Many of the horrors associated with Auschwitz—gas chambers, medical experiments, working prisoners to death—had been pioneered in earlier concentration camps. In the late thirties, driven largely by Himmler’s ambition to make the S.S. an independent economic and military power within the state, the K.L. began a transformation from a site of punishment to a site of production. The two missions were connected: the “work-shy” and other unproductive elements were seen as “useless mouths,” and forced labor was a way of making them contribute to the community. Oswald Pohl, the S.S. bureaucrat in charge of economic affairs, had gained control of the camps by 1938, and began a series of grandiose building projects. The most ambitious was the construction of a brick factory near Sachsenhausen, which was intended to produce a hundred and fifty million bricks a year, using cutting-edge equipment and camp labor.
Those who were selected for work were set on a whole range of tasks. These included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp and heavy manual work. Some Jewish prisoners were put into units called Sonderkommandos, whose role was to work in the gas chambers and crematorium. They were kept apart from the rest of the camp prisoners, but were also sent to their deaths in the gas chambers after a few weeks or months of work.

Prisoners were crammed into the crumbling barracks and provided only a few hundred calories a day. Most died of starvation, exhaustion and diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Beatings, torture and executions were commonplace. Camp doctors conducted experiments—usually fatal—on prisoners, looking for ways to sterilize women with radiation or toxic chemicals, and studying the effects of extreme cold or starvation on the human body. In the first few years of the camp, 80 percent of new inmates died within two months.
One of the most significant ideological influences on the Nazis was the German nationalist Johann Gottlieb Fichte, whose works had served as an inspiration to Hitler and other Nazi Party members, including Dietrich Eckart and Arnold Fanck.[61] In Speeches to the German Nation (1808), written amid Napoleonic France's occupation of Berlin, Fichte called for a German national revolution against the French occupiers, making passionate public speeches, arming his students for battle against the French and stressing the need for action by the German nation so it could free itself.[62] Fichte's nationalism was populist and opposed to traditional elites, spoke of the need for a "People's War" (Volkskrieg) and put forth concepts similar to those which the Nazis adopted.[62] Fichte promoted German exceptionalism and stressed the need for the German nation to purify itself (including purging the German language of French words, a policy that the Nazis undertook upon their rise to power).[62]
From its rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime built a series of incarceration sites to imprison and eliminate so-called "enemies of the state." Most prisoners in the early concentration camps were German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of "asocial" or socially deviant behavior. Some of these facilities were called “concentration camps” because those imprisoned there were physically “concentrated” in one location.
Primary and secondary education focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography, and physical fitness.[357] The curriculum in most subjects, including biology, geography, and even arithmetic, was altered to change the focus to race.[358] Military education became the central component of physical education, and education in physics was oriented toward subjects with military applications, such as ballistics and aerodynamics.[359][360] Students were required to watch all films prepared by the school division of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.[355]
In the 1920s, the Nazi Party expanded beyond its Bavarian base. Catholic Bavaria maintained its right-wing nostalgia for a Catholic monarch;[citation needed] and Westphalia, along with working-class "Red Berlin", were always the Nazis' weakest areas electorally, even during the Third Reich itself. The areas of strongest Nazi support were in rural Protestant areas such as Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia. Depressed working-class areas such as Thuringia also produced a strong Nazi vote, while the workers of the Ruhr and Hamburg largely remained loyal to the Social Democrats, the Communist Party of Germany or the Catholic Centre Party. Nuremberg remained a Nazi Party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg Rally was held there in 1927. These rallies soon became massive displays of Nazi paramilitary power and attracted many recruits. The Nazis' strongest appeal was to the lower middle-classes – farmers, public servants, teachers and small businessmen – who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s, so who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class was receptive to Hitler's antisemitism, since it blamed Jewish big business for its economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in the War of 1914–1918 and attracted by the Nazis' radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nazi constituency. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members.[70]
Before he joined the Bavarian Army to fight in World War I, Hitler had lived a bohemian lifestyle as a petty street watercolour artist in Vienna and Munich and he maintained elements of this lifestyle later on, going to bed very late and rising in the afternoon, even after he became Chancellor and then Führer.[47] After the war, his battalion was absorbed by the Bavarian Soviet Republic from 1918 to 1919, where he was elected Deputy Battalion Representative. According to historian Thomas Weber, Hitler attended the funeral of communist Kurt Eisner (a German Jew), wearing a black mourning armband on one arm and a red communist armband on the other,[48] which he took as evidence that Hitler's political beliefs had not yet solidified.[48] In Mein Kampf, Hitler never mentioned any service with the Bavarian Soviet Republic and he stated that he became an antisemite in 1913 during his years in Vienna. This statement has been disputed by the contention that he was not an antisemite at that time,[49] even though it is well established that he read many antisemitic tracts and journals during time and admired Karl Lueger, the antisemitic mayor of Vienna.[50] Hitler altered his political views in response to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 and it was then that he became an antisemitic, German nationalist.[49]
The third camp, Auschwitz III, also called Monowitz, was opened in October 1942. It was predominantly used as a base for imprisoned labourers working for the German chemical company IG Farben. According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum, an estimated 10,000 labourers are thought to have died there. Once they were judged incapable of work, most were killed with a phenol injection to the heart.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP; Nazi Party) was founded in 1920. It was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party (DAP) formed one year earlier, and one of several far-right political parties then active in Germany.[5] The NSDAP party platform included destruction of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism.[6] They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum ("living space") for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights.[7] The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement.[8] The party, especially its paramilitary organisation Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), used physical violence to advance their political position, disrupting the meetings of rival organisations and attacking their members (as well as Jewish people) on the streets.[9] Such far-right armed groups were common in Bavaria, and were tolerated by the sympathetic far-right state government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr.[10]
At the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees,[156] its economy had collapsed, and 70 percent of its industrial infrastructure was destroyed.[157] Between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from central, eastern, and southeastern Europe to Germany.[158] The West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union.[159] This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths.[160][161][162] In 2006, the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.[f]

The prisoners' days began at 4:30 am for the men (an hour later in winter), and earlier for the women, when the block supervisor sounded a gong and started beating inmates with sticks to encourage them to wash and use the latrines quickly.[106] Sanitary arrangements were atrocious, with few latrines and a lack of clean water. Each washhouse had to service thousands of prisoners. In sectors BIa and BIb in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, two buildings containing latrines and washrooms were installed in 1943. These contained troughs for washing and 90 faucets; the toilet facilities were "sewage channels" covered by concrete with 58 holes for seating. There were three barracks with washing facilities or toilets to serve 16 residential barracks in BIIa, and six washrooms/latrines for 32 barracks in BIIb, BIIc, BIId, and BIIe.[107] Primo Levi described a 1944 Auschwitz III washroom:


Returning to Auschwitz is going to be a cold, painful and tearful experience. It is a shadow that has always been with me and I’m hoping that by facing it for one last time at the age of 84 I will be able to live my life more peacefully, but I am extremely anxious. I lost my husband just days ago and I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to release my emotions when I’m there, as I’ve never really been able to cry much about anything. I’m comforted by the thought that there will be strength in numbers and that I’ll be there with perhaps 100 or so other survivors, which makes it easier. I would not go on my own. I appear to be a strong person, but inside I’m really quite fragile.

After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, all located in Germany. Following the violent Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms in November 1938, the Nazis conducted mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in camps for brief periods.


The general membership of the Nazi Party mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class. In early 1933, just before Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship, the party showed an under-representation of "workers", who made up 29.7% of the membership but 46.3% of German society. Conversely, white-collar employees (18.6% of members and 12% of Germans), the self-employed (19.8% of members and 9.6% of Germans) and civil servants (15.2% of members and 4.8% of the German population) had joined in proportions greater than their share of the general population.[115] These members were affiliated with local branches of the party, of which there were 1,378 throughout the country in 1928. In 1932, the number had risen to 11,845, reflecting the party's growth in this period.[115]
In spite of efforts to prepare the country militarily, the economy could not sustain a lengthy war of attrition. A strategy was developed based on the tactic of Blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), which involved using quick coordinated assaults that avoided enemy strong points. Attacks began with artillery bombardment, followed by bombing and strafing runs. Next the tanks would attack and finally the infantry would move in to secure the captured area.[225] Victories continued through mid-1940, but the failure to defeat Britain was the first major turning point in the war. The decision to attack the Soviet Union and the decisive defeat at Stalingrad led to the retreat of the German armies and the eventual loss of the war.[226] The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945 was around 18.2 million, of whom 5.3 million died.[150]
The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s, the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party's regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau ("region"). Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter ("county leaders"), Zellenleiter ("cell leaders") and Blockleiter ("block leaders"). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. Being composed largely of unemployed workers, many SA men took the Nazis' socialist rhetoric seriously. At this time, the Hitler salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting "Heil Hitler!" were adopted throughout the party.
Although the factory had been expected to begin production in 1943, shortages of labor and raw materials meant start-up had to be postponed repeatedly.[64] The Allies bombed the plant in 1944 on 20 August, 13 September, 18 December, and again on 26 December. On 19 January 1945, the SS ordered that the site be evacuated, sending 9,000 inmates on a death march to another Auschwitz subcamp at Gliwice.[65] The plant had almost been ready to commence production.[66] From Gliwice, prisoners were taken by rail in open freight wagons to Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps. The 800 inmates who had been left behind in the Monowitz hospital were liberated on 27 January 1945 by the 1st Ukrainian Front of the Red Army.[67]
I did go back to my home town, Radom, just once in 1996 or 1998. I saw our house, and stood in the backyard, but my heart was bleeding so much, I didn’t dare go in. I walked up the street and it was like walking on history – something lost and far away, but also very close. Here was the road on which I used to run to school, to the factory, but I had to get away very quickly. I was thinking: “I’m here, but where are all of them, my family?”
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.
Radical Antisemitism was promoted by prominent advocates of Völkisch nationalism, including Eugen Diederichs, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn.[69] De Lagarde called the Jews a "bacillus, the carriers of decay ... who pollute every national culture ... and destroy all faiths with their materialistic liberalism" and he called for the extermination of the Jews.[89] Langbehn called for a war of annihilation against the Jews, and his genocidal policies were later published by the Nazis and given to soldiers on the front during World War II.[89] One antisemitic ideologue of the period, Friedrich Lange, even used the term "National Socialism" to describe his own anti-capitalist take on the Völkisch nationalist template.[90]
Auschwitz became a significant source of slave labor locally and functioned as an international clearing house. Of 2.5 million people who were deported to Auschwitz, 405,000 were given prisoner status and serial numbers. Of these, approximately 50 percent were Jews and 50 percent were Poles and other nationalities. Of those who received numbers, 65,000 survived. It is estimated that about 200,000 people passed through the Auschwitz camps and survived.
The women selected from this transport, including Anne, Edith, and Margot, were marked with numbers between A-25060 and A-25271. Records indicating their exact numbers have not been preserved. Approximately eight weeks later, in late October 1944, Anne and Margot were transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died sometime in March 1945. Though Anne’s death certificate documents her movement between camps, it, too, does not include her tattoo ID number.
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.
The Nazi Party was banned on 9 November 1923; however, with the support of the nationalist Völkisch-Social Bloc (Völkisch-Sozialer Block), it continued to operate under the name "German Party" (Deutsche Partei or DP) from 1924 to 1925.[66] The Nazis failed to remain unified in the DP, as in the north, the right-wing Volkish nationalist supporters of the Nazis moved to the new German Völkisch Freedom Party, leaving the north's left-wing Nazi members, such as Joseph Goebbels retaining support for the party.[67]
Cornelis Suijk—a former director of the Anne Frank Foundation and president of the U.S. Center for Holocaust Education Foundation—announced in 1999 that he was in the possession of five pages that had been removed by Otto Frank from the diary prior to publication; Suijk claimed that Otto Frank gave these pages to him shortly before his death in 1980. The missing diary entries contain critical remarks by Anne Frank about her parents' strained marriage and discuss Frank's lack of affection for her mother.[76] Some controversy ensued when Suijk claimed publishing rights over the five pages; he intended to sell them to raise money for his foundation. The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, the formal owner of the manuscript, demanded the pages be handed over. In 2000 the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science agreed to donate US$300,000 to Suijk's foundation, and the pages were returned in 2001. Since then, they have been included in new editions of the diary.[77]
In October 1944, the 'Sonderkommando' crew crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematories. In November Himmler ordered gassings to stop, and a 'cleanup' operation was inaugurated to conceal traces of the mass murder. In January 1945, the Germans evacuated 58,000 prisoners who could walk. They left behind in the main camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long.
Radical Antisemitism was promoted by prominent advocates of Völkisch nationalism, including Eugen Diederichs, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn.[69] De Lagarde called the Jews a "bacillus, the carriers of decay ... who pollute every national culture ... and destroy all faiths with their materialistic liberalism" and he called for the extermination of the Jews.[89] Langbehn called for a war of annihilation against the Jews, and his genocidal policies were later published by the Nazis and given to soldiers on the front during World War II.[89] One antisemitic ideologue of the period, Friedrich Lange, even used the term "National Socialism" to describe his own anti-capitalist take on the Völkisch nationalist template.[90]
Gradowski was not poetic; he was prophetic. He did not gaze into this inferno and ask why. He knew. Aware of both the long recurring arc of destruction in Jewish history, and of the universal fact of cruelty’s origins in feelings of worthlessness, he writes: “This fire was ignited long ago by the barbarians and murderers of the world, who had hoped to drive darkness from their brutal lives with its light.”
On 22 June 1941, contravening the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 5.5 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. In addition to Hitler's stated purpose of acquiring Lebensraum, this large-scale offensive—codenamed Operation Barbarossa—was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers.[115] The reaction among Germans was one of surprise and trepidation as many were concerned about how much longer the war would continue or suspected that Germany could not win a war fought on two fronts.[116]
The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct regarding sexual matters and was sympathetic to women who bore children out of wedlock.[382] Promiscuity increased as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often intimately involved with several women simultaneously. Soldier's wives were frequently involved in extramarital relationships. Sex was sometimes used as a commodity to obtain better work from a foreign labourer.[383] Pamphlets enjoined German women to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers as a danger to their blood.[384]
In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients—estimated at several thousands—were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where several were adopted by Polish families, or placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice.[254] The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.[254]
Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.
Hitler quickly became the party's most active orator, appearing in public as a speaker 31 times within the first year after his self-discovery.[55] Crowds began to flock to hear his speeches.[56] Hitler always spoke about the same subjects: the Treaty of Versailles and the Jewish question.[48] This deliberate technique and effective publicising of the party contributed significantly to his early success,[48] about which a contemporary poster wrote: "Since Herr Hitler is a brilliant speaker, we can hold out the prospect of an extremely exciting evening".[57] Over the following months, the party continued to attract new members,[41] while remaining too small to have any real significance in German politics.[58] By the end of the year, party membership was recorded at 2,000,[56] many of whom Hitler and Röhm had brought into the party personally, or for whom Hitler's oratory had been their reason for joining.[59]
Between 1942 and 1944, the SS authorities at Auschwitz established 44 subcamps. Some of them were established within the officially designated “development” zone, including Budy, Rajsko, Tschechowitz, Harmense, and Babitz. Others, such as Blechhammer, Gleiwitz, Althammer, Fürstengrube, Laurahuette, and Eintrachthuette were located in Upper Silesia north and west of the Vistula River. Some subcamps, such as Freudenthal and Bruenn (Brno), were located in Moravia.
The first 'bunker', with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra 'capacity' was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the 'bunkers' were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open. Between January 1942 and March 1943, 175,000 Jews were gassed to death here, of whom 105,000 were killed from January to March 1943.
Major public works projects financed with deficit spending included the construction of a network of Autobahnen and providing funding for programmes initiated by the previous government for housing and agricultural improvements.[258] To stimulate the construction industry, credit was offered to private businesses and subsidies were made available for home purchases and repairs.[259] On the condition that the wife would leave the workforce, a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks could be accessed by young couples of Aryan descent who intended to marry, and the amount that had to be repaid was reduced by 25 percent for each child born.[260] The caveat that the woman had to remain unemployed outside the home was dropped by 1937 due to a shortage of skilled labourers.[261]
As the government and military began to collapse within Germany, Nazi officials in both Germany and occupied Poland began to think about their endgame. In November 1944, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and one of the architects of the Holocaust, issued an abruptorder to destroy the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of Auschwitz’s three main camps. Historians disagree on why he issued the command, which was in direct opposition to a previous order by Adolf Hitler to destroy the remaining Jews in Europe.
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.[62] 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.[91] 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".[91]
^ 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.
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