Auschwitz was the Nazis' largest concentration and extermination camp. It was founded on Himmler's orders on the 27th of April 1940, close to the small Polish town of Oświęcim. The first inmates - mostly Polish political prisoners - were brought there in June 1940 and were used for slave labour. By March 1941, more than 10 000 prisoners were registered here. The Auschwitz camp was renowned for its harshness, with the most infamous being Block 11 (known as the bunker), where prisoners received the cruellest punishments. In front of it stood the „black wall“, the site of frequent executions. The inscription „Arbeit macht frei!“ above the main gate of the original camp at Auschwitz was merely a cynical mockery.
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.[256] 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.[257] 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.[258] 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.[259]
In February 1938, Hitler emphasised to Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg the need for Germany to secure its frontiers. Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite regarding Austrian independence for 13 March, but Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg on 11 March demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian NSDAP or face an invasion. German troops entered Austria the next day, to be greeted with enthusiasm by the populace.[65]
The Auschwitz registry (Hauptbücher) shows that 20,946 Roma were registered prisoners,[146] and another 3,000 are thought to have entered unregistered.[147] On 22 March 1943, one transport of 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma was gassed on arrival because of illness, as was a second group of 1,035 on 25 May 1943.[146] The SS tried to liquidate the camp on 16 May 1944, but the Roma fought them, armed with knives and iron pipes, and the SS retreated. Shortly after this, the SS removed nearly 2,908 from the family camp to work, and on 2 August 1944 gassed the other 2,897. Ten thousand remain unaccounted for.[148]
Joseph Goebbels, who would later go on to become the Nazi Propaganda Minister, was strongly opposed to both capitalism and communism, viewing them as the "two great pillars of materialism" that were "part of the international Jewish conspiracy for world domination."[266] Nevertheless, he wrote in his diary in 1925 that if he were forced to choose between them, "in the final analysis", "it would be better for us to go down with Bolshevism than live in eternal slavery under capitalism".[267] He also linked his anti-Semitism to his anti-capitalism, stating in a 1929 pamphlet that "we see, in the Hebrews, the incarnation of capitalism, the misuse of the nation's goods."[166]

Before Auschwitz became the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust, it was an ordinary Polish town known as Oświęcim, where Jews made their home from the early 16th century until the Holocaust, when most of them were murdered. In the pre-war years, the majority of Oświęcim’s citizens were Jewish, and for generations they raised families here and contributed to a richly textured culture. The Holocaust suddenly ended the vibrant Jewish life of the town.
As the German leader (Führer) of Nazi Germany, Hitler began moving Nazi armies into neighboring countries. When Germany attacked Poland, World War II started. Western countries like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands were occupied and to be treated by Germany as colonies. However, in Eastern countries, such as Poland and the Soviet Union, the Nazis planned to kill or enslave the Slavic peoples, so that German settlers could take their land.
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.

During the era of Imperial Germany, Völkisch nationalism was overshadowed by both Prussian patriotism and the federalist tradition of its various component states.[71] The events of World War I, including the end of the Prussian monarchy in Germany, resulted in a surge of revolutionary Völkisch nationalism.[72] The Nazis supported such revolutionary Völkisch nationalist policies[71] and they claimed that their ideology was influenced by the leadership and policies of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire.[73] The Nazis declared that they were dedicated to continuing the process of creating a unified German nation state that Bismarck had begun and desired to achieve.[74] While Hitler was supportive of Bismarck's creation of the German Empire, he was critical of Bismarck's moderate domestic policies.[75] On the issue of Bismarck's support of a Kleindeutschland ("Lesser Germany", excluding Austria) versus the Pan-German Großdeutschland ("Greater Germany") which the Nazis advocated, Hitler stated that Bismarck's attainment of Kleindeutschland was the "highest achievement" Bismarck could have achieved "within the limits possible at that time".[76] In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler presented himself as a "second Bismarck".[76]

They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by a confused restraint, which sealed their lips and bound their eyes to the funereal scene. It was that shame we knew so well, the shame that drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch, or submit to, some outrage: the shame the Germans did not know, that the just man experiences at another man's crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defence.[252]
Between 1933 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than 3.5 million Germans were forced to spend time in concentration camps and prisons for political reasons,[18][19][20] and approximately 77,000 Germans were executed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts-martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.[11]