The Germans established a camp at Drancy, northeast of Paris, in August 1941 as an internment camp for foreign Jews in France. It then became the major transit camp for the deportation of Jews from France. Initially, French police under the control of the German Security Service administered Drancy. Then, in July 1943, the Germans took over the running of the camp.
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.
As the German leader (Führer) of Nazi Germany, Hitler began moving Nazi armies into neighboring countries. When Germany attacked Poland, World War II started. Western countries like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands were occupied and to be treated by Germany as colonies. However, in Eastern countries, such as Poland and the Soviet Union, the Nazis planned to kill or enslave the Slavic peoples, so that German settlers could take their land.
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Over the weeks that ensued, most of the remaining inmates of Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazis’ more than 400,000 camps and incarceration facilities, were marched to other camps near and far, walking tens and sometimes even hundreds of miles. Along the way, Beller saw Nazi guards murder prisoners who tried to escape and shoot those who lagged—including women and children so exhausted from starvation and the brutal conditions they could no longer go on. As he marched on, his feet protected by the shoes he’d grabbed before leaving Auschwitz, he saw ordinary Germans standing along the road, watching the prisoners go by.
When the Italian invasion of Ethiopia led to only mild protests by the British and French governments, on 7 March 1936 Hitler used the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a pretext to order the army to march 3,000 troops into the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. As the territory was part of Germany, the British and French governments did not feel that attempting to enforce the treaty was worth the risk of war. In the one-party election held on 29 March, the NSDAP received 98.9 percent support. In 1936, Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and a non-aggression agreement with Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis".
The Frank sisters were excelling in their studies and had many friends, but with the introduction of a decree that Jews could attend only Jewish schools, they were enrolled at the Jewish Lyceum. Anne became a friend of Jacqueline van Maarsen in the Lyceum. In April 1941, Otto took action to prevent Pectacon from being confiscated as a Jewish-owned business. He transferred his shares in Pectacon to Johannes Kleiman and resigned as director. The company was liquidated and all assets transferred to Gies and Company, headed by Jan Gies. In December, Otto followed a similar process to save Opekta. The businesses continued with little obvious change and their survival allowed Otto to earn a minimal income, but sufficient to provide for his family.
The first mass transport to Auschwitz I, which included Catholic prisoners, suspected members of the Polish resistance, and 20 Jews, arrived on 14 June 1940 from prison in Tarnów, Poland. They were interned in the former building of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly, adjacent to the site, until the camp was ready. By the end of 1940, the SS had confiscated land around the camp to create a 40-square-kilometre (15 sq mi) "zone of interest" surrounded by a double ring of electrified barbed wire fences and watchtowers. The inmate population grew quickly as the camp absorbed Poland's intelligentsia and dissidents. By March 1941, 10,900 were imprisoned there, most of them Poles.
Aryan mysticism claimed that Christianity originated in Aryan religious traditions, and that Jews had usurped the legend from Aryans. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an English-born German proponent of racial theory, supported notions of Germanic supremacy and antisemitism in Germany. Chamberlain's work, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), praised Germanic peoples for their creativity and idealism while asserting that the Germanic spirit was threatened by a "Jewish" spirit of selfishness and materialism. Chamberlain used his thesis to promote monarchical conservatism while denouncing democracy, liberalism and socialism. The book became popular, especially in Germany. Chamberlain stressed a nation's need to maintain its racial purity in order to prevent its degeneration and argued that racial intermingling with Jews should never be permitted. In 1923, Chamberlain met Hitler, whom he admired as a leader of the rebirth of the free spirit. Madison Grant's work The Passing of the Great Race (1916) advocated Nordicism and proposed that a eugenics program should be implemented in order to preserve the purity of the Nordic race. After reading the book, Hitler called it "my Bible".
The SS gained its independence from the SA in July 1934, in the wake of the Röhm purge. Hitler then authorized SS leader Heinrich Himmler to centralize the administration of the concentration camps and formalize them into a system. Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke for this task. Eicke had been the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since June 1933. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, a new section of the SS subordinate to the SS Main Office.
Auschwitz was considered a comfortable posting by many SS members, because of its many amenities. SS personnel were initially allowed to bring partners, spouses, and children to live at the camp, but when the SS camp grew more crowded, Höss restricted further arrivals. Facilities for the SS personnel and their families included a library, swimming pool, coffee house, and a theater that hosted regular performances.
T he use of gas chambers was the most common method of mass murdering the Jews in the extermination camps. The Jews were herded into the gas chambers, then the camp personnel closed the doors, and either exhaust gas (in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka) or poison gas in the form of Zyclon B or A (in Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau) was led into the gas chamber.
The political programme espoused by Hitler and the NSDAP brought about a world war, leaving behind a devastated and impoverished Europe. Germany itself suffered wholesale destruction, characterised as Stunde Null (Zero Hour). The number of civilians killed during the Second World War was unprecedented in the history of warfare. As a result, Nazi ideology and the actions taken by the regime are almost universally regarded as gravely immoral. Historians, philosophers, and politicians often use the word "evil" to describe Hitler and the Nazi regime. Interest in Nazi Germany continues in the media and the academic world. While Evans remarks that the era "exerts an almost universal appeal because its murderous racism stands as a warning to the whole of humanity", young neo-Nazis enjoy the shock value the use Nazi symbols or slogans provides. The display or use of Nazi symbolism such as flags, swastikas, or greetings is illegal in Germany and Austria.
^ On 29 November 2006, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior Christoph Bergner said the reason the statistics do not match is because Haar only includes people who were directly killed. The figure of 2 to 2.5 million also includes people who died of disease, hunger, cold, air raids and other causes. Koldehoff 2006. The German Red Cross still maintains that the death toll from the expulsions is 2.2 million. Kammerer & Kammerer 2005, p. 12.
Envisioning widespread car ownership as part of the new Germany, Hitler arranged for designer Ferdinand Porsche to draw up plans for the KdF-wagen (Strength Through Joy car), intended to be an automobile that everyone could afford. A prototype was displayed at the International Motor Show in Berlin on 17 February 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, the factory was converted to produce military vehicles. None were sold until after the war, when the vehicle was renamed the Volkswagen (people's car).
Alfred Rosenberg, head of the NSDAP Office of Foreign Affairs and Hitler's appointed cultural and educational leader for Nazi Germany, considered Catholicism to be among the Nazis' chief enemies. He planned the "extermination of the foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany", and for the Bible and Christian cross to be replaced in all churches, cathedrals, and chapels with copies of Mein Kampf and the swastika. Other sects of Christianity were also targeted, with Chief of the NSDAP Chancellery Martin Bormann publicly proclaiming in 1941, "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable." Shirer writes that opposition to Christianity within NSDAP leadership was so pronounced that, "the Nazi regime intended to eventually destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists."
Ultimately, three SS guards were killed—one of whom was burned alive by the prisoners in the oven of Crematorium II—and 451 Sonderkommandos were killed. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but all were soon captured and executed, along with an additional group who had participated in the revolt. Crematorium IV was destroyed in the fighting. A group of prisoners in the gas chamber of Crematorium V was spared in the chaos.
Hitler found this common denominator in the Jews, whom he identified with both Bolshevism and a kind of cosmic evil. The Jews were to be discriminated against not according to their religion but according to their “race.” Nazism declared the Jews—whatever their educational and social development—to be forever fundamentally different from and inimical to Germans.
When it comes to documenting the Nazis’ murder of Jews, Schneidermann describes the Times’ coverage as fragmentary, incremental, and buried in “dry” briefings on interior pages. June 16, 1942, page 6: a short piece noting that sixty thousand Jews in Vilnius had been murdered. June 30, 1942, page 7: a press conference given by a Polish government official in exile concludes that around a sixth of the European Jewish population of six to seven million has been annihilated. Schneidermann tries to grapple with the possible explanations—the incredulity of the reporters and editors, the banalization of so much recurring death. (Although, on a much different scale, the dilemma is not entirely foreign to Schneidermann’s audience: twenty-three hundred Europe-bound migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, and the coverage of it in mainstream publications has been sporadic at best.)
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.
Uniquely at Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with a serial number, on their left breast for Soviet prisoners of war and on the left arm for civilians. Categories of prisoner were distinguishable by triangular pieces of cloth (German: Winkel) sewn onto on their jackets below their prisoner number. Political prisoners (Schutzhäftlinge or Sch), mostly Poles, had a red triangle, while criminals (Berufsverbrecher or BV) were mostly German and wore green. Asocial prisoners (Asoziale or Aso), which included vagrants, prostitutes and the Roma, wore black. Purple was for Jehovah's Witnesses (Internationale Bibelforscher-Vereinigung or IBV)'s and pink for gay men, who were mostly German. An estimated 5,000–15,000 gay men prosecuted under German Penal Code Section 175 (proscribing sexual acts between men) were detained in concentration camps, of which an unknown number were sent to Auschwitz. Jews wore a yellow badge, the shape of the Star of David, overlaid by a second triangle if they also belonged to a second category. The nationality of the inmate was indicated by a letter stitched onto the cloth. A racial hierarchy existed, with German prisoners at the top. Next were non-Jewish prisoners from other countries. Jewish prisoners were at the bottom.
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.
While the ideologues of Nazism, much like those of Stalinism, abhorred democratic or parliamentary governance as practiced in the United States or Britain, their differences are substantial. An epistemic crisis occurs when one tries to synthesize and contrast Nazism and Stalinism as two-sides of the same coin with their similarly tyrannical leaders, state-controlled economies and repressive police structures. Namely, while they share a common thematic political construction, they are entirely inimical to one another in their worldviews and when more carefully analysed against one another on a one-to-one level, an "irreconcilable asymmetry" results.
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 day of release came we were at first searched most carefully for any sort of written notes. Notes from our family—a short, well-watched exchange was allowed every week—had to be left behind. Then we were permitted to put on our civilian clothes, but how they looked! They had been disinfected under high steam pressure and had been wrapped in bundles. They looked like the outfits of tramps, all creased and out of shape. Soft felt hats had turned into cardboard-like monsters no longer usable, and even on our short trip back they could not be worn.
The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons. The first transport of Poles reached KL Auschwitz from Tarnów prison on June 14, 1940. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.
The regime promoted the concept of Volksgemeinschaft, a national German ethnic community. The goal was to build a classless society based on racial purity and the perceived need to prepare for warfare, conquest and a struggle against Marxism. The German Labour Front founded the Kraft durch Freude (KdF; Strength Through Joy) organisation in 1933. As well as taking control of tens of thousands of privately run recreational clubs, it offered highly regimented holidays and entertainment such as cruises, vacation destinations and concerts.
After the liquidation of the Polish state and its institutions, the fundamental goal of German policy in occupied Poland was the exploitation of material and labor resources, and the removal of the local Polish population and ethnic minorities. This was done through expulsion and systematic extermination. The Polish lands were to be completely germanized, through German settlement in the depopulated area.
“Those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it...became messengers,” wrote Elie Wiesel, shown as a young man at left. “We have given the message and nothing changed.” Right: Buchenwald in April 1945. Elie Wiesel is in the second row, seventh from left. Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died, was also liberated that week. (Chicago Public Library; BuyEnlarge Archive / UIG / Bridgeman Images)
By plastering this sentence on Frank’s book jackets, publishers have implied that her posthumous fame represented the fulfillment of the writer’s dream. But when we consider the writer’s actual ambitions, it is obvious that her dreams were in fact destroyed—and it is equally obvious that the writer who would have emerged from Frank’s experience would not be anything like the writer Frank herself originally planned to become. Consider, if you will, the following imaginary obituary of a life unlived:
The innocence here is all affect, carefully achieved. Imagine writing this as your second draft, with a clear vision of a published manuscript, and you have placed yourself not in the mind of a “stammering” child, but in the mind of someone already thinking like a writer. In addition to the diary, Frank also worked hard on her stories, or as she proudly put it, “my pen-children are piling up.” Some of these were scenes from her life in hiding, but others were entirely invented: stories of a poor girl with six siblings, or a dead grandmother protecting her orphaned grandchild, or a novel-in-progress about star-crossed lovers featuring multiple marriages, depression, a suicide and prophetic dreams. (Already wary of a writer’s pitfalls, she insisted the story “isn’t sentimental nonsense for it’s modeled on the story of Daddy’s life.”) “I am the best and sharpest critic of my own work,” she wrote a few months before her arrest. “I know myself what is and what is not well written.”
Beyond that they tried personal defamation. One of our companions was asked by an S. S. man whether he had been a soldier and what rank he had held in the war. He answered, 'Lieutenant.' The S. S. man said, 'But you were only behind the lines.' 'No,' replied our companion, 'I was at the front.' 'I command you to answer this question with "behind the lines,"' the S. S. man corrected him; 'German history would lie if Jews had actually been at the front, so where were you?' And the old soldier, who had come back decorated with high medals from the war in which he had fought and bled for his German fatherland, was forced to answer, 'Behind the lines.'
To complete this mission, Hitler ordered the construction of death camps. Unlike concentration camps, which had existed in Germany since 1933 and were detention centers for Jews, political prisoners and other perceived enemies of the Nazi state, death camps existed for the sole purpose of killing Jews and other “undesirables,” in what became known as the Holocaust.
Returning to Auschwitz is going to be a cold, painful and tearful experience. It is a shadow that has always been with me and I’m hoping that by facing it for one last time at the age of 84 I will be able to live my life more peacefully, but I am extremely anxious. I lost my husband just days ago and I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to release my emotions when I’m there, as I’ve never really been able to cry much about anything. I’m comforted by the thought that there will be strength in numbers and that I’ll be there with perhaps 100 or so other survivors, which makes it easier. I would not go on my own. I appear to be a strong person, but inside I’m really quite fragile.
That same day, Gestapo official SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer and two Dutch police collaborators arrested the Franks; the Gestapo sent them to Westerbork transit camp on August 8. One month later, on September 4, 1944, SS and police authorities placed the Franks and the four others hiding with them on a train transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland.
But, in May 1944, a railroad spur line was built right into the camp to accelerate and simplify the handling of the tens of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews deported in the spring and summer of 1944. From then to November 1944, when all the other death camps had been abandoned, Birkenau surpassed all previous records for mass killing. The Hungarian deportations and the liquidation of the remaining Polish ghettos, such as Lodz, resulted in the gassing of 585,000 Jews. This period made Auschwitz-Birkenau into the most notorious killing site of all time.
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.”
Entrance is free in general, but visitor numbers are regulated by a ticket system. Be aware that because of the large numbers of visitors, entry to the Auschwitz I site is done exclusively on a paid guided (yet unfortunately rather rushed) tour between 10:00 to 15:00 during the period from 1 April to 31 October. You can visit the site on your own (which is highly recommended, as visitors can go at their own pace, see what they want to see, and have a much more meaningful experience) if you arrive before 10:00 (better 8:00-9:00) or after 15:00 (depending on the season and day of week). This is recommended if you're staying nearby in Katowice or Kraków and don't have your own car, with some trains from Kraków and Katowice Główny arriving between 8-10. Guided tours cost 45PLN (discounted price for students up to 24 years of age is 30PLN). Students with an ISIC card are granted free entrance during tour hours. If you're a small group (~4 or less), it's not too hard to buy tickets on site (but depending on the season, you might have to wait depending on availability), but larger groups should book tickets in advance.
Located in Nazi-occupied Poland, Auschwitz was the largest of all of the German Nazi concentration, forced labor, and extermination camps. More than 1.1 million people were murdered behind the barbed-wire fences of Auschwitz between May 1940 and January 1945. Around 1 million of those murdered were Jews, along with nearly 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Sinti and Roma, 14,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and nearly 15,000 others whom the Nazis deemed “inferior” or “undesirable” (including those who were allegedly homosexual, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people the Nazis called criminals). Those kept as prisoners were stripped of their names, assigned numbers, and subjected to forced labor and brutal—frequently deadly—conditions.
The first prisoners at Auschwitz included German prisoners transferred from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where they had been incarcerated as repeat criminal offenders, and Polish political prisoners from Lodz via Dachau concentration camp and from Tarnow in Krakow District of the Generalgouvernement (that part of German-occupied Poland not annexed to Nazi Germany, linked administratively to German East Prussia, or incorporated into the German-occupied Soviet Union).
German eagle: The Nazi Party used the traditional German eagle, standing atop of a swastika inside a wreath of oak leaves. It is also known as the "Iron Eagle". When the eagle is looking to its left shoulder, it symbolises the Nazi Party and was called the Parteiadler. In contrast, when the eagle is looking to its right shoulder, it symbolises the country (Reich) and was therefore called the Reichsadler. After the Nazi Party came to national power in Germany, they replaced the traditional version of the German eagle with the modified party symbol throughout the country and all its institutions.
At the end of 1944 and early in 1945, a complete deterioration of living conditions set in as thousands of survivors of death marches began to arrive at the camp. The large numbers arriving at the camp soon overwhelmed the meagre resources available. The camp administration did not attempt to house them. Serious overcrowding and a lack of sanitary facilities resulted in the break-out of a typhus epidemic. From January to mid-April 1945, some 35,000 prisoners died due to typhus, starvation and the terrible conditions within the camp.
On 22 June 1941, contravening the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 5.5 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. In addition to Hitler's stated purpose of acquiring Lebensraum, this large-scale offensive—codenamed Operation Barbarossa—was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers. The reaction among Germans was one of surprise and trepidation as many were concerned about how much longer the war would continue or suspected that Germany could not win a war fought on two fronts.
As Soviet armies advanced in 1944 and early 1945, Auschwitz was gradually abandoned. On January 18, 1945, some 60,000 prisoners were marched to Wodzisław Śląski, where they were put on freight trains (many in open cars) and sent westward to concentration camps away from the front. One in four died en route from starvation, cold, exhaustion, and despair. Many were shot along the way in what became known as the “death marches.” The 7,650 sick or starving prisoners who remained were found by arriving Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Umbreit, Hans (2003). "Hitler's Europe: The German Sphere of Power". In Kroener, Bernhard; Müller, Rolf-Dieter; Umbreit, Hans. Germany and the Second World War, Vol. 5. Organization and Mobilization in the German Sphere of Power. Part 2: Wartime Administration, Economy, and Manpower Resources, 1942–1944/5. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820873-0.
Agrarian policies were also important to the Nazis since they corresponded not just to the economy but to their geopolitical conception of Lebensraum as well. For Hitler, the acquisition of land and soil was requisite in moulding the German economy. To tie farmers to their land, selling agricultural land was prohibited. Farm ownership remained private, but business monopoly rights were granted to marketing boards to control production and prices with a quota system. The "Hereditary Farm Law of 1933" established a cartel structure under a government body known as the Reichsnährstand (RNST) which determined "everything from what seeds and fertilizers were used to how land was inherited".
In most of the concentration camps, the Nazi SS either installed or had plans to install gas chambers to assist in their daily business of killing prisoners who were too weak or sick to work. Gas chambers were also to kill small targeted groups of individuals whom the Nazis wanted to eliminate (Polish resistance fighters, Soviet POWs, etc.). This was the purpose of the installation of gas chambers at Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Auschwitz I, Ravensbrück, Lublin/Majdanek, etc.