The Auschwitz Birkenau camp complex comprises 155 brick and wooden structures (57 in Auschwitz and 98 in Birkenau) and about 300 ruins. There are also ruins of gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau, which were dynamited in January 1945. The overall length of fencing supported by concrete poles is more than 13 km. Individual structures of high historical significance, such as railway sidings and ramps, food stores and industrial buildings, are dispersed in the immediate setting of the property. These structures, along with traces in the landscape, remain poignant testimonies to this tragic history.
“It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
According to the famous philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, the allure of Nazism as a totalitarian ideology (with its attendant mobilisation of the German population) resided within the construct of helping that society deal with the cognitive dissonance resultant from the tragic interruption of the First World War and the economic and material suffering consequent to the Depression and brought to order the revolutionary unrest occurring all around them. Instead of the plurality that existed in democratic or parliamentary states, Nazism as a totalitarian system promulgated "clear" solutions to the historical problems faced by Germany, levied support by de-legitimizing the former government of Weimar and provided a politico-biological pathway to a better future, one free from the uncertainty of the past. It was the atomised and disaffected masses that Hitler and the party elite pointed in a particular direction and using clever propaganda to make them into ideological adherents, exploited in bringing Nazism to life.
In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used intimidation tactics as well as the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending, and the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May, the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats, and they were banned on 22 June. On 21 June, the SA raided the offices of the German National People's Party – their former coalition partners – and they disbanded on 29 June. The remaining major political parties followed suit. On 14 July 1933 Germany became a one-party state with the passage of a law decreeing the NSDAP to be the sole legal party in Germany. The founding of new parties was also made illegal, and all remaining political parties which had not already been dissolved were banned. The Enabling Act would subsequently serve as the legal foundation for the dictatorship the NSDAP established. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were Nazi-controlled, with only members of the NSDAP and a small number of independents elected.
From the mid- to late 1930s, Hitler undermined the postwar international order step by step. He withdrew Germany from the League of Nations in 1933, rebuilt German armed forces beyond what was permitted by the Treaty of Versailles, reoccupied the German Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938 and invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. When Nazi Germany moved toward Poland, Great Britain and France countered further aggression by guaranteeing Polish security. Nevertheless, Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Six years of Nazi Party foreign policy had ignited World War II.
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."
I now live in Hanover, Germany, which doesn’t feel strange to me to be living in the land of the murderers, because it’s a different country now. At least people listen to my story here. When I travel to the US nobody asks me, so I never say anything. But I have a hunch that as soon as his feet touch the ground in Auschwitz, my nephew’s son will start to ask questions.
We were first placed in deep rows, ordered to take off our hats and gloves, arid told not to stir. Then some of us had to step out and carry through our rows signs mounted on poles with the following inscriptions: 'We are the chosen people' (with the David star over the inscription); 'We are the murderers of the diplomat vom Rath'; 'We are the destroyers of German culture.' The camp lead evidently coming from Saxony, a slender and somewhat coquettish man with the rank of an officer of the S.S., ordered me to pick up a large paper bag, which an S.S. man put on my head as a cap, and I had to stand like that for some time. This was a harmless attempt at humiliation. Less harmless was the attempt to frighten us through the announcement that we should have to stay in the camp for twenty years. For some these threats were a cause of serious depression even of attempted suicide.
Born in Baden-Baden in 1900, SS Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss became the first commandant of Auschwitz when the camp was founded in April 1940, living with his wife and children in a villa just outside the camp grounds. Appointed by Heinrich Himmler, he served until 11 November 1943, when he became director of Office DI of the SS-Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Business and Administration Head Office or WVHA) in Oranienburg. This post made Höss deputy of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, under SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks. He returned to Auschwitz between 8 May and 29 July 1944 as commander of the SS garrison (Standortältester) to oversee the arrival of Hungary's Jews, a post that made him the superior officer of all the commandants of the Auschwitz camps.
At the same time, the Nazis cannot be placed in a special category outside history, outside the human condition—a sui generis episode beyond comparison. They must be demythologized and studied closely, because the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its leader emerged out of a particular context, in a particular time, with a particular set of ideas that won greater and greater purchase the more they were propagated. Moreover, this band of extremist reactionaries were incrementalists. As Whitman emphasizes, “it is simply not the case that the drafters of the Nuremburg Laws were already aiming at the annihilation of the Jews in 1935.” At that point, the Nazis wanted to exile and marginalize the Jewish minority, turning them into second-class citizens.
Fascism was a major influence on Nazism. The seizure of power by Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in the March on Rome in 1922 drew admiration by Hitler, who less than a month later had begun to model himself and the Nazi Party upon Mussolini and the Fascists. Hitler presented the Nazis as a form of German fascism. In November 1923, the Nazis attempted a "March on Berlin" modelled after the March on Rome, which resulted in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.
The Hollywood version and those similar to it which were written for various purposes had a softening influence noted mostly in Germany and Japan. In Germany, a translation was published which, with Otto Frank’s agreement, omitted all anti-German sentiment. As a result, the diary’s German edition did not accuse the Germans as a people or as a nation; reading it, anyone who felt guilt could relate to it on an individual basis. In Japan, where the diary was required reading in high school and countless plays and events about it are produced to this day, it had a similar calming effect: the diary allowed people, especially adolescents, to identify with disaster that befell others and not only to dwell on their own catastrophes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The SA leadership continued to apply pressure for greater political and military power. In response, Hitler used the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo to purge the entire SA leadership. Hitler targeted SA Stabschef (Chief of Staff) Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who—along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher)—were arrested and shot. Up to 200 people were killed from 30 June to 2 July 1934 in an event that became known as the Night of the Long Knives.
The public wants facts. But, as evidenced by the outrage at Esquire’s story, something more than what we think of as objective facts is required to craft a representation of reality. Esquire may have wanted to make “Wisconsin a stand-in for the state of our country,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote, to capture the subtle social forces of alienation and resentment that turned out to be strong enough to elect Trump President. But the story also seemed to deliberately withhold judgment; to its detractors, this didn’t feel like objectivity. In an environment that, to many, is the source of perpetual moral crisis, the objective becomes subjective, and vice versa.
It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and before long his energy and oratorical skills would enable him to take over the party, which was renamed National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1920. That year Hitler also formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic gambit designed to attract support from the working class. By 1921 Hitler had ousted the party’s other leaders and taken over.
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.
After less than a year at Auschwitz, Lasker-Wallfisch and Renate were among the tens of thousands of prisoners transported to camps in Germany. Lasker-Wallfisch had no idea where she was being sent, but it didn’t matter. “The gas chambers were still working when we left,” she says. “I was very pleased to be rolling out of Auschwitz. We figured anything was better than the gas chamber.” On April 15, 1945, British troops liberated Lasker-Wallfisch and Renate from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Hamburg. Lasker-Wallfisch emigrated to England after the war and became a professional cellist. Her sister Renate worked for the BBC, and is now living in France.
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.