At the Birkenau camp, a five-minute shuttle-bus ride from the Auschwitz visitor center, the scene was so peaceful it was almost impossible to imagine the sea of stinking mud that survivors describe. The vast expanse was covered in neatly mowed grass. Flocks of Israeli teenagers in matching white-and-blue hoodies wandered from ruin to ruin. As I stood at the stairs leading down into the ruined gas chambers, a dozen Brits posed for a group picture on the steps of a memorial just a few yards away.
After their arrest, the Franks, Van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer were sent by the Gestapo to Westerbork, a holding camp in the northern Netherlands. From there, in September 1944, the group was transported by freight train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination and concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Anne and Margot Frank were spared immediate death in the Auschwitz gas chambers and instead were sent to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany. In March 1945, the Frank sisters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen; their bodies were thrown into a mass grave. Several weeks later, on April 15, 1945, British forces liberated the camp.
I still drive my car, though not at night any more. I get jumpy when someone honks their horn, and occasionally I have bad dreams and wake up at night, my wife asking me: “What’s up?”, and I tell her I’m being chased by Germans. But that’s the story of my life. I still can’t believe it happened. When I sit down and watch programmes on the Holocaust on the History Channel it’s as if I’m watching some made-up horror film.
The courtyard between blocks 10 and 11, known as the "death wall" served as an execution area for Poles not in Auschwitz who had been sentenced to death by a criminal court—presided over by German judges—including for petty crimes such as stealing food. Several rooms in block 11 were deemed the Polizei-Ersatz-Gefängnis Myslowitz in Auschwitz ("Alternative jail of the police station at Mysłowice"). There were also Sonderbehandlung cases ("special treatment") for Poles and others regarded as dangerous to the Third Reich. Members of the camp resistance were shot there, as were 200 of the Sonderkommandos who took part in the Sonderkommando revolt in October 1944. Thousands of Poles were executed at the death wall; Höss wrote that "execution orders arrived in an unbroken stream".
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.
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 fortified walls, barbed wire, railway sidings, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz Birkenau show clearly how the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi German policy of mass murder and forced labour took place. The collections at the site preserve the evidence of those who were premeditatedly murdered, as well as presenting the systematic mechanism by which this was done. The personal items in the collections are testimony to the lives of the victims before they were brought to the extermination camps, as well as to the cynical use of their possessions and remains. The site and its landscape have high levels of authenticity and integrity since the original evidence has been carefully conserved without any unnecessary restoration.
The extravagant hopes of Nazism came to an end with Germany’s defeat in 1945, after nearly six years of war. To a certain extent World War II had repeated the pattern of World War I: great initial German military successes, the forging of a large-scale coalition against Germany as the result of German ambitions and behaviour, and the eventual loss of the war because of German overreaching. Nazism as a mass movement effectively ended on April 30, 1945, when Hitler committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of Soviet troops completing the occupation of Berlin. Out of the ruins of Nazism arose a Germany that was divided until 1990. Remnants of National Socialist ideology remained in Germany after Hitler’s suicide, and a small number of Nazi-oriented political parties and other groups were formed in West Germany from the late 1940s, though some were later banned. In the 1990s gangs of neo-Nazi youths in eastern Germany staged attacks against immigrants, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and engaged in violent confrontations with leftists and police.
My whole world was turned upside down by the brutality of it. We had not in any way understood what had been going on, only later recognising all the sources and streams that led to the Holocaust. In my small Hungarian village, information had been very restricted. We didn’t know about anything, like the Wannsee conference (where the Final Solution was planned), and neither could we have imagined it. We were told by the authorities that we were being resettled, which is why I took my sewing machine with me. I took my sewing machine!
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.
Two incidents that occurred toward the end of the twentieth century provide evidence of the diary’s Jewish and universal identification: in December 1997, a new adaptation of the diary by Wendy Kesselman (b. 1940) was performed on Broadway. It restored Anne’s Jewish identity, her hatred of the Germans, her femininity and sexuality, her complicated relationships with the others; it also showed the Germans themselves, who burst onto the stage at the end of the play to drag away the attic’s inhabitants. The famous sentence about people being good at heart was returned to its original place in the diary and does not appear as an artificial ending. The status of Jews in the United States at the end of the 1990s was completely different from that of the 1950s; the Holocaust had penetrated consciousness, art, memory and public debate; sexuality and femininity were discussed openly; people were depicted mercilessly in all the media, and a happy ending was no longer essential. In January 1999, fifty years after the Declaration of Human Rights, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, called upon all world leaders to sign a declaration of peace, friendship, conflict resolution and a better future worldwide, which bore Anne Frank’s name.
The site was first suggested as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberführer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia. After this part of Poland was annexed by Nazi Germany, Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was located administratively in Germany, in the Province of Upper Silesia, Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz, Landkreis Bielitz. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to hold prisoners in the Silesia region, as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glücks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site, which housed 16 dilapidated one-story buildings that had served as an Austrian and later Polish Army barracks and a camp for transient workers. German citizens were offered tax concessions and other benefits if they would relocate to the area. By October 1943, more than 6,000 Reich Germans had arrived. The Nazis planned to build a model modern residential area for incoming Germans, including schools, playing fields, and other amenities. Some of the plans went forward, including the construction of several hundred apartments, but many were never fully implemented. Basic amenities such as water and sewage disposal were inadequate, and water-borne illnesses were commonplace.
Auschwitz is the generic name given to the cluster of concentration, labour and extermination camps built by the Germans during the Second World War, located outside the town of Oświęcim in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, southern Poland, 65 km (40 mi) west of Kraków. The camps have become a place of pilgrimage for survivors, their families, and all who wish to remember and contemplate the Holocaust. The grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” said Jonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.
The failure of the factory, as Wachsmann describes it, was indicative of the incompetence of the S.S. and the inconsistency of its vision for the camps. To turn prisoners into effective laborers would have required giving them adequate food and rest, not to mention training and equipment. It would have meant treating them like employees rather than like enemies. But the ideological momentum of the camps made this inconceivable. Labor was seen as a punishment and a weapon, which meant that it had to be extorted under the worst possible circumstances. Prisoners were made to build the factory in the depths of winter, with no coats or gloves, and no tools. “Inmates carried piles of sand in their uniforms,” Wachsmann writes, while others “moved large mounds of earth on rickety wooden stretchers or shifted sacks of cement on their shoulders.” Four hundred and twenty-nine prisoners died and countless more were injured, yet in the end not a single brick was produced.
On January 20, 1942, fourteen such functionaries assembled at a lakeside villa outside Berlin to discuss a “Final Solution” to what was called “the Jewish problem.” What we now know as the Wannsee Conference put on paper plans that Hitler and his subordinates had been talking about for months. Of Europe’s 11 million Jews, those who could work would be worked to death, following the model already created at Auschwitz and other camps. Jews who were not selected for useful labor would be eliminated.
Then there is the severe yet largely hidden repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, where as many as one million are reported to be held in modern concentration camps. — Michael Auslin, WSJ, "Backlash Builds Against Beijing," 30 Oct. 2018 Starting in March, a variety of killing centers opened including Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II, separate from the original concentration camp known as Treblinka. — David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Study Shows Precisely How Nazi Infrastructure Enabled the Worst of the Holocaust," 2 Jan. 2019 Niemöller earned his reputation for defiance with eight years (1937 to 1945) in Moabit prison then Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. — Doris Bergen, WSJ, "‘Then They Came for Me’ Review: Germany’s Tortured Conscience," 7 Dec. 2018 The six pillars feature quotes from figures like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and Philadelphia native and concentration camp liberator Leon Bass. — Kristen De Groot, The Seattle Times, "1st US public Holocaust memorial merges past with new tech," 22 Oct. 2018 We were enslaved in Egypt, tortured and murdered during the Spanish Inquisition, slaughtered throughout the Crusades, thrown into concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. — Carolyn Twersky, Seventeen, "Moving On and Making a Difference in the Wake of the Tree of Life Shooting," 2 Nov. 2018 Their efforts to eradicate homosexuality left gay men subject to imprisonment, castration, institutionalization and deportation to concentration camps. — Lisa J. Huriash, southflorida.com, "Museum documents persecution of gays in Nazi Germany," 10 July 2018 In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and in Katowice, S.S. officers came to round up Jews to take to concentration camps like Auschwitz. — Erin Coulehan, Glamour, "A Holocaust Survivor Reflects on the Lasting Impact of Family Separation and Deportation," 28 June 2018 The 80-year-old Hungarian native had come face to face with evil once before, in a Nazi concentration camp. — Allen G. Breed, The Seattle Times, "Holocaust survivor faces evil, cheats death for second time," 30 Oct. 2018
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The concentration camps make sense only if they are understood as products not of reason but of ideology, which is to say, of fantasy. Nazism taught the Germans to see themselves as a beleaguered nation, constantly set upon by enemies external and internal. Metaphors of infection and disease, of betrayal and stabs in the back, were central to Nazi discourse. The concentration camp became the place where those metaphorical evils could be rendered concrete and visible. Here, behind barbed wire, were the traitors, Bolsheviks, parasites, and Jews who were intent on destroying the Fatherland.
The Nazis seized from the French thousands of locomotives and rolling stock, stockpiles of weapons, and raw materials such as copper, tin, oil, and nickel. Payments for occupation costs were levied upon France, Belgium, and Norway. Barriers to trade led to hoarding, black markets, and uncertainty about the future. Food supplies were precarious; production dropped in most of Europe. Famine was experienced in many occupied countries.
The commander of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rudolf Höss, stated in his autobiography that in 1941 (no exact date is given) he was summoned to Berlin, where Himmler informed him that Hitler had issued an order to solve the “Jewish Question” for good, and that the order was to be implemented by the SS. “The existing extermination places in the east are unsuited to a large scale, long-term action. I have designated Auschwitz for this purpose,” Himmler said.
According to the numbers provided by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Auschwitz was the site of the most deaths (1.1 million) of any of the six dedicated extermination camps. By these estimates, Auschwitz was the site of at least one out of every six deaths during the Holocaust. The only camp with comparable figures was Treblinka in north-east Poland, where about 850,000 are thought to have died.
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.
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.
In 1931, Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) under his deputy, Heydrich. This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses.
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."
On 1 September 1939, when Anne was 10 years old, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and so the Second World War began. Not long after, on 10 May 1940, the Nazis also invaded the Netherlands. Five days later, the Dutch army surrendered. Slowly but surely, the Nazis introduced more and more laws and regulations that made the lives of Jews more difficult. For instance, Jews could no longer visit parks, cinemas, or non-Jewish shops. The rules meant that more and more places became off-limits to Anne. Her father lost his company, since Jews were no longer allowed to run their own businesses. All Jewish children, including Anne, had to go to separate Jewish schools.
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. Spengler's conception of national socialism and a number of his political views were shared by the Nazis and the Conservative Revolutionary movement. Spengler's views were also popular amongst Italian Fascists, including Benito Mussolini.
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.
^ One of the best-known examples was the 168 British Commonwealth and U.S. aviators held for a time at Buchenwald concentration camp. (See: luvnbdy/secondwar/fact_sheets/pow Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006, "Prisoners of War in the Second World War" and National Museum of the USAF, "Allied Victims of the Holocaust" Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine.) Two different reasons are suggested for this: the Nazis wanted to make an example of theTerrorflieger ("terror-instilling aviators"), or they classified the downed fliers as spies because they were out of uniform, carrying false papers, or both when apprehended.