Between 1938 and 1945 Hitler’s regime attempted to expand and apply the Nazi system to territories outside the German Reich. This endeavour was confined, in 1938, to lands inhabited by German-speaking populations, but in 1939 Germany began to subjugate non-German-speaking nationalities as well. Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, which initiated World War II, was the logical outcome of Hitler’s plans. His first years were spent in preparing the Germans for the approaching struggle for world control and in forging the military and industrial superiority that Germany would require to fulfill its ambitions. With mounting diplomatic and military successes, his aims grew in quick progression. The first was to unite all people of German descent within their historical homeland on the basis of “self-determination.” His next step foresaw the creation, through the military conquest of Poland and other Slavic nations to the east, of a Grosswirtschaftsraum (“large economic unified space”) or a Lebensraum (“living space”), which thereby would allow Germany to acquire sufficient territory to become economically self-sufficient and militarily impregnable. There the German master race, or Herrenvolk, would rule over a hierarchy of subordinate peoples and organize and exploit them with ruthlessness and efficiency. With the initial successes of the military campaigns of 1939–41, his plan was expanded into a vision of a hemispheric order that would embrace all of Europe, western Asia, and Africa and eventually the entire world.
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.
Carl Clauberg was put to trial in the Soviet Union and sentenced to 25 years. 7 years later, he was pardonned under the returnee arrangement between Bonn and Moscow and went back to West Germany. Upon returning he held a press conference and boasted of his scientific work at Auschwitz. After survivor groups protested, Clauberg was finally arrested in 1955 but died in August 1957, shortly before his trial should have started.
In April 1940, Rudolph Höss, who become the first commandant of Auschwitz, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim in Poland as a possible site for a concentration camp. Initially, the camp was meant to intimidate Poles to prevent them from protesting German rule and to serve as a prison for those who did resist. It was also perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia, which had once been a German region, with “pure Aryans.” When the plans for the camp were approved, the Nazi’s changed the name of the area to Auschwitz.
This intellectual preparation would probably not have been sufficient for the growth of Nazism in Germany but for that country’s defeat in World War I. The defeat and the resulting disillusionment, pauperization, and frustration—particularly among the lower middle classes—paved the way for the success of the propaganda of Hitler and the Nazis. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), the formal settlement of World War I drafted without German participation, alienated many Germans with its imposition of harsh monetary and territorial reparations. The significant resentment expressed toward the peace treaty gave Hitler a starting point. Because German representatives (branded the “November criminals” by National Socialists) agreed to cease hostilities and did not unconditionally surrender in the armistice of November 11, 1918, there was a widespread feeling—particularly in the military—that Germany’s defeat had been orchestrated by diplomats at the Versailles meetings. From the beginning, Hitler’s propaganda of revenge for this “traitorous” act, through which the German people had been “stabbed in the back,” and his call for rearmament had strong appeal within military circles, which regarded the peace only as a temporary setback in Germany’s expansionist program. The ruinous inflation of the German currency in 1923 wiped out the savings of many middle-class households and led to further public alienation and dissatisfaction.
The main camp population grew from 18,000 in December 1942 to 30,000 in March 1943. In July or August 1941, Himmler briefed Höss about the 'Final Solution'. On September 3th, 1941, Soviet POWs at the Auschwitz main camp were used in trials of the poison gas Zyklon-B. This poison gas was produced by the German company "Degesch" (Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Schädlingsbekämpfung). The were gassed in underground cells in Block 11. After this trial, a gas chamber was rigged-up just outside the main camp and in February 1942, two temporary gas chambers opened at Birkenau. The crematories were built by the German company "Topf & son" located at Erfurt.
When the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was liberated at around 3:30 p.m., and the main camp (Auschwitz I) two hours later. Items found by the Soviet soldiers included 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair. Primo Levi described seeing the first four Russian soldiers on horseback approach the camp at Monowitz, where he had been in the sick bay. The soldiers threw "strangely embarrassed glances at the sprawling bodies, at the battered huts and at us few still alive ...":
Nazi flags: The Nazi Party used a right-facing swastika as their symbol and the red and black colours were said to represent Blut und Boden ("blood and soil"). Another definition of the flag describes the colours as representing the ideology of National Socialism, the swastika representing the Aryan race and the Aryan nationalist agenda of the movement; white representing Aryan racial purity; and red representing the socialist agenda of the movement. Black, white and red were in fact the colours of the old North German Confederation flag (invented by Otto von Bismarck, based on the Prussian colours black and white and the red used by northern German states). In 1871, with the foundation of the German Reich the flag of the North German Confederation became the German Reichsflagge ("Reich flag"). Black, white and red became the colours of the nationalists through the following history (for example World War I and the Weimar Republic).
Despite the horrible conditions, prisoners in Auschwitz managed to resist the Nazis, including some instances of escape and armed resistance. In October 1944, members of the Sonderkommando, who worked in the crematoria, succeeded in killing several SS men and destroying one gas chamber. All of the rebels died, leaving behind diaries that provided authentic documentation of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz.
That same day, Gestapo official SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer and two Dutch police collaborators arrested the Franks; the Gestapo sent them to Westerbork transit camp on August 8. One month later, on September 4, 1944, SS and police authorities placed the Franks and the four others hiding with them on a train transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland.
Sessions’s characterization falls into a nether region between truth and falsehood. Perhaps his is the best comment to begin with precisely because it is a half-truth. Yes, after 1941, concentration camps held Jews to prevent them from leaving Germany — but also to consolidate them for extermination. However, for more than eight years earlier, the camps generally were used for the opposite purpose: to force Jews to emigrate from Germany by making life intolerable, in part by separating men from their families. This is precisely the kind of important historical nuance lost in the hysteria surrounding Trump’s callous immigration policy. There are valuable comparisons to be made, but they must be historically informed.
The Soviet troops found grisly evidence of the horror. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp. Millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children were discovered along with 6,350kg of human hair. The Auschwitz museum holds more than 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments.
There were factions within the Nazi Party, both conservative and radical. The conservative Nazi Hermann Göring urged Hitler to conciliate with capitalists and reactionaries. Other prominent conservative Nazis included Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Meanwhile, the radical Nazi Joseph Goebbels opposed capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core and he stressed the need for the party to emphasize both a proletarian and a national character. Those views were shared by Otto Strasser, who later left the Nazi Party in the belief that Hitler had allegedly betrayed the party's socialist goals by endorsing capitalism.
Although Nazism is often seen as a reactionary movement, it did not seek a return of Germany to the pre-Weimar monarchy, but instead looked much further back to a mythic halcyon Germany which never existed. It has also been seen – as it was by the German-American scholar Franz Leopold Neumann – as the result of a crisis of capitalism which manifested as a "totalitarian monopoly capitalism". In this view Nazism is a mass movement of the middle class which was in opposition to a mass movement of workers in socialism and its extreme form, Communism. Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher, however, argues that,
During the first half of July, Anne and her family hid in an apartment that would eventually hide four Dutch Jews as well—Hermann, Auguste, and Peter van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer. For two years, they lived in a secret attic apartment behind the office of the family-owned business at 263 Prinsengracht Street, which Anne referred to in her diary as the Secret Annex. Otto Frank's friends and colleagues, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Jan Gies, and Miep Gies, had helped to prepare the hiding place and smuggled food and clothing to the Franks at great risk to their own lives.
Ultimately, three SS guards were killed—one of whom was burned alive by the prisoners in the oven of Crematorium II—and 451 Sonderkommandos were killed. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but all were soon captured and executed, along with an additional group who had participated in the revolt. Crematorium IV was destroyed in the fighting. A group of prisoners in the gas chamber of Crematorium V was spared in the chaos.
Today, he is chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. Nothing, he says, can replace the actual site as a monument and memorial. “It’s great that you can go to a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “But no one died in Washington in the Holocaust. Here—here is a massive cemetery without gravestones. Here they spent their last moments, here they took their last steps, here they said their last prayers, here they said goodbye to their children. Here. This is the symbol of the Holocaust.”
Please remember that you are essentially visiting a mass grave site, as well as a site that has an almost incalculable meaning to a significant portion of the world's population. There are still many men and women alive today who survived their internment here, and many more who had loved ones murdered on these grounds, Jews and non-Jews alike. Please treat the site with the dignity and respect it solemnly deserves. Do not make jokes about the Holocaust or the Nazis. Do not deface the site by marking or scratching graffiti into structures. Pictures are permitted in outdoor areas, but remember this is a memorial rather than a tourist attraction, and there will undoubtedly be visitors who have a personal connection with the site, so be discreet with cameras.
In October 1944, the 'Sonderkommando' crew crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematories. In November Himmler ordered gassings to stop, and a 'cleanup' operation was inaugurated to conceal traces of the mass murder. In January 1945, the Germans evacuated 58,000 prisoners who could walk. They left behind in the main camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long.
Jews, Gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, asocials, criminals, and prisoners of war were gathered, stuffed into cattle cars on trains, and sent to Auschwitz. When the trains stopped at Auschwitz II: Birkenau, the newly arrived were told to leave all their belongings on board and were then forced to disembark from the train and gather upon the railway platform, known as "the ramp."
With the deportations from Hungary, the role of Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German plan to murder the Jews of Europe achieved its highest effectiveness. Between late April and early July 1944, approximately 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary. Of the nearly 426,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz, approximately 320,000 of them were sent directly to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They deployed approximately 110,000 at forced labor in the Auschwitz camp complex. The SS authorities transferred many of these Hungarian Jewish forced laborers within weeks of their arrival in Auschwitz to other concentration camps in Germany and Austria.
One day the Hungarian gendarmes came to our house and ransacked it. In 1944, the Nazis ordered all Jews living outside Budapest to be rounded up and placed in ghettoes. Then it was our turn and that was the day our misery truly began. In the spring of 1944 we were part of a contingent of 7,500 Jews who were corralled into a makeshift ghetto in the Bungur forest. We had to wear the yellow stars of David. That was the day when almost one-and-a-half centuries of Jewish life in Dej came to an end.
Hitler told a party leader in 1934: "The economic system of our day is the creation of the Jews". Hitler said to Benito Mussolini that capitalism had "run its course". Hitler also said that the business bourgeoisie "know nothing except their profit. 'Fatherland' is only a word for them." Hitler was personally disgusted with the ruling bourgeois elites of Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic, who he referred to as "cowardly shits".
When I finally returned to Czemierniki in 1993, despite the years in which Jews had lived there I could not find a trace either of my family or of Jewish life. Even the cemetery where my grandfather had been buried had been razed. The synagogue was gone. I went to ask the local priest, who said they had taken the tombstones and crushed them for building materials or something like that. I believe they deliberately destroyed any sign of Jewish life so as to be rid of us for ever.
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.
Entrance is free in general, but visitor numbers are regulated by a ticket system. Be aware that because of the large numbers of visitors, entry to the Auschwitz I site is done exclusively on a paid guided (yet unfortunately rather rushed) tour between 10:00 to 15:00 during the period from 1 April to 31 October. You can visit the site on your own (which is highly recommended, as visitors can go at their own pace, see what they want to see, and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before 10:00 (better 8:00-9:00) or after 15:00 (depending on the season and day of week). This is recommended if you're staying nearby in Katowice or Kraków and don't have your own car, with some trains from Kraków and Katowice Główny arriving between 8-10. Guided tours cost 45PLN (discounted price for students up to 24 years of age is 30PLN). Students with an ISIC card are granted free entrance during tour hours. If you're a small group (~4 or less), it's not too hard to buy tickets on site (but depending on the season, you might have to wait depending on availability), but larger groups should book tickets in advance.
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.
Hitler expressed opposition to capitalism, regarding it as having Jewish origins and accusing capitalism of holding nations ransom to the interests of a parasitic cosmopolitan rentier class. He also expressed opposition to communism and egalitarian forms of socialism, arguing that inequality and hierarchy are beneficial to the nation. He believed that communism was invented by the Jews to weaken nations by promoting class struggle. After his rise to power, Hitler took a pragmatic position on economics, accepting private property and allowing capitalist private enterprises to exist so long as they adhered to the goals of the Nazi state, but not tolerating enterprises that he saw as being opposed to the national interest.
Remarkably, there were instances of individual resistance and collective efforts at fighting back inside Auschwitz. Poles, Communists and other national groups established networks in the main camp. Some Jews assaulted Nazi guards, even at the entrance to the gas chambers. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando crew at crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematoria. It was never used again.
Precise numbers are still debated, but according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German SS systematically killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 from other nationalities. More people died at Auschwitz than at any other Nazi concentration camp and probably than at any death camp in history.
After the arrival of a transport at the ramp in Birkenau, the process known as selection took place. SS officers decided who would be taken to work, and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers. Often it was mere chance or the mood of the SS officer that decided whether someone died immediately or had a hope of survival. The prisoners selected for slave labour were sent to one of the many auxiliary camps at Auschwitz or elsewhere in the Nazi concentration camp system. Their aim was „Vernichtung durch Arbeit“ - extermination through labour.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.