Banas introduces me to conservators working to preserve evidence of camp life: fragments of a mural depicting an idealized German family that once decorated the SS canteen, floor tiles from a prisoners barrack. In one room, a team wielding erasers, brushes and purified water clean and scan 39,000 yellowing medical records written on everything from card stock to toilet paper.
Use of bunkers I and 2 stopped in spring 1943 when the new crematoria were built, although bunker 2 became operational again in May 1944 for the murder of the Hungarian Jews. Crematorium II, which had been designed as a mortuary with morgues in the basement and ground-level incinerators, was converted by installing gas-tight doors, vents for the Zyklon B to be dropped into the chamber, and ventilation equipment to remove the gas thereafter. It went into operation in March 1943. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943, all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed using these four structures.
The food was probably sufficient as far as quantity goes, although our younger companions, who had to work very hard, could not satisfy their appetites. Besides the so-called Komissbrot (a dark bread baked for use in the army), which was difficult to digest for the city dweller not accustomed to hard physical labor, we usually had thick soups of leguminous plants or potatoes, with lumps of whale meat which, as far as I could find out, came in cans and tasted something like pork. However, it had nothing of the oily taste that might have been expected. Occasionally we had sweet milk soups with tapioca for breakfast, and for noon evening meal we had sandwiches with usage, cheese, margarine, and jam. It is an open question whether the decided loss in weight of many prisoners was due to the unusual food or to the mental depression. Food so poor in vitamins, however, must cause harm if taken for a long space of time.
After the liquidation of the Polish state and its institutions, the fundamental goal of German policy in occupied Poland was the exploitation of material and labor resources, and the removal of the local Polish population and ethnic minorities. This was done through expulsion and systematic extermination. The Polish lands were to be completely germanized, through German settlement in the depopulated area.
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.
“Those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it...became messengers,” wrote Elie Wiesel, shown as a young man at left. “We have given the message and nothing changed.” Right: Buchenwald in April 1945. Elie Wiesel is in the second row, seventh from left. Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died, was also liberated that week. (Chicago Public Library; BuyEnlarge Archive / UIG / Bridgeman Images)
It is not white supremacy that differentiates America from Nazi Germany, but rather the constitutional architecture of this country—a democratic system tested, broken, remade, rewritten. Racism in the United States is counterbalanced by an emancipatory spirit. The Constitution enshrined slavery, but this same Constitution was transformed as a result of the bloodiest war in U.S. history, which ended the Southern slave empire. The Civil War was a second American founding, and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments advanced the American spirit of equality before the law. Even amid the racist terror that lasted long after the Civil War, African Americans made room in the United States to fight for their freedom, equality, and dignity. Nazi Germany, by contrast, was a totalitarian state, and its express objective was the erasure of the Jewish people. These differences cannot be minimized.
T he use of gas chambers was the most common method of mass murdering the Jews in the extermination camps. The Jews were herded into the gas chambers, then the camp personnel closed the doors, and either exhaust gas (in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka) or poison gas in the form of Zyclon B or A (in Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau) was led into the gas chamber.
The death camp and slave-labour camp were interrelated. Newly arrived prisoners at the death camp were divided in a process known as Selektion. The young and the able-bodied were sent to work. Young children and their mothers and the old and infirm were sent directly to the gas chambers. Thousands of prisoners were also selected by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele, for medical experiments. Auschwitz doctors tested methods of sterilization on the prisoners, using massive doses of radiation, uterine injections, and other barbaric procedures. Experiments involving the killing of twins, upon whom autopsies were performed, were meant to provide information that would supposedly lead to the rapid expansion of the “Aryan race.”
Nazi ideology advocated excluding women from political involvement and confining them to the spheres of "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (Children, Kitchen, Church). Many women enthusiastically supported the regime, but formed their own internal hierarchies. Hitler's own opinion on the matter of women in Nazi Germany was that while other eras of German history had experienced the development and liberation of the female mind, the National Socialist goal was essentially singular in that it wished for them to produce a child. Based on this theme, Hitler once remarked about women that "with every child that she brings into the world, she fights her battle for the nation. The man stands up for the Volk, exactly as the woman stands up for the family". Proto-natalist programs in Nazi Germany offered favourable loans and grants to newlyweds and encouraged them to give birth to offspring by providing them with additional incentives. Contraception was discouraged for racially valuable women in Nazi Germany and abortion was forbidden by strict legal mandates, including prison sentences for women who sought them as well as prison sentences for doctors who performed them, whereas abortion for racially "undesirable" persons was encouraged.
In late January 1945, SS and police officials forced 4,000 prisoners to evacuate Blechhammer on foot. Blechhammer was a subcamp of Auschwitz-Monowitz. The SS murdered about 800 prisoners during the march to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. SS officials also killed as many as 200 prisoners left behind in Blechhammer as a result of illness or unsuccessful attempts to hide. After a brief delay, the SS transported around 3,000 Blechhammer prisoners from Gross-Rosen to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
The trials began a public debate which in the 1990s led to explicit legislation against Holocaust denial in seven European countries. Around the time of Otto Frank’s death, Ditlieb Felderer, a Holocaust denier from Sweden, published an obscene pornographic pamphlet depicting Anne as a mature seductress and the diary as a pedophilic publication. Evidently Otto Frank never saw the pamphlet and did not manage to sue its writer. At the beginning of the 1990s the Anne Frank Trust, with the aid of other Dutch organizations, sued Faurisson and Verbeke. Finally, in 1998, after the diary underwent extensive technical and graphological examinations for the third time, an Amsterdam court found unequivocally for its authenticity and made denying it a criminal offense.
In May 14, 1940, the Netherlands surrendered to Germany after the bombing of Rotterdam, having being invaded just five days earlier. The following month, Anne turned 10. The restrictions and persecution the Franks had faced in Germany were brought to their new home. Otto transferred control of his businesses to trusted colleagues to make the business appear Aryan-owned and to avoid having to register it with the German authorities. The family had to register as Jews with the German authorities in January 1942 and all Dutch Jews were ordered to Amsterdam.
In 1938, Otto Frank started a second company, Pectacon, which was a wholesaler of herbs, pickling salts, and mixed spices, used in the production of sausages. Hermann van Pels was employed by Pectacon as an advisor about spices. A Jewish butcher, he had fled Osnabrück with his family. In 1939, Edith Frank's mother came to live with the Franks, and remained with them until her death in January 1942.
Nazism had peculiarly German roots. It can be partly traced to the Prussian tradition as developed under Frederick William I (1688–1740), Frederick the Great (1712–68), and Otto von Bismarck (1815–98), which regarded the militant spirit and the discipline of the Prussian army as the model for all individual and civic life. To it was added the tradition of political romanticism, with its sharp hostility to rationalism and to the principles underlying the French Revolution, its emphasis on instinct and the past, and its proclamation of the rights of Friedrich Nietzsche’s exceptional individual (the Übermensch [“Superman”]) over all universal law and rules. These two traditions were later reinforced by the 19th-century adoration of science and of the laws of nature, which seemed to operate independently of all concepts of good and evil. Further reinforcements came from such 19th-century intellectual figures as the comte de Gobineau (1816–82), Richard Wagner (1813–83), and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), all of whom greatly influenced early National Socialism with their claims of the racial and cultural superiority of the “Nordic” (Germanic) peoples over all other Europeans and all other races.
Beyond that they tried personal defamation. One of our companions was asked by an S. S. man whether he had been a soldier and what rank he had held in the war. He answered, 'Lieutenant.' The S. S. man said, 'But you were only behind the lines.' 'No,' replied our companion, 'I was at the front.' 'I command you to answer this question with "behind the lines,"' the S. S. man corrected him; 'German history would lie if Jews had actually been at the front, so where were you?' And the old soldier, who had come back decorated with high medals from the war in which he had fought and bled for his German fatherland, was forced to answer, 'Behind the lines.'
Germany's wartime foreign policy involved the creation of allied governments controlled directly or indirectly from Berlin. They intended to obtain soldiers from allies such as Italy and Hungary and workers and food supplies from allies such as Vichy France. Hungary was the fourth nation to join the Axis, signing the Tripartite Pact on 27 September 1940. Bulgaria signed the pact on 17 November. German efforts to secure oil included negotiating a supply from their new ally, Romania, who signed the Pact on 23 November, alongside the Slovak Republic. By late 1942, there were 24 divisions from Romania on the Eastern Front, 10 from Italy, and 10 from Hungary. Germany assumed full control in France in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Hungary in 1944. Although Japan was a powerful ally, the relationship was distant, with little co-ordination or co-operation. For example, Germany refused to share their formula for synthetic oil from coal until late in the war.
Otto Frank dedicated his life to the diary and his daughter’s legacy. In his will he left the diary to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation and the diary’s copyright to the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, which has been administered by the Frank family since Otto’s death in 1980. In 1981, the institute submitted the diary to a Dutch government laboratory for an examination that lasted several years. Meanwhile, an exhibition called “Anne Frank in the World” continues to tour the world after being shown in more than thirty countries. In 1986, the Netherlands State Institute published a critical edition of the diary that compared the wording of the diary and examined the handwriting, the type of paper and the ink. This edition, later termed “The Definitive Edition,” is the most significant and complete and serves as the basis for research and comparison with the other editions, which are less complete (and is the source of quotations in this entry).
At universities, appointments to top posts were the subject of power struggles between the education ministry, the university boards, and the National Socialist German Students' League. In spite of pressure from the League and various government ministries, most university professors did not make changes to their lectures or syllabus during the Nazi period. This was especially true of universities located in predominantly Catholic regions. Enrolment at German universities declined from 104,000 students in 1931 to 41,000 in 1939, but enrolment in medical schools rose sharply as Jewish doctors had been forced to leave the profession, so medical graduates had good job prospects. From 1934, university students were required to attend frequent and time-consuming military training sessions run by the SA. First-year students also had to serve six months in a labour camp for the Reich Labour Service; an additional ten weeks service were required of second-year students.
The Nazis later issued similar regulations against the Eastern Workers (Ost-Arbeiters), including the imposition of the death penalty if they engaged in sexual relations with German persons. Heydrich issued a decree on 20 February 1942 which declared that sexual intercourse between a German woman and a Russian worker or prisoner of war would result in the Russian man being punished with the death penalty. Another decree issued by Himmler on 7 December 1942 stated that any "unauthorised sexual intercourse" would result in the death penalty. Because the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour did not permit capital punishment for race defilement, special courts were convened in order to allow the death penalty to be imposed in some cases. German women accused of race defilement were marched through the streets with their head shaven and placards detailing their crimes were placed around their necks and those convicted of race defilement were sent to concentration camps. When Himmler reportedly asked Hitler what the punishment should be for German girls and German women who were found guilty of race defilement with prisoners of war (POWs), he ordered that "every POW who has relations with a German girl or a German would be shot" and the German woman should be publicly humiliated by "having her hair shorn and being sent to a concentration camp".
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.
Fleeing Germans also torched a couple of dozen of the wooden barracks at Birkenau. Many of the camp buildings that were left largely intact were later taken apart by Poles desperate for shelter. Birkenau remains the starkest, most tangible, most haunting reminder of what Dwork says was the “greatest catastrophe Western civilization permitted, and endured.”
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.
On October 7, 1944, several hundred prisoners assigned to Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau rebelled after learning that they were going to be killed. During the uprising, the prisoners killed three guards and blew up the crematorium and adjacent gas chamber. The prisoners used explosives smuggled into the camp by Jewish women who had been assigned to forced labor in a nearby armaments factory.
Gradowski was not poetic; he was prophetic. He did not gaze into this inferno and ask why. He knew. Aware of both the long recurring arc of destruction in Jewish history, and of the universal fact of cruelty’s origins in feelings of worthlessness, he writes: “This fire was ignited long ago by the barbarians and murderers of the world, who had hoped to drive darkness from their brutal lives with its light.”
In 1923, Hitler and his followers staged the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, a failed takeover of the government in Bavaria, a state in southern Germany. Hitler had hoped that the “putsch,” or coup d’etat, would spark a larger revolution against the national government. In the aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years in prison, but spent less than a year behind bars (during which time he dictated the first volume of “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle,” his political autobiography). The publicity surrounding the Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s subsequent trial turned him into a national figure. After his release from prison, he set about rebuilding the Nazi Party and attempting to gain power through the election process.
Nazi eugenics were Nazi Germany's racially-based social policies that placed the improvement of the race through eugenics at the center of their concerns and targeted those humans they identified as "life unworthy of life" (Lebensunwertes Leben), including but not limited to the criminal, degenerate, dissident, feeble-minded, homosexual, idle, insane, religious, and weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilized against their will. Adolf Hitler (Führer and Chancellor of Germany unitl 1945) believed the nation had become weak, corrupted by the infusion of degenerate elements into its bloodstream which had to be removed as quickly as possible. He also believed that the strong and the racially pure had to be encouraged to have more children, and the weak and the racially impure had to be neutralized by one means or another.
Notions of white supremacy and Aryan racial superiority were combined in the 19th century, with white supremacists maintaining the belief that certain groups of white people were members of an Aryan "master race" that is superior to other races and particularly superior to the Semitic race, which they associated with "cultural sterility". Arthur de Gobineau, a French racial theorist and aristocrat, blamed the fall of the ancien régime in France on racial degeneracy caused by racial intermixing, which he argued had destroyed the purity of the Aryan race, a term which he only reserved for Germanic people. Gobineau's theories, which attracted a strong following in Germany, emphasized the existence of an irreconcilable polarity between Aryan (Germanic) and Jewish cultures.
National Socialist politics was based on competition and struggle as its organizing principle, and the Nazis believed that "human life consisted of eternal struggle and competition and derived its meaning from struggle and competition." The Nazis saw this eternal struggle in military terms, and advocated a society organized like an army in order to achieve success. They promoted the idea of a national-racial "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft) in order to accomplish "the efficient prosecution of the struggle against other peoples and states." Like an army, the Volksgemeinschaft was meant to consist of a hierarchy of ranks or classes of people, some commanding and others obeying, all working together for a common goal. This concept was rooted in the writings of 19th century völkisch authors who glorified medieval German society, viewing it as a "community rooted in the land and bound together by custom and tradition," in which there was neither class conflict nor selfish individualism.
The first prisoners at Auschwitz included German prisoners transferred from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where they had been incarcerated as repeat criminal offenders, and Polish political prisoners from Lodz via Dachau concentration camp and from Tarnow in Krakow District of the Generalgouvernement (that part of German-occupied Poland not annexed to Nazi Germany, linked administratively to German East Prussia, or incorporated into the German-occupied Soviet Union).
The Allies received information about the murders from the Polish government-in-exile and Polish leadership in Warsaw, based mostly on intelligence from the Polish underground. German citizens had access to information about what was happening, as soldiers returning from the occupied territories reported on what they had seen and done. Historian Richard J. Evans states that most German citizens disapproved of the genocide.[h]
I have already said I that our barracks were overcrowded. It should be added that, although these barracks contained toilets and washrooms, neither came up to the most modest demands of modern hygiene. The cleansing of our bodies took place in a special room and was limited to a short washing of the upper extremities with cold water. A weekly warm shower was supposed to be provided, but with the overcrowding of the camp it was several weeks before a bath was available for each one. There was, of course, no toilet paper.
In addition to the Nazi Party proper, several paramilitary groups existed which "supported" Nazi aims. All members of these paramilitary organisations were required to become regular Nazi Party members first and could then enlist in the group of their choice. An exception was the Waffen-SS, considered the military arm of the SS and Nazi Party, which during the Second World War allowed members to enlist without joining the Nazi Party. Foreign volunteers of the Waffen-SS were also not required to be members of the Nazi Party, although many joined local nationalist groups from their own countries with the same aims. Police officers, including members of the Gestapo, frequently held SS rank for administrative reasons (known as "rank parity") and were likewise not required to be members of the Nazi Party.
Beller was one of 60,000 prisoners who were forced on what is now known as thedeath march of Auschwitz—part of the Nazis’ mad scramble to escape Allied forces in January 1945. As Russian and American forces closed in, the Nazis attempted to dismantle the camps and hide their crimes. But nothing could obliterate the dark truth of the death camp where they’dmurdered 1.1 million people.
The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament (the Reichstag) and to the state legislature (the Landtage) from 1924, although at first with little success. The "National-Socialist Freedom Movement" polled 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections and this fell to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results and despite Germany's relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the Nazi Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organisation to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz and business manager Max Amann. The party had a capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organizational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organizational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor nationalist groups, such as the German National People's Party (DNVP). As Hitler became the recognised head of the German nationalists, other groups declined or were absorbed.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Several, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allies did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
^ According to Raeder, "Our Air Force could not be counted on to guard our transports from the British Fleets, because their operations would depend on the weather, if for no other reason. It could not be expected that even for a brief period our Air Force could make up for our lack of naval supremacy." Raeder 2001, pp. 324–325. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz believed air superiority was not enough and admitted, "We possessed neither control of the air or the sea; nor were we in any position to gain it." Dönitz 2012, p. 114.
The Nazis removed citizenship from German Jews then, during the Second World War, sent most Jews, from Germany and elsewhere, to camps outside the borders of pre-war Germany. Yet, as the war progressed, Germany brought in huge numbers of forced labourers from all over Europe (U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that German-run camps were designed to keep Jews in, rather than out, is unfounded).
The first concentration camps in Germany were established soon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor in January 1933. In the weeks after the Nazis came to power, The SA (Sturmabteilungen; commonly known as Storm Troopers), the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons—the elite guard of the Nazi party), the police, and local civilian authorities organized numerous detention camps to incarcerate real and perceived political opponents of Nazi policy.