nazism.[213] On 20 July 1933, a concordat (Reichskonkordat) was signed between Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, which in exchange for acceptance of the Catholic Church in Germany required German Catholics to be loyal to the German state. The Catholic Church then ended its ban on members supporting the Nazi Party.[213]
While top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, they had considerable autonomy.[194] He expected officials to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with party goals and Hitler's wishes, without his involvement in day-to-day decision-making.[195] The government was a disorganised collection of factions led by the party elite, who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour.[196] Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped.[197] In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.[198]
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.”
The atrocities of Nazi Germany began well before the first shots of World War II were fired in 1939. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, and five weeks later, the Nazis established their first concentration camp. In 1935, the Nazis issued the Nuremberg Laws: "racial purity" laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Violence broke out in November 1938, when Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, and synagogues, killed nearly 100 and arrested some 30,000 Jewish men in what came to be known as Kristallnacht. By 1939, 300,000 Jewish refugees had fled Nazi controlled territories. By the war's end in 1945, six million Jews and millions of other victims had died in the Holocaust.
POW camps (Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager / Stalag) a.k.a. Main Camps for Enlisted Prisoners of War: concentration camps where enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. The inmates were usually assigned soon to nearby labor camps, (Arbeitskommandos), i.e. the Work Details. POW officers had their own camps (Offizierslager' / Oflag). Stalags were for Army prisoners, but specialized camps (Marinelager / Marlag ("Navy camps") and Marineinterniertenlager / Milag ("Merchant Marine Internment Camps")) existed for the other services. Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager Luftwaffe / Stalag Luft ("Air Forces Camps") were the only camps that detained both officers and non-commissioned personnel together.
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.[190] The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler.[191] Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator.[192] Roger Gill states: "His moving speeches captured the minds and hearts of a vast number of the German people: he virtually hypnotized his audiences".[193]

Jerzy Tabeau (prisoner no. 27273, registered as Jerzy Wesołowski) and Roman Cieliczko (no. 27089), both Polish prisoners, escaped on 19 November 1943; Tabeau made contact with the Polish underground and, between December 1943 and early 1944, wrote what became known as the Polish Major's report about the situation in the camp.[222] On 27 April 1944, Rudolf Vrba (no. 44070) and Alfréd Wetzler (no. 29162) escaped to Slovakia, carrying detailed information to the Slovak Jewish Council about the gas chambers. The distribution of the Vrba-Wetzler report, and publication of parts of it in June 1944, helped to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. On 27 May 1944, Arnost Rosin (no. 29858) and Czesław Mordowicz (no. 84216) also escaped to Slovakia; the Rosin-Mordowicz report was added to the Vrba-Wetzler and Tabeau reports to become what is known as the Auschwitz Protocols.[223] The reports were first published in their entirety in November 1944 by the United States War Refugee Board, in a document entitled The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia.[224]


Estimates of the total German war dead range from 5.5 to 6.9 million persons.[149] A study by German historian Rüdiger Overmans puts the number of German military dead and missing at 5.3 million, including 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders.[150] Richard Overy estimated in 2014 that about 353,000 civilians were killed in Allied air raids.[151] Other civilian deaths include 300,000 Germans (including Jews) who were victims of Nazi political, racial, and religious persecution[152] and 200,000 who were murdered in the Nazi euthanasia program.[153] Political courts called Sondergerichte sentenced some 12,000 members of the German resistance to death, and civil courts sentenced an additional 40,000 Germans.[154] Mass rapes of German women also took place.[155]

One of the first people I encountered was Mengele. He told us to undress and stand in line and he went through the ranks deciding who was strong and healthy and fit for work, and who was only fit for the gas chamber. After inspecting me, he put his thumb up high, so they gave me the striped uniform and sent me to get a number tattooed on to my arm. I don’t remember the number. It’s there still, but I never look at it because it brings back too many painful memories.

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. 

The racialists were not capable of drawing the practical conclusions from correct theoretical judgements, especially in the Jewish Question. In this way, the German racialist movement developed a similar pattern to that of the 1880s and 1890s. As in those days, its leadership gradually fell into the hands of highly honourable, but fantastically naïve men of learning, professors, district counsellors, schoolmasters, and lawyers—in short a bourgeois, idealistic, and refined class. It lacked the warm breath of the nation's youthful vigour.[175]

One night in the autumn of 1944, two Frenchwomen—Loulou Le Porz, a doctor, and Violette Lecoq, a nurse—watched as a truck drove in through the main gates of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. “There was a lorry,” Le Porz recalled, “that suddenly arrives and it turns around and reverses towards us. And it lifts up and it tips out a whole pile of corpses.” These were the bodies of Ravensbrück inmates who had died doing slave labor in the many satellite camps, and they were now being returned for cremation. Talking, decades later, to the historian and journalist Sarah Helm, whose new book, “Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women” (Doubleday), recounts the stories of dozens of the camp’s inmates, Le Porz says that her reaction was simple disbelief. The sight of a truck full of dead bodies was so outrageous, so out of scale with ordinary experience, that “if we recount that one day, we said to each other, nobody would believe us.” The only way to make the scene credible would be to record it: “If one day someone makes a film they must film this scene. This night. This moment.”


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.[115] 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.[115]
The train wasn’t headed to Germany. Stos was on the first transport of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz. There to greet them were 30 hardened German convicts, brought by the SS from a prison near Berlin. Guards confiscated Stos’ belongings and issued him a number. Sixty-nine years later, he slid a business card across the dining room table as his daughter brought us cups of tea. It read “Jozef Stos, former Auschwitz Concentration Camp Prisoner No. 752.” “I was there on the first day,” he said. “They had me for five years and five days.”

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.[254] 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.[255] The POW camp for German prisoners of war was used until 1947 by the Soviet NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs).[256] 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.[257] The Soviets dismantled and exported the IG Farben factories to the USSR.[258] Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish investigators worked to document the war crimes of the SS.[259] After the site became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.[185]
POW camps (Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager / Stalag) a.k.a. Main Camps for Enlisted Prisoners of War: concentration camps where enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. The inmates were usually assigned soon to nearby labor camps, (Arbeitskommandos), i.e. the Work Details. POW officers had their own camps (Offizierslager' / Oflag). Stalags were for Army prisoners, but specialized camps (Marinelager / Marlag ("Navy camps") and Marineinterniertenlager / Milag ("Merchant Marine Internment Camps")) existed for the other services. Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager Luftwaffe / Stalag Luft ("Air Forces Camps") were the only camps that detained both officers and non-commissioned personnel together.
×