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.
[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015
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.
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.
Frank’s subsequent books and essays continued to win praise, if not popularity, earning her a reputation as a clear-eyed prophet carefully attuned to hypocrisy. Her readers will long remember the words she wrote in her diary at 15, included in the otherwise naive first section of "The House Behind": “I don’t believe that the big men are guilty of the war, oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and disfigured, and mankind will have to begin all over again.”
Created by the Government of Poland in 1947 at the request of survivors, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum comprises almost 472 acres (191 hectares) and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The Memorial today consists of Collections, Archives, a research, education, conservation and publishing center. Millions of people have visited the complex to learn its crucial significance, honor survivors and victims, and carry forward the memory of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
During the second half of the war the prisoners, who now included women for the first time, were increasingly used as forced labourers in the arms industry. In order to accommodate the prisoners where they worked, the SS established several subcamps. Newly-arrived prisoners were transferred to these camps from the main camp. More and more, Mauthausen itself became a camp were the sick and weak were sent to die.
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.
A survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, Frank achieved a measure of fame that was hard won. In her 20s she struggled to find a publisher for her first book, "The House Behind." The two-part memoir consisted of a short first section detailing her family’s life in hiding in Amsterdam, followed by a much longer and more gripping account of her experiences at Auschwitz, where her mother and others who had hidden with her family were murdered, and later at Bergen-Belsen, where she witnessed her sister Margot’s horrific death.
I recall the time in Auschwitz as single moments, short encounters, smells. We tried to distract ourselves from the reality of it by trying to recall our home lives in what turned into a game of momentary escapism. Quietly, the children would huddle together and ask each other: “What will you have for breakfast?” And I remember saying: “Maybe an egg or a piece of bread and butter,” and tried to conjure up memories of home.
The 24th edition of Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (2002) says the word Nazi was favored in southern Germany (supposedly from c.1924) among opponents of National Socialism because the nickname Nazi, Naczi (from the masc. proper name Ignatz, German form of Ignatius) was used colloquially to mean "a foolish person, clumsy or awkward person." Ignatz was a popular name in Catholic Austria, and according to one source in World War I Nazi was a generic name in the German Empire for the soldiers of Austria-Hungary.
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 Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, they instituted a series of measures aimed at persecuting Germany’s Jewish citizens. By late 1938, Jews were banned from most public places in Germany. During the war, the Nazis’ anti-Jewish campaigns increased in scale and ferocity. In the invasion and occupation of Poland, German troops shot thousands of Polish Jews, confined many to ghettoes where they starved to death and began sending others to death camps in various parts of Poland, where they were either killed immediately or forced into slave labor. In 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Nazi death squads machine-gunned tens of thousands of Jews in the western regions of Soviet Russia.
A play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based upon the diary premiered in New York City on 5 October 1955, and later won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was followed by the film The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), which was a critical and commercial success. Biographer Melissa Müller later wrote that the dramatization had "contributed greatly to the romanticizing, sentimentalizing and universalizing of Anne's story." Over the years the popularity of the diary grew, and in many schools, particularly in the United States, it was included as part of the curriculum, introducing Anne Frank to new generations of readers.
The Nazis’ goal wasn’t only to destroy evidence of the camp: They had plans to force the prisoners to serve as slave laborers for the Reich. Some prisoners were stuffed into train cars to complete their journey to Germany; others escaped into the sub-zero temperatures. Of those forced to walk, some died along the way, though it remains unclear how many were killed over the course of the marches.
German business leaders disliked Nazi ideology but came to support Hitler, because they saw the Nazis as a useful ally to promote their interests. Business groups made significant financial contributions to the Nazi Party both before and after the Nazi seizure of power, in the hope that a Nazi dictatorship would eliminate the organized labour movement and the left-wing parties. Hitler actively sought to gain the support of business leaders by arguing that private enterprise is incompatible with democracy.
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.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany's largest concentration and extermination camp facility, was located nearby the provincial Polish town of Oshwiecim in Galacia, and was established by order of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler on 27 April 1940. Private diaries of Goebbels and Himmler unearthed from the secret Soviet archives show that Adolf Hitler personally ordered the mass extermination of the Jews during a meeting of Nazi German regional governors in the chancellery. As Goebbels wrote "With regards to the Jewish question, the Fuhrer decided to make a clean sweep ..."
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
Over the years, several films about Anne Frank appeared. Her life and writings have inspired a diverse group of artists and social commentators to make reference to her in literature, popular music, television, and other media. These include The Anne Frank Ballet by Adam Darius, first performed in 1959, and the choral work Annelies, first performed in 2005. The only known footage of the real Anne Frank comes from a 1941 silent film recorded for her newlywed next-door neighbour. She is seen leaning out of a second-floor window in an attempt to better view the bride and groom. The couple, who survived the war, gave the film to the Anne Frank House.
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.
…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…
Of the Jews sent to Bergen-Belsen, very few were set free. One group of 222 Jews reached Palestine after leaving Bergen-Belsen on 10 July 1944. The second group left the camp in two parts – in August and December 1945, the Kasztner transport was sent to Switzerland. Finally, on 25 January 1945, 136 Jews with South American passports reached Switzerland.
But the effort to preserve the site is not without its critics. One is Robert Jan van Pelt, a cultural historian in the school of architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and the leading expert on the construction of Auschwitz. He supports the preservation of the Auschwitz main camp, although he acknowledges it is a “kind of theme park, cleaned up for tourists.” In any event, it’s a fully equipped museum, complete with exhibits and conservation facilities, where most of the original buildings still stand. But van Pelt views the Birkenau site in a different light. For one thing, 80 to 90 percent of the original structures are gone or in a state of ruin. Most important, it’s where most of the killings took place, so it is a core site of the Holocaust itself. He says letting Birkenau disintegrate completely would be a more fitting memorial than constantly repairing the scant remains. Birkenau is “the ultimate nihilistic place. A million people literally disappeared. Shouldn’t we confront people with the nothingness of the place? Seal it up. Don’t give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there.”
After the arrival of a transport at the ramp in Birkenau, the process known as selection took place. SS officers decided who would be taken to work, and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers. Often it was mere chance or the mood of the SS officer that decided whether someone died immediately or had a hope of survival. The prisoners selected for slave labour were sent to one of the many auxiliary camps at Auschwitz or elsewhere in the Nazi concentration camp system. Their aim was „Vernichtung durch Arbeit“ - extermination through labour.
Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism, rounding up functionaries of the Catholic-aligned Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party, which along with all other non-Nazi political parties ceased to exist by July. The Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, amid continuing harassment of the church in Germany. The treaty required the regime to honour the independence of Catholic institutions and prohibited clergy from involvement in politics. Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped-up charges of currency smuggling or immorality. Several Catholic leaders were targeted in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives assassinations. Most Catholic youth groups refused to dissolve themselves and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach encouraged members to attack Catholic boys in the streets. Propaganda campaigns claimed the church was corrupt, restrictions were placed on public meetings and Catholic publications faced censorship. Catholic schools were required to reduce religious instruction and crucifixes were removed from state buildings.
POW camps (Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager / Stalag) a.k.a. Main Camps for Enlisted Prisoners of War: concentration camps where enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. The inmates were usually assigned soon to nearby labor camps, (Arbeitskommandos), i.e. the Work Details. POW officers had their own camps (Offizierslager' / Oflag). Stalags were for Army prisoners, but specialized camps (Marinelager / Marlag ("Navy camps") and Marineinterniertenlager / Milag ("Merchant Marine Internment Camps")) existed for the other services. Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager Luftwaffe / Stalag Luft ("Air Forces Camps") were the only camps that detained both officers and non-commissioned personnel together.