Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the concentration and extermination camps established on Polish soil, served concurrently as a labor camp and as a center for the rapid extermination of Jews. Chosen as the central location for the annihilation of the Jewish people, it was equipped with several extermination facilities and crematoria. Extermination was carried out by means of Zyklon B gas, a substance that had previously been tested on Russian prisoners of war.
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.
The reality of where we were, struck home fairly quickly. I was stationed near crematorium number four, and we witnessed the columns of unsuspecting women and children entering the gate of the crematorium; they would have been dead within half an hour. When the Hungarian Jews arrived they had the gas chambers going day and night. How can you wrap your imagination round that? I still can’t.
This intellectual preparation would probably not have been sufficient for the growth of Nazism in Germany but for that country’s defeat in World War I. The defeat and the resulting disillusionment, pauperization, and frustration—particularly among the lower middle classes—paved the way for the success of the propaganda of Hitler and the Nazis. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), the formal settlement of World War I drafted without German participation, alienated many Germans with its imposition of harsh monetary and territorial reparations. The significant resentment expressed toward the peace treaty gave Hitler a starting point. Because German representatives (branded the “November criminals” by National Socialists) agreed to cease hostilities and did not unconditionally surrender in the armistice of November 11, 1918, there was a widespread feeling—particularly in the military—that Germany’s defeat had been orchestrated by diplomats at the Versailles meetings. From the beginning, Hitler’s propaganda of revenge for this “traitorous” act, through which the German people had been “stabbed in the back,” and his call for rearmament had strong appeal within military circles, which regarded the peace only as a temporary setback in Germany’s expansionist program. The ruinous inflation of the German currency in 1923 wiped out the savings of many middle-class households and led to further public alienation and dissatisfaction.
While no unified resistance movement opposing the Nazi regime existed, acts of defiance such as sabotage and labour slowdowns took place, as well as attempts to overthrow the regime or assassinate Hitler. The banned Communist and Social Democratic parties set up resistance networks in the mid-1930s. These networks achieved little beyond fomenting unrest and initiating short-lived strikes. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who initially supported Hitler, changed his mind in 1936 and was later a participant in the July 20 plot. The Red Orchestra spy ring provided information to the Allies about Nazi war crimes, helped orchestrate escapes from Germany, and distributed leaflets. The group was detected by the Gestapo and more than 50 members were tried and executed in 1942. Communist and Social Democratic resistance groups resumed activity in late 1942, but were unable to achieve much beyond distributing leaflets. The two groups saw themselves as potential rival parties in post-war Germany, and for the most part did not co-ordinate their activities. The White Rose resistance group was primarily active in 1942–43, and many of its members were arrested or executed, with the final arrests taking place in 1944. Another civilian resistance group, the Kreisau Circle, had some connections with the military conspirators, and many of its members were arrested after the failed 20 July plot.
The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939 and the absorption of the Baltic states in 1940 led to the incarceration of large numbers of non-Soviet citizens. Following the outbreak of war with Germany in 1941, the camps received Axis prisoners of war and Soviet nationals accused of collaboration with the enemy. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, many prisoners were released and the number of camps was drastically reduced. See also Gulag.
Very heavy strategic bombing by the Allies targeted refineries producing synthetic oil and gasoline, as well as the German transportation system, especially rail yards and canals. The armaments industry began to break down by September 1944. By November, fuel coal was no longer reaching its destinations and the production of new armaments was no longer possible. Overy argues that the bombing strained the German war economy and forced it to divert up to one-fourth of its manpower and industry into anti-aircraft resources, which very likely shortened the war.
After examining several sites for a new plant to manufacture Buna-N, a type of synthetic rubber essential to the war effort, the German chemical cartel IG Farben chose a site near the towns of Dwory and Monowice (Monowitz in German), about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east of Auschwitz I. Tax exemptions were available to corporations prepared to develop industries in the frontier regions under the Eastern Fiscal Assistance Law, passed in December 1940. The site had good railway connections and access to raw materials. In February 1941, Himmler ordered that the Jewish population of Oświęcim be expelled to make way for skilled laborers; that all Poles able to work remain in the town and work on building the factory; and that Auschwitz prisoners be used in the construction work.
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.
I later qualified as a psychotherapist, a job which I enjoy immensely, but which confronts me with the suffering caused by the Holocaust on a daily basis. My patients are from “both sides” – either victims or perpetrators, or their relatives – and many are what you’d call transgenerationally affected – carrying around with them the issues and traumas that their parents or grandparents never dealt with, and which unless cured are like a contagious disease that they’ll pass on to the next generation.
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.
On April 27, 1940, Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a new camp near Oswiecim, Poland (about 37 miles or 60 km west of Krakow). The Auschwitz Concentration Camp ("Auschwitz" is the German spelling of "Oswiecim") quickly became the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. By the time of its liberation, Auschwitz had grown to include three large camps and 45 sub-camps.
Chelmno was the first extermination camp to be established as part of the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ – the Nazis’ systematic effort to exterminate the Jews. This was quickly followed by the establishment of three more extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. They were established under the code-name Operation Reinhard – the starting signal to the extermination of the approximately 3 million Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Poland. In the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek two further extermination camps were established.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, Netherlands, having moved there with her family at the age of four and a half when the Nazis gained control over Germany. Born a German national, she lost her citizenship in 1941 and thus became stateless. By May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne's father, Otto Frank, worked. From then until the family's arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, she kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) a few months later. They were originally estimated by the Red Cross to have died in March, with Dutch authorities setting 31 March as their official date of death, but research by the Anne Frank House in 2015 suggests they more likely died in February.
Though we tend to think of Hitler’s Germany as a highly regimented dictatorship, in practice Nazi rule was chaotic and improvisatory. Rival power bases in the Party and the German state competed to carry out what they believed to be Hitler’s wishes. This system of “working towards the Fuhrer,” as it was called by Hitler’s biographer Ian Kershaw, was clearly in evidence when it came to the concentration camps. The K.L. system, during its twelve years of existence, included twenty-seven main camps and more than a thousand subcamps. At its peak, in early 1945, it housed more than seven hundred thousand inmates. In addition to being a major penal and economic institution, it was a central symbol of Hitler’s rule. Yet Hitler plays almost no role in Wachsmann’s book, and Wachsmann writes that Hitler was never seen to visit a camp. It was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S., who was in charge of the camp system, and its growth was due in part to his ambition to make the S.S. the most powerful force in Germany.
Birkenau was the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex. It became primarily a centre for the mass murder of Jews brought there for extermination, and of Roma and Sinti prisoners during its final period. Sick prisoners and those selected for death from the whole Auschwitz complex – and, to a smaller extent, from other camps – were also gathered and systematically killed here. It ultimately became a place for the concentration of prisoners before they were transferred inside the Third Reich to work for German industry. Most of the victims of the Auschwitz complex, probably about 90%, were killed in the Birkenau camp.
That Mengele – they call him a doctor, but he was as much a doctor as I’m an army general. A complete fake of a man who I was too scared to look in the eye. I saw him day in, day out for months and was one of 152 Jews in his “care”. One of the experiments he carried out on me was to take blood from my arm and inject it in my rear end. I’ve no idea what that was trying to prove.
In May 1943 the SS (Schutzstaffel, "Protective Echelon") announced the removal of all remaining Jews in the Netherlands. In a voluntary call-up on May 25, five hundred Jews voluntarily reported for deportation to Westerbork transit camp. The next day, raids were carried out and 3,000 people were rounded up. Most of these people were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp. About 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported during the war—only about 5,000 returned.
Since the Nazis extended the Rassenschande ("race defilement") law to all foreigners at the beginning of the war, pamphlets were issued to German women which ordered them to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers who were brought to Germany and the pamphlets also ordered German women to view these same foreign workers as a danger to their blood. Although the law was applicable to both genders, German women were punished more severely for having sexual relations with foreign forced labourers in Germany. The Nazis issued the Polish decrees on 8 March 1940 which contained regulations concerning the Polish forced labourers (Zivilarbeiter) who were brought to Germany during World War II. One of the regulations stated that any Pole "who has sexual relations with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner, will be punished by death".
These gassing facilities soon proved inadequate for the task of murdering the large numbers of Jewish deportees being sent to Auschwitz. Between March and June 1943, four large crematoria were built within Auschwitz-Birkenau, each with a gas chamber, a disrobing area, and crematory ovens. Gassings ceased at Bunkers I and II when Crematoria II through V began operating, although Bunker II was put back into operation during the deportation of Hungary’s Jews in 1944. Gassing of newly arrived transports ceased at Auschwitz by early November 1944.
Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, some 438,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped on 147 trains to Birkenau, stretching the camp’s resources for killing beyond all limits. Because the crematoria were overcrowded, bodies were burned in pyres fueled partly by the victims’ own fat. Just prior to the deportation of Hungarian Jewry, two prisoners escaped with plans of the camp. They met with resistance leaders in Slovakia and compiled a detailed report including maps. As this report made its way to Western intelligence services in the summer of 1944, there were requests to bomb Auschwitz. Although the industrial complex adjacent to Auschwitz was bombed, the death camp and its crematoria were left untouched, a subject of controversy more than 50 years later. (See Why Wasn’t Auschwitz Bombed?)
German business leaders disliked Nazi ideology but came to support Hitler, because they saw the Nazis as a useful ally to promote their interests. Business groups made significant financial contributions to the Nazi Party both before and after the Nazi seizure of power, in the hope that a Nazi dictatorship would eliminate the organized labour movement and the left-wing parties. Hitler actively sought to gain the support of business leaders by arguing that private enterprise is incompatible with democracy.
On 13 July 1942, the Franks were joined by the van Pels, made up of Hermann, Auguste, and 16-year-old Peter, and then in November by Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and friend of the family. Frank wrote of her pleasure at having new people to talk to, but tensions quickly developed within the group forced to live in such confined conditions. After sharing her room with Pfeffer, she found him to be insufferable and resented his intrusion, and she clashed with Auguste van Pels, whom she regarded as foolish. She regarded Hermann van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer as selfish, particularly in regard to the amount of food they consumed. Some time later, after first dismissing the shy and awkward Peter van Pels, she recognized a kinship with him and the two entered a romance. She received her first kiss from him, but her infatuation with him began to wane as she questioned whether her feelings for him were genuine, or resulted from their shared confinement. Anne Frank formed a close bond with each of the helpers, and Otto Frank later recalled that she had anticipated their daily visits with impatient enthusiasm. He observed that Anne's closest friendship was with Bep Voskuijl, "the young typist ... the two of them often stood whispering in the corner."
The Nazis captured 5.75 million Soviet prisoners of war, more than they took from all the other Allied powers combined. Of these, they killed an estimated 3.3 million, with 2.8 million of them being killed between June 1941 and January 1942. Many POWs starved to death or resorted to cannibalism while being held in open-air pens at Auschwitz and elsewhere.
"an Amsterdam court found unequivocally for its authenticity and made denying it a criminal offense." Hmm. In the Netherlands, the old and the sick are expected to commit suicide, and criticizing a work of fiction, which has been edited several times to suit various audiences (see above), and is partly written in ballpoint pen supposedly at a time when that device had not been invented, is a criminal offense. They are not much on constitutional liberty and freedom in the Netherlands, are they?
My sister was sent with my mother, while I went to the opposite side. That was the first chance I had to survive. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, two Nazi soldiers had been asked to make a photographic document of the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the moment they got off the train – through the entire system of arriving, going to the bath house and getting their prison clothes – so I ended up in a picture at the very moment I was separated from my sister. It captures me standing alone without my family on the Auschwitz platform, and I’m leaning inwards to see where my little sister has gone.
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager, KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.