Remarkably, there were instances of individual resistance and collective efforts at fighting back inside Auschwitz. Poles, Communists and other national groups established networks in the main camp. Some Jews assaulted Nazi guards, even at the entrance to the gas chambers. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando crew at crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematoria. It was never used again.
While the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was initially successful, the Soviet resurgence and entry of the US into the war meant the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) lost the initiative on the Eastern Front in 1943 and by late 1944 had been pushed back to the pre-1939 border. Large-scale aerial bombing of Germany escalated in 1944 and the Axis powers were driven back in Eastern and Southern Europe. After the Allied invasion of France, Germany was conquered by the Soviet Union from the east and the other Allies from the west, and capitulated in May 1945. Hitler's refusal to admit defeat led to massive destruction of German infrastructure and additional war-related deaths in the closing months of the war. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of denazification and put many of the surviving Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.
The Nazis removed citizenship from German Jews then, during the Second World War, sent most Jews, from Germany and elsewhere, to camps outside the borders of pre-war Germany. Yet, as the war progressed, Germany brought in huge numbers of forced labourers from all over Europe (U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that German-run camps were designed to keep Jews in, rather than out, is unfounded).
In early 1942, mass exterminations were moved to two provisional gas chambers (the "red house" and "white house", known as bunkers 1 and 2) in Auschwitz II, while the larger crematoria (II, III, IV, and V) were under construction. Bunker 2 was temporarily reactivated from May to November 1944, when large numbers of Hungarian Jews were gassed. In summer 1944 the combined capacity of the crematoria and outdoor incineration pits was 20,000 bodies per day. A planned sixth facility—crematorium VI—was never built. Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. By July 1942, the SS were conducting "selections". Incoming Jews were segregated; those deemed able to work were sent to the selection officer's right and admitted into the camp, and those deemed unfit for labor were sent to the left and immediately gassed. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total,[c] included almost all children, women with small children, the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be fit for work.
During the 1920s, Hitler urged disparate Nazi factions to unite in opposition to Jewish Bolshevism. Hitler asserted that the "three vices" of "Jewish Marxism" were democracy, pacifism and internationalism. The Communist movement, the trade unions, the Social Democratic Party and the left-wing press were all considered to be Jewish-controlled and part of the "international Jewish conspiracy" to weaken the German nation by promoting internal disunity through class struggle. The Nazis also believed that the Jews had instigated the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and that Communists had stabbed Germany in the back and caused it to lose the First World War. They further argued that modern cultural trends of the 1920s (such as jazz music and cubist art) represented "cultural Bolshevism" and were part of a political assault aimed at the spiritual degeneration of the German Volk. Joseph Goebbels published a pamphlet titled The Nazi-Sozi which gave brief points of how National Socialism differed from Marxism. In 1930, Hitler said: "Our adopted term 'Socialist' has nothing to do with Marxist Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true Socialism is not".
The camp Stos first saw, some 20 brick buildings, was a run-down former Polish artillery barrack the Nazis had taken over a few months before. Many Poles followed Stos to Auschwitz; few were as lucky. In its original incarnation as a concentration camp, Auschwitz was designed to work inmates to death. At first, most of the labor helped expand the camp itself; other work, such as gravel mining and farming, earned money for the SS. The Nazis even had a term for it, Vernichtung durch Arbeit (“Destruction through work”). The notorious SS camp supervisor Karl Fritzsch greeted new arrivals with a speech: “You have arrived here not at a sanatorium, but at a German concentration camp, from which the only exit is through the chimney of its crematorium.”
The Frank family was transported to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, and from there to Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland, on September 3, 1944, on the last transport to leave Westerbork for Auschwitz. Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen the following month. Anne’s mother died in early January, just before the evacuation of Auschwitz on January 18, 1945. It was established by the Dutch government that both Anne and Margot died in a typhus epidemic in March 1945, only weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, but scholars in 2015 revealed new research, including analysis of archival data and first-person accounts, indicating that the sisters might have perished in February 1945. Otto Frank was found hospitalized at Auschwitz when it was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Nazi Germany had a strong anti-tobacco movement, as pioneering research by Franz H. Müller in 1939 demonstrated a causal link between smoking and lung cancer. The Reich Health Office took measures to try to limit smoking, including producing lectures and pamphlets. Smoking was banned in many workplaces, on trains, and among on-duty members of the military. Government agencies also worked to control other carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and pesticides. As part of a general public health campaign, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.
In every camp, Allied soldiers encountered appalling scenes. Bergen-Belsen was liberated by British forces on 15 April 1945. It had become exceptionally overcrowded after the arrival of survivors of the death marches. Thousands of unburied bodies lay strewn around the camp, while in the barracks some 60,000 starving and mortally ill people were packed together without food or water. The mortality rate amongst those suffering from typhus was over 60 per cent.
It is not white supremacy that differentiates America from Nazi Germany, but rather the constitutional architecture of this country—a democratic system tested, broken, remade, rewritten. Racism in the United States is counterbalanced by an emancipatory spirit. The Constitution enshrined slavery, but this same Constitution was transformed as a result of the bloodiest war in U.S. history, which ended the Southern slave empire. The Civil War was a second American founding, and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments advanced the American spirit of equality before the law. Even amid the racist terror that lasted long after the Civil War, African Americans made room in the United States to fight for their freedom, equality, and dignity. Nazi Germany, by contrast, was a totalitarian state, and its express objective was the erasure of the Jewish people. These differences cannot be minimized.
The statements and writings of Holocaust deniers attributed great influence to Anne and her diary: as a symbol of the persecuted child, they claimed, it helped in the establishment and financing of the State of Israel; they maintained that she harmed Germans as well as Palestinians, that her diary was used as a political tool by world Jewry, and its distribution was an exemplary lesson in how to circulate propaganda throughout the world. Indirectly, their statements show tremendous admiration for the Jewish people, its ability to set up a public relations mechanism unparalleled the world over, and for Otto Frank as the gifted and successful representative of his people. Their statements also express great sorrow over the victory that the Jewish people achieved through the diary, a symbol of goodness, forgiveness and hope, and of the place it won in world culture and consciousness. Indeed, the diary, the Anne Frank House and the worldwide exhibitions became a focus for activity against racism and fascism, advocating on behalf of the individual and minorities. In the Netherlands, liberal groups work together with Jewish organizations and receive government support; by nurturing Anne’s memory, the Netherlands can find relief from the guilt feelings it has borne since the war and act against the right and its racist outlook. Thus the Jewish people and Anne Frank have become a central part of the struggle between different outlooks in government, society and legislation.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the SS forcibly separated the men from the women and children, and Otto Frank was wrenched from his family. Those deemed able to work were admitted into the camp, and those deemed unfit for labour were immediately killed. Of the 1,019 passengers, 549—including all children younger than 15—were sent directly to the gas chambers. Anne Frank, who had turned 15 three months earlier, was one of the youngest people spared from her transport. She was soon made aware that most people were gassed upon arrival and never learned that the entire group from the Achterhuis had survived this selection. She reasoned that her father, in his mid-fifties and not particularly robust, had been killed immediately after they were separated.
Frank's diary began as a private expression of her thoughts; she wrote several times that she would never allow anyone to read it. She candidly described her life, her family and companions, and their situation, while beginning to recognize her ambition to write fiction for publication. In March 1944, she heard a radio broadcast by Gerrit Bolkestein—a member of the Dutch government in exile, based in London—who said that when the war ended, he would create a public record of the Dutch people's oppression under German occupation. He mentioned the publication of letters and diaries, and Frank decided to submit her work when the time came. She began editing her writing, removing some sections and rewriting others, with a view to publication. Her original notebook was supplemented by additional notebooks and loose-leaf sheets of paper. She created pseudonyms for the members of the household and the helpers. The van Pels family became Hermann, Petronella, and Peter van Daan, and Fritz Pfeffer became Albert Düssell. In this edited version, she addressed each entry to "Kitty," a fictional character in Cissy van Marxveldt's Joop ter Heul novels that Anne enjoyed reading. Otto Frank used her original diary, known as "version A", and her edited version, known as "version B", to produce the first version for publication. He removed certain passages, most notably those in which Anne is critical of her parents (especially her mother), and sections that discussed Frank's growing sexuality. Although he restored the true identities of his own family, he retained all of the other pseudonyms.
As we read the diary we see how much potential was lost not only in Anne but in her entire family. Anne Frank was an intelligent and well-read young woman who studied multiple languages and had an analytical mind. I believe we lost a shining beacon of women's intelligence when she died. She was an emerging feminist, activist, and writer! I think she would have been an amazing woman who would have gone on to do great things. All that potential was lost millions of times over during WWII, and this is what we feel deep in our hearts upon closing the book.
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.
His strategy proved successful; at a special party congress on 29 July 1921, he replaced Drexler as party chairman by a vote of 533 to 1. The committee was dissolved, and Hitler was granted nearly absolute powers as the party's sole leader. He would hold the post for the remainder of his life. Hitler soon acquired the title Führer ("leader") and after a series of sharp internal conflicts it was accepted that the party would be governed by the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). Under this principle, the party was a highly centralised entity that functioned strictly from the top down, with Hitler at the apex as the party's absolute leader. Hitler saw the party as a revolutionary organisation, whose aim was the overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the "November criminals" who had betrayed the German soldiers in 1918. The SA ("storm troopers", also known as "Brownshirts") were founded as a party militia in 1921 and began violent attacks on other parties.