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.
From German Nazi, a shortening of Nationalsozialist (“National Socialist”) (attested since 1903, as a shortening of national-sozial), since in German the nati- in national /ˌnatsi̯oˈnaːl/ is approximately pronounced Nazi [ˈnäːtsi]; compare Sozi (“socialist”). A homonymic term Nazi was in use before the rise of the NSDAP in Bavaria as a pet name for Ignaz and (by extension from that) a derogatory word for a backwards peasant, which may have influenced the use of that abbreviation by the Nazis' opponents and its avoidance by the Nazis themselves.
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.
Lunch was three quarters of a liter of watery soup at midday, reportedly foul-tasting, with meat in the soup four times a week and vegetables (mostly potatoes and rutabaga) three times. The evening meal was 300 grams of bread, often moldy, part of which the inmates were expected to keep for breakfast the next day, with a tablespoon of cheese or marmalade, or 25 grams of margarine or sausage. Prisoners engaged in hard labor were given extra rations.
Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, on 30 January 1933. The NSDAP then began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate its power. Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934 and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the offices and powers of the Chancellery and Presidency. A national referendum held 19 August 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's person and his word became the highest law. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of factions struggling for power and Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahnen (motorways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.
On July 14, 1933, his government declared the Nazi Party to be the only political party in Germany. On the death of Hindenburg in 1934 Hitler took the titles of Führer (“Leader”), chancellor, and commander in chief of the army, and he remained leader of the Nazi Party as well. Nazi Party membership became mandatory for all higher civil servants and bureaucrats, and the gauleiters became powerful figures in the state governments. Hitler crushed the Nazi Party’s left, or socialist-oriented, wing in 1934, executing Ernst Röhm and other rebellious SA leaders on what would become known as the “Night of the Long Knives.” Thereafter, Hitler’s word was the supreme and undisputed command in the party. The party came to control virtually all political, social, and cultural activities in Germany. Its vast and complex hierarchy was structured like a pyramid, with party-controlled mass organizations for youth, women, workers, and other groups at the bottom, party members and officials in the middle, and Hitler and his closest associates at the top wielding undisputed authority.
When the Nazi Party emerged from obscurity to become a major political force after 1929, the conservative faction rapidly gained more influence, as wealthy donors took an interest in the Nazis as a potential bulwark against communism. The Nazi Party had previously been financed almost entirely from membership dues, but after 1929 its leadership began actively seeking donations from German industrialists, and Hitler began holding dozens of fundraising meetings with business leaders. In the midst of the Great Depression, facing the possibility of economic ruin on the one hand and a Communist or Social Democratic government on the other hand, German business increasingly turned to Nazism as offering a way out of the situation, by promising a state-driven economy that would support, rather than attack, existing business interests. By January 1933, the Nazi Party had secured the support of important sectors of German industry, mainly among the steel and coal producers, the insurance business and the chemical industry.
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.”
Alternatively, visitors to Auschwitz can use Katowice Airport (IATA: KTW) in Katowice, located 62 km (39 mi) north of the site. Known locally as Pyrzowice Airport, Katowice has direct connections with over 30 destinations across Europe and Asia, with numerous discount, charter, and normal flights in operation. Pyrzowice is a major hub for Wizzair, with additional services provided by Aegean Airlines, Bulgaria Air, El Al, Eurowings, Lufthansa, Ryanair, and TUIfly.
In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used intimidation tactics as well as the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending, and the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May, the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats, and they were banned on 22 June. On 21 June, the SA raided the offices of the German National People's Party – their former coalition partners – and they disbanded on 29 June. The remaining major political parties followed suit. On 14 July 1933 Germany became a one-party state with the passage of a law decreeing the NSDAP to be the sole legal party in Germany. The founding of new parties was also made illegal, and all remaining political parties which had not already been dissolved were banned. The Enabling Act would subsequently serve as the legal foundation for the dictatorship the NSDAP established. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were Nazi-controlled, with only members of the NSDAP and a small number of independents elected.
The Nazis seized from the French thousands of locomotives and rolling stock, stockpiles of weapons, and raw materials such as copper, tin, oil, and nickel. Payments for occupation costs were levied upon France, Belgium, and Norway. Barriers to trade led to hoarding, black markets, and uncertainty about the future. Food supplies were precarious; production dropped in most of Europe. Famine was experienced in many occupied countries.
Addressing her diary entries to an imaginary friend she called Kitty, Anne Frank wrote about life in hiding, including her impressions of the other inhabitants of the Secret Annex, her feelings of loneliness and her frustration over the lack of privacy. While she detailed typical teenage issues such as crushes on boys, arguments with her mother and resentments toward her sister, Frank also displayed keen insight and maturity when she wrote about the war, humanity and her own identity. She also penned short stories and essays during her time in hiding.
The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, who turns 43 on Thursday and is the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”
The Nazis were hostile to the idea of social welfare in principle, upholding instead the social Darwinist concept that the weak and feeble should perish. They condemned the welfare system of the Weimar Republic as well as private charity, accusing them of supporting people regarded as racially inferior and weak, who should have been weeded out in the process of natural selection. Nevertheless, faced with the mass unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression, the Nazis found it necessary to set up charitable institutions to help racially-pure Germans in order to maintain popular support, while arguing that this represented "racial self-help" and not indiscriminate charity or universal social welfare. Thus, Nazi programs such as the Winter Relief of the German People and the broader National Socialist People's Welfare (NSV) were organized as quasi-private institutions, officially relying on private donations from Germans to help others of their race - although in practice those who refused to donate could face severe consequences. Unlike the social welfare institutions of the Weimar Republic and the Christian charities, the NSV distributed assistance on explicitly racial grounds. It provided support only to those who were "racially sound, capable of and willing to work, politically reliable, and willing and able to reproduce." Non-Aryans were excluded, as well as the "work-shy", "asocials" and the "hereditarily ill." Successful efforts were made to get middle-class women involved in social work assisting large families, and the Winter Relief campaigns acted as a ritual to generate public sympathy.
When we were in Gusen penal camp, my father, who was 50, one day just gave up and said he couldn’t continue. From that moment I was totally alone. In February 1945 they moved us to Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. It was here that I witnessed starving people eating human flesh. We were liberated by Americans and Canadians in Gunskirchen. The Germans had simply left the camp, and with an absence of drama we just walked through the gates. The first thing I did was to knock on a local resident’s door and ask for permission to take a shower. Somehow, I managed to meet up with my brothers, David and Shuli. We had no desire to return to Dej, to the people who had betrayed us.
I have been asked repeatedly where all the men were procured who torment the inmates of the camps, often with sadistic lust. We must not forget that a career in the S.S. allures, as a steppingstone, many a youth who cannot quite make the military career, whether for financial reasons or for lack of educational background. There are certainly a great number among them who personify brutality and are glad to be allowed to use their instincts without check against defenseless people. But there are also others who, for the sake of a career, run with the pack, and whose cruelties have been developed by the example of the 'talented' sadists.
According to the famous philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, the allure of Nazism as a totalitarian ideology (with its attendant mobilisation of the German population) resided within the construct of helping that society deal with the cognitive dissonance resultant from the tragic interruption of the First World War and the economic and material suffering consequent to the Depression and brought to order the revolutionary unrest occurring all around them. Instead of the plurality that existed in democratic or parliamentary states, Nazism as a totalitarian system promulgated "clear" solutions to the historical problems faced by Germany, levied support by de-legitimizing the former government of Weimar and provided a politico-biological pathway to a better future, one free from the uncertainty of the past. It was the atomised and disaffected masses that Hitler and the party elite pointed in a particular direction and using clever propaganda to make them into ideological adherents, exploited in bringing Nazism to life.
But Auschwitz—with its 155 buildings and hundreds of thousands of artifacts—is deteriorating. It is a conservation challenge like no other. “Our main problem is sheer numbers,” Jolanta Banas, the head of preservation, tells me as we walk through the white-tiled facility where she and her 48-member staff work. “We measure shoes in the ten thousands.”
Frank’s subsequent books and essays continued to win praise, if not popularity, earning her a reputation as a clear-eyed prophet carefully attuned to hypocrisy. Her readers will long remember the words she wrote in her diary at 15, included in the otherwise naive first section of "The House Behind": “I don’t believe that the big men are guilty of the war, oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and disfigured, and mankind will have to begin all over again.”
Working from these principles, Hitler carried his party from its inauspicious beginnings in a beer cellar in Munich to a dominant position in world politics 20 years later. The Nazi Party originated in 1919 and was led by Hitler from 1920. Through both successful electioneering and intimidation, the party came to power in Germany in 1933 and governed through totalitarian methods until 1945, when Hitler committed suicide and Germany was defeated and occupied by the Allies at the close of World War II.
In 1944 we were sent on a death march from Birkenau to Oranienburg and from there to Buchenwald. Then to a quarry, where we were ordered to drill into the mountains to make some sort of secret city. From there we walked back to Buchenwald. Whoever was incapable of walking was shot. From there, big trains took us to Theresienstadt just as the Soviets were bombing the rails. We could sense that the Germans were almost destroyed. For 17 days we had no water, no food, nothing. Despite the hardship I was doing OK compared to others. I still had the capability to clamber on to the cattle trains without help.
Movies were popular in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, with admissions of over a billion people in 1942, 1943 and 1944. By 1934, German regulations restricting currency exports made it impossible for US film makers to take their profits back to America, so the major film studios closed their German branches. Exports of German films plummeted, as their antisemitic content made them impossible to show in other countries. The two largest film companies, Universum Film AG and Tobis, were purchased by the Propaganda Ministry, which by 1939 was producing most German films. The productions were not always overtly propagandistic, but generally had a political subtext and followed party lines regarding themes and content. Scripts were pre-censored.
The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler’s rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children’s drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, names of some of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.
After the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and his subsequent trial and imprisonment, Hitler decided that the way for the Nazi Party to achieve power was not through insurrection, but through legal and quasi-legal means. This did not sit well with the brown-shirted stormtroopers of the SA, especially those in Berlin, who chafed under the restrictions that Hitler placed on them, and their subordination to the party. This resulted in the Stennes Revolt of 1930-31, after which Hitler made himself the Supreme Commander of the SA, and brought Ernst Röhm back to be their Chief of Staff and keep them in line. The quashing of the SA's revolutionary fervor convinced many businessmen and military leaders that the Nazis had put aside their insurrectionist past, and that Hitler could be a reliable partner 
Upon being appointed Chancellor in 1933, Hitler promised measures to increase employment, protect the German currency, and promote recovery from the Great Depression. These included an agrarian settlement program, labor service, and a guarantee to maintain health care and pensions. But above all, his priority was rearmament, and the buildup of the German military in preparation for an eventual war to conquer Lebensraum in the East. Thus, at the beginning of his rule, Hitler said that “the future of Germany depends exclusively and only on the reconstruction of the Wehrmacht. All other tasks must cede precedence to the task of rearmament.” This policy was implemented immediately, with military expenditures quickly growing far larger than the civilian work-creation programs. As early as June 1933, military spending for the year was budgeted to be three times larger than the spending on all civilian work-creation measures in 1932 and 1933 combined. Nazi Germany increased its military spending faster than any other state in peacetime, with the share of military spending rising from 1 percent to 10 percent of national income in the first two years of the regime alone. Eventually, by 1944, it reached as high as 75 percent.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)—documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally—and Olympia (1938)—covering the 1936 Summer Olympics—pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of National Socialist ideals.
On 24 December 1941 the resistance groups representing the various prisoner factions met in block 45 and agreed to cooperate. Fleming writes that it has not been possible to track Pilecki's early intelligence from the camp. Pilecki compiled two reports after he escaped in April 1943; the second, Raport W, detailed his life in Auschwitz I and estimated that 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, had been killed. On 1 July 1942, the Polish Fortnightly Review published a report describing Birkenau, writing that "prisoners call this supplementary camp 'Paradisal', presumably because there is only one road, leading to Paradise". Reporting that inmates were being killed "through excessive work, torture and medical means", it noted the gassing of the Soviet prisoners of war and Polish inmates in Auschwitz I in September 1941, the first gassing in the camp. It said: "It is estimated that the Oswiecim camp can accommodate fifteen thousand prisoners, but as they die on a mass scale there is always room for new arrivals."
With Otto Frank's death in 1980, the original diary, including letters and loose sheets, was willed to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation, which commissioned a forensic study of the diary through the Netherlands Ministry of Justice in 1986. They examined the handwriting against known examples and found that they matched. They determined that the paper, glue, and ink were readily available during the time the diary was said to have been written. They concluded that the diary is authentic, and their findings were published in what has become known as the "Critical Edition" of the diary. In 1990, the Hamburg Regional Court confirmed the diary's authenticity.
Nazism subscribed to theories of racial hierarchy and Social Darwinism, identifying the Germans as a part of what the Nazis regarded as an Aryan or Nordic master race. It aimed to overcome social divisions and create a German homogeneous society based on racial purity which represented a people's community (Volksgemeinschaft). The Nazis aimed to unite all Germans living in historically German territory, as well as gain additional lands for German expansion under the doctrine of Lebensraum and exclude those who they deemed either community aliens or "inferior" races.
We were first placed in deep rows, ordered to take off our hats and gloves, arid told not to stir. Then some of us had to step out and carry through our rows signs mounted on poles with the following inscriptions: 'We are the chosen people' (with the David star over the inscription); 'We are the murderers of the diplomat vom Rath'; 'We are the destroyers of German culture.' The camp lead evidently coming from Saxony, a slender and somewhat coquettish man with the rank of an officer of the S.S., ordered me to pick up a large paper bag, which an S.S. man put on my head as a cap, and I had to stand like that for some time. This was a harmless attempt at humiliation. Less harmless was the attempt to frighten us through the announcement that we should have to stay in the camp for twenty years. For some these threats were a cause of serious depression even of attempted suicide.
Nazi racial theorist Hans F. K. Günther argued that European peoples were divided into five races: Nordic, Mediterranean, Dinaric, Alpine and East Baltic. Günther applied a Nordicist conception in order to justify his belief that Nordics were the highest in the racial hierarchy. In his book Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922) ("Racial Science of the German People"), Günther recognised Germans as being composed of all five races, but emphasized the strong Nordic heritage among them. Hitler read Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes, which influenced his racial policy. Gunther believed that Slavs belonged to an "Eastern race" and he warned against Germans mixing with them. The Nazis described Jews as being a racially mixed group of primarily Near Eastern and Oriental racial types. Because such racial groups were concentrated outside Europe, the Nazis claimed that Jews were "racially alien" to all European peoples and that they did not have deep racial roots in Europe.
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.
Primo Levi suggested Anne Frank is frequently identified as a single representative of the millions of people who suffered and died as she did because "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live." In her closing message in Müller's biography of Anne Frank, Miep Gies expressed a similar thought, though she attempted to dispel what she felt was a growing misconception that "Anne symbolises the six million victims of the Holocaust", writing: "Anne's life and death were her own individual fate, an individual fate that happened six million times over. Anne cannot, and should not, stand for the many individuals whom the Nazis robbed of their lives ... But her fate helps us grasp the immense loss the world suffered because of the Holocaust."
From 1942 onwards, Auschwitz became one of the greatest scenes of mass murder in recorded history. The vast majority of the camp's 1.1 million Jewish men, women, and children, deported from their homes across occupied Europe to Auschwitz, were sent immediately to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival, usually transported into the camp by overcrowded cattle wagons. Their bodies were afterwards cremated in industrial furnaces in the crematoria. Those who were not killed in the gas chambers often died of disease, starvation, medical experiments, forced labor, or execution.
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat from Nebraska, ran for president on a fusion ticket with the Populist Party. This cartoonist from a Republican magazine thought the “Popocratic” ticket was too ideologically mismatched to win. Bryan did lose, but his campaign, the first of three he waged for the White House, transformed the Democrats into an anti-corporate, pro-labor party. Cartoon from Judge (1896) via Library of Congress
The Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) was organised under the control of the Propaganda Ministry in September 1933. Sub-chambers were set up to control aspects of cultural life such as film, radio, newspapers, fine arts, music, theatre and literature. Members of these professions were required to join their respective organisation. Jews and people considered politically unreliable were prevented from working in the arts, and many emigrated. Books and scripts had to be approved by the Propaganda Ministry prior to publication. Standards deteriorated as the regime sought to use cultural outlets exclusively as propaganda media.
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.