Although the Nazis won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority. Hitler therefore led a short-lived coalition government formed with the German National People's Party. Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung ("seizure of power").
The prisoners' days began at 4:30 am for the men (an hour later in winter), and earlier for the women, when the block supervisor sounded a gong and started beating inmates with sticks to encourage them to wash and use the latrines quickly. Sanitary arrangements were atrocious, with few latrines and a lack of clean water. Each washhouse had to service thousands of prisoners. In sectors BIa and BIb in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, two buildings containing latrines and washrooms were installed in 1943. These contained troughs for washing and 90 faucets; the toilet facilities were "sewage channels" covered by concrete with 58 holes for seating. There were three barracks with washing facilities or toilets to serve 16 residential barracks in BIIa, and six washrooms/latrines for 32 barracks in BIIb, BIIc, BIId, and BIIe. Primo Levi described a 1944 Auschwitz III washroom:
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.
The Soviet troops found grisly evidence of the horror. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp. Millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children were discovered along with 6,350kg of human hair. The Auschwitz museum holds more than 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments.
The Diary of a Young Girl, as it's typically called in English, has since been published in 67 languages. Countless editions, as well as screen and stage adaptations, of the work have been created around the world. The Diary of a Young Girl remains one of the most moving and widely read firsthand accounts of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.
Spengler's book The Decline of the West (1918), written during the final months of World War I, addressed the supposed decadence of modern European civilization, which he claimed was caused by atomising and irreligious individualisation and cosmopolitanism. Spengler's major thesis was that a law of historical development of cultures existed involving a cycle of birth, maturity, ageing and death when it reaches its final form of civilisation. Upon reaching the point of civilisation, a culture will lose its creative capacity and succumb to decadence until the emergence of "barbarians" creates a new epoch. Spengler considered the Western world as having succumbed to decadence of intellect, money, cosmopolitan urban life, irreligious life, atomised individualisation and believed that it was at the end of its biological and "spiritual" fertility. He believed that the "young" German nation as an imperial power would inherit the legacy of Ancient Rome, lead a restoration of value in "blood" and instinct, while the ideals of rationalism would be revealed as absurd.
Primo Levi suggested Anne Frank is frequently identified as a single representative of the millions of people who suffered and died as she did because "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live." In her closing message in Müller's biography of Anne Frank, Miep Gies expressed a similar thought, though she attempted to dispel what she felt was a growing misconception that "Anne symbolises the six million victims of the Holocaust", writing: "Anne's life and death were her own individual fate, an individual fate that happened six million times over. Anne cannot, and should not, stand for the many individuals whom the Nazis robbed of their lives ... But her fate helps us grasp the immense loss the world suffered because of the Holocaust."
Our barracks, built for one hundred and fifty men, contained about three hundred and fifty, so that we could not lie on our backs but only on our sides, and could scarcely move without disturbing our neighbors. At half-past six the roll call took place. There were three roll calls a day, one in the morning, one at noon, and a third in the late afternoon. At each roll call we stood at attention, and at least three hours a day were taken up by these roll calls. All except those in the camp hospital had to attend. Some came leaning on the arms of their companions, even men with paralysis who should have been dismissed at once from imprisonment, others with defective feet, and finally those who were unable to move at all and had to be carried. Some among them must have been seriously ill, or else it would hardly have happened that one dropped dead at the roll call—actually dead, for an S. S. man failed in his attempt to revive him by kicks. This 'superior officer' then ordered the comrades of the dead man to close his eyes.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the concentration and extermination camps established on Polish soil, served concurrently as a labor camp and as a center for the rapid extermination of Jews. Chosen as the central location for the annihilation of the Jewish people, it was equipped with several extermination facilities and crematoria. Extermination was carried out by means of Zyklon B gas, a substance that had previously been tested on Russian prisoners of war.
Both Anne and Margot kept diaries while they were in hiding, although Margot’s diaries were never found. Living in hiding meant the group also lived in constant fear of being discovered—they were unable to go outside, had to be quiet, conceal any lights used after sunset, and keep the curtains and windows closed during the day. They lived in extremely close quarters with each other and were completely dependent on Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, and Bep Voskuijl, Otto’s employees, for food, supplies, and moral support. The group in hiding got news from the radio and from these helpers, who also brought books and gifts. Anne wrote, "They come upstairs every day and talk to the men about business and politics, to the women about food and wartime difficulties and to the children about books and newspapers. They put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays and are always ready to do what they can."
“The problem is,” Schneidermann told me, “there weren’t any journalists with enough credibility to tell what was really happening in Germany without being suspected of being biased or taking sides.” It was in part the Times’ quest for credibility with its public—meaning, Schneidermann says, not seeming like “a ‘Jewish newspaper’ or a ‘Communist newspaper’ ”—that prevented it from attaining the decibel level that we would now consider appropriate. “Activist journalism,” Schneidermann writes, “journalism that subordinates the quest for truth to the quest for a truth that is useful to its cause, is the only journalism that, today, doesn’t have to feel ashamed about what it produced. . . . Everything reasonable, scrupulous, balanced, in my opinion, contributed to lulling the crowd to sleep.” But, he continues, “If I’d been a reader at the time, I probably would have quickly stopped reading after a few days, dissuaded by the bludgeoning.”
Selections for transit were a regular feature at Westerbork. Each Monday evening a train of about 20 cattle wagons would arrive at the camp. A list of one thousand people would be compiled by the Jewish council, which was made up of leaders of the community appointed by the Nazis and forced to carry out the Nazis’ orders. Early on the Tuesday morning those selected would assemble for deportation. After a roll call, they would enter the trains, at least 50 to each wagon, a bucket of water at one end and an empty one for use as a toilet at the other. The doors would close before the train departed for the long journey to the intended destination.
Another picture we discovered shows my family waiting in line for the gas chamber. Two little boys, my brothers Reuven and Gershon, are shown dressed in hats, one struggling to put on his winter coat. For a long time I failed to find my mother and was very unhappy. But I spent hours looking at these photos with a magnifying glass and one day I found her little face sticking out.
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 sub-camps 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 sub-camps such as Rajsko, an experimental agricultural station, and Gleiwitz, a coal mine (see The List of the Camps for a complete list of those sub-camps).
After Auschwitz they transferred me to Mauthausen, then Gozen and Hanover. From there they sent us on foot to Bergen-Belsen, where I was finally liberated. It was 14 April (1945). I was so weak I could hardly stand and it was all I could do to lift my head slightly from the ground where I was lying as British army tanks started arriving to save us. But for all the great things the British did then, I can only say they made many other mistakes and what’s going on in Israel now is largely Britain’s fault.
The cleansing of mouth and teeth was possible only after a two weeks' stay, when we had access to our money and could buy toothbrushes and tooth paste. The towel situation was deplorable. One towel a week was issued for each inmate, but there was no provision for keeping these towels separately. Not unnaturally skin infections, rashes, and boils were frequent. The barracks were heated by iron stoves, some of which were installed only after our admission to the camp, and we had enjoyed them for but a very short time when a sudden restriction denied us the use of them for one week. It was claimed that in one of the 'Jew barracks' the stove had been lighted at a time when it wasn't allowed.
Germany invaded Poland and captured the Free City of Danzig on 1 September 1939, beginning World War II in Europe. Honouring their treaty obligations, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Poland fell quickly, as the Soviet Union attacked from the east on 17 September. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo; Security Police) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service), ordered on 21 September that Polish Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport them further east, or possibly to Madagascar. Using lists prepared in advance, some 65,000 Polish intelligentsia, noblemen, clergy, and teachers were killed by the end of 1939 in an attempt to destroy Poland's identity as a nation. Soviet forces advanced into Finland in the Winter War, and German forces saw action at sea. But little other activity occurred until May, so the period became known as the "Phoney War".
Auschwitz is enshrined in history in part because, as a work camp, there were survivors. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was a 14-year-old Jewish cello student living in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) when the war broke out. Two years later, she and her sister Renate were sent to work in a nearby paper factory. In 1942, after the Germans deported her parents to a death camp, the sisters doctored their identity papers and tried to escape.
Pseudo-scientific racist theories were central to Nazism, expressed in the idea of a "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft). The party aimed to unite "racially desirable" Germans as national comrades, while excluding those deemed either to be political dissidents, physically or intellectually inferior, or of a foreign race (Fremdvölkische). The Nazis sought to strengthen the Germanic people, the "Aryan master race", through racial purity and eugenics, broad social welfare programs, and a collective subordination of individual rights, which could be sacrificed for the good of the state on behalf of the people.
Witnesses later testified Margot fell from her bunk in her weakened state and was killed by the shock. Anne died a few days after Margot. The exact dates of Margot's and Anne's deaths were not recorded. It was long thought that their deaths occurred only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp on 15 April 1945, but research in 2015 indicated that they may have died as early as February. Among other evidence, witnesses recalled that the Franks displayed typhus symptoms by 7 February, and Dutch health authorities reported that most untreated typhus victims died within 12 days of their first symptoms. After liberation, the camp was burned in an effort to prevent further spread of disease; the sisters were buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.
Gradowski was one of the Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando: those forced to escort new arrivals into the gas chambers, haul the newly dead bodies to the crematoriums, extract any gold teeth and then burn the corpses. Gradowski, a young married man whose entire family was murdered, reportedly maintained his religious faith, reciting the kaddish (mourner’s prayer) each evening for the victims of each transport—including Peter van Pels’ father, who was gassed a few weeks after his arrival in Auschwitz on September 6, 1944. Gradowski recorded his experiences in Yiddish in documents he buried, which were discovered after the war; he himself was killed on October 7, 1944, in a Sonderkommando revolt that lasted only one day. (The documents written by Gradowski and several other prisoners inspired the 2015 Hungarian film Son of Saul, which, unsurprisingly, was no blockbuster, despite an Academy Award and critical acclaim.)
Most of the judicial system and legal codes of the Weimar Republic remained in place to deal with non-political crimes. The courts issued and carried out far more death sentences than before the Nazis took power. People who were convicted of three or more offences—even petty ones—could be deemed habitual offenders and jailed indefinitely. People such as prostitutes and pickpockets were judged to be inherently criminal and a threat to the community. Thousands were arrested and confined indefinitely without trial.
In April 1940, Rudolph Höss, who become the first commandant of Auschwitz, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim in Poland as a possible site for a concentration camp. Initially, the camp was meant to intimidate Poles to prevent them from protesting German rule and to serve as a prison for those who did resist. It was also perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia, which had once been a German region, with “pure Aryans.” When the plans for the camp were approved, the Nazi’s changed the name of the area to Auschwitz.
By 1940, the CCI came under the control of the Verwaltung und Wirtschaftshauptamt Hauptamt (VuWHA; Administration and Business office) which was set up under Oswald Pohl. Then in 1942, the CCI became Amt D (Office D) of the consolidated main office known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Department; WVHA) under Pohl. In 1942, the SS built a network of extermination camps to systematically kill millions of prisoners by gassing. The extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) and death camps (Todeslager) were camps whose primary function was genocide. The Nazis themselves distinguished the concentration camps from the extermination camps. The British intelligence service had information about the concentration camps, and in 1942 Jan Karski delivered a thorough eyewitness account to the government.