Long before the Nazis took power, concentration camps had featured in their imagination. Wachsmann finds Hitler threatening to put Jews in camps as early as 1921. But there were no detailed plans for building such camps when Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, in January, 1933. A few weeks later, on February 27th, he seized on the burning of the Reichstag—by Communists, he alleged—to launch a full-scale crackdown on his political opponents. The next day, he implemented a decree, “For the Protection of People and State,” that authorized the government to place just about anyone in “protective custody,” a euphemism for indefinite detention. (Euphemism, too, was to be a durable feature of the K.L. universe: the killing of prisoners was referred to as Sonderbehandlung, “special treatment.”)
Otto Frank spent the remainder of his life as custodian of his daughter's legacy, saying, "It's a strange role. In the normal family relationship, it is the child of the famous parent who has the honour and the burden of continuing the task. In my case the role is reversed." He recalled his publisher's explaining why he thought the diary has been so widely read, with the comment, "he said that the diary encompasses so many areas of life that each reader can find something that moves him personally". Simon Wiesenthal expressed a similar sentiment when he said that the diary had raised more widespread awareness of the Holocaust than had been achieved during the Nuremberg Trials, because "people identified with this child. This was the impact of the Holocaust, this was a family like my family, like your family and so you could understand this."
Hitler expressed opposition to capitalism, regarding it as having Jewish origins and accusing capitalism of holding nations ransom to the interests of a parasitic cosmopolitan rentier class. He also expressed opposition to communism and egalitarian forms of socialism, arguing that inequality and hierarchy are beneficial to the nation. He believed that communism was invented by the Jews to weaken nations by promoting class struggle. After his rise to power, Hitler took a pragmatic position on economics, accepting private property and allowing capitalist private enterprises to exist so long as they adhered to the goals of the Nazi state, but not tolerating enterprises that he saw as being opposed to the national interest.
There are many self-reflective passages where Anne laments being picked on by the adults in the annex, wondering if she will live up to the expectations they have for her, hoping she can reach her goals. There is a thread of hope apparent even in her most depressing writings. I think these are the parts I think teens find most relate-able because all teens want to achieve things, please their parents, and find hope in their moments of despair.
The Hitler cabinet used the terms of the Reichstag Fire Decree and later the Enabling Act to initiate the process of Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination"), which brought all aspects of life under party control. Individual states not controlled by elected Nazi governments or Nazi-led coalitions were forced to agree to the appointment of Reich Commissars to bring the states in line with the policies of the central government. These Commissars had the power to appoint and remove local governments, state parliaments, officials, and judges. In this way Germany became a de facto unitary state, with all state governments controlled by the central government under the NSDAP. The state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934, with all state powers being transferred to the central government.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that Lebensraum would be acquired in Eastern Europe, especially Russia. In his early years as the Nazi leader, Hitler had claimed that he would be willing to accept friendly relations with Russia on the tactical condition that Russia agree to return to the borders established by the German–Russian peace agreement of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed by Vladimir Lenin of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1918 which gave large territories held by Russia to German control in exchange for peace. In 1921, Hitler had commended the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as opening the possibility for restoration of relations between Germany and Russia by saying:
The Nazis removed citizenship from German Jews then, during the Second World War, sent most Jews, from Germany and elsewhere, to camps outside the borders of pre-war Germany. Yet, as the war progressed, Germany brought in huge numbers of forced labourers from all over Europe (U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that German-run camps were designed to keep Jews in, rather than out, is unfounded).
When Anne’s sister, Margot, was faced with deportation (supposedly to a forced-labour camp), the Franks went into hiding on July 6, 1942, in the backroom office and warehouse of Otto Frank’s food-products business. With the aid of a few non-Jewish friends, among them Miep Gies, who smuggled in food and other supplies, the Frank family and four other Jews—Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer—lived confined to the “secret annex.” During this time, Anne wrote faithfully in her diary, recounting day-to-day life in hiding, from ordinary annoyances to the fear of capture. She discussed typical adolescent issues as well as her hopes for the future, which included becoming a journalist or a writer. Anne’s last diary entry was written on August 1, 1944. Three days later the annex was discovered by the Gestapo, which was acting on a tip from Dutch informers.
The publication of the English-language critical/definitive edition in 1989 sparked a worldwide wave of research that focused on Anne Frank from different perspectives: the literary perspective; the diary as a historical document; the feminist angle; the diary’s Jewish aspect and its portrayal of Jewish life in central and western Europe; wartime adolescence; the adolescence of a promising writer, and more. In 1996, Jon Blair’s documentary Anne Frank Remembered won an Academy Award, and another exhibit, Anne Frank: A History for Today, prepared at the Anne Frank House went on tour. The exhibit immediately became a symbol of struggle, deprivation and suffering, discrimination against the individual and minorities, occupation and oppression. In every place it was shown, the need to educate against fascism and xenophobia, Holocaust denial and antisemitism was emphasized. The catalog stresses that “[T]he Anne Frank House tries to realize Anne’s ideals as she spoke of them in her diary by fighting prejudice, antisemitism and racism through fostering pluralistic and democratic society. The guiding principle of the House’s work is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a member of the United States’s delegation to the United Nations had headed the committee that prepared the Declaration in the wake of World War II, wrote the foreword to the diary’s English edition shortly afterward.
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.”
Beginning a pattern that became typical after the war began, economic considerations had an increasing impact on the selection of sites for concentration camps after 1937. For instance, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg were located near large stone quarries. Likewise, concentration camp authorities increasingly diverted prisoners from meaningless, backbreaking labor to still backbreaking and dangerous labor in extractive industries, such as stone quarries and coal mines, and construction labor.
In his new book, “Berlin, 1933,” Daniel Schneidermann, a French media critic and the founder of Arrêt sur Images, a French analogue to Media Matters for America, examines the work of American, British, and French correspondents posted in Berlin in the nineteen-thirties, to investigate how acutely the foreign press understood the threat of Nazism. This genre of comparison can be ahistorical and logically flawed. In 2016, as the laughter of Trump’s Presidential campaign gave way to incredulity over its triumph, archival searches from the twenties and thirties came into vogue. A Vox headline in March, 2016, proclaimed, “The New York Times’ first article about Hitler’s rise is absolutely stunning,” and American pundits, on both the left and right, were making highly imperfect analogies to the rise of fascism. But Schneidermann’s book (published in French) isn’t trying to make a one-to-one argument; rather, he takes up the question of reporters covering a new political reality in the face of their own uncertainty. The result is a kind of meta-history of the nineteen-thirties, recounting the rise of Hitler through the manner in which newspapers chose to convey each successive event, and how those choices affected popular understanding outside Germany at the time.
Germany regained control of the Saarland through a referendum held in 1935 and annexed Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. The Munich Agreement of 1938 gave Germany control of the Sudetenland, and they seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia six months later. Under threat of invasion by sea, Lithuania surrendered the Memel district in March 1939.
Another method was the use of gassing trucks. In Chemno gassing trucks were used, where Jews, after being driven into the trucks, were suffocated by the exhaust fumes that were led into them in the truck. A third method was mass shooting of Jews and other groups (Soviet POW’s, Poles, etc.). In Majdanek, on 3-4 November 1943, between 17,000 and 18,000 Jews were killed in one day as part of a mass shooting. The event was called Erntefest (‘harvest feast’) and included similar actions all around the Lublin District. More than 40,000 Jews died as a result.
After moving to Amsterdam, Anne and Margot Frank were enrolled in school—Margot in public school and Anne in a Montessori school. Margot demonstrated ability in arithmetic, and Anne showed aptitude for reading and writing. Anne's friend, Hanneli Goslar, later recalled that from early childhood, Frank frequently wrote, although she shielded her work with her hands and refused to discuss the content of her writing.
Both Anne and Margot kept diaries while they were in hiding, although Margot’s diaries were never found. Living in hiding meant the group also lived in constant fear of being discovered—they were unable to go outside, had to be quiet, conceal any lights used after sunset, and keep the curtains and windows closed during the day. They lived in extremely close quarters with each other and were completely dependent on Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, and Bep Voskuijl, Otto’s employees, for food, supplies, and moral support. The group in hiding got news from the radio and from these helpers, who also brought books and gifts. Anne wrote, "They come upstairs every day and talk to the men about business and politics, to the women about food and wartime difficulties and to the children about books and newspapers. They put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays and are always ready to do what they can."
There have been protracted disputes over the perceived Christianization of the site. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass over the train tracks leading to Auschwitz II-Birkenau on 7 June 1979, and called the camp "the Golgotha of our age", referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. More controversy followed when Carmelite nuns founded a convent in 1984 in a former theater outside the camp's perimeter, near block 11 of Auschwitz I, after which a local priest and some survivors erected a large cross—one that had been used during the pope's mass—behind block 11 to commemorate 152 Polish inmates shot by the Germans in 1941. After a long dispute, Pope John Paul II intervened, and the nuns moved the convent elsewhere in 1993. The cross remained, triggering the "War of the Crosses", as more crosses were erected to commemorate Christian victims, despite international objections. The Polish government and Catholic Church eventually agreed to remove all but the original.
Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.
After a fortnight we were able to use the money which we had brought in or was sent to us, and it became possible to complete and improve our diet from the canteen at our own expense. We were lined up in rows exactly in the order of our prison numbers, which had been sewed in black on white on our clothes. (This also is penitentiary procedure, for an inmate of the penitentiary is not an individual any more, but only a numbered being without a name.) Then we were led into the barracks where an S.S. man sitting behind a sort of teller's window disbursed the desired sum, up to fifteen marks a week. Somehow I must have transgressed against the military discipline in this procedure. I presume that I had my cap in the wrong hand. Instead of the money I received a violent blow on the back of my hand with a heavy stick which was lying next to the paymaster on his table, obviously for such purposes. Many weeks after this experience the back of my hand was still painful and swollen.
The twin pairs of gas chambers were numbered II and III, and IV and V. The first opened on March 31, 1943, the last on April 4, 1943. The total area of the gas chambers was 2,255 square meters; the capacity of these crematoria was 4,420 people. Those selected to die were undressed in the undressing room and then pushed into the gas chambers. It took about 20 minutes for all the people to death. In II and III, the killings took place in underground rooms, and the corpses were carried to the five ovens by an electrically operated lift. Before cremation gold teeth and any other valuables, such as rings, were removed from the corpses. In IV and V the gas chambers and ovens were on the same level, but the ovens were so poorly built and the usage was so great that they repeatedly malfunctioned and had to be abandoned. The corpses were finally burned outside, in the open, as in 1943. Jewish sonderkommandos worked the crematoria under SS supervision.
The soldiers also found warehouses containing 836,525 items of women clothing, 348,820 items of men clothing, 43,525 pairs of shoes and vast numbers of toothbrushes, glasses and other personal effects. They found also 460 artificial limbs and seven tons of human hair shaved from Jews before they were murdered. The human hairs were used by the company “Alex Zink” (located in Bavaria) for confection of cloth. This company was paying the Nazi’s 50 pfennig per kilo of human hair.
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power. Following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses and synagogues, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service passed on 7 April forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived other Jewish professionals of their right to practise, and on 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan. As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May.
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 Franks had to be careful not be caught by the Germans. They covered all the windows with thick curtains. During the day they had to be extra quiet. They whispered when they talked and went barefoot so they could walk softly. At night, when the people working in the business below went home, they could relax a bit, but they still had to be very careful.
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.
Pope Pius XI had the "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") encyclical smuggled into Germany for Passion Sunday 1937 and read from every pulpit as it denounced the systematic hostility of the regime toward the church. In response, Goebbels renewed the regime's crackdown and propaganda against Catholics. Enrolment in denominational schools dropped sharply and by 1939 all such schools were disbanded or converted to public facilities. Later Catholic protests included the 22 March 1942 pastoral letter by the German bishops on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church". About 30 percent of Catholic priests were disciplined by police during the Nazi era. A vast security network spied on the activities of clergy and priests were frequently denounced, arrested or sent to concentration camps – many to the dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau. In the areas of Poland annexed in 1939, the Nazis instigated a brutal suppression and systematic dismantling of the Catholic Church.
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?”
Ultimately, three SS guards were killed—one of whom was burned alive by the prisoners in the oven of Crematorium II—and 451 Sonderkommandos were killed. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but all were soon captured and executed, along with an additional group who had participated in the revolt. Crematorium IV was destroyed in the fighting. A group of prisoners in the gas chamber of Crematorium V was spared in the chaos.
Then, the marches began. The remaining prisoners deemed healthy enough to march were told to assemble into columns and leave Auschwitz. About 7,000 were left behind as 60,000 marched. Nazi guards led them through the forests and fields of southern Poland on their way to Germany. The Germans called the march an “evacuation”; prisoners immediately dubbed it the “death march.”
After Nazi Germany unleashed World War II in September 1939, vast new territorial conquests and larger groups of potential prisoners led to the rapid expansion of the concentration camp system to the east. The war did not change the original function of the concentration camps as detention sites for the incarceration of political enemies. The climate of national emergency that the conflict granted to the Nazi leaders, however, permitted the SS to expand the functions of the camps.
Life for the eight people in the small apartment, which Anne Frank referred to as the Secret Annex, was tense. The group lived in constant fear of being discovered and could never go outside. They had to remain quiet during daytime in order to avoid detection by the people working in the warehouse below. Anne passed the time, in part, by chronicling her observations and feelings in a diary she had received for her 13th birthday, a month before her family went into hiding.
A few weeks ago, a six-thousand-word article in Esquire on the unexceptional life of a white teen-ager in peri-urban Wisconsin generated a furious online backlash. It appeared on the cover of the March issue, which was released in February—Black History Month—under the billing “An American Boy.” Many commentators on Twitter decried the magazine’s decision to kick off its series on growing up in America today through the lens of a straight white male. Others felt that the story failed to apply critical pressure to its youthful subject’s internal ruminations on such topics as Internet feminism and the #MeToo movement. With the discomfort and confusion that it provoked, the Esquire story joined a series of public controversies surrounding the media’s efforts to capture a new American political reality—far more extreme cases include “the Nazi sympathizer next door,” published by the New York Times after Charlottesville, and an L.A. Times story on the sartorial normalcy of the white-nationalist movement—without always knowing exactly what they are seeing or how to handle it.
The innocence here is all affect, carefully achieved. Imagine writing this as your second draft, with a clear vision of a published manuscript, and you have placed yourself not in the mind of a “stammering” child, but in the mind of someone already thinking like a writer. In addition to the diary, Frank also worked hard on her stories, or as she proudly put it, “my pen-children are piling up.” Some of these were scenes from her life in hiding, but others were entirely invented: stories of a poor girl with six siblings, or a dead grandmother protecting her orphaned grandchild, or a novel-in-progress about star-crossed lovers featuring multiple marriages, depression, a suicide and prophetic dreams. (Already wary of a writer’s pitfalls, she insisted the story “isn’t sentimental nonsense for it’s modeled on the story of Daddy’s life.”) “I am the best and sharpest critic of my own work,” she wrote a few months before her arrest. “I know myself what is and what is not well written.”
What is and what is not well written: It is likely that Frank’s opinions on the subject would have evolved if she had had the opportunity to age. Reading the diary as an adult, one sees the limitations of a teenager’s perspective, and longs for more. In one entry, Frank describes how her father’s business partners—now her family’s protectors—hold a critical corporate meeting in the office below the family’s hiding place. Her father, she and her sister discover that they can hear what is said by lying down with their ears pressed to the floor. In Frank’s telling, the episode is a comic one; she gets so bored that she falls asleep. But adult readers cannot help but ache for her father, a man who clawed his way out of bankruptcy to build a business now stolen from him, reduced to lying face-down on the floor just to overhear what his subordinates might do with his life’s work. When Anne Frank complains about her insufferable middle-aged roommate Fritz Pfeffer (Albert Dussel, per Frank’s pseudonym) taking his time on the toilet, adult readers might empathize with him as the only single adult in the group, permanently separated from his non-Jewish life partner whom he could not marry due to anti-Semitic laws. Readers Frank’s age connect with her budding romance with fellow hidden resident Peter van Pels (renamed Peter van Daan), but adults might wonder how either of the married couples in the hiding place managed their own relationships in confinement with their children. Readers Frank’s age relate to her constant complaints about grown-ups and their pettiness, but adult readers are equipped to appreciate the psychological devastation of Frank’s older subjects, how they endured not only their physical deprivation, but the greater blow of being reduced to a childlike dependence on the whims of others.
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Auschwitz I (or "the Main Camp") was the original camp. This camp housed prisoners, was the location of medical experiments, and the site of Block 11 (a place of severe torture) and the Black Wall (a place of execution). At the entrance of Auschwitz, I stood the infamous sign that stated "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("work makes one free"). Auschwitz I also housed the Nazi staff that ran the entire camp complex.
Like the Jews, the Romani people were subjected to persecution from the early days of the regime. The Romani were forbidden to marry people of German extraction. They were shipped to concentration camps starting in 1935 and many were killed. Following the invasion of Poland, 2,500 Roma and Sinti people were deported from Germany to the General Government, where they were imprisoned in labour camps. The survivors were likely exterminated at Bełżec, Sobibor, or Treblinka. A further 5,000 Sinti and Austrian Lalleri people were deported to the Łódź Ghetto in late 1941, where half were estimated to have died. The Romani survivors of the ghetto were subsequently moved to the Chełmno extermination camp in early 1942.
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.
From the mid- to late 1930s, Hitler undermined the postwar international order step by step. He withdrew Germany from the League of Nations in 1933, rebuilt German armed forces beyond what was permitted by the Treaty of Versailles, reoccupied the German Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938 and invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. When Nazi Germany moved toward Poland, Great Britain and France countered further aggression by guaranteeing Polish security. Nevertheless, Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Six years of Nazi Party foreign policy had ignited World War II.
After Otto returned, he received Anne’s diary from his former employee Hermine Santrouschitz (Miep Gies, b. 1909) who, together with her husband Jan, supplied the occupants of the attic with food, news from the outside and friendship from the day they went into hiding until they were discovered. After the Germans’ raid on the attic Santrouschitz found the diary there and kept it, intending to give it back to Anne when she returned. However, when Otto Frank told her Anne had died she gave it to him and he secluded himself with it for several days. After deep soul-searching and the urging of close friends, and after making some changes of his own, a modest first edition of 1,500 copies was published in Amsterdam in the summer of 1947, on a date close to Anne’s birthday, under the name Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annexe or, literally, The Back House), the name Anne herself had given to all her writings in the attic in which they had hidden. At first the book was unsuccessful; everyone wanted to forget the war and its troubles. But in 1952, after more hesitation on Otto’s part, the diary was published in the United States with a foreword by Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1955 The Diary of Anne Frank, starring Susan Strasberg, opened on Broadway to great acclaim.
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
Anne named her diary "Kitty" after a friend of hers. Each entry into her diary began "Dear Kitty". Anne wrote about all sorts of things. She didn't think others would be reading it. She wrote about her feelings, books she read, and the people around her. From Anne's diary we find out just what it must have been like to live in hiding for years, fearing for her life.
Some prisoners—usually Aryan—were assigned positions of authority, such as Blockschreiber ("block clerk"), Funktionshäftling ("functionary"), Kapo ("head" or "overseer"), and Stubendienst ("barracks orderly"). They were considered members of the camp elite, and had better food and lodgings than the other prisoners. The Kapos in particular wielded tremendous power over other prisoners, whom they often abused. Very few Kapos were prosecuted after the war, because of the difficulty in determining which Kapo atrocities had been performed under SS orders and which had been individual actions.
In April 1940, Rudolph Höss, who become the first commandant, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim as a possible site for a concentration camp. The function of the camp was initially to intimidate Poles and prevent resistance to German rule. It was also perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia, which had once been a German region, with 'pure Aryans'. On April 27th, Himmler ordered construction of the camp.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.