Initially the new facilities were "underutilized". From April 1943 to March 1944, "only" 160,000 Jews were killed at Birkenau, but from March 1944 to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.
Some of the most notorious slave labour camps included a network of subcamps. Gross-Rosen had 100 subcamps, Auschwitz had 44 subcamps, Stutthof had 40 sub-camps set up contingently. Prisoners in these subcamps were dying from starvation, untreated disease and summary executions by the tens of thousands already since the beginning of war.
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.
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.
For Hitler, the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and antisemitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany's external enemies – Britain, France and the Soviet Union – were controlled by the Jews and that Germany's future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war against the Jews. For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika or Hakenkreuz. In German nationalist circles, the swastika was considered a symbol of an "Aryan race" and it symbolised the replacement of the Christian Cross with allegiance to a National Socialist State.
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.
The extravagant hopes of Nazism came to an end with Germany’s defeat in 1945, after nearly six years of war. To a certain extent World War II had repeated the pattern of World War I: great initial German military successes, the forging of a large-scale coalition against Germany as the result of German ambitions and behaviour, and the eventual loss of the war because of German overreaching. Nazism as a mass movement effectively ended on April 30, 1945, when Hitler committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of Soviet troops completing the occupation of Berlin. Out of the ruins of Nazism arose a Germany that was divided until 1990. Remnants of National Socialist ideology remained in Germany after Hitler’s suicide, and a small number of Nazi-oriented political parties and other groups were formed in West Germany from the late 1940s, though some were later banned. In the 1990s gangs of neo-Nazi youths in eastern Germany staged attacks against immigrants, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and engaged in violent confrontations with leftists and police.
When Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 1, 1933, conditions for Jews like the Franks and other so-called undesirables in Germany immediately deteriorated. By summer, freedom of speech and assembly were suspended for everyone in Germany, the Gestapo was formed, Jewish businesses—including medical and legal practices—were boycotted, and a law excluding non-Aryans from government removed Jews from government and teaching positions.
Via the offices of the Sicherheitsdienst, the German security police, prison in Amsterdam, and the Westerbork transit camp, the people from the Secret Annex were put on transport to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. The train journey took three days, during which Anne and over a thousand others were packed closely together in cattle wagons. There was little food and water and only a barrel for a toilet.
I was 20, about 1.7 metres (5ft 7in) tall, blond, not bad looking and, despite the beating, in pretty good shape. When my limit in the hospital was up, they sent me to the gas chambers. There I met Dr Mengele, who asked me what was wrong. I said: “You can see, I’ve been beaten up.” Instead of sending me to the gas chambers, I was sent back to the hospital, presumably he saw the potential for labour in me. As I had trained as a tailor, he decided I had my uses there. The soldiers wanted to look nice, so they’d come to me in the hospital if they wanted their uniforms fixed up. The very fact that my new job meant I didn’t have to get up in the morning in the harsh winter in thin clothes standing around for hours for the headcount was a big thing. It meant that being a tailor saved my life.
The cleansing of mouth and teeth was possible only after a two weeks' stay, when we had access to our money and could buy toothbrushes and tooth paste. The towel situation was deplorable. One towel a week was issued for each inmate, but there was no provision for keeping these towels separately. Not unnaturally skin infections, rashes, and boils were frequent. The barracks were heated by iron stoves, some of which were installed only after our admission to the camp, and we had enjoyed them for but a very short time when a sudden restriction denied us the use of them for one week. It was claimed that in one of the 'Jew barracks' the stove had been lighted at a time when it wasn't allowed.
Nazi leaders endorsed the idea that rational and theoretical work was alien to a woman's nature, and as such discouraged women from seeking higher education.  A law passed in April 1933 limited the number of females admitted to university to ten percent of the number of male attendees. This resulted in female enrolment in secondary schools dropping from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. The number of women enrolled in post-secondary schools dropped from 128,000 in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. However, with the requirement that men be enlisted into the armed forces during the war, women comprised half of the enrolment in the post-secondary system by 1944.
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. Their demands included lower taxes, higher prices for food, restrictions on department stores and consumer co-operatives, and reductions in social services and wages. 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.
Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism, rounding up functionaries of the Catholic-aligned Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party, which along with all other non-Nazi political parties ceased to exist by July. The Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, amid continuing harassment of the church in Germany. The treaty required the regime to honour the independence of Catholic institutions and prohibited clergy from involvement in politics. Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped-up charges of currency smuggling or immorality. Several Catholic leaders were targeted in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives assassinations. Most Catholic youth groups refused to dissolve themselves and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach encouraged members to attack Catholic boys in the streets. Propaganda campaigns claimed the church was corrupt, restrictions were placed on public meetings and Catholic publications faced censorship. Catholic schools were required to reduce religious instruction and crucifixes were removed from state buildings.
There is a serious anachronism at work: the coverage that speaks to Schneidermann on an emotional level now was largely ineffective at the time it was printed. He muses that the journalists in the thirties needed to invent a new language, but he doesn’t quite define what that language should have looked like—dry facts didn’t allow an audience truly to comprehend the incomprehensible, but irony didn’t work, either, and neither did outcry. He faults the news outlets, above all, for not publishing vivid portraits of the victims. “Facts. Raw facts,” Schneidermann writes of press descriptions of Jewish refugees in 1939. “We can’t accuse the New York Times of having avoided the raw facts. Except that the raw facts don’t suffice. They never suffice. In order for a piece of news to touch consciences and hearts, there must be emotion running through it.”
Steven Spielberg's famous film Schindler's List focused attention on people like Oscar Schindler and his wife Emilie Schindler, who - at great risk to themselves and their families - helped Jews escape the Nazi genocide. In those years, millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, but Oscar Schindler's Jews miraculously survived. Schindler spent millions to protect and save his Jews, everything he possessed. He died penniless.
In spite of efforts to prepare the country militarily, the economy could not sustain a lengthy war of attrition. A strategy was developed based on the tactic of Blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), which involved using quick coordinated assaults that avoided enemy strong points. Attacks began with artillery bombardment, followed by bombing and strafing runs. Next the tanks would attack and finally the infantry would move in to secure the captured area. Victories continued through mid-1940, but the failure to defeat Britain was the first major turning point in the war. The decision to attack the Soviet Union and the decisive defeat at Stalingrad led to the retreat of the German armies and the eventual loss of the war. The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945 was around 18.2 million, of whom 5.3 million died.
The Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande ("race defilement") to justify the need for racial laws. In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws initially prohibited sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring". The law also forbade the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of "German or related blood" could be citizens. Thus Jews and other non-Aryans were stripped of their German citizenship. The law also permitted the Nazis to deny citizenship to anyone who was not supportive enough of the regime. A supplementary decree issued in November defined as Jewish anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if the Jewish faith was followed.
A treaty between the German government and the Vatican (the highest authority in the Roman Catholic church) guarantees Catholics the freedom of private religious practice, but dissolves Catholic political and trade union organizations. The Vatican (which had the status of a sovereign state) was the first state to recognize formally the legitimacy of Adolf Hitler's government. Despite the treaty, the Nazis continue to persecute Catholic religious and cultural organizations, priests, and schools.
Aryan mysticism claimed that Christianity originated in Aryan religious traditions, and that Jews had usurped the legend from Aryans. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an English-born German proponent of racial theory, supported notions of Germanic supremacy and antisemitism in Germany. Chamberlain's work, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), praised Germanic peoples for their creativity and idealism while asserting that the Germanic spirit was threatened by a "Jewish" spirit of selfishness and materialism. Chamberlain used his thesis to promote monarchical conservatism while denouncing democracy, liberalism and socialism. The book became popular, especially in Germany. Chamberlain stressed a nation's need to maintain its racial purity in order to prevent its degeneration and argued that racial intermingling with Jews should never be permitted. In 1923, Chamberlain met Hitler, whom he admired as a leader of the rebirth of the free spirit. Madison Grant's work The Passing of the Great Race (1916) advocated Nordicism and proposed that a eugenics program should be implemented in order to preserve the purity of the Nordic race. After reading the book, Hitler called it "my Bible".
But the effort to preserve the site is not without its critics. One is Robert Jan van Pelt, a cultural historian in the school of architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and the leading expert on the construction of Auschwitz. He supports the preservation of the Auschwitz main camp, although he acknowledges it is a “kind of theme park, cleaned up for tourists.” In any event, it’s a fully equipped museum, complete with exhibits and conservation facilities, where most of the original buildings still stand. But van Pelt views the Birkenau site in a different light. For one thing, 80 to 90 percent of the original structures are gone or in a state of ruin. Most important, it’s where most of the killings took place, so it is a core site of the Holocaust itself. He says letting Birkenau disintegrate completely would be a more fitting memorial than constantly repairing the scant remains. Birkenau is “the ultimate nihilistic place. A million people literally disappeared. Shouldn’t we confront people with the nothingness of the place? Seal it up. Don’t give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there.”
The process of Anne’s transformation into a universal teenager continued with the Americanization of her diary. “These are the thoughts and expression of a young girl living under extraordinary conditions, and for this reason her diary tell us much about ourselves and about our own children. And for this reason, too, I felt how close we all are to Anne’s experience, how very much involved we are in her short life and in the entire world,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her introduction. Were Americans living in 1952 really close to Anne’s experiences? Were they really capable of understanding her and becoming involved in her life? Perhaps they were, though not as a Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis, but as an “Everygirl.” In her foreword, Eleanor Roosevelt makes no reference to Jews or to Anne’s Jewishness, nor to the way her brief life ended, nor to the Holocaust, thus distancing the diary even more from Jews and from the Holocaust by referring to human problems in general.
In June 2016, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in the Polish town of Oswiecim re-discovered over 16,000 personal items belonging to victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau that had been lost in 1968. The items were originally discovered in 1967 by archaeologists excavating the concentration camp site, and were placed in 48 cardboard boxes in the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw before being lost due to an anti-Semitic communist regime coming to power in 1968.
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.