The history of Auschwitz-Birkenau as an extermination center is complex. From late 1941 to October 1942, the mortuary at Auschwitz main camp, which was already equipped with a crematorium, was adapted as a gas chamber. It measured approximately 835 square feet. In the spring of 1942, two provisional gas chambers at Birkenau were constructed out of peasant huts, known as the 'bunkers'.
Friends who searched the hiding place after the family’s capture later gave Otto Frank the papers left behind by the Gestapo. Among them he found Anne’s diary, which was published as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (originally in Dutch, 1947). Precocious in style and insight, it traces her emotional growth amid adversity. In it she wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”
Another important figure in pre-Nazi völkisch thinking was Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, whose work—Land und Leute (Land and People, written between 1857 and 1863)—collectively tied the organic German Volk to its native landscape and nature, a pairing which stood in stark opposition to the mechanical and materialistic civilization which was then developing as a result of industrialization. Geographers Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Haushofer borrowed from Riehl's work as did Nazi ideologues Alfred Rosenberg and Paul Schultze-Naumburg, both of whom employed some of Riehl's philosophy in arguing that "each nation-state was an organism that required a particular living space in order to survive". Riehl's influence is overtly discernible in the Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) philosophy introduced by Oswald Spengler, which the Nazi agriculturalist Walther Darré and other prominent Nazis adopted.
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.
Two incidents that occurred toward the end of the twentieth century provide evidence of the diary’s Jewish and universal identification: in December 1997, a new adaptation of the diary by Wendy Kesselman (b. 1940) was performed on Broadway. It restored Anne’s Jewish identity, her hatred of the Germans, her femininity and sexuality, her complicated relationships with the others; it also showed the Germans themselves, who burst onto the stage at the end of the play to drag away the attic’s inhabitants. The famous sentence about people being good at heart was returned to its original place in the diary and does not appear as an artificial ending. The status of Jews in the United States at the end of the 1990s was completely different from that of the 1950s; the Holocaust had penetrated consciousness, art, memory and public debate; sexuality and femininity were discussed openly; people were depicted mercilessly in all the media, and a happy ending was no longer essential. In January 1999, fifty years after the Declaration of Human Rights, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, called upon all world leaders to sign a declaration of peace, friendship, conflict resolution and a better future worldwide, which bore Anne Frank’s name.
Germany was known as the Weimar Republic during the years 1919 to 1933. It was a republic with a semi-presidential system. The Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremism (including violence from left- and right-wing paramilitaries), contentious relationships with the Allied victors of World War I, and a series of failed attempts at coalition government by divided political parties. Severe setbacks to the German economy began after World War I ended, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The government printed money to make the payments and to repay the country's war debt, but the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. When the government defaulted on their reparations payments in January 1923, French troops occupied German industrial areas along the Ruhr and widespread civil unrest followed.
When we arrived it was, as I later found out, the usual story, though not to us at the time. Our family was torn apart on the platform on arriving. My sister, Serena, was chosen for slave labour. My mother and the younger children were sent off to one side and my father and 16-year-old brother to the other side. I held tightly on to the hand of my 12-year-old sister and for an instant I was mistaken for being older than I was, probably because I was wearing a headscarf that my mother had given me.
In October 1944, the 'Sonderkommando' crew crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematories. In November Himmler ordered gassings to stop, and a 'cleanup' operation was inaugurated to conceal traces of the mass murder. In January 1945, the Germans evacuated 58,000 prisoners who could walk. They left behind in the main camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long.
There were factions within the Nazi Party, both conservative and radical. The conservative Nazi Hermann Göring urged Hitler to conciliate with capitalists and reactionaries. Other prominent conservative Nazis included Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Meanwhile, the radical Nazi Joseph Goebbels opposed capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core and he stressed the need for the party to emphasize both a proletarian and a national character. Those views were shared by Otto Strasser, who later left the Nazi Party in the belief that Hitler had allegedly betrayed the party's socialist goals by endorsing capitalism.
After the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler promoted Himmler and the SS, who then zealously suppressed homosexuality by saying: "We must exterminate these people root and branch ... the homosexual must be eliminated". In 1936, Himmler established the "Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung der Homosexualität und Abtreibung" ("Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion"). The Nazi regime incarcerated some 100,000 homosexuals during the 1930s. As concentration camp prisoners, homosexual men were forced to wear pink triangle badges. Nazi ideology still viewed German men who were gay as a part of the Aryan master race, but the Nazi regime attempted to force them into sexual and social conformity. Homosexuals were viewed as failing in their duty to procreate and reproduce for the Aryan nation. Gay men who would not change or feign a change in their sexual orientation were sent to concentration camps under the "Extermination Through Work" campaign.
Action T4 was a programme of systematic murder of the physically and mentally handicapped and patients in psychiatric hospitals that took place mainly from 1939 to 1941, and continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims were shot by the Einsatzgruppen and others; gas chambers and gas vans using carbon monoxide were used by early 1940. Under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, enacted on 14 July 1933, over 400,000 individuals underwent compulsory sterilisation. Over half were those considered mentally deficient, which included not only people who scored poorly on intelligence tests, but those who deviated from expected standards of behaviour regarding thrift, sexual behaviour, and cleanliness. Most of the victims came from disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes, the poor, the homeless, and criminals. Other groups persecuted and killed included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, social misfits, and members of the political and religious opposition.
In 1920, the Nazi Party officially announced that only persons of "pure Aryan descent [rein arischer Abkunft]" could become party members and if the person had a spouse, the spouse also had to be a "racially pure" Aryan. Party members could not be related either directly or indirectly to a so-called "non-Aryan". Even before it had become legally forbidden by the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, the Nazis banned sexual relations and marriages between party members and Jews. Party members found guilty of Rassenschande ("racial defilement") were persecuted heavily, some members were even sentenced to death.
Last, and perhaps most ominously for our comparisons with the Holocaust, the camps can be the first step toward darker developments, as some have already argued. These “concentration camps” will not lead to gas chambers, but their existence may well lead to the erosion of respect for human rights, the rule of law and government accountability that characterized the Third Reich. Unless, of course, the children are all actors.
Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, just outside OÅ›wiÄ™cim, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), commander of the “Schutzstaffel” (or Select Guard/Protection Squad, more commonly known as the SS), which operated all Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau.More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prisoners.
The Frank sisters each hoped to return to school as soon as they were able, and continued with their studies while in hiding. Margot took a shorthand course by correspondence in Bep Voskuijl's name and received high marks. Most of Anne's time was spent reading and studying, and she regularly wrote and edited her diary entries. In addition to providing a narrative of events as they occurred, she wrote about her feelings, beliefs, and ambitions, subjects she felt she could not discuss with anyone. As her confidence in her writing grew, and as she began to mature, she wrote of more abstract subjects such as her belief in God, and how she defined human nature.
Hitler's first DAP speech was held in the Hofbräukeller on 16 October 1919. He was the second speaker of the evening, and spoke to 111 people. Hitler later declared that this was when he realised he could really "make a good speech". At first, Hitler spoke only to relatively small groups, but his considerable oratory and propaganda skills were appreciated by the party leadership. With the support of Anton Drexler, Hitler became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920. Hitler began to make the party more public, and organised its biggest meeting yet of 2,000 people on 24 February 1920 in the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München. Such was the significance of this particular move in publicity that Karl Harrer resigned from the party in disagreement. It was in this speech that Hitler enunciated the twenty-five points of the German Workers' Party manifesto that had been drawn up by Drexler, Feder and himself. Through these points he gave the organisation a much bolder stratagem with a clear foreign policy (abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, a Greater Germany, Eastern expansion and exclusion of Jews from citizenship) and among his specific points were: confiscation of war profits, abolition of unearned incomes, the State to share profits of land and land for national needs to be taken away without compensation. In general, the manifesto was antisemitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist and anti-liberal. To increase its appeal to larger segments of the population, on the same day as Hitler's Hofbräuhaus speech on 24 February 1920, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ("National Socialist German Workers' Party", or Nazi Party). The word "Socialist" was added by the party's executive committee, over Hitler's objections, in order to help appeal to left-wing workers.
I remember the night of the packing very well. Things went in the suitcase, things were taken out of the suitcase. In the end my mother filled it with food she had cooked and warm clothing and bedding. Then it was full. Plus we took a watch, some earrings, a wedding ring with us to exchange for food if necessary. The next day my father was forced to hand over his remaining money to a delegation that included the mayor and the school principal as they rounded us up at the town hall.
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.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the black homeownership rate dropped to its lowest point since at least the 1980s, and the wealth gap between black and white Americans spiked. Above, Washington, D.C. resident DeAngelo McDonald and his children outside their home, which faced foreclosure in 2010. Photo by Tracy A. Woodward/Washington Post via Getty Images.
Agrarian policies were also important to the Nazis since they corresponded not just to the economy but to their geopolitical conception of Lebensraum as well. For Hitler, the acquisition of land and soil was requisite in moulding the German economy. To tie farmers to their land, selling agricultural land was prohibited. Farm ownership remained private, but business monopoly rights were granted to marketing boards to control production and prices with a quota system. The "Hereditary Farm Law of 1933" established a cartel structure under a government body known as the Reichsnährstand (RNST) which determined "everything from what seeds and fertilizers were used to how land was inherited".
Things continued to get worse. The Germans began to require all Jewish people to wear yellow stars on their clothing. Some Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Then one day the order came that Margot would have to go to a labor camp. Otto was not going to let that happen. He and Edith had been preparing a place for the family to hide. The girls were told to pack up what they could. They had to wear all their clothes in layers because a suitcase would look too suspicious. Then they went to their hiding place.
Those unable to work – the old, women and children – were immediately sent to the gas chambers or shot in the "camp hospital". Even those able to work ended up in the gas chamber sooner or later, or they fell victim to random shooting actions within a few months, when they had been worn out by the tough work. That is, if they had not died already. Those able to work for instance helped carry the bodies to the crematoria or search the bodies for valuables.
In 1931, Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) under his deputy, Heydrich. This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses.
The site was first suggested as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberführer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia. After this part of Poland was annexed by Nazi Germany, Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was located administratively in Germany, in the Province of Upper Silesia, Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz, Landkreis Bielitz. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to hold prisoners in the Silesia region, as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glücks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site, which housed 16 dilapidated one-story buildings that had served as an Austrian and later Polish Army barracks and a camp for transient workers. German citizens were offered tax concessions and other benefits if they would relocate to the area. By October 1943, more than 6,000 Reich Germans had arrived. The Nazis planned to build a model modern residential area for incoming Germans, including schools, playing fields, and other amenities. Some of the plans went forward, including the construction of several hundred apartments, but many were never fully implemented. Basic amenities such as water and sewage disposal were inadequate, and water-borne illnesses were commonplace.
Entrance is free in general, but visitor numbers are regulated by a ticket system. Be aware that because of the large numbers of visitors, entry to the Auschwitz I site is done exclusively on a paid guided (yet unfortunately rather rushed) tour between 10:00 to 15:00 during the period from 1 April to 31 October. You can visit the site on your own (which is highly recommended, as visitors can go at their own pace, see what they want to see, and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before 10:00 (better 8:00-9:00) or after 15:00 (depending on the season and day of week). This is recommended if you're staying nearby in Katowice or Kraków and don't have your own car, with some trains from Kraków and Katowice Główny arriving between 8-10. Guided tours cost 45PLN (discounted price for students up to 24 years of age is 30PLN). Students with an ISIC card are granted free entrance during tour hours. If you're a small group (~4 or less), it's not too hard to buy tickets on site (but depending on the season, you might have to wait depending on availability), but larger groups should book tickets in advance.
In January 1923, France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply to about 20,000. By November, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the post-war German military) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this, he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter—though not a member—of the Nazis.
When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the effect in Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the NSDAP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. Many voters decided the NSDAP was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the NSDAP was the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote.
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. 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. The POW camp for German prisoners of war was used until 1947 by the Soviet NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs). 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. The Soviets dismantled and exported the IG Farben factories to the USSR. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish investigators worked to document the war crimes of the SS. After the site became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.
When the victims arrived to the extermination camps in overcrowded trains, they were herded out onto the arrival ramp. Here, German SS-men and perhaps brutal Ukrainian guards forced them to hand over their belongings and their clothes. Most of the victims had been told that they were merely to be moved to the east for new jobs and living places, and most of them had brought their favourite belongings.
My father surveyed the scene from the train and could see prisoners, uniforms and barracks so we immediately thought it was a work camp, and that was reassuring – if we can work, it can’t be such a dreadful place. We had heard about the stories in Poland of lots of mass shootings of Jews or people being taken into the forest and shot, so it was a relief to see out the window that there was actually a system. Even though we were victims of discrimination at that stage that’s all it was, as we had no clue then that this was a very carefully orchestrated plan of genocide. We could not have imagined that they would kill little children, until we realised that killing children was their primary goal to prevent any new generations. Because desperate people will always look to find some sign of hope, we thought to ourselves even if we have to work, at least we’ll see each other occasionally.
^ Jump up to: a b Lichtblau, Eric (March 1, 2013). "The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2014. When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500. For the map of more that 1,000 locations, see: Map of Ghettos for Jews in Eastern Europe. The New York Times. Source: USHMM.