At the Birkenau camp, a five-minute shuttle-bus ride from the Auschwitz visitor center, the scene was so peaceful it was almost impossible to imagine the sea of stinking mud that survivors describe. The vast expanse was covered in neatly mowed grass. Flocks of Israeli teenagers in matching white-and-blue hoodies wandered from ruin to ruin. As I stood at the stairs leading down into the ruined gas chambers, a dozen Brits posed for a group picture on the steps of a memorial just a few yards away.
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.
Extensive propaganda was used to spread the regime's goals and ideals. Upon the death of German president Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler assumed the powers of the presidency. The army swore an oath of personal loyalty to him. Hitler's dictatorship rested on his position as Reich President (head of state), Reich Chancellor (head of government), and Fuehrer (head of the Nazi party). According to the "Fuehrer principle," Hitler stood outside the legal state and determined matters of policy himself.
Though the Russians had just come across the Holocaust’s deadliest camp, the liberation of Auschwitz didn’t even make front page news. A communiquépublished in the New York Times on January 28, 1945, doesn’t even mention the camp, just the city; on February 3, the paper devotedtwo paragraphs to the “murder factory” at Oswiecim but gave few details. As World War II raced to its end, few people could even grasp the horror that was found in the camps.
Upon arrival in Gliwice and Wodzislaw, the prisoners were put on unheated freight trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany, particularly to Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and also to Mauthausen in Austria. The rail journey lasted for days. Without food, water, shelter, or blankets, many prisoners did not survive the transport.
The train wasn’t headed to Germany. Stos was on the first transport of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz. There to greet them were 30 hardened German convicts, brought by the SS from a prison near Berlin. Guards confiscated Stos’ belongings and issued him a number. Sixty-nine years later, he slid a business card across the dining room table as his daughter brought us cups of tea. It read “Jozef Stos, former Auschwitz Concentration Camp Prisoner No. 752.” “I was there on the first day,” he said. “They had me for five years and five days.”
According to Schneidermann, Trump designating American media as the “opposition” is the biggest threat to its credibility today, but not merely because the President’s broadsides inflict damage on their own. The trap, Schneidermann says, is for the media to enter into a war with Trump, and forget its job. “There is one professional obligation,” he told me. “To say things that are true.” (For news readers, he recommends the articles on page 7.) The real subject of his book, he added, is that “it’s very easy to be in a collective blindness.” And the past can obscure the future. “Why didn’t the correspondents in the thirties see Hitler? Because they thought he was a German Mussolini,” Schneidermann said. “They said, O.K., we know Mussolini. They weren’t actually looking at Hitler.” In the book, he writes, “Every revolutionary process automatically produces denial. How can we accept the fact that, from now on, the order of things will be fundamentally different from what it always was?”
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.
Pankoke started working for the FBI in the 1980s, spending his first four years as an agent in a small field office in Wisconsin. In 1992, he was transferred to Miami, where he helped build cases against Colombian cartels. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was involved in FBI undercover operations, including cases that took him out of the country, he said.
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. ♦
Criterion (vi): Auschwitz Birkenau, monument to the deliberate genocide of the Jews by the German Nazi regime and to the deaths of countless others, bears irrefutable evidence to one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. It is also a monument to the strength of the human spirit which in appalling conditions of adversity resisted the efforts of the German Nazi regime to suppress freedom and free thought and to wipe out whole races. The site is a key place of memory for the whole of humankind for the Holocaust, racist policies and barbarism; it is a place of our collective memory of this dark chapter in the history of humanity, of transmission to younger generations and a sign of warning of the many threats and tragic consequences of extreme ideologies and denial of human dignity.
After conquering Poland, Hitler focused on defeating Britain and France. As the war expanded, the Nazi Party formed alliances with Japan and Italy in the Tripartite Pact of 1940, and honored its 1939 Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union until 1941, when Germany launched a massive blitzkrieg invasion of the Soviet Union. In the brutal fighting that followed, Nazi troops tried to realize the long-held goal of crushing the world’s major communist power. After the United States entered the war in 1941, Germany found itself fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, the Balkans and in a counterattacking Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war, Hitler and his Nazi Party were fighting to dominate Europe; five years later they were fighting to exist.
By 1942, Auschwitz had mushroomed into a massive money-making complex that included the original camp, Birkenau (officially labeled Auschwitz II) and 40 sub-camps (mostly located in and around the nearby town of Oswiecim but some as far away as Czechoslovakia) set up to provide slave labor for chemical plants, coal mines, shoe factories and other ventures. In their eagerness to carry out orders, advance their careers and line their own pockets, mid-level bureaucrats like Höss implemented what came to be known as the Holocaust.
Since the beginning of the war, special SS units called Einsatzgruppen had carried out mass executions of Jews and others in conquered territories; these commandos rounded up entire villages, forced them to dig their own graves and shot them. The massacres took a toll even on the German firing squads, says Debórah Dwork, a Holocaust historian at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and co-author (with van Pelt) of Holocaust: A History. “It’s totally clear from Nazi documents,” she says, “that Germans were looking for a way to murder masses of people without having such a traumatic impact on the murderers.”
In Nazi Germany, the idea of creating a master race resulted in efforts to "purify" the Deutsche Volk through eugenics and its culmination was the compulsory sterilization or the involuntary euthanasia of physically or mentally disabled people. After World War II, the euthanasia programme was named Action T4. The ideological justification for euthanasia was Hitler's view of Sparta (11th century – 195 BC) as the original Völkisch state and he praised Sparta's dispassionate destruction of congenitally deformed infants in order to maintain racial purity. Some non-Aryans enlisted in Nazi organisations like the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht, including Germans of African descent and Jewish descent. The Nazis began to implement "racial hygiene" policies as soon as they came to power. The July 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring" prescribed compulsory sterilization for people with a range of conditions which were thought to be hereditary, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, Huntington's chorea and "imbecility". Sterilization was also mandated for chronic alcoholism and other forms of social deviance. An estimated 360,000 people were sterilised under this law between 1933 and 1939. Although some Nazis suggested that the programme should be extended to people with physical disabilities, such ideas had to be expressed carefully, given the fact that some Nazis had physical disabilities, one example being one of the most powerful figures of the regime, Joseph Goebbels, who had a deformed right leg.
Groups like Patriot Front, a spin-off of Vanguard America that was founded by Thomas Rousseau when he was 19 years old, and Identity Europa, aggressively try to recruit teens on high school and college campuses, Hankes said. He noted that the Internet and social media outlets have proved invaluable to recruitment efforts by these groups and hastened the spread of their racist ideologies.
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.
What does Rivesaltes tell us about the current crisis in the United States? First, the problem with maintaining temporary facilities for holding large groups of people is that they often become permanent, without improvement, readily available for unknown future purposes. Second, Rivesaltes illustrates the dangers faced by interned populations: They remain unseen, isolated within a country, and subject to all manner of abuse with little oversight; children are, of course, the most vulnerable.
The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose intended to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”
The arrests took place in various ways, partly through the S.A. or S.S., partly through uniformed police, partly through plain-clothes men or secret police. It was the latter in my case. There appeared suddenly at our door a group of three men in civilian clothes, identified by their badges as policemen, who took us away in a car after having established through questioning that we were 'non-Aryans.' They also arrested a gentleman who happened to be visiting us. They had no warrants, and declined to give any information about our further destiny; our families for days were without any idea of what had happened to us. We were brought into the courtyard of the police headquarters, our names and addresses were taken down, and without any further hearing we were loaded into large trucks covered with canvas, in which benches had been placed. For the older people—and the majority were over fifty—a chair had been provided so that they might climb into the truck more easily. We mention this here especially because the treatment of the uniformed police in charge of the transportation differed pleasantly from the treatment we suffered in the camp at the hands of the S.S. The crowds in the streets took little notice of the police trucks driving in a row. Only a few urchins around the police headquarters greeted us with howling.
My sister was sent with my mother, while I went to the opposite side. That was the first chance I had to survive. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, two Nazi soldiers had been asked to make a photographic document of the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the moment they got off the train – through the entire system of arriving, going to the bath house and getting their prison clothes – so I ended up in a picture at the very moment I was separated from my sister. It captures me standing alone without my family on the Auschwitz platform, and I’m leaning inwards to see where my little sister has gone.
At the same time, public interest in the camp has never been higher. Visits have doubled this decade, from 492,500 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2009. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Krakow has become a popular destination for foreign tourists, and Auschwitz is a must stop on many itineraries. A visit is also part of education programs in Israel, Britain and other countries. On peak days, as many as 30,000 visitors file through the camp’s buildings.
These sights, like the truck full of bodies, are not beyond belief—we know that they were true—but they are, in some sense, beyond imagination. It is very hard, maybe impossible, to imagine being one of those men, still less one of those infants. And such sights raise the question of why, exactly, we read about the camps. If it is merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead. If it is to exercise sympathy or pay a debt to memory, then it quickly becomes clear that the exercise is hopeless, the debt overwhelming: there is no way to feel as much, remember as much, imagine as much as the dead justly demand. What remains as a justification is the future: the determination never again to allow something like the Nazi camps to exist.
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.
The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, who turns 43 on Thursday and is the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”
On 3 May 1957, a group of citizens, including Otto Frank, established the Anne Frank Stichting in an effort to rescue the Prinsengracht building from demolition and to make it accessible to the public. The Anne Frank House opened on 3 May 1960. It consists of the Opekta warehouse and offices and the Achterhuis, all unfurnished so that visitors can walk freely through the rooms. Some personal relics of the former occupants remain, such as movie star photographs glued by Anne to a wall, a section of wallpaper on which Otto Frank marked the height of his growing daughters, and a map on the wall where he recorded the advance of the Allied Forces, all now protected behind acrylic glass. From the small room which was once home to Peter van Pels, a walkway connects the building to its neighbours, also purchased by the Foundation. These other buildings are used to house the diary, as well as rotating exhibits that chronicle aspects of the Holocaust and more contemporary examinations of racial intolerance around the world. One of Amsterdam's main tourist attractions, it received a record 965,000 visitors in 2005. The House provides information via the internet and offers exhibitions that in 2005 travelled to 32 countries in Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.
When I returned this past autumn, the hair was a barely differentiated mass of gray, more like wool than human locks. Only the occasional braid signaled the remnants of something unprecedented and awful—the site where the Third Reich perpetrated the largest mass murder in human history. At least 1.1 million people were killed here, most within hours of their arrival.
Our British liberators were amazing – they were heroes for me in the real sense of the word. After their long battle to reach Belsen, they had a campaign to organise a rescue mission. To this day I’m aghast that they were so saintly. They brought little ambulances in and drove around picking us up. I was trembling and virtually lifeless, lying near the barracks, the stench of corpses everywhere, and unable to walk or lift myself up, when they arrived with a little ambulance. I don’t think I was able to talk to the soldier who approached me, my comprehension had long gone, but I remember the gentleness in him. We couldn’t eat and I remember fainting when I tried to get out of bed. Gradually they administered the food, but I didn’t trust anyone and I hid the food in my bed, afraid that they would suddenly take it away. Even now I feel that sense at every meal time of how lucky I am, and I often say to those at the table: “Isn’t this wonderful?” and “ Aren’t we lucky?”
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 prisoners put up various forms of resistance to the tyranny of the camp. Resistance organisations helped inmates to obtain medicine and food, documented Nazi crimes, supported attempts to escape and sabotage, tried to put political prisoners into positions of responsibility, and prepared for an uprising. A total of 667 prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, but 270 of them were caught in the vicinity of the camp and immediately executed. The best-known escape was that of two Slovak Jews, Alfred Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (Rudolf Vrba) (link in Czech). They managed to cross into Slovakia and to tell Jewish leaders - and through them the world - about the terrible reality of Auschwitz, about which they wrote an extensive report. On the 7th of October 1944, there was an uprising by the Sonderkommando working in the gas chambers. The prisoners managed to destroy one of the gas chambers, and thus to hinder the extermination process. All the rebels died. A group of young female prisoners was also executed for having smuggled gunpowder to the rebels from the factory in Monowitz.
Many of the horrors associated with Auschwitz—gas chambers, medical experiments, working prisoners to death—had been pioneered in earlier concentration camps. In the late thirties, driven largely by Himmler’s ambition to make the S.S. an independent economic and military power within the state, the K.L. began a transformation from a site of punishment to a site of production. The two missions were connected: the “work-shy” and other unproductive elements were seen as “useless mouths,” and forced labor was a way of making them contribute to the community. Oswald Pohl, the S.S. bureaucrat in charge of economic affairs, had gained control of the camps by 1938, and began a series of grandiose building projects. The most ambitious was the construction of a brick factory near Sachsenhausen, which was intended to produce a hundred and fifty million bricks a year, using cutting-edge equipment and camp labor.
Working from these principles, Hitler carried his party from its inauspicious beginnings in a beer cellar in Munich to a dominant position in world politics 20 years later. The Nazi Party originated in 1919 and was led by Hitler from 1920. Through both successful electioneering and intimidation, the party came to power in Germany in 1933 and governed through totalitarian methods until 1945, when Hitler committed suicide and Germany was defeated and occupied by the Allies at the close of World War II.
The first concentration camps in Germany were established soon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor in January 1933. In the weeks after the Nazis came to power, The SA (Sturmabteilungen; commonly known as Storm Troopers), the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons—the elite guard of the Nazi party), the police, and local civilian authorities organized numerous detention camps to incarcerate real and perceived political opponents of Nazi policy.