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.
Later that evening we were lined up at the outskirts of the camp, while trucks, arriving constantly, brought new inmates who suffered the same reception as we had before them. After the collective defamation the individual ones began. The camp commander, Baranowsky, a stocky, common-looking man with the insignia of a high rank in the S.S., passed along our rows with his staff. He addressed some, asked their profession, and, in the case of former officials, inquired the amount of their pension, usually commenting that it was too high, especially for a Jew. Arrivals who stood out because of some physical defect were especially ridiculed by him and his staff. Some men wore hearing aids that connected the ear through a wire with a microphone. These were torn out of the ear with rude force, and afterwards inspected by the whole staff as something incredibly strange.
The concentration camps make sense only if they are understood as products not of reason but of ideology, which is to say, of fantasy. Nazism taught the Germans to see themselves as a beleaguered nation, constantly set upon by enemies external and internal. Metaphors of infection and disease, of betrayal and stabs in the back, were central to Nazi discourse. The concentration camp became the place where those metaphorical evils could be rendered concrete and visible. Here, behind barbed wire, were the traitors, Bolsheviks, parasites, and Jews who were intent on destroying the Fatherland.
Food was in short supply in the conquered areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, as the retreating armies had burned the crops in some areas, and much of the remainder was sent back to the Reich. In Germany, rations were cut in 1942. In his role as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, Hermann Göring demanded increased shipments of grain from France and fish from Norway. The 1942 harvest was good, and food supplies remained adequate in Western Europe.
Frequent and often contradictory directives were issued by Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, Bernhard Rust of the Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture, and other agencies regarding content of lessons and acceptable textbooks for use in primary and secondary schools. Books deemed unacceptable to the regime were removed from school libraries. Indoctrination in National Socialist thought was made compulsory in January 1934. Students selected as future members of the party elite were indoctrinated from the age of 12 at Adolf Hitler Schools for primary education and National Political Institutes of Education for secondary education. Detailed National Socialist indoctrination of future holders of elite military rank was undertaken at Order Castles.
On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch ("coup d'état"). This so-called Beer Hall Putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November, the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire and 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given very lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison, he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle").
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.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, Netherlands, having moved there with her family at the age of four and a half when the Nazis gained control over Germany. Born a German national, she lost her citizenship in 1941 and thus became stateless. By May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne's father, Otto Frank, worked. From then until the family's arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, she kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) a few months later. They were originally estimated by the Red Cross to have died in March, with Dutch authorities setting 31 March as their official date of death, but research by the Anne Frank House in 2015 suggests they more likely died in February.
After Anne’s diary was published, some people called it a hoax—particularly neo-Nazis who wanted to claim the Holocaust never happened. In 1963, Nazi hunter and concentration camp survivor Simon Wiesenthal tracked down former SS officer Karl Silberbauer, who at that time was working as a police inspector in Austria. When confronted, Silberbauer confessed, "Yes, I arrested Anne Frank."
When Anne’s sister, Margot, was faced with deportation (supposedly to a forced-labour camp), the Franks went into hiding on July 6, 1942, in the backroom office and warehouse of Otto Frank’s food-products business. With the aid of a few non-Jewish friends, among them Miep Gies, who smuggled in food and other supplies, the Frank family and four other Jews—Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer—lived confined to the “secret annex.” During this time, Anne wrote faithfully in her diary, recounting day-to-day life in hiding, from ordinary annoyances to the fear of capture. She discussed typical adolescent issues as well as her hopes for the future, which included becoming a journalist or a writer. Anne’s last diary entry was written on August 1, 1944. Three days later the annex was discovered by the Gestapo, which was acting on a tip from Dutch informers.
The camps were liberated by the Allied forces between 1944 and 1945. The first major camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on July 23, 1944. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on January 27, 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on April 11; Bergen-Belsen by the British on April 15; Dachau by the Americans on April 29; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on May 5; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on May 8. Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the U.S. 7th Army said of Dachau: "There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind."
The German army had invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, and very quickly had imposed their antisemitic policies. In late 1941 they decided that Westerbork was an ideal place in which to assemble the Jews of Holland before their deportation. The first Jews arrived at the camp on 14 July, and the first deportation to Auschwitz left the following day.
The Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), founded in 1921, was the first paramilitary wing of the NSDAP; their initial assignment was to protect Nazi leaders at rallies and assemblies. They also took part in street battles against the forces of rival political parties and violent actions against Jews and others. Under Ernst Röhm's leadership the SA grew by 1934 to over half a million members—4.5 million including reserves—at a time when the regular army was still limited to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty.
Prisoners received half a liter of coffee substitute or a herbal "tea" in the morning, but no food. A second gong heralded roll call, when inmates had to line up outside in rows of ten to be counted. No matter how cold the weather, prisoners had to wait for the SS to arrive for the count. How long they stood there depended on the officers' mood, and whether there had been escapes or other events attracting punishment. Guards might force the prisoners to squat for an hour with their hands above their heads, or hand out beatings or detention for infractions such as having a missing button or an improperly cleaned food bowl. The inmates were counted and re-counted.
After three days at Auschwitz, I was left with the feeling that for some visitors, the former concentration camp is a box to check off on a tourist “to-do” list. But many people appeared genuinely moved. I saw Israeli teenagers crying and hugging each other and groups of people transfixed by the mug shots of prisoners that line the walls of one of the Auschwitz barracks. Walking through the room full of hair still makes my stomach churn. But what I hadn’t remembered from my first visit was the room next door filled with battered cooking pots and pans, brought by people who believed until the last moment that there was a future wherever they were being taken. And when Banas told me about the carefully folded math test that conservationists found hidden in a child’s shoe, I choked up. Even if only a fraction of the people who come here each year are profoundly affected, a fraction of a million is still a lot of people.
Adolf Hitler envisioned the eventual extermination of what he called “the Jewish plague,” but the Führer didn’t draw up the plans for the gas chambers or the timetables for the transports. And while it was senior SS officials who gave general instructions about how the camps should function, it was ordinary Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, who worked out the deadly details. “There wasn’t a grand strategy in 1940 that the camp would accrue a number of functions and ultimately become a death camp,” Dwork says. “I do not see it as planned at all. Way led to way, and step led to step.”
Jewish deportees arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau immediately underwent selection. The SS staff chose some of the able-bodied for forced labor and sent the rest directly to the gas chambers, which were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The belongings of all deportees were confiscated and sorted in the "Kanada" (Canada) warehouse for shipment back to Germany. Canada symbolized wealth to the prisoners.
Witnesses later testified Margot fell from her bunk in her weakened state and was killed by the shock. Anne died a few days after Margot. The exact dates of Margot's and Anne's deaths were not recorded. It was long thought that their deaths occurred only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp on 15 April 1945, but research in 2015 indicated that they may have died as early as February. Among other evidence, witnesses recalled that the Franks displayed typhus symptoms by 7 February, and Dutch health authorities reported that most untreated typhus victims died within 12 days of their first symptoms. After liberation, the camp was burned in an effort to prevent further spread of disease; the sisters were buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.
At Auschwitz I, the majority of the complex has remained intact. The architecture of the camp consisted mostly of pre-existing buildings converted by the Nazis to serve new functions. The preserved architecture, spaces and layout still recall the historical functions of the individual elements in their entirety. The interiors of some of the buildings have been modified to adapt them to commemorative purposes, but the external façades of these buildings remain unchanged.
All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members; these civic organisations either merged with the NSDAP or faced dissolution. The Nazi government declared a "Day of National Labor" for May Day 1933, and invited many trade union delegates to Berlin for celebrations. The day after, SA stormtroopers demolished union offices around the country; all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed in April, removed from their jobs all teachers, professors, judges, magistrates, and government officials who were Jewish or whose commitment to the party was suspect. This meant the only non-political institutions not under control of the NSDAP were the churches.
The general membership of the Nazi Party mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class. In early 1933, just before Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship, the party showed an under-representation of "workers", who made up 29.7% of the membership but 46.3% of German society. Conversely, white-collar employees (18.6% of members and 12% of Germans), the self-employed (19.8% of members and 9.6% of Germans) and civil servants (15.2% of members and 4.8% of the German population) had joined in proportions greater than their share of the general population. These members were affiliated with local branches of the party, of which there were 1,378 throughout the country in 1928. In 1932, the number had risen to 11,845, reflecting the party's growth in this period.
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.
As Soviet armies advanced in 1944 and early 1945, Auschwitz was gradually abandoned. On January 18, 1945, some 60,000 prisoners were marched to Wodzisław Śląski, where they were put on freight trains (many in open cars) and sent westward to concentration camps away from the front. One in four died en route from starvation, cold, exhaustion, and despair. Many were shot along the way in what became known as the “death marches.” The 7,650 sick or starving prisoners who remained were found by arriving Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Auschwitz I, ul. Stanisławy Leszczyńskiej 11. The first camp to be used (called Stammlager by the Germans), consisting of old Polish Army barracks later converted into inmate housing, torture chambers, execution grounds, and SS administrative buildings. The infamous Arbeit macht frei gate is found here. Inside most of the barrack buildings are historical exhibits regarding the various nationalities held in the camp, video displays, photos, and personal belongings illustrating the life and cruelties of the Nazi terror. The only remaining gas chamber is found in Auschwitz I but note that, as indicated within the chamber, it was reconstructed to its wartime layout after the war. edit
Of course, there were aspects of Nazism which were reactionary, such as their attitude toward the role of women in society, which was completely traditionalist, calling for the return of women to the home as wives, mothers and homemakers, although ironically this ideological policy was undermined in reality by the growing labor shortages and need for more workers. The number of women in the workplace climbed throughout the period of Nazi control of Germany, from 4.24 million in 1933 to 4.52 million in 1936 and 5.2 million in 1938, numbers that far exceeded those of the Weimar Republic.
While civilian efforts had an impact on public opinion, the army was the only organisation with the capacity to overthrow the government. A major plot by men in the upper echelons of the military originated in 1938. They believed Britain would go to war over Hitler's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Germany would lose. The plan was to overthrow Hitler or possibly assassinate him. Participants included Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, Generaloberst Franz Halder, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Generalleutnant Erwin von Witzleben, who joined a conspiracy headed by Oberstleutnant Hans Oster and Major Helmuth Groscurth of the Abwehr. The planned coup was cancelled after the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938. Many of the same people were involved in a coup planned for 1940, but again the participants changed their minds and backed down, partly because of the popularity of the regime after the early victories in the war. Attempts to assassinate Hitler resumed in earnest in 1943, with Henning von Tresckow joining Oster's group and attempting to blow up Hitler's plane in 1943. Several more attempts followed before the failed 20 July 1944 plot, which was at least partly motivated by the increasing prospect of a German defeat in the war. The plot, part of Operation Valkyrie, involved Claus von Stauffenberg planting a bomb in the conference room at Wolf's Lair at Rastenburg. Hitler, who narrowly survived, later ordered savage reprisals resulting in the execution of more than 4,900 people.
A parallel system operated later at Birkenau in 1942-43, except that for the majority the 'showers' proved to be gas chambers. Only about 10 percent of Jewish transports were registered, disinfected, shaven and showered in the 'central sauna' before being assigned barracks. In May 1944, a spur line was built right into the camp to accelerate and simplify the handling of the tens of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews deported in the spring and summer of 1944.
Those who were selected for work were set on a whole range of tasks. These included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp and heavy manual work. Some Jewish prisoners were put into units called Sonderkommandos, whose role was to work in the gas chambers and crematorium. They were kept apart from the rest of the camp prisoners, but were also sent to their deaths in the gas chambers after a few weeks or months of work.
…party, Hitler joined a German nationalist group that took the name of National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), nicknamed “Nazi,” a truncation of Nationalsozialistische. Its policies included anti-Semitism and fierce opposition to the Treaty of Versailles. After his abortive Munich coup in 1923, Hitler was sentenced to five…
Several SS personnel oversaw the killings at each gas chamber, while the bulk of the work was done by the mostly Jewish prisoners known as Sonderkommandos (special squads). Hungarian doctor Miklós Nyiszli reported that the Sonderkommando numbered around 860 prisoners when the Hungarian Jews were being killed in May–July 1944. Their responsibilities included removing goods and corpses from the incoming trains, guiding victims to the dressing rooms and gas chambers, and working in the "Canada" barracks, where the victims' possessions were stored. Housed separately from other prisoners, in somewhat better conditions, their quality of life was further improved by access to the goods taken from murdered prisoners, which they were sometimes able to steal and trade on Auschwitz's black market. Many Sonderkommandos committed suicide in response to the horrors of their work; others were generally shot by the SS in a matter of weeks. New Sonderkommando units were formed from incoming transports. Almost none of the 2,000 prisoners placed in these units survived to the camp's liberation.
The invasion conquered a huge area, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and west Ukraine. After the successful Battle of Smolensk in September 1941, Hitler ordered Army Group Centre to halt its advance to Moscow and temporarily divert its Panzer groups to aid in the encirclement of Leningrad and Kiev. This pause provided the Red Army with an opportunity to mobilise fresh reserves. The Moscow offensive, which resumed in October 1941, ended disastrously in December. On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later, Germany declared war on the United States.
In 2016, the Anne Frank House published new research pointing to investigation over ration card fraud, rather than betrayal, as a plausible explanation for the raid that led to the arrest of the Franks. The report states that other activities in the building may have led authorities there, including activities of Frank's company. However, it does not rule out betrayal.
Most of the teenage boys and girls in the photo are hamming it up for the camera, celebrating as nearly all raise as their right hand to deliver what looks like the Nazi salute. A few can be seen holding their phones and at least one girl appears to be taking a picture of the swastika made up of about 100 red plastic cups that look as though they've been set up to play a white supremacist version of the popular drinking game, beer pong.
In Autumn 1943, the camp administration was reorganized following a corruption scandal. By the end of 1943, the prisoner population of Auschwitz main camp, Birkenau, Monowitz and other subcamps was over 80,000: 18,437 in the main camp, 49,114 in Birkenau, and 13,288 at Monowitz where I G Farben had its synthetic rubber plant. Up to 50,000 prisoners were scattered around 51 subcamps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine (see The List of the Camps for a complete list of those subcamps).
On 20 July 1932, the Prussian government was ousted by a coup, the Preussenschlag; a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4% and becoming the largest party in parliament by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the Communists between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Comintern directives, the Communists maintained their policy of treating the Social Democrats as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nazis. Later, both the Social Democrats and the Communists accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.
Forced-Labor Camps and transit camps: Forced labor camps were utilized for pointless and humiliating labor, imposed on prisoners without proper equipment, clothing, nourishment, or rest. Transit camps functioned as temporary holding facilities for Jews awaiting deportation. These camps were usually the last stop before deportations to a killing center. There were 1,830 forced labor and transit camps.
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.
In the spring of 1941, the SS—along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program—introduced the Action 14f13 programme meant for extermination of selected concentration camp prisoners. The Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps categorized all files dealing with the death of prisoners as 14f, and those of prisoners sent to the T-4 gas chambers as 14f13. Under the language regulations of the SS, selected prisoners were designated for "special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung) 14f13". Prisoners were officially selected based on their medical condition; namely, those permanently unfit for labor due to illness. Unofficially, racial and eugenic criteria were used: Jews, the handicapped, and those with criminal or antisocial records were selected.:p.144 For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician's "diagnosis".:pp. 147–148 In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational, Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Action 14f13.:p.150