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.
I won’t be going back to Auschwitz again after this visit. So it’s my last chance to make sure this tragedy is not forgotten. I found out only about a week before I was due to leave that I will be one of two survivors who will be part of the US presidential delegation, headed by the secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, and I feel very honoured, but it has much to do with the fact that many others who could go are ill and unable to travel.
Though we tend to think of Hitler’s Germany as a highly regimented dictatorship, in practice Nazi rule was chaotic and improvisatory. Rival power bases in the Party and the German state competed to carry out what they believed to be Hitler’s wishes. This system of “working towards the Fuhrer,” as it was called by Hitler’s biographer Ian Kershaw, was clearly in evidence when it came to the concentration camps. The K.L. system, during its twelve years of existence, included twenty-seven main camps and more than a thousand subcamps. At its peak, in early 1945, it housed more than seven hundred thousand inmates. In addition to being a major penal and economic institution, it was a central symbol of Hitler’s rule. Yet Hitler plays almost no role in Wachsmann’s book, and Wachsmann writes that Hitler was never seen to visit a camp. It was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S., who was in charge of the camp system, and its growth was due in part to his ambition to make the S.S. the most powerful force in Germany.
I bought this book to prepare for a trip to the Anne Frank Museum. It was a sad but fascinating read - and when I got to the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam, I knew exactly what I was looking at, who slept where - and who all the individuals were that helped Anne, her family, and their companions survive for as long as they did. I think I got more out of the visit than I would have without reading this book.
I was with my older sister Serena and we were sent to be forced labourers together in the Birkenau section of Auschwitz. Many times we were threatened with separation but somehow we managed to stay together. Later on, to our great relief we ran into my mother’s two younger sisters, our aunts Rose and Piri, who were in their early 20s. It was like finding our parents. They were such a huge moral and emotional support for us.
The German army had invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, and very quickly had imposed their antisemitic policies. In late 1941 they decided that Westerbork was an ideal place in which to assemble the Jews of Holland before their deportation. The first Jews arrived at the camp on 14 July, and the first deportation to Auschwitz left the following day.
There were factions within the Nazi Party, both conservative and radical. The conservative Nazi Hermann Göring urged Hitler to conciliate with capitalists and reactionaries. Other prominent conservative Nazis included Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Meanwhile, the radical Nazi Joseph Goebbels opposed capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core and he stressed the need for the party to emphasize both a proletarian and a national character. Those views were shared by Otto Strasser, who later left the Nazi Party in the belief that Hitler had allegedly betrayed the party's socialist goals by endorsing capitalism.
This complex incorporated 45 forced labor sub-camps. The name Buna was based on the Buna synthetic rubber factory on site, owned by I.G. Farben, Germany’s largest chemical company. Most workers at this and other German-owned factories were Jewish inmates. The labor would push inmates to the point of total exhaustion, at which time new laborers replaced them.
The Nazis intended on deporting all Romani people from Germany, and confined them to Zigeunerlager (Gypsy camps) for this purpose. Himmler ordered their deportation from Germany in December 1942, with few exceptions. A total of 23,000 Romani were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, of whom 19,000 died. Outside of Germany, the Romani people were regularly used for forced labour, though many were killed. In the Baltic states and the Soviet Union, 30,000 Romani were killed by the SS, the German Army, and Einsatzgruppen. In occupied Serbia, 1,000 to 12,000 Romani were killed, while nearly all 25,000 Romani living in the Independent State of Croatia were killed. The estimates at end of the war put the total death toll at around 220,000, which equalled approximately 25 percent of the Romani population in Europe.
In her writing, Frank examined her relationships with the members of her family, and the strong differences in each of their personalities. She considered herself to be closest emotionally to her father, who later commented, "I got on better with Anne than with Margot, who was more attached to her mother. The reason for that may have been that Margot rarely showed her feelings and didn't need as much support because she didn't suffer from mood swings as much as Anne did." The Frank sisters formed a closer relationship than had existed before they went into hiding, although Anne sometimes expressed jealousy towards Margot, particularly when members of the household criticized Anne for lacking Margot's gentle and placid nature. As Anne began to mature, the sisters were able to confide in each other. In her entry of 12 January 1944, Frank wrote, "Margot's much nicer ... She's not nearly so catty these days and is becoming a real friend. She no longer thinks of me as a little baby who doesn't count."
By bringing color to the original black and white registration photos and telling prisoners’ stories, “Faces of Auschwitz” commemorates the memory of those who were murdered in the name of bigotry and hate. It acts as both a memorial to their passing and a warning to the world at a time when the memory of the Holocaust becomes increasingly abstract and remote.
At this time only the main camp, later known as Auschwitz I, had been established. Himmler ordered the construction of a second camp for 100,000 inmates on the site of the village of Brzezinka, roughly two miles from the main camp. This second camp, now known as Birkenau or Auschwitz II, was initially intended to be filled with captured Russian POWs who would provide the slave labor to build the SS “utopia” in Upper Silesia. Chemical giant I G Farben expressed an interest in utilizing this labor force, and extensive construction work began in October 1941 under terrible conditions and with massive loss of life. About 10,000 Russian POWs died in this process. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was eventually built in the Birkenau camp and the majority of the victims were murdered here.
And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.
The Nazi Party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against the communist uprisings in post-World War I Germany. The party was created to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although this was later downplayed to gain the support of business leaders, and in the 1930s the party's main focus shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes.
In 1957, Fria ord ("Free Words"), the magazine of the Swedish neofascist organization National League of Sweden published an article by Danish author and critic Harald Nielsen, who had previously written antisemitic articles about the Danish-Jewish author Georg Brandes. Among other things, the article claimed that the diary had been written by Meyer Levin.
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials, and museums. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II. In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.
That month, Himmler ordered the evacuation of all camps, charging camp commanders with "making sure that not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy". Beginning on 17 January, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees—over 20,000 from Auschwitz I and II, over 30,000 from subcamps, and two-thirds of them Jews—were evacuated under guard, largely on foot, in severe winter conditions, heading west. Around 2,200 were evacuated by rail from two subcamps; fewer than 9,000 were left behind, deemed too sick to move. During the marches, camp staff shot anyone too sick or exhausted to continue, or anyone stopping to urinate or tie a shoelace. SS officers walked behind the marchers killing anyone lagging behind who had not already been shot. Peter Longerich estimates that a quarter of the detainees were thus killed. Those who managed to walk to Wodzisław Śląski and Gliwice were sent on open freight cars, without food, to concentration camps in Germany: Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenburg, Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, Dora-Mittelbau, Ravensbruck, and Sachsenhausen.
When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam following his release from Auschwitz, Miep Gies gave him five notebooks and some 300 loose papers containing Anne’s writings. Gies had recovered the materials from the Secret Annex shortly after the Franks’ arrest by the Nazis and had hidden them in her desk. (Margot Frank also kept a diary, but it was never found.) Otto Frank knew that Anne wanted to become an author or journalist, and had hoped her wartime writings would one day be published. Anne had even been inspired to edit her diary for posterity after hearing a March 1944 radio broadcast from an exiled Dutch government official who urged the Dutch people to keep journals and letters that would help provide a record of what life was like under the Nazis.
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.
^ A film with scenes from the liberation of Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps, supervised by the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information, was begun but never finished or shown. It lay in archives until first aired on PBS's Frontline on May 7, 1985. The film, partly edited by Alfred Hitchcock, can be seen online at Memory of the Camps.
Early one morning I met Stos, a retired architect, at his small first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Krakow. We sat in his small, dark dining room, a plate of jam-filled ginger cookies on the starched white tablecloth between us. He said he grew up in Tarnow, Poland, about 50 miles from Krakow. He remembers the day the Nazis shipped him off to Auschwitz: June 13, 1940. It had been almost a year since Germany invaded Poland and launched its campaign to destroy the nation. Following instructions issued by SS chief Reinhard Heydrich—“the leading strata of the population should be rendered harmless”—the SS killed some 20,000 Poles, mainly priests, politicians and academics, in September and October 1939. Stos was an 18-year-old Boy Scout and a member of a Catholic youth organization. Germans put him and 727 other Poles, mostly university and trade-school students, in first-class train cars and told them they were going to work on German farms.
When asked[when?] whether he supported the "bourgeois right-wing", Hitler claimed that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and he indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".
In the 1920s, the Nazi Party expanded beyond its Bavarian base. Catholic Bavaria maintained its right-wing nostalgia for a Catholic monarch; and Westphalia, along with working-class "Red Berlin", were always the Nazis' weakest areas electorally, even during the Third Reich itself. The areas of strongest Nazi support were in rural Protestant areas such as Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia. Depressed working-class areas such as Thuringia also produced a strong Nazi vote, while the workers of the Ruhr and Hamburg largely remained loyal to the Social Democrats, the Communist Party of Germany or the Catholic Centre Party. Nuremberg remained a Nazi Party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg Rally was held there in 1927. These rallies soon became massive displays of Nazi paramilitary power and attracted many recruits. The Nazis' strongest appeal was to the lower middle-classes – farmers, public servants, teachers and small businessmen – who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s, so who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class was receptive to Hitler's antisemitism, since it blamed Jewish big business for its economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in the War of 1914–1918 and attracted by the Nazis' radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nazi constituency. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members.
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.
The victories of Operation Barbarossa in the summer and fall of 1941 against Hitler's new enemy, the Soviet Union, led to dramatic changes in Nazi anti-Jewish ideology and the profile of prisoners brought to Auschwitz. Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), intended the camp to house 50,000 prisoners of war, who would be interned as forced laborers. Plans called for the expansion of the camp first to house 150,000 and eventually as many as 200,000 inmates. An initial contingent of 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz I in October 1941, but by March 1942 only 945 were still alive, and these were transferred to Birkenau, where most of them died from disease or starvation by May. By this time the Nazis had decided to annihilate the Jewish people, so Birkenau became a labor and extermination camp.
If it isn’t already clear, we are not reliving the thirties, and Trump is not Hitler. One of the journalists whom Schneidermann admires is Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News who had already been in Berlin for a decade when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, in January, 1933. Mowrer’s work strongly captures the widespread anti-Semitic violence of the years that preceded Hitler: Jews were assaulted in public, Jewish students were beaten up by classmates. And all German political parties had armed militias that confronted one another frequently—and violently—in the streets; hundreds of people were killed during the 1932 election campaign. This was the context in which Hitler was elected. After Mowrer published a book on this material, the same month as Hitler’s inauguration, he was expelled from Germany.
Since the Nazis extended the Rassenschande ("race defilement") law to all foreigners at the beginning of the war, pamphlets were issued to German women which ordered them to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers who were brought to Germany and the pamphlets also ordered German women to view these same foreign workers as a danger to their blood. Although the law was applicable to both genders, German women were punished more severely for having sexual relations with foreign forced labourers in Germany. The Nazis issued the Polish decrees on 8 March 1940 which contained regulations concerning the Polish forced labourers (Zivilarbeiter) who were brought to Germany during World War II. One of the regulations stated that any Pole "who has sexual relations with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner, will be punished by death".
The irregular Swiss branch of the Nazi Party also established a number of Party Gaue in that country, most of them named after their regional capitals. These included Gau Basel-Solothurn, Gau Schaffhausen, Gau Luzern, Gau Bern and Gau Zürich. The Gau Ostschweiz (East Switzerland) combined the territories of three cantons: St. Gallen, Thurgau and Appenzell.
In March 1941, Himmler ordered a second, larger complex to be built next to the original camp. It was called Auschwitz II - Birkenau. The camp at Birkenau was divided into subsections surrounded by electric fences with barbed wire. During 1943 and 1944 the BIIb section became the location of the „Terezín family camp“. At its summit, Birkenau had over 100 000 inmates. In March 1942, the Auschwitz III camp was set up at nearby Monowitz, also known as Buna Monowitz. German company I.G. Farben set up a synthetic rubber factory there, in which it used the prisoners' slave labour. Auschwitz also had a further 45 auxiliary camps, where prisoners were forced to engage in slave labour, mostly for German companies.
Hayden’s comment, for example, that he had walked the ramp at Birkenau where women and children were separated, is essentially false; Jewish women with children arriving at Auschwitz were generally all murdered immediately upon arrival. After seeing the inside of the U.S. refugee facilities, we can also safely say they aren’t the kind of summer camps we would send our children to, either.
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.
Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nazis and the Communists winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. However, support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak—possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest, but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher and the nationalist press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues that eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was safe to appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor, at the head of a cabinet including only a minority of Nazi ministers—which he did on 30 January 1933.
Frank’s subsequent books and essays continued to win praise, if not popularity, earning her a reputation as a clear-eyed prophet carefully attuned to hypocrisy. Her readers will long remember the words she wrote in her diary at 15, included in the otherwise naive first section of "The House Behind": “I don’t believe that the big men are guilty of the war, oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and disfigured, and mankind will have to begin all over again.”
With Hitler's approval, Himmler intended that the new society of the Nazi regime should destigmatise illegitimate births, particularly of children fathered by members of the SS, who were vetted for racial purity. His hope was that each SS family would have between four and six children. The Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) association, founded by Himmler in 1935, created a series of maternity homes to accommodate single mothers during their pregnancies. Both parents were examined for racial suitability before acceptance. The resulting children were often adopted into SS families. The homes were also made available to the wives of SS and NSDAP members, who quickly filled over half the available spots.
On August 4, 1944, the police discovered the secret annex after receiving an anonymous tip. The group in the annex were taken completely by surprise—the SS officer and the four Dutch Nazis who conducted the raid proceeded quickly, drawing guns to keep the employees from warning those in hiding and forcing Kugler to reveal the entrance to the annex, which was concealed by a movable bookcase. Everyone in the annex was taken into custody along with Kleiman and Kugler, who were imprisoned for helping to conceal the group. The Franks, the van Pels, and Pfeffer were taken to a police station in Amsterdam and four days later, taken to the Westerbork transit camp. On September 3 they were transported in a sealed cattle car to Auschwitz in Poland—the last transport to ever leave Westerbork. Three days later, Hermann van Pels was gassed at Auschwitz.
“I don’t want to have lived for nothing like most people,” Frank wrote in her diary. “I want to be useful or give pleasure to the people around me who don’t yet know me, I want to go on living even after my death!” Gradowski, too, wrote with a purpose. But Gradowski’s goal wasn’t personal or public fulfillment. His was truth: searing, blinding prophecy, Jeremiah lamenting a world aflame.
The German Nazi Party supported German irredentist claims to Austria, Alsace-Lorraine, the region now known as the Czech Republic and the territory known since 1919 as the Polish Corridor. A major policy of the German Nazi Party was Lebensraum ("living space") for the German nation based on claims that Germany after World War I was facing an overpopulation crisis and that expansion was needed to end the country's overpopulation within existing confined territory, and provide resources necessary to its people's well-being. Since the 1920s, the Nazi Party publicly promoted the expansion of Germany into territories held by the Soviet Union.
Hitler's conception of the Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race") excluded the vast majority of Slavs from central and eastern Europe (i.e. Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, etc.). They were regarded as a race of men not inclined to a higher form of civilization, which was under an instinctive force that reverted them back to nature. The Nazis also regarded the Slavs as having dangerous Jewish and Asiatic, meaning Mongol, influences. Because of this, the Nazis declared Slavs to be Untermenschen ("subhumans"). Nazi anthropologists attempted to scientifically prove the historical admixture of the Slavs who lived further East and leading Nazi racial theorist Hans Günther regarded the Slavs as being primarily Nordic centuries ago but he believed that they had mixed with non-Nordic types over time. Exceptions were made for a small percentage of Slavs who the Nazis saw as descended from German settlers and therefore fit to be Germanised and considered part of the Aryan master race. Hitler described Slavs as "a mass of born slaves who feel the need for a master". The Nazi notion of Slavs as inferior served as a legitimization of their desire to create Lebensraum for Germans and other Germanic people in eastern Europe, where millions of Germans and other Germanic settlers would be moved into once those territories were conquered, while the original Slavic inhabitants were to be annihilated, removed or enslaved. Nazi Germany's policy changed towards Slavs in response to military manpower shortages, forced it to allow Slavs to serve in its armed forces within the occupied territories in spite of the fact that they were considered "subhuman".
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
In July 1942, when transports from the Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz began, the family went into hiding together with the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. The hiding place of these eight people was an attic at 263 Prisengracht Street in Amsterdam, the building that contained Otto’s business. For two years, from June 1942, when Anne received a diary for her thirteenth birthday, until she was about fifteen, Anne wrote in her diary nearly every day. Once the hiding place was discovered on August 4, 1944, the diary entries stopped.
On 4 September 2003, despite a protest from the museum, three Israeli Air Force F-15 Eagles performed a fly-over of Auschwitz II-Birkenau during a ceremony at the camp below. All three pilots were descendants of Holocaust survivors, including the man who led the flight, Major-General Amir Eshel. On 27 January 2015, some 300 Auschwitz survivors gathered with world leaders under a giant tent at the entrance to Auschwitz II to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the camp's liberation.[i]
“It may be that these, the lines that I am now writing, will be the sole witness to what was my life,” Gradowski writes. “But I shall be happy if only my writings should reach you, citizen of the free world. Perhaps a spark of my inner fire will ignite in you, and even should you sense only part of what we lived for, you will be compelled to avenge us—avenge our deaths! Dear discoverer of these writings! I have a request of you: This is the real reason why I write, that my doomed life may attain some meaning, that my hellish days and hopeless tomorrows may find a purpose in the future.” And then Gradowski tells us what he has seen.
Although all SS units wore the Death's-Head symbol (skull and crossbones) on their caps, only the SS Death's-Head Units were authorized to wear the Death's Head Symbol on their lapels. The “SS Death's-Head Division” of the Waffen SS was created in 1940. Its officers were recruited from concentration camp service. They also wore the Death's-Head symbol on their lapel.