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 July 1942, the Nazis began deporting Dutch Jews to work and extermination camps in eastern Europe via train, mainly from the Westerbork transit camp and Vught concentration camp. On July 5, 1942, Margot received a call-up notice to report for deportation to a labor camp. The following day, the family went into hiding in the achterhuis or secret annex above Otto’s business on the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam. They would live there, helped by four of Otto’s trusted employees, for 25 months. The Franks were joined by Otto’s business partner, Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their son Peter on July 13, and by Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist, on November 16.
The Polish government in 2009 asked European nations, the United States and Israel to contribute to a fund from which the Auschwitz museum could draw $6 million to $7 million a year for restoration projects, on top of its more than $10 million annual operating budget. Last December, the German government pledged $87 million—about half of the $170 million target endowment. (Auschwitz officials had not received a U.S. pledge by the time this magazine went to press.)
^ "Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism. … These organisations (ie Fascism and social democracy) are not antipodes, they are twins." (J.V. Stalin: Concerning the International Situation (September 1924), in Works, Volume 6, 1953; p. 294.) This later led Otto Wille Kuusinen to conclude that "The aims of the fascists and the social-fascists are the same." (Report To the 10th Plenum of ECCI, in International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no.40, (20 August 1929), p. 848.)
These detention facilities for refugee children can rightly be labeled “concentration camps.” The Nazis do not own the term irrevocably, as it refers to prisonlike facilities where individuals are forcibly detained because of who they are. That meaning was applied to the British camps in South Africa where the term was coined during the Boer War. It would also be appropriate for the U.S. “internment camps” for Japanese Americans during World War II. We can call today’s U.S. border detention centers “concentration camps” and be within the realm of historical accuracy. By the same token, they are not Auschwitz. These children are undergoing terrible trauma, but they are not being murdered.
Another method was the use of gassing trucks. In Chemno gassing trucks were used, where Jews, after being driven into the trucks, were suffocated by the exhaust fumes that were led into them in the truck. A third method was mass shooting of Jews and other groups (Soviet POW’s, Poles, etc.). In Majdanek, on 3-4 November 1943, between 17,000 and 18,000 Jews were killed in one day as part of a mass shooting. The event was called Erntefest (‘harvest feast’) and included similar actions all around the Lublin District. More than 40,000 Jews died as a result.
At universities, appointments to top posts were the subject of power struggles between the education ministry, the university boards, and the National Socialist German Students' League. In spite of pressure from the League and various government ministries, most university professors did not make changes to their lectures or syllabus during the Nazi period. This was especially true of universities located in predominantly Catholic regions. Enrolment at German universities declined from 104,000 students in 1931 to 41,000 in 1939, but enrolment in medical schools rose sharply as Jewish doctors had been forced to leave the profession, so medical graduates had good job prospects. From 1934, university students were required to attend frequent and time-consuming military training sessions run by the SA. First-year students also had to serve six months in a labour camp for the Reich Labour Service; an additional ten weeks service were required of second-year students.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.
When we were in Gusen penal camp, my father, who was 50, one day just gave up and said he couldn’t continue. From that moment I was totally alone. In February 1945 they moved us to Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. It was here that I witnessed starving people eating human flesh. We were liberated by Americans and Canadians in Gunskirchen. The Germans had simply left the camp, and with an absence of drama we just walked through the gates. The first thing I did was to knock on a local resident’s door and ask for permission to take a shower. Somehow, I managed to meet up with my brothers, David and Shuli. We had no desire to return to Dej, to the people who had betrayed us.
Sessions’s characterization falls into a nether region between truth and falsehood. Perhaps his is the best comment to begin with precisely because it is a half-truth. Yes, after 1941, concentration camps held Jews to prevent them from leaving Germany — but also to consolidate them for extermination. However, for more than eight years earlier, the camps generally were used for the opposite purpose: to force Jews to emigrate from Germany by making life intolerable, in part by separating men from their families. This is precisely the kind of important historical nuance lost in the hysteria surrounding Trump’s callous immigration policy. There are valuable comparisons to be made, but they must be historically informed.
Officially, the Third Reich lasted only 12 years. The first Instrument of Surrender was signed by representatives of Nazi Germany at Reims, France on 7 May 1945. The war in Europe had come to an end. The defeat of Germany in World War II marked the end of the Nazi Germany era. The party was formally abolished on 10 October 1945 by the Allied Control Council and denazification began, along with trials of major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg. Part of the Potsdam Agreement called for the destruction of the Nationalist Socialist Party alongside the requirement for the reconstruction of the German political life. In addition, the Control Council Law no. 2 Providing for the Termination and Liquidation of the Nazi Organization specified the abolition of 52 other Nazi affiliated and supervised organisations and prohibited their activities. The denazification was carried out in Germany and continued until the onset of the Cold War.
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. The death camps, in which more than one and a half million Jews were gassed—at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka—were never officially part of the K.L. system. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.L., set up in June, 1940, to house Polish prisoners. The first people to be gassed there, in September, 1941, were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in 1943, after other camps closed. The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
One day the Hungarian gendarmes came to our house and ransacked it. In 1944, the Nazis ordered all Jews living outside Budapest to be rounded up and placed in ghettoes. Then it was our turn and that was the day our misery truly began. In the spring of 1944 we were part of a contingent of 7,500 Jews who were corralled into a makeshift ghetto in the Bungur forest. We had to wear the yellow stars of David. That was the day when almost one-and-a-half centuries of Jewish life in Dej came to an end.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, Netherlands, having moved there with her family at the age of four and a half when the Nazis gained control over Germany. Born a German national, she lost her citizenship in 1941 and thus became stateless. By May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne's father, Otto Frank, worked. From then until the family's arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, she kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) a few months later. They were originally estimated by the Red Cross to have died in March, with Dutch authorities setting 31 March as their official date of death, but research by the Anne Frank House in 2015 suggests they more likely died in February.
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.”
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Under Hitler the Nazi Party grew steadily in its home base of Bavaria. It organized strong-arm groups to protect its rallies and meetings. These groups drew their members from war veterans groups and paramilitary organizations and were organized under the name Sturmabteilung (SA). In 1923 Hitler and his followers felt strong enough to stage the Beer Hall Putsch, an unsuccessful attempt to take control of the Bavarian state government in the hope that it would trigger a nationwide insurrection against the Weimar Republic. The coup failed, the Nazi Party was temporarily banned, and Hitler was sent to prison for most of 1924.
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.
In 1940, the Nazis used carbon monoxide gas in secret euthanasia programs at mental hospitals in Germany to eliminate mentally ill or disabled people. From there, it was but a small step to Zyklon B, a cyanide compound designed for delousing. In September 1941, Auschwitz guards herded hundreds of Soviet POWs and sick inmates into the crudely sealed basement of Block 11, the dreaded punishment barrack; a guard threw in pellets of Zyklon B and shut the doors. They were the first people gassed at Auschwitz.
In 1944 we were sent on a death march from Birkenau to Oranienburg and from there to Buchenwald. Then to a quarry, where we were ordered to drill into the mountains to make some sort of secret city. From there we walked back to Buchenwald. Whoever was incapable of walking was shot. From there, big trains took us to Theresienstadt just as the Soviets were bombing the rails. We could sense that the Germans were almost destroyed. For 17 days we had no water, no food, nothing. Despite the hardship I was doing OK compared to others. I still had the capability to clamber on to the cattle trains without help.
Known as block 13 until 1941, block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. To extract information from them, guards would hold inmates' heads held against the stove, burning their faces and eyes. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. Measuring 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), the cells held four men who could do nothing but stand, and who were forced the following day to work as usual. In other cells, inmates were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. In the basement were the "dark cells", which had only a 5 x 5 cm opening and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they ran out of oxygen; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
These guards were the core of what became, a few years later, the much feared Death’s-Head S.S. The name, along with the skull-and-crossbones insignia, was meant to reinforce the idea that the men who bore it were not mere prison guards but front-line soldiers in the Nazi war against enemies of the people. Himmler declared, “No other service is more devastating and strenuous for the troops than just that of guarding villains and criminals.” The ideology of combat had been part of the DNA of Nazism from its origin, as a movement of First World War veterans, through the years of street battles against Communists, which established the Party’s reputation for violence. Now, in the years before actual war came, the K.L. was imagined as the site of virtual combat—against Communists, criminals, dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews, all forces working to undermine the German nation.
Early camps, usually without proper infrastructure, sprang up everywhere in Germany after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933: rising "like mushrooms after the rain", Himmler recollected. These early camps, also called "Wild camps" because some were set up with little supervision from higher authorities, were overseen by Nazi paramilitaries, by political-police forces, and sometimes by local police authorities. They utilized any lockable larger space, for example: engine rooms, brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars, etc.