In 1923, Hitler and his followers staged the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, a failed takeover of the government in Bavaria, a state in southern Germany. Hitler had hoped that the “putsch,” or coup d’etat, would spark a larger revolution against the national government. In the aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years in prison, but spent less than a year behind bars (during which time he dictated the first volume of “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle,” his political autobiography). The publicity surrounding the Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s subsequent trial turned him into a national figure. After his release from prison, he set about rebuilding the Nazi Party and attempting to gain power through the election process.
Nazi racial theorist Hans F. K. Günther argued that European peoples were divided into five races: Nordic, Mediterranean, Dinaric, Alpine and East Baltic. Günther applied a Nordicist conception in order to justify his belief that Nordics were the highest in the racial hierarchy. In his book Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922) ("Racial Science of the German People"), Günther recognised Germans as being composed of all five races, but emphasized the strong Nordic heritage among them. Hitler read Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes, which influenced his racial policy. Gunther believed that Slavs belonged to an "Eastern race" and he warned against Germans mixing with them. The Nazis described Jews as being a racially mixed group of primarily Near Eastern and Oriental racial types. Because such racial groups were concentrated outside Europe, the Nazis claimed that Jews were "racially alien" to all European peoples and that they did not have deep racial roots in Europe.
The Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) was organised under the control of the Propaganda Ministry in September 1933. Sub-chambers were set up to control aspects of cultural life such as film, radio, newspapers, fine arts, music, theatre and literature. Members of these professions were required to join their respective organisation. Jews and people considered politically unreliable were prevented from working in the arts, and many emigrated. Books and scripts had to be approved by the Propaganda Ministry prior to publication. Standards deteriorated as the regime sought to use cultural outlets exclusively as propaganda media.
This January 27 marks the 65th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by Soviet soldiers. The Nazis operated the camp between May 1940 and January 1945—and since 1947, the Polish government has maintained Auschwitz, which lies about 40 miles west of Krakow, as a museum and memorial. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, a distinction usually reserved for places of culture and beauty.
Special “political units on alert” (Politische Bereitschaften) originally guarded the SS concentration camps. They were renamed “SS Guard Units” (SS-Wachverbände) in 1935 and “SS Death's-Head Units” (SS-Totenkopfverbände) in April 1936. One SS Death's-Head Unit was assigned to each concentration camp. After 1936, the camp administration, including the commandant, was also a part of the SS Death's-Head Unit.
Otto had prepared a secret hideout next to his place of work. The door was hidden behind some bookshelves. The hideout was small. The first floor had a bathroom and a small kitchen. The second floor had two rooms, one for Anne and Margot and one for her parents. There was also an attic where they stored food and where Anne would sometimes go to be alone.
Mindful that no mere visit can convey what the concentration camp was like when the Nazis ran it, I met with survivors. The week before I arrived in Krakow, I had called Jozef Stos, 89, to ask if he would discuss his years in captivity. “If I’m still alive then, sure—it’s my civic responsibility,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty darn old, you know.”
Life for the eight people in the small apartment, which Anne Frank referred to as the Secret Annex, was tense. The group lived in constant fear of being discovered and could never go outside. They had to remain quiet during daytime in order to avoid detection by the people working in the warehouse below. Anne passed the time, in part, by chronicling her observations and feelings in a diary she had received for her 13th birthday, a month before her family went into hiding.
The Franks realized that conditions in Germany were only going to get worse and decided to leave the country. Otto traveled to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, that summer believing that his family would be safer there than in Germany. In September he established an independent branch of Opekta Werk, which made fruit pectin for jams and jellies, and a few years later, Pectacon, which made meat spices. When Otto left for Amsterdam, Edith and the girls went to stay with Grandmother Holländer, Edith’s mother, in Aachen, Germany. In December, Edith and Margot joined Otto in Amsterdam and Anne followed in February 1934. In March 1939, Grandmother Holländer joined them also.
Following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis increased the number of prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. Some new camps were built at existing concentration camp complexes (such as Auschwitz) in occupied Poland. The camp at Lublin, later known as Majdanek, was established in the autumn of 1941 as a POW camp and became a concentration camp in 1943. Thousands of Soviet POWs were shot or gassed there.
The NSDAP was a far-right political party which arose during the social and financial upheavals that occurred following the end of World War I. The NSDAP remained small and marginalised, receiving 2.6% of the federal vote in 1928, prior to the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. By 1930 the NSDAP won 18.3% of the federal vote, making it the Reichstag's second largest political party. While in prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which laid out his plan for transforming German society into one based on race. Nazi ideology brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum for the Germanic people. The regime attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan master race and part of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. The Nazi regime believed that only Germany could defeat the forces of Bolshevism and save humanity from world domination by International Jewry. Other people deemed life unworthy of life by the Nazis included the mentally and physically disabled, Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and social misfits.
Ever since the Auschwitz memorial and museum first opened to the public, in 1947, workers have repaired and rebuilt the place. The barbed wire that rings the camps must be continuously replaced as it rusts. In the 1950s, construction crews repairing the crumbling gas chamber at the main Auschwitz camp removed one of the original walls. Most recently, the staff has had to deal with crime and vandalism. This past December, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign was stolen by thieves, who intended to sell it to a collector. Although the sign was recovered, it was cut into three pieces and will need to be repaired.
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.
Via the offices of the Sicherheitsdienst, the German security police, prison in Amsterdam, and the Westerbork transit camp, the people from the Secret Annex were put on transport to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. The train journey took three days, during which Anne and over a thousand others were packed closely together in cattle wagons. There was little food and water and only a barrel for a toilet.
Auschwitz became one of the camps used for the mass extermination of Jews. In summer 1941, Heinrich Himmler gave orders to Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß to build a centre at Auschwitz for the mass murder of Jews. In September 1941, the lethal effects of Zyklon B - a substance normally used for pest control - were first tested and verified there. Later, four large gas chambers were built at Birkenau, capable of killing up to six thousand people each day. The gas chambers were disguised as showers, meant to persuade the victims that these were disinfection measures which they had to undergo before they were sent to work in the camp.
Adolf Hitler envisioned the eventual extermination of what he called “the Jewish plague,” but the Führer didn’t draw up the plans for the gas chambers or the timetables for the transports. And while it was senior SS officials who gave general instructions about how the camps should function, it was ordinary Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, who worked out the deadly details. “There wasn’t a grand strategy in 1940 that the camp would accrue a number of functions and ultimately become a death camp,” Dwork says. “I do not see it as planned at all. Way led to way, and step led to step.”
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.