Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.
After the outbreak of war, people from across Europe were deported to Mauthausen, which gradually developed into a system of several interconnected camps. During this phase, Mauthausen and Gusen were the concentration camps with the harshest imprisonment conditions and the highest mortality. Prisoners at the bottom of the camp hierarchy had barely any chance of surviving for long. Those who were ill or ‘useless’ to the SS were in constant danger of their lives. In 1941 the SS started to construct a gas chamber and other installations at Mauthausen for the systematic murder of large groups of people.
There is a serious anachronism at work: the coverage that speaks to Schneidermann on an emotional level now was largely ineffective at the time it was printed. He muses that the journalists in the thirties needed to invent a new language, but he doesn’t quite define what that language should have looked like—dry facts didn’t allow an audience truly to comprehend the incomprehensible, but irony didn’t work, either, and neither did outcry. He faults the news outlets, above all, for not publishing vivid portraits of the victims. “Facts. Raw facts,” Schneidermann writes of press descriptions of Jewish refugees in 1939. “We can’t accuse the New York Times of having avoided the raw facts. Except that the raw facts don’t suffice. They never suffice. In order for a piece of news to touch consciences and hearts, there must be emotion running through it.”

By early 1934, the focus shifted towards rearmament. By 1935, military expenditures accounted for 73 percent of the government's purchases of goods and services.[267] On 18 October 1936, Hitler named Göring as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, intended to speed up rearmament.[268] In addition to calling for the rapid construction of steel mills, synthetic rubber plants, and other factories, Göring instituted wage and price controls and restricted the issuance of stock dividends.[251] Large expenditures were made on rearmament in spite of growing deficits.[269] Plans unveiled in late 1938 for massive increases to the navy and air force were impossible to fulfil, as Germany lacked the finances and material resources to build the planned units, as well as the necessary fuel required to keep them running.[270] With the introduction of compulsory military service in 1935, the Reichswehr, which had been limited to 100,000 by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, expanded to 750,000 on active service at the start of World War II, with a million more in the reserve.[271] By January 1939, unemployment was down to 301,800 and it dropped to only 77,500 by September.[272]
The general membership of the Nazi Party mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class. In early 1933, just before Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship, the party showed an under-representation of "workers", who made up 29.7% of the membership but 46.3% of German society. Conversely, white-collar employees (18.6% of members and 12% of Germans), the self-employed (19.8% of members and 9.6% of Germans) and civil servants (15.2% of members and 4.8% of the German population) had joined in proportions greater than their share of the general population.[115] These members were affiliated with local branches of the party, of which there were 1,378 throughout the country in 1928. In 1932, the number had risen to 11,845, reflecting the party's growth in this period.[115]
Those deemed fit enough for slave labor were then immediately registered, tattooed with a serial number, undressed, deloused, had their body hair shaven off, showered while their clothes were disinfected with Zyklon-B gas, and entered the camp under the infamous gateway inscribed “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Labor will set you free”). Of approximately 2.5 million people who were deported to Auschwitz, 405,000 were given prisoner status and serial numbers. Of these, approximately 50% were Jews and 50% were Poles and other nationalities.
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).
A separate camp for the Roma, the Zigeunerfamilienlager ("Gypsy family camp"), was set up in the BIIe sector of Auschwitz II-Birkenau in February 1943. For unknown reasons, they were not subject to selection and families were allowed to stay together. The first transport of German Roma arrived at Auschwitz II on 26 February that year. There had been a small number of Romani inmates before that; two Czech Romani prisoners, Ignatz and Frank Denhel, tried to escape in December 1942, the latter successfully, and a Polish Romani woman, Stefania Ciuron, arrived on 12 February 1943 and escaped in April.[145]
The orders for the final evacuation and liquidation of the camp were issued in mid-January 1945. The Germans left behind in the main Auschwitz camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long; the rest, approximately 58,000 people, were evacuated by foot into the depths of the Third Reich.
Hitler told a party leader in 1934: "The economic system of our day is the creation of the Jews".[262] Hitler said to Benito Mussolini that capitalism had "run its course".[262] Hitler also said that the business bourgeoisie "know nothing except their profit. 'Fatherland' is only a word for them."[263] Hitler was personally disgusted with the ruling bourgeois elites of Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic, who he referred to as "cowardly shits".[264]
I bought this book to prepare for a trip to the Anne Frank Museum. It was a sad but fascinating read - and when I got to the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam, I knew exactly what I was looking at, who slept where - and who all the individuals were that helped Anne, her family, and their companions survive for as long as they did. I think I got more out of the visit than I would have without reading this book.
Gradowski’s chronicle walks us, step by devastating step, through the murders of 5,000 people, a single large “transport” of Czech Jews who were slaughtered on the night of March 8, 1944—a group that was unusual only because they had already been detained in Birkenau for months, and therefore knew what was coming. Gradowski tells us how he escorted the thousands of women and young children into the disrobing room, marveling at how “these same women who now pulsed with life would lie in dirt and filth, their pure bodies smeared with human excrement.” He describes how the mothers kiss their children’s limbs, how sisters clutch each other, how one woman asks him, “Say, brother, how long does it take to die? Is it easy or hard?” Once the women are naked, Gradowski and his fellow prisoners escort them through a gantlet of SS officers who had gathered for this special occasion—a night gassing arranged intentionally on the eve of Purim, the biblical festival celebrating the Jews’ narrow escape from a planned genocide. He recalls how one woman, “a lovely blond girl,” stopped in her death march to address the officers: “‘Wretched murderers! You look at me with your thirsty, bestial eyes. You glut yourselves on my nakedness. Yes, this is what you’ve been waiting for. In your civilian lives you could never even have dreamed about it. [...] But you won’t enjoy this for long. Your game’s almost over, you can’t kill all the Jews. And you will pay for it all.’ And suddenly she leaped at them and struck Oberscharführer Voss, the director of the crematoriums, three times. Clubs came down on her head and shoulders. She entered the bunker with her head covered with wounds [...] she laughed for joy and proceeded calmly to her death.” Gradowski describes how people sang in the gas chambers, songs that included Hatikvah, “The Hope,” now the national anthem of Israel. And then he describes the mountain of open-eyed naked bodies that he and his fellow prisoners must pull apart and burn: “Their gazes were fixed, their bodies motionless. In the deadened, stagnant stillness there was only a hushed, barely audible noise—a sound of fluid seeping from the different orifices of the dead. [...] Frequently one recognizes an acquaintance.” In the specially constructed ovens, he tells us, the hair is first to catch fire, but “the head takes the longest to burn; two little blue flames flicker from the eyeholes—these are the eyes burning with the brain. [...] The entire process lasts 20 minutes—and a human being, a world, has been turned to ashes. [...] It won’t be long before the five thousand people, the five thousand worlds, will have been devoured by the flames.”
We know this because there is no shortage of texts from victims and survivors who chronicled the fact in vivid detail, and none of those documents has achieved anything like the fame of Frank’s diary. Those that have come close have only done so by observing the same rules of hiding, the ones that insist on polite victims who don’t insult their persecutors. The work that came closest to achieving Frank’s international fame might be Elie Wiesel’s Night, a memoir that could be thought of as a continuation of Frank’s experience, recounting the tortures of a 15-year-old imprisoned in Auschwitz. As the scholar Naomi Seidman has discussed, Wiesel first published his memoir in Yiddish, under the title And the World Kept Silent. The Yiddish book told the same story, but it exploded with rage against his family’s murderers and, as the title implies, the entire world whose indifference (or active hatred) made those murders possible. With the help of the French Catholic Nobel laureate François Mauriac, Wiesel later published a French version of the book under the title Night—a work that repositioned the young survivor’s rage into theological angst. After all, what reader would want to hear about how his society had failed, how he was guilty? Better to blame God. This approach did earn Wiesel a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a spot in Oprah’s Book Club, the American epitome of grace. It did not, however, make teenage girls read his book in Japan, the way they read Frank’s. For that he would have had to hide much, much more.
By then, Auschwitz was serving as both a slave labor facility and a death camp. As the Germans brought more and more Jews from all over Europe to the sprawling complex, SS doctors selected the fittest for work. Other prisoners were sent directly to Birkenau’s gas chambers for what was euphemistically known as a special action. “Was present for first time at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s Inferno seems almost a comedy,” SS doctor Johann Paul Kremer wrote in his diary on September 2, 1942. Camp records show the transport he observed contained 957 Jews from France; only 12 men and 27 women were selected for work.
After three days at Auschwitz, I was left with the feeling that for some visitors, the former concentration camp is a box to check off on a tourist “to-do” list. But many people appeared genuinely moved. I saw Israeli teenagers crying and hugging each other and groups of people transfixed by the mug shots of prisoners that line the walls of one of the Auschwitz barracks. Walking through the room full of hair still makes my stomach churn. But what I hadn’t remembered from my first visit was the room next door filled with battered cooking pots and pans, brought by people who believed until the last moment that there was a future wherever they were being taken. And when Banas told me about the carefully folded math test that conservationists found hidden in a child’s shoe, I choked up. Even if only a fraction of the people who come here each year are profoundly affected, a fraction of a million is still a lot of people.
If it isn’t already clear, we are not reliving the thirties, and Trump is not Hitler. One of the journalists whom Schneidermann admires is Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News who had already been in Berlin for a decade when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, in January, 1933. Mowrer’s work strongly captures the widespread anti-Semitic violence of the years that preceded Hitler: Jews were assaulted in public, Jewish students were beaten up by classmates. And all German political parties had armed militias that confronted one another frequently—and violently—in the streets; hundreds of people were killed during the 1932 election campaign. This was the context in which Hitler was elected. After Mowrer published a book on this material, the same month as Hitler’s inauguration, he was expelled from Germany.
^ Fritzsche, Peter. 1998. Germans into Nazis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; Eatwell, Roger, Fascism, A History, Viking/Penguin, 1996, pp. xvii–xxiv, 21, 26–31, 114–140, 352. Griffin, Roger. 2000. "Revolution from the Right: Fascism," chapter in David Parker (ed.) Revolutions and the Revolutionary Tradition in the West 1560–1991, Routledge, London.
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.
The orders for the final evacuation and liquidation of the camp were issued in mid-January 1945. The Germans left behind in the main Auschwitz camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long; the rest, approximately 58,000 people, were evacuated by foot into the depths of the Third Reich.
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.”
Between 1939 and 1945, the Nazi Party led regime, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, was responsible for the deaths of at least eleven million people,[94][95] including 5.5 to 6 million Jews (representing two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe),[11][96][97] and between 200,000 and 1,500,000 Romani people.[98][99] The estimated total number includes the killing of nearly two million non-Jewish Poles,[100] over three million Soviet prisoners of war,[101] communists, and other political opponents, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled.[102][103]
Only after the true scope of the Holocaust’s horrors were known did the world begin to react to what had happened at Auschwitz. Though the Nazis fled and tried to cover up their deeds, making it impossible to ever know the complete history of their crimes, the voices of the victims and survivors live on through their testimony. All in all, 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Today, a museum and memorial at Auschwitz preserves the remnants of the Nazis’ crimes—a reminder of the many who were killed and a testament to those who survived.
The extravagant hopes of Nazism came to an end with Germany’s defeat in 1945, after nearly six years of war. To a certain extent World War II had repeated the pattern of World War I: great initial German military successes, the forging of a large-scale coalition against Germany as the result of German ambitions and behaviour, and the eventual loss of the war because of German overreaching. Nazism as a mass movement effectively ended on April 30, 1945, when Hitler committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of Soviet troops completing the occupation of Berlin. Out of the ruins of Nazism arose a Germany that was divided until 1990. Remnants of National Socialist ideology remained in Germany after Hitler’s suicide, and a small number of Nazi-oriented political parties and other groups were formed in West Germany from the late 1940s, though some were later banned. In the 1990s gangs of neo-Nazi youths in eastern Germany staged attacks against immigrants, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and engaged in violent confrontations with leftists and police.
Special “political units on alert” (Politische Bereitschaften) originally guarded the SS concentration camps. They were renamed “SS Guard Units” (SS-Wachverbände) in 1935 and “SS Death's-Head Units” (SS-Totenkopfverbände) in April 1936. One SS Death's-Head Unit was assigned to each concentration camp. After 1936, the camp administration, including the commandant, was also a part of the SS Death's-Head Unit.
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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.
Jerzy Tabeau (prisoner no. 27273, registered as Jerzy Wesołowski) and Roman Cieliczko (no. 27089), both Polish prisoners, escaped on 19 November 1943; Tabeau made contact with the Polish underground and, between December 1943 and early 1944, wrote what became known as the Polish Major's report about the situation in the camp.[222] On 27 April 1944, Rudolf Vrba (no. 44070) and Alfréd Wetzler (no. 29162) escaped to Slovakia, carrying detailed information to the Slovak Jewish Council about the gas chambers. The distribution of the Vrba-Wetzler report, and publication of parts of it in June 1944, helped to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. On 27 May 1944, Arnost Rosin (no. 29858) and Czesław Mordowicz (no. 84216) also escaped to Slovakia; the Rosin-Mordowicz report was added to the Vrba-Wetzler and Tabeau reports to become what is known as the Auschwitz Protocols.[223] The reports were first published in their entirety in November 1944 by the United States War Refugee Board, in a document entitled The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia.[224]

My mother never talked very much about our time there, mainly to protect us and herself. She was 21 when we were finally able to leave, with a two-year-old and a six-week-old. She also took with us a four-year-old boy who was parentless and she spent months searching for his relatives, who she did finally track down. At the same time, she had lost her husband and was mourning him. There was an unspoken ban on speaking about any of it. We went back to live in Trenčín, the small town in Slovakia where my mother had moved when she married my father, and where the Red Cross found us a room.
Frank herself sensed the limits of the adults around her, writing critically of her own mother’s and Peter’s mother’s apparently trivial preoccupations—and in fact these women’s prewar lives as housewives were a chief driver for Frank’s ambitions. “I can’t imagine that I would have to lead the same sort of life as Mummy and Mrs. v.P. [van Pels] and all the women who do their work and are then forgotten,” she wrote as she planned her future career. “I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to!” In the published diary, this passage is immediately followed by the famous words, “I want to go on living even after my death!”
Banas introduces me to conservators working to preserve evidence of camp life: fragments of a mural depicting an idealized German family that once decorated the SS canteen, floor tiles from a prisoners barrack. In one room, a team wielding erasers, brushes and purified water clean and scan 39,000 yellowing medical records written on everything from card stock to toilet paper.
Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS) took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35.[5] Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, Gypsies/Romanis/Sintis, Serbs, Poles, disabled people, and criminals.[6][7][8] The number of people in the camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II[9] and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.[10]
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