During the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis began the first mass killings of Jews. Between June and September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen supported by local collaborators murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews across Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Soviet Union. Having observed the killings, Adolf Eichmann ordered a more efficient method of killing the Jews of Europe be developed.
It is surprising to me that inmates make any attempt to escape. Already in the first hours of our stay we could convince ourselves of the hopelessness of such an undertaking, being lined up as we were along the inner wall. The watchtowers were occupied by S.S. men with machine guns, and during the darkness rays of searchlights played from them. The guards in the watchtowers, provided with field glasses, were able to see each inmate who might move outside the barracks during the night hours, and they had strict orders to fire at an offender at once. Aside from these guards, mechanical contraptions made escape almost impossible. On the inner sides of the two encircling walls there were tall wire fences charged with a high-voltage current. Inside the wire fence there was a small strip of gravel, in front of which were signs bearing skull and crossbones and this inscription: 'Caution neutral zone.' The guards were instructed to shoot without warning at anybody entering this zone.
On January 20, 1942, fourteen such functionaries assembled at a lakeside villa outside Berlin to discuss a “Final Solution” to what was called “the Jewish problem.” What we now know as the Wannsee Conference put on paper plans that Hitler and his subordinates had been talking about for months. Of Europe’s 11 million Jews, those who could work would be worked to death, following the model already created at Auschwitz and other camps. Jews who were not selected for useful labor would be eliminated.
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.
At Auschwitz, there was a team of Nazi doctors who conducted experiments, but the two most notorious were Dr. Carl Clauberg and Dr. Josef Mengele. Dr. Clauberg focused his attention on finding ways to sterilize women, by such unorthodox methods as X-rays and injections of various substances into their uteruses. Dr. Mengele experimented on identical twins, hoping to find a secret to cloning what Nazis considered the perfect Aryan.
The Nazi Party's precursor, the Pan-German nationalist and antisemitic German Workers' Party, was founded on 5 January 1919. By the early 1920s the party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party – to attract workers away from left-wing parties such as the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Communists (KPD) – and Adolf Hitler assumed control of the organization. The National Socialist Program or "25 Points" was adopted in 1920 and called for a united Greater Germany that would deny citizenship to Jews or those of Jewish descent, while also supporting land reform and the nationalization of some industries. In Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"; 1924–1925), Hitler outlined the anti-Semitism and anti-Communism at the heart of his political philosophy, as well as his disdain for representative democracy and his belief in Germany's right to territorial expansion.
The destruction of valuable property, of irretrievable art treasures, as well as of valuable tapestries in Munich, of Rembrandt pictures in Hesse, was not enough. The decision was made to bring a great number of Jews into camps for protective custody. Rough estimate places the number of victims at about sixty thousand males. In the camp with which we are dealing there were probably about six to seven thousand men.
Frank soon found the traction to publish Margot, a novel that imagined her sister living the life she once dreamed of, as a midwife in the Galilee. A surreal work that breaks the boundaries between novel and memoir, and leaves ambiguous which of its characters are dead or alive, Margot became wildly popular in Israel. Its English translation allowed Frank to find a small but appreciative audience in the United States.
Since our clothing did not offer enough protection against the prevailing cold—the temperatures were around freezing point—the restriction resulted in many diseases of the respiratory organs. These affected us in two ways: for one, the prisoners with colds were much tormented by coughing, and, for another, the rest of us suffered much from their comforts. In the room in which we were lying penned up together on the straw, with two covers at the most, the snoring alone of the many men produced a noise like a spinning mill. Now the barking and panting noise of the coughing was added to that. We were given only one handkerchief every two weeks. To make matters worse, there was no warm water for washing our handkerchiefs and it was impossible to dry them at the stove.
The Nazi Party won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, making them the largest party in the legislature by far, but still short of an outright majority. Because none of the parties were willing or able to put together a coalition government, in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg, through the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees by Hindenburg, and a change in the Weimar Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing both Hindenburg and the Reichstag, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.
^ One of the best-known examples was the 168 British Commonwealth and U.S. aviators held for a time at Buchenwald concentration camp. (See: luvnbdy/secondwar/fact_sheets/pow Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006, "Prisoners of War in the Second World War" and National Museum of the USAF, "Allied Victims of the Holocaust" Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine.) Two different reasons are suggested for this: the Nazis wanted to make an example of theTerrorflieger ("terror-instilling aviators"), or they classified the downed fliers as spies because they were out of uniform, carrying false papers, or both when apprehended.
Auschwitz, Polish Oświęcim, also called Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp and extermination camp. Located near the industrial town of Oświęcim in southern Poland (in a portion of the country that was annexed by Germany at the beginning of World War II), Auschwitz was actually three camps in one: a prison camp, an extermination camp, and a slave-labour camp. As the most lethal of the Nazi extermination camps, Auschwitz has become the emblematic site of the “final solution,” a virtual synonym for the Holocaust. Between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died at Auschwitz; 90 percent of them were Jews. Also among the dead were some 19,000 Roma who were held at the camp until the Nazis gassed them on July 31, 1944—the only other victim group gassed in family units alongside the Jews. The Poles constituted the second largest victim group at Auschwitz, where some 83,000 were killed or died.
But as far as racially inspired lawmaking was concerned, it was the United States that aroused the Führer’s interest the most, even as he deplored its liberal-egalitarian ethos. He loved the novels of Karl May that depicted cowboys conquering the West, and, as Timothy Snyder and others have argued, Hitler’s model for creating German Lebensraum in Europe was the American genocide of indigenous peoples, the depopulation of their lands, and their subsequent legal subjugation and ghettoization. Nazi intellectuals and doctors had a sustained engagement with the eugenics movement, which was codified into U.S. immigration law and served as a model for the Third Reich’s own sterilization and euthanasia program. (North Carolina had a sterilization policy for the mentally ill until 1977.) The very founding of the United States, in white supremacist history, was the crowning achievement of the Aryan peoples. “The racially pure and still unmixed German,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “has risen to become master of the American continent, and he will remain master as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution.” The United States was “the one state,” Hitler wrote from prison, that sensibly refused immigration to “physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” In his unpublished second book, Hitler again marveled at the racial hierarchy of the United States, with Nordics, English, and Germans at the top of their rightful dominion as the master race.
Fewer than 200 Jews escaped from the camps. Herman Shine, one of the last survivors to have escaped Auschwitz, died in July 2018. He was born in Berlin to a Polish father and they were arrested in that city in 1939. Along with 1,700 other Polish Jews, they were deported to Sachsenhausen. To survive, Shine claimed to be a roofer and learned how to build roofs before being transferred to Auschwitz in 1942.
In 1976, Otto Frank took action against Heinz Roth of Frankfurt, who published pamphlets stating that the diary was "a forgery". The judge ruled that if Roth was to publish any further statements he would be subjected to a fine of 500,000 German marks and a six-month jail sentence. Roth appealed against the court's decision. He died in 1978, and after a year his appeal was rejected.
The Diary, which has been translated into more than 65 languages, is the most widely read diary of the Holocaust, and Anne is probably the best known of Holocaust victims. The Diary was also made into a play that premiered on Broadway in October 1955, and in 1956 it won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. A film version directed by George Stevens was produced in 1959. The play was controversial: it was challenged by screenwriter Meyer Levin, who wrote an early version of the play (later realized as a 35-minute radio play) and accused Otto Frank and his chosen screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, of sanitizing and de-Judaizing the story. The play was often performed in high schools throughout the world and was revived (with additions) on Broadway in 1997–98.
Edith Frank died of starvation at Auschwitz in January 1945. Hermann van Pels died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz soon after his arrival there in 1944; his wife is believed to have likely died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic in the spring of 1945. Peter van Pels died at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in May 1945. Fritz Pfeffer died from illness in late December 1944 at the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany. Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was the only member of the group to survive; he was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
This debacle did not discourage Himmler and Pohl. On the contrary, with the coming of war, in 1939, S.S. ambitions for the camps grew rapidly, along with their prisoner population. On the eve of the war, the entire K.L. system contained only about twenty-one thousand prisoners; three years later, the number had grown to a hundred and ten thousand, and by January, 1945, it was more than seven hundred thousand. New camps were built to accommodate the influx of prisoners from conquered countries and then the tens of thousands of Red Army soldiers taken prisoner in the first months after Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the U.S.S.R.
When the victims arrived to the extermination camps in overcrowded trains, they were herded out onto the arrival ramp. Here, German SS-men and perhaps brutal Ukrainian guards forced them to hand over their belongings and their clothes. Most of the victims had been told that they were merely to be moved to the east for new jobs and living places, and most of them had brought their favourite belongings.
The similarities between the Rivesaltes camp and the Trump administration’s camps for children should already be apparent: a temporary, insufficiently conceived facility designed to prevent foreigners from entering the country. And, as with Rivesaltes, officials have no real plan for what to do with them. Moreover, as historian Terrence Peterson emphasized, Rivesaltes “remained the go-to space for the French government simply because it existed. The infrastructure was in place that allowed the French state to simply shift unwanted populations into a controlled space rather than dealing substantively with changing migration policy or dealing with the human consequences of bad policy.”
Adolf Hitler, the party's leader since 1921, was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933. Hitler rapidly established a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich. Following the defeat of the Third Reich at the conclusion of World War II in Europe, the party was "declared to be illegal" by the Allied powers, who carried out denazification in the years after the war.
As the Russians closed in on Auschwitz, the Germans became desperate, destroying as much evidence of war crimes as they could, including records and property seized from prisoners, and forcing as many prisoners as they could on what became death marches. The day before the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz, Edith died there. On January 27 Otto was liberated and taken to Odessa and then France before being allowed to return to Amsterdam in June 1945.
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.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 and the broadcast of the television miniseries Holocaust in 1979 brought the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coping with the past) to the forefront for many Germans. Once study of Nazi Germany was introduced into the school curriculum starting in the 1970s, people began researching the experiences of their family members. Study of the era and a willingness to critically examine its mistakes has led to the development of a strong democracy in Germany, but with lingering undercurrents of antisemitism and neo-Nazi thought.
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.