Main theoretical foundations of the Nazis ideology were their hatred for communism, for Jews and democracy and their assertion of the German superiority on other races. Their aim, the creation of a “racially pure” society. This is why Germans carefully planned how to destroy all the so-called “ unacceptable components”, Jews especially, but also Slavs, Rom gypsies and other people. One essential reason for the German assaults that eventually led to the outbreak of World War II , was specifically the Nazi project to gain land to establish new German settlements.
In November 1937 the founder of Nazi political party (NSDAP) and head of Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, after his rise to power, expressed with following words characteristics and objectives of the impending war: “In our case, we are not interested in conquering peoples but just agricultural soil”.
“Jewish race must be subjected and totally exterminated !”, said the Head Governor in the Polish territories the Nazis had occupied, Hans Frank. Third Reich Minister Otto Thierack echoed him by proclaiming that “The German Nation has to get rid of Polish people, of Russians, of Jews and gypsies”. He was Minister of Justice when he said that.
At the same time, the SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Hommler declared that their many duty consisted of “Tracking down all Polish executives … in order to make them harmless… all managers of Polish origin are going to be employed in our military industries until exhaustion… all Polish people will disappear from the face of the earth!”
Auschwitz extermination camp has become a symbol both of the Jewish holocaust and of terror all over the world. It was established in mid ‘40s near Oswiecim, a Polish town located right at the heart of the newly taken European land. All inhabitants were evacuated, some of them were outcast in the ghettos, while others were taken to Germany to be convicted. Most buildings were torn down, to make room to the new camp workrooms and warehouses.
The camp was created due to the substantial increase of Polish people that had been arrested by German police forces, and the resulting impossibility for German prisons to hold them. At first, it was intended to be just a concentration camp to convict prisoners, while it later became the main Jews mass extermination camp. SS police force provided managers and guard troops and actively took part in the executions of prisoners, as well as in mass extermination operations.
Auschwitz strategic location and its well developed infrastructure links led German authorities to expand the camp beyond measure and to deport prisoners from all over Europe there.
This is why after establishing Auschwitz I in 1940, in 1941 they built Auschwitz II. In the latter one, also called Birkenau, main mass destruction installations, as gas chambers, were established. Later on, in 1944, Auschwitz III- Monowitz camp was built, where the Jewish writer Primo Levi was convicted. After surviving it he later narrated his camp period in the worldwide famous “ If this is a man”.
Germans isolated camps from the outside world through barbed wire fences and watchtowers. Prisoners lived totally isolated and in the constant terror from the Nazis, while they tried to survive extreme life conditions. Though, some of them stood up to protect their personal dignity . Different movements were born both inside and outside the camp with the aim to let the world know Nazis crimes and thanks to them, pictures documenting these atrocities were handed down to us.
In 1942 the Nazis began their systematic extermination of the camp prisoners on the basis of their racial origins and indipendent of their age, gender, occupation, citizenship or political opinions. Prisoners were selected right at their arrival at the camp by the Nazi guards and a specially designed doctor, after long journeys in freight trains under inhuman conditions with no food or drink. After selection operations, those of them that were considered unfit for work, such us women, children, old people and the sick ones, were led into a room and ordered to undress. Then, under the pretext of having a shower, they were led to the gas chamber where the camp guards killed them in a quick but extremely painful way, by introducing in the chamber a gas that was obtained from Zicklon B.
Slomo Venezia, a Greek of Jewish origins who survived the Nazi extermination, wrote in his book “Sonderkommando” that camp guards used to calm people down by telling them to keep all their possessions, shoes and other things, near them, in order to find them more easily after the shower. They did not know that they were going to die. He also wrote that the Nazis not only robbed Jews of all valuable objects that had been left outside the gas chambers but they also took hairs, gold teeth and prosthesis from corpses. Nothing was left, as everything would enrich the Third Reich.
This is why, according to different sources, before leaving for concentration camps people were deceived by the Nazis, who told them they would be given new land where to stay and asked to bring a small bag only. They hoped that prisoners would leave home all things that were not useful to the Nazis and bring their most valued possessions with.
In Venezia’s words “People were forced to enter the little house the door was closed, once everyone was inside, a little truck, with the Red Cross sign on its sides, drove up. A rather tall German got out. He went over to a small opening high up on one of the walls of the little house. He had to climb onto a stool to reach it. He took a can, opened it, and threw the contents in through the little opening. Then he closed the opening and left. The shouts and crying had not stopped, and they redoubled in intensity after a few minutes. This lasted for ten or twelve minutes, then silence”. The guard whose job was to control the process often amused himself by turning the lights on and off in the gas chamber, while inside it people realized they were going to die.
Prisoners that had not been selected for gas chambers were given special uniforms. The Nazis differentiated convicted people by sewing different symbols on uniforms according to their characteristics, f.i. Jews had a yellow star, political prisoners an upside down red triangle, criminals had a green one, homosexual a rose one and Jehovah Witnesses a purple one. At first, they received a sort of I.D. card but when this procedure became too hard, prisoners where just tattooed a number on skin. In this way they lost any personal identity and became just numbers.
Shlomo Venezia wrote in his memoire “I would rather die, but each time I remembered my mother’s words -until you can breathe, there is life. We were so near to death, though we went forward. We had turned into robots, obeying orders while trying not to think, so we could survive for a few hours longer. Birkenau was a real hell; nobody can understand”.
During his conviction in this concentration camp, Doctor Mikols Nyiszli became assistant of Doctor Mengele. His task was to do autopsies on corpses. He wrote about that ” Do you think that people would believe me, if one day, in spite of everything, I would again be free and tell what I saw ? […] Words will never be able to tell what really happened. Though, I forced myself to capture it with images, in order to never forget”
Doctor Mengele did the camp selections, studied dwarfs and crippled bodies and experimented on twins, aiming at creating the so-called “pure race”. Doctor Nyiszli reported that twins were killed simultaneously and later studied and that “ On the crematoria special signs reported in different languages that there were showers […] On Zyklon – B cans had labels informing that it contained a disinfectant against common louses and insects, whereas it killed people in a few seconds. On the camp entrance it was written that working makes you free, while the truth is that prisoners came on the railway platform […] believing they were on a holiday and one hour later they were blood-stained dead bodies in front of a crematorium door”.
According to Shlomo Venezia “Various prisoners tried to escape from Auschwitz and some of them succeeded in surviving. But when they tried to tell others about those atrocities, nobody would believe them[…] as for governments, they would not hear about Jews[…] they just wanted to win the war”
Visiting Auschwitz I and Birkenau concentration camps is a increasing of emotions. You feel both horror and a sort of disbelief, while seeing how human bodies and souls were humiliated and tortured by other human beings – those believed themselves to belong to a “superior and pure” race. People that heard what was going on and pretended they did not, were also responsible for that.
Now concentration camps are seen as cemeteries of Nazis victims. While walking on their gravel streets and while entering their barracks, you have a strange feeling that those people and their pains are still there and alive. The experience marks your soul forever and it is one you cannot forget.
Professor and former prisoner Wladyslaw Bartoszewski once said, “Millions of people all over the world know what Auschwitz was. But the main issue is still to make them aware of the memories and that whether this tragedy will happen again depends only on their decisions . Only human beings could make it happen, and human beings only can make it avoidable”.