The atrocities of Nazi Germany began well before the first shots of World War II were fired in 1939. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, and five weeks later, the Nazis established their first concentration camp. In 1935, the Nazis issued the Nuremberg Laws: "racial purity" laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Violence broke out in November 1938, when Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, and synagogues, killed nearly 100 and arrested some 30,000 Jewish men in what came to be known as Kristallnacht. By 1939, 300,000 Jewish refugees had fled Nazi controlled territories. By the war's end in 1945, six million Jews and millions of other victims had died in the Holocaust.
I married a Polish Jew and we settled in Germany, the “Täterland” – the land of the perpetrator – after being forced out of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring in 1968. It does sometimes feel like a strange decision to live in Germany because the Holocaust is just so omnipresent here and there is a growing antisemitism that scares me, especially when you feel it in Germany, of all places, which is why I always repeat what Primo Levi wrote: “What happened can happen again.”
Pope Pius XI had the "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") encyclical smuggled into Germany for Passion Sunday 1937 and read from every pulpit as it denounced the systematic hostility of the regime toward the church. In response, Goebbels renewed the regime's crackdown and propaganda against Catholics. Enrolment in denominational schools dropped sharply and by 1939 all such schools were disbanded or converted to public facilities. Later Catholic protests included the 22 March 1942 pastoral letter by the German bishops on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church". About 30 percent of Catholic priests were disciplined by police during the Nazi era. A vast security network spied on the activities of clergy and priests were frequently denounced, arrested or sent to concentration camps – many to the dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau. In the areas of Poland annexed in 1939, the Nazis instigated a brutal suppression and systematic dismantling of the Catholic Church.
The Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Schutzstaffel (SS) functioned as the paramilitary organizations of the Nazi Party. Using the SS for the task, Hitler purged the party's more socially and economically radical factions in the mid-1934 Night of the Long Knives, including the leadership of the SA. After the death of President Hindenburg, political power was concentrated in Hitler's hands and he became Germany's head of state as well as the head of the government, with the title of Führer, meaning "leader". From that point, Hitler was effectively the dictator of Nazi Germany, which was also known as the "Third Reich", under which Jews, political opponents and other "undesirable" elements were marginalized, imprisoned or murdered. Many millions of people were eventually exterminated in a genocide which became known as the Holocaust during World War II, including around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.
The conference led to a dramatic increase in activity at the Nazi death camps. In a massive campaign code-named Operation Reinhard, Germans killed 1.5 million Jews at small camps deep in the forests of eastern Poland from March 1942 to October 1943. Treblinka and the now nearly forgotten camps Sobibor and Belzec consisted of little more than gas chambers and train tracks. There were virtually no survivors, no witnesses.
The Lajkonik bus leaves Kraków Central Bus station (usually from the upstairs "G" bays, instead of the downstairs "D" bays). Some busses go directly to Auschwitz, after passing the Oświęcim train station (OŚWIĘCIM, Dworzec PKP): they usually say "Oświęcim, Auschwitz Museum". The trip takes about 90 minutes, but beware some routes take much longer (e.g. 2h30m).
Auschwitz-Birkenau was also a killing center and played a central role in the German effort to kill the Jews of Europe. Around the beginning of September, 1941, the SS at Auschwitz I conducted the first tests of Zyklon B as a mass murder agent, using Soviet POWs and debilitated Polish prisoners as victims. The “success” of these experiments led to the construction of a chamber in the crematorium of Auschwitz I that, like the subsequent gas chambers at Auschwitz, used Zyklon B to murder victims. The first transports of Jewish men, women, and children sent to Auschwitz as part of the “final solution” were murdered in this gas chamber (Crematorium I) in February and March 1942.
The first 'bunker', with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra 'capacity' was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the 'bunkers' were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open. Between January 1942 and March 1943, 175,000 Jews were gassed to death here, of whom 105,000 were killed from January to March 1943.
Both Anne and Margot kept diaries while they were in hiding, although Margot’s diaries were never found. Living in hiding meant the group also lived in constant fear of being discovered—they were unable to go outside, had to be quiet, conceal any lights used after sunset, and keep the curtains and windows closed during the day. They lived in extremely close quarters with each other and were completely dependent on Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, and Bep Voskuijl, Otto’s employees, for food, supplies, and moral support. The group in hiding got news from the radio and from these helpers, who also brought books and gifts. Anne wrote, "They come upstairs every day and talk to the men about business and politics, to the women about food and wartime difficulties and to the children about books and newspapers. They put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays and are always ready to do what they can."
An older use of Nazi for national-sozial is attested in German from 1903, but EWdS does not think it contributed to the word as applied to Hitler and his followers. The NSDAP for a time attempted to adopt the Nazi designation as what the Germans call a "despite-word," but they gave this up, and the NSDAP is said to have generally avoided the term. Before 1930, party members had been called in English National Socialists, which dates from 1923. The use of Nazi Germany, Nazi regime, etc., was popularized by German exiles abroad. From them, it spread into other languages, and eventually was brought back to Germany, after the war. In the USSR, the terms national socialist and Nazi were said to have been forbidden after 1932, presumably to avoid any taint to the good word socialist. Soviet literature refers to fascists.
Initially the new facilities were "underutilized". From April 1943 to March 1944, "only" 160,000 Jews were killed at Birkenau, but from March 1944 to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.
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.
A column of inmates reached the Gross-Rosen complex. Throughout February, the terribly overcrowded main camp at Gross-Rosen was cleared, and all 44,000 inmates were moved further west. An unknown number died in this last journey. In March 1945, Himmler ordered that no more prisoners should be killed, as he hoped to use them as hostages in negotiations with the Allies. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. “Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here,” Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl’s wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. “This is something hard to describe,” she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.
The German army had invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, and very quickly had imposed their antisemitic policies. In late 1941 they decided that Westerbork was an ideal place in which to assemble the Jews of Holland before their deportation. The first Jews arrived at the camp on 14 July, and the first deportation to Auschwitz left the following day.
I had become aware of antisemitism from a young age, when my uncle had his head chopped in two when he was attacked by fascists while driving up to Novograd where he lived. While his attacker was convicted, he was hardly punished, and continued to live opposite my uncle’s wife and child. But as a child you don’t think about these things all that much. My family had a wood and coal business and, like most people in those days, my father was self-employed. As they started to restrict us, he lost his licence to operate and then he faced the enormous task of trying to find work. Meanwhile, my mother was at home trying to keep the family together, with all of us all involved in domestic life.
The Nazis argued that free market capitalism damages nations due to international finance and the worldwide economic dominance of disloyal big business, which they considered to be the product of Jewish influences. Nazi propaganda posters in working class districts emphasised anti-capitalism, such as one that said: "The maintenance of a rotten industrial system has nothing to do with nationalism. I can love Germany and hate capitalism".
In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients—estimated at several thousands—were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where several were adopted by Polish families, or placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice. The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.
Directly subjected to the Führer were the Reichsleiter ("Reich Leader(s)"—the singular and plural forms are identical in German), whose number was gradually increased to eighteen. They held power and influence comparable to the Reich Ministers' in Hitler's Cabinet. The eighteen Reichsleiter formed the "Reich Leadership of the Nazi Party" (Reichsleitung der NSDAP), which was established at the so-called Brown House in Munich. Unlike a Gauleiter, a Reichsleiter did not have individual geographic areas under their command, but were responsible for specific spheres of interest.
A Jewish skeleton collection was obtained from among a pool of 115 Jewish Auschwitz inmates, chosen for their perceived stereotypical racial characteristics.[b] Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe (a Nazi research institute), delivered the skeletons to the collection of the Anatomy Institute at the Reichsuniversität Straßburg in Occupied France. The collection was sanctioned by Himmler and under the direction of August Hirt. Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and killed in August 1943. Brandt and Sievers were executed in 1948 after being convicted during the Doctors' trial, part of the Subsequent Nuremberg trials.
Otto Frank mounted a lawsuit in 1976 against Ernst Römer, who distributed a pamphlet titled "The Diary of Anne Frank, Bestseller, A Lie". When a man named Edgar Geiss distributed the same pamphlet in the courtroom, he too was prosecuted. Römer was fined 1,500 Deutschmarks, and Geiss was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. The sentence of Geiss was reduced on appeal, and the case was eventually dropped following a subsequent appeal because the time limit for filing a libel case had expired.
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.”
Otto Frank survived his internment in Auschwitz. After the war ended, he returned to Amsterdam, where he was sheltered by Jan and Miep Gies as he attempted to locate his family. He learned of the death of his wife, Edith, in Auschwitz, but remained hopeful that his daughters had survived. After several weeks, he discovered Margot and Anne had also died. He attempted to determine the fates of his daughters' friends and learned many had been murdered. Sanne Ledermann, often mentioned in Anne's diary, had been gassed along with her parents; her sister, Barbara, a close friend of Margot's, had survived. Several of the Frank sisters' school friends had survived, as had the extended families of Otto and Edith Frank, as they had fled Germany during the mid-1930s, with individual family members settling in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In the spring of 1941, the SS—along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program—introduced the Action 14f13 programme meant for extermination of selected concentration camp prisoners. The Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps categorized all files dealing with the death of prisoners as 14f, and those of prisoners sent to the T-4 gas chambers as 14f13. Under the language regulations of the SS, selected prisoners were designated for "special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung) 14f13". Prisoners were officially selected based on their medical condition; namely, those permanently unfit for labor due to illness. Unofficially, racial and eugenic criteria were used: Jews, the handicapped, and those with criminal or antisocial records were selected.:p.144 For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician's "diagnosis".:pp. 147–148 In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational, Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Action 14f13.:p.150