When Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, the nation was in a terrible state. It has been devastated by World War I and the austerity measures placed upon it in order to pay for damages. Calling into mind the vision of men like Charlemagne, Hitler wanted to create a united Europe that met his vision – a vision of a superior race. Eventually that led to the creation of camps like Auschwitz for Polish prisoners, imprisoned laborers, and eventually a death camp.
1. There Was More Than One Auschwitz
The first Auschwitz was built in 1940 after Germany had overrun Poland. Just a year later, the second Auschwitz, which is sometimes referred to as Birkenau, was the site of numerous mass murders. Up to 6,000 people every day were being killed by 1944 at the second Auschwitz. The third Auschwitz was built to be a forced labor camp for a nearby plant.
2. Not 100% Jewish
The Holocaust is often remembered for the number of Jewish lives that were taken and rightly so. More than 1 million Jews died in the Auschwitz camps alone. It is believed up to another 500,000 people that were not Jewish, but imprisoned there, also died. They included those were had disabilities, people with same sex attractions, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, and even Germans who disagreed with the Nazi Party.
3. It Was Huge
Auschwitz was at least 15 square miles in size. When the Soviets finally liberated the camp in January 1945, there were 200,000 survivors that were saved from the grounds. A facility that size needed numerous personnel and according to internal records, there were about 7,000 guards in total at the camp. Out of that number, fewer than 1,000 people were ever prosecuted after the war for their role in crimes against humanity.
4. A Wealthy Force
There’s no denying that the presence of Auschwitz for Germany was an economic boom. In total, nearly $200 million in today’s money value was created through the labor that was performed at this camp. Some of the forced labor was called “light duty” and offered to women who didn’t have a Jewish heritage. That forced labor option wound up being prostitution.
5. Disguised to Lure
The trains that pulled up to the death camps were purposely disguised to make it seem like nothing bad was about to happen. The trains were giving timetables and signage as if they were a regular railway transporting passengers. Plants were even placed at the railway station leading to the camp to provide a false sense of security. Once through the gates, however, families were immediately separated and some were sent to the gas chambers at that moment.
6. An Ominous Phrase
The Nazis had painted a purple Star of David on top of the entrance to the gas chambers. They also painted a sign in Hebrew which, roughly translated, told people that this was the gateway to God and that righteous men would pass through it. This was just one part of the community that became Auschwitz. It was so large that it became a city unto itself. There was a movie theater in the camp, a grocery store, and even a canteen for the staff.
7. Time Capsules
Those imprisoned at Auschwitz wanted to make sure that every atrocity and action taken by the German government was accounted for one day. To make sure this happened, many wrote diary accounts of their observations and then buried those bottles in the ground so they would not be discovered by the guards. Many of them were discovered after the camp’s liberation, but there could still be eyewitness accounts waiting to be discovered.
8. A Moment of Conscience
Denmark’s Jewish population, although the nation was controlled by the Nazis, largely survived the war. This was thanks to a German diplomat who warned local officials about what plans were in the works. Many of the Jews were able to escape to Sweden and thus avoid the purge of the Nazis in a quest to create a superior race.
Out of all the evil events in human history that stand out, Auschwitz may be one of the darkest of all time. 1 out of every 6 Jews that was murdered by the Nazis lost their lives at this camp. So many Jews were killed that their population numbers have still not recovered in the decades since. If we forget history, then we are doomed to repeat it. That’s why remembering Auschwitz is so important still today.