Auschwitz, Polish Oświęcim, also called Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp and extermination camp. Located near the industrial town of Oświęcim in southern Poland (in a portion of the country that was annexed by Germany at the beginning of World War II), Auschwitz was actually three camps in one: a prison camp, an extermination camp, and a slave-labour camp. As the most lethal of the Nazi extermination camps, Auschwitz has become the emblematic site of the “final solution,” a virtual synonym for the Holocaust. Between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died at Auschwitz; 90 percent of them were Jews. Also among the dead were some 19,000 Roma who were held at the camp until the Nazis gassed them on July 31, 1944—the only other victim group gassed in family units alongside the Jews. The Poles constituted the second largest victim group at Auschwitz, where some 83,000 were killed or died.
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.
As a result of the Holocaust, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. Because of these ominous connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer terms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.
Please remember that you are essentially visiting a mass grave site, as well as a site that has an almost incalculable meaning to a significant portion of the world's population. There are still many men and women alive today who survived their internment here, and many more who had loved ones murdered on these grounds, Jews and non-Jews alike. Please treat the site with the dignity and respect it solemnly deserves. Do not make jokes about the Holocaust or the Nazis. Do not deface the site by marking or scratching graffiti into structures. Pictures are permitted in outdoor areas, but remember this is a memorial rather than a tourist attraction, and there will undoubtedly be visitors who have a personal connection with the site, so be discreet with cameras.
In March 1941, Himmler visited Auschwitz and commanded its enlargement to hold 30,000 prisoners. The location of the camp, practically in the center of German-occupied Europe, and its convenient transportation connections and proximity to rail lines was the main thinking behind the Nazi plan to enlarge Auschwitz and begin deporting people here from all over Europe.
Measuring 270 by 490 metres (890 ft × 1,610 ft), the camp was larger than Auschwitz I. By the end of 1944, it housed 60 barracks measuring 17.5 by 8 metres (57 ft × 26 ft), each with a day room and a sleeping room containing 56 three-tiered wooden bunks. IG Farben paid the SS three or four Reichsmark for nine- to eleven-hour shifts from each worker. In 1943–1944, about 35,000 inmates worked at the plant; 23,000 (32 a day on average) died as a result of malnutrition, disease, and the workload. Deaths and transfers to Birkenau reduced the population by nearly a fifth each month; site managers constantly threatened inmates with the gas chambers. In addition to the Auschwitz inmates, who comprised a third of the work force, IG Auschwitz employed slave laborers from all over Europe. When the camp was liquidated in January 1945, 9,054 out of the 9,792 inmates were Jews.
When the Nazi Party emerged from obscurity to become a major political force after 1929, the conservative faction rapidly gained more influence, as wealthy donors took an interest in the Nazis as a potential bulwark against communism. The Nazi Party had previously been financed almost entirely from membership dues, but after 1929 its leadership began actively seeking donations from German industrialists, and Hitler began holding dozens of fundraising meetings with business leaders. In the midst of the Great Depression, facing the possibility of economic ruin on the one hand and a Communist or Social Democratic government on the other hand, German business increasingly turned to Nazism as offering a way out of the situation, by promising a state-driven economy that would support, rather than attack, existing business interests. By January 1933, the Nazi Party had secured the support of important sectors of German industry, mainly among the steel and coal producers, the insurance business and the chemical industry.
From Katowice, follow the A4 motorway towards Kraków and take the S1 expressway south towards Cieszyn. Drive southwards and take the DW934 highway at the Bieruń Nowy Imielin exit. At the intersection of DK44, turn left and follow the signs to Oświęcim. At the roundabout with DW933, take the first right and follow ul. Powstańców Śląskich, which will run past railway tracks and the town's railway station. From there, follow the signs to Muzeum Auschwitz.
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.
I have already said I that our barracks were overcrowded. It should be added that, although these barracks contained toilets and washrooms, neither came up to the most modest demands of modern hygiene. The cleansing of our bodies took place in a special room and was limited to a short washing of the upper extremities with cold water. A weekly warm shower was supposed to be provided, but with the overcrowding of the camp it was several weeks before a bath was available for each one. There was, of course, no toilet paper.
Ever since the Auschwitz memorial and museum first opened to the public, in 1947, workers have repaired and rebuilt the place. The barbed wire that rings the camps must be continuously replaced as it rusts. In the 1950s, construction crews repairing the crumbling gas chamber at the main Auschwitz camp removed one of the original walls. Most recently, the staff has had to deal with crime and vandalism. This past December, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign was stolen by thieves, who intended to sell it to a collector. Although the sign was recovered, it was cut into three pieces and will need to be repaired.
How many men have become the victims of medical treatment—or rather of the lack of it—it is hard to say. I at least have learned about a case where an inmate of our category, about fifty years old, was rejected by the infirmary, treated unprofessionally in the first-aid station, and died the next day. I am not in a position to give statistical data as to whether, and to what extent, suicides of desperate prisoners have taken place. I had occasion only twice to see how prisoners tried to run into the charged wires of the fence in order to commit suicide. They were stopped at the last moment. One morning the corpse of a man who had succeeded in his undertaking was hanging in the meshes. It was said that it was the prisoner whose punishment we had witnessed on the day of our arrival at the camp.
After the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and his subsequent trial and imprisonment, Hitler decided that the way for the Nazi Party to achieve power was not through insurrection, but through legal and quasi-legal means. This did not sit well with the brown-shirted stormtroopers of the SA, especially those in Berlin, who chafed under the restrictions that Hitler placed on them, and their subordination to the party. This resulted in the Stennes Revolt of 1930-31, after which Hitler made himself the Supreme Commander of the SA, and brought Ernst Röhm back to be their Chief of Staff and keep them in line. The quashing of the SA's revolutionary fervor convinced many businessmen and military leaders that the Nazis had put aside their insurrectionist past, and that Hitler could be a reliable partner 
While civilian efforts had an impact on public opinion, the army was the only organisation with the capacity to overthrow the government. A major plot by men in the upper echelons of the military originated in 1938. They believed Britain would go to war over Hitler's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Germany would lose. The plan was to overthrow Hitler or possibly assassinate him. Participants included Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, Generaloberst Franz Halder, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Generalleutnant Erwin von Witzleben, who joined a conspiracy headed by Oberstleutnant Hans Oster and Major Helmuth Groscurth of the Abwehr. The planned coup was cancelled after the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938. Many of the same people were involved in a coup planned for 1940, but again the participants changed their minds and backed down, partly because of the popularity of the regime after the early victories in the war. Attempts to assassinate Hitler resumed in earnest in 1943, with Henning von Tresckow joining Oster's group and attempting to blow up Hitler's plane in 1943. Several more attempts followed before the failed 20 July 1944 plot, which was at least partly motivated by the increasing prospect of a German defeat in the war. The plot, part of Operation Valkyrie, involved Claus von Stauffenberg planting a bomb in the conference room at Wolf's Lair at Rastenburg. Hitler, who narrowly survived, later ordered savage reprisals resulting in the execution of more than 4,900 people.
From a contemporary U.S. perspective, however, the most interesting area of influence that Whitman explores is in immigration law. From the outset, the United States had a racially restricted immigration regime. The Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by the First Congress, limited immigration to “free white person[s].” In the 1800s, the United States passed more racially exclusionary immigration laws because of the perceived threat of Asians. As Whitman notes, the Nazis “almost never mentioned the American treatment of blacks without also mentioning the American treatment of other groups, in particular Asians and Native-Americans.” The Chinese were excluded from citizenship in the late 1800s, and the Asiatic Barred Zone of 1917 expressly banned immigration from a whole swath of Asia. Finally, the Immigration Act of 1924 set racial quotas for those who could enter the United States, and banned Indians, Japanese, Chinese, and other Asians outright, along with nearly all Arabs. Under the Cable Act of 1922, if a woman married an Asian man, her U.S. citizenship would be revoked. There were similar race-based immigration laws in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Discrimination against immigrants on the basis of race was the norm, and in the United States it survived until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which is also the principal legislation that today’s white nationalists seek to undo. The Nazis had much to envy, what with the porous borders of Europe and the humiliating foreign treaties that had crippled Germany.
Born in Baden-Baden in 1900, SS Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss became the first commandant of Auschwitz when the camp was founded in April 1940, living with his wife and children in a villa just outside the camp grounds. Appointed by Heinrich Himmler, he served until 11 November 1943, when he became director of Office DI of the SS-Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Business and Administration Head Office or WVHA) in Oranienburg. This post made Höss deputy of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, under SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks. He returned to Auschwitz between 8 May and 29 July 1944 as commander of the SS garrison (Standortältester) to oversee the arrival of Hungary's Jews, a post that made him the superior officer of all the commandants of the Auschwitz camps.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)—documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally—and Olympia (1938)—covering the 1936 Summer Olympics—pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of National Socialist ideals.
The process of Anne’s transformation into a universal teenager continued with the Americanization of her diary. “These are the thoughts and expression of a young girl living under extraordinary conditions, and for this reason her diary tell us much about ourselves and about our own children. And for this reason, too, I felt how close we all are to Anne’s experience, how very much involved we are in her short life and in the entire world,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her introduction. Were Americans living in 1952 really close to Anne’s experiences? Were they really capable of understanding her and becoming involved in her life? Perhaps they were, though not as a Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis, but as an “Everygirl.” In her foreword, Eleanor Roosevelt makes no reference to Jews or to Anne’s Jewishness, nor to the way her brief life ended, nor to the Holocaust, thus distancing the diary even more from Jews and from the Holocaust by referring to human problems in general.
After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labor. IG Farben established a synthetic rubber plant in 1942 at Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz III); other camps were set up next to airplane factories, coal mines and rocket propellant plants. Conditions were brutal and prisoners were often sent to the gas chambers or killed on site if they did not work quickly enough.