The SS gained its independence from the SA in July 1934, in the wake of the Röhm purge. Hitler then authorized SS leader Heinrich Himmler to centralize the administration of the concentration camps and formalize them into a system. Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke for this task. Eicke had been the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since June 1933. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, a new section of the SS subordinate to the SS Main Office.
Originally an Austro-Hungarian and later a Polish Army barracks before the start of the Second World War, the invading Nazis assumed authority over the military facility following the region's annexation by the Third Reich in 1939. The neighboring town's name of Oświęcim was Germanized to Auschwitz, which also became the name of the camp. Beginning in 1940, all Polish and Jewish residents of Oświęcim were expelled, replaced by German settlers, whom the Third Reich planned to make a model community. The camp began operations on 14 June 1940, originally housing Polish political prisoners, who made up a majority of the camp's population until 1942. Poles were treated with extreme brutality, with more than half of the 130-150,000 Polish inmates dying.
In early 1942, mass exterminations were moved to two provisional gas chambers (the "red house" and "white house", known as bunkers 1 and 2) in Auschwitz II, while the larger crematoria (II, III, IV, and V) were under construction. Bunker 2 was temporarily reactivated from May to November 1944, when large numbers of Hungarian Jews were gassed. In summer 1944 the combined capacity of the crematoria and outdoor incineration pits was 20,000 bodies per day. A planned sixth facility—crematorium VI—was never built. Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. By July 1942, the SS were conducting "selections". Incoming Jews were segregated; those deemed able to work were sent to the selection officer's right and admitted into the camp, and those deemed unfit for labor were sent to the left and immediately gassed. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total,[c] included almost all children, women with small children, the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be fit for work.
^ Hitler stated: "Today our left-wing politicians in particular are constantly insisting that their craven-hearted and obsequious foreign policy necessarily results from the disarmament of Germany, whereas the truth is that this is the policy of traitors […] But the politicians of the Right deserve exactly the same reproach. It was through their miserable cowardice that those ruffians of Jews who came into power in 1918 were able to rob the nation of its arms." Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf. Bottom of the Hill Publishing, 2010. p. 287.
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.”
Then, on January 27, 1945, the Red Army reached the camp. Inside, they found prisoners covered in excrement and starving to death, children who had been used for medical experiments, and other shocking evidence of the Nazis’ crimes. At Birkenau, the guards had failed to destroy some of the storerooms where prisoners’ stolen belongings were stored before being transported back to the Reich. Among the remainingitems were 7.7 tons of human hair, 370,000 men’s suits and 837,000 women’s coats and dresses.
In January 1934, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Poland. In March 1939, Hitler demanded the return of the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, a strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The British announced they would come to the aid of Poland if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the British would not actually take action, ordered an invasion plan should be readied for September 1939. On 23 May, Hitler described to his generals his overall plan of not only seizing the Polish Corridor but greatly expanding German territory eastward at the expense of Poland. He expected this time they would be met by force.
The courtyard between blocks 10 and 11, known as the "death wall" served as an execution area for Poles not in Auschwitz who had been sentenced to death by a criminal court—presided over by German judges—including for petty crimes such as stealing food. Several rooms in block 11 were deemed the Polizei-Ersatz-Gefängnis Myslowitz in Auschwitz ("Alternative jail of the police station at Mysłowice"). There were also Sonderbehandlung cases ("special treatment") for Poles and others regarded as dangerous to the Third Reich. Members of the camp resistance were shot there, as were 200 of the Sonderkommandos who took part in the Sonderkommando revolt in October 1944. Thousands of Poles were executed at the death wall; Höss wrote that "execution orders arrived in an unbroken stream".
When we were in Gusen penal camp, my father, who was 50, one day just gave up and said he couldn’t continue. From that moment I was totally alone. In February 1945 they moved us to Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. It was here that I witnessed starving people eating human flesh. We were liberated by Americans and Canadians in Gunskirchen. The Germans had simply left the camp, and with an absence of drama we just walked through the gates. The first thing I did was to knock on a local resident’s door and ask for permission to take a shower. Somehow, I managed to meet up with my brothers, David and Shuli. We had no desire to return to Dej, to the people who had betrayed us.
We lived in a white-painted brick house on Kodur Street in Dej, which had a population of about 15,000, around a quarter of whom were Jewish. I was the youngest of five, and we spoke Yiddish within the community and Hungarian and Romanian outside. We had a garden and backyard, full of plums, peaches, cherries and apples. Among the smells of my childhood were my mother’s goulash and the scent of Shabbat candles. My father was a merchant, a travelling salesman. My mother had the full-time job of keeping the house and family. I remember the lullaby she used to sing me, Schaefeleh, schluf mein tier kind (Sleep well, my precious little child). The synagogue or shul was the centre of communal life, and the centre of my life from three years upwards. I don’t remember any overt antisemitism, just my parents warning me to be inside before dark: “Lest some Christian kids decide they don’t like the look of your sidelocks and pick on you.” I just thought my parents were being overprotective.
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.
In the first months of Hitler's chancellorship, the Nazis instituted a policy of "coordination"—the alignment of individuals and institutions with Nazi goals. Culture, the economy, education, and law all came under Nazi control. The Nazi regime also attempted to "coordinate" the German churches and, although not entirely successful, won support from a majority of Catholic and Protestant clergymen.
At the Birkenau camp, a five-minute shuttle-bus ride from the Auschwitz visitor center, the scene was so peaceful it was almost impossible to imagine the sea of stinking mud that survivors describe. The vast expanse was covered in neatly mowed grass. Flocks of Israeli teenagers in matching white-and-blue hoodies wandered from ruin to ruin. As I stood at the stairs leading down into the ruined gas chambers, a dozen Brits posed for a group picture on the steps of a memorial just a few yards away.
In the meantime the inmates of the camp had assembled for the evening roll call. We heard rhythmic beats on a big drum, and I could see a man walking through the rows of the assembled men carrying a drum in front of him and beating on it. Soon after, loud cries of pain were heard. The carrier of the drum was tied to a block and subjected to twenty-five blows from a steel rod: his punishment for attempting to escape.
In most of the concentration camps, the Nazi SS either installed or had plans to install gas chambers to assist in their daily business of killing prisoners who were too weak or sick to work. Gas chambers were also to kill small targeted groups of individuals whom the Nazis wanted to eliminate (Polish resistance fighters, Soviet POWs, etc.). This was the purpose of the installation of gas chambers at Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Auschwitz I, Ravensbrück, Lublin/Majdanek, etc.
The process of selection and murder was carefully planned and organized. When a train stopped at the platform, veteran prisoners received the victims and gathered their belongings in several barracks in an area known as “Kanada.” The arrivals were lined up in two columns – men and boys in one, women and girls in the other – and SS physicians performed a selection. The criterion was the appearance of the prisoners, whose fate, for labor or for death, was determined at will. Before they entered the chamber, they were told that they were about to be disinfected and ordered to undress. The doors of the chamber were locked and the gas was introduced. After the victims were murdered, their gold teeth were extracted and women’s hair was shorn by the Sonderkommando – groups of Jews forced to work in the crematoria. The bodies were hauled to the crematorium furnaces for incineration, the bones were pulverized and the ashes were scattered in the fields.
On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.
Nazism’s principal instrument of control was the unification, under Heinrich Himmler and his chief lieutenant, Reinhard Heydrich, of the SS (the uniformed police force of the Nazi Party) and all other police and security organizations. Opposition to the regime was destroyed either by outright terror or, more frequently, by the all-pervading fear of possible repression. Opponents of the regime were branded enemies of the state and of the people, and an elaborate web of informers—often members of the family or intimate friends—imposed utmost caution on all expressions and activities. Justice was no longer recognized as objective but was completely subordinated to the alleged needs and interests of the Volk. In addition to the now-debased methods of the normal judicial process, special detention camps were erected. In these camps the SS exercised supreme authority and introduced a system of sadistic brutality unrivaled in modern times.
The crematoria consisted of a dressing room, gas chamber, and furnace room. In crematoria II and III, the dressing room and gas chamber were underground; in IV and V, they were on the ground floor. The dressing room had numbered hooks on the wall to hang clothes. In crematorium II, there was also a dissection room (Sezierraum). SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims undressed in the dressing room and walked into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility; signs in German said "To the baths" and "To disinfection". Some inmates were even given soap and a towel.
The Auschwitz camp complex has survived largely unchanged since its liberation in January 1945. The remaining camp buildings, structures and infrastructure are a silent witness to history, bearing testimony of the crime of genocide committed by the German Nazis. They are an inseparable part of a death factory organized with precision and ruthless consistency. The attributes that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property are truthfully and credibly expressed, and fully convey the value of the property.
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. 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. 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.
Various other German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own subcamps. There were around 40 or 50 such camps, 28 of them near industrial plants, each camp holding hundreds or thousands of prisoners. Designated as Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), or Arbeitslager (labor camp), camps were built at Blechhammer, Jawiszowice, Jaworzno, Lagisze, Mysłowice, Trzebinia, and centers as far afield as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia. Industries with satellite camps included coal mines, foundries and other metal works, and chemical plants. Prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming. Budy, for example, was a farming subcamp where prisoners worked 12-hour days, often in the fields, but sometimes tending animals, cleaning ponds, digging ditches, and making compost. Human ashes from the crematorium were mixed with sod and manure to make the compost. Incidents of sabotage to decrease production took place in several subcamps, including Charlottengrube, Gleiwitz II, and Rajsko.
The term "Nazi" was in use before the rise of the NSDAP as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backwards farmer or peasant, characterizing an awkward and clumsy person. In this sense, the word Nazi was a hypocorism of the German male name Ignatz (itself a variation of the name Ignatius) – Ignatz being a common name at the time in Bavaria, the area from which the NSDAP emerged.
The Reich Forestry Office under Göring enforced regulations that required foresters to plant a variety of trees to ensure suitable habitat for wildlife, and a new Reich Animal Protection Act became law in 1933. The regime enacted the Reich Nature Protection Act in 1935 to protect the natural landscape from excessive economic development. It allowed for the expropriation of privately owned land to create nature preserves and aided in long-range planning. Perfunctory efforts were made to curb air pollution, but little enforcement of existing legislation was undertaken once the war began.
On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire. Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda campaign that led to public support for the measure. Violent suppression of communists by the SA was undertaken nationwide and 4,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested.
In most camps, prisoners were forced to wear identifying overalls with colored badges according to their categorization: red triangles for Communists and other political prisoners, green triangles for common criminals, pink triangles for homosexual men, purple triangles for Jehovah's Witnesses, black triangles for asocials and the "work shy", yellow triangle for Jews, and later the brown triangle for Romanis.