One night in the autumn of 1944, two Frenchwomen—Loulou Le Porz, a doctor, and Violette Lecoq, a nurse—watched as a truck drove in through the main gates of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. “There was a lorry,” Le Porz recalled, “that suddenly arrives and it turns around and reverses towards us. And it lifts up and it tips out a whole pile of corpses.” These were the bodies of Ravensbrück inmates who had died doing slave labor in the many satellite camps, and they were now being returned for cremation. Talking, decades later, to the historian and journalist Sarah Helm, whose new book, “Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women” (Doubleday), recounts the stories of dozens of the camp’s inmates, Le Porz says that her reaction was simple disbelief. The sight of a truck full of dead bodies was so outrageous, so out of scale with ordinary experience, that “if we recount that one day, we said to each other, nobody would believe us.” The only way to make the scene credible would be to record it: “If one day someone makes a film they must film this scene. This night. This moment.”
Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.
The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?
Otto, the only survivor of the Franks, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved by his secretary, Miep Gies, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. It was translated from its original Dutch version and first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl, and has since been translated into over 60 languages.
That month, Himmler ordered the evacuation of all camps, charging camp commanders with "making sure that not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy". Beginning on 17 January, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees—over 20,000 from Auschwitz I and II, over 30,000 from subcamps, and two-thirds of them Jews—were evacuated under guard, largely on foot, in severe winter conditions, heading west. Around 2,200 were evacuated by rail from two subcamps; fewer than 9,000 were left behind, deemed too sick to move. During the marches, camp staff shot anyone too sick or exhausted to continue, or anyone stopping to urinate or tie a shoelace. SS officers walked behind the marchers killing anyone lagging behind who had not already been shot. Peter Longerich estimates that a quarter of the detainees were thus killed. Those who managed to walk to Wodzisław Śląski and Gliwice were sent on open freight cars, without food, to concentration camps in Germany: Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenburg, Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, Dora-Mittelbau, Ravensbruck, and Sachsenhausen.
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.
Through the 1920s, Hitler gave speech after speech in which he stated that unemployment, rampant inflation, hunger and economic stagnation in postwar Germany would continue until there was a total revolution in German life. Most problems could be solved, he explained, if communists and Jews were driven from the nation. His fiery speeches swelled the ranks of the Nazi Party, especially among young, economically disadvantaged Germans.
^ 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."
At Auschwitz, there was a team of Nazi doctors who conducted experiments, but the two most notorious were Dr. Carl Clauberg and Dr. Josef Mengele. Dr. Clauberg focused his attention on finding ways to sterilize women, by such unorthodox methods as X-rays and injections of various substances into their uteruses. Dr. Mengele experimented on identical twins, hoping to find a secret to cloning what Nazis considered the perfect Aryan.
In October 1941, work began on Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka. There the SS later developed a huge concentration camp and extermination complex that included some 300 prison barracks; four large so-called Badeanstalten (German: “bathhouses”), in which prisoners were gassed to death; Leichenkeller (“corpse cellars”), in which their bodies were stored; and Einäscherungsöfen (“cremating ovens”). Another camp (Buna-Monowitz), near the village of Dwory, later called Auschwitz III, became in May 1942 a slave-labour camp supplying workers for the nearby chemical and synthetic-rubber works of IG Farben. In addition, Auschwitz became the nexus of a complex of 45 smaller subcamps in the region, most of which housed slave labourers. During most of the period from 1940 to 1945, the commandant of the central Auschwitz camps was SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) and ultimately SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieut. Col.) Rudolf Franz Hoess (Höss).
Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was pressured to abdicate the throne and flee into exile amidst an attempted communist revolution in Germany, initially supported the Nazi Party. His four sons, including Prince Eitel Friedrich and Prince Oskar, became members of the Nazi Party in hopes that in exchange for their support, the Nazis would permit the restoration of the monarchy.
Despite this process of universalization, Anne and her diary have been attacked with increasing sharpness by Holocaust deniers, and the controversy they began had additional ramifications for the diary and Anne’s character and nationality. At the end of the 1950s, after the diary was translated into English and the play earned rave reviews, the extreme right wing in Germany attacked its authenticity because, in their opinion, it was causing ever greater harm to Germany’s image. The rising controversy also included the question of the education of youth: was one who denied the diary’s authenticity fit to be a teacher? In the mid-1970s, the controversy crossed Germany’s borders, starting a trend in which there was a clear connection between Holocaust denial in general and denying the diary’s authenticity in particular, as in the statements and writings of significant Holocaust deniers such as Richard Verall and David Irving of Britain and Arthur Butz of the United States. Toward the end of the 1970s four trials began in Germany, in some of which the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, together with Siegfried Verbeke of Belgium, tried hard to undermine the authenticity of the diary and support the extreme right. Otto Frank took them to court once more, as he had done in the 1950s.
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.
Otto and Edith Frank planned to go into hiding with the children on 16 July 1942, but when Margot received a call-up notice from the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) on 5 July, ordering her to report for relocation to a work camp, they were forced to move the plan ten days forward. Shortly before going into hiding, Anne gave her friend and neighbour Toosje Kupers a book, a tea set, a tin of marbles, and the family cat for safekeeping. As the Associated Press reports: "'I'm worried about my marbles, because I'm scared they might fall into the wrong hands,' Kupers said Anne told her. 'Could you keep them for me for a little while?'"
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.
The Nazi Party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against the communist uprisings in post-World War I Germany. The party was created to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although this was later downplayed to gain the support of business leaders, and in the 1930s the party's main focus shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes.
If Godwin has a law clerk, she is working overtime this week. I refer to the truism Godwin’s Law: that all arguments eventually end with Hitler and the Holocaust. Everyone, it seems, is hurling comparisons between the American detention centers housing refugee children at the Mexican border and Nazi concentration camps. Former CIA director Michael Hayden tweeted an image of Auschwitz-Birkenau with the message, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”
In her writing, Frank examined her relationships with the members of her family, and the strong differences in each of their personalities. She considered herself to be closest emotionally to her father, who later commented, "I got on better with Anne than with Margot, who was more attached to her mother. The reason for that may have been that Margot rarely showed her feelings and didn't need as much support because she didn't suffer from mood swings as much as Anne did." The Frank sisters formed a closer relationship than had existed before they went into hiding, although Anne sometimes expressed jealousy towards Margot, particularly when members of the household criticized Anne for lacking Margot's gentle and placid nature. As Anne began to mature, the sisters were able to confide in each other. In her entry of 12 January 1944, Frank wrote, "Margot's much nicer ... She's not nearly so catty these days and is becoming a real friend. She no longer thinks of me as a little baby who doesn't count."
Auschwitz, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, opened in 1940 and was the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps. Located in southern Poland, Auschwitz initially served as a detention center for political prisoners. However, it evolved into a network of camps where Jewish people and other perceived enemies of the Nazi state were exterminated, often in gas chambers, or used as slave labor. Some prisoners were also subjected to barbaric medical experiments led by Josef Mengele (1911-79). During World War II (1939-45), more than 1 million people, by some accounts, lost their lives at Auschwitz. In January 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, Nazi officials ordered the camp abandoned and sent an estimated 60,000 prisoners on a forced march to other locations. When the Soviets entered Auschwitz, they found thousands of emaciated detainees and piles of corpses left behind.
Since the beginning of the war, special SS units called Einsatzgruppen had carried out mass executions of Jews and others in conquered territories; these commandos rounded up entire villages, forced them to dig their own graves and shot them. The massacres took a toll even on the German firing squads, says Debórah Dwork, a Holocaust historian at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and co-author (with van Pelt) of Holocaust: A History. “It’s totally clear from Nazi documents,” she says, “that Germans were looking for a way to murder masses of people without having such a traumatic impact on the murderers.”
Generally speaking, Nazi theorists and politicians blamed Germany's previous economic failures on political causes like the influence of Marxism on the workforce, the sinister and exploitative machinations of what they called international Jewry and the vindictiveness of the western political leaders' war reparation demands. Instead of traditional economic incentives, the Nazis offered solutions of a political nature, such as the elimination of organised trade unions, rearmament (in contravention of the Versailles Treaty) and biological politics. Various work programs designed to establish full-employment for the German population were instituted once the Nazis seized full national power. Hitler encouraged nationally supported projects like the construction of the Autobahn highway system, the introduction of an affordable people's car (Volkswagen) and later the Nazis bolstered the economy through the business and employment generated by military rearmament. The Nazis benefited early in the regime's existence from the first post–Depression economic upswing, and this combined with their public works projects, job-procurement program and subsidised home repair program reduced unemployment by as much as 40 percent in one year. This development tempered the unfavourable psychological climate caused by the earlier economic crisis and encouraged Germans to march in step with the regime.
The party grew out of smaller political groups with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last years of World War I. In 1918, a league called the Freier Arbeiterausschuss für einen guten Frieden (Free Workers' Committee for a good Peace) was created in Bremen, Germany. On 7 March 1918, Anton Drexler, an avid German nationalist, formed a branch of this league in Munich. Drexler was a local locksmith who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and the revolutionary upheavals that followed. Drexler followed the views of militant nationalists of the day, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having antisemitic, anti-monarchist and anti-Marxist views, as well as believing in the superiority of Germans whom they claimed to be part of the Aryan "master race" (Herrenvolk). However, he also accused international capitalism of being a Jewish-dominated movement and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I. Drexler saw the political violence and instability in Germany as the result of the Weimar Republic being out-of-touch with the masses, especially the lower classes. Drexler emphasised the need for a synthesis of völkisch nationalism with a form of economic socialism, in order to create a popular nationalist-oriented workers' movement that could challenge the rise of Communism and internationalist politics. These were all well-known themes popular with various Weimar paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps.
Early camps, usually without proper infrastructure, sprang up everywhere in Germany after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933: rising "like mushrooms after the rain", Himmler recollected. These early camps, also called "Wild camps" because some were set up with little supervision from higher authorities, were overseen by Nazi paramilitaries, by political-police forces, and sometimes by local police authorities. They utilized any lockable larger space, for example: engine rooms, brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars, etc.