The gas chambers in the Auschwitz complex constituted the largest and most efficient extermination method employed by the Nazis. Four chambers were in use at Birkenau, each with the potential to kill 6,000 people daily. They were built to look like shower rooms in order to confuse the victims. New arrivals at Birkenau were told that they were being sent to work, but first needed to shower and be disinfected. They would be led into the shower-like chambers, where they were quickly gassed to death with the highly poisonous Zyklon B gas.
On the night of the 27 February 1933 and 28 February 1933, someone set the Reichstag building on fire. This was the building where the German Parliament held their meetings. The Nazis blamed the communists. Opponents of the Nazis said that the Nazis themselves had done it to come to power. On the very same day, an emergency law called Reichstagsbrandverordnung was passed. The government claimed it was to protect the state from people trying to hurt the country. With this law, most of the civil rights of the Weimar Republic did not count any longer. The Nazis used this against the other political parties. Members of the communist and social-democratic parties were put into prison or killed.
Other former staff were hanged for war crimes in the Dachau Trials and the Belsen Trial, including camp leaders Josef Kramer, Franz Hössler, and Vinzenz Schöttl; doctor Friedrich Entress; and guards Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath. The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, held in West Germany from 20 December 1963 to 20 August 1965, convicted 17 of 22 defendants, giving them prison sentences ranging from life to three years and three months. Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, the owner and the chief executive officer of the firm Tesch & Stabenow, one of the suppliers of Zyklon B, were executed for knowingly supplying the chemical for use on humans.
After three days at Auschwitz, I was left with the feeling that for some visitors, the former concentration camp is a box to check off on a tourist “to-do” list. But many people appeared genuinely moved. I saw Israeli teenagers crying and hugging each other and groups of people transfixed by the mug shots of prisoners that line the walls of one of the Auschwitz barracks. Walking through the room full of hair still makes my stomach churn. But what I hadn’t remembered from my first visit was the room next door filled with battered cooking pots and pans, brought by people who believed until the last moment that there was a future wherever they were being taken. And when Banas told me about the carefully folded math test that conservationists found hidden in a child’s shoe, I choked up. Even if only a fraction of the people who come here each year are profoundly affected, a fraction of a million is still a lot of people.
While the ideologues of Nazism, much like those of Stalinism, abhorred democratic or parliamentary governance as practiced in the United States or Britain, their differences are substantial. An epistemic crisis occurs when one tries to synthesize and contrast Nazism and Stalinism as two-sides of the same coin with their similarly tyrannical leaders, state-controlled economies and repressive police structures. Namely, while they share a common thematic political construction, they are entirely inimical to one another in their worldviews and when more carefully analysed against one another on a one-to-one level, an "irreconcilable asymmetry" results.
In May 1943 the SS (Schutzstaffel, "Protective Echelon") announced the removal of all remaining Jews in the Netherlands. In a voluntary call-up on May 25, five hundred Jews voluntarily reported for deportation to Westerbork transit camp. The next day, raids were carried out and 3,000 people were rounded up. Most of these people were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp. About 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported during the war—only about 5,000 returned.
During 1931 and into 1932, Germany's political crisis deepened. Hitler ran for President against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg in March 1932, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second against Hindenburg's 49% and 53%. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and Communist paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler's appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt antisemitism was played down in official Nazi rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles and to save Germany from communism. On 24 April 1932, the Free State of Prussia elections to the Landtag resulted in 36.3% of the votes and 162 seats for the NSDAP.
I was taken into protective custody in connection with the murder of the German attaché in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by the seventeen-year-old Polish subject, Grynszpan, who had been expelled from Germany first and then had been ordered to leave France. I do not want to justify this political murder in any way, but I can understand it as the act of a hopelessly desperate person.
The release took almost twelve hours, during which we had to stand in line waiting in the open air, without food. Part of the release ceremonies was the address of an S.S. man. He called our attention to the fact that we were forbidden to tell anything that we had seen in the camp. Although we all had to fill in a form of this nature, I cannot recognize an obligation in this respect, not only because it was forced, but also because it was imposed by a party that habitually does not keep its promises.
Hitler’s most important individual contribution to the theory and practice of Nazism was his deep understanding of mass psychology and mass propaganda. He stressed the fact that all propaganda must hold its intellectual level at the capacity of the least intelligent of those at whom it is directed and that its truthfulness is much less important than its success. According to Hitler:
In May 14, 1940, the Netherlands surrendered to Germany after the bombing of Rotterdam, having being invaded just five days earlier. The following month, Anne turned 10. The restrictions and persecution the Franks had faced in Germany were brought to their new home. Otto transferred control of his businesses to trusted colleagues to make the business appear Aryan-owned and to avoid having to register it with the German authorities. The family had to register as Jews with the German authorities in January 1942 and all Dutch Jews were ordered to Amsterdam.
A week after they had gone into hiding, the Franks were joined by Otto’s business associate Hermann van Pels (1898-1944), along with his wife Auguste (1900-45) and their son Peter (1926-45), who were also Jewish. A small group of Otto Frank’s employees, including his Austrian-born secretary, Miep Gies (1909-2010), risked their own lives to smuggle food, supplies and news of the outside world into the secret apartment, whose entrance was situated behind a movable bookcase. In November 1942, the Franks and Van Pels were joined by Fritz Pfeffer (1889-1944), Miep Gies’ Jewish dentist.
At the same time, the Nazis cannot be placed in a special category outside history, outside the human condition—a sui generis episode beyond comparison. They must be demythologized and studied closely, because the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its leader emerged out of a particular context, in a particular time, with a particular set of ideas that won greater and greater purchase the more they were propagated. Moreover, this band of extremist reactionaries were incrementalists. As Whitman emphasizes, “it is simply not the case that the drafters of the Nuremburg Laws were already aiming at the annihilation of the Jews in 1935.” At that point, the Nazis wanted to exile and marginalize the Jewish minority, turning them into second-class citizens.
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power. Following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses and synagogues, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service passed on 7 April forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived other Jewish professionals of their right to practise, and on 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan. As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May.
While no unified resistance movement opposing the Nazi regime existed, acts of defiance such as sabotage and labour slowdowns took place, as well as attempts to overthrow the regime or assassinate Hitler. The banned Communist and Social Democratic parties set up resistance networks in the mid-1930s. These networks achieved little beyond fomenting unrest and initiating short-lived strikes. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who initially supported Hitler, changed his mind in 1936 and was later a participant in the July 20 plot. The Red Orchestra spy ring provided information to the Allies about Nazi war crimes, helped orchestrate escapes from Germany, and distributed leaflets. The group was detected by the Gestapo and more than 50 members were tried and executed in 1942. Communist and Social Democratic resistance groups resumed activity in late 1942, but were unable to achieve much beyond distributing leaflets. The two groups saw themselves as potential rival parties in post-war Germany, and for the most part did not co-ordinate their activities. The White Rose resistance group was primarily active in 1942–43, and many of its members were arrested or executed, with the final arrests taking place in 1944. Another civilian resistance group, the Kreisau Circle, had some connections with the military conspirators, and many of its members were arrested after the failed 20 July plot.
These public relations mishaps, clumsy though they may have been, were not really mistakes, nor even the fault of the museum alone. On the contrary, the runaway success of Anne Frank’s diary depended on playing down her Jewish identity: At least two direct references to Hanukkah were edited out of the diary when it was originally published. Concealment was central to the psychological legacy of Anne Frank’s parents and grandparents, German Jews for whom the price of admission to Western society was assimilation, hiding what made them different by accommodating and ingratiating themselves to the culture that had ultimately sought to destroy them. That price lies at the heart of Anne Frank’s endless appeal. After all, Anne Frank had to hide her identity so much that she was forced to spend two years in a closet rather than breathe in public. And that closet, hiding place for a dead Jewish girl, is what millions of visitors want to see.
In 2016, the Anne Frank House published new research pointing to investigation over ration card fraud, rather than betrayal, as a plausible explanation for the raid that led to the arrest of the Franks. The report states that other activities in the building may have led authorities there, including activities of Frank's company. However, it does not rule out betrayal.
In October 1941, work began on Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka. There the SS later developed a huge concentration camp and extermination complex that included some 300 prison barracks; four large so-called Badeanstalten (German: “bathhouses”), in which prisoners were gassed to death; Leichenkeller (“corpse cellars”), in which their bodies were stored; and Einäscherungsöfen (“cremating ovens”). Another camp (Buna-Monowitz), near the village of Dwory, later called Auschwitz III, became in May 1942 a slave-labour camp supplying workers for the nearby chemical and synthetic-rubber works of IG Farben. In addition, Auschwitz became the nexus of a complex of 45 smaller subcamps in the region, most of which housed slave labourers. During most of the period from 1940 to 1945, the commandant of the central Auschwitz camps was SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) and ultimately SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieut. Col.) Rudolf Franz Hoess (Höss).
Very heavy strategic bombing by the Allies targeted refineries producing synthetic oil and gasoline, as well as the German transportation system, especially rail yards and canals. The armaments industry began to break down by September 1944. By November, fuel coal was no longer reaching its destinations and the production of new armaments was no longer possible. Overy argues that the bombing strained the German war economy and forced it to divert up to one-fourth of its manpower and industry into anti-aircraft resources, which very likely shortened the war.
Since the prisoners were now needed for their labour, living conditions improved for a short time. From the end of 1943 onwards, inmates were also deployed in the construction of underground factories, for example those in Melk, Ebensee and St. Georgen an der Gusen. The murderous working conditions that prevailed at these sites soon led to a dramatic rise in the number of victims.
In general, subcamps that produced or processed agricultural goods were administratively subordinate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Subcamps whose prisoners were deployed at industrial and armaments production or in extractive industries (e.g., coal mining, quarry work) were administratively subordinate to Auschwitz-Monowitz. This division of administrative responsibility was formalized after November 1943.
Remarkably, there were instances of individual resistance and collective efforts at fighting back inside Auschwitz. Poles, Communists and other national groups established networks in the main camp. Some Jews assaulted Nazi guards, even at the entrance to the gas chambers. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando crew at crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematoria. It was never used again.
At Auschwitz I, the majority of the complex has remained intact. The architecture of the camp consisted mostly of pre-existing buildings converted by the Nazis to serve new functions. The preserved architecture, spaces and layout still recall the historical functions of the individual elements in their entirety. The interiors of some of the buildings have been modified to adapt them to commemorative purposes, but the external façades of these buildings remain unchanged.
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.