This was the codename for a murder campaign begun in April 1941 in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. An extension of the Nazis’ euthanasia programme (→ Aktion T4), it set out to kill inmates who were physically or mentally ill, unfit to work or otherwise ‘useless’. T4 assessors selected the candidates to be murdered; they were killed in the Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hartheim euthanasia centres. By the time the campaign ended in spring 1943, over 10,000 people had been murdered in the Nazis’ killing centres.
Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich
This campaign (‘Operation work-shy Reich’) marked the beginning of the Nazi regime’s persecution of people branded as ‘asocial’. Between 13 and 18 June 1938, the Gestapo and criminal police arrested over 10,000 ‘anti-social elements’ and deported them to concentration camps in the cause of ‘preventative crime-fighting’. The detainees were made to wear black triangle badges. Under a decree of 1938, all those “who demonstrate an unwillingness to integrate into the community by anti-social, if not actually criminal conduct” were to be classified as “asocial”. Examples given were “vagrants, beggars, gypsies, prostitutes, alcoholics and persons afflicted with contagious diseases, especially sexually transmitted diseases”.
Operation work-shy Reich
On 14 August 1944, less than four weeks after the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20 July, Heinrich Himmler was tasked with supervising the arrest of former KPD and SPD politicians in order to pre-empt any resurgence of opposition. On 17 August 1944 Himmler issued orders to all Gestapo headquarters to get the campaign underway. All those who had held political offices in the KPD (German Communist Party) and SPD (German Social Democratic Party) during the Weimar era were to be arrested and committed to concentration camps. Under the codename Aktion Gewitter (‘Operation Storm’) – or Aktion Gitter (‘Operation Grid’) as it is known in some sources – over 5000 men and women were arrested over the next few days. Some 80 percent of those arrested were released again by mid-September 1944.
Operation StormOperation Grid
This campaign, begun in mid-1942, aimed to kill Jews living in ghettos in occupied Poland and performing forced labour for the German arms industry. During the course of Aktion Reinhardt, the majority of Jewish ghetto residents in Poland were deported to the Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps, where they were murdered. The ultimate objective of the programme was to murder all the Jews in the ‘General Government’, the largest part of occupied Poland. Under orders from Heinrich Himmler, Odilo Globocnik implemented the programme, murdering 2 million Jews and some 50,000 Sinti and Roma.
Under the cover name Aktion T4 (an abbreviation of the address at Tiergarten Strasse 4, Berlin, of the office administrating the programme), 70,000 ‘incurably sick’ adults were killed in the gas chambers of six ‘psychiatric hospitals’ used as euthanasia centres in Grafeneck, Brandenburg, Hartheim, Pirna, Bernburg and Hadamar. The “final solution to the Jewish question” was modelled on the organization and execution of this programme. Following protests by the Church, Adolf Hitler officially ended the programme in 1941, but further murder campaigns were unofficially carried out, mostly in Eastern Europe, until the end of the war.
In broad terms, “Aryanization” denoted the ousting of Jews from their professions, workplaces and public life. People classified as Jews under the “Nuremberg Laws” were the principal victims of this process of exclusion and dispossession and it was German citizens considered to be “Aryans” who profited from it. The process of “Aryanization” began when the Nazis assumed power in 1933 and intensified in spring 1938, when a regulation was introduced compelling Jews to declare all assets over RM 5000 and register their trades and businesses. Further measures were introduced toward the complete ousting of Jews from the German economy after the night of pogroms on 9-10 November 1938. The Nazi regime forced those classified as Jews to sell their businesses, firms, real estate and other property well below their actual value. From January 1939, all Jewish-owned businesses were forcibly closed down and Jews were barred from practically all professions. The process of “Aryanization” increased the already considerable pressure on Jews to emigrate but at the same time robbed them of the financial means to do so.
Assembly camp Artilleriestraße 31 (Mitte)
The building at this address was previously an Addas Jisroel community centre. During World War II it was termed an “old people’s home as transit point”. It became a provisional “assembly camp” when the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp’s capacities were outstretched. It existed from 17 August 1942 until 3 October 1942 and at least 196 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Brunnenstraße 41 (Mitte)
The building at this address, which belonged to the Jewish Community, was first used as a home for mothers and babies, then as a home for the elderly and lastly as emergency accommodation before the Nazis took it over. They termed it an “old people’s home as transit point” and used it as a provisional “assembly camp” when the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp’s capacities were outstretched. Evidence exists that it was used as an assembly camp from 17 August 1942 until the end of October 1942, and at least 85 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Feldzeugmeisterstraße (Moabit)
During the Nazi regime’s “factory operation” (Fabrikaktion) in February-March 1943, a provisional “assembly camp”, referred to as “camp 5” (Lager V), was set up in this building, the riding hall of the Rathenow barracks. It was used as an “assembly camp” from 28 February until 2 March 1943, and 1245 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Friedenstraße 3 (Friedrichshain)
The building at this address was used as emergency accommodation from 1940 and, from 1942, probably as an old people’s and nursing home. In Nazi terminology, it was referred to as an “old people’s home as transit point”. It was used as a provisional “assembly camp” when the camp at Grosse Hamburger Strasse became too small to deal with the numbers of deportees. Documents show that it was used as an “assembly camp” on 14 September 1942, and maybe until 3 October 1942.
Assembly camp Gerlachstraße 18/21, or 19/21 (Mitte)
The building at this address was a Jewish home for the elderly for the provinces of Brandenburg and Grenzmark before the Nazis took it over. It became a provisional “assembly camp” when the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp’s capacities were outstretched, and was referred to as an “old people’s home as transit point” and a “transit home for transports of the elderly”. Documents show that it was used as an “assembly camp” from 17 August 1942 until the end of April 1943, and at least 1141 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Gormannstraße 3 (Mitte)
The building at this address, which belonged to the Jewish Community, was used as a cultural centre and a home for the elderly before the Nazis took it over. It became a provisional “assembly camp” when the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp’s capacities were outstretched, and was referred to as an “old people’s home as transit point” and “transit home for transports of the elderly”. It was used as an “assembly camp” from 17 August 1942 until 3 October 1942, or perhaps until the end of April 1943, and at least 121 people passed through it. From November 1942, the Gestapo ordered the building to be used as the central canteen for the Jewish Community, to cater for places including the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp.
Assembly camp Grosse Hamburger Straße 26 (Mitte)
This camp was set up in a Jewish Community home for the elderly. The Gestapo forced the home’s staff to help prepare the transports. Walter Dobberke of the criminal police, and the Jewish department of the State Police Head Office, commanded the camp. It operated from 2 June 1942, when transports to Theresienstadt began, until 1 March 1944. From May-June 1943 to early 1944 it was the only “assembly camp” in Berlin. In early March 1944 the camp, i.e. the remaining detainees and the entire administration, moved to the former pathology department of the Jewish hospital in Schul Strasse, Wedding. Documents show that some 22,000 people passed through this camp.
Assembly camp Hermann Göring Barracks (Reinickendorf)
In this building, which was used as a vehicle depot, the Nazis set up a provisional “assembly camp”, referred to as “camp 3” (Lager III), during their “factory operation” (Fabrikaktion) in February-March 1943. Documents show that it was used as an “assembly camp” from 28 February until 6 March 1943, and 2191 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Levetzowstraße 7-8 (Moabit)
This camp was set up in a former synagogue and operated from 18 October 1941 to 26 October 1942. It was used again as an “assembly camp” during the “factory operation” (Fabrikaktion), from 2 to 12 March 1943, when it was referred to as “camp 2” (Lager II). Documents show that some 20,000 people passed through this “assembly camp”.
Assembly camp Mahlsdorfer Straße 94 (Köpenick)
The building at this address had been a Jewish Community home for the elderly before it was used by the Nazis. Termed an “old people’s home as transit point”, it was used as a provisional “assembly camp” when the camp at Grosse Hamburger Strasse became too small to deal with the numbers of deportees. Evidence exists that it was used as an “assembly camp” on 14 September 1942. It is not known how many people passed through it.
Assembly camp Mauerstraße (Mitte)
The Nazis set up a provisional “assembly camp”, referred to as “camp 4” (Lager IV), in the former Clou ballroom in this street during their “factory operation” (Fabrikaktion) in February-March 1943. It was used as an “assembly camp” from 28 February until 4 March 1943, and 1245 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Parkstraße 22 (Weißensee)
The building at this address had been a Jewish home for the deaf and blind before it was used by the Nazis. Termed an “old people’s home as transit point”, it was used as a provisional “assembly camp” when the camp at Grosse Hamburger Strasse became too small to deal with the numbers of deportees. Evidence exists that it was used as an “assembly camp” on 14 April 1942 and on 14 September 1942, and 142 people passed through it.
Assembly camp Rosenstraße 2-4 (Mitte)
This building housed Jewish Community administration and an emergency home before the Nazis took it over. It was turned into a provisional “assembly camp” during the Nazi regime’s “factory operation” (Fabrikaktion) in February-March 1943, operating from 28 February until mid-March 1943. The majority of the roughly 2000 people detained here were Jews with “Aryan” spouses, or so-called Geltungsjuden (“Jews by legal validity”). Soon after their arrest, wives and other family members protested outside the building, demanding their release. Over the next few days, the detainees were released. Even the 25 people who had been deported to Auschwitz-Monowitz on 5 March were released and brought back.
Assembly camp Schönhauser Allee 22 (Prenzlauer Berg)
The building at this address was previously a home for the elderly run by the Jewish Community. During World War II it was termed an “old people’s home as transit point”. It became a provisional “assembly camp” when the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp’s capacities were outstretched. Evidence exists of it being used as an “assembly camp” on 17 August 1942 and at least 175 people passing through it.
Assembly camp Schulstraße 78 (Wedding)
In early March 1944, the Grosse Hamburger Strasse camp was moved into the former gatekeeper’s house and pathology department of the Jewish hospital in Schul Strasse, which was then used as an “assembly camp”. This operated from 1 March 1944 until 21 April 1945. At least 791 people passed through it. It was the only “assembly camp” in Berlin at the time.
Assembly camps in Berlin
Prior to deportation, the Gestapo and the State Police in Berlin forced Jews into “assembly camps” (Sammellager). Here, their transport was prepared and the seizure of their assets organized, supervised by the Gestapo. Subsequently, Gestapo men took the deportees to railway stations, in full view of the public and with the help of private haulage companies. There were 15 “assembly camps” during World War II across Berlin.
Auschwitz concentration camp (Auschwitz I)
Auschwitz concentration camp was opened on 14 June 1940 near the Polish town Oświęcim, in the annexed Prussian province of Upper Silesia, on the grounds of a former Austro-Hungarian barracks. It was initially used as an internment camp for Polish dissidents and intellectuals. From March 1942, women who were officially inmates of the Ravensbrück camp (until July 1942) were also interned in the main Auschwitz camp. From 1943, prisoners were sent here from all over occupied Europe. The majority of them were Jews. Conditions in the camp were murderous from the start. Tens of thousands died as a result of exhaustion from performing hard manual labour constructing the camp, malnourishment or medical experiments or were killed on the spot. In October 1941, the SS began using the poison gas Zyklon B to murder inmates. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. A total of 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz concentration camp and Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp (Auschwitz II)
The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was set up a few kilometres away from the main Auschwitz camp in the small village Brzezinka (Birkenau). Construction work began in 1941, performed by prisoners from the main camp. The SS began sending transports of deportees straight to Birkenau in 1942. From summer 1942, the Jewish deportees arriving in Birkenau from nearly all over Europe were immediately put through a “selection” process to single out those who were able to work. They were registered as prisoners and given numbers. All the others were immediately asphyxiated in the gas chambers. By summer 1944, the Reich Security Head Office had sent 1.1 million Jews to Birkenau, about 900,000 of whom were murdered on arrival. Some 20,000 Sinti and Roma also died in the appalling conditions in the “gypsy camp” or were asphyxiated in the gas chambers. On 27 January 1945, the Red Army liberated 7000 frail and exhausted prisoners.
Bentschen transit camp
From 28 to 29 October 1938, the Nazi regime carried out a ‘Polish operation’ (the so-called Polenaktion), expelling 17,000 Polish citizens. The transport of some 4800 people to the Polish border town of Bentschen (Zbąszyń) received a great deal of press coverage at the time due to the chaos it created. According to eyewitnesses, several thousand people were simply left to roam the area, crowding the station grounds and trying to settle in the station building, any open spaces in Bentschen and the surrounding fields. The ‘camp’ was liquidated in late November 1938. Relief action committees and private individuals helped the expellees find other accommodation.
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Bergen-Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp near Hanover. It was set up by the Wehrmacht in spring 1941 and served initially as a prisoner of war camp. By February 1942, at least 18,000 Soviet prisoners of war had died here. From April 1943, Bergen-Belsen was used as a concentration camp for Jewish prisoners. After March 1944, it became a “reception camp” for inmates from other concentration camps, most of whom had been forced here on foot (on “death marches”), from concentration camps near the frontline. The incoming prisoners were left to their fates, without medical care, adequate provisions or accommodation. About 50,000 inmates and 20,000 Soviet prisoners of war died in the camp. About 14,000 survivors died by late June 1945 as a result of conditions in the camp.
Bernburg euthanasia centre
Bernburg “euthanasia centre” was a separate part of the “regional care and nursing home” in Bernburg an der Saale (Sachsen-Anhalt) that functioned as a death clinic for the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme from 21 November 1949 to 30 July 1943. 9384 ill and disabled people from 33 welfare and care institutions and some 5000 prisoners from six concentration camps were murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning in a gas chamber here.
Bełżec extermination camp
In November 1941, the main planning department of the SS launched the construction of the Bełżec camp near the town of Bełżec as part of the Nazi regime’s Aktion Reinhardt operation to kill all the Jews in the General Government. The decision to build this camp was made in the light of knowledge gained from the Nazis’ euthanasia programme, ended in August 1941. SS men were to put their experience of systematically killing the sick and disabled to use on killing the Jews. Bełżec was the first camp to have stationary gas chambers installed. By December 1942, the SS men commanding the camp had murdered some 500,000 Jews.
Brandenburg euthanasia centre
The “euthanasia centre” in Brandenburg an der Havel was situated in the old prison at Neuendorfer Strasse 90c. From August 1933 to February 1934, the building housed Brandenburg concentration camp. As early as January 1940, tests were carried out here using carbon monoxide as a killing agent. From February 1940, the supposed “Brandenburg nursing home” became a death clinic where more than 9000 mentally ill and disabled people from north and central Germany were murdered in a gas chamber by October 1940.
Under the Nazis, conditions in this prison became increasingly harsh. By the time war broke out, 60 percent of the inmates were political prisoners and many more prisoners arrived from occupied Europe as the war progressed. From 1940, the prison also functioned as a place of execution. Between 1 August 1940 and 20 April 1945, 2030 death penalties were enforced in Brandenburg-Görden.
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp was set up in 1937 on the Ettersberg, a hill near Weimar. The first inmates were political opponents of the Nazi regime, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma and convicted criminals. In October 1942, the SS started deporting the majority of Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz and murdering over 8000 Soviet prisoners of war. In early 1945, the SS transferred thousands of inmates to Buchenwald from camps further east that had been liquidated. With over 100,000 inmates, it was then the largest concentration camp still in existence. On 6 April 1945, the camp commanders started vacating the camp, sending Jewish inmates on “death marches”. On 11 April, they left the camp too. American troops arrived in Buchenwald the same day. A total of 240,000 people from all over Europe had been interned in Buchenwald concentration camp. At least 50,000 died here.
Under the guise of childcare, nursing and medical and scientific research, the Nazis developed a secret programme to kill disabled children. The child euthanasia programme began in 1939 and lasted until the end of the war. It was triggered by the case of a severely disabled boy, whose parents applied to Hitler’s Chancellery to grant him a merciful death. Hitler’s ‘escort physician’ Dr. Karl Brandt oversaw the murder of the five month-old child. Subsequently, Hitler ordered the same procedure to be carried out in comparable cases and charged the Chancellery office with implementing the child euthanasia programme.
From summer 1933, the Gestapo used Berlin’s disused military detention centre on Tempelhofer Feld as a prison for detainees from its headquarters in Prinz Albrecht Strasse. In December 1934 the SS took over the building known as ‘Columbia House’ and it was officially renamed ‘Columbia concentration camp’. This existed until 1936. Conditions in the prison were appalling, with a dire lack of sanitation, provisions and medical care. At least 8000 men and a few women were imprisoned in Columbia House. In 1936 the building was torn down to make way for Tempelhof airport.
Nazi concentration camps were run by the SS and served as places of imprisonment for political dissidents and unwanted minorities. During World War II they were increasingly used as pools of cheap workers, who were mostly deployed in war production. The prisoners lived in inhuman conditions, performing hard labour in return for minimal food rations and sleeping on beds made of wooden planks. Thousands died of starvation, exhaustion, disease and as a result of physical abuse. From 1941, concentration camps were used for the industrial-style murder of Jews, Sinti and Roma, prisoners of war and political opponents of the regime.
Dachau concentration camp
On 22 March 1933, a concentration camp for male prisoners was opened near Dachau, northwest of Munich. The first inmates were political opponents of the Nazi regime: Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and even some Liberal and Conservative politicians. Later, convicted criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian activists, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and above all Jews were also interned here. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, many non-Germans were sent to Dachau. In winter 1942, SS doctors started conducting medical experiments on prisoners in the camp. After 5 October 1942, all Jewish inmates were deported to Auschwitz. On 26 April 1945, the camp administration sent some 7000 inmates on a “death march” to the south, to prevent the advancing Allied troops from liberating them. On 29 April 1945, Dachau was liberated by US troops. Between 1933 and 1945, over 200,000 people were interned in Dachau concentration camp. At least 30,000 of the camp’s registered inmates died here.
In the Nazi era, ‘deportation’ denoted the systematic abduction of millions of Jewish Europeans, Sinti and Roma, political opponents of the regime and resistance fighters to be sent to ghettos, concentration camps and extermination camps. These deportations were euphemistically referred to as ‘evacuations’ or ‘resettlements’ in order to mask their actual purpose of murdering millions of people.
Deportations from Anhalter Bahnhof
From June 1942 Berlin Jews were also deported from Anhalter Bahnhof, a central passenger station. These ‘transports of the elderly’ took deportees to the Theresienstadt ghetto. The transports usually took place in the morning by regular scheduled trains to which additional third class carriages had been attached. At least 9,000 people were deported from this station.
Deportations from Grunewald station, Berlin
On 18 October 1941, the first train deporting Jews from Berlin left Grunewald station. Until April 1942 Berlin’s Jews were mostly deported to the Łódź (or Litzmannstadt), Riga and Warsaw ghettos. From late 1942, the deportation trains leaving Grunewald station were destined for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp or the Theresienstadt ghetto. At least 17,000 people were deported from this station.
Deportations from Putlitzbrücke station
Jews were taken in trucks to Putlitzbrücke station from the nearby ‘assembly camp’ at Levetzow Strasse; from 1943 they were sometimes made to walk there. From a sidetrack of the freight depot they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. At least 30,000 people were deported from this station.
Moabit freight depot
Drancy transit camp
The internment camp in Drancy, a north-eastern suburb of Paris, was set up in 1941 as an assembly point for Jews deported from France. A former residential complex, it had been used as a barracks before becoming an internment camp for deportees during World War II. Up to 4500 people were interned here at a time. Between 21 August 1941 and 17 August 1944, over 70,000 people passed through the camp. From here they were taken by train to the Nazi death camps, mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Between 1933 and 1941, more than half Germany’s roughly 500,000 Jews, thousands of labour movement activists and politically high-profile artists, writers and journalists fled the country. The first wave of emigrations began as soon as the Nazis assumed power in January 1933 and continued after the passage of the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” in April 1933. The “Nuremberg Laws” introduced in September 1935 led to another major wave of departures, and the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938 triggered the third and final wave. From 1938, a number of laws were passed making it more difficult to emigrate. Prospective émigrés were required to pay “Reich flight tax” and were not permitted to take more than RM 10 in cash out of the country. Another huge obstacle was the ever-tighter immigration controls imposed by countries worldwide. From 1939 only a few South American countries and Shanghai still accepted immigrants without visas. When the Nazi regime began systematically deporting people out of Germany in October 1941, Jews were prohibited from emigrating.
‘Euthanasia’ (from the Greek for ‘well’ and ‘death’) originally denoted the purposeful causing of painless death by narcotic drugs. The Nazi regime used the term as a euphemism for the systematic killing of people who were physically disabled or mentally ill. Between 1939 and 1945, over 300,000 people were killed in the course of various murder campaigns in the German Reich and occupied Europe.
The first extermination camps were set up in late 1941 when the occupying powers sought a way of purposefully and rapidly murdering as many people as possible. In Chełmno-Kulm, Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka, incoming deportees were sent immediately to the gas chambers and killed. In the two largest extermination camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Lublin-Majdanek, which were adjoined to concentration camps, most deportees were murdered shortly after their arrival. Some were forced to work to the point of complete physical exhaustion first. When they became ill or too weak to work, they were sent to the extermination section of the camp.
The term Fabrikaktion (‘factory operation’) is used today to denote the coordinated arrest of Jews who had been spared deportation while made to perform forced labour in the arms industry or Jewish facilities. The General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment, Fritz Sauckel, informed Germany’s regional employment offices on 26 November 1942 that the Jewish forced labourers were to be “evacuated”. In Berlin, the Jewish forced labourers were to be replaced by Polish forced labourers. In the raids that followed and lasted about a week, some 8000 Berlin Jews were arrested, mostly at their workplaces. They were subsequently deported to Auschwitz in five transports between 1 and 6 March 1943.
Flossenbürg concentration camp
Flossenbürg concentration camp was in operation from 1938 to 1945 in the municipality of that name near Weiden in the Upper Palatine Forest. The concentration camp was expressly designed for exploiting prisoners on the principle of “extermination through labour”. The first of the “second generation” of concentration camps, its function was not only to intimidate the Nazis’ political opponents but also to turn non-conformists into “useful members of the people’s community” (i.e. submissive auxiliaries) by making them perform forced labour, often ending in “extermination through labour”. From 1938 to April 1945, at least 85,000 people were interned in Flossenbürg concentration camp. At least 30,000 inmates died.
The Nazis used the term Geltungsjude (‘Jew by legal validity’) to categorize so-called ‘half-Jews’ – people with two grandparents who were ‘racial Jews’ (i.e. had three or more Jewish grandparents) – and those who were enrolled in a Jewish congregation and/or married to a Jew. Another distinct category was that of Jewish Mischlinge, people of ‘mixed blood’, who were not considered to ‘tend toward Judaism’ and were married to an ‘Aryan’ partner.
German Communist Party
The German Communist Party, KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands), was founded on 30 December 1918. Aiming to represent the workers, who made up the majority of the population, it asserted a claim to power on principle, and refused to participate in National Assembly elections. In 1919, prominent KPD members Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered by extreme right-wing officers. Subsequently, the KPD revised its electoral policy and took part in the parliamentary elections in 1920. In October 1920, the left wing of the socialist USPD broke away and joined the KPD, significantly swelling the party ranks. During the world economic crisis from 1929, it drew support from the growing numbers of unemployed. It opposed not only the far-right and conservative parties, but also the SPD, whose members it called “Social Fascists” on account of their co-responsibility for cuts in social expenditure in the Reich, Prussia and Berlin.
Kommunistische Partei DeutschlandKPD
Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses (GezVeN)
Soon after assuming power, the Nazis enacted this ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring’, which came into effect on 1 January 1934. Under this law, some 400,000 people were forcibly sterilized; about 5000 died as a result of the operation. The eugenics programme begun with this law took a distinctly more radical turn when Adolf Hitler signed the so-called ‘Euthanasia Order’ in October 1939, backdated to 1 September, providing for the murder of the sick and disabled.
Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring
Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums
This ‘Law on the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’ enabled the Nazi regime to dismiss critics, Jews and other ‘non-Aryans’ from the civil service or force them into early retirement. All civil servants were henceforth required to prove they had no Jewish relatives. The law was gradually applied to public sector workers and employees of semi-public enterprises as well.
Law on the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’
The Nazis founded the Geheime Staatspolizei (‘Secret State Police’) in 1933 as the political arm of the police, after reorganizing and centralizing the police system of the Weimar Republic. In the cause of exposing and punishing any actions that the regime defined as political offences or crimes, the Gestapo was authorized to ‘preventatively’ take actual or alleged opponents into ‘protective custody’ in prisons and concentration camps, and to torture and execute prisoners.
Secret State Police
The occupying Germans set up ghettos to isolate, exploit and humiliate Jewish populations in a number of countries. Concentrating entire Jewish populations in certain cities, ghettos served as assembly and transit camps for deportees prior to further deportations, often to extermination camps. From 1940, they were cut off from the outside world. The use of ghettos was an integral part of the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, especially in Poland and the Soviet Union. To date, evidence has been found of some 1200 ghettos in East Central and Eastern Europe.
Grafeneck euthanasia centre
In the “euthanasia centre” in Grafeneck near Gomadingen (district of Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg) 10,654 disabled people, mostly from Bavaria, Baden and Württemberg, were systematically murdered under the Nazi regime’s Aktion T4 euthanasia programme in 1940.
Hadamar euthanasia centre
In late 1940, alterations were carried out on the Hadamar regional nursing home near Limburg to construct a death clinic for implementing the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme. A gas chamber, a dissecting room and two incinerators were installed and an adjoining bus garage built. From January to August 1941, 10,122 people were murdered in the gas chamber here. The nursing home later became a death clinic for a second phase of murders. A further 4411 people died between August 1942 and 26 March 1945.
Hartheim euthanasia centre
In March 1940, alterations began on Hartheim castle in Upper Austria to construct a death clinic for the administrative division of Nazi Germany known as Ostmark (consisting of Lower Bavaria, Upper Palatinate and Upper Franconia in eastern Bavaria), Bavaria and Lower Styria (part of today’s Slovenia). Within a few weeks, the alterations had been completed and a gas chamber and a crematorium installed. In early May 1940, the first transport arrived in Hartheim. By the time the euthanasia programme was stopped in August 1941, more than 18,000 people had been murdered in the death clinic here. People continued to be murdered in Hartheim even after the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme was stopped. The first victims were concentration camp prisoners from Mauthausen, killed under the Aktion 14f13 programme. It is thought that female slave workers from Central and Eastern Europe (Ostarbeiterinnen) were also murdered here shortly before the end of the Nazi regime. In autumn 1944, Hartheim euthanasia centre was dissolved and incriminating evidence began to be removed.
German Jews destined for Theresienstadt, the ‘old people’s ghetto’, were required by the Gestapo to conclude ‘home purchase contracts’ (Heimeinkaufsverträge) with the Reich Association of Jews in Germany. These accorded the signatories’ free board, lodgings and medical care for life. But they also required the future ghetto residents to make advance payments and other contributions and transfer assets. In fact, the accommodation in Theresienstadt was overcrowded and poorly heated and residents suffered a lack of food and medical care. The assets that they had transferred later went to the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA).
home purchase contracts
The word ‘holocaust’ comes from the Greek (‘wholly burnt’) denoting a ritual burnt offering. The US TV series of 1979 titled ‘Holocaust’ popularized the use of the term to describe the murder of six million Jews during the Nazi era. As the original meaning of the word ‘holocaust’ carries a suggestion of self-sacrifice, Jews tend to use the neo-Hebrew word ‘Shoa’, meaning storm, sudden destruction or disaster
Many German doctors and scientists actively supported the Nazis’ murderous “racial hygiene” policies from the outset. Many of them had a keen interest in scientific racialism and racist heredity theories and conducted research to collect “scientific” evidence. They went to concentration camps to carry out “selections” of inmates and conduct experiments on them. In some concentration camps, unscrupulous doctors were able to take their pick of inmates to use as “guinea pigs” for horrific medical experiments. The scientific gain from these experiments was almost always nil. Most of the victims died in the process or were murdered afterwards in order to have their bodies analysed or prevent them from giving evidence. Others suffered permanent damage to their health and physical integrity. Those who initially survived but did not recover their strength were mostly “selected” to be sent to their deaths in the gas chambers.
With the ‘Reich Tenancy Law’ of late April 1939, the Nazi regime significantly curtailed Jewish tenants’ rights and scope for choosing their place of residence. Under this law, housing authorities could force Jews to live together in designated buildings, separated from non-Jews. Jewish-owned properties were used to forcibly house Jewish tenants from 1939 and referred to as ‘Jew houses’ (Judenhäuser). Properties were not directly seized for this purpose.
The Judenreferat (‘Jewish department’) was a Gestapo section in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) during World War II. From 1941, this section coordinated and organised the “final solution to the Jewish question” on an administrative level. The Jewish department’s staff members were therefore instrumental in carrying out the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann was head of the department from December 1939; from 1941, Rolf Günther was his deputy.
Shocked by the events of the November pogroms in Nazi Germany, aid organizations urged the British government to loosen its immigration restrictions at least for children. Consequently, no other European country took in as many Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig as Great Britain. To avoid domestic political tensions, however, the cost of the evacuation programme was borne exclusively by private donors. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Kindertransport programme stopped. By this time, some 10,000 children had arrived in England from the Reich. But the Reich Deputation of Jews in Germany still held applications for the evacuation of over 10,000 more children.
The ‘Köpenick week of blood’ marked a climax in the SA intimidation campaign that followed Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor. Ostensibly in response to the ban on the Deutschnationaler Kampfring (‘German National Combat Ring’, the paramilitary organization of the German National Party), members of SA storm unit 15 started arresting political opponents and Jews in the Köpenick district of Berlin in the morning of 21 June 1933. Over the next few days, they acted with increasing brutality. By the end of the week, the SA had subjected hundreds of regime opponents to the severest physical abuse; at least 22 of them died as a result.
Köpenick week of blood
Immediately after the Nazis occupied the Lithuanian town of Kaunas in June 1941, organized pogroms took place. In July, the Security Police informed representatives of the Jewish community that all local Jews had to move into a ghetto by mid-August 1941. About 30,000 people were confined in the ‘small’ and ‘large’ ghettos, which were sealed off from the outside world. Most of the residents were made to perform forced labour for the German arms industry. In autumn 1941 the occupying Germans murdered over 10,000 ghetto residents in a number of ‘actions’. Two years later, in 1943, the ghetto was turned into a concentration camp and the SS took charge of it and forced labour deployment within it. In March 1944, children and older ghetto residents were sent to their deaths in the Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps. In July 1944, some 8000 ghetto residents were deported to concentration camps further west. All the buildings of the former ghetto were razed to the ground with explosives and incendiaries on 1 August 1944, before the Red Army’s arrival.
Kulmhof extermination camp
The Kulmhof extermination camp was built in December 1941 near the village of Chełmno, 70 km northwest of Łódź. It consisted of a so-called “palace” (Schloss) and a forest camp. It was used from December 1941 until March 1943 and again from April 1944 until January 1945. Some 152,000 people were killed in Kulmhof extermination camp. Those murdered were primarily Jews from Warthegau and the Łódź ghetto (Poland), Roma from Burgenland (Austria) and Russian prisoners of war. The SS men in command of Kulmhof extermination camp made excessive use of mobile gas chambers to murder people.
Lublin-Majdanek extermination camp
The Majdanek concentration camp was the first German concentration camp under the SS camp inspectorate in occupied Poland. Like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek concentration camp was also used as an extermination camp. It existed from October 1941 until its liberation by the Red Army on 23 July 1944. It was the first camp to be liberated. The inmates were mostly Polish political prisoners and Jews as well as deportees from rural Poland and the Soviet Union. Following uprisings in the Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps, the SS camp commanders in Majdanek shot and killed 17,000 Jews within the space of a few hours in November 1943, to discourage any further resistance. By July 1944, a total of 78,000 people had been killed, at least 60,000 of whom were Jews.
As soon as the German forces occupied Lwów (or Lemberg) on 30 June 1941, the Wehrmacht began murdering local Jews, assisted by the non-Jewish population. In November 1941 the occupation authorities declared that all Jews had to move into a yet-to-be established ghetto by mid-December 1941. By the end of the year, between 90,000 and 110,000 people lived in the ghetto. In September 1942, some 80,000 ghetto residents were cut off from the rest of the town. This measure had been preceded by large-scale raids leading to deportations to Bełżec extermination camp. Further deportations took place in November 1942 and March 1943, after which the size of the ghetto was much reduced and it was officially named Julag Lemberg. In June 1943 it was liquidated. 7000 residents were deported and 3000 murdered on the spot. When the Red Army liberated Lwów on 26 July 1944, there were only 300 Jews still living there.
Mauthausen concentration camp
Mauthausen concentration camp was the largest concentration camp in Austria. It was situated 20 km east of Linz and opened on 8 August 1938. Inmates were still being murdered here shortly before its liberation. The exact number of deaths in the camp is not known but is estimated at a minimum of 100,000. In April 1945, the SS began destroying files containing evidence of the crimes committed in the camp. These included information on the dismantling of the gas chambers that had been installed in the basement of the camp hospital in 1941. Subsequently, the SS men fled and the inmates were guarded by members of the Volkssturm (a people’s militia) and the Vienna fire brigade. On 5 May 1945, the camp was liberated by the advancing troops of the 11th Armored Division of the US Army.
Meseritz/Obrawalde euthanasia centre
The fourth “lunatic asylum” of the Province of Posen (in today’s Poland), established in 1904, was converted into a “place for the systematic murder of the sick” after the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme was officially stopped. Patients were sent here from all parts of the Third Reich, including institutions in Berlin, Schleswig, Galkhausen, Bethel, Düsseldorf, Göttingen, Marsberg, Uchtspringe and Hamburg. On arrival they were screened and those able to work singled out. Those selected to be killed were murdered by lethal injection or oral medication overdose. At least 18,000 people had died in Meseritz/Obrawalde by 1945.
Immediately after invading the Soviet Union, in July 1941, the German occupiers established the Minsk ghetto. About 100,000 local Jews were crowded into an area of 2km². From November 1941, Jews from the German Reich were also deported to the Minsk ghetto. They were accommodated in a ‘special ghetto’, with no significant contact to the ‘main ghetto’. Nearly all those who survived the appalling conditions in the ghetto were shot in a massacre in May 1943 or while the ghetto was being liquidated in September 1943.
The Nazi Party (an abbreviation of “National Socialist Workers’ Party”: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) was founded in Munich in 1919. Adolf Hitler rose to become party leader and, in 1933, German Reich Chancellor. Though against the Weimar Republic, the Nazi Party did not want to restore the monarchy but strove toward a state based on “Germanic leadership and followers”. In contrast to other right-wing parties, it did not initially combat the labour movement but aimed to persuade its members to support National Socialism rather than the workers’ parties. Anti-Semitism was a central element of the party’s programme from the outset. By 1934, the “Führer state” had been established and the party’s significance waned. However, membership of the Nazi Party remained an essential requirement for many careers.
Neuengamme concentration camp
Set up in 1938 as a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Neuengamme became an independent concentration camp in spring 1940. More than 100,000 people from all over occupied Europe were imprisoned in Neuengamme. Over 80,000 men and more than 13,000 women are currently known to have been registered here by number. The concentration camp also served the Hamburg Gestapo as a place of execution; some 1400 people were executed here. In 1942, 448 Russian prisoners of war were gassed to death using Zyklon B. Medical experiments were conducted on several inmates. In total, at least 42,900 people died in Neuengamme and its sub-camps or in the process of vacating the camps. A further several thousand inmates died after being transferred to other concentration camps or as a result of their imprisonment after the war ended.
Non-privileged mixed marriage
In the early Nazi era, about 35,000 Jews lived with non-Jewish spouses in “mixed marriages”. Before 1938, the Nazis’ discriminatory measures targeted Jews married to non-Jews and Jewish couples alike. But in December 1938 Adolf Hitler created the categories of “privileged” and “non-privileged mixed marriages”. If the male spouse in a couple was Jewish and they had no children, the Nazis classified this marriage as “non-privileged”. The category also applied to families in which one spouse was Jewish and the children were raised as Jews, and couples in which the non-Jewish spouse converted to Judaism for the marriage. Couples of this category who tried to emigrate were treated as all other Jews. The Jewish spouse was required to wear the yellow badge but was initially spared deportation. If the marriage was divorced or the non-Jewish spouse died, however, the Jewish spouse faced deportation, usually to Theresienstadt.
November pogroms 1938
In the night of 9-10 November 1938, the hitherto widest-scale anti-Semitic rioting in the modern age took place across Germany. It became popularly known as Reichskristallnacht (“Reich crystal night”, or “night of broken glass”), alluding to the countless shards from the windows of Jewish-owned shops that had been smashed. The incidents were played down in the press. The Nazi administration referred to them as the Judenaktion (“Jew campaign”) or Novemberaktion (“November campaign”). Members of the SA, SS and Hitler Youth set fire to synagogues and looted about 7000 Jewish shops. Nearly 100 people were murdered and thousands of Jewish men were abducted and interned in concentration camps.
The “Nuremberg Laws” were announced on 15 September 1935 at the Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. Under the “Reich Citizenship Law”, only “citizens of the Reich” were accorded full political rights. These were defined as citizens “of German or kindred blood”. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour” defined the new crime of “racial defilement” (Rassenschande), criminalizing marriages and sexual intercourse between Jews and persons “of German blood”. Two months later the first ordinance of the “Reich Citizenship Law” was issued, which explicitly stated that Jews could not be “citizens of the Reich”.
Papestraße SA Prison
From March to December 1933, the SA Feldpolizei (“field police”), a special force of the SA, ran a prison on the extensive barrack-grounds on General Pape Strasse. More than 2000 people were interned in the basement of the Pape Strasse SA prison, which was officially a “protective custody camp” (Schutzhaftlager). Most of them were political opponents of the Nazis. Many prisoners were abused and at least 20 of them murdered.
The “People’s Court” (Volksgerichtshof) was a new court of law, created by the Nazis in 1934 to try people for treason and high treason. Judgements by the People’s Court were final; there was no possibility of appeal. Sentences could only be commuted by a pardon from the “Führer and Reich Chancellor” Adolf Hitler, who personally appointed the judges. The People’s Court in Berlin was located at Bellevue Strasse 5 and Elßholz Strasse 31. The judges of the People’s Court passed over 5000 death sentences.
Persecution of homosexuals
In 1935, the Nazi regime tightened the existing 19th century legislation persecuting homosexuality. From 1937, convicted homosexuals faced terms of “re-educative” imprisonment followed by deportation to concentration camps. In 1940, Himmler ordered that whoever “seduced more than one partner” was to be taken into “preventive detention” upon his release from prison. Parallel to these repressive measures, the Nazi regime extended the grounds for enforcing castration. From 1933, convicted homosexuals could avoid a prison or concentration camp sentence by assenting to be castrated.
Pirna-Sonnenstein euthanasia centre
The Pirna-Sonnenstein “euthanasia centre” was situated in Sonnenstein castle, a former fortress near Pirna. Over the course of 1940 and 1941, 13,720 people were murdered here under the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme. Concentration camp prisoners were killed here as well as mentally ill and disabled people.
Under the Nazis, conditions in this prison became increasingly harsh. It was additionally used as a remand prison for political prisoners. During the Nazi era, 2891 death penalties were enforced in Plötzensee prison.
Polenaktion (28-29 October 1938)
Following Austria’s annexation into Nazi Germany and the occupation of the predominantly German-speaking Czech borderlands (the Sudetenland), many Polish citizens living in Germany and Austria considered returning to Poland. However, the Polish government was concerned to avoid a sudden influx. In March 1938, the Polish parliament passed a law providing for the revocation of citizenship of all Poles who had lived abroad for over 5 years. Their papers would only remain valid if they gained a note of verification from the relevant consulate. But before this regulation could take effect, in late October, the Nazi regime issued orders for the expulsion of Polish citizens. During the Polenaktion (“Pole campaign”) they were arrested and taken against their will to Poland. Most of the expelled Polish Jews were subsequently deported again, along with their families, to one of the countless ghettos of Eastern Europe, where all trace of them was lost.
Privileged mixed marriage
In the early 1930s, about 35,000 Jews lived with non-Jewish spouses in “mixed marriages”. Initially, the Nazis’ discriminatory measures targeted Jews married to non-Jews and Jewish couples alike. But in December 1938, Adolf Hitler created the categories of “privileged” and “non-privileged mixed marriages”. Couples in which only the female spouse was a “racial Jew” were classified as “privileged” if they were childless, or raised their children as non-Jews. Couples in which only the male spouse was a “racial Jew” were classified as “privileged” if they had children but raised them as non-Jews. These families were permitted to stay in their own homes and their assets could be transferred to the non-Jewish spouse or children. The Jewish spouses in these marriages did not have to wear the yellow badge. Until 1945, their marriage protected them from deportation.
The Nazi regime used the device of “protective custody” to arbitrarily arrest anyone deemed undesirable on political, “racial” or social grounds and to deport them to prison camps or concentration camps. The penalty of “protective custody” was imposed on the basis of the “Order of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State” (Verordnung des Reichpräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat) of 28 February 1933. No judicial review was required to take people into “protective custody” and the victims had no right to legal counsel. The Nazi regime frequently used this penal device to correct unwelcome judicial rulings, e.g. to re-imprison people who had been acquitted or released from pre-trial custody, or who had completed their terms of imprisonment.
The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour” of 15 September 1935 prohibited Jews from marrying non-Jews (“mixed marriages”) and made “inter-racial” sexual intercourse outside of marriage punishable by imprisonment. Between 1935 and 1945, about 2000 Jewish and non-Jewish men were found guilty of “racial defilement”. Convicted Jews were taken into “protective custody” and deported. An unknown number of Jewish women were sent to concentration camps without trial. Later, women were also sent to death camps.
Racial defilementLaw for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour
Ravensbrück concentration camp
Ravensbrück concentration camp was the only “protective custody camp” for women on Reich territory. It was set up in 1938 in an area that is now in the federal state of Brandenburg. Between 1939 and 1945, some 132,000 women and children, 20,000 men and 1000 female adolescents were registered here as prisoners. They were made to work in construction and the German war industry. Siemens & Halske set up 20 factory buildings next to the concentration camp grounds. There were more than 70 sub-camps spread across the entire Reich. In late 1944, the SS installed a provisional gas chamber in a barracks next to the crematorium. From late January to April 1945, some 5000 - 6000 inmates were gassed to death here. On 30 April 1945, the approximately 3000 remaining inmates were liberated by the Soviet Army.
Reich Association of Jews in Germany
The Reich Deputation of German Jews was formed in 1933 as an umbrella interest group for Jewish organizations and communities across Germany, with Leo Baeck as president. By 1939 it had been forced to change its name and restructure several times. Finally, on 4 June 1939, all Jewish organizations and Jewish communities were forcibly incorporated into the Reich Association of Jews in Germany on the basis of the 10th ordinance for the Reich Citizenship Law. The association was directly controlled by the Reich Security Head Office; the regional branches were controlled by local Gestapo departments. It was mandatory for all those classified as Jews under the “Nuremberg Laws” to join and pay the obligatory fees. Initially, the association’s main task was to help Jews to emigrate. Secondary tasks were organizing schooling and professional training and restructuring measures. As especially elderly Jews grew increasingly impoverished, welfare became an important aspect of the association’s work and it set up asylums and soup kitchens. It kept a central register of Jews, which the Gestapo, among others, had at its disposal. The association was made to draw up deportation lists. On the other hand, it employed more than 6000 Jews, saving them from performing forced labour and providing them with an income, and initially protecting them from deportation.
Reich flight tax
“Reich flight tax” (Reichsfluchtsteuer) was introduced by the Brüning government in December 1931 under the “fourth order by the Reich president to secure the economy and finances and protect domestic peace”. It was intended to prevent an exodus of capital – a sudden transfer abroad of money, precious metals and assets – during the world economic crisis. After the Nazis assumed power in 1933, they utilized the “Reich flight tax” for their anti-Semitic programme. From 1938, Jews forced to emigrate were compelled to hand over half their private property to the state. They also had to pay additional costs such as passport fees, “sample payments” to the reception countries and an “emigration tax” introduced in 1939.
This multi-party organization (“Black, Red, Gold Banner of the Reich”) was formed in Magdeburg in 1924 with the aim of defending the Weimar Republic against its enemies. Though open to all parties, its members were predominantly Social Democrats (up to 90 percent according to some estimates). Many were veterans of World War I, who strove to actively support the new republic. In January 1932, the Reichsbanner merged with the trade unions and other organizations to form the “Iron Front”.
Black, Red, Gold Banner of the Reich
The RGO (“Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition”) was formed in 1929 in response to the Soviet Union’s insistence that the KPD provide party lists for works council elections. The RGO effectively came to represent a Communist trade union, and many Communists were ousted from the main confederation of German trade unions (the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) as a result. In March 1932, the RGO had some 200,000 members. In the same year, it joined forces with the National Socialists to organize industrial action in Berlin’s public transport services, gaining public attention on a national level. In 1933 the RGO was banned.
RGORevolutionary Trade Union Opposition
This ghetto was established in the ‘Muscovite quarter’ of the town shortly after Germany occupied Latvia in August 1941. 30,000 local Jews were to be isolated from the rest of the population in an area of 9000m². In late November 1941, 27,500 ghetto residents were shot to make way for new deportees from the German Reich. Between November 1941 and February 1942, 20 transports of German, Austrian and Czech Jews arrived in the Riga ghetto. In summer 1943, the Riga Kaiserwald concentration camp was set up close to the ghetto and 400 Jews from the ghetto sent there. In November 1943, the sick and children from the ghetto were deported in large numbers to Auschwitz concentration camp, thus effectively ‘liquidating’ the ghetto.
Rote Frauen- und Mädchenbund
The RFMB (“Alliance of Red Women and Girls”) was a non-party mass organization founded by the Communists in 1925. Its main field of activity was political agitation, campaigning against the abortion clause (§ 218) and for female emancipation as well as fighting poverty among the socially disadvantaged.
RFMBAlliance of Red Women and Girls
The RFB (“Alliance of Red-Front Fighters”) was formed in Halle in July 1924 on the initiative of the KPD. Set up to defend left-wing interests, it disseminated propaganda and protected Communist events. It cultivated a military appearance, with its uniformed members often marching in columns. The RFB was banned in 1929 but continued its activities until 1933.
RFBAlliance of Red-Front Fighters
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
In August 1936, Sachsenhausen concentration camp was built near Oranienburg, about 35 km northeast of Berlin. The first inmates in Sachsenhausen were political dissidents. Later, Jews, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and convicted criminals were also interned here. Thousands of prisoners died of malnourishment, disease, exhaustion and physical abuse or were murdered by the SS. Tens of thousands of prisoners were made to perform forced labour. From October 1941, the SS carried out mass shootings, killing over 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war. As the advancing Red Army approached the camp, over 33,000 inmates were driven on foot towards the Baltic coast. About 6000 prisoners died on this “death march”. The approximately 3000 inmates remaining in the camp were liberated by Polish and Soviet troops on 22 April 1945. Between 1936 and 1945, more than 200,000 people were interned in Sachsenhausen. Several tens of thousands of them did not survive.
The SS – an abbreviation of Schutzstaffel (protection squadron) – was a paramilitary arm of the Nazi Party. From a group of beer-hall guards who protected Nazi Party meetings from disruption during the Weimar Republic, it became an instrument of intimidation and rule after the Nazis took power. The SS was in charge of the concentration camp system and responsible for organizing and carrying out the genocide of the European Jews and Sinti and Roma. On a military level, it participated in Nazi crimes during World War II with its own armed divisions (the Waffen-SS) and as part of the occupying forces.
The SD – an abbreviation of Sicherheitsdienst (“security service”) – was the Nazi Party intelligence agency, founded in 1931. It was set up to gather information about political opponents and internal party developments. In 1934 the SD was made the sole intelligence service of the Nazi Party and in 1937 its responsibilities were clearly divided between the SD and the Gestapo. Among the SD’s later tasks were writing reports on the state of public morale, known as “news from the Reich”, investigating the political “reliability” of certain people, and planning the exploitation of annexed territories. In 1944, 6500 full-time members of staff and 30,000 informants worked for the SD.
On 17 June 1936, SS chief Heinrich Himmler was appointed “Chief of the German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior”. This marked an important goal for Himmler on the way to establishing an “SS state”, enabling him to centralize the German police and merge it further with the SS apparatus. He subsequently reorganized the police force by dividing it into Ordnungspolizei (“order police”) and Sicherheitspolizei (“security police”). He appointed SS Gruppenführer (“group leader”) Reinhard Heydrich “Chief of Security Police”. Heydrich was also SD Chief. The Security Police was made up of the criminal police, border police and the Secret State Police (Gestapo).
Sobibór extermination camp
In autumn 1941, Heinrich Himmler tasked the SS and police leaders in the district of Lublin with the murder of the local Jews. Some months later, the SS launched construction work on the Sobibór death camp near Lublin, following the model of the Bełżec death camp. In early May 1942, the first transports of Polish, Austrian and Czech Jews arrived in the camp. In October 1942, six new gas chambers were put into operation in Sobibór. Hence, about 1300 people could be killed simultaneously. In July 1943, Himmler gave orders for Sobibór to be turned into a concentration camp where captured ammunition was to be graded and stored. Although building work began on the camp, inmates were convinced that it would soon be liquidated. They organized a revolt on 14 October 1943 and some prisoners managed to escape. After this revolt, the SS murdered all the Jews in the camp and destroyed all the buildings.
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The inception of the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland, “Social Democratic Party of Germany”) cannot be traced back to any particular date. But the founding of the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) by Ferdinand Lasalle on 23 May 1863 is widely regarded as a crucial starting point. The party was renamed SPD after Germany’s “anti-socialist laws” lapsed in autumn 1890. In the early years of the Weimar Republic until 1925, Germany had an SPD Reich President, Friedrich Ebert, and members of the SPD sat in a number of Reich governments. During the Weimar Republic, the specialist workers’ trade unions formed the grass roots of the party. The SPD was the only party to vote against the Enabling Act, effectively allowing Chancellor Adolf Hitler to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag, whereas all the centre-right parties voted in favour. On 21 June 1933, the SPD was prohibited from taking part in political activities, and on 14 July 1933, the party was banned.
Sozialdemokratische Partei DeutschlandSPD
Sonnenburg concentration camp
Sonnenburg concentration camp near the Polish town of Kostrzyn nad Odrą (Küstrin) operated from 3 April 1933 until 23 April 1934. It was initially run by the Berlin chief of police. The majority of inmates were functionaries of the banned KPD. About 1000 people were interned in Sonnenburg concentration camp in total. Prisoners here were routinely treated with particular brutality. Later in the spring of 1934, the building was returned to its original use as a prison, where forced labourers and political prisoners were interned as well as convicted criminals. In the night of 30-31 January 1945, the guards shot nearly all the inmates before fleeing westwards from the advancing Red Army.
The SA – an abbreviation of Sturmabteilung (“assault division”) – emerged from a group formed by the Nazi Party in 1920 to protect its gatherings and disrupt those of its opponents. Party leader Adolf Hitler wanted an organized group of men to deal with political opponents by force. In consequence, events often ended in brawls which were usually incited by the SA. In the late 1920s, the SA set up Sturmlokale (“assault meeting places”) in the working-class areas of all major German cities, which served as bases for the Nazis’ street terror. During this earlier period, the Nazi Party sought to break the working classes’ widespread support of the SPD and KPD by SA violence and intimidation.
Theresienstadt (Terezín) was a fortress town near Prague. In 1940, the Nazis evacuated the town’s 3700 non-Jewish residents in order to use it as a ghetto. Mostly elderly Jewish Germans, those who had been decorated during World War I, divorced or widowed Jewish spouses of ‘mixed marriages’ and Geltungsjuden (‘Jews by legal validity’) were sent to Theresienstadt ghetto. Deportees were made to sign contracts handing over their homes and assets to the authorities in return for ‘care and accommodation’ in Theresienstadt. Cultural activities were encouraged and abused by the Nazis for propaganda suggesting that life in the ghetto was pleasant. About 35,000 people died in Theresienstadt ghetto. Countless residents were deported to death camps; only about 23,000 remained to be liberated by the Red Army on 8 May 1945.
Treblinka extermination camp
In summer 1942, the SS set up an extermination camp near Treblinka to implement the “final solution” and murder Jews. Mass killings in the camp began on 23 July 1942. The incoming Jews were told they were in a “transit camp” and would be transferred to a labour camp after showering. The men and women were separated, ordered to undress and hand in their belongings. Subsequently, they were driven into gas chambers camouflaged as “shower rooms”. A work brigade made up of Jews had the task of searching the corpses for hidden valuables before throwing them in mass graves. By spring 1943, hundreds of thousands of Polish, Slovakian, Greek, Macedonian and Yugoslavian Jews had been gassed to death in Treblinka. In early March 1943, the SS ordered the mass graves to be opened and the corpses to be burned. On 2 August 1943, some prisoners managed to take some weapons and flee. The camp commanders responded by having the remaining prisoners shot and the camp torn down. Over 900,000 people were murdered within a year in Treblinka extermination camp. Some seventy people survived after the prisoners’ revolt.
Uchtspringe euthanasia centre
Under the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme, the Uchtspringe regional nursing home was used as an “intermediary clinic” leading to the Brandenburg and Bernburg death clinics. Patients were usually deported to death clinics via such “intermediary clinics” in order to conceal their true destinations and deceive their families. Uchtspringe was one of the centres where doctors and nursing staff continued to kill patients after the Nazi euthanasia programme was officially stopped, on 24 August 1941. Behind the façade of a “normal” hospital routine, patients were murdered not only by gas poisoning but also by lethal doses of medication, morphine injections, starvation and neglect.
The Wehrmacht occupied Vilnius on 24 June 1941. By early September, a ghetto system had been established here. About 30,000 Jews were confined in the ‘large’ ghetto and about 11,000 in the ‘small’ ghetto. Over the next few months, the occupying forces terrorized the ghetto residents with repeated shooting sprees, mostly of those who were no longer fit to work. The liquidation of the ghetto began in August 1943 with the deportation of residents to Latvia and Estonia. On 23 September 1943, the ghetto was finally vacated. Vilnius was liberated by the Red Army on 13 July 1944. By this time, the town’s former Jewish population of about 75,000 had shrunk to only about 3000.
At the time of Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Jewish Community in Warsaw was the largest in Europe, with over 380,000 members. On 2 October 1940, the Nazi authorities gave the order to set up a ghetto in a designated part of the old town. From mid-November 1940, it was cut off from the rest of the town. Conditions in the overcrowded ghetto were catastrophic, with a dire lack of sanitation, food and medical provisions. By 1943, almost half a million people had been sent to the Warsaw ghetto. In spring 1943, the Germans wanted to liquidate the ghetto but encountered armed resistance when they entered it on 19 April. Residents had formed self-defence groups, the most prominent of which was the “Jewish Combat Organization”, ZOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa). Under its command, ghetto residents offered resistance for several weeks. The German forces resorted to burning down the entire ghetto area. By 16 May 1943, they had regained control of it. The survivors of the uprising were deported to the Treblinka and Majdanek death camps and to forced labour camps.
Westerbork transit camp
In 1939 the Dutch government set up a camp near Westerbork, a village in the eastern Dutch province of Drenthe. It served to accommodate Jewish refugees, some of whom had fled legally, some illegally, to the Netherlands. The decision to establish the camp was made in late 1938, when the number of Jews fleeing to the Netherlands suddenly increased after the November pogroms. With the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Germans took over administration of the camp. Initially, they continued to use it to accommodate Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. In 1942, the camp lost its residential function and became a transit camp for Dutch Jews to be sent to the death camps in the east. From July 1942 to September 1944, 98 trains took some 96,000 people to Auschwitz, Sobibór and Bergen-Belsen; 4466 people were (initially) deported to Theresienstadt. In total, the number of Jews deported via Westerbork amounted to about 107,000, only 5000 of whom survived.
A police ordinance compelling Jews over the age of six to wear a yellow badge was issued in September 1941. All persons in the German Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia classified by the Nazis as Jews were henceforth required to attach a badge in the form of a Star of David to their clothing. They were forbidden to appear in public without one. The badge had to be marked with the word Jude (‘Jew’) and sewn on to one’s clothing over the left breast.
German occupying forces established a ghetto in Bałuty, the poor Jewish quarter of the town Łódź (Litzmannstadt in German). By April 1940 it accommodated about 160,000 Jews in an area of 4km². In late 1941, some 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and Czech territory were sent to the ghetto in 20 major transport operations. The ghetto residents were made to live and work in inhuman conditions in 96 workplaces. In January 1942, deportations to Kulmhof/Chełmno extermination camp began. In August 1944 the ghetto was liquidated and its residents sent to the Auschwitz camp, where most were murdered in the gas chambers.