If Godwin has a law clerk, she is working overtime this week. I refer to the truism Godwin’s Law: that all arguments eventually end with Hitler and the Holocaust. Everyone, it seems, is hurling comparisons between the American detention centers housing refugee children at the Mexican border and Nazi concentration camps. Former CIA director Michael Hayden tweeted an image of Auschwitz-Birkenau with the message, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”
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.
Frank frequently wrote of her difficult relationship with her mother, and of her ambivalence towards her. On 7 November 1942 she described her "contempt" for her mother and her inability to "confront her with her carelessness, her sarcasm and her hard-heartedness," before concluding, "She's not a mother to me." Later, as she revised her diary, Frank felt ashamed of her harsh attitude, writing: "Anne, is it really you who mentioned hate, oh Anne, how could you?" She came to understand that their differences resulted from misunderstandings that were as much her fault as her mother's, and saw that she had added unnecessarily to her mother's suffering. With this realization, Frank began to treat her mother with a degree of tolerance and respect.
The arrests took place in various ways, partly through the S.A. or S.S., partly through uniformed police, partly through plain-clothes men or secret police. It was the latter in my case. There appeared suddenly at our door a group of three men in civilian clothes, identified by their badges as policemen, who took us away in a car after having established through questioning that we were 'non-Aryans.' They also arrested a gentleman who happened to be visiting us. They had no warrants, and declined to give any information about our further destiny; our families for days were without any idea of what had happened to us. We were brought into the courtyard of the police headquarters, our names and addresses were taken down, and without any further hearing we were loaded into large trucks covered with canvas, in which benches had been placed. For the older people—and the majority were over fifty—a chair had been provided so that they might climb into the truck more easily. We mention this here especially because the treatment of the uniformed police in charge of the transportation differed pleasantly from the treatment we suffered in the camp at the hands of the S.S. The crowds in the streets took little notice of the police trucks driving in a row. Only a few urchins around the police headquarters greeted us with howling.
We know this because there is no shortage of texts from victims and survivors who chronicled the fact in vivid detail, and none of those documents has achieved anything like the fame of Frank’s diary. Those that have come close have only done so by observing the same rules of hiding, the ones that insist on polite victims who don’t insult their persecutors. The work that came closest to achieving Frank’s international fame might be Elie Wiesel’s Night, a memoir that could be thought of as a continuation of Frank’s experience, recounting the tortures of a 15-year-old imprisoned in Auschwitz. As the scholar Naomi Seidman has discussed, Wiesel first published his memoir in Yiddish, under the title And the World Kept Silent. The Yiddish book told the same story, but it exploded with rage against his family’s murderers and, as the title implies, the entire world whose indifference (or active hatred) made those murders possible. With the help of the French Catholic Nobel laureate François Mauriac, Wiesel later published a French version of the book under the title Night—a work that repositioned the young survivor’s rage into theological angst. After all, what reader would want to hear about how his society had failed, how he was guilty? Better to blame God. This approach did earn Wiesel a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a spot in Oprah’s Book Club, the American epitome of grace. It did not, however, make teenage girls read his book in Japan, the way they read Frank’s. For that he would have had to hide much, much more.
From March 1944, Bergen-Belsen gradually became a concentration camp. The Germans initially began transferring, from other camps, prisoners they classified as ‘unfit to work’. As more transports arrived from Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Neuengamme, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald concentration camps, the prisoners were housed in the former ‘prisoners’ camp’. German convicts, transferred from Dora, served as ‘block elders’ and Kapos. They treated other inmates brutally.
Auschwitz didn’t long remain a camp exclusively for Poles. In June 1941, Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, taking three million prisoners over the next seven months. Many were starved to death. Others were sent to occupied Poland or Germany as slave laborers. In the fall of 1941, ten thousand prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz and began building the Birkenau camp.
Steven Spielberg's famous film Schindler's List focused attention on people like Oscar Schindler and his wife Emilie Schindler, who - at great risk to themselves and their families - helped Jews escape the Nazi genocide. In those years, millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, but Oscar Schindler's Jews miraculously survived. Schindler spent millions to protect and save his Jews, everything he possessed. He died penniless.
Levin’s play was performed in Israel in 1966 to resounding, though shortlived success. Since he had not obtained the rights to perform it anywhere, legal action on the part of Otto Frank, led to an immediate close-down of the production. His success in Israel was not surprising: In 1950s Israel, every fourth Israeli was a Holocaust survivor who had personal experience of the worst actions humanity could commit. By the 1960s there were already 360,000 survivors in Israel. So Anne’s statement about people being good at heart, which served as the Hollywood production’s final line, the very motto of the Hollywood production, required a different response. In the adaptation of Levin’s play staged in Israel, when Anne tells her father that she still believes in people, he replies: “I don’t know, my child. I don’t know.” In another version, Peter falls at Anne’s feet and says: “Oh, Anne, if only I could believe!” The sentence about the human heart was written before Anne was captured and banished to the hell from which she never returned, before she saw Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen. Who knows whether she would have left it in place if she had lived to re-read her diary?
In 1931, Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) under his deputy, Heydrich. This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the SS forcibly separated the men from the women and children, and Otto Frank was wrenched from his family. Those deemed able to work were admitted into the camp, and those deemed unfit for labour were immediately killed. Of the 1,019 passengers, 549—including all children younger than 15—were sent directly to the gas chambers. Anne Frank, who had turned 15 three months earlier, was one of the youngest people spared from her transport. She was soon made aware that most people were gassed upon arrival and never learned that the entire group from the Achterhuis had survived this selection. She reasoned that her father, in his mid-fifties and not particularly robust, had been killed immediately after they were separated.
Primo Levi suggested Anne Frank is frequently identified as a single representative of the millions of people who suffered and died as she did because "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live." In her closing message in Müller's biography of Anne Frank, Miep Gies expressed a similar thought, though she attempted to dispel what she felt was a growing misconception that "Anne symbolises the six million victims of the Holocaust", writing: "Anne's life and death were her own individual fate, an individual fate that happened six million times over. Anne cannot, and should not, stand for the many individuals whom the Nazis robbed of their lives ... But her fate helps us grasp the immense loss the world suffered because of the Holocaust."
In October 1933, the Junkers Aircraft Works was expropriated. In concert with other aircraft manufacturers and under the direction of Aviation Minister Göring, production was ramped up. From a workforce of 3,200 people producing 100 units per year in 1932, the industry grew to employ a quarter of a million workers manufacturing over 10,000 technically advanced aircraft annually less than ten years later.
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.
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.
In January 1945, as the Soviet army entered Krakow, the Germans ordered that Auschwitz be abandoned. Before the end of the month, in what came to be known as the Auschwitz death marches, an estimated 60,000 detainees, accompanied by Nazi guards, departed the camp and were forced to march to the Polish towns of Gliwice or Wodzislaw, some 30 miles away. Countless prisoners died during this process; those who made it to the sites were sent on trains to concentration camps in Germany.
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.
More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were also founded, mainly as various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant, six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. The factory was built during the war by the German IG Farbenindustrie cartel, and the SS supplied prisoner labor. On November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp, Auschwitz III, to which some other Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated.
But, in May 1944, a railroad 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. From then to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.
When the Nazis seized power in 1933, roughly 67 percent of the population of Germany was Protestant, 33 percent was Roman Catholic, while Jews made up less than 1 percent. According to 1939 census, 54 percent considered themselves Protestant, 40 percent Roman Catholic, 3.5 percent Gottgläubig (God-believing; a Nazi religious movement) and 1.5 percent nonreligious.
Nazi plunder included private and public art collections, artefacts, precious metals, books, and personal possessions. Hitler and Göring in particular were interested in acquiring looted art treasures from occupied Europe, the former planning to use the stolen art to fill the galleries of the planned Führermuseum (Leader's Museum), and the latter for his personal collection. Göring, having stripped almost all of occupied Poland of its artworks within six months of Germany's invasion, ultimately grew a collection valued at over 50 million Reichsmarks. In 1940, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce was established to loot artwork and cultural material from public and private collections, libraries, and museums throughout Europe. France saw the greatest extent of Nazi plunder. Some 26,000 railroad cars of art treasures, furniture, and other looted items were sent to Germany from France. By January 1941, Rosenberg estimated the looted treasures from France to be valued at over one billion Reichsmarks. In addition, soldiers looted or purchased goods such as produce and clothing—items, which were becoming harder to obtain in Germany—for shipment home.
Today, he is chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. Nothing, he says, can replace the actual site as a monument and memorial. “It’s great that you can go to a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “But no one died in Washington in the Holocaust. Here—here is a massive cemetery without gravestones. Here they spent their last moments, here they took their last steps, here they said their last prayers, here they said goodbye to their children. Here. This is the symbol of the Holocaust.”
Our British liberators were amazing – they were heroes for me in the real sense of the word. After their long battle to reach Belsen, they had a campaign to organise a rescue mission. To this day I’m aghast that they were so saintly. They brought little ambulances in and drove around picking us up. I was trembling and virtually lifeless, lying near the barracks, the stench of corpses everywhere, and unable to walk or lift myself up, when they arrived with a little ambulance. I don’t think I was able to talk to the soldier who approached me, my comprehension had long gone, but I remember the gentleness in him. We couldn’t eat and I remember fainting when I tried to get out of bed. Gradually they administered the food, but I didn’t trust anyone and I hid the food in my bed, afraid that they would suddenly take it away. Even now I feel that sense at every meal time of how lucky I am, and I often say to those at the table: “Isn’t this wonderful?” and “ Aren’t we lucky?”
After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labor. IG Farben established a synthetic rubber plant in 1942 at Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz III); other camps were set up next to airplane factories, coal mines and rocket propellant plants. Conditions were brutal and prisoners were often sent to the gas chambers or killed on site if they did not work quickly enough.