On January 20, 1942, fourteen such functionaries assembled at a lakeside villa outside Berlin to discuss a “Final Solution” to what was called “the Jewish problem.” What we now know as the Wannsee Conference put on paper plans that Hitler and his subordinates had been talking about for months. Of Europe’s 11 million Jews, those who could work would be worked to death, following the model already created at Auschwitz and other camps. Jews who were not selected for useful labor would be eliminated.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
A useful analogy requires that we move beyond a Google image search and truly interrogate history. If we do, we may arrive at the Camp de Rivesaltes, an ad hoc facility created from an empty military camp in southern France. Its first prisoners in 1938 were not Jews but Spanish refugees who had fought against Francisco Franco’s victorious fascists. They were fleeing inevitable persecution from the Spanish dictator. The goal of that temporary concentration camp was to prevent the further dispersion of the Spanish refugees and their settlement in France while a repatriation solution was found. It never was.
On 31 October 1922, a party with similar policies and objectives came into power in Italy, the National Fascist Party, under the leadership of the charismatic Benito Mussolini. The Fascists, like the Nazis, promoted a national rebirth of their country, as they opposed communism and liberalism; appealed to the working-class; opposed the Treaty of Versailles; and advocated the territorial expansion of their country. The Italian Fascists used a straight-armed Roman salute and wore black-shirted uniforms. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini and the Fascists, borrowing their use of the straight-armed salute as a Nazi salute. When the Fascists came to power in 1922 in Italy through their coup attempt called the "March on Rome", Hitler began planning his own coup.
The term was in use before the rise of the party as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backward peasant, an awkward and clumsy person. It derived from Ignaz, a shortened version of Ignatius, which was a common name in the Nazis' home region of Bavaria. Opponents seized on this, and the long-existing Sozi, to attach a dismissive nickname to the National Socialists.
^ A film with scenes from the liberation of Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps, supervised by the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information, was begun but never finished or shown. It lay in archives until first aired on PBS's Frontline on May 7, 1985. The film, partly edited by Alfred Hitchcock, can be seen online at Memory of the Camps.
As Soviet armies advanced in 1944 and early 1945, Auschwitz was gradually abandoned. On January 18, 1945, some 60,000 prisoners were marched to Wodzisław Śląski, where they were put on freight trains (many in open cars) and sent westward to concentration camps away from the front. One in four died en route from starvation, cold, exhaustion, and despair. Many were shot along the way in what became known as the “death marches.” The 7,650 sick or starving prisoners who remained were found by arriving Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Nazism had peculiarly German roots. It can be partly traced to the Prussian tradition as developed under Frederick William I (1688–1740), Frederick the Great (1712–68), and Otto von Bismarck (1815–98), which regarded the militant spirit and the discipline of the Prussian army as the model for all individual and civic life. To it was added the tradition of political romanticism, with its sharp hostility to rationalism and to the principles underlying the French Revolution, its emphasis on instinct and the past, and its proclamation of the rights of Friedrich Nietzsche’s exceptional individual (the Übermensch [“Superman”]) over all universal law and rules. These two traditions were later reinforced by the 19th-century adoration of science and of the laws of nature, which seemed to operate independently of all concepts of good and evil. Further reinforcements came from such 19th-century intellectual figures as the comte de Gobineau (1816–82), Richard Wagner (1813–83), and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), all of whom greatly influenced early National Socialism with their claims of the racial and cultural superiority of the “Nordic” (Germanic) peoples over all other Europeans and all other races.
Radical Antisemitism was promoted by prominent advocates of Völkisch nationalism, including Eugen Diederichs, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn. De Lagarde called the Jews a "bacillus, the carriers of decay ... who pollute every national culture ... and destroy all faiths with their materialistic liberalism" and he called for the extermination of the Jews. Langbehn called for a war of annihilation against the Jews, and his genocidal policies were later published by the Nazis and given to soldiers on the front during World War II. One antisemitic ideologue of the period, Friedrich Lange, even used the term "National Socialism" to describe his own anti-capitalist take on the Völkisch nationalist template.
However, it was the effects of the Great Depression in Germany that brought the Nazi Party to its first real nationwide importance. The rapid rise in unemployment in 1929–30 provided millions of jobless and dissatisfied voters whom the Nazi Party exploited to its advantage. From 1929 to 1932 the party vastly increased its membership and voting strength; its vote in elections to the Reichstag (the German Parliament) increased from 800,000 votes in 1928 to about 14,000,000 votes in July 1932, and it thus emerged as the largest voting bloc in the Reichstag, with 230 members (38 percent of the total vote). By then big-business circles had begun to finance the Nazi electoral campaigns, and swelling bands of SA toughs increasingly dominated the street fighting with the communists that accompanied such campaigns.
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.
On 31 July 1941, Hermann Göring gave written authorization to Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for Die Endlösung der Judenfrage (the Final Solution of the Jewish question) in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organizations. Plans for the extermination of the European Jews—eleven million people—were formalized at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin on 20 January 1942. Some would be worked to death and the rest killed. Initially the victims were killed with gas vans or by Einsatzgruppen firing squads, but these methods were impractical for an operation of this scale. By 1942, killing centers at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and other extermination camps had become the primary method of mass killing.
The Auschwitz concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) and administrative headquarters, in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II–Birkenau, a combined concentration/extermination camp three kilometers away in Brzezinka; Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labor camp seven kilometers from Auschwitz I, set up to staff an IG Farben synthetic-rubber factory; and dozens of other subcamps.
Birkenau was the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex. It became primarily a centre for the mass murder of Jews brought there for extermination, and of Roma and Sinti prisoners during its final period. Sick prisoners and those selected for death from the whole Auschwitz complex – and, to a smaller extent, from other camps – were also gathered and systematically killed here. It ultimately became a place for the concentration of prisoners before they were transferred inside the Third Reich to work for German industry. Most of the victims of the Auschwitz complex, probably about 90%, were killed in the Birkenau camp.
The first camp in Germany, Dachau, was founded in March 1933. The press announcement said that "the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5,000 people. All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated there, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons." Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the German coalition government of National Socialist Workers' Party (Nazi Party) and the Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."