From 1942 onwards, Auschwitz became one of the greatest scenes of mass murder in recorded history. The vast majority of the camp's 1.1 million Jewish men, women, and children, deported from their homes across occupied Europe to Auschwitz, were sent immediately to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival, usually transported into the camp by overcrowded cattle wagons. Their bodies were afterwards cremated in industrial furnaces in the crematoria. Those who were not killed in the gas chambers often died of disease, starvation, medical experiments, forced labor, or execution.
Jews, Gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, asocials, criminals, and prisoners of war were gathered, stuffed into cattle cars on trains, and sent to Auschwitz. When the trains stopped at Auschwitz II: Birkenau, the newly arrived were told to leave all their belongings on board and were then forced to disembark from the train and gather upon the railway platform, known as "the ramp."
The Germans occupied Amsterdam in May 1940. In July 1942, German authorities and their Dutch collaborators began to concentrate Jews from throughout the Netherlands at Westerbork, a transit camp near the Dutch town of Assen, not far from the German border. From Westerbork, German officials deported the Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor killing centers in German-occupied Poland.

On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich", which stated that upon Hindenburg's death the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor.[39] Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government and was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Chancellor") – although eventually Reichskanzler was dropped.[40] Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head.[41] As head of state, Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The new law provided an altered loyalty oath for servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the state.[42] On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 90 percent of the electorate in a plebiscite.[43]


Political concentration camps instituted primarily to reinforce the state’s control have been established in various forms under many totalitarian regimes—most extensively in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. To a considerable extent, the camps served as the special prisons of the secret police. Nazi concentration camps were under the administration of the SS; forced-labour camps of the Soviet Union were operated by a succession of organizations beginning in 1917 with the Cheka and ending in the early 1990s with the KGB.
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.[272] In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly designated 27 January, the date of the camp's liberation, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.[273] 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.[274] In a written statement on the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation, Kohl described Auschwitz as the "darkest and most horrific chapter of German history".[275]
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.[455]
According to Polish historian Andrzej Strzelecki, the evacuation of the prisoners by the SS in January 1945 was one of the camp's "most tragic chapters".[235] In mid-1944, about 130,000 prisoners were in Auschwitz when the SS moved around half of them to other concentration camps.[236] In November 1944, with the Soviet Red Army approaching through Poland, Himmler ordered gassing operations to cease. The crematorium IV building was dismantled,[237] and the Sonderkommando was ordered to remove evidence of the killings, including the mass graves.[238] The SS destroyed written records, and in the final week before the camp's liberation, burned or demolished many of its buildings.[239] The plundered goods from the "Canada" barracks at Birkenau, together with building supplies, were transported to the German interior. On 20 January, the overflowing warehouses were set ablaze. Crematoria II and III at Birkenau were blown up on 20 January and crematorium V six days later, just one day ahead of the Soviet attack.[237]
From the first escape on 6 July 1940 of Tadeusz Wiejowski,[216] at least 802 prisoners (757 men and 45 women) tried to escape from the camp, according to Polish historian Henryk Świebocki. He writes that most escapes were attempted from work sites outside the camp.[217][f] Of these, 144 were successful and the fate of 331 is unknown.[218] Four Polish prisoners—Eugeniusz Bendera (a car mechanic at the camp), Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster, and a priest, Józef Lempart—escaped successfully on 20 June 1942.[219] After breaking into a warehouse, the four dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (the SS units responsible for concentration camps), armed themselves, and stole an SS staff car, which they drove unchallenged through the main gate, greeting several officers with "Heil Hitler!" as they drove past.[220] On 21 July 1944, Polish inmate Jerzy Bielecki dressed in an SS uniform and, using a faked pass, managed to cross the camp's gate with his Jewish girlfriend, Cyla Cybulska (known as Cyla Stawiska), pretending that she was wanted for questioning. Both survived the war. For having saved her, Bielecki was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.[221]
Oswald Spengler, a German cultural philosopher, was a major influence on Nazism, although after 1933 he became alienated from Nazism and was later condemned by the Nazis for criticising Adolf Hitler.[109] Spengler's conception of national socialism and a number of his political views were shared by the Nazis and the Conservative Revolutionary movement.[110] Spengler's views were also popular amongst Italian Fascists, including Benito Mussolini.[111]
To write the history of such an institution, as Nikolaus Wachsmann sets out to do in another new book, “KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), might seem impossible, like writing the history of Hell. And, certainly, both his book and Helm’s are full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions. Helm devotes a chapter to Ravensbrück’s Kinderzimmer, or “children’s room,” where inmates who came to the camp pregnant were forced to abandon their babies; the newborns were left to die of starvation or be eaten alive by rats. Wachsmann quotes a prisoner at Dachau who saw a transport of men afflicted by dysentery arrive at the camp: “We saw dozens . . . with excrement running out of their trousers. Their hands, too, were full of excrement and they screamed and rubbed their dirty hands across their faces.”
Hitler took a personal interest in architecture and worked closely with state architects Paul Troost and Albert Speer to create public buildings in a neoclassical style based on Roman architecture.[466][467] Speer constructed imposing structures such as the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and a new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin.[468] Hitler's plans for rebuilding Berlin included a gigantic dome based on the Pantheon in Rome and a triumphal arch more than double the height of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Neither structure was built.[469]
Hitler was not influenced by the United States alone. “Let’s learn from the English,” Hitler said repeatedly, “who, with two hundred and fifty thousand men in all, including fifty thousand soldiers, govern four hundred million Indians.” According to multiple sources, Hitler was also fascinated by Islam, which he saw as a muscular, militant religion in contrast to the meek faith of suffering that was Christianity—despite the fact that Arabs were Semites, and that non-Arab Muslims were considered racially inferior. Even closer to Hitler’s mind was Mustafa Kemal Pasha, or Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who had resisted the Versailles Treaty and whose regime’s genocide of the Armenians was an early example of exterminationist policy.
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.
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.
Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, just outside OÅ›wiÄ™cim, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), commander of the “Schutzstaffel” (or Select Guard/Protection Squad, more commonly known as the SS), which operated all Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau.More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prisoners.
Aryan mysticism claimed that Christianity originated in Aryan religious traditions, and that Jews had usurped the legend from Aryans.[80] Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an English-born German proponent of racial theory, supported notions of Germanic supremacy and antisemitism in Germany.[81] 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.[81] Chamberlain used his thesis to promote monarchical conservatism while denouncing democracy, liberalism and socialism.[81] The book became popular, especially in Germany.[81] 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.[81] In 1923, Chamberlain met Hitler, whom he admired as a leader of the rebirth of the free spirit.[83] 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".[84]
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.
Similar to the Trump administration’s apparent hope that the breakup of families would deter unwanted migration, the British sought to deter Boer fighters. British parliamentarians critical of the policy labelled these “concentration camps,” alluding to the Spanish policy of the “reconcentration” of civilians during the Spanish-American War (1898).
On October 7, 1944, several hundred prisoners assigned to Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau rebelled after learning that they were going to be killed. During the uprising, the prisoners killed three guards and blew up the crematorium and adjacent gas chamber. The prisoners used explosives smuggled into the camp by Jewish women who had been assigned to forced labor in a nearby armaments factory.

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).

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).[11] Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.[12]
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