I had trained as a tailor and had left home before we were deported, when I went to work four miles away on a ranch. It was taken over by the SS, so suddenly I found myself working for them. In May 1943 they lined us up one day and told us to empty our pockets. If they found even a single zloty in anyone’s pocket, they were shot on the spot. We were transported to Majdanek, which was only 19 miles away – a torture camp in the true sense of the word. For 500 metres there were just ditches full of bodies, legs, heads. We were deported to Auschwitz four weeks later. We arrived in the early morning and they gave us a bed, a real shower, they cleaned us well with disinfectant and shaved us. After that they gave us striped uniforms and tattooed us. I was given the number 128164 on my left arm and from that point on I was a number, no longer a name.
Despite its economic and political success, Nazism maintained its power by coercion and mass manipulation. The Nazi regime disseminated a continual outpouring of propaganda through all cultural and informational media. Its rallies—especially its elaborately staged Nürnberg rallies—its insignia, and its uniformed cadres were designed to impart an aura of omnipotence. The underside of its propaganda machine was its apparatus of terror, with its ubiquitous secret police and concentration camps. It fanned and focused German anti-Semitism to make the Jews a symbol of all that was hated and feared. By means of deceptive rhetoric, the party portrayed the Jews as the enemy of all classes of society.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.
After the arrival of a transport at the ramp in Birkenau, the process known as selection took place. SS officers decided who would be taken to work, and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers. Often it was mere chance or the mood of the SS officer that decided whether someone died immediately or had a hope of survival. The prisoners selected for slave labour were sent to one of the many auxiliary camps at Auschwitz or elsewhere in the Nazi concentration camp system. Their aim was „Vernichtung durch Arbeit“ - extermination through labour.
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.
Popular support for Hitler almost completely disappeared as the war drew to a close. Suicide rates in Germany increased, particularly in areas where the Red Army was advancing. Among soldiers and party personnel, suicide was often deemed an honourable and heroic alternative to surrender. First-hand accounts and propaganda about the uncivilised behaviour of the advancing Soviet troops caused panic among civilians on the Eastern Front, especially women, who feared being raped. More than a thousand people (out of a population of around 16,000) committed suicide in Demmin on and around 1 May 1945 as the 65th Army of 2nd Belorussian Front first broke into a distillery and then rampaged through the town, committing mass rapes, arbitrarily executing civilians, and setting fire to buildings. High numbers of suicides took place in many other locations, including Neubrandenburg (600 dead), Stolp in Pommern (1,000 dead), and Berlin, where at least 7,057 people committed suicide in 1945.
Next to physical labor, military drill played an important part, especially for the older men. Still to-day I can hear the command: 'Eyes right! Eyes front!' The drill consisted mainly of marching in large formations and in turns and practising the salute—a quick removal of the cap. Those who did not greet a passing S.S. man with this procedure laid themselves open to severe punishment. A sixty-five-year-old lawyer, who in spite of glasses could see very little, did not salute a passing 'superior officer,' and was struck so that his glasses were broken. His excuse that he was extremely nearsighted was answered with curses.
Those deported to Auschwitz arrived at the nearby train station and were marched or trucked to the main camp where they were registered, tattooed, 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 make you free")
The six extermination camps were established within a very short time. From December 1941 to December 1942 Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek all became operational. These sites were chosen because they were all situated near railway lines, in quiet rural areas of “far away” Poland, outside the spotlight of German and international public opinions.
The racialists were not capable of drawing the practical conclusions from correct theoretical judgements, especially in the Jewish Question. In this way, the German racialist movement developed a similar pattern to that of the 1880s and 1890s. As in those days, its leadership gradually fell into the hands of highly honourable, but fantastically naïve men of learning, professors, district counsellors, schoolmasters, and lawyers—in short a bourgeois, idealistic, and refined class. It lacked the warm breath of the nation's youthful vigour.
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.
Though the Russians had just come across the Holocaust’s deadliest camp, the liberation of Auschwitz didn’t even make front page news. A communiquépublished in the New York Times on January 28, 1945, doesn’t even mention the camp, just the city; on February 3, the paper devotedtwo paragraphs to the “murder factory” at Oswiecim but gave few details. As World War II raced to its end, few people could even grasp the horror that was found in the camps.
As a result of their defeat in World War I and the resulting Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, and Memel. The Saarland temporarily became a protectorate of France under the condition that its residents would later decide by referendum which country to join, and Poland became a separate nation and was given access to the sea by the creation of the Polish Corridor, which separated Prussia from the rest of Germany, while Danzig was made a free city.
Last, and perhaps most ominously for our comparisons with the Holocaust, the camps can be the first step toward darker developments, as some have already argued. These “concentration camps” will not lead to gas chambers, but their existence may well lead to the erosion of respect for human rights, the rule of law and government accountability that characterized the Third Reich. Unless, of course, the children are all actors.
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.