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.
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.
For the man in charge of Auschwitz, the gas chamber was a welcome innovation. “I had always shuddered at the prospect of carrying out executions by shooting,” commandant Rudolf Höss wrote in a lengthy confession while awaiting execution after the war. “Many members of the Einsatzkommandos, unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad.”
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.
The racialists were not capable of drawing the practical conclusions from correct theoretical judgements, especially in the Jewish Question. In this way, the German racialist movement developed a similar pattern to that of the 1880s and 1890s. As in those days, its leadership gradually fell into the hands of highly honourable, but fantastically naïve men of learning, professors, district counsellors, schoolmasters, and lawyers—in short a bourgeois, idealistic, and refined class. It lacked the warm breath of the nation's youthful vigour.
Nazi Germany had a strong anti-tobacco movement, as pioneering research by Franz H. Müller in 1939 demonstrated a causal link between smoking and lung cancer. The Reich Health Office took measures to try to limit smoking, including producing lectures and pamphlets. Smoking was banned in many workplaces, on trains, and among on-duty members of the military. Government agencies also worked to control other carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and pesticides. As part of a general public health campaign, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.
On August 4, 1944, German and Dutch SS men led by SS Oberscharführer Josef Zilberbauer raided the hiding place. The identity of the Dutch citizen who informed on the fugitives is uncertain, but the most probable suspect (and until 2002 the only one) is Willem van Maaren, who worked in the warehouse of the building where they were hidden. On September 3, 1944 all eight of them were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport from Westerbork, which numbered about a thousand people. Edith Frank died of starvation in Auschwitz at the beginning of January 1945. Margot and Anne, who were taken to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 1944, died there in the typhus epidemic that killed thousands of prisoners at the end of February and the beginning of March, 1945. On liberation, Otto returned to Holland to discover, after long searching, that he was the only one of the eight who had survived.
In Italy I joined the Irgun, the Zionist underground organisation fighting for Israeli independence led by Menachem Begin (later prime minister of Israel), and travelled with an arms smuggling ship, the Altalena, to Tel Aviv. All the time I kept with me my prison uniform, as proof of what had happened to me. We arrived on the shores of Tel Aviv on 20 June 1948 and I found myself at a pivotal moment in Israeli history, in a boat full of weapons that Ben-Gurion would not let on shore. It could easily have turned into a civil war. I was shot at by Israel Defence Force troopers as I jumped into the water and the Altalena was set ablaze and sunk by the IDF. With it sank my suitcase of clothes and my striped prisoner uniform, including my hat, coat, shirt and a knife.
Around 7,000 SS personnel were posted to Auschwitz during the war. Of these, 4 percent of SS personnel were officers and 26 percent were non-commissioned officers, while the remainder were rank-and-file members. Camp guards were members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units). Approximately three in four SS personnel worked in security. Others worked in the medical or political departments, in the camp headquarters, or in the economic administration, which was responsible for the property of dead prisoners. SS personnel at the camp included 200 women, who worked as guards, nurses, or messengers. About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria.
At the same time, public interest in the camp has never been higher. Visits have doubled this decade, from 492,500 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2009. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Krakow has become a popular destination for foreign tourists, and Auschwitz is a must stop on many itineraries. A visit is also part of education programs in Israel, Britain and other countries. On peak days, as many as 30,000 visitors file through the camp’s buildings.
As Soviet troops closed in on Auschwitz in late January 1945, the SS hurriedly evacuated some 56,000 prisoners on death marches to the west, then blew up the Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria to erase evidence of the mass murders. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Some 6,000 people were still alive at Birkenau. Another 1,000 were found at the main camp.
When it comes to documenting the Nazis’ murder of Jews, Schneidermann describes the Times’ coverage as fragmentary, incremental, and buried in “dry” briefings on interior pages. June 16, 1942, page 6: a short piece noting that sixty thousand Jews in Vilnius had been murdered. June 30, 1942, page 7: a press conference given by a Polish government official in exile concludes that around a sixth of the European Jewish population of six to seven million has been annihilated. Schneidermann tries to grapple with the possible explanations—the incredulity of the reporters and editors, the banalization of so much recurring death. (Although, on a much different scale, the dilemma is not entirely foreign to Schneidermann’s audience: twenty-three hundred Europe-bound migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, and the coverage of it in mainstream publications has been sporadic at best.)
The soldiers also found warehouses containing 836,525 items of women clothing, 348,820 items of men clothing, 43,525 pairs of shoes and vast numbers of toothbrushes, glasses and other personal effects. They found also 460 artificial limbs and seven tons of human hair shaved from Jews before they were murdered. The human hairs were used by the company “Alex Zink” (located in Bavaria) for confection of cloth. This company was paying the Nazi’s 50 pfennig per kilo of human hair.
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,
One night in the autumn of 1944, two Frenchwomen—Loulou Le Porz, a doctor, and Violette Lecoq, a nurse—watched as a truck drove in through the main gates of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. “There was a lorry,” Le Porz recalled, “that suddenly arrives and it turns around and reverses towards us. And it lifts up and it tips out a whole pile of corpses.” These were the bodies of Ravensbrück inmates who had died doing slave labor in the many satellite camps, and they were now being returned for cremation. Talking, decades later, to the historian and journalist Sarah Helm, whose new book, “Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women” (Doubleday), recounts the stories of dozens of the camp’s inmates, Le Porz says that her reaction was simple disbelief. The sight of a truck full of dead bodies was so outrageous, so out of scale with ordinary experience, that “if we recount that one day, we said to each other, nobody would believe us.” The only way to make the scene credible would be to record it: “If one day someone makes a film they must film this scene. This night. This moment.”
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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.
After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, sparking World War II, the Germans converted Auschwitz I from an army barracks to hold Polish political prisoners. The first prisoners, German criminals brought to the camp as functionaries, arrived in May 1940, and the first gassing of prisoners took place in block 11 of Auschwitz I in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis' Final Solution to the Jewish Question. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews from all over German-occupied Europe to the camp's gas chambers. Of the estimated 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, at least 1.1 million died, around 90 percent of them Jews. Approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 non-Jewish Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, and an unknown number of gay men. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died because of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
Influenced by the Völkisch movement, the regime was against cultural modernism and supported the development of an extensive military at the expense of intellectualism. Creativity and art were stifled, except where they could serve as propaganda media. The party used symbols such as the Blood Flag and rituals such as the Nazi Party rallies to foster unity and bolster the regime's popularity.
The majority of scholars identify Nazism in both theory and practice as a form of far-right politics. Far-right themes in Nazism include the argument that superior people have a right to dominate other people and purge society of supposed inferior elements. Adolf Hitler and other proponents denied that Nazism was either left-wing or right-wing, instead they officially portrayed Nazism as a syncretic movement. In Mein Kampf, Hitler directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany, saying:
I worked out pretty quickly certain survival tricks. That if the guards called us to line up in front of the barracks, I should hide or sneak into another barracks. The safest place I could find to hide was in the yard near the bathrooms where all the dead bodies were brought and piled up … I would get on the pile, lie down next to the dead bodies and pretend I was one of them.
National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus), more commonly known as Nazism (/ˈnɑːtsiɪzəm, ˈnæt-/), is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party – officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) – in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.
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.
On August 4, 1944, the police discovered the secret annex after receiving an anonymous tip. The group in the annex were taken completely by surprise—the SS officer and the four Dutch Nazis who conducted the raid proceeded quickly, drawing guns to keep the employees from warning those in hiding and forcing Kugler to reveal the entrance to the annex, which was concealed by a movable bookcase. Everyone in the annex was taken into custody along with Kleiman and Kugler, who were imprisoned for helping to conceal the group. The Franks, the van Pels, and Pfeffer were taken to a police station in Amsterdam and four days later, taken to the Westerbork transit camp. On September 3 they were transported in a sealed cattle car to Auschwitz in Poland—the last transport to ever leave Westerbork. Three days later, Hermann van Pels was gassed at Auschwitz.
Most of the book is about the privations and hardship of living hidden away in the "annex". There is very little coverage of the violence of the times or much that is going on in the outside world because they had little knowledge of it since they were hidden. I think this is partly why some schoolchildren report the diary is boring. It does get repetitive at times, which reflects the feelings of those living in hiding. They had to wait and wait in fear, not knowing what the next day would bring.
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.”
By the fall of 1933, Otto Frank moved to Amsterdam, where he established a small but successful company that produced a gelling substance used to make jam. After staying behind in Germany with her grandmother in the city of Aachen, Anne joined her parents and sister Margot (1926-45) in the Dutch capital in February 1934. In 1935, Anne started school in Amsterdam and earned a reputation as an energetic, popular girl.
Auschwitz inmates were employed on huge farms, including the experimental agricultural station at Rajsko. They were also forced to work in coal mines, in stone quarries, in fisheries, and especially in armaments industries such as the SS-owned German Equipment Works (established in 1941). Periodically, prisoners underwent selection. If the SS judged them too weak or sick to continue working, they were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and killed.
Among the key elements of Nazism were anti-parliamentarism, Pan-Germanism (a political movement aiming for unity of the German-speaking peoples of Europe), racism, collectivism (any moral, political, or social outlook, that stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective, rather than the importance of separate individuals), antisemitism (intense dislike for and prejudice against Jewish people), anti-communism, totalitarianism and opposition to economic liberalism and political liberalism, and eugenics (scientific field involving the selective breeding of humans in order to achieve desirable traits in future generations).
As the government and military began to collapse within Germany, Nazi officials in both Germany and occupied Poland began to think about their endgame. In November 1944, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and one of the architects of the Holocaust, issued an abruptorder to destroy the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of Auschwitz’s three main camps. Historians disagree on why he issued the command, which was in direct opposition to a previous order by Adolf Hitler to destroy the remaining Jews in Europe.
Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS) took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35. Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, Gypsies/Romanis/Sintis, Serbs, Poles, disabled people, and criminals. The number of people in the camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.