The modern Zionist movement, begun in the 19th century, was launched to bring about the return of Jews to Jerusalem. The movement was founded by Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), a Viennese journalist. He strove to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the obvious place for it. Not every Jew supported the idea, as many believed that only the Messiah could restore Jerusalem. During the 19th century, Russia carried out a series of anti-Semitic attacks, known as pogroms, on Jewish settlements.
“I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining,
I believe in love, even
When I am not feeling it,
I believe in God, even
when He is silent”
In Germany, Adolph Hitler believed all Jews to be degenerate and they were made to wear the yellow six-pointed Star of David to advertise their Jewishness. Persecution of the Jews in Germany started in 1933, and thousands of synagogues and buildings belonging to Jews were destroyed by the Nazis, and efforts were made to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. During this period, known as the Holocaust, which lasted until 1945 when around six million Jews died in concentration camps in Europe. This genocide convinced many that only by establishing a homeland of their own could Jews find a safe refuge against anti-Semitism. The United Nations agreed and in 1948 the modern State of Israel was founded. Following this, Jewish communities around the world settled in Israel.
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps were erected in Germany in 1933, immediately after Hitler became Chancellor. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps held around 45,000 prisoners by 1933 and were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire. Hitler allowed Himmler to start using the camps’ facilities and personnel to purge German society of so-called “racially undesirable elements” such as Jews, criminals, homosexuals, and Romani people. Between 1939 and 1942, the number of camps exploded to more than 300. Hostage camps where hostages were held and killed as reprisals. Labor camps were concentration camps where interned inmates had to do hard physical labor under inhumane conditions and cruel treatment. Some of these camps were sub-camps of bigger camps, or “operational camps”, established for a temporary need. POW (prisoner of war) camps were concentration camps where prisoners of war were held after capture. POWs were usually soon assigned to labor camps. Camps for rehabilitation and re-education of the intelligentsia were held, and “re-educated” according to Nazi values. Transit and collection camps, where inmates were collected and routed to main camps, or temporarily held. Extermination camps, differed from the rest, where all new-arrivals were simply killed, the industrial-scale mass murder of the predominantly Jewish ghetto and concentration camp populations like, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno, Auschwitz and Majdanek. Although none of the categories is independent, and many camps could be classified as a mixture of several of the above. Others like Maly Trostenets were at times classified as minor extermination camps.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the base camp); Auschwitz II–Birkenau (the extermination camp); Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp); and 45 satellite camps.
Map showing the originating locations in Europe for deportations to Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz I was the original camp, serving as the administrative center for the whole complex.
The iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei (labor makes [you] free), is a German phrase. The slogan is known for having been placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, including most infamously Auschwitz I, where it was made by prisoners with metalwork skills and erected by order of the Nazis in June 1940. The slogan was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi camps. After disembarking from the transport trains, to be sent to the right – meant labor; to the left – the gas chamber.
Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. The SS forced an orchestra to play as new inmates walked towards their “selection” and possible extermination; the musicians had the high suicide rate in the camps. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total, included almost all children, women with children, all the elderly.
SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims would undress in an outer chamber and walk into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility, complete with dummy shower heads. After the doors were shut, SS men would dump in the cyanide pellets via holes in the roof or windows on the side. The Nazis used a cyanide gas produced from Zyklon B pellets. This gas chamber operated from 1941 to 1942, during which time some 60,000 people were killed therein; it was then converted into an air-raid shelter for the use of the SS.
Block 11 of Auschwitz was the “prison within the prison”, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in “standing cells”. These cells were about 1.5 m2 , and four men would be placed in them; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. In the basement were located the “starvation cells”; prisoners incarcerated here were given neither food nor water until they were dead.
Crematorium, still exists, which was reconstructed after the war using the original components, which remained on-site.
Auschwitz II–Birkenau was designed as the place of the “final solution of the Jewish question” in Europe. Auschwitz II-Birkenau claimed more victims than any other German extermination camp, despite coming into use after all the others. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates than through Auschwitz I.