In April 1940, Rudolph Höss, who become the first commandant, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim as a possible site for a concentration camp. The function of the camp was initially to intimidate Poles and prevent resistance to German rule. It was also perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia, which had once been a German region, with 'pure Aryans'. On April 27th, Himmler ordered construction of the camp.
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.
Auschwitz didn’t long remain a camp exclusively for Poles. In June 1941, Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, taking three million prisoners over the next seven months. Many were starved to death. Others were sent to occupied Poland or Germany as slave laborers. In the fall of 1941, ten thousand prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz and began building the Birkenau camp.
Authorities in Belgium were not aware of the pensioners’ identities, the Belgian MPs (Olivier Maingain, Stephane Crusnière, Véronique Caprasse and Daniel Senesael) said, adding that the situation was “the same in the UK, where former SS people also receive payments directly from the German länder [states] without the amounts being taxed or communicated to the British authorities”. The German embassy in London said it did not have any information about the Belgian allegations.
The NSDAP was a far-right political party which arose during the social and financial upheavals that occurred following the end of World War I. The NSDAP remained small and marginalised, receiving 2.6% of the federal vote in 1928, prior to the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. By 1930 the NSDAP won 18.3% of the federal vote, making it the Reichstag's second largest political party. While in prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which laid out his plan for transforming German society into one based on race. Nazi ideology brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum for the Germanic people. The regime attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan master race and part of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. The Nazi regime believed that only Germany could defeat the forces of Bolshevism and save humanity from world domination by International Jewry. Other people deemed life unworthy of life by the Nazis included the mentally and physically disabled, Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and social misfits.
A young Jewish girl named Anne Frank (1929-1945), her parents and older sister moved to the Netherlands from Germany after Adolf Hilter and the Nazis came to power there in 1933 and made life increasingly difficult for Jews. In 1942, Frank and her family went into hiding in a secret apartment behind her father’s business in German-occupied Amsterdam. The Franks were discovered in 1944 and sent to concentration camps; only Anne’s father survived. Anne Frank’s diary of her family’s time in hiding, first published in 1947, has been translated into almost 70 languages and is one of the most widely read accounts of the Holocaust.
During war, civilians have been concentrated in camps to prevent them from engaging in guerrilla warfare or providing aid to enemy forces or simply as a means of terrorizing the populace into submission. During the South African War (1899–1902) the British confined noncombatants of the republics of Transvaal and Cape Colony in concentration camps. Another instance of interning noncombatant civilians occurred shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the United States (December 7, 1941), when more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were taken into custody and placed in camps in the interior.
Large segments of the Nazi Party, particularly among the members of the Sturmabteilung (SA), were committed to the party's official socialist, revolutionary and anti-capitalist positions and expected both a social and an economic revolution when the party gained power in 1933. In the period immediately before the Nazi seizure of power, there were even Social Democrats and Communists who switched sides and became known as "Beefsteak Nazis": brown on the outside and red inside. The leader of the SA, Ernst Röhm, pushed for a "second revolution" (the "first revolution" being the Nazis' seizure of power) that would enact socialist policies. Furthermore, Röhm desired that the SA absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks under his leadership. Once the Nazis achieved power, Röhm's SA was directed by Hitler to violently suppress the parties of the left, but they also began attacks against individuals deemed to be associated with conservative reaction. Hitler saw Röhm's independent actions as violating and possibly threatening his leadership, as well as jeopardising the regime by alienating the conservative President Paul von Hindenburg and the conservative-oriented German Army. This resulted in Hitler purging Röhm and other radical members of the SA in 1934, in what came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives.
While the ideologues of Nazism, much like those of Stalinism, abhorred democratic or parliamentary governance as practiced in the United States or Britain, their differences are substantial. An epistemic crisis occurs when one tries to synthesize and contrast Nazism and Stalinism as two-sides of the same coin with their similarly tyrannical leaders, state-controlled economies and repressive police structures. Namely, while they share a common thematic political construction, they are entirely inimical to one another in their worldviews and when more carefully analysed against one another on a one-to-one level, an "irreconcilable asymmetry" results.
While top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, they had considerable autonomy. He expected officials to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with party goals and Hitler's wishes, without his involvement in day-to-day decision-making. The government was a disorganised collection of factions led by the party elite, who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour. Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped. In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.
Adolf Hitler envisioned the eventual extermination of what he called “the Jewish plague,” but the Führer didn’t draw up the plans for the gas chambers or the timetables for the transports. And while it was senior SS officials who gave general instructions about how the camps should function, it was ordinary Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, who worked out the deadly details. “There wasn’t a grand strategy in 1940 that the camp would accrue a number of functions and ultimately become a death camp,” Dwork says. “I do not see it as planned at all. Way led to way, and step led to step.”
Within this framework, "racially inferior" peoples, such as Jews and Gypsies, would be eliminated from the region. Nazi foreign policy aimed from the beginning to wage a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, and the peacetime years of the Nazi regime were spent preparing the German people for war. In the context of this ideological war, the Nazis planned and implemented the Holocaust, the mass murder of the Jews, who were considered the primary "racial" enemy.
Repeat selections took place several times during the day in roll calls. Inmates who had become weak or ill were separated from the ranks and sent to the gas chambers. A brutal regimen based on a set of punishments and torture was invoked in the camp. Few managed to survive. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, more than 1,100,000 Jews, 70,000 Poles, 25,000 Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) and some 15,000 prisoners of war from the USSR and other countries were murdered.
The K.L. was defined from the beginning by its legal ambiguity. The camps were outside ordinary law, answerable not to judges and courts but to the S.S. and Himmler. At the same time, they were governed by an extensive set of regulations, which covered everything from their layout (including decorative flower beds) to the whipping of prisoners, which in theory had to be approved on a case-by-case basis by Himmler personally. Yet these regulations were often ignored by the camp S.S.—physical violence, for instance, was endemic, and the idea that a guard would have to ask permission before beating or even killing a prisoner was laughable. Strangely, however, it was possible, in the prewar years, at least, for a guard to be prosecuted for such a killing. In 1937, Paul Zeidler was among a group of guards who strangled a prisoner who had been a prominent churchman and judge; when the case attracted publicity, the S.S. allowed Zeidler to be charged and convicted. (He was sentenced to a year in jail.)
Adolf Hitler replaces elected officials in state governments with Nazi appointees. One of the first steps in establishing centralized Nazi control in Germany is the elimination of state governments. Hermann Goering, a leading Nazi, becomes minister-president of Prussia, the largest German state. By 1935, state administrations are transferred to the central government in Berlin.
In spite of efforts to prepare the country militarily, the economy could not sustain a lengthy war of attrition. A strategy was developed based on the tactic of Blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), which involved using quick coordinated assaults that avoided enemy strong points. Attacks began with artillery bombardment, followed by bombing and strafing runs. Next the tanks would attack and finally the infantry would move in to secure the captured area. Victories continued through mid-1940, but the failure to defeat Britain was the first major turning point in the war. The decision to attack the Soviet Union and the decisive defeat at Stalingrad led to the retreat of the German armies and the eventual loss of the war. The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945 was around 18.2 million, of whom 5.3 million died.
National Socialist politics was based on competition and struggle as its organizing principle, and the Nazis believed that "human life consisted of eternal struggle and competition and derived its meaning from struggle and competition." The Nazis saw this eternal struggle in military terms, and advocated a society organized like an army in order to achieve success. They promoted the idea of a national-racial "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft) in order to accomplish "the efficient prosecution of the struggle against other peoples and states." Like an army, the Volksgemeinschaft was meant to consist of a hierarchy of ranks or classes of people, some commanding and others obeying, all working together for a common goal. This concept was rooted in the writings of 19th century völkisch authors who glorified medieval German society, viewing it as a "community rooted in the land and bound together by custom and tradition," in which there was neither class conflict nor selfish individualism.
The following summer, on June 5, 1934, Nazi lawyers, jurists, and medical doctors gathered under the auspices of Justice Minister Franz Gürtner to discuss how to codify the Prussian Memorandum. The very first item discussed was U.S. law: “Almost all the American states have race legislation,” Gürtner averred, before detailing a myriad of examples, including the many states that criminalized mixed marriages. Roland Freisler, the murderous Nazi judge, stated at the meeting that U.S. jurisprudence would “suit us perfectly.” All the participants displayed either an eager interest in, or an avowed knowledge of, U.S. law. This went beyond specific legislation. The Nazis looked to an innovative legal culture that found ways to relegate Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and others to second- and third-class status; the many devious pathways around the constitutional guarantees of equal protection; the deliberate textual ambiguity on the definition of race itself; the draconian penalties for sexually consorting with a lesser race, or even meeting publicly. The United States in the 1930s was the apogee of a racist state.
I later qualified as a psychotherapist, a job which I enjoy immensely, but which confronts me with the suffering caused by the Holocaust on a daily basis. My patients are from “both sides” – either victims or perpetrators, or their relatives – and many are what you’d call transgenerationally affected – carrying around with them the issues and traumas that their parents or grandparents never dealt with, and which unless cured are like a contagious disease that they’ll pass on to the next generation.
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.