Section00
The memory of Helena Śliwińska
The memory of Jan Kawka
The memory of Włodzimierz Grzywny
The memory of Franciszek Gajowniczek
The memory of Zofia Posmysz

1933 - 1945
German Nazi
extermination camps and concentration camps
Concentration camps
Extermination camps
Territories occupied by Germany
Germany in 1937
infographics based on the site www.dzieje.pl
One nation – a difficult history
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German Death Camps
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1933 - 1945
The Final Solution

Antisemitism was one of the pillars of the Nazi ideology, which, starting from the introduction of the so-called Nuremberg Laws by the Reichstag on 15 September 1935, became the state ideology of Germany, ruled by Hitler since 1933.

Third Reich laws concerning the Jews:

– made it possible to deprive a Third Reich citizen of legal protection and property,

– forbade Jews from working in administration offices and in the army,

– forbade marriages between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans”,

– allowed annulment of such marriages, and intimate relationships between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” were subject to punishment.

The Crystal Night (Kristallnacht)

On 9–10 November 1938, pogroms against Jews, initiated by the state authorities, were carried out in many German cities. Synagogues and houses, shops, and industrial plants owned by Jews were set on fire and devastated. The ravaging SS and NSDAP units were protected by the police.

The first camps

The first concentration camps were established in Germany before World War II. The first camp — Dachau — was opened on 20 March 1933. Before the war, the camps served mainly as prisons for political opponents of the Nazi regime.

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.

The German occupation of Poland began in October. Ghettos for Jewish people were set up in the occupied territories, and in 1941, German engineers started testing the possibility of gassing people with exhaust fumes in chambers installed on trucks. The tests were carried out in the Kulmhof camp in Chełmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof an der Nehr). In Auschwitz, the first tests on murdering people with hydrogen cyanide — Zyklon B — were performed.

After Germany attacked the USSR on 22 June 1941, the number of Jews being under German control dramatically increased. On the Eastern Front, Wehrmacht units were closely followed by four Einsatzgruppen units whose tasks included mass shootings of civilians. Approx. 2 million Jews were victims of those crimes.

The Wannsee Conference

On 20 January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference, high-ranked German officials, headed by Reinhard Heydrich, formulated the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

The participants were looking for a way to solve the problem of Jews as quickly as possible. Deportation and sterilisation were taken into consideration. The Third Reich officials decided on the extermination of all Jewish people.

Josef Bühler, State Secretary and Deputy Governor to the General Government, suggested that the extermination should be carried out in the Germany-occupied Poland, as there were large Jewish communities there and savings in transport costs could be made.

Genocide

Approx. 6 million Jews from many European countries fell victim to the Final Solution in the camps, which became killing factories.

In the autumn of 1944, the approach of the Eastern Front put an end to the genocide. On Heinrich Himmler’s orders, gas chambers and crematoria were hurriedly destroyed in order to obliterate evidence of the crime.

Wannsee
Wannsee

1933 - 1945
Trials and pursuit of war criminals

The main trial against Third Reich war criminals, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, were held before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The judges and prosecutors in the main trial were representatives of the victorious powers: Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

Apart from the main trial, another 12 trials were held before US military tribunals. In total, 185 persons were prosecuted: 39 doctors and lawyers, 56 members of the SS and the police, 42 industrialists, 26 military commanders, and 22 ministers and high-ranking officials.

The trials took place from 20 November 1945 to 14 April 1949.

Commandants and the personnel of concentration camps and extermination camps were tried before Military Tribunals, National Tribunals, and district courts. High-ranking officers, commandants, camp doctors, and kapos were usually sentenced to death by hanging. For instance, in two Oświęcim trials, 60 persons were convicted: 23 persons received the capital punishment, 33 were sentenced to imprisonment (from 3 years to life imprisonment), and 4 persons were acquitted.

Not all criminals were punished. Many of them managed to escape justice by concealing identity or fleeing abroad, mostly to Argentina. Some estimates suggest that as many as 5 thousand persons may have escaped in this manner. The fugitives included Adolf Eichmann, the coordinator and enforcer of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, and the physician Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, who performed experiments on camp prisoners.

Hunting war criminals became the life mission of Simon Wiesenthal, a man who miraculously escaped death in a number of Nazi camps. Over decades, Wiesenthal managed to track down and have captured and brought to trial more than a thousand war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann and Franz Stangl, commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp.

“Who committed genocide, who helped in sending innocent people to death, has no right to die in peace,” Simon Wiesenthal said.

Preservation of the memory of the Holocaust and pursuit of war criminals are currently the objectives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center with headquarters in the United States.

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1933 - 1945
The history of
one photograph
i
The year 1942. A visit to Buna-Werke, a chemical plant of IG Farben. The factory was built by inmates in close proximity to the Auschwitz concentration camp. They were also forced to work at the factory as slave labour.
IG Farben was the mainstay of German industry during World War II. The company was involved, among other activities, in the manufacture of synthetic gasoline, explosives and chemicals, including Zyklon B gas, used at Nazi extermination camps to commit genocide against prisoners.

Photo: The Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim

1933 - 1945

1933 - 1945
Reconciliation

Pastoral Letter of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops

On 18 November 1965, Polish bishops sent letters to the Episcopal Conferences of all countries, informing about the approaching Millennium of the Christianisation of Poland.

The letter to German bishops included a summary of Polish-German relations throughout history, highlighting both the bright and the dark sides. Polish bishops appealed: “Let us try to forget (...) Extending our hands to you, we forgive and ask for forgiveness. And if you (...) take those hands, extended in this brotherly gesture, only then will we be able to celebrate our Millennium with a clear conscience, in the most Christian of ways”.

On the 50th anniversary of the letter, in 2015, Presidents of Poland and Germany, Andrzej Duda and Joachim Gauck, reminded in a common statement that the letter had been sent by the bishops “only 20 years after the end of the war (...) that had been started by Germany (...) Polish bishops put a stop to the enumeration of wrongs and the air of hostility. They extended their hands in a gesture of rapprochement and dialogue.”

Willy Brandt kneels before a monument

On 7 December 1970, during his visit to Warsaw in connection with the signature of a treaty with the Polish People's Republic concerning the normalisation of relations, Chancellor of Germany Willy Brandt visited the area that was formerly occupied by the Warsaw ghetto in order to lay a wreath under the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. Having aligned the band on the wreath, Brandt knelt down on both knees on the steps in front of the monument and lowered his head. The world read that gesture as a symbol of penitence of the German nation.

Years later, Brandt wrote: “I was constantly asked what I wanted to express by that gesture. Had that gesture been planned, by any chance? (...) I had not planned anything. (...) Carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them.”

The Krzyżowa Mass and the “Polish-German Reconciliation”

On 12 November 1989, a Mass was held in Krzyżowa with the participation of Prime Minister of Poland Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl. The leaders of the two countries declared reconciliation between Poland and Germany. Two years later, in 1991, on the basis of an agreement between the governments of Poland and Germany, the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation was established. The Foundation aims to help victims of German persecutions and to improve the Polish-German dialogue. It is involved in the provision of Germany’s financial aid for former prisoners of concentration camps and people forced to slave labour in the Third Reich. It also helps living victims of Nazism.

Photo: PAP/Eugeniusz Wołoszczuk

1933 - 1945

1933 - 1945
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