The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 and the broadcast of the television miniseries Holocaust in 1979 brought the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coping with the past) to the forefront for many Germans. Once study of Nazi Germany was introduced into the school curriculum starting in the 1970s, people began researching the experiences of their family members. Study of the era and a willingness to critically examine its mistakes has led to the development of a strong democracy in Germany, but with lingering undercurrents of antisemitism and neo-Nazi thought.
Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps due to deliberate maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or they were executed as unfit for labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their final destination. The prisoners were confined in the boxcars for days or even weeks, with little or no food or water. Many died of dehydration in the intense heat of summer or froze to death in winter. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while they were not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many of their inmates perished because of harsh conditions or they were executed.
Auschwitz II (or "Birkenau") was completed in early 1942. Birkenau was built approximately 1.9 miles (3 km) away from Auschwitz I and was the real killing center of the Auschwitz death camp. It was in Birkenau where the dreaded selections were carried out on the ramp and where the sophisticated and camouflaged gas chambers laid in waiting. Birkenau, much larger than Auschwitz I, housed the most prisoners and included areas for women and Gypsies.
In its racial categorization, Nazism viewed what it called the Aryan race as the master race of the world—a race that was superior to all other races. It viewed Aryans as being in racial conflict with a mixed race people, the Jews, whom the Nazis identified as a dangerous enemy of the Aryans. It also viewed a number of other peoples as dangerous to the well-being of the Aryan race. In order to preserve the perceived racial purity of the Aryan race, a set of race laws was introduced in 1935 which came to be known as the Nuremberg Laws. At first these laws only prevented sexual relations and marriages between Germans and Jews, but they were later extended to the "Gypsies, Negroes, and their bastard offspring", who were described by the Nazis as people of "alien blood". Such relations between Aryans (cf. Aryan certificate) and non-Aryans were now punishable under the race laws as Rassenschande or "race defilement". After the war began, the race defilement law was extended to include all foreigners (non-Germans). At the bottom of the racial scale of non-Aryans were Jews, Romanis, Slavs and blacks. To maintain the "purity and strength" of the Aryan race, the Nazis eventually sought to exterminate Jews, Romani, Slavs and the physically and mentally disabled. Other groups deemed "degenerate" and "asocial" who were not targeted for extermination, but were subjected to exclusionary treatment by the Nazi state, included homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah's Witnesses and political opponents. One of Hitler's ambitions at the start of the war was to exterminate, expel or enslave most or all Slavs from Central and Eastern Europe in order to acquire living space for German settlers.
In spite of their rhetoric condemning big business prior to their rise to power, the Nazis quickly entered into a partnership with German business from as early as February 1933. That month, after being appointed Chancellor but before gaining dictatorial powers, Hitler made a personal appeal to German business leaders to help fund the Nazi Party for the crucial months that were to follow. He argued that they should support him in establishing a dictatorship because "private enterprise cannot be maintained in the age of democracy" and because democracy would allegedly lead to communism. He promised to destroy the German left and the trade unions, without any mention of anti-Jewish policies or foreign conquests. In the following weeks, the Nazi Party received contributions from seventeen different business groups, with the largest coming from IG Farben and Deutsche Bank. Historian Adam Tooze writes that the leaders of German business were therefore "willing partners in the destruction of political pluralism in Germany." In exchange, owners and managers of German businesses were granted unprecedented powers to control their workforce, collective bargaining was abolished and wages were frozen at a relatively low level. Business profits also rose very rapidly, as did corporate investment. In addition, the Nazis privatised public properties and public services, but at the same time they increased economic state control through regulations. Hitler believed that private ownership was useful in that it encouraged creative competition and technical innovation, but insisted that it had to conform to national interests and be "productive" rather than "parasitical". Private property rights were conditional upon following the economic priorities set by the Nazi leadership, with high profits as a reward for firms who followed them and the threat of nationalization being used against those who did not. Under Nazi economics, free competition and self-regulating markets diminished, but Hitler's social Darwinist beliefs made him retain business competition and private property as economic engines.
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.
In February 1938, Hitler emphasised to Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg the need for Germany to secure its frontiers. Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite regarding Austrian independence for 13 March, but Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg on 11 March demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian NSDAP or face an invasion. German troops entered Austria the next day, to be greeted with enthusiasm by the populace.
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 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.
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.
Slovak rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl was the first to suggest, in May 1944, that the Allies bomb the rails leading to Auschwitz. At one point British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that such a plan be prepared, but he was told that precision bombing the camp to free the prisoners or disrupt the railway was not technically feasible.[not in citation given] In 1978, historian David Wyman published an essay in Commentary entitled "Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed", arguing that the United States Army Air Forces had the capability to attack Auschwitz and should have done so; he expanded his arguments in his book The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941–1945 (1984). Wyman argued that, since the IG Farben plant at Auschwitz III had been bombed three times between August and December 1944 by the US Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, it would have been feasible for the other camps or railway lines to be bombed too. Bernard Wasserstein's Britain and the Jews of Europe (1979) and Martin Gilbert's Auschwitz and the Allies (1981) raised similar questions about British inaction. Since the 1990s, other historians have argued that Allied bombing accuracy was not sufficient for Wyman's proposed attack, and that counterfactual history is an inherently problematic endeavor.
For Hitler, the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and antisemitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany's external enemies – Britain, France and the Soviet Union – were controlled by the Jews and that Germany's future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war against the Jews. For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika or Hakenkreuz. In German nationalist circles, the swastika was considered a symbol of an "Aryan race" and it symbolised the replacement of the Christian Cross with allegiance to a National Socialist State.
The fate of the Frank family and other Jews in Amsterdam was wrapped up with the German occupation of the city, which began in May 1940. In July 1942, German authorities and their Dutch collaborators began to concentrate Jews from throughout the Netherlands at Westerbork, a transit camp near the Dutch town of Assen, not far from the German border. From Westerbork, German officials deported the Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor killing centers in German-occupied Poland.
Newspapers, like other media, were controlled by the state; the Reich Press Chamber shut down or bought newspapers and publishing houses. By 1939, over two thirds of the newspapers and magazines were directly owned by the Propaganda Ministry. The NSDAP daily newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter ("Ethnic Observer"), was edited by Rosenberg, who also wrote The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a book of racial theories espousing Nordic superiority. Goebbels controlled the wire services and insisted that all newspapers in Germany only publish content favourable to the regime. Under Goebbels, the Propaganda Ministry issued two dozen directives every week on exactly what news should be published and what angles to use; the typical newspaper followed the directives closely, especially regarding what to omit. Newspaper readership plummeted, partly because of the decreased quality of the content and partly because of the surge in popularity of radio. Propaganda became less effective towards the end of the war, as people were able to obtain information outside of official channels.
Höss was succeeded as Auschwitz commandant in November 1943 by SS Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel, who served until 15 May 1944. SS Sturmbannführer Richard Baer became commandant of Auschwitz I on 11 May 1944, and SS Obersturmbannführer Fritz Hartjenstein of Auschwitz II from 22 November 1943, followed by SS Obersturmbannführer Josef Kramer from 15 May 1944 until the camp's liquidation in January 1945. Heinrich Schwarz was commandant of Auschwitz III from the point at which it became an autonomous camp in November 1943 until its liquidation.
On July 14, 1933, his government declared the Nazi Party to be the only political party in Germany. On the death of Hindenburg in 1934 Hitler took the titles of Führer (“Leader”), chancellor, and commander in chief of the army, and he remained leader of the Nazi Party as well. Nazi Party membership became mandatory for all higher civil servants and bureaucrats, and the gauleiters became powerful figures in the state governments. Hitler crushed the Nazi Party’s left, or socialist-oriented, wing in 1934, executing Ernst Röhm and other rebellious SA leaders on what would become known as the “Night of the Long Knives.” Thereafter, Hitler’s word was the supreme and undisputed command in the party. The party came to control virtually all political, social, and cultural activities in Germany. Its vast and complex hierarchy was structured like a pyramid, with party-controlled mass organizations for youth, women, workers, and other groups at the bottom, party members and officials in the middle, and Hitler and his closest associates at the top wielding undisputed authority.
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Alternatively, visitors to Auschwitz can use Katowice Airport (IATA: KTW) in Katowice, located 62 km (39 mi) north of the site. Known locally as Pyrzowice Airport, Katowice has direct connections with over 30 destinations across Europe and Asia, with numerous discount, charter, and normal flights in operation. Pyrzowice is a major hub for Wizzair, with additional services provided by Aegean Airlines, Bulgaria Air, El Al, Eurowings, Lufthansa, Ryanair, and TUIfly.
A concentration camp to house Soviet prisoners of war and Poles had been established at Majdanek, close to the Polish city of Lublin, during 1941. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers and crematoria were added, turning Majdanek into an extermination camp that would murder 78,000 people. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, was a massive concentration, forced labour and extermination camp at the centre of a network of more than 40 satellite camps. Upwards of 80 per cent of those Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were selected for immediate death.
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.
A Nazi era school textbook for German students entitled Heredity and Racial Biology for Students written by Jakob Graf described to students the Nazi conception of the Aryan race in a section titled "The Aryan: The Creative Force in Human History". Graf claimed that the original Aryans developed from Nordic peoples who invaded ancient India and launched the initial development of Aryan culture there that later spread to ancient Persia and he claimed that the Aryan presence in Persia was what was responsible for its development into an empire. He claimed that ancient Greek culture was developed by Nordic peoples due to paintings of the time which showed Greeks who were tall, light-skinned, light-eyed, blond-haired people. He said that the Roman Empire was developed by the Italics who were related to the Celts who were also a Nordic people. He believed that the vanishing of the Nordic component of the populations in Greece and Rome led to their downfall. The Renaissance was claimed to have developed in the Western Roman Empire because of the Germanic invasions that brought new Nordic blood to the Empire's lands, such as the presence of Nordic blood in the Lombards (referred to as Longobards in the book); that remnants of the western Goths were responsible for the creation of the Spanish Empire; and that the heritage of the Franks, Goths and Germanic peoples in France was what was responsible for its rise as a major power. He claimed that the rise of the Russian Empire was due to its leadership by people of Norman descent. He described the rise of Anglo-Saxon societies in North America, South Africa and Australia as being the result of the Nordic heritage of Anglo-Saxons. He concluded these points by saying: "Everywhere Nordic creative power has built mighty empires with high-minded ideas, and to this very day Aryan languages and cultural values are spread over a large part of the world, though the creative Nordic blood has long since vanished in many places".
Auschwitz-Birkenau was also a killing center and played a central role in the German effort to kill the Jews of Europe. Around the beginning of September, 1941, the SS at Auschwitz I conducted the first tests of Zyklon B as a mass murder agent, using Soviet POWs and debilitated Polish prisoners as victims. The “success” of these experiments led to the construction of a chamber in the crematorium of Auschwitz I that, like the subsequent gas chambers at Auschwitz, used Zyklon B to murder victims. The first transports of Jewish men, women, and children sent to Auschwitz as part of the “final solution” were murdered in this gas chamber (Crematorium I) in February and March 1942.
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.
Nevertheless, the Nazi Party's voter base consisted mainly of farmers and the middle class, including groups such as Weimar government officials, school teachers, doctors, clerks, self-employed businessmen, salesmen, retired officers, engineers, and students. Their demands included lower taxes, higher prices for food, restrictions on department stores and consumer co-operatives, and reductions in social services and wages. The need to maintain the support of these groups made it difficult for the Nazis to appeal to the working class, since the working class often had opposite demands.
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.
The Nazis captured 5.75 million Soviet prisoners of war, more than they took from all the other Allied powers combined. Of these, they killed an estimated 3.3 million, with 2.8 million of them being killed between June 1941 and January 1942. Many POWs starved to death or resorted to cannibalism while being held in open-air pens at Auschwitz and elsewhere.
Sessions’s characterization falls into a nether region between truth and falsehood. Perhaps his is the best comment to begin with precisely because it is a half-truth. Yes, after 1941, concentration camps held Jews to prevent them from leaving Germany — but also to consolidate them for extermination. However, for more than eight years earlier, the camps generally were used for the opposite purpose: to force Jews to emigrate from Germany by making life intolerable, in part by separating men from their families. This is precisely the kind of important historical nuance lost in the hysteria surrounding Trump’s callous immigration policy. There are valuable comparisons to be made, but they must be historically informed.
The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum is easily navigated on foot. There is a free shuttle bus between the Auschwitz I and Birkenau sites, leaving every half hour at the top of the hour from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, and going the opposite way every 15 minutes of the hour at half hourly intervals. Please check the timetable at the bus stop as intervals and shuttle operation hours may change depending on the season, or you can walk the two miles between the camps. If you've just missed a bus, a taxi between the sites will cost about 15PLN.
Between 1940 and 1942, the French interned Jewish refugee families fleeing Nazi oppression elsewhere in Europe in Rivesaltes for the same reason. Lists of those incarcerated include a transport of Czech Jewish children: Brothers Salomon and Abraham Davidovic were 13 and 14 when they arrived. Conditions deteriorated. Directors complained in 1941 of no heat. Illness spread. Babies and the elderly died. The situation worsened when the Nazi-puppet Vichy regime assumed control of the camp in 1942 and began deporting its 7,000 foreign Jewish refugee prisoners to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. There, mothers and children were not separated but instead went to their deaths together.
The Nazis were hostile to the idea of social welfare in principle, upholding instead the social Darwinist concept that the weak and feeble should perish. They condemned the welfare system of the Weimar Republic as well as private charity, accusing them of supporting people regarded as racially inferior and weak, who should have been weeded out in the process of natural selection. Nevertheless, faced with the mass unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression, the Nazis found it necessary to set up charitable institutions to help racially-pure Germans in order to maintain popular support, while arguing that this represented "racial self-help" and not indiscriminate charity or universal social welfare. Thus, Nazi programs such as the Winter Relief of the German People and the broader National Socialist People's Welfare (NSV) were organized as quasi-private institutions, officially relying on private donations from Germans to help others of their race - although in practice those who refused to donate could face severe consequences. Unlike the social welfare institutions of the Weimar Republic and the Christian charities, the NSV distributed assistance on explicitly racial grounds. It provided support only to those who were "racially sound, capable of and willing to work, politically reliable, and willing and able to reproduce." Non-Aryans were excluded, as well as the "work-shy", "asocials" and the "hereditarily ill." Successful efforts were made to get middle-class women involved in social work assisting large families, and the Winter Relief campaigns acted as a ritual to generate public sympathy.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The remaining prisoners were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947 Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
From the start of the war, a British blockade on shipments to Germany affected its economy. Germany was particularly dependent on foreign supplies of oil, coal, and grain. Thanks to trade embargoes and the blockade, imports into Germany declined by 80 per cent. To safeguard Swedish iron ore shipments to Germany, Hitler ordered the invasion of Denmark and Norway, which began on 9 April. Denmark fell after less than a day, while most of Norway followed by the end of the month. By early June, Germany occupied all of Norway.
In 1983, French scholar George Wellers was one of the first to use German data on deportations; he arrived at a figure of 1,471,595 deaths, including 1.35 million Jews and 86,675 Poles. A larger study in the late 1980s by Franciszek Piper, published by Yad Vashem in 1991, used timetables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate that, of the 1.3 million deported to the camp, 1,082,000 died there between 1940 and 1945, a figure (rounded up to 1.1 million) that he regarded as a minimum and that came to be widely accepted.[e]
Various other German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own subcamps. There were around 40 or 50 such camps, 28 of them near industrial plants, each camp holding hundreds or thousands of prisoners. Designated as Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), or Arbeitslager (labor camp), camps were built at Blechhammer, Jawiszowice, Jaworzno, Lagisze, Mysłowice, Trzebinia, and centers as far afield as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia. Industries with satellite camps included coal mines, foundries and other metal works, and chemical plants. Prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming. Budy, for example, was a farming subcamp where prisoners worked 12-hour days, often in the fields, but sometimes tending animals, cleaning ponds, digging ditches, and making compost. Human ashes from the crematorium were mixed with sod and manure to make the compost. Incidents of sabotage to decrease production took place in several subcamps, including Charlottengrube, Gleiwitz II, and Rajsko.
On 23 March, the parliament passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of parliament. In effect, this gave Hitler dictatorial powers. Now possessing virtually absolute power, the Nazis established totalitarian control as they abolished labour unions and other political parties and imprisoned their political opponents, first at wilde Lager, improvised camps, then in concentration camps. Nazi Germany had been established, yet the Reichswehr remained impartial. Nazi power over Germany remained virtual, not absolute.
My whole world was turned upside down by the brutality of it. We had not in any way understood what had been going on, only later recognising all the sources and streams that led to the Holocaust. In my small Hungarian village, information had been very restricted. We didn’t know about anything, like the Wannsee conference (where the Final Solution was planned), and neither could we have imagined it. We were told by the authorities that we were being resettled, which is why I took my sewing machine with me. I took my sewing machine!
Estimates of the total German war dead range from 5.5 to 6.9 million persons. A study by German historian Rüdiger Overmans puts the number of German military dead and missing at 5.3 million, including 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders. Richard Overy estimated in 2014 that about 353,000 civilians were killed in Allied air raids. Other civilian deaths include 300,000 Germans (including Jews) who were victims of Nazi political, racial, and religious persecution and 200,000 who were murdered in the Nazi euthanasia program. Political courts called Sondergerichte sentenced some 12,000 members of the German resistance to death, and civil courts sentenced an additional 40,000 Germans. Mass rapes of German women also took place.
Auschwitz inmates were employed on huge farms, including the experimental agricultural station at Rajsko. They were also forced to work in coal mines, in stone quarries, in fisheries, and especially in armaments industries such as the SS-owned German Equipment Works (established in 1941). Periodically, prisoners underwent selection. If the SS judged them too weak or sick to continue working, they were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and killed.
Among the key elements of Nazism were anti-parliamentarism, Pan-Germanism (a political movement aiming for unity of the German-speaking peoples of Europe), racism, collectivism (any moral, political, or social outlook, that stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective, rather than the importance of separate individuals), antisemitism (intense dislike for and prejudice against Jewish people), anti-communism, totalitarianism and opposition to economic liberalism and political liberalism, and eugenics (scientific field involving the selective breeding of humans in order to achieve desirable traits in future generations).
“Responsibility is extremely direct in face-to-face shootings,” Dwork says. “In gassing and cremation, each person is given only a small part.” Eventually, Germans took part only by tossing the cyanide pellets into the gas chambers. Everything else—herding prisoners into the chambers, ripping out gold fillings and loading corpses into the crematoria—was handled by groups of prisoners, known as Sonderkommandos.
The Soviet troops found grisly evidence of the horror. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp. Millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children were discovered along with 6,350kg of human hair. The Auschwitz museum holds more than 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments.
Against the advice of many of his senior military officers, Hitler ordered an attack on France and the Low Countries, which began in May 1940. They quickly conquered Luxembourg and the Netherlands. After outmanoeuvring the Allies in Belgium and forcing the evacuation of many British and French troops at Dunkirk, France fell as well, surrendering to Germany on 22 June. The victory in France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and an upsurge in war fever in Germany.
The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia whilst trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway, and Sweden. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop arranged in negotiations with the Soviet Union a non-aggression pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed in August 1939. The treaty also contained secret protocols dividing Poland and the Baltic states into German and Soviet spheres of influence.
Before Auschwitz became the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust, it was an ordinary Polish town known as Oświęcim, where Jews made their home from the early 16th century until the Holocaust, when most of them were murdered. In the pre-war years, the majority of Oświęcim’s citizens were Jewish, and for generations they raised families here and contributed to a richly textured culture. The Holocaust suddenly ended the vibrant Jewish life of the town.
After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, all located in Germany. Following the violent Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms in November 1938, the Nazis conducted mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in camps for brief periods.