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.
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.
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.
Through the 1920s, Hitler gave speech after speech in which he stated that unemployment, rampant inflation, hunger and economic stagnation in postwar Germany would continue until there was a total revolution in German life. Most problems could be solved, he explained, if communists and Jews were driven from the nation. His fiery speeches swelled the ranks of the Nazi Party, especially among young, economically disadvantaged Germans.
The impulse to separate some groups of people from the category of the human is, however, a universal one. The enemies we kill in war, the convicted prisoners we lock up for life, even the distant workers who manufacture our clothes and toys—how could any society function if the full humanity of all these were taken into account? In a decent society, there are laws to resist such dehumanization, and institutional and moral forces to protest it. When guards at Rikers Island beat a prisoner to death, or when workers in China making iPhones begin to commit suicide out of despair, we regard these as intolerable evils that must be cured. It is when a society decides that some people deserve to be treated this way—that it is not just inevitable but right to deprive whole categories of people of their humanity—that a crime on the scale of the K.L. becomes a possibility. It is a crime that has been repeated too many times, in too many places, for us to dismiss it with the simple promise of never again. ♦
The Nazis were initially very hostile to Catholics because most Catholics supported the German Centre Party. Catholics opposed the Nazis' promotion of compulsory sterilization of those whom they deemed inferior and the Catholic Church forbade its members to vote for the Nazis. In 1933, extensive Nazi violence occurred against Catholics due to their association with the Centre Party and their opposition to the Nazi regime's sterilization laws.[212] The Nazis demanded that Catholics declare their loyalty to the German state.[213] In their propaganda, the Nazis used elements of Germany's Catholic history, in particular the German Catholic Teutonic Knights and their campaigns in Eastern Europe. The Nazis identified them as "sentinels" in the East against "Slavic chaos", though beyond that symbolism, the influence of the Teutonic Knights on Nazism was limited.[214] Hitler also admitted that the Nazis' night rallies were inspired by the Catholic rituals which he had witnessed during his Catholic upbringing.[215] The Nazis did seek official reconciliation with the Catholic Church and they endorsed the creation of the pro-Nazi Catholic Kreuz und Adler, an organization which advocated a form of national Catholicism that would reconcile the Catholic Church's beliefs with Nazism.[213] On 20 July 1933, a concordat (Reichskonkordat) was signed between Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, which in exchange for acceptance of the Catholic Church in Germany required German Catholics to be loyal to the German state. The Catholic Church then ended its ban on members supporting the Nazi Party.[213]
Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.