And for that purpose it is necessary not to think of the camps simply as a hellscape. Reading Wachsmann’s deeply researched, groundbreaking history of the entire camp system makes clear that Dachau and Buchenwald were the products of institutional and ideological forces that we can understand, perhaps all too well. Indeed, it’s possible to think of the camps as what happens when you cross three disciplinary institutions that all societies possess—the prison, the army, and the factory. Over the several phases of their existence, the Nazi camps took on the aspects of all of these, so that prisoners were treated simultaneously as inmates to be corrected, enemies to be combatted, and workers to be exploited. When these forms of dehumanization were combined, and amplified to the maximum by ideology and war, the result was the Konzentrationlager, or K.L.
We had a quiet life until the day they took 1,000 Jews away from my village of Czemierniki, a typical Polish village with a big square around which community life took place. My father was a bootmaker, my mother was a seamstress and everyone worked hard. There was always some antisemitism, but it was mainly fairly harmless, consisting of kids at our school who during religious education taunted the five or six Jewish kids in the class with “Jews killed Jesus.”
In Mein Kampf, Hitler effectively supported mercantilism in the belief that economic resources from their respective territories should be seized by force, as he believed that the policy of Lebensraum would provide Germany with such economically valuable territories. Hitler argued that the only means to maintain economic security was to have direct control over resources rather than being forced to rely on world trade. He claimed that war to gain such resources was the only means to surpass the failing capitalist economic system.
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.”
Then, on January 27, 1945, the Red Army reached the camp. Inside, they found prisoners covered in excrement and starving to death, children who had been used for medical experiments, and other shocking evidence of the Nazis’ crimes. At Birkenau, the guards had failed to destroy some of the storerooms where prisoners’ stolen belongings were stored before being transported back to the Reich. Among the remainingitems were 7.7 tons of human hair, 370,000 men’s suits and 837,000 women’s coats and dresses.
I won’t be going back to Auschwitz again after this visit. So it’s my last chance to make sure this tragedy is not forgotten. I found out only about a week before I was due to leave that I will be one of two survivors who will be part of the US presidential delegation, headed by the secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, and I feel very honoured, but it has much to do with the fact that many others who could go are ill and unable to travel.
Entrance is free in general, but visitor numbers are regulated by a ticket system. Be aware that because of the large numbers of visitors, entry to the Auschwitz I site is done exclusively on a paid guided (yet unfortunately rather rushed) tour between 10:00 to 15:00 during the period from 1 April to 31 October. You can visit the site on your own (which is highly recommended, as visitors can go at their own pace, see what they want to see, and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before 10:00 (better 8:00-9:00) or after 15:00 (depending on the season and day of week). This is recommended if you're staying nearby in Katowice or Kraków and don't have your own car, with some trains from Kraków and Katowice Główny arriving between 8-10. Guided tours cost 45PLN (discounted price for students up to 24 years of age is 30PLN). Students with an ISIC card are granted free entrance during tour hours. If you're a small group (~4 or less), it's not too hard to buy tickets on site (but depending on the season, you might have to wait depending on availability), but larger groups should book tickets in advance.
The K.L. was defined from the beginning by its legal ambiguity. The camps were outside ordinary law, answerable not to judges and courts but to the S.S. and Himmler. At the same time, they were governed by an extensive set of regulations, which covered everything from their layout (including decorative flower beds) to the whipping of prisoners, which in theory had to be approved on a case-by-case basis by Himmler personally. Yet these regulations were often ignored by the camp S.S.—physical violence, for instance, was endemic, and the idea that a guard would have to ask permission before beating or even killing a prisoner was laughable. Strangely, however, it was possible, in the prewar years, at least, for a guard to be prosecuted for such a killing. In 1937, Paul Zeidler was among a group of guards who strangled a prisoner who had been a prominent churchman and judge; when the case attracted publicity, the S.S. allowed Zeidler to be charged and convicted. (He was sentenced to a year in jail.)
I threw myself into family life. I married young, I had three children, (I now also have four grandchildren) and then I went to college and became a teacher. You fall into a routine and do the best you can. But I’ve never lost the feeling of how unreliable human beings are and neither am I fooled by superficial civilisation. But I realise that loss of faith in people is more devastating than loss of faith in God.
As the number of prisoners grew, the camp expanded from the original barracks facility. Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in the nearby village in Brzezinka, underwent construction in October 1941 with the original purpose to house Soviet prisoners of war. Together with Polish inmates, Soviet soldiers were subjected to Zyklon B tests by the camp's SS commanders towards the end of 1941. Beginning in 1942, Jews in massive numbers began to be sent to the camp complex, along with thousands of Roma prisoners. The complex later expanded to include Auschwitz III-Monowitz in October 1942, a slave labor camp providing work for the I.G. Farben industrial complex nearby. By the middle of the war, Auschwitz had grown to include 40 sub-camps in neighboring towns in the region.
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.
Upon arrival in Gliwice and Wodzislaw, the prisoners were put on unheated freight trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany, particularly to Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and also to Mauthausen in Austria. The rail journey lasted for days. Without food, water, shelter, or blankets, many prisoners did not survive the transport.
In July 1942, the Nazis began deporting Dutch Jews to work and extermination camps in eastern Europe via train, mainly from the Westerbork transit camp and Vught concentration camp. On July 5, 1942, Margot received a call-up notice to report for deportation to a labor camp. The following day, the family went into hiding in the achterhuis or secret annex above Otto’s business on the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam. They would live there, helped by four of Otto’s trusted employees, for 25 months. The Franks were joined by Otto’s business partner, Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their son Peter on July 13, and by Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist, on November 16.
But as far as racially inspired lawmaking was concerned, it was the United States that aroused the Führer’s interest the most, even as he deplored its liberal-egalitarian ethos. He loved the novels of Karl May that depicted cowboys conquering the West, and, as Timothy Snyder and others have argued, Hitler’s model for creating German Lebensraum in Europe was the American genocide of indigenous peoples, the depopulation of their lands, and their subsequent legal subjugation and ghettoization. Nazi intellectuals and doctors had a sustained engagement with the eugenics movement, which was codified into U.S. immigration law and served as a model for the Third Reich’s own sterilization and euthanasia program. (North Carolina had a sterilization policy for the mentally ill until 1977.) The very founding of the United States, in white supremacist history, was the crowning achievement of the Aryan peoples. “The racially pure and still unmixed German,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “has risen to become master of the American continent, and he will remain master as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution.” The United States was “the one state,” Hitler wrote from prison, that sensibly refused immigration to “physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” In his unpublished second book, Hitler again marveled at the racial hierarchy of the United States, with Nordics, English, and Germans at the top of their rightful dominion as the master race.
At the same time, public interest in the camp has never been higher. Visits have doubled this decade, from 492,500 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2009. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Krakow has become a popular destination for foreign tourists, and Auschwitz is a must stop on many itineraries. A visit is also part of education programs in Israel, Britain and other countries. On peak days, as many as 30,000 visitors file through the camp’s buildings.
A useful analogy requires that we move beyond a Google image search and truly interrogate history. If we do, we may arrive at the Camp de Rivesaltes, an ad hoc facility created from an empty military camp in southern France. Its first prisoners in 1938 were not Jews but Spanish refugees who had fought against Francisco Franco’s victorious fascists. They were fleeing inevitable persecution from the Spanish dictator. The goal of that temporary concentration camp was to prevent the further dispersion of the Spanish refugees and their settlement in France while a repatriation solution was found. It never was.
When your relatives die, there’s usually a place you can go to pay your respects, like a cemetery with a grave where you can lay a stone and talk to them. The only place I have is Auschwitz and going back there for the first time will be the first and last chance I have to be able to return to the people I loved who I lost there and in other concentration camps.
Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest of the concentration camp complexes created by the Nazi German regime and was the one which combined extermination with forced labour. At the centre of a huge landscape of human exploitation and suffering, the remains of the two camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were inscribed on the World Heritage List as evidence of this inhumane, cruel and methodical effort to deny human dignity to groups considered inferior, leading to their systematic murder. The camps are a vivid testimony to the murderous nature of the anti-Semitic and racist Nazi policy that brought about the annihilation of over one million people in the crematoria, 90% of whom were Jews.
^ 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."
Memory is not something that is acquired once and stays on forever. The moment that the last eyewitnesses and survivors pass away, we have to work together to build on that which remains: the testimonies of those former prisoners and the authentic artifacts connected with Auschwitz. Each item can have its own enormous meaning and should find its place in the collection of the Auschwitz Memorial. Here, it will be preserved, studied, and displayed. Its place is here.
The first gassings at Auschwitz took place in early September 1941, when around 850 inmates—Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates—were killed with Zyklon B in the basement of block 11 in Auschwitz I. The building proved unsuitable, so gassings were conducted instead in crematorium I, also in at Auschwitz I, which operated until December 1942. There, more than 700 victims could be killed at once. Tens of thousands were killed in crematorium I. To keep the victims calm, they were told they were to undergo disinfection and de-lousing; they were ordered to undress outside, then were locked in the building and gassed. After its decommissioning as a gas chamber, the building was converted to a storage facility and later served as an SS air raid shelter. The gas chamber and crematorium were reconstructed after the war. Dwork and van Pelt write that a chimney was recreated; four openings in the roof were installed to show where the Zyklon B had entered; and two of the three furnaces were rebuilt with the original components.
Early one morning I met Stos, a retired architect, at his small first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Krakow. We sat in his small, dark dining room, a plate of jam-filled ginger cookies on the starched white tablecloth between us. He said he grew up in Tarnow, Poland, about 50 miles from Krakow. He remembers the day the Nazis shipped him off to Auschwitz: June 13, 1940. It had been almost a year since Germany invaded Poland and launched its campaign to destroy the nation. Following instructions issued by SS chief Reinhard Heydrich—“the leading strata of the population should be rendered harmless”—the SS killed some 20,000 Poles, mainly priests, politicians and academics, in September and October 1939. Stos was an 18-year-old Boy Scout and a member of a Catholic youth organization. Germans put him and 727 other Poles, mostly university and trade-school students, in first-class train cars and told them they were going to work on German farms.
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.
^ 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.