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.
When I returned this past autumn, the hair was a barely differentiated mass of gray, more like wool than human locks. Only the occasional braid signaled the remnants of something unprecedented and awful—the site where the Third Reich perpetrated the largest mass murder in human history. At least 1.1 million people were killed here, most within hours of their arrival.
Prisoners were crammed into the crumbling barracks and provided only a few hundred calories a day. Most died of starvation, exhaustion and diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Beatings, torture and executions were commonplace. Camp doctors conducted experiments—usually fatal—on prisoners, looking for ways to sterilize women with radiation or toxic chemicals, and studying the effects of extreme cold or starvation on the human body. In the first few years of the camp, 80 percent of new inmates died within two months.
Extensive propaganda was used to spread the regime's goals and ideals. Upon the death of German president Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler assumed the powers of the presidency. The army swore an oath of personal loyalty to him. Hitler's dictatorship rested on his position as Reich President (head of state), Reich Chancellor (head of government), and Fuehrer (head of the Nazi party). According to the "Fuehrer principle," Hitler stood outside the legal state and determined matters of policy himself.
Frank frequently wrote of her difficult relationship with her mother, and of her ambivalence towards her. On 7 November 1942 she described her "contempt" for her mother and her inability to "confront her with her carelessness, her sarcasm and her hard-heartedness," before concluding, "She's not a mother to me." Later, as she revised her diary, Frank felt ashamed of her harsh attitude, writing: "Anne, is it really you who mentioned hate, oh Anne, how could you?" She came to understand that their differences resulted from misunderstandings that were as much her fault as her mother's, and saw that she had added unnecessarily to her mother's suffering. With this realization, Frank began to treat her mother with a degree of tolerance and respect.
Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II and the end of the Holocaust, overt expressions of support for Nazi ideas were prohibited in Germany and other European countries. Nonetheless, movements which self-identify as National Socialist or which are described as adhering to National Socialism continue to exist on the fringes of politics in many western societies. Usually espousing a white supremacist ideology, many deliberately adopt the symbols of Nazi Germany.
In Birkenau, which was built anew on the site of a displaced village, only a small number of historic buildings have survived. Due to the method used in constructing those buildings, planned as temporary structures and erected in a hurry using demolition materials, the natural degradation processes have been accelerating. All efforts are nevertheless being taken to preserve them, strengthen their original fabric and protect them from decay.
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the occupation government began to persecute Jews by the implementation of restrictive and discriminatory laws; mandatory registration and segregation soon followed. Otto Frank tried to arrange for the family to emigrate to the United States – the only destination that seemed to him to be viable – but Frank's application for a visa was never processed, due to circumstances such as the closing of the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam and the loss of all the paperwork there, including the visa application. Even if it had been processed, the U.S. government at the time was concerned that people with close relatives still in Germany could be blackmailed into becoming Nazi spies.
The impulse to separate some groups of people from the category of the human is, however, a universal one. The enemies we kill in war, the convicted prisoners we lock up for life, even the distant workers who manufacture our clothes and toys—how could any society function if the full humanity of all these were taken into account? In a decent society, there are laws to resist such dehumanization, and institutional and moral forces to protest it. When guards at Rikers Island beat a prisoner to death, or when workers in China making iPhones begin to commit suicide out of despair, we regard these as intolerable evils that must be cured. It is when a society decides that some people deserve to be treated this way—that it is not just inevitable but right to deprive whole categories of people of their humanity—that a crime on the scale of the K.L. becomes a possibility. It is a crime that has been repeated too many times, in too many places, for us to dismiss it with the simple promise of never again. ♦
Food was in short supply in the conquered areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, as the retreating armies had burned the crops in some areas, and much of the remainder was sent back to the Reich. In Germany, rations were cut in 1942. In his role as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, Hermann Göring demanded increased shipments of grain from France and fish from Norway. The 1942 harvest was good, and food supplies remained adequate in Western Europe.
The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945, while common English terms are "Nazi Germany" and "Third Reich". The latter, adopted by Nazi propaganda as Drittes Reich, was first used in Das Dritte Reich, a 1923 book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. The book counted the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) as the first Reich and the German Empire (1871–1918) as the second.
On 20 July 1932, the Prussian government was ousted by a coup, the Preussenschlag; a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4% and becoming the largest party in parliament by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the Communists between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Comintern directives, the Communists maintained their policy of treating the Social Democrats as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nazis. Later, both the Social Democrats and the Communists accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.
In early 1945, a typhus epidemic spread through the camp, killing 17,000 prisoners. Other diseases, including typhoid fever, were rampant. Due to these chaotic conditions, it is not possible to determine the specific cause of Anne's death. However, there is evidence that she died from the epidemic. Gena Turgel, a survivor of Bergen Belsen, knew Anne Frank at the camp. In 2015, Turgel told the British newspaper, the Sun: “Her bed was around the corner from me. She was delirious, terrible, burning up,” adding that she had brought Frank water to wash. Turgel, who worked in the camp hospital, said that the typhus epidemic at the camp took a terrible toll on the inmates. “The people were dying like flies — in the hundreds.” “Reports used to come in — 500 people who died. Three hundred? We said, ‘Thank God, only 300.’”
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. The death camps, in which more than one and a half million Jews were gassed—at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka—were never officially part of the K.L. system. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.L., set up in June, 1940, to house Polish prisoners. The first people to be gassed there, in September, 1941, were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in 1943, after other camps closed. The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.
Between 1940 and 1942, the French interned Jewish refugee families fleeing Nazi oppression elsewhere in Europe in Rivesaltes for the same reason. Lists of those incarcerated include a transport of Czech Jewish children: Brothers Salomon and Abraham Davidovic were 13 and 14 when they arrived. Conditions deteriorated. Directors complained in 1941 of no heat. Illness spread. Babies and the elderly died. The situation worsened when the Nazi-puppet Vichy regime assumed control of the camp in 1942 and began deporting its 7,000 foreign Jewish refugee prisoners to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. There, mothers and children were not separated but instead went to their deaths together.
I remember the chimneys with dark, thick smoke rising from them; dogs barking all the time. From Auschwitz, they moved us to Birkenau, then to Mauthausen-Gusen. Every morning there were dead bodies along the barbed wire fences around the camp. The electrified fences instantly killed anyone who touched them. Perhaps these were simply acts of suicide.
When a train carrying Jewish prisoners arrived “selections” would be conducted on the railroad platform, or ramp. Newly arrived persons classified by the SS physicians as unfit for labor were sent to the gas chambers: these included the ill, the elderly, pregnant women and children. In most cases, 70-75% of each transport was sent to immediate death. These people were not entered in the camp records; that is, they received no serial numbers and were not registered, and this is why it is possible only to estimate the total number of victims.
When we were in Gusen penal camp, my father, who was 50, one day just gave up and said he couldn’t continue. From that moment I was totally alone. In February 1945 they moved us to Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. It was here that I witnessed starving people eating human flesh. We were liberated by Americans and Canadians in Gunskirchen. The Germans had simply left the camp, and with an absence of drama we just walked through the gates. The first thing I did was to knock on a local resident’s door and ask for permission to take a shower. Somehow, I managed to meet up with my brothers, David and Shuli. We had no desire to return to Dej, to the people who had betrayed us.
Anne Frank was born Anneliese Marie Frank in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 12, 1929, to Edith Hollander Frank (1900-45) and Otto Frank (1889-1980), a prosperous businessman. Less than four years later, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and he and his Nazi government instituted a series of measures aimed at persecuting Germany’s Jewish citizens.