“It may be that these, the lines that I am now writing, will be the sole witness to what was my life,” Gradowski writes. “But I shall be happy if only my writings should reach you, citizen of the free world. Perhaps a spark of my inner fire will ignite in you, and even should you sense only part of what we lived for, you will be compelled to avenge us—avenge our deaths! Dear discoverer of these writings! I have a request of you: This is the real reason why I write, that my doomed life may attain some meaning, that my hellish days and hopeless tomorrows may find a purpose in the future.” And then Gradowski tells us what he has seen.
Officials at the camp obeyed Himmler. In late 1944, theydismantled part of the gas chambers, forcing, eyewitnesses would later recall, the Sonderkommando—a group of mostly Jewish prisoners who were made to run the gas chambers—to dismantle the structures piece by piece. Then, as the Russians closed in that January, the remaining buildings were destroyed, blown up completely using dynamite. However, the ruins remained.
On April 27, 1940, Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a new camp near Oswiecim, Poland (about 37 miles or 60 km west of Krakow). The Auschwitz Concentration Camp ("Auschwitz" is the German spelling of "Oswiecim") quickly became the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. By the time of its liberation, Auschwitz had grown to include three large camps and 45 sub-camps.
Hayden’s comment, for example, that he had walked the ramp at Birkenau where women and children were separated, is essentially false; Jewish women with children arriving at Auschwitz were generally all murdered immediately upon arrival. After seeing the inside of the U.S. refugee facilities, we can also safely say they aren’t the kind of summer camps we would send our children to, either.
Women were encouraged to leave the workforce, and the creation of large families by racially suitable women was promoted through a propaganda campaign. Women received a bronze award—known as the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother)—for giving birth to four children, silver for six, and gold for eight or more. Large families received subsidies to help with expenses. Though the measures led to increases in the birth rate, the number of families having four or more children declined by five percent between 1935 and 1940. Removing women from the workforce did not have the intended effect of freeing up jobs for men, as women were for the most part employed as domestic servants, weavers, or in the food and drink industries—jobs that were not of interest to men. Nazi philosophy prevented large numbers of women from being hired to work in munitions factories in the build-up to the war, so foreign labourers were brought in. After the war started, slave labourers were extensively used. In January 1943, Hitler signed a decree requiring all women under the age of fifty to report for work assignments to help the war effort. Thereafter women were funnelled into agricultural and industrial jobs, and by September 1944 14.9 million women were working in munitions production.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany. However, a majority of scholars identify Nazism in practice as being a far-right form of politics. When asked in an interview in 1934 whether the Nazis were "bourgeois right-wing" as alleged by their opponents, Hitler responded that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".
Nazi comes from the German word for National Socialist (Nationalsozialistische). A Nazi is a person who believes in the ideologies and practices of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), abbreviated NSDAP, a racialist (belief that one race is superior to others), totalitarian (government having absolute and centralized control) political party in Germany between 1919 and 1945. It was known as the German Workers' Party (DAP) before the name was changed in 1920.
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.”
Families, who had disembarked together, were quickly and brutally split up as an SS officer, usually, a Nazi doctor, ordered each individual into one of two lines. Most women, children, older men, and those that looked unfit or unhealthy were sent to the left; while most young men and others that looked strong enough to do hard labor were sent to the right.
The Nazis were initially very hostile to Catholics because most Catholics supported the German Centre Party. Catholics opposed the Nazis' promotion of compulsory sterilization of those whom they deemed inferior and the Catholic Church forbade its members to vote for the Nazis. In 1933, extensive Nazi violence occurred against Catholics due to their association with the Centre Party and their opposition to the Nazi regime's sterilization laws. The Nazis demanded that Catholics declare their loyalty to the German state. In their propaganda, the Nazis used elements of Germany's Catholic history, in particular the German Catholic Teutonic Knights and their campaigns in Eastern Europe. The Nazis identified them as "sentinels" in the East against "Slavic chaos", though beyond that symbolism, the influence of the Teutonic Knights on Nazism was limited. Hitler also admitted that the Nazis' night rallies were inspired by the Catholic rituals which he had witnessed during his Catholic upbringing. The Nazis did seek official reconciliation with the Catholic Church and they endorsed the creation of the pro-Nazi Catholic Kreuz und Adler, an organization which advocated a form of national Catholicism that would reconcile the Catholic Church's beliefs with Nazism. On 20 July 1933, a concordat (Reichskonkordat) was signed between Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, which in exchange for acceptance of the Catholic Church in Germany required German Catholics to be loyal to the German state. The Catholic Church then ended its ban on members supporting the Nazi Party.
At the end of 1944 and early in 1945, a complete deterioration of living conditions set in as thousands of survivors of death marches began to arrive at the camp. The large numbers arriving at the camp soon overwhelmed the meagre resources available. The camp administration did not attempt to house them. Serious overcrowding and a lack of sanitary facilities resulted in the break-out of a typhus epidemic. From January to mid-April 1945, some 35,000 prisoners died due to typhus, starvation and the terrible conditions within the camp.
Some prisoners—usually Aryan—were assigned positions of authority, such as Blockschreiber ("block clerk"), Funktionshäftling ("functionary"), Kapo ("head" or "overseer"), and Stubendienst ("barracks orderly"). They were considered members of the camp elite, and had better food and lodgings than the other prisoners. The Kapos in particular wielded tremendous power over other prisoners, whom they often abused. Very few Kapos were prosecuted after the war, because of the difficulty in determining which Kapo atrocities had been performed under SS orders and which had been individual actions.
After Kristallnacht (the ‘Night of broken glass’) in November 1938, the Nazis and their supporters arrested many thousands of male Jews above the age of 14 years. They imprisoned them in camps for days or sometimes weeks. They were kept in poor conditions, given little food or water and subjected to brutal treatment and torture. When the German army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, the SS set up many concentration camps to house Polish political prisoners and many thousands of Polish Jews. Many of the inmates of these camps were subjected to increasingly poor conditions. In addition they were subjected to forced labour, the result of which was often death.
Edith Frank died of starvation at Auschwitz in January 1945. Hermann van Pels died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz soon after his arrival there in 1944; his wife is believed to have likely died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic in the spring of 1945. Peter van Pels died at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in May 1945. Fritz Pfeffer died from illness in late December 1944 at the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany. Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was the only member of the group to survive; he was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used intimidation tactics as well as the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending, and the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May, the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats, and they were banned on 22 June. On 21 June, the SA raided the offices of the German National People's Party – their former coalition partners – and they disbanded on 29 June. The remaining major political parties followed suit. On 14 July 1933 Germany became a one-party state with the passage of a law decreeing the NSDAP to be the sole legal party in Germany. The founding of new parties was also made illegal, and all remaining political parties which had not already been dissolved were banned. The Enabling Act would subsequently serve as the legal foundation for the dictatorship the NSDAP established. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were Nazi-controlled, with only members of the NSDAP and a small number of independents elected.
Nazi in the extended sense of "a fanatical or domineering person" has existed at least since 1980 and parallels the use of the word police in the language police/the grammar police . Though this usage of Nazi is usually intended as jocular, it implies being intolerant of other people’s views and practices. And many people consider any extended use of the word Nazi to be offensive, in that it trivializes the terrible crimes of the German Nazis.
Despite the horrible conditions, prisoners in Auschwitz managed to resist the Nazis, including some instances of escape and armed resistance. In October 1944, members of the Sonderkommando, who worked in the crematoria, succeeded in killing several SS men and destroying one gas chamber. All of the rebels died, leaving behind diaries that provided authentic documentation of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz.
In the Soviet Union by 1922 there were 23 concentration camps for the incarceration of persons accused of political offenses as well as criminal offenses. Many corrective labour camps were established in northern Russia and Siberia, especially during the First Five-Year Plan, 1928–32, when millions of rich peasants were driven from their farms under the collectivization program. The Stalinist purges of 1936–38 brought additional millions into the camps—said to be essentially institutions of slavery.
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. ♦
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.
Until 1990, the museum’s directors were all former prisoners. Cywinski is just 37. His office is on the first floor of a former SS administration building directly across from a former gas chamber and crematorium. He tells me that Auschwitz is about to slip into history. The last survivors will soon die, and with them the living links to what happened here. Preserving the site becomes increasingly important, Cywinski believes: younger generations raised on TV and movie special effects need to see and touch the real thing.
Hitler primarily viewed the German economy as an instrument of power and believed the economy was not about creating wealth and technical progress so as to improve the quality of life for a nation's citizenry, but rather that economic success was paramount for providing the means and material foundations necessary for military conquest. While economic progress generated by National Socialist programs had its role in appeasing the German people, the Nazis and Hitler in particular did not believe that economic solutions alone were sufficient to thrust Germany onto the stage as a world power. The Nazis thus sought to secure a general economic revival accompanied by massive military spending for rearmament, especially later through the implementation of the Four Year Plan, which consolidated their rule and firmly secured a command relationship between the German arms industry and the National Socialist government. Between 1933 and 1939, military expenditures were upwards of 82 billion Reichsmarks and represented 23 percent of Germany's gross national product as the Nazis mobilised their people and economy for war.
The gas chambers worked to their fullest capacity from April to July 1944, during the massacre of Hungary's Jews. Hungary was an ally of Germany during the war, but it had resisted turning over its Jews until Germany invaded that March. A rail spur leading to crematoria II and III in Auschwitz II was completed that May, and a new ramp was built between sectors BI and BII to deliver the victims closer to the gas chambers. On 29 April the first 1,800 Hungarian Jews arrived at the camp; from 14 May until early July 1944, 437,000 Hungarian Jews, half the pre-war population, were deported to Auschwitz, at a rate of 12,000 a day for a considerable part of that period. The crematoria had to be overhauled. Crematoria II and III were given new elevators leading from the stoves to the gas chambers, new grates were fitted, and several of the dressing rooms and gas chambers were painted. Cremation pits were dug behind crematorium V. The last mass transports to arrive in Auschwitz were 60,000–70,000 Jews from the Łódź Ghetto, some 2,000 from Theresienstadt, and 8,000 from Slovakia. The last selection took place on 30 October 1944. Crematorium IV was demolished after the Sonderkommando revolt on 7 October 1944. The SS blew up crematorium V on 14 January 1945, and crematoria II and III on 20 January.
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.
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.
After September 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps became places where millions of ordinary people were enslaved as part of the war effort, often starved, tortured and killed. During the war, new Nazi concentration camps for "undesirables" spread throughout the continent. According to statistics by the German Ministry of Justice, about 1,200 camps and subcamps were run in countries occupied by Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that the number of Nazi camps was closer to 15,000 in all of occupied Europe and that many of these camps were run for a limited amount of time before they were closed. Camps were being created near the centers of dense populations, often focusing on areas with large communities of Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Communists or Romani. Since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, most camps were located in the area of the General Government in occupied Poland, for logistical reasons. The location also allowed the Nazis to quickly remove the German Jews from within Germany proper.