Auschwitz, the largest and arguably the most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, opened in the spring of 1940. Its first commandant was Rudolf Höss (1900-47), who previously had helped run the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. Auschwitz was located on a former military base outside OÅ›wiÄ™cim, a town in southern Poland situated near Krakow, one of the country’s largest cities. During the camp’s construction, nearby factories were appropriated and all those living in the area were forcibly ejected from their homes, which were bulldozed by the Nazis.
During 1931 and into 1932, Germany's political crisis deepened. Hitler ran for President against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg in March 1932, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second against Hindenburg's 49% and 53%. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and Communist paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler's appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt antisemitism was played down in official Nazi rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles and to save Germany from communism. On 24 April 1932, the Free State of Prussia elections to the Landtag resulted in 36.3% of the votes and 162 seats for the NSDAP.
“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)
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.
The train wasn’t headed to Germany. Stos was on the first transport of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz. There to greet them were 30 hardened German convicts, brought by the SS from a prison near Berlin. Guards confiscated Stos’ belongings and issued him a number. Sixty-nine years later, he slid a business card across the dining room table as his daughter brought us cups of tea. It read “Jozef Stos, former Auschwitz Concentration Camp Prisoner No. 752.” “I was there on the first day,” he said. “They had me for five years and five days.”
In addition to eliminating Jews, the Nazis planned to reduce the population of the conquered territories by 30 million people through starvation in an action called the Hunger Plan. Food supplies would be diverted to the German army and German civilians. Cities would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists. Together, the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union. These partially fulfilled plans resulted in the democidal deaths of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). During the course of the war, the Soviet Union lost a total of 27 million people; less than nine million of these were combat deaths. One in four of the Soviet population were killed or wounded.
Nazism emphasized German nationalism, including both irredentism and expansionism. Nazism held racial theories based upon a belief in the existence of an Aryan master race that was superior to all other races. The Nazis emphasised the existence of racial conflict between the Aryan race and others—particularly Jews, whom the Nazis viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated multiple societies and was responsible for exploitation and repression of the Aryan race. The Nazis also categorised Slavs as Untermensch (sub-human).
Between 1940 and 1942, the French interned Jewish refugee families fleeing Nazi oppression elsewhere in Europe in Rivesaltes for the same reason. Lists of those incarcerated include a transport of Czech Jewish children: Brothers Salomon and Abraham Davidovic were 13 and 14 when they arrived. Conditions deteriorated. Directors complained in 1941 of no heat. Illness spread. Babies and the elderly died. The situation worsened when the Nazi-puppet Vichy regime assumed control of the camp in 1942 and began deporting its 7,000 foreign Jewish refugee prisoners to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. There, mothers and children were not separated but instead went to their deaths together.
Envisioning widespread car ownership as part of the new Germany, Hitler arranged for designer Ferdinand Porsche to draw up plans for the KdF-wagen (Strength Through Joy car), intended to be an automobile that everyone could afford. A prototype was displayed at the International Motor Show in Berlin on 17 February 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, the factory was converted to produce military vehicles. None were sold until after the war, when the vehicle was renamed the Volkswagen (people's car).
The SS gained its independence from the SA in July 1934, in the wake of the Röhm purge. Hitler then authorized SS leader Heinrich Himmler to centralize the administration of the concentration camps and formalize them into a system. Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke for this task. Eicke had been the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since June 1933. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, a new section of the SS subordinate to the SS Main Office.
The rise of Nazism in Germany during the 1930s—and the conviction that Hitler could be defeated only by military force—prompted Einstein rethink his strict pacifist views. Increasing numbers of Jewish refugees were fleeing Germany, bringing with them horrific tales of Nazi persecution; Einstein, who was also Jewish, left for the United States in 1932.
^ Hitler stated: "Today our left-wing politicians in particular are constantly insisting that their craven-hearted and obsequious foreign policy necessarily results from the disarmament of Germany, whereas the truth is that this is the policy of traitors […] But the politicians of the Right deserve exactly the same reproach. It was through their miserable cowardice that those ruffians of Jews who came into power in 1918 were able to rob the nation of its arms." Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf. Bottom of the Hill Publishing, 2010. p. 287.
Despite its economic and political success, Nazism maintained its power by coercion and mass manipulation. The Nazi regime disseminated a continual outpouring of propaganda through all cultural and informational media. Its rallies—especially its elaborately staged Nürnberg rallies—its insignia, and its uniformed cadres were designed to impart an aura of omnipotence. The underside of its propaganda machine was its apparatus of terror, with its ubiquitous secret police and concentration camps. It fanned and focused German anti-Semitism to make the Jews a symbol of all that was hated and feared. By means of deceptive rhetoric, the party portrayed the Jews as the enemy of all classes of society.
^ In The Drowned and the Saved (1986), Levi wrote that the concentration camps represented the epitome of the totalitarian system: "[N]ever has there existed a state that was really "totalitarian" ... Never has some form of reaction, a corrective of the total tyranny, been lacking, not even in the Third Reich or Stalin's Soviet Union: in both cases, public opinion, the magistrature, the foreign press, the churches, the feeling for justice and humanity that ten or twenty years of tyranny were not enough to eradicate, have to a greater or lesser extent acted as a brake. Only in the Lager [camp] was the restraint from below nonexistent, and the power of these small satraps absolute."
^ Scholarship for Martin Luther's 1543 treatise, On the Jews and their Lies, exercising influence on Germany's attitude: * Wallmann, Johannes. "The Reception of Luther's Writings on the Jews from the Reformation to the End of the 19th Century", Lutheran Quarterly, n.s. 1 (Spring 1987) 1:72–97. Wallmann writes: "The assertion that Luther's expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment have been of major and persistent influence in the centuries after the Reformation, and that there exists a continuity between Protestant anti-Judaism and modern racially oriented anti-Semitism, is at present wide-spread in the literature; since the Second World War it has understandably become the prevailing opinion." * Michael, Robert. Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006; see chapter 4 "The Germanies from Luther to Hitler", pp. 105–151. * Hillerbrand, Hans J. "Martin Luther," Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007. Hillerbrand writes: "[H]is strident pronouncements against the Jews, especially toward the end of his life, have raised the question of whether Luther significantly encouraged the development of German anti-Semitism. Although many scholars have taken this view, this perspective puts far too much emphasis on Luther and not enough on the larger peculiarities of German history."
Hitler's peace overtures to the new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were rejected in July 1940. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder had advised Hitler in June that air superiority was a pre-condition for a successful invasion of Britain, so Hitler ordered a series of aerial attacks on Royal Air Force (RAF) airbases and radar stations, as well as nightly air raids on British cities, including London, Plymouth, and Coventry. The German Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF in what became known as the Battle of Britain, and by the end of October, Hitler realised that air superiority would not be achieved. He permanently postponed the invasion, a plan which the commanders of the German army had never taken entirely seriously.[e] Several historians, including Andrew Gordon, believe the primary reason for the failure of the invasion plan was due to the superiority of the Royal Navy, not the actions of the RAF.
In June 2016, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in the Polish town of Oswiecim re-discovered over 16,000 personal items belonging to victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau that had been lost in 1968. The items were originally discovered in 1967 by archaeologists excavating the concentration camp site, and were placed in 48 cardboard boxes in the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw before being lost due to an anti-Semitic communist regime coming to power in 1968.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte accused Jews in Germany of having been and inevitably of continuing to be a "state within a state" that threatened German national unity. Fichte promoted two options in order to address this, his first one being the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine so the Jews could be impelled to leave Europe. His second option was violence against Jews and he said that the goal of the violence would be "to cut off all their heads in one night, and set new ones on their shoulders, which should not contain a single Jewish idea".
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