One of two main concentration camps, Mauthausen, was also one of the only two camps in all of Europe that were Grade III camps. They were the toughest camps for the “Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich.” Many other camps were intended for all categories of prisoners, but Mauthausen was mostly used for extermination through forced labor of educated people and members of the higher social classes in countries under the Nazi regime.
Female inmates at Mauthausen concentration camp, 1945 Soviet prisoners of war at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, January 1942
The Poles were considered ideologically dangerous. That included thousands of intellectuals and Catholic priests. While many prisoners were dying in starvation bunkers, Hitler feasted well with his field officers.
“ All Poles will disappear from the world. . . . It is essential that the great German people should consider it as a major task to destroy all Poles .” - Heinrich Himmler
The front gate at Auschwitz deceived inmates with the words “Work Will Set You Free.”
Other signs posted on the way to gas chambers instructed people to lay their clothes down in an orderly fashion to avoid problems in finding them again “after the shower.” The victims did not know that the “shower heads” emitted lethal gas.
The Nazi doctors at the death camps tortured men, women and children and did medical experiments of unspeakable horror during the Holocaust.
Victims were put into pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated and frozen to death. Children were exposed to experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia , transfusions of blood from one to another, isolation endurance and reaction to various stimuli. The doctors made injections with lethal germs, sex change operations and removal of organs and limbs.
Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Roman Catholic priest who died as “Prisoner 16670” in Auschwitz on Aug. 14, 1941.
When a prisoner escaped from camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape.
One of the 10 prisoners selected to die cried, “My wife! My children! I will never see them again!” When he heard this, Father Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in the prisoner’s place. His request was granted.
As the 10 condemned men were led off to the death block, Father Kolbe supported a fellow prisoner who could hardly walk. No one would emerge alive. Father Kolbe was placed in a starvation bunker for two weeks and eventually given a lethal injection to end his life.
Systematic Killing of the Handicapped Five handicapped prisoners photographed at Buchenwald concentration camp for propaganda purposes. 1938 – 1940 Hartheim Castle was a euthanasia killing center where people with physical and mental disabilities were killed by gassing and lethal injection. Hartheim, Austria
The Ten Boom family were Dutch Christians who resisted the Nazi regime in the Netherlands by helping hide Jews and underground resistance workers in their home, all of whom the Ten Booms called their “extended family.”
Corrie Ten Boom and sister Betsie were taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp, the largest female camp in the Nazi prison system. Many women were Jewish; others were political prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies and criminals. The first two days they had to sleep out in the open. The rain poured and the ground became a sea of mud. They were packed into a huge barracks built to house 400 people, but there were now 1,400 prisoners in it. They slept on straw mattresses filled with dust and swarming with fleas. Even the guards did not like going into the barracks because of the fleas.
Corrie was honored as a “Righteous Gentile” and wrote a book entitled The Hiding Place about her experiences both in Holland and in the concentration camp.
Ten Boom Family Corrie Ten Boom
Evil Personified versus Righteous Among the Nations In 1968, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) asked Corrie to plant a tree in the Garden of Righteousness, in honor of the many Jewish lives her family saved. Corrie’s tree stands there today along with a plaque in her memory. Hitler was responsible for the death of more than 5.9 million Jews (close to two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population).
Black Victims of the Holocaust The Nazis did not uphold the regulations imposed by the Geneva Convention in the treatment of black prisoners. Black prisoners of war faced illegal incarceration and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.
Hitler’s hatred of blacks extended to black athletes. When Jesse Owens, the American track star, won several honors at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Hitler refused to be present when the medals were awarded.
In a performance that would remain unmatched for 48 years, Owens won four track and field gold medals in the same Summer Olympiad, setting three world records and one Olympic record.
“ Jesse Owens’ greatest opposition didn’t run the 100m. There’s more to the story than just the game.” July 2009 Sports Illustrated ad campaign (South Africa)
One attempt by the Nazis to purify German society was their condemnation of male homosexuals as “socially aberrant.” Early in the Nazi regime, male homosexual organizations were banned.
In 1934, a special Gestapo division was established to create “pink lists” of homosexuals throughout Germany.
Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested, and of these, some 50,000 homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
Lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. Few women are believed to have been arrested.
Those defined as homosexuals were designated by a pink triangle (Jews who were homosexuals were killed because they were Jews).
Artist Richard Grune was arrested in December 1934. He admitted to being homosexual and was held in “protective custody” for five months.
In September 1936, Grune was convicted and sentenced to prison for one year and three months. It’s estimated that some 50,000 men served prison terms as convicted homosexuals.
Grune’s desire to bring attention to the terror of the concentration camps led to the 1947 publication of a limited–edition portfolio of his lithographs. His work generally reflects what he experienced at the Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg concentration camps; some images are based on information from other survivors.
After Hitler became chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933, he closed church-related schools and started a campaign to defame religious orders in Germany.
Father Rupert Mayer, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in downtown Munich, was outspoken against this persecution. He was one of the first to recognize that Nazism and Christianity were incompatible, and Hitler’s racist rejection of the Old Testament and of anything “Jewish” in the New Testament was “hysterical.”
The Nazis arrested him on June 5, 1937, and he was imprisoned the first of three times. He remained in Stadelheim Prison for six weeks. He was re-arrested and served his sentence for five months. At age 63, the Nazis arrested him on Nov. 3, 1939 and sent him to Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp where his health deteriorated severely.
He was placed in solitary confinement in a Benedictine abbey in the Bavarian Alps, where he remained until American soldiers freed him in May 1945. He died while celebrating Mass on Nov. 1, 1945.
Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to intense persecution under the Nazi regime.
The Nazis targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses because they were unwilling to accept the authority of the state, because of their international connections, and because they were strongly opposed to both war on behalf of a temporal authority and organized government in matters of conscience.
Helene Gotthold, a Jehovah’s Witness, was beheaded for her religious beliefs on Dec. 8, 1944 in Berlin. Here, she is pictured with her children in June 1936.
Private First Class James Watkins, 20, of Oakland, CA, was found at the prison hospital in Fuchsmuehl, Germany by the U.S. Third Army after surviving the death march from the Berga concentration camp .
An American soldier stands over the grave of John Simcox, one of the POWs who died in the Berga concentration camp. A special area of the Berga cemetery was set aside for the bodies of 22 Americans, some of whom were buried in the same grave without coffins.
Thousands of Americans were captured in the Battle of the Bulge and sent to Stalag 9B. The Jewish GIs were segregated and sent to a special barracks. Later, those Jews and about 270 non-Jews were sent to a little-known concentration camp called Berga where they worked in mines with political prisoners from a Buchenwald sub-camp at Berga. This prison had the highest fatality rate of any camp where Americans were held – 20%.
Of the 350 men who were sent there in February 1945, fewer than 280 survived the forced labor and subsequent death march.
Lying on stretchers are some of the 63 emaciated American POWs liberated in Fuchsmuehl, Germany.
An American soldier sent to the Berga concentration camp, where he was worked to the verge of death. He barely survived the death march after the camp was evacuated in April 1945. He was found at the hospital in Fuchsmuehl, Germany
“ No one yet knows what awaits the Jews in the twenty-first century… “… but we must make every effort to ensure that it is better than what befell them in the twentieth, the century of the Holocaust.” - Benjamin Netanyahu