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 escapees included 396 Polish men and 10 Polish women; 164 men from the Soviet Union (including 50 prisoners of war), and 15 women; 112 Jewish men and three Jewish women; 36 Romani/Sinti men and two women; 22 German men and nine women; 19 Czech men and four women; two Austrians; one Yugoslav woman and one man; and 15 other men and one woman.
Selections for transit were a regular feature at Westerbork. Each Monday evening a train of about 20 cattle wagons would arrive at the camp. A list of one thousand people would be compiled by the Jewish council, which was made up of leaders of the community appointed by the Nazis and forced to carry out the Nazis’ orders. Early on the Tuesday morning those selected would assemble for deportation. After a roll call, they would enter the trains, at least 50 to each wagon, a bucket of water at one end and an empty one for use as a toilet at the other. The doors would close before the train departed for the long journey to the intended destination.
We lived in Bótrágy, a very small, mostly poor town in Czechoslovakia with a population of approximately 1,000 mainly farming families, including about 10 Jewish families. The town was a typical low-income community with a tailor, a shoemaker, a grocery store, where people struggled to get by, but where everyone knew each other and there was easy communication between the neighbours, though that didn’t mean we were equal.
During war, civilians have been concentrated in camps to prevent them from engaging in guerrilla warfare or providing aid to enemy forces or simply as a means of terrorizing the populace into submission. During the South African War (1899–1902) the British confined noncombatants of the republics of Transvaal and Cape Colony in concentration camps. Another instance of interning noncombatant civilians occurred shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the United States (December 7, 1941), when more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were taken into custody and placed in camps in the interior.
In November 2007, the Anne Frank tree—by then infected with a fungal disease affecting the tree trunk—was scheduled to be cut down to prevent it from falling on the surrounding buildings. Dutch economist Arnold Heertje said about the tree: "This is not just any tree. The Anne Frank tree is bound up with the persecution of the Jews." The Tree Foundation, a group of tree conservationists, started a civil case to stop the felling of the horse chestnut, which received international media attention. A Dutch court ordered city officials and conservationists to explore alternatives and come to a solution. The parties built a steel construction that was expected to prolong the life of the tree up to 15 years. However, it was only three years later, on 23 August 2010, that gale-force winds blew down the tree. Eleven saplings from the tree were distributed to museums, schools, parks and Holocaust remembrance centres through a project led by the Anne Frank Center USA. The first sapling was planted in April 2013 at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Saplings were also sent to a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the scene of a desegregation battle; Liberty Park (Manhattan), which honours victims of the September 11 attacks; and other sites in the United States. Another horse chestnut tree honoring Frank was planted in 2010 at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
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.
If, up to now, we had interpreted our fate only as a privation of liberty, our experience changed rapidly. We had to jump down from the truck without the aid of a chair, and the request for a helping hand was denied with abuse. One of our comrades, an older man lacking the agility of youth, fell in this enforced jump and hurt the back of his head so badly that his skin had to be sewed with several stitches. Hardly were we standing on the ground when a pack of young men in S.S. uniforms, with yells and abuse, chased us to the other end of the large, inner, so-called inspection ground, which is surrounded by the barracks of the prisoners. Those who couldn't run fast enough were kicked.
The Zyklon B was delivered by ambulance to the crematoria by a special SS bureau known as the Hygienic Institute. The actual delivery of the gas to the victims was always handled by the SS, on the order of the supervising SS doctor. After the doors were shut, SS men dumped in the Zyklon B pellets through vents in the roof or holes in the side of the chamber. The victims were dead within 20 minutes. Despite the thick concrete walls, screaming and moaning from within could be heard outside. In one failed attempt to muffle the noise, two motorcycle engines were revved up to full throttle nearby, but the sound of yelling could still be heard over the engines.
Here’s how much some people dislike living Jews: They murdered six million of them. Anne Frank’s writings do not describe this process. Readers know that the author was a victim of genocide, but that does not mean they are reading a work about genocide. If that were her subject, it is unlikely that those writings would have been universally embraced.
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. The death camps, in which more than one and a half million Jews were gassed—at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka—were never officially part of the K.L. system. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.L., set up in June, 1940, to house Polish prisoners. The first people to be gassed there, in September, 1941, were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in 1943, after other camps closed. The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
The prisoners' days began at 4:30 am for the men (an hour later in winter), and earlier for the women, when the block supervisor sounded a gong and started beating inmates with sticks to encourage them to wash and use the latrines quickly. Sanitary arrangements were atrocious, with few latrines and a lack of clean water. Each washhouse had to service thousands of prisoners. In sectors BIa and BIb in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, two buildings containing latrines and washrooms were installed in 1943. These contained troughs for washing and 90 faucets; the toilet facilities were "sewage channels" covered by concrete with 58 holes for seating. There were three barracks with washing facilities or toilets to serve 16 residential barracks in BIIa, and six washrooms/latrines for 32 barracks in BIIb, BIIc, BIId, and BIIe. Primo Levi described a 1944 Auschwitz III washroom:
Racism and antisemitism were basic tenets of the NSDAP and the Nazi regime. Nazi Germany's racial policy was based on their belief in the existence of a superior master race. The Nazis postulated the existence of a racial conflict between the Aryan master race and inferior races, particularly Jews, who were viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated society and were responsible for the exploitation and repression of the Aryan race.
Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism, rounding up functionaries of the Catholic-aligned Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party, which along with all other non-Nazi political parties ceased to exist by July. The Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, amid continuing harassment of the church in Germany. The treaty required the regime to honour the independence of Catholic institutions and prohibited clergy from involvement in politics. Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped-up charges of currency smuggling or immorality. Several Catholic leaders were targeted in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives assassinations. Most Catholic youth groups refused to dissolve themselves and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach encouraged members to attack Catholic boys in the streets. Propaganda campaigns claimed the church was corrupt, restrictions were placed on public meetings and Catholic publications faced censorship. Catholic schools were required to reduce religious instruction and crucifixes were removed from state buildings.
A new English translation of the Diary, published in 1995, contains material that was edited out of the original version, which makes the revised translation nearly one-third longer than the first. The Frank family’s hiding place on the Prinsengracht, a canal in Amsterdam, became a museum that is consistently among the city’s most-visited tourist sites.
The Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande ("race defilement") to justify the need for racial laws. In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws initially prohibited sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring". The law also forbade the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of "German or related blood" could be citizens. Thus Jews and other non-Aryans were stripped of their German citizenship. The law also permitted the Nazis to deny citizenship to anyone who was not supportive enough of the regime. A supplementary decree issued in November defined as Jewish anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if the Jewish faith was followed.
But some characteristics are more pertinent. Schneidermann’s analysis begins with the St. Louis, the ship that carried around a thousand mostly German and Austrian Jewish refugees across the Atlantic in May, 1939, only to see its passengers refused entry into both the U.S. and Cuba. (At the time, the newspapers reported that the U.S. had fulfilled an annual quota for German and Austrian immigrants, a claim that was later revealed to be likely false.) Viewed from the distance of eighty years, the tone of the coverage seems, to Schneidermann, woefully insufficient. He cites the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s encyclopedia entry for the event, which notes, “though US newspapers generally portrayed the plight of the passengers with great sympathy, only a few journalists and editors suggested that the refugees be admitted into the United States.” Schneidermann compares this to the media’s more admirable response to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” in 2017, which sent a mass of journalists to airports across the U.S. to tell the stories of people—stranded and separated from their families—whose rights had been violated.
The first gas chamber at Birkenau was in what prisoners called the "little red house" (known as bunker 1 by the SS), a brick cottage that had been converted into a gassing facility. The windows were bricked up and its four rooms converted into two insulated rooms, the doors of which said "Zur Desinfektion" ("to disinfection"). It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, the "little white house" or bunker 2, was converted and operational by June 1942. When Himmler visited the camp on 17 and 18 July 1942, he was given a demonstration of a selection of Dutch Jews, a mass killing in a gas chamber in bunker 2, and a tour of the building site of the new IG Farben plant being constructed at the nearby town of Monowitz.
In May 1940, the Germans, who had entered World War II in September of the previous year, invaded the Netherlands and quickly made life increasingly restrictive and dangerous for Jewish people there. Between the summer of 1942 and September 1944, the Nazis and their Dutch collaborators deported more than 100,000 Jews in Holland to extermination camps.
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.
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.
Adolf Hitler replaces elected officials in state governments with Nazi appointees. One of the first steps in establishing centralized Nazi control in Germany is the elimination of state governments. Hermann Goering, a leading Nazi, becomes minister-president of Prussia, the largest German state. By 1935, state administrations are transferred to the central government in Berlin.
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party won the federal election, Edith Frank and the children went to stay with Edith's mother Rosa in Aachen. Otto Frank remained in Frankfurt, but after receiving an offer to start a company in Amsterdam, he moved there to organize the business and to arrange accommodations for his family. He began working at the Opekta Works, a company that sold the fruit extract pectin, and found an apartment on the Merwedeplein (Merwede Square) in the Rivierenbuurt neighbourhood of Amsterdam. By February 1934, Edith and the children had joined him in Amsterdam. The Franks were among 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939.
Goods and raw materials were also taken. In France, an estimated 9,000,000 tonnes (8,900,000 long tons; 9,900,000 short tons) of cereals were seized during the course of the war, including 75 percent of its oats. In addition, 80 percent of the country's oil and 74 percent of its steel production were taken. The valuation of this loot is estimated to be 184.5 billion francs. In Poland, Nazi plunder of raw materials began even before the German invasion had concluded.
Directly subjected to the Führer were the Reichsleiter ("Reich Leader(s)"—the singular and plural forms are identical in German), whose number was gradually increased to eighteen. They held power and influence comparable to the Reich Ministers' in Hitler's Cabinet. The eighteen Reichsleiter formed the "Reich Leadership of the Nazi Party" (Reichsleitung der NSDAP), which was established at the so-called Brown House in Munich. Unlike a Gauleiter, a Reichsleiter did not have individual geographic areas under their command, but were responsible for specific spheres of interest.
The first German concentration camps were established in 1933 for the confinement of opponents of the Nazi Party—Communists and Social Democrats. Political opposition soon was enlarged to include minority groups, chiefly Jews, but by the end of World War II many Roma, homosexuals, and anti-Nazi civilians from the occupied territories had also been liquidated. After the outbreak of World War II the camp inmates were used as a supplementary labour supply, and such camps mushroomed throughout Europe. Inmates were required to work for their wages in food; those unable to work usually died of starvation, and those who did not starve often died of overwork. The most shocking extension of this system was the establishment after 1940 of extermination centres, or “death camps.” They were located primarily in Poland, which Adolf Hitler had selected as the setting for his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” The most notorious were Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. (See extermination camp.) At some camps, notably Buchenwald, medical experimentation was conducted. New toxins and antitoxins were tried out, new surgical techniques devised, and studies made of the effects of artificially induced diseases, all by experimenting on living human beings.
We had a quiet life until the day they took 1,000 Jews away from my village of Czemierniki, a typical Polish village with a big square around which community life took place. My father was a bootmaker, my mother was a seamstress and everyone worked hard. There was always some antisemitism, but it was mainly fairly harmless, consisting of kids at our school who during religious education taunted the five or six Jewish kids in the class with “Jews killed Jesus.”
The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose intended to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”
In the Soviet Union by 1922 there were 23 concentration camps for the incarceration of persons accused of political offenses as well as criminal offenses. Many corrective labour camps were established in northern Russia and Siberia, especially during the First Five-Year Plan, 1928–32, when millions of rich peasants were driven from their farms under the collectivization program. The Stalinist purges of 1936–38 brought additional millions into the camps—said to be essentially institutions of slavery.
This debacle did not discourage Himmler and Pohl. On the contrary, with the coming of war, in 1939, S.S. ambitions for the camps grew rapidly, along with their prisoner population. On the eve of the war, the entire K.L. system contained only about twenty-one thousand prisoners; three years later, the number had grown to a hundred and ten thousand, and by January, 1945, it was more than seven hundred thousand. New camps were built to accommodate the influx of prisoners from conquered countries and then the tens of thousands of Red Army soldiers taken prisoner in the first months after Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the U.S.S.R.
Hitler ruled Germany autocratically by asserting the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"), which called for absolute obedience of all subordinates. He viewed the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex. Party rank was not determined by elections, and positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank. The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler. Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator. Roger Gill states: "His moving speeches captured the minds and hearts of a vast number of the German people: he virtually hypnotized his audiences".
Günther emphasized Jews' Near Eastern racial heritage. Günther identified the mass conversion of the Khazars to Judaism in the 8th century as creating the two major branches of the Jewish people, those of primarily Near Eastern racial heritage became the Ashkenazi Jews (that he called Eastern Jews) while those of primarily Oriental racial heritage became the Sephardi Jews (that he called Southern Jews). Günther claimed that the Near Eastern type was composed of commercially spirited and artful traders, that the type held strong psychological manipulation skills which aided them in trade. He claimed that the Near Eastern race had been "bred not so much for the conquest and exploitation of nature as it had been for the conquest and exploitation of people". Günther believed that European peoples had a racially motivated aversion to peoples of Near Eastern racial origin and their traits, and as evidence of this he showed multiple examples of depictions of satanic figures with Near Eastern physiognomies in European art.
Our British liberators were amazing – they were heroes for me in the real sense of the word. After their long battle to reach Belsen, they had a campaign to organise a rescue mission. To this day I’m aghast that they were so saintly. They brought little ambulances in and drove around picking us up. I was trembling and virtually lifeless, lying near the barracks, the stench of corpses everywhere, and unable to walk or lift myself up, when they arrived with a little ambulance. I don’t think I was able to talk to the soldier who approached me, my comprehension had long gone, but I remember the gentleness in him. We couldn’t eat and I remember fainting when I tried to get out of bed. Gradually they administered the food, but I didn’t trust anyone and I hid the food in my bed, afraid that they would suddenly take it away. Even now I feel that sense at every meal time of how lucky I am, and I often say to those at the table: “Isn’t this wonderful?” and “ Aren’t we lucky?”
Then there is the severe yet largely hidden repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, where as many as one million are reported to be held in modern concentration camps. — Michael Auslin, WSJ, "Backlash Builds Against Beijing," 30 Oct. 2018 Starting in March, a variety of killing centers opened including Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II, separate from the original concentration camp known as Treblinka. — David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Study Shows Precisely How Nazi Infrastructure Enabled the Worst of the Holocaust," 2 Jan. 2019 Niemöller earned his reputation for defiance with eight years (1937 to 1945) in Moabit prison then Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. — Doris Bergen, WSJ, "‘Then They Came for Me’ Review: Germany’s Tortured Conscience," 7 Dec. 2018 The six pillars feature quotes from figures like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and Philadelphia native and concentration camp liberator Leon Bass. — Kristen De Groot, The Seattle Times, "1st US public Holocaust memorial merges past with new tech," 22 Oct. 2018 We were enslaved in Egypt, tortured and murdered during the Spanish Inquisition, slaughtered throughout the Crusades, thrown into concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. — Carolyn Twersky, Seventeen, "Moving On and Making a Difference in the Wake of the Tree of Life Shooting," 2 Nov. 2018 Their efforts to eradicate homosexuality left gay men subject to imprisonment, castration, institutionalization and deportation to concentration camps. — Lisa J. Huriash, southflorida.com, "Museum documents persecution of gays in Nazi Germany," 10 July 2018 In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and in Katowice, S.S. officers came to round up Jews to take to concentration camps like Auschwitz. — Erin Coulehan, Glamour, "A Holocaust Survivor Reflects on the Lasting Impact of Family Separation and Deportation," 28 June 2018 The 80-year-old Hungarian native had come face to face with evil once before, in a Nazi concentration camp. — Allen G. Breed, The Seattle Times, "Holocaust survivor faces evil, cheats death for second time," 30 Oct. 2018
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As the German economy developed, the country began to suffer labour shortages. The concentration camp population was used to fill this void. After the Anschluss, thousands of Austrian Jews recently forced out of employment, non-Jewish ‘asocials’ and opponents of the Nazis were rounded up and used as a freely available source of forced labour. Many of these would provide the much-needed human resources to produce weapons, vehicles and goods for the German war effort.
From as early as 1934, concentration camp commandants used prisoners as forced laborers for SS construction projects such as the construction or expansion of the camps themselves. By 1938, SS leaders envisioned using the supply of forced laborers incarcerated in the camps for a variety of SS-commissioned construction projects. To mobilize and finance such projects, Himmler revamped and expanded the administrative offices of the SS and created a new SS office for business operations. Both agencies were led by SS Major General Oswald Pohl, who would take over the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in 1942.
Stos said he survived by making himself useful. Prisoners had a better chance of staying alive if they worked under a roof—in a kitchen or an administration building—or had a skill, such as training in medicine or engineering, that made them hard to replace. “The hunger was hellish, and if you could work you could get something to eat,” Stos said. Having grown up in the countryside, he could do a little bit of everything, from pouring concrete to cutting grass. I pressed him for details of his time in the camp, but he spoke only of the work. “I had eight different professions at Auschwitz,” he said. “I knew how to take care of myself. I avoided the worst of it.”
Germany and Europe as a whole was almost totally dependent on foreign oil imports. In an attempt to resolve the shortage, in June 1942 Germany launched Fall Blau ("Case Blue"), an offensive against the Caucasian oilfields. The Red Army launched a counter-offensive on 19 November and encircled the Axis forces, who were trapped in Stalingrad on 23 November. Göring assured Hitler that the 6th Army could be supplied by air, but this turned out to be infeasible. Hitler's refusal to allow a retreat led to the deaths of 200,000 German and Romanian soldiers; of the 91,000 men who surrendered in the city on 31 January 1943, only 6,000 survivors returned to Germany after the war.
By 1940, the CCI came under the control of the Verwaltung und Wirtschaftshauptamt Hauptamt (VuWHA; Administration and Business office) which was set up under Oswald Pohl. Then in 1942, the CCI became Amt D (Office D) of the consolidated main office known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Department; WVHA) under Pohl. In 1942, the SS built a network of extermination camps to systematically kill millions of prisoners by gassing. The extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) and death camps (Todeslager) were camps whose primary function was genocide. The Nazis themselves distinguished the concentration camps from the extermination camps. The British intelligence service had information about the concentration camps, and in 1942 Jan Karski delivered a thorough eyewitness account to the government.