The fortified walls, barbed wire, railway sidings, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz Birkenau show clearly how the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi German policy of mass murder and forced labour took place. The collections at the site preserve the evidence of those who were premeditatedly murdered, as well as presenting the systematic mechanism by which this was done. The personal items in the collections are testimony to the lives of the victims before they were brought to the extermination camps, as well as to the cynical use of their possessions and remains. The site and its landscape have high levels of authenticity and integrity since the original evidence has been carefully conserved without any unnecessary restoration.
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.
Directly subjected to the Führer were the Reichsleiter ("Reich Leader(s)"—the singular and plural forms are identical in German), whose number was gradually increased to eighteen. They held power and influence comparable to the Reich Ministers' in Hitler's Cabinet. The eighteen Reichsleiter formed the "Reich Leadership of the Nazi Party" (Reichsleitung der NSDAP), which was established at the so-called Brown House in Munich. Unlike a Gauleiter, a Reichsleiter did not have individual geographic areas under their command, but were responsible for specific spheres of interest.
Otto Frank spent the remainder of his life as custodian of his daughter's legacy, saying, "It's a strange role. In the normal family relationship, it is the child of the famous parent who has the honour and the burden of continuing the task. In my case the role is reversed." He recalled his publisher's explaining why he thought the diary has been so widely read, with the comment, "he said that the diary encompasses so many areas of life that each reader can find something that moves him personally". Simon Wiesenthal expressed a similar sentiment when he said that the diary had raised more widespread awareness of the Holocaust than had been achieved during the Nuremberg Trials, because "people identified with this child. This was the impact of the Holocaust, this was a family like my family, like your family and so you could understand this."
In the decades since its liberation, Auschwitz has become a primary symbol of the Holocaust. Historian Timothy D. Snyder attributes this to the camp's high death toll and "unusual combination of an industrial camp complex and a killing facility", which left behind far more witnesses than single-purpose killing facilities such as Chełmno or Treblinka. In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly designated 27 January, the date of the camp's liberation, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Helmut Schmidt visited the site in November 1977, the first West German chancellor to do so, followed by his successor, Helmut Kohl, in November 1989. In a written statement on the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation, Kohl described Auschwitz as the "darkest and most horrific chapter of German history".
As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that rearmament must begin, albeit clandestinely at first, as to do so was in violation of the Versailles Treaty. On 17 May 1933, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag outlining his desire for world peace and accepted an offer from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt for military disarmament, provided the other nations of Europe did the same. When the other European powers failed to accept this offer, Hitler pulled Germany out of the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October, claiming its disarmament clauses were unfair if they applied only to Germany. In a referendum held in November, 95 percent of voters supported Germany's withdrawal.
All of the extermination camps were thoroughly organised and resembled industrial plants to an alarming degree. However, only Auschwitz-Birkenau, with its advanced gassing facilities and crematoria, was marked by high technology. In crematoria I and II there were elevators from the gas chambers underground, where the Jews were murdered, to the crematoria, where the bodies were burned.
Some Auschwitz prisoners were subjected to inhumane medical experimentation. The chief perpetrator of this barbaric research was Josef Mengele (1911-79), a German physician who began working at Auschwitz in 1943. Mengele, who came to be known as the “Angel of Death,” performed a range of experiments on detainees. For example, in an effort to study eye color, he injected serum into the eyeballs of dozens of children, causing them excruciating pain. He also injected chloroform into the hearts of twins, to determine if both siblings would die at the same time and in the same manner.
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.
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.
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.”
Gradowski’s chronicle walks us, step by devastating step, through the murders of 5,000 people, a single large “transport” of Czech Jews who were slaughtered on the night of March 8, 1944—a group that was unusual only because they had already been detained in Birkenau for months, and therefore knew what was coming. Gradowski tells us how he escorted the thousands of women and young children into the disrobing room, marveling at how “these same women who now pulsed with life would lie in dirt and filth, their pure bodies smeared with human excrement.” He describes how the mothers kiss their children’s limbs, how sisters clutch each other, how one woman asks him, “Say, brother, how long does it take to die? Is it easy or hard?” Once the women are naked, Gradowski and his fellow prisoners escort them through a gantlet of SS officers who had gathered for this special occasion—a night gassing arranged intentionally on the eve of Purim, the biblical festival celebrating the Jews’ narrow escape from a planned genocide. He recalls how one woman, “a lovely blond girl,” stopped in her death march to address the officers: “‘Wretched murderers! You look at me with your thirsty, bestial eyes. You glut yourselves on my nakedness. Yes, this is what you’ve been waiting for. In your civilian lives you could never even have dreamed about it. [...] But you won’t enjoy this for long. Your game’s almost over, you can’t kill all the Jews. And you will pay for it all.’ And suddenly she leaped at them and struck Oberscharführer Voss, the director of the crematoriums, three times. Clubs came down on her head and shoulders. She entered the bunker with her head covered with wounds [...] she laughed for joy and proceeded calmly to her death.” Gradowski describes how people sang in the gas chambers, songs that included Hatikvah, “The Hope,” now the national anthem of Israel. And then he describes the mountain of open-eyed naked bodies that he and his fellow prisoners must pull apart and burn: “Their gazes were fixed, their bodies motionless. In the deadened, stagnant stillness there was only a hushed, barely audible noise—a sound of fluid seeping from the different orifices of the dead. [...] Frequently one recognizes an acquaintance.” In the specially constructed ovens, he tells us, the hair is first to catch fire, but “the head takes the longest to burn; two little blue flames flicker from the eyeholes—these are the eyes burning with the brain. [...] The entire process lasts 20 minutes—and a human being, a world, has been turned to ashes. [...] It won’t be long before the five thousand people, the five thousand worlds, will have been devoured by the flames.”
At some point during her induction, Lasker-Wallfisch mentioned she played the cello. “That is fantastic,” the inmate processing her said. “You will be saved.” The Birkenau women’s orchestra, responsible for keeping prisoners in step as they marched to work assignments, needed a cellist. “It was a complete coincidence,” Lasker-Wallfisch said, shaking her head. “The whole thing was complete insanity from beginning to end.”
Forced-Labor Camps and transit camps: Forced labor camps were utilized for pointless and humiliating labor, imposed on prisoners without proper equipment, clothing, nourishment, or rest. Transit camps functioned as temporary holding facilities for Jews awaiting deportation. These camps were usually the last stop before deportations to a killing center. There were 1,830 forced labor and transit camps.
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.
Major public works projects financed with deficit spending included the construction of a network of Autobahnen and providing funding for programmes initiated by the previous government for housing and agricultural improvements. To stimulate the construction industry, credit was offered to private businesses and subsidies were made available for home purchases and repairs. On the condition that the wife would leave the workforce, a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks could be accessed by young couples of Aryan descent who intended to marry, and the amount that had to be repaid was reduced by 25 percent for each child born. The caveat that the woman had to remain unemployed outside the home was dropped by 1937 due to a shortage of skilled labourers.
The conference led to a dramatic increase in activity at the Nazi death camps. In a massive campaign code-named Operation Reinhard, Germans killed 1.5 million Jews at small camps deep in the forests of eastern Poland from March 1942 to October 1943. Treblinka and the now nearly forgotten camps Sobibor and Belzec consisted of little more than gas chambers and train tracks. There were virtually no survivors, no witnesses.
What would it mean for a writer not to hide the horror? There is no mystery here, only a lack of interest. To understand what we are missing, consider the work of another young murdered Jewish chronicler of the same moment, Zalmen Gradowski. Like Frank’s, Gradowski’s work was written under duress and discovered only after his death—except that Gradowski’s work was written in Auschwitz, and you have probably never heard of it.
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the occupation government began to persecute Jews by the implementation of restrictive and discriminatory laws; mandatory registration and segregation soon followed. Otto Frank tried to arrange for the family to emigrate to the United States – the only destination that seemed to him to be viable – but Frank's application for a visa was never processed, due to circumstances such as the closing of the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam and the loss of all the paperwork there, including the visa application. Even if it had been processed, the U.S. government at the time was concerned that people with close relatives still in Germany could be blackmailed into becoming Nazi spies.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, wrote a book called Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"). The book said that all of Germany's problems happened because Jews were making plans to hurt the country. He also said that Jewish and communist politicians planned the Armistice of 1918 that ended World War I, and allowed Germany to agree to pay huge amounts of money and goods (reparations).
Hungary didn’t give up its Jewish population until it was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1944. The very first task the German government gave the Hungarians was to round up Jewish families and deport them to Auschwitz. There was a huge rush to take half a million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and it was completed in just six weeks, in 147 cattle cars. So in the spring of 1944 my family – my parents and their six children, the oldest of whom was 17 and I was 13 – found ourselves in the Munkács ghetto and from there being taken on cattle carts to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland.
In Autumn 1943, the camp administration was reorganized following a corruption scandal. By the end of 1943, the prisoner population of Auschwitz main camp, Birkenau, Monowitz and other subcamps was over 80,000: 18,437 in the main camp, 49,114 in Birkenau, and 13,288 at Monowitz where I G Farben had its synthetic rubber plant. Up to 50,000 prisoners were scattered around 51 subcamps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine (see The List of the Camps for a complete list of those subcamps).
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.
In early 1942, at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin, the Nazi Party decided on the last phase of what it called the “Final Solution” of the “Jewish problem” and spelled out plans for the systematic murder of all European Jews. In 1942 and 1943, Jews in the western occupied countries including France and Belgium were deported by the thousands to the death camps mushrooming across Europe. In Poland, huge death camps such as Auschwitz began operating with ruthless efficiency. The murder of Jews in German-occupied lands stopped only in last months of the war, as the German armies were retreating toward Berlin. By the time Hitler committed suicide in April 1945, some 6 million Jews had died.
My mother never talked very much about our time there, mainly to protect us and herself. She was 21 when we were finally able to leave, with a two-year-old and a six-week-old. She also took with us a four-year-old boy who was parentless and she spent months searching for his relatives, who she did finally track down. At the same time, she had lost her husband and was mourning him. There was an unspoken ban on speaking about any of it. We went back to live in Trenčín, the small town in Slovakia where my mother had moved when she married my father, and where the Red Cross found us a room.
The SA leadership continued to apply pressure for greater political and military power. In response, Hitler used the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo to purge the entire SA leadership. Hitler targeted SA Stabschef (Chief of Staff) Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who—along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher)—were arrested and shot. Up to 200 people were killed from 30 June to 2 July 1934 in an event that became known as the Night of the Long Knives.
These public relations mishaps, clumsy though they may have been, were not really mistakes, nor even the fault of the museum alone. On the contrary, the runaway success of Anne Frank’s diary depended on playing down her Jewish identity: At least two direct references to Hanukkah were edited out of the diary when it was originally published. Concealment was central to the psychological legacy of Anne Frank’s parents and grandparents, German Jews for whom the price of admission to Western society was assimilation, hiding what made them different by accommodating and ingratiating themselves to the culture that had ultimately sought to destroy them. That price lies at the heart of Anne Frank’s endless appeal. After all, Anne Frank had to hide her identity so much that she was forced to spend two years in a closet rather than breathe in public. And that closet, hiding place for a dead Jewish girl, is what millions of visitors want to see.
The similarities between the Rivesaltes camp and the Trump administration’s camps for children should already be apparent: a temporary, insufficiently conceived facility designed to prevent foreigners from entering the country. And, as with Rivesaltes, officials have no real plan for what to do with them. Moreover, as historian Terrence Peterson emphasized, Rivesaltes “remained the go-to space for the French government simply because it existed. The infrastructure was in place that allowed the French state to simply shift unwanted populations into a controlled space rather than dealing substantively with changing migration policy or dealing with the human consequences of bad policy.”
Annelies Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt on June 12, 1929 to Edith (née Holländer) and Otto Frank. The Frank family, which was affluent and socially active, had lived in the city since the seventeenth century. Otto and his two brothers served in the German army in World War I. In 1933, after the Nazi party came to power, the family moved to Amsterdam. For the first seven years, things were relatively quiet for the parents and their two daughters, Margot Betti (1926–1945) and her younger sister Anne, who attended the Montessori school until Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.
Nazi, the informal and originally derogatory term for a party member, abbreviates the party's name (Nationalsozialist German pronunciation: [natsi̯oˈnaːlzotsi̯aˌlɪst]), and was coined in analogy with Sozi (pronounced [ˈzoːtsiː]), an abbreviation of Sozialdemokrat (member of the rival Social Democratic Party of Germany). Members of the party referred to themselves as Nationalsozialisten (National Socialists), rarely as Nazis. The term Parteigenosse (party member) was commonly used among Nazis, with its corresponding feminine form Parteigenossin.
In November 2007, the Anne Frank tree—by then infected with a fungal disease affecting the tree trunk—was scheduled to be cut down to prevent it from falling on the surrounding buildings. Dutch economist Arnold Heertje said about the tree: "This is not just any tree. The Anne Frank tree is bound up with the persecution of the Jews." The Tree Foundation, a group of tree conservationists, started a civil case to stop the felling of the horse chestnut, which received international media attention. A Dutch court ordered city officials and conservationists to explore alternatives and come to a solution. The parties built a steel construction that was expected to prolong the life of the tree up to 15 years. However, it was only three years later, on 23 August 2010, that gale-force winds blew down the tree. Eleven saplings from the tree were distributed to museums, schools, parks and Holocaust remembrance centres through a project led by the Anne Frank Center USA. The first sapling was planted in April 2013 at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Saplings were also sent to a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the scene of a desegregation battle; Liberty Park (Manhattan), which honours victims of the September 11 attacks; and other sites in the United States. Another horse chestnut tree honoring Frank was planted in 2010 at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Long before the Nazis took power, concentration camps had featured in their imagination. Wachsmann finds Hitler threatening to put Jews in camps as early as 1921. But there were no detailed plans for building such camps when Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, in January, 1933. A few weeks later, on February 27th, he seized on the burning of the Reichstag—by Communists, he alleged—to launch a full-scale crackdown on his political opponents. The next day, he implemented a decree, “For the Protection of People and State,” that authorized the government to place just about anyone in “protective custody,” a euphemism for indefinite detention. (Euphemism, too, was to be a durable feature of the K.L. universe: the killing of prisoners was referred to as Sonderbehandlung, “special treatment.”)
But even within a democratic constitutional system, white supremacy in the United States has persisted, ebbing and flowing along the course of history, receding at times and then returning with a vengeance. At the heart of the current white nationalist project is the racial supremacy of people who believe that America was exclusively founded for them. Race madness has taken over the Trump base, and the White House has become home to those who seek racial purification. The project to erode citizenship rights, restrict immigration, and reclaim the American idea as a white idea is already underway. The United States is denying passports to citizens on the southern border. Denying bond hearings to those immigrants—even permanent residents—who are incarcerated. Separating children from their parents. Banning Muslim travelers. Refusing green cards to Americans who need public assistance. Politicians and law professors debate the merits of ending birthright citizenship; while currently a fringe idea, a future Supreme Court decision severely limiting birthright citizenship seems foreseeable. This purification agenda is being carried out by deportation squads roving the country in search of targets. Alarm bells ought to be going off about this program of national cleansing. We do not yet know where this ends.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real and potential opposition. The general public was intimidated by the arbitrary psychological terror that was used by the special courts (Sondergerichte). Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.