In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Several, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allies did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
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As the Soviet Army advanced from the east, the Nazis transported prisoners away from the front and deep into Germany. Some prisoners were taken from the camps by train, but most were force-marched hundreds of miles, often in freezing weather and without proper clothing or shoes. Over the course of these death marches, which sometimes lasted weeks, tens of thousands of people died from cold or hunger, or were shot because they could not keep up.
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.
In general, subcamps that produced or processed agricultural goods were administratively subordinate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Subcamps whose prisoners were deployed at industrial and armaments production or in extractive industries (e.g., coal mining, quarry work) were administratively subordinate to Auschwitz-Monowitz. This division of administrative responsibility was formalized after November 1943.
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.)
Museum curators consider visitors who pick up items from the ground to be thieves, and local police will charge them as such. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of ten years. In June 2015, two British youths from the Perse School were convicted of theft after picking up buttons and shards of decorative glass from the ground near the area where camp victims' personal effects were stored. Curators said that similar incidents happen once or twice a year. The 16-ft Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the main camp's gate was stolen in December 2009 by a Swedish former neo-Nazi and two Polish men. The sign was later recovered.
On the morning of 4 August 1944, the Achterhuis was stormed by a group of German uniformed police (Grüne Polizei) led by SS-Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer of the Sicherheitsdienst. The Franks, van Pelses, and Pfeffer were taken to RSHA headquarters, where they were interrogated and held overnight. On 5 August they were transferred to the Huis van Bewaring (House of Detention), an overcrowded prison on the Weteringschans. Two days later they were transported to the Westerbork transit camp, through which by that time more than 100,000 Jews, mostly Dutch and German, had passed. Having been arrested in hiding, they were considered criminals and sent to the Punishment Barracks for hard labour.
When it came to power in 1933, the Nazi Party had over 2 million members. In 1939, the membership total rose to 5.3 million with 81% being male and 19% being female. It continued to attract many more and by 1945 the party reached its peak of 8 million with 63% being male and 37% being female (about 10% of the German population of 80 million).
Adolf Hitler was released from prison on 20 December 1924. On 16 February 1925, Hitler convinced the Bavarian authorities to lift the ban on the NSDAP and the party was formally refounded on 26 February 1925, with Hitler as its undisputed leader. The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organisation and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilised and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures. The Nazi Party of 1925 was divided into the "Leadership Corps" (Korps der politischen Leiter) appointed by Hitler and the general membership (Parteimitglieder). The party and the SA were kept separate and the legal aspect of the party's work was emphasised. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS members (the latter founded in 1925 as Hitler's bodyguard, and known originally as the Schutzkommando) had to all be regular party members.
It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and before long his energy and oratorical skills would enable him to take over the party, which was renamed National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1920. That year Hitler also formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic gambit designed to attract support from the working class. By 1921 Hitler had ousted the party’s other leaders and taken over.
After what happened, and having lost 50 members of my family, it was very important for me to have my own little family, to have again that sense of belonging. I really wanted to have children and was just 18 when I got married to a fellow Holocaust survivor from Transylvania. But I’ve always been careful not to tell my children too much about what I went through so as not to traumatise them. They’re entitled to a carefree youth, I always thought, and I didn’t want to be spreading bitterness and hate.
The only people left behind in the camp were people deemed unfit for labor—those who were too ill or weak. An SS order came down to murder any prisoners who were left, and the SS killed about 700 prisoners in response. However, order at the camp was breaking down. SS officers began escaping themselves, and the strict hierarchy that had kept prisoners in line disappeared. Those officers who stayedburned documents in a last-ditch attempt to hide their crimes. Meanwhile, the prisoners who remained huddled in hospital beds and bunks and waited. A few others escaped as the remaining guards fled.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated his desire to "make war upon the Marxist principle that all men are equal." He believed that "the notion of equality was a sin against nature." Nazism upheld the "natural inequality of men," including inequality between races and also within each race. The National Socialist state aimed to advance those individuals with special talents or intelligence, so they could rule over the masses. Nazi ideology relied on elitism and the Führerprinzip (leadership principle), arguing that elite minorities should assume leadership roles over the majority, and that the elite minority should itself be organized according to a "hierarchy of talent," with a single leader - the Führer - at the top. The Führerprinzip held that each member of the hierarchy owed absolute obedience to those above him and should hold absolute power over those below him.
Deportees were brought to Auschwitz crammed in wretched conditions into goods or cattle wagons, arriving near a railway station or at one of several dedicated trackside ramps, including one next to Auschwitz I. The Altejudenrampe (old Jewish ramp), part of the Oświęcim freight railway station, was used from 1942 to 1944 for Jewish transports. Located between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, arriving at this ramp meant a 2.5 km journey to Auschwitz II and the gas chambers. Most deportees were forced to walk, accompanied by SS men and a car with a Red Cross symbol that carried the Zyklon B, as well as an SS doctor in case officers were poisoned by mistake. Inmates arriving at night, or who were too weak to walk, were taken by truck. Work on another railway line and Judenrampe (pictured right) between sectors BI and BII in Auschwitz II, was completed in May 1944 for the arrival of Hungarian Jews, who between May and early July 1944 were deported to Auschwitz II at a rate of 12,000 a day. The rails led directly to the area around the gas chambers.
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.
Then we were fitted out. Strange combinations! The younger and thinner men received, for the most part, old uniforms, even officers' coats without insignia. Others received striped prisoners' garb of relatively light material, a shirt, a pair of socks, and a suit of tissue-thin underwear. No vest, no coat. As headgear there were old soldiers' caps without cockades. It goes without saying that it was very difficult to find clothes fitting the various sizes and shapes. We were a sight grotesque as well as sad.
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials, and museums. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II. In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.
The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.
Fascism was a major influence on Nazism. The seizure of power by Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in the March on Rome in 1922 drew admiration by Hitler, who less than a month later had begun to model himself and the Nazi Party upon Mussolini and the Fascists. Hitler presented the Nazis as a form of German fascism. In November 1923, the Nazis attempted a "March on Berlin" modelled after the March on Rome, which resulted in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.
German doctors performed a variety of experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. SS doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners. Carl Clauberg injected chemicals into women's uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. Prisoners were infected with spotted fever for vaccination research and exposed to toxic substances to study the effects. In one experiment Bayer, then part of IG Farben, paid RM 150 each for 150 female inmates from Auschwitz (the camp had asked for RM 200 per woman), who were transferred to a Bayer facility to test an anesthetic. A Bayer employee wrote to Rudolf Höss: "The transport of 150 women arrived in good condition. However, we were unable to obtain conclusive results because they died during the experiments. We would kindly request that you send us another group of women to the same number and at the same price." The Bayer research was led at Auschwitz by Helmuth Vetter of Bayer/IG Farben, who was also an Auschwitz physician and SS captain, and by Auschwitz physicians Friedrich Entress and Eduard Wirths.
On August 4, 1944, the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) discovered the hiding place. It has been long thought that the authorities acted after being tipped off by an anonymous Dutch caller. But a more recent theory is that the German SD discovered the hiding place by chance, while investigating reports that illegal work and fraud with ration coupons were occurring at the house.
During the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis began the first mass killings of Jews. Between June and September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen supported by local collaborators murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews across Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Soviet Union. Having observed the killings, Adolf Eichmann ordered a more efficient method of killing the Jews of Europe be developed.
Serena now lives in New Jersey with her family, including three children and grandchildren. We’ve both managed to hang on in there, but she can’t come to Auschwitz because her elderly husband is sick. For years when we talked about our experience she’d say to me: “You probably don’t remember, you were too young,” as I was four years younger, but some things I remembered even more sharply than her and my aunt.
The rise of Nazism in Germany during the 1930s—and the conviction that Hitler could be defeated only by military force—prompted Einstein rethink his strict pacifist views. Increasing numbers of Jewish refugees were fleeing Germany, bringing with them horrific tales of Nazi persecution; Einstein, who was also Jewish, left for the United States in 1932.
Jews, especially German, Western European and Russian, also worked as slave labour in work camps in Germany. The Kraft durch Freude Volkswagen works in Wolfsburg, for example, used the “cheap” Jewish slave labourers. A tile work in Sachsenhausen, owned and operated by the SS, used Jews and other slave labourers. In the Harz, near the concentration camp Dora-Mittelbau, Jews worked in an underground weapons factory.
The Nazi regime abolished the symbols of the Weimar Republic—including the black, red, and gold tricolour flag—and adopted reworked symbolism. The previous imperial black, white, and red tricolour was restored as one of Germany's two official flags; the second was the swastika flag of the NSDAP, which became the sole national flag in 1935. The NSDAP anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became a second national anthem.
Concentration camp, internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. Persons are placed in such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of indictment or fair trial. Concentration camps are to be distinguished from prisons interning persons lawfully convicted of civil crimes and from prisoner-of-war camps in which captured military personnel are held under the laws of war. They are also to be distinguished from refugee camps or detention and relocation centres for the temporary accommodation of large numbers of displaced persons.