After a fortnight we were able to use the money which we had brought in or was sent to us, and it became possible to complete and improve our diet from the canteen at our own expense. We were lined up in rows exactly in the order of our prison numbers, which had been sewed in black on white on our clothes. (This also is penitentiary procedure, for an inmate of the penitentiary is not an individual any more, but only a numbered being without a name.) Then we were led into the barracks where an S.S. man sitting behind a sort of teller's window disbursed the desired sum, up to fifteen marks a week. Somehow I must have transgressed against the military discipline in this procedure. I presume that I had my cap in the wrong hand. Instead of the money I received a violent blow on the back of my hand with a heavy stick which was lying next to the paymaster on his table, obviously for such purposes. Many weeks after this experience the back of my hand was still painful and swollen.
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.
Beyond that they tried personal defamation. One of our companions was asked by an S. S. man whether he had been a soldier and what rank he had held in the war. He answered, 'Lieutenant.' The S. S. man said, 'But you were only behind the lines.' 'No,' replied our companion, 'I was at the front.' 'I command you to answer this question with "behind the lines,"' the S. S. man corrected him; 'German history would lie if Jews had actually been at the front, so where were you?' And the old soldier, who had come back decorated with high medals from the war in which he had fought and bled for his German fatherland, was forced to answer, 'Behind the lines.'
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.
Auschwitz didn’t long remain a camp exclusively for Poles. In June 1941, Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, taking three million prisoners over the next seven months. Many were starved to death. Others were sent to occupied Poland or Germany as slave laborers. In the fall of 1941, ten thousand prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz and began building the Birkenau camp.
During the next two months, some fifty thousand people were arrested on this basis, in what turned into a “frenzy” of political purges and score-settling. In the legal murk of the early Nazi regime, it was unclear who had the power to make such arrests, and so it was claimed by everyone: national, state, and local officials, police and civilians, Party leaders. “Everybody is arresting everybody,” a Nazi official complained in the summer of 1933. “Everybody threatens everybody with Dachau.” As this suggests, it was already clear that the most notorious and frightening destination for political detainees was the concentration camp built by Himmler at Dachau, in Bavaria. The prisoners were originally housed in an old munitions factory, but soon Himmler constructed a “model camp,” the architecture and organization of which provided the pattern for most of the later K.L. The camp was guarded not by police but by members of the S.S.—a Nazi Party entity rather than a state force.
When I returned this past autumn, the hair was a barely differentiated mass of gray, more like wool than human locks. Only the occasional braid signaled the remnants of something unprecedented and awful—the site where the Third Reich perpetrated the largest mass murder in human history. At least 1.1 million people were killed here, most within hours of their arrival.
Born in Baden-Baden in 1900, SS Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss became the first commandant of Auschwitz when the camp was founded in April 1940, living with his wife and children in a villa just outside the camp grounds. Appointed by Heinrich Himmler, he served until 11 November 1943, when he became director of Office DI of the SS-Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Business and Administration Head Office or WVHA) in Oranienburg. This post made Höss deputy of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, under SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks. He returned to Auschwitz between 8 May and 29 July 1944 as commander of the SS garrison (Standortältester) to oversee the arrival of Hungary's Jews, a post that made him the superior officer of all the commandants of the Auschwitz camps.
In her introduction to the diary's first American edition, Eleanor Roosevelt described it as "one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read." John F. Kennedy discussed Anne Frank in a 1961 speech, and said, "Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank." In the same year, the Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg wrote of her: "one voice speaks for six million—the voice not of a sage or a poet but of an ordinary little girl."
We know this because there is no shortage of texts from victims and survivors who chronicled the fact in vivid detail, and none of those documents has achieved anything like the fame of Frank’s diary. Those that have come close have only done so by observing the same rules of hiding, the ones that insist on polite victims who don’t insult their persecutors. The work that came closest to achieving Frank’s international fame might be Elie Wiesel’s Night, a memoir that could be thought of as a continuation of Frank’s experience, recounting the tortures of a 15-year-old imprisoned in Auschwitz. As the scholar Naomi Seidman has discussed, Wiesel first published his memoir in Yiddish, under the title And the World Kept Silent. The Yiddish book told the same story, but it exploded with rage against his family’s murderers and, as the title implies, the entire world whose indifference (or active hatred) made those murders possible. With the help of the French Catholic Nobel laureate François Mauriac, Wiesel later published a French version of the book under the title Night—a work that repositioned the young survivor’s rage into theological angst. After all, what reader would want to hear about how his society had failed, how he was guilty? Better to blame God. This approach did earn Wiesel a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a spot in Oprah’s Book Club, the American epitome of grace. It did not, however, make teenage girls read his book in Japan, the way they read Frank’s. For that he would have had to hide much, much more.
Special “political units on alert” (Politische Bereitschaften) originally guarded the SS concentration camps. They were renamed “SS Guard Units” (SS-Wachverbände) in 1935 and “SS Death's-Head Units” (SS-Totenkopfverbände) in April 1936. One SS Death's-Head Unit was assigned to each concentration camp. After 1936, the camp administration, including the commandant, was also a part of the SS Death's-Head Unit.
Upon arrival in Gliwice and Wodzislaw, the prisoners were put on unheated freight trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany, particularly to Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and also to Mauthausen in Austria. The rail journey lasted for days. Without food, water, shelter, or blankets, many prisoners did not survive the transport.
When I returned this past autumn, the hair was a barely differentiated mass of gray, more like wool than human locks. Only the occasional braid signaled the remnants of something unprecedented and awful—the site where the Third Reich perpetrated the largest mass murder in human history. At least 1.1 million people were killed here, most within hours of their arrival.
Thomas Keneally tells in his famous book Schindler's Ark how the women were marched naked to a quartermaster's hut where they were handed the clothes of the dead. Half dead themselves, dressed in rags, they were packed tight into the darkness of freight cars. But the Schindler-women with their heads cropped, many too ill, too hollowed out, to be easily recognised - the Schindler-women giggled like schoolgirls. One of the women, Clara Sternberg, heard an SS guard ask a colleague: 'What's Schindler going to do with all the old women?' 'It's no one's business,' the colleague said. 'Let him open an old people's home if he wants.'
The food was probably sufficient as far as quantity goes, although our younger companions, who had to work very hard, could not satisfy their appetites. Besides the so-called Komissbrot (a dark bread baked for use in the army), which was difficult to digest for the city dweller not accustomed to hard physical labor, we usually had thick soups of leguminous plants or potatoes, with lumps of whale meat which, as far as I could find out, came in cans and tasted something like pork. However, it had nothing of the oily taste that might have been expected. Occasionally we had sweet milk soups with tapioca for breakfast, and for noon evening meal we had sandwiches with usage, cheese, margarine, and jam. It is an open question whether the decided loss in weight of many prisoners was due to the unusual food or to the mental depression. Food so poor in vitamins, however, must cause harm if taken for a long space of time.
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials, and museums. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II. In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.
The orders for the final evacuation and liquidation of the camp were issued in mid-January 1945. The Germans left behind in the main Auschwitz camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long; the rest, approximately 58,000 people, were evacuated by foot into the depths of the Third Reich.
However, this regulation was soon waived and there is ample evidence that full Nazi Party members served in the Wehrmacht in particular after the outbreak of World War II. The Wehrmacht Reserves also saw a high number of senior Nazis enlisting, with Reinhard Heydrich and Fritz Todt joining the Luftwaffe, as well as Karl Hanke who served in the army.
Historian Michael Burleigh claims that Nazism used Christianity for political purposes, but such use required that "fundamental tenets were stripped out, but the remaining diffuse religious emotionality had its uses". Burleigh claims that Nazism's conception of spirituality was "self-consciously pagan and primitive". However, historian Roger Griffin rejects the claim that Nazism was primarily pagan, noting that although there were some influential neo-paganists in the Nazi Party, such as Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg, they represented a minority and their views did not influence Nazi ideology beyond its use for symbolism. It is noted that Hitler denounced Germanic paganism in Mein Kampf and condemned Rosenberg's and Himmler's paganism as "nonsense".
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.
At the bottom of the K.L. hierarchy, even below the criminals, were the Jews. Today, the words “concentration camp” immediately summon up the idea of the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews by the Nazis; and we tend to think of the camps as the primary sites of that genocide. In fact, as Wachsmann writes, as late as 1942 “Jews made up fewer than five thousand of the eighty thousand KL inmates.” There had been a temporary spike in the Jewish inmate population in November, 1938, after Kristallnacht, when the Nazis rounded up tens of thousands of Jewish men. But, for most of the camps’ first decade, Jewish prisoners had usually been sent there not for their religion, per se, but for specific offenses, such as political dissent or illicit sexual relations with an Aryan. Once there, however, they found themselves subject to special torments, ranging from running a gantlet of truncheons to heavy labor, like rock-breaking. As the chief enemies in the Nazi imagination, Jews were also the natural targets for spontaneous S.S. violence—blows, kicks, attacks by savage dogs.
^ Andrew Szanajda "The restoration of justice in postwar Hesse, 1945–1949" p. 25 "In practice, it signified intimidating the public through arbitrary psychological terror, operating like the courts of the Inquisition." "The Sondergerichte had a strong deterrent effect during the first years of their operation, since their rapid and severe sentencing was feared."
With Otto Frank's death in 1980, the original diary, including letters and loose sheets, was willed to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation, which commissioned a forensic study of the diary through the Netherlands Ministry of Justice in 1986. They examined the handwriting against known examples and found that they matched. They determined that the paper, glue, and ink were readily available during the time the diary was said to have been written. They concluded that the diary is authentic, and their findings were published in what has become known as the "Critical Edition" of the diary. In 1990, the Hamburg Regional Court confirmed the diary's authenticity.
By 1942, Auschwitz had mushroomed into a massive money-making complex that included the original camp, Birkenau (officially labeled Auschwitz II) and 40 sub-camps (mostly located in and around the nearby town of Oswiecim but some as far away as Czechoslovakia) set up to provide slave labor for chemical plants, coal mines, shoe factories and other ventures. In their eagerness to carry out orders, advance their careers and line their own pockets, mid-level bureaucrats like Höss implemented what came to be known as the Holocaust.
Whitman’s study covers the earliest period of the Nazi regime, before it arrived at its monstrous endpoint. The Nazis’ ideas were still being debated, discussed, and put into practice at this point. Since their beginnings on the fringes of German politics, the Nazis had advocated a program of racist nationalism; they were consumed by what Whitman calls Rassenwahn—“race madness.” It was this hysteria over race, and the single-minded focus on it, that distinguished Hitler and his party from other fascists and authoritarians. It was also why the Nazis looked to the United States for inspiration.
Criterion (vi): Auschwitz Birkenau, monument to the deliberate genocide of the Jews by the German Nazi regime and to the deaths of countless others, bears irrefutable evidence to one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. It is also a monument to the strength of the human spirit which in appalling conditions of adversity resisted the efforts of the German Nazi regime to suppress freedom and free thought and to wipe out whole races. The site is a key place of memory for the whole of humankind for the Holocaust, racist policies and barbarism; it is a place of our collective memory of this dark chapter in the history of humanity, of transmission to younger generations and a sign of warning of the many threats and tragic consequences of extreme ideologies and denial of human dignity.
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By the end of the war, the number of people who had died in the concentration camps, from all causes—starvation, sickness, exhaustion, beating, shooting, gassing—was more than eight hundred thousand. The figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of Jews gassed on arrival at Auschwitz. If the K.L. were indeed a battlefront, as the Death’s-Head S.S. liked to believe, the deaths, in the course of twelve years, roughly equalled the casualties sustained by the Axis during the Battle of Stalingrad, among the deadliest actual engagements of the war. But in the camps the Nazis fought against helpless enemies. Considered as prisons, too, the K.L. were paradoxical: it was impossible to correct or rehabilitate people whose very nature, according to Nazi propaganda, was criminal or sick. And as economic institutions they were utterly counterproductive, wasting huge numbers of lives even as the need for workers in Germany became more and more acute.
Officials and lawyers in the Third Reich were also intrigued by anti-miscegenation statutes, because the policing of sex was necessary to cleanse the Aryan race. Hitler, who had been largely asexual during his crucial years as a failing painter in Vienna, was obsessed with sex and blood. The United States at the time was a global leader in banning mixed marriages, going so far as to criminally punish those who defied the law. (Many of these laws were not struck down in the United States until the Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia case.) The Prussian Memorandum explicitly invoked U.S. laws that promoted segregation to maintain racial purity, and the sexual morality of white women in particular. Similarly, the third Nuremburg Law expressly forbid marriages and extra-marital relations between Germans and Jews, and promised hard labor in prison for law-breakers. The more one reads about the American and Nazi fixation on race, the more evident it becomes that at the very core of racist ideology is a primal fear of sexual inadequacy, of pollution, of mixing. Racial nationalism, the ideology of the Nazis, took this idea to its logical end.
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.
Upon being appointed Chancellor in 1933, Hitler promised measures to increase employment, protect the German currency, and promote recovery from the Great Depression. These included an agrarian settlement program, labor service, and a guarantee to maintain health care and pensions. But above all, his priority was rearmament, and the buildup of the German military in preparation for an eventual war to conquer Lebensraum in the East. Thus, at the beginning of his rule, Hitler said that “the future of Germany depends exclusively and only on the reconstruction of the Wehrmacht. All other tasks must cede precedence to the task of rearmament.” This policy was implemented immediately, with military expenditures quickly growing far larger than the civilian work-creation programs. As early as June 1933, military spending for the year was budgeted to be three times larger than the spending on all civilian work-creation measures in 1932 and 1933 combined. Nazi Germany increased its military spending faster than any other state in peacetime, with the share of military spending rising from 1 percent to 10 percent of national income in the first two years of the regime alone. Eventually, by 1944, it reached as high as 75 percent.
After the liquidation of the Polish state and its institutions, the fundamental goal of German policy in occupied Poland was the exploitation of material and labor resources, and the removal of the local Polish population and ethnic minorities. This was done through expulsion and systematic extermination. The Polish lands were to be completely germanized, through German settlement in the depopulated area.
Auschwitz is enshrined in history in part because, as a work camp, there were survivors. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was a 14-year-old Jewish cello student living in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) when the war broke out. Two years later, she and her sister Renate were sent to work in a nearby paper factory. In 1942, after the Germans deported her parents to a death camp, the sisters doctored their identity papers and tried to escape.
I married a Polish Jew and we settled in Germany, the “Täterland” – the land of the perpetrator – after being forced out of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring in 1968. It does sometimes feel like a strange decision to live in Germany because the Holocaust is just so omnipresent here and there is a growing antisemitism that scares me, especially when you feel it in Germany, of all places, which is why I always repeat what Primo Levi wrote: “What happened can happen again.”
Up to this point, Auschwitz accounted for only 11 percent of the victims of the 'Final Solution'. However, in August 1942, planning began for the construction of four large-scale gassing facilities. It appears from the plans that the first two gas chambers were adapted from mortuaries which, with the huge crematoria attached to them, were initially intended to cope with mortalities amongst the slave labor force in the camp, now approaching 100,000 and subject to a horrifying death rate. But from the autumn of 1942, it seems clear that the SS planners and civilian contractors were intending to build a mass-murder plant.
Similar to the Trump administration’s apparent hope that the breakup of families would deter unwanted migration, the British sought to deter Boer fighters. British parliamentarians critical of the policy labelled these “concentration camps,” alluding to the Spanish policy of the “reconcentration” of civilians during the Spanish-American War (1898).
The pictures only came to light 25 years ago and, despite them showing moments from around 45 years before that, they completely captured the entire experience as it had been in my mind all that time. I was dumbfounded and devastated, having had no idea they existed, and I have spent literally hundreds of hours scouring them, trying to find my father and brother. The pictures have reassured me that I was not imagining it all, as I sometimes thought I might have done.
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 a mother did not want to be separated from her thirteen-year-old daughter, and bit and scratched the face of the SS man who tried to force her to her assigned line, Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and the child. As a blanket punishment, he sent to the gas chamber all people from that transport who had previously been selected for work, with the comment: Away with this shit!
This stunning historical episode is faithfully rendered in James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model, a slim but consequential report on the banality of lawful evil. Whitman is a professor of comparative and criminal law at Yale Law School. (Full disclosure: I was a student in his legal history class, although we never interacted.) In his book, he asks one of those dangerous intellectual questions that are so pressing in the current political era: How could the United States, the land of liberty and constitutional republicanism, have influenced the most racist and genocidal regime of the twentieth century? Given the neo-Nazis marching in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Chemnitz, Germany, along with the mélange of fellow-travelers on the fascist spectrum—white nationalists, the alt-right—Whitman’s investigation feels urgent. He wants to know what, if anything, the United States taught the Nazis, and what this in turn says about the United States.
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It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and before long his energy and oratorical skills would enable him to take over the party, which was renamed National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1920. That year Hitler also formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic gambit designed to attract support from the working class. By 1921 Hitler had ousted the party’s other leaders and taken over.
An inmate's first encounter with the camp, if they were being registered and not sent straight to the gas chamber, would be at the prisoner reception centre, where they were tattooed, shaved, disinfected, and given their striped prison uniform. Built between 1942 and 1944, the center contained a bathhouse, laundry, and 19 gas chambers for delousing clothes. Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt write that inmates would then leave this area via a porch that faced the gate with the Arbeit macht frei sign. The prisoner reception center of Auschwitz I became the visitor reception center of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
The Nazi Party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against the communist uprisings in post-World War I Germany. The party was created to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although this was later downplayed to gain the support of business leaders, and in the 1930s the party's main focus shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes.
Modern Germany fundamentally rejects, and assumes complete responsibility for, the heinous crimes committed under the Third Reich. The Nazis occupy a uniquely menacing place in the Western imagination, the embodiment of humanity’s darkest instincts for racial hatred and barbarism—what Hannah Arendt called “radical evil” in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Whitman uses the word Nefandum, “an abyss of unexampled modern horror against which we can define ourselves.” It is appropriate to be wary of invoking the Nazis, especially in an online environment that has turned the words “Hitler” and “Nazi” into clichés, devaluing their meaning and cheapening the historical lessons to be learned.
All of their clothes and any remaining personal belongings were taken from them and their hair was shorn completely off. They were given striped prison outfits and a pair of shoes, all of which were usually the wrong size. They were then registered, had their arms tattooed with a number, and transferred to one of Auschwitz's camps for forced labor.
I bought this book to prepare for a trip to the Anne Frank Museum. It was a sad but fascinating read - and when I got to the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam, I knew exactly what I was looking at, who slept where - and who all the individuals were that helped Anne, her family, and their companions survive for as long as they did. I think I got more out of the visit than I would have without reading this book.
SS officers, including the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, would conduct selections among these lines, sending most victims to one side and thus condemning them to death in the gas chambers. A minority was sent to the other side, destined for forced labor. Those who were sent to their deaths were killed that same day and their corpses were burnt in the crematoria. Those not sent to the gas chambers were taken to “quarantine,” where their hair was shaved, striped prison uniforms distributed, and registration took place. Prisoners’ individual registration numbers were tattooed onto their left arm.
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany. However, a majority of scholars identify Nazism in practice as being a far-right form of politics. When asked in an interview in 1934 whether the Nazis were "bourgeois right-wing" as alleged by their opponents, Hitler responded that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".
Those who were selected for work were set on a whole range of tasks. These included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp and heavy manual work. Some Jewish prisoners were put into units called Sonderkommandos, whose role was to work in the gas chambers and crematorium. They were kept apart from the rest of the camp prisoners, but were also sent to their deaths in the gas chambers after a few weeks or months of work.
It is badly lighted, full of draughts, with the brick floor covered by a layer of mud. The water is not drinkable; it has a revolting smell and often fails for many hours. The walls are covered by curious didactic frescoes: for example, there is the good Häftling [prisoner], portrayed stripped to the waist, about to diligently soap his sheared and rosy cranium, and the bad Häftling, with a strong Semitic nose and a greenish colour, bundled up in his ostentatiously stained clothes with a beret on his head, who cautiously dips a finger into the water of the washbasin. Under the first is written: "So bist du rein" (like this you are clean), and under the second, "So gehst du ein" (like this you come to a bad end); and lower down, in doubtful French but in Gothic script: "La propreté, c'est la santé" [cleanliness is health].
^ "Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism. … These organisations (ie Fascism and social democracy) are not antipodes, they are twins." (J.V. Stalin: Concerning the International Situation (September 1924), in Works, Volume 6, 1953; p. 294.) This later led Otto Wille Kuusinen to conclude that "The aims of the fascists and the social-fascists are the same." (Report To the 10th Plenum of ECCI, in International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no.40, (20 August 1929), p. 848.)
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.
Families, who had disembarked together, were quickly and brutally split up as an SS officer, usually, a Nazi doctor, ordered each individual into one of two lines. Most women, children, older men, and those that looked unfit or unhealthy were sent to the left; while most young men and others that looked strong enough to do hard labor were sent to the right.
Mindful that no mere visit can convey what the concentration camp was like when the Nazis ran it, I met with survivors. The week before I arrived in Krakow, I had called Jozef Stos, 89, to ask if he would discuss his years in captivity. “If I’m still alive then, sure—it’s my civic responsibility,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty darn old, you know.”
In June 1999, Time magazine published a special edition titled "Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century". Anne Frank was selected as one of the "Heroes & Icons", and the writer, Roger Rosenblatt, described her legacy with the comment, "The passions the book ignites suggest that everyone owns Anne Frank, that she has risen above the Holocaust, Judaism, girlhood and even goodness and become a totemic figure of the modern world—the moral individual mind beset by the machinery of destruction, insisting on the right to live and question and hope for the future of human beings." He notes that while her courage and pragmatism are admired, her ability to analyse herself and the quality of her writing are the key components of her appeal. He writes, "The reason for her immortality was basically literary. She was an extraordinarily good writer, for any age, and the quality of her work seemed a direct result of a ruthlessly honest disposition."
Between 1942 and 1944, the SS authorities at Auschwitz established 44 subcamps. Some of them were established within the officially designated “development” zone, including Budy, Rajsko, Tschechowitz, Harmense, and Babitz. Others, such as Blechhammer, Gleiwitz, Althammer, Fürstengrube, Laurahuette, and Eintrachthuette were located in Upper Silesia north and west of the Vistula River. Some subcamps, such as Freudenthal and Bruenn (Brno), were located in Moravia.
The Hitler cabinet used the terms of the Reichstag Fire Decree and later the Enabling Act to initiate the process of Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination"), which brought all aspects of life under party control. Individual states not controlled by elected Nazi governments or Nazi-led coalitions were forced to agree to the appointment of Reich Commissars to bring the states in line with the policies of the central government. These Commissars had the power to appoint and remove local governments, state parliaments, officials, and judges. In this way Germany became a de facto unitary state, with all state governments controlled by the central government under the NSDAP. The state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934, with all state powers being transferred to the central government.
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.
Returning to Auschwitz is going to be a cold, painful and tearful experience. It is a shadow that has always been with me and I’m hoping that by facing it for one last time at the age of 84 I will be able to live my life more peacefully, but I am extremely anxious. I lost my husband just days ago and I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to release my emotions when I’m there, as I’ve never really been able to cry much about anything. I’m comforted by the thought that there will be strength in numbers and that I’ll be there with perhaps 100 or so other survivors, which makes it easier. I would not go on my own. I appear to be a strong person, but inside I’m really quite fragile.
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.
That same day, Gestapo official SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer and two Dutch police collaborators arrested the Franks. The Gestapo sent them to Westerbork on Aug. 8. One month later, in September 1944, SS and police authorities placed the Franks, and the four others hiding with them, on a train transport from Westerbork to the Auschwitz camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Selected for labor due to their youth, Anne and her sister, Margot were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Celle, in northern Germany, in late October 1944.
Frank frequently wrote of her difficult relationship with her mother, and of her ambivalence towards her. On 7 November 1942 she described her "contempt" for her mother and her inability to "confront her with her carelessness, her sarcasm and her hard-heartedness," before concluding, "She's not a mother to me." Later, as she revised her diary, Frank felt ashamed of her harsh attitude, writing: "Anne, is it really you who mentioned hate, oh Anne, how could you?" She came to understand that their differences resulted from misunderstandings that were as much her fault as her mother's, and saw that she had added unnecessarily to her mother's suffering. With this realization, Frank began to treat her mother with a degree of tolerance and respect.
“Those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it...became messengers,” wrote Elie Wiesel, shown as a young man at left. “We have given the message and nothing changed.” Right: Buchenwald in April 1945. Elie Wiesel is in the second row, seventh from left. Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died, was also liberated that week. (Chicago Public Library; BuyEnlarge Archive / UIG / Bridgeman Images)
The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was the largest Communist Party in the world outside of the Soviet Union, until it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. In the 1920s and early 30s, Communists and Nazis often fought each other directly in street violence, with the Nazi paramilitary organizations being opposed by the Communist Red Front and Anti-Fascist Action. After the beginning of the Great Depression, both Communists and Nazis saw their share of the vote increase. However, while the Nazis were willing to form alliances with other parties of the right, the Communists refused to form an alliance with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the largest party of the left. After the Nazis came to power, they quickly banned the Communist Party under the allegation that it was preparing for revolution and that it had caused the Reichstag fire. Four thousand KPD officials were arrested in February 1933, and by the end of the year 130,000 communists had been sent to concentration camps.
The only people left behind in the camp were people deemed unfit for labor—those who were too ill or weak. An SS order came down to murder any prisoners who were left, and the SS killed about 700 prisoners in response. However, order at the camp was breaking down. SS officers began escaping themselves, and the strict hierarchy that had kept prisoners in line disappeared. Those officers who stayedburned documents in a last-ditch attempt to hide their crimes. Meanwhile, the prisoners who remained huddled in hospital beds and bunks and waited. A few others escaped as the remaining guards fled.
The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. Immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, boycotts of German Jews and acts of violence against them became ubiquitous, and legislation was passed excluding them from the civil service and certain professions, including the law.[a] Harassment and economic pressure were used to encourage them to leave Germany; their businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of government contracts.
Auschwitz originally was conceived as a concentration camp, to be used as a detention center for the many Polish citizens arrested after Germany annexed the country in 1939. These detainees included anti-Nazi activists, politicians, resistance members and luminaries from the cultural and scientific communities. Once Hitler’s Final Solution became official Nazi policy, however, Auschwitz was deemed an ideal death camp locale. For one thing, it was situated near the center of all German-occupied countries on the European continent. For another, it was in close proximity to the string of rail lines used to transport detainees to the network of Nazi camps.