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.
The crisis led to war preparations by Britain, Czechoslovakia, and France (Czechoslovakia's ally). Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Czechoslovak government was forced to accept the Sudetenland's annexation into Germany. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London, saying the agreement brought "peace for our time". The agreement lasted six months before Hitler seized the rest of Czech territory in March 1939.
Losses continued to mount after Stalingrad, leading to a sharp reduction in the popularity of the Nazi Party and deteriorating morale.  Soviet forces continued to push westward after the failed German offensive at the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. By the end of 1943 the Germans had lost most of their eastern territorial gains. In Egypt, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps were defeated by British forces under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in October 1942. The Allies landed in Sicily in July 1943 and in Italy in September. Meanwhile, American and British bomber fleets based in Britain began operations against Germany. Many sorties were intentionally given civilian targets in an effort to destroy German morale. German aircraft production could not keep pace with losses, and without air cover the Allied bombing campaign became even more devastating. By targeting oil refineries and factories, they crippled the German war effort by late 1944.
Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, some 438,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped on 147 trains to Birkenau, stretching the camp’s resources for killing beyond all limits. Because the crematoria were overcrowded, bodies were burned in pyres fueled partly by the victims’ own fat. Just prior to the deportation of Hungarian Jewry, two prisoners escaped with plans of the camp. They met with resistance leaders in Slovakia and compiled a detailed report including maps. As this report made its way to Western intelligence services in the summer of 1944, there were requests to bomb Auschwitz. Although the industrial complex adjacent to Auschwitz was bombed, the death camp and its crematoria were left untouched, a subject of controversy more than 50 years later. (See Why Wasn’t Auschwitz Bombed?)
Soon afterwards, the gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed on Himmler's orders, since the regime wanted to hide the traces of its murdering machine ahead of the advancing Red Army. As Soviet troops came near to the camp in January 1945, it was hurriedly evacuated and 58 000 prisoners were driven out on a death march, during which most were killed. On the 27th of January 1945, the Red Army entered the camp (link in Czech). They found 7 650 exhausted and starving prisoners and a number of pieces of evidence of crimes that the Nazis had not had time to destroy. In the camp stores they found almost eight tonnes of human hair and over a million men's suits and women's dresses.
Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the diary has not lost its power: in 2002, Habimah staged the play for the sixth time in Israel, an average of once per decade. In March 2002, Carol Ann Lee’s biography of Otto Frank, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, had the Netherlands in an uproar. She places responsibility for the discovery of the attic’s inhabitants on Anton (Tony) Ahlers, a sworn antisemite and a member of the Dutch Nazi party who systematically informed on Jews. Ahlers was Frank’s business partner and knew that his spice company had done business with the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war. Frank evidently paid Ahlers hush money even before his family entered the attic. Afterwards, he paid him not to reveal to the Dutch government that he had done business with the Wehrmacht, and apparently continued to pay him off until his death in 1980. Following the public furor, which spread to the United States, The Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, the main organization that researches Anne Frank’s legacy today, announced that it would investigate Lee’s claims and soon publish its findings. Lee’s biography turns Anne’s father, the man who influenced her more than anyone and won her total admiration, into a man of flesh and blood devoid of the saintly image that had previously clung to him. It also placed the issues of informing and collaboration in the Netherlands and in Europe back on the public agenda, along with the question of the relationship to the Jewish citizens of those countries and their fate. Once more, Anne’s image hovers over the controversy, with its dark eyes and penetrating gaze, its hopes for a new world and faith in humankind.
In Auschwitz and Majdanek, which had the role of both being a working and an extermination camp, Jews were divided upon arrival into those capable of working ands those not. The last group was sent directly to the gas chambers, whereas those able to work had to work themselves to death in SS’s industries – or they were executed when they worn down. In Auschwitz, the Jews worked in the so-called Monowitz working camp (Auschwitz III) in factories, or they were hired out to private businesses such as the chemical corporation I.G. Farben or the SS’s own factories.
With the deportations from Hungary, the role of Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German plan to murder the Jews of Europe achieved its highest effectiveness. Between late April and early July 1944, approximately 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary. Of the nearly 426,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz, approximately 320,000 of them were sent directly to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They deployed approximately 110,000 at forced labor in the Auschwitz camp complex. The SS authorities transferred many of these Hungarian Jewish forced laborers within weeks of their arrival in Auschwitz to other concentration camps in Germany and Austria.
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
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat from Nebraska, ran for president on a fusion ticket with the Populist Party. This cartoonist from a Republican magazine thought the “Popocratic” ticket was too ideologically mismatched to win. Bryan did lose, but his campaign, the first of three he waged for the White House, transformed the Democrats into an anti-corporate, pro-labor party. Cartoon from Judge (1896) via Library of Congress
In October 1941, work began on Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka. There the SS later developed a huge concentration camp and extermination complex that included some 300 prison barracks; four large so-called Badeanstalten (German: “bathhouses”), in which prisoners were gassed to death; Leichenkeller (“corpse cellars”), in which their bodies were stored; and Einäscherungsöfen (“cremating ovens”). Another camp (Buna-Monowitz), near the village of Dwory, later called Auschwitz III, became in May 1942 a slave-labour camp supplying workers for the nearby chemical and synthetic-rubber works of IG Farben. In addition, Auschwitz became the nexus of a complex of 45 smaller subcamps in the region, most of which housed slave labourers. During most of the period from 1940 to 1945, the commandant of the central Auschwitz camps was SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) and ultimately SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieut. Col.) Rudolf Franz Hoess (Höss).
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.
In 1919, army veteran Adolf Hitler, frustrated by Germany’s defeat in World War, which had left the nation economically depressed and politically unstable, joined a fledgling political organization called the German Workers’ Party. Founded earlier that same year by a small group of men including locksmith Anton Drexler (1884-1942) and journalist Karl Harrer (1890-1926), the party promoted German nationalism and anti-Semitism, and felt that the Treaty of Versailles, the peace settlement that ended the war, was extremely unjust to Germany by burdening it with reparations it could never pay. Hitler soon emerged as a charismatic public speaker and began attracting new members with speeches blaming Jews and Marxists for Germany’s problems and espousing extreme nationalism and the concept of an Aryan “master race.” In July 1921, he assumed leadership of the organization, which by then had been renamed the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party.
In January 1923, France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply to about 20,000. By November, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the post-war German military) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this, he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter—though not a member—of the Nazis.
^ Gerda Bormann was concerned by the ratio of racially valuable women that outnumbered men and she thought that the war would make the situation worse in terms of childbirths, so much so that she advocated a law (never realised however) which allowed healthy Aryan men to have two wives. See: Anna Maria Sigmund, Women of the Third Reich (Ontario: NDE, 2000), pp. 17-19.
Hitler's talent as an orator and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure. However, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin in June 1921, a mutiny broke out within the party in Munich. Members of its executive committee wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Upon returning to Munich on 11 July, Hitler angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised that his resignation would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. The committee agreed, and he rejoined the party on 26 July as member 3,680. Hitler continued to face some opposition within the NSDAP, as his opponents had Hermann Esser expelled from the party and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party. In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser to thunderous applause.
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).
On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.
When we arrived it was, as I later found out, the usual story, though not to us at the time. Our family was torn apart on the platform on arriving. My sister, Serena, was chosen for slave labour. My mother and the younger children were sent off to one side and my father and 16-year-old brother to the other side. I held tightly on to the hand of my 12-year-old sister and for an instant I was mistaken for being older than I was, probably because I was wearing a headscarf that my mother had given me.
At some point during her induction, Lasker-Wallfisch mentioned she played the cello. “That is fantastic,” the inmate processing her said. “You will be saved.” The Birkenau women’s orchestra, responsible for keeping prisoners in step as they marched to work assignments, needed a cellist. “It was a complete coincidence,” Lasker-Wallfisch said, shaking her head. “The whole thing was complete insanity from beginning to end.”
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.
Auschwitz became one of the camps used for the mass extermination of Jews. In summer 1941, Heinrich Himmler gave orders to Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß to build a centre at Auschwitz for the mass murder of Jews. In September 1941, the lethal effects of Zyklon B - a substance normally used for pest control - were first tested and verified there. Later, four large gas chambers were built at Birkenau, capable of killing up to six thousand people each day. The gas chambers were disguised as showers, meant to persuade the victims that these were disinfection measures which they had to undergo before they were sent to work in the camp.
Though the Russians had just come across the Holocaust’s deadliest camp, the liberation of Auschwitz didn’t even make front page news. A communiquépublished in the New York Times on January 28, 1945, doesn’t even mention the camp, just the city; on February 3, the paper devotedtwo paragraphs to the “murder factory” at Oswiecim but gave few details. As World War II raced to its end, few people could even grasp the horror that was found in the camps.
After about an hour, I thanked him and stood up to leave. He handed me a white envelope. Inside was a slim memoir he published nearly 30 years ago. “My memory isn’t so good any more, you understand,” he said, shaking my hand and smiling. “But it’s all in there.” Later, I flipped to a page near the end. In October 1944, Stos was sent from Auschwitz to a series of camps deep in Germany. On May 8, 1945—the day the war in Europe ended—he was liberated by Russian soldiers. On the book’s second to last page is an undated black-and-white photo. It shows Stos with his children and grandchildren standing under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign.
The gas chambers in the Auschwitz complex constituted the largest and most efficient extermination method employed by the Nazis. Four chambers were in use at Birkenau, each with the potential to kill 6,000 people daily. They were built to look like shower rooms in order to confuse the victims. New arrivals at Birkenau were told that they were being sent to work, but first needed to shower and be disinfected. They would be led into the shower-like chambers, where they were quickly gassed to death with the highly poisonous Zyklon B gas.
An elaborate bureaucracy was created to regulate imports of raw materials and finished goods with the intention of eliminating foreign competition in the German marketplace and improving the nation's balance of payments. The Nazis encouraged the development of synthetic replacements for materials such as oil and textiles. As the market was experiencing a glut and prices for petroleum were low, in 1933 the Nazi government made a profit-sharing agreement with IG Farben, guaranteeing them a 5 percent return on capital invested in their synthetic oil plant at Leuna. Any profits in excess of that amount would be turned over to the Reich. By 1936, Farben regretted making the deal, as excess profits were by then being generated. In another attempt to secure an adequate wartime supply of petroleum, Germany intimidated Romania into signing a trade agreement in March 1939.
Over the weeks that ensued, most of the remaining inmates of Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazis’ more than 400,000 camps and incarceration facilities, were marched to other camps near and far, walking tens and sometimes even hundreds of miles. Along the way, Beller saw Nazi guards murder prisoners who tried to escape and shoot those who lagged—including women and children so exhausted from starvation and the brutal conditions they could no longer go on. As he marched on, his feet protected by the shoes he’d grabbed before leaving Auschwitz, he saw ordinary Germans standing along the road, watching the prisoners go by.
According to the numbers provided by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Auschwitz was the site of the most deaths (1.1 million) of any of the six dedicated extermination camps. By these estimates, Auschwitz was the site of at least one out of every six deaths during the Holocaust. The only camp with comparable figures was Treblinka in north-east Poland, where about 850,000 are thought to have died.
On 12 March 1938 the ‘Anschluss’ (‘Annexation’) of austrofascist Austria to the German Reich took place. Two weeks later, the National Socialist Gauleiter (regional head) of Upper Austria, August Eigruber, announced to an enthusiastic audience that his Gau would have the ‘distinction’ of building a concentration camp. The location chosen was the town of Mauthausen on the Danube. Political opponents and groups of people labelled as ‘criminal’ or ‘antisocial’ would be imprisoned here and forced to work in the granite quarries.
In 1942, after the death of Armaments Minister Fritz Todt, Hitler appointed Albert Speer as his replacement. Wartime rationing of consumer goods led to an increase in personal savings, funds which were in turn lent to the government to support the war effort. By 1944, the war was consuming 75 percent of Germany's gross domestic product, compared to 60 percent in the Soviet Union and 55 percent in Britain. Speer improved production by centralising planning and control, reducing production of consumer goods, and using forced labour and slavery. The wartime economy eventually relied heavily upon the large-scale employment of slave labour. Germany imported and enslaved some 12 million people from 20 European countries to work in factories and on farms. Approximately 75 percent were Eastern European. Many were casualties of Allied bombing, as they received poor air raid protection. Poor living conditions led to high rates of sickness, injury, and death, as well as sabotage and criminal activity. The wartime economy also relied upon large-scale robbery, initially through the state seizing the property of Jewish citizens and later by plundering the resources of occupied territories.
The history of Auschwitz-Birkenau as an extermination center is complex. From late 1941 to October 1942, the mortuary at Auschwitz main camp, which was already equipped with a crematorium, was adapted as a gas chamber. It measured approximately 835 square feet. In the spring of 1942, two provisional gas chambers at Birkenau were constructed out of peasant huts, known as the 'bunkers'.
Another important figure in pre-Nazi völkisch thinking was Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, whose work—Land und Leute (Land and People, written between 1857 and 1863)—collectively tied the organic German Volk to its native landscape and nature, a pairing which stood in stark opposition to the mechanical and materialistic civilization which was then developing as a result of industrialization. Geographers Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Haushofer borrowed from Riehl's work as did Nazi ideologues Alfred Rosenberg and Paul Schultze-Naumburg, both of whom employed some of Riehl's philosophy in arguing that "each nation-state was an organism that required a particular living space in order to survive". Riehl's influence is overtly discernible in the Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) philosophy introduced by Oswald Spengler, which the Nazi agriculturalist Walther Darré and other prominent Nazis adopted.
By mid-1942, the majority of those being sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz were Jews. Upon arriving at the camp, detainees were examined by Nazi doctors. Those detainees considered unfit for work, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and the infirm, were immediately ordered to take showers. However, the bathhouses to which they marched were disguised gas chambers. Once inside, the prisoners were exposed to Zyklon-B poison gas. Individuals marked as unfit for work were never officially registered as Auschwitz inmates. For this reason, it is impossible to calculate the number of lives lost in the camp.
Officials at the camp obeyed Himmler. In late 1944, theydismantled part of the gas chambers, forcing, eyewitnesses would later recall, the Sonderkommando—a group of mostly Jewish prisoners who were made to run the gas chambers—to dismantle the structures piece by piece. Then, as the Russians closed in that January, the remaining buildings were destroyed, blown up completely using dynamite. However, the ruins remained.
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.