The Auschwitz Jewish Center (AJC) in Oświęcim, operated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is just two miles from the Auschwitz–Birkenau death camps. The only Jewish presence in the vicinity of Auschwitz, the Center opened its doors in September 2000 so that people from around the world could gather to learn, pray, and remember the victims of the Holocaust.
In 1929, Germany entered a period of severe economic depression and widespread unemployment. The Nazis capitalized on the situation by criticizing the ruling government and began to win elections. In the July 1932 elections, they captured 230 out of 608 seats in the “Reichstag,” or German parliament. In January 1933, Hitler was appointed German chancellor and his Nazi government soon came to control every aspect of German life.
Our daily occupation differed according to age. Prisoners below the forty-fifth year were used for especially hard labor outside the camp in the 'clinker works.' Heavy bags of cement had to be carried for long distances, and the return to the starting point had to be covered at a running pace. For a while the older prisoners were also used outside the camp working on an S.S. settlement. They had to dig or carry cement blocks. All this work was done under the supervision of young S.S. men, most of whom were boys of sixteen to twenty years from former Austria. They circled around us armed with loaded guns or light machine guns. They drove us on and misused their position of superiority with all sorts of torments. If presumably a little offense had been committed, especially if our speed of work didn't satisfy them, they might demand that the prisoner should do knee-bends until he was exhausted or that he roll down the slope a dozen times. In our camp were prisoners ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-four.
Chelmno was the first extermination camp to be established as part of the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ – the Nazis’ systematic effort to exterminate the Jews. This was quickly followed by the establishment of three more extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. They were established under the code-name Operation Reinhard – the starting signal to the extermination of the approximately 3 million Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Poland. In the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek two further extermination camps were established.
Originally an Austro-Hungarian and later a Polish Army barracks before the start of the Second World War, the invading Nazis assumed authority over the military facility following the region's annexation by the Third Reich in 1939. The neighboring town's name of Oświęcim was Germanized to Auschwitz, which also became the name of the camp. Beginning in 1940, all Polish and Jewish residents of Oświęcim were expelled, replaced by German settlers, whom the Third Reich planned to make a model community. The camp began operations on 14 June 1940, originally housing Polish political prisoners, who made up a majority of the camp's population until 1942. Poles were treated with extreme brutality, with more than half of the 130-150,000 Polish inmates dying.
When a mother did not want to be separated from her thirteen-year-old daughter, and bit and scratched the face of the SS man who tried to force her to her assigned line, Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and the child. As a blanket punishment, he sent to the gas chamber all people from that transport who had previously been selected for work, with the comment: Away with this shit!
If, up to now, we had interpreted our fate only as a privation of liberty, our experience changed rapidly. We had to jump down from the truck without the aid of a chair, and the request for a helping hand was denied with abuse. One of our comrades, an older man lacking the agility of youth, fell in this enforced jump and hurt the back of his head so badly that his skin had to be sewed with several stitches. Hardly were we standing on the ground when a pack of young men in S.S. uniforms, with yells and abuse, chased us to the other end of the large, inner, so-called inspection ground, which is surrounded by the barracks of the prisoners. Those who couldn't run fast enough were kicked.
After the arrival of a transport at the ramp in Birkenau, the process known as selection took place. SS officers decided who would be taken to work, and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers. Often it was mere chance or the mood of the SS officer that decided whether someone died immediately or had a hope of survival. The prisoners selected for slave labour were sent to one of the many auxiliary camps at Auschwitz or elsewhere in the Nazi concentration camp system. Their aim was „Vernichtung durch Arbeit“ - extermination through labour.
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.
Many scholars think Nazism was a form of far-right politics. Nazism is a form of fascism and uses biological racism and antisemitism. Much of the philosophy of this movement was based on an idea that the 'Aryan race', the term they used for what we today call Germanic people, was better than all other races, and had the greatest ability to survive. According to the racist and ableist ideas of Nazism, the Germanic peoples were the Herrenvolk (master race). The 'inferior' races and people - the Jews, Roma people, Slavs, disabled and blacks - were classified as Untermenschen (sub-humans).
The first gassings at Auschwitz took place in early September 1941, when around 850 inmates—Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates—were killed with Zyklon B in the basement of block 11 in Auschwitz I. The building proved unsuitable, so gassings were conducted instead in crematorium I, also in at Auschwitz I, which operated until December 1942. There, more than 700 victims could be killed at once. Tens of thousands were killed in crematorium I. To keep the victims calm, they were told they were to undergo disinfection and de-lousing; they were ordered to undress outside, then were locked in the building and gassed. After its decommissioning as a gas chamber, the building was converted to a storage facility and later served as an SS air raid shelter. The gas chamber and crematorium were reconstructed after the war. Dwork and van Pelt write that a chimney was recreated; four openings in the roof were installed to show where the Zyklon B had entered; and two of the three furnaces were rebuilt with the original components.
"It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death," she wrote on July 15, 1944. "I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."
The women selected from this transport, including Anne, Edith, and Margot, were marked with numbers between A-25060 and A-25271. Records indicating their exact numbers have not been preserved. Approximately eight weeks later, in late October 1944, Anne and Margot were transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died sometime in March 1945. Though Anne’s death certificate documents her movement between camps, it, too, does not include her tattoo ID number.
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.
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.
I had trained as a tailor and had left home before we were deported, when I went to work four miles away on a ranch. It was taken over by the SS, so suddenly I found myself working for them. In May 1943 they lined us up one day and told us to empty our pockets. If they found even a single zloty in anyone’s pocket, they were shot on the spot. We were transported to Majdanek, which was only 19 miles away – a torture camp in the true sense of the word. For 500 metres there were just ditches full of bodies, legs, heads. We were deported to Auschwitz four weeks later. We arrived in the early morning and they gave us a bed, a real shower, they cleaned us well with disinfectant and shaved us. After that they gave us striped uniforms and tattooed us. I was given the number 128164 on my left arm and from that point on I was a number, no longer a name.
When the women arrived to the factory in Brunnlitz, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less than human, Oskar Schindler met them in the courtyard. They never forgot the sight of Schindler standing in the doorway. And they never forgot his raspy voice when he - surrounded by SS guards - gave them an unforgettable guarantee: 'Now you are finally with me, you are safe now. Don't be afraid of anything. You don't have to worry anymore.'
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.
A concentration camp was not the same as an extermination camp – camps constructed with the specific purpose of mass murdering Jews and other victim groups. Despite this fact, the concentration camps claimed many thousands of victims. Imprisonment in a concentration camp meant inhuman forced labour, brutal mistreatment, hunger, disease, and random executions. It is certain that several hundred thousand died in the concentration camps. In comparison, more than three million Jews were murdered in the extermination camps.
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 Nazi Party was banned on 9 November 1923; however, with the support of the nationalist Völkisch-Social Bloc (Völkisch-Sozialer Block), it continued to operate under the name "German Party" (Deutsche Partei or DP) from 1924 to 1925. The Nazis failed to remain unified in the DP, as in the north, the right-wing Volkish nationalist supporters of the Nazis moved to the new German Völkisch Freedom Party, leaving the north's left-wing Nazi members, such as Joseph Goebbels retaining support for the party.
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In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Several, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allies did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
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.
The Merwedeplein apartment, where the Frank family lived from 1933 until 1942, remained privately owned until the 2000s. After becoming the focus of a television documentary, the building—in a serious state of disrepair—was purchased by a Dutch housing corporation. Aided by photographs taken by the Frank family and descriptions in letters written by Anne Frank, it was restored to its 1930s appearance. Teresien da Silva of the Anne Frank House and Frank's cousin, Bernhard "Buddy" Elias, contributed to the restoration project. It opened in 2005. Each year, a writer who is unable to write freely in his or her own country is selected for a year-long tenancy, during which they reside and write in the apartment. The first writer selected was the Algerian novelist and poet El-Mahdi Acherchour.
Auschwitz inmates began working at the plant, known as Buna Werke and IG Auschwitz, in April 1941, and demolishing houses in Monowitz to make way for it. By May, because of a shortage of trucks, several hundred of them were rising at 3 am to walk there twice a day from Auschwitz I. Anticipating that a long line of exhausted inmates walking through the town of Oświęcim might harm German-Polish relations, the inmates were told to shave daily, make sure they were clean, and sing as they walked. From late July they were taken there by train on freight wagons. Because of the difficulty of moving them, including during the winter, IG Farben decided to build a camp at the plant. The first inmates moved there on 30 October 1942. Known as KL Auschwitz III-Aussenlager (Auschwitz III-subcamps), and later as Monowitz concentration camp, it was the first concentration camp to be financed and built by private industry.
The Republic of Czechoslovakia was home to a substantial minority of Germans, who lived mostly in the Sudetenland. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Sudeten German Party, the Czechoslovak government offered economic concessions to the region. Hitler decided to incorporate not just the Sudetenland but all of Czechoslovakia into the Reich. The Nazis undertook a propaganda campaign to try to generate support for an invasion. Top German military leaders opposed the plan, as Germany was not yet ready for war.
A new type of court, the Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court"), was established in 1934 to deal with political cases. This court handed out over 5,000 death sentences until its dissolution in 1945. The death penalty could be issued for offences such as being a communist, printing seditious leaflets, or even making jokes about Hitler or other officials. The Gestapo was in charge of investigative policing to enforce National Socialist ideology as they located and confined political offenders, Jews, and others deemed undesirable. Political offenders who were released from prison were often immediately re-arrested by the Gestapo and confined in a concentration camp.
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.
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.