If Godwin has a law clerk, she is working overtime this week. I refer to the truism Godwin’s Law: that all arguments eventually end with Hitler and the Holocaust. Everyone, it seems, is hurling comparisons between the American detention centers housing refugee children at the Mexican border and Nazi concentration camps. Former CIA director Michael Hayden tweeted an image of Auschwitz-Birkenau with the message, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”
Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nazis and the Communists winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. However, support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak—possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest, but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher and the nationalist press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues that eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was safe to appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor, at the head of a cabinet including only a minority of Nazi ministers—which he did on 30 January 1933.
Antisemitic legislation passed in 1933 led to the removal of all Jewish teachers, professors, and officials from the education system. Most teachers were required to belong to the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund (NSLB; National Socialist Teachers League) and university professors were required to join the National Socialist German Lecturers. Teachers had to take an oath of loyalty and obedience to Hitler, and those who failed to show sufficient conformity to party ideals were often reported by students or fellow teachers and dismissed. Lack of funding for salaries led to many teachers leaving the profession. The average class size increased from 37 in 1927 to 43 in 1938 due to the resulting teacher shortage.
There were factions within the Nazi Party, both conservative and radical. The conservative Nazi Hermann Göring urged Hitler to conciliate with capitalists and reactionaries. Other prominent conservative Nazis included Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Meanwhile, the radical Nazi Joseph Goebbels opposed capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core and he stressed the need for the party to emphasize both a proletarian and a national character. Those views were shared by Otto Strasser, who later left the Nazi Party in the belief that Hitler had allegedly betrayed the party's socialist goals by endorsing capitalism.
Auschwitz-Birkenau became the killing centre where the largest numbers of European Jews were killed during the Holocaust. After an experimental gassing there in September 1941 of 850 malnourished and ill prisoners, mass murder became a daily routine. By mid 1942, mass gassing of Jews using Zyklon-B began at Auschwitz, where extermination was conducted on an industrial scale with some estimates running as high as three million persons eventually killed through gassing, starvation, disease, shooting, and burning ...
In Germany the words 'protective custody' have a double meaning. Originally the term meant the incarceration of people who were threatened by others and who were guarded for their own safety so that they might be protected from their enemies. Now, however, men in protective custody are mostly those who are brought, for the 'protection of the people and the State,' into a concentration camp without hearing, without court sentence, without the possibility of redress, and for an indefinite time. Frequently people sentenced by a court are taken into protective custody by the Gestapo after serving their prison sentence, often directly from the prison gate. Such, for example, was the fate of Pastor Niemöller, who, after being released from prison, was taken into the camp Sachsenhausen near Oranienburg, the camp with which we shall be concerned here. He is in solitary confinement there, and I never saw him.
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.
Some Auschwitz prisoners were subjected to inhumane medical experimentation. The chief perpetrator of this barbaric research was Josef Mengele (1911-79), a German physician who began working at Auschwitz in 1943. Mengele, who came to be known as the “Angel of Death,” performed a range of experiments on detainees. For example, in an effort to study eye color, he injected serum into the eyeballs of dozens of children, causing them excruciating pain. He also injected chloroform into the hearts of twins, to determine if both siblings would die at the same time and in the same manner.
At the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees, its economy had collapsed, and 70 percent of its industrial infrastructure was destroyed. Between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from central, eastern, and southeastern Europe to Germany. The West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union. This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths. In 2006, the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.[f]
Then, the marches began. The remaining prisoners deemed healthy enough to march were told to assemble into columns and leave Auschwitz. About 7,000 were left behind as 60,000 marched. Nazi guards led them through the forests and fields of southern Poland on their way to Germany. The Germans called the march an “evacuation”; prisoners immediately dubbed it the “death march.”
Mendelian inheritance, or Mendelism, was supported by the Nazis, as well as by mainstream eugenicists of the time. The Mendelian theory of inheritance declared that genetic traits and attributes were passed from one generation to another. Eugenicists used Mendelian inheritance theory to demonstrate the transfer of biological illness and impairments from parents to children, including mental disability, whereas others also utilised Mendelian theory to demonstrate the inheritance of social traits, with racialists claiming a racial nature behind certain general traits such as inventiveness or criminal behaviour.
When we arrived it was, as I later found out, the usual story, though not to us at the time. Our family was torn apart on the platform on arriving. My sister, Serena, was chosen for slave labour. My mother and the younger children were sent off to one side and my father and 16-year-old brother to the other side. I held tightly on to the hand of my 12-year-old sister and for an instant I was mistaken for being older than I was, probably because I was wearing a headscarf that my mother had given me.
Anne Frank was born in the German city of Frankfurt am Main in 1929. Anne’s sister Margot was three years her senior. Unemployment was high and poverty was severe in Germany, and it was the period in which Adolf Hitler and his party were gaining more and more supporters. Hitler hated the Jews and blamed them for the problems in the country. He took advantage of the rampant antisemitic sentiments in Germany. The hatred of Jews and the poor economic situation made Anne's parents, Otto and Edith Frank, decide to move to Amsterdam. There, Otto founded a company that traded in pectin, a gelling agent for making jam.
The Auschwitz I main camp was a place of extermination, effected mainly by depriving people of elementary living conditions. It was also a centre for immediate extermination. Here were located the offices of the camp’s administration, the local garrison commander and the commandant of Auschwitz I, the seat of the central offices of the political department, and the prisoner labour department. Here too were the main supply stores, workshops and Schutzstaffel (SS) companies. Work in these administrative and economic units and companies was the main form of forced labour for the inmates in this camp.
In 1963, Otto Frank and his second wife, Elfriede Geiringer-Markovits, set up the Anne Frank Fonds as a charitable foundation, based in Basel, Switzerland. The Fonds raises money to donate to causes "as it sees fit". Upon his death, Otto willed the diary's copyright to the Fonds, on the provision that the first 80,000 Swiss francs in income each year was to be distributed to his heirs. Any income above this figure is to be retained by the Fonds for use on whatever projects its administrators considered worthy. It provides funding for the medical treatment of the Righteous Among the Nations on a yearly basis. The Fonds aims to educate young people against racism, and loaned some of Anne Frank's papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington for an exhibition in 2003. Its annual report that year outlined its efforts to contribute on a global level, with support for projects in Germany, Israel, India, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
After December 1934, the SS became the only agency authorized to establish and manage facilities that were formally called concentration camps. Local civilian authorities did continue to establish and manage forced-labor camps and detention camps throughout Germany. In 1937, only four concentration camps were left: Dachau, near Munich; Sachsenhausen near Berlin; Buchenwald near Weimar; and Lichtenburg near Merseburg in Saxony for female prisoners.
Drexler's movement received attention and support from some influential figures. Supporter Dietrich Eckart, a well-to-do journalist, brought military figure Felix Graf von Bothmer, a prominent supporter of the concept of "national socialism", to address the movement. Later in 1918, Karl Harrer (a journalist and member of the Thule Society) convinced Drexler and several others to form the Politischer Arbeiterzirkel (Political Workers' Circle). The members met periodically for discussions with themes of nationalism and racism directed against the Jews. In December 1918, Drexler decided that a new political party should be formed, based on the political principles that he endorsed, by combining his branch of the Workers' Committee for a good Peace with the Political Workers' Circle.
Memory is not something that is acquired once and stays on forever. The moment that the last eyewitnesses and survivors pass away, we have to work together to build on that which remains: the testimonies of those former prisoners and the authentic artifacts connected with Auschwitz. Each item can have its own enormous meaning and should find its place in the collection of the Auschwitz Memorial. Here, it will be preserved, studied, and displayed. Its place is here.
In July 1942, when transports from the Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz began, the family went into hiding together with the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. The hiding place of these eight people was an attic at 263 Prisengracht Street in Amsterdam, the building that contained Otto’s business. For two years, from June 1942, when Anne received a diary for her thirteenth birthday, until she was about fifteen, Anne wrote in her diary nearly every day. Once the hiding place was discovered on August 4, 1944, the diary entries stopped.
The first gas chamber at Birkenau was in what prisoners called the "little red house" (known as bunker 1 by the SS), a brick cottage that had been converted into a gassing facility. The windows were bricked up and its four rooms converted into two insulated rooms, the doors of which said "Zur Desinfektion" ("to disinfection"). It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, the "little white house" or bunker 2, was converted and operational by June 1942. When Himmler visited the camp on 17 and 18 July 1942, he was given a demonstration of a selection of Dutch Jews, a mass killing in a gas chamber in bunker 2, and a tour of the building site of the new IG Farben plant being constructed at the nearby town of Monowitz.
This stunning historical episode is faithfully rendered in James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model, a slim but consequential report on the banality of lawful evil. Whitman is a professor of comparative and criminal law at Yale Law School. (Full disclosure: I was a student in his legal history class, although we never interacted.) In his book, he asks one of those dangerous intellectual questions that are so pressing in the current political era: How could the United States, the land of liberty and constitutional republicanism, have influenced the most racist and genocidal regime of the twentieth century? Given the neo-Nazis marching in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Chemnitz, Germany, along with the mélange of fellow-travelers on the fascist spectrum—white nationalists, the alt-right—Whitman’s investigation feels urgent. He wants to know what, if anything, the United States taught the Nazis, and what this in turn says about the United States.
Those prisoners capable, began forcibly marching at the moment when Soviet soldiers were liberating Cracow, some 60 kilometers from the camp. In marching columns escorted by heavily armed SS guards, these 58,000 men and women prisoners were led out of Auschwitz from January 17-21. Many prisoners lost their lives during this tragic evacuation, known as the Death March.
Those who reported for treatment in the infirmary had to line up in front of the infirmary barracks. After a prolonged waiting—often after hours—a doctor appeared and asked about the complaints. Thereupon he divided the prisoners into two categories: category one was examined and received into the sickroom if the occasion warranted it. In very grave cases—supposedly very rarely—inmates were taken to the police infirmary in Berlin. Category two was lined up without any sort of examination in front of the barracks, sometimes for hours, as a punishment, and then sent back to the barracks with the usual reprimands. The chief physician of the camp was called 'Dr. Cruel' by the old inmates. (His real name was Irrsam. 'Cruel' in German is grausam; the puns therefore, is not translatable.)
That Mengele – they call him a doctor, but he was as much a doctor as I’m an army general. A complete fake of a man who I was too scared to look in the eye. I saw him day in, day out for months and was one of 152 Jews in his “care”. One of the experiments he carried out on me was to take blood from my arm and inject it in my rear end. I’ve no idea what that was trying to prove.
When the Nazis realized that the Russians were successfully pushing their way toward Germany in late 1944, they decided to start destroying evidence of their atrocities at Auschwitz. Himmler ordered the destruction of the crematoria and the human ashes were buried in huge pits and covered with grass. Many of the warehouses were emptied, with their contents shipped back to Germany.
So, after standing almost continuously for thirteen hours in the cold November air, we were taken to our barracks. There we were permitted to lie down on straw for a short rest until morning. Not until the next day did we receive food and drink. Other groups were much worse off. Some were on their feet for twenty-six hours before they were taken to the barracks.
There is, however, a publication that Schneidermann, eighty years later, believes achieved the right balance: the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Founded, in 1917, by an Austrian Jewish journalist, the J.T.A., in Schneidermann’s view, is to be admired for its professionalism and conscientiousness. Before 1942, many of the sources about Jewish persecution in Europe were themselves Jewish; according to Schneidermann, while the Times largely dismissed these sources as insufficiently “neutral,” the J.T.A. was willing, with appropriate caution, to use their information in its reporting. At the time, however, the J.T.A. itself was considered biased—and, therefore, not a trustworthy source of information about the fate of Jews in Europe. Similarly, in French media, Schneidermann feels that the only outlet whose coverage did justice to the magnitude of what it was witnessing was L’Humanité, the paper of the French Communist Party, which decried the Nazis’ barbaric persecution of Hitler’s political opponents and repeatedly called for international intervention.
Around 7,000 SS personnel were posted to Auschwitz during the war. Of these, 4 percent of SS personnel were officers and 26 percent were non-commissioned officers, while the remainder were rank-and-file members. Camp guards were members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units). Approximately three in four SS personnel worked in security. Others worked in the medical or political departments, in the camp headquarters, or in the economic administration, which was responsible for the property of dead prisoners. SS personnel at the camp included 200 women, who worked as guards, nurses, or messengers. About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march either northwest for 55 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) to Gliwice (Gleiwitz) or due west for 63 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) to Wodzislaw (Loslau) in the western part of Upper Silesia. Those forced to march northwest were joined by prisoners from subcamps in East Upper Silesia, such as Bismarckhuette, Althammer, and Hindenburg. Those forced to march due west were joined by inmates from the subcamps to the south of Auschwitz, such as Jawischowitz, Tschechowitz, and Golleschau.
I threw myself into family life. I married young, I had three children, (I now also have four grandchildren) and then I went to college and became a teacher. You fall into a routine and do the best you can. But I’ve never lost the feeling of how unreliable human beings are and neither am I fooled by superficial civilisation. But I realise that loss of faith in people is more devastating than loss of faith in God.
Fifteen defendants were found guilty, and eight were acquitted. Of the 15, seven were given the death penalty and eight imprisoned. Herta Oberhauser, the doctor who had rubbed crushed glass into the wounds of her subjects, received a 20 year sentence but was released in April 1952 and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany. Her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1958.
The Auschwitz registry (Hauptbücher) shows that 20,946 Roma were registered prisoners, and another 3,000 are thought to have entered unregistered. On 22 March 1943, one transport of 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma was gassed on arrival because of illness, as was a second group of 1,035 on 25 May 1943. The SS tried to liquidate the camp on 16 May 1944, but the Roma fought them, armed with knives and iron pipes, and the SS retreated. Shortly after this, the SS removed nearly 2,908 from the family camp to work, and on 2 August 1944 gassed the other 2,897. Ten thousand remain unaccounted for.
Hitler also relied on terror to achieve his goals. Lured by the wages, a feeling of comradeship, and the striking uniforms, tens of thousands of young jobless men put on the brown shirts and high leather boots of the Nazi Storm Troopers (Sturmabteilungen). Called the SA, these auxiliary policemen took to the streets to beat up and kill some opponents of the Nazi regime. Mere fear of the SA pressured into silence other Germans who did not support the Nazis.
Generally speaking, Nazi theorists and politicians blamed Germany's previous economic failures on political causes like the influence of Marxism on the workforce, the sinister and exploitative machinations of what they called international Jewry and the vindictiveness of the western political leaders' war reparation demands. Instead of traditional economic incentives, the Nazis offered solutions of a political nature, such as the elimination of organised trade unions, rearmament (in contravention of the Versailles Treaty) and biological politics. Various work programs designed to establish full-employment for the German population were instituted once the Nazis seized full national power. Hitler encouraged nationally supported projects like the construction of the Autobahn highway system, the introduction of an affordable people's car (Volkswagen) and later the Nazis bolstered the economy through the business and employment generated by military rearmament. The Nazis benefited early in the regime's existence from the first post–Depression economic upswing, and this combined with their public works projects, job-procurement program and subsidised home repair program reduced unemployment by as much as 40 percent in one year. This development tempered the unfavourable psychological climate caused by the earlier economic crisis and encouraged Germans to march in step with the regime.
Another picture we discovered shows my family waiting in line for the gas chamber. Two little boys, my brothers Reuven and Gershon, are shown dressed in hats, one struggling to put on his winter coat. For a long time I failed to find my mother and was very unhappy. But I spent hours looking at these photos with a magnifying glass and one day I found her little face sticking out.
Nazism’s principal instrument of control was the unification, under Heinrich Himmler and his chief lieutenant, Reinhard Heydrich, of the SS (the uniformed police force of the Nazi Party) and all other police and security organizations. Opposition to the regime was destroyed either by outright terror or, more frequently, by the all-pervading fear of possible repression. Opponents of the regime were branded enemies of the state and of the people, and an elaborate web of informers—often members of the family or intimate friends—imposed utmost caution on all expressions and activities. Justice was no longer recognized as objective but was completely subordinated to the alleged needs and interests of the Volk. In addition to the now-debased methods of the normal judicial process, special detention camps were erected. In these camps the SS exercised supreme authority and introduced a system of sadistic brutality unrivaled in modern times.
Hitler's belief that abstract, Dadaist, expressionist and modern art were decadent became the basis for policy. Many art museum directors lost their posts in 1933 and were replaced by party members. Some 6,500 modern works of art were removed from museums and replaced with works chosen by a Nazi jury. Exhibitions of the rejected pieces, under titles such as "Decadence in Art", were launched in sixteen different cities by 1935. The Degenerate Art Exhibition, organised by Goebbels, ran in Munich from July to November 1937. The exhibition proved wildly popular, attracting over two million visitors.
The 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. To determine who should be killed, Himmler created the Volksliste, a system of classification of people deemed to be of German blood. He ordered that those of Germanic descent who refused to be classified as ethnic Germans should be deported to concentration camps, have their children taken away, or be assigned to forced labour. The plan also included the kidnapping of children deemed to have Aryan-Nordic traits, who were presumed to be of German descent. The goal was to implement Generalplan Ost after the conquest of the Soviet Union, but when the invasion failed Hitler had to consider other options. One suggestion was a mass forced deportation of Jews to Poland, Palestine, or Madagascar.
The hair of 12 year-old Lili had not been cut since her early childhood. When she and her family were forced to leave their home in Târgu-Mureş and move to the ghetto, Lili’s mother, Rivka, knew she would not be able to care properly for her daughter’s hair in the ghetto. Chopping off Lili’s two long, beautiful braids, she promised that they would be given to the neighbors for safekeeping.Within six weeks, Lili and her mother were murdered at Auschwitz.
After a fortnight we were able to use the money which we had brought in or was sent to us, and it became possible to complete and improve our diet from the canteen at our own expense. We were lined up in rows exactly in the order of our prison numbers, which had been sewed in black on white on our clothes. (This also is penitentiary procedure, for an inmate of the penitentiary is not an individual any more, but only a numbered being without a name.) Then we were led into the barracks where an S.S. man sitting behind a sort of teller's window disbursed the desired sum, up to fifteen marks a week. Somehow I must have transgressed against the military discipline in this procedure. I presume that I had my cap in the wrong hand. Instead of the money I received a violent blow on the back of my hand with a heavy stick which was lying next to the paymaster on his table, obviously for such purposes. Many weeks after this experience the back of my hand was still painful and swollen.
I recall the time in Auschwitz as single moments, short encounters, smells. We tried to distract ourselves from the reality of it by trying to recall our home lives in what turned into a game of momentary escapism. Quietly, the children would huddle together and ask each other: “What will you have for breakfast?” And I remember saying: “Maybe an egg or a piece of bread and butter,” and tried to conjure up memories of home.
The Nazi Party won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, making them the largest party in the legislature by far, but still short of an outright majority. Because none of the parties were willing or able to put together a coalition government, in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg, through the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees by Hindenburg, and a change in the Weimar Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing both Hindenburg and the Reichstag, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.