Auschwitz Auschwitz How could all this have happened? This is one of the many questions associated with the Holocaust. The Third Reich of no doubt on of the worlds largest and most feared empires. It could have easily overthrown the Roman Empire and was the most worthy adversary of the British Empire. The most overwhelming and terrifying aspect of the Second World War has got to be the ghettos, concentration camps and of course the death camps. The camp that stands out in everybodys mind has got to be Auschwitz.

Out of the 6.8 million killed there were 6000 killed at Auschwitz a day. What some people may not know is that Auschwitz was actually three camps fused into one. The most potent and efficient way of mass murder was the gas chamber. That is if you lasted the trip there. But the most insulting part of the whole ordeal to the Jewish was being burned in one of the many Crematoriums.

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The Nazis established Auschwitz in April 1940 under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, chief of two Nazi organizations-the Nazi guards known as the Schutzstaffel (SS), and the secret police known as the Gestapo. The camp at Auschwitz originally housed political prisoners from occupied Poland and from concentration camps within Germany. Construction of nearby Birkenau (Brzenzinka), also known as Auschwitz II, began in October 1941 and included a women’s section after August 1942. Birkenau had four gas chambers, designed to resemble showers, and four crematoria, used to incinerate bodies. Approximately 40 more satellite camps were established around Auschwitz. These were forced labor camps and were known collectively as Auschwitz III. The first one was built at Monowitz and held Poles who had been forcibly evacuated from their hometowns by the Nazis.

Prisoners were transported from all over Nazi-occupied Europe by rail, arriving at Auschwitz in daily convoys. Arrivals at the complex were separated into three groups. One group went to the gas chambers within a few hours; these people were sent to the Birkenau camp, where more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. At Birkenau, the Nazis used a cyanide gas called Zyklon-B, which was manufactured by a pest-control company. A second group of prisoners were used as slave labor at industrial factories for such companies as I.

G. Farben and Krupp.Camp Commandant Rudolf Hoess admitted to a minimum figure of 2.5 million deaths at Auschwitz. Reflecting back some years later on the experiments in the basement of Block 11 and later in Gas Chamber and Crematorium 1, Hoess said: ” At the time I did not think about the problem of killing Soviet prisoners of war. It was an order and I had to execute it. However, I will say frankly that killing that group of people by gas relieved my anxieties. It would soon be necessary to start the mass extermination of the Jews, and until that moment neither I Eichmann had known how to conduct a mass killing.

A sort of gas was to be used, but it was not known what kind of gas was meant and how to use it. Now we had both the gas and the way of using it. I had always been concerned at the thought of mass shootings, particularly of women and children. I was already sick of executions. Now my mind was at ease.” Some prisoners survived through the help of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved about 1000 Polish Jews by diverting them from Auschwitz to work for him, first in his factory near Krakow and later at a factory in what is now the Czech Republic.

A third group, mostly twins and dwarfs, underwent medical experiments at the hands of doctors such as Josef Mengele, who was also known as the “Angel of Death.” The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6000 SS members worked at Auschwitz. By 1943 resistance organizations had developed in the camp. These organizations helped a few prisoners escape; these escapees took with them news of exterminations, such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Hungary between May and July 1944.

In October 1944 a group of sonderkommandos destroyed one of the gas chambers at Birkenau. They and their accomplices, a group of women from the Monowitz labor camp, were all put to death. When the Soviet army marched into Auschwitz to liberate the camp on January 27, 1945, they found about 7600 survivors abandoned there. More than 58,000 prisoners had already been evacuated by the Nazis and sent on a final death march to Germany. In 1946 Poland founded a museum at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in remembrance of its victims.

By 1994, about 22 million visitors-700,000 annually-had passed through the iron gates that bear the cynical motto Arbeit macht frei (work makes one free). German war interests required the maximization of economic benefits from this cold-blooded murder. Before the bodies were burned the victim’s hair was cut off and fillings and false teeth made of precious metals were removed. The hair was used for making haircloth, and the metals were melted into bars and sent to Berlin. After the liberation tons of hair were found in camp warehouses; the Nazis had not had time to process it all. Proof that this hair came from victims of gassing was provided by The Krakow Institute of Judicial Expertise, whose analyses showed that traces of prussic acid, a poisonous component typical of Zyklon compounds, were present in the hair.

In 1941-1944 prisoner of KL Auschwitz, then of KL Gross-Rosen and KL Flossenburg-Leitmeritz, from which he escaped in April 1945. After the war, journalist, author of many articles about Auschwitz: active in many associations and organizations, acting, for example as Secretary General of the International Auschwitz Committee and member of the Main Commission for the investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. Deniers acknowledge that some Jews were incarcerated in places such as Auschwitz, but they maintain, as they did at the trial of a Holocaust denier in Canada, it was equipped with “all the luxuries of a country club, including a swimming pool, a dance hall and recreational facilities.” Some Jews may have died, they said, but this was the natural consequence of wartime deprivations.”.


Auschwitz Auschwitz began as a barracks camp in the town of Oswiecim, for the polish army in the early 1930’s. Germany then captured Poland and needed another location for Polish political prisoners. In 1940, the German SS sent a commission to Oswiecim to see if the barracks there could be used. The first inspection reported that it could not be used, however, a later inspection stated that after a few minor changes it would be useable. On May 4, 1940 Rudolf Hoss officially established it as a German concentration camp.

Hoss was Auschwitz’s first commandant. Auschwitz was originally intended for Polish political prisoners and other Poles. In June of 1940, the first load of prisoners arrived. 728 Poles and a handful of Jews. Soon, though, it became a melting pot of prisoners. Czechs, Soviets, Yugoslavs, Jews, and Gypsies; but only men were housed there.

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Not until 1942 did women arrive. In January of 1942 it was decided that Auschwitz would become the main Jewish extermination camp. Thereafter cattle cars brought in ship loads of Jews monthly. They were brought from all over in these filthy cars, going for days without food, water, or washing facilities. Many times these cars were so crowded that people were simply crushed to death.

During the first few months of operation, Auschwitz simply housed the Jews because an effective method for mass extermination had not yet been found. They performed many experiments on the prisoners to find a gas that was cheap and quickly effective. Also, they had not yet begun cremating the bodies so they had prisoners dig huge trenches 15 ft. wide, 15 ft. deep, and 150 yds. long to bury them. These massive holes would be filled within days. However, during the summer, the bodies bloated and rotted and a disgusting purplish liquid began seeping up from these graves, smelling of bile and rotting flesh. Nearby fish farmers complained that their fish were dying from pollution caused by the rotting bodies.

Some other way to deal with the prisoners had to be found, especially since their numbers were increasing with every arrival. The Nazis then discovered Zyklon B. It was a very effective gas. Since they were then able to kill more efficiently, they had to find a more efficient means of disposing of the bodies. Soon, mass crematoriums were erected, capable of burning 2,000 bodies in a single day.

Upon arrival at camp, doctors made selections as to who would live and perform slave labor. The others would be gassed. Two lines would be formed, one going in the direction of the camp, and the other leading toward the ‘shower rooms’. Those not selected for the ‘life’ line were told that they would be going to the showers for ‘delousing’. They were made to fold their clothes neatly and put them in piles and march, naked, to the ‘showers’.

Those rooms were equipped with fake shower heads and benches and everything, but none of them worked. The Jews would be herded into these rooms and the doors would lock. Then Vents in the ceiling would open and granules of Zyklon B would be released. Within 15 minutes, they would all be dead. Thirty minutes after they died, they would open the doors and let it air out for two or three hours.

Then they would send in slaves to remove the bodies, taking them to the crematorium. The prisoners chosen for the ‘life’ line had the worst fate though. The conditions at Auschwitz were unthinkable. Prisoners slept 6 people to a bunk, which was made for two. These bunks rose 6 feet high, sometimes with so much weight on the tops of them, they would collapse and kill all them ones underneath while they slept. Sleep was impossible for most though, beds were hard plank boards, over crowded and infested with lice, ticks and bed bugs.

The rats were so bad that if a prisoners died in the middle of the night, the rats would have eaten him to the point where recognition was impossible. Every morning prisoners had to stand or squat for hours at a time for roll call. They also had to bring out the bodies of anyone who had died during the night and hold them up to be counted. Then they were sent off to work. Work was long hours of hard labor building more barracks, adding to the camp, or going off to the German factories. The Nazis rented out slave labor very cheaply to the industries in the area.

Some had a lunch of cabbage stew, but those away on work crews did not. After work was another roll call, lasting for hours. The living holding up the bodies of those who had died while working. Dinner for the prisoners was rotten meat, stale bread, and ‘coffee’ made of warm, dirty water. Those who had missed lunch were also given cold pulpy cabbage stew that had been poured at noon.

Prisoners were supposed to be broken and dehumanized. The Nazis shaved their body hair (yes, all of it) and took all their possessions. They were allowed 15 minutes every day to use the lavatories. All 1,500 prisoners (per bunker) had 15 minutes to go to the bathroom with no privacy whatsoever in the mornings before work. They weren’t allowed to go while they were at work, and if they did, the punishment was so severe that few survived it.

The ‘Hospital,’ if that’s what you want to call it, was a horror. The prisoners referred to it as the crematorium waiting room. If you didn’t heal fast enough to suit them, they gave you an injection of phenol to the heart or they sent you to the gas chambers. There was no medication. The only advantage to the hospital was that you could spend your last few days lying down rather than working. Many were sick but afraid to go to the hospital. As a result, typhus and diarrhea were an epidemic. The SS was corrupt.

They would select the best rations for themselves and then sell the stolen goods on the black market. The prisoners got whatever was left, no matter how meager or rotted it was. SS officers however were fat and pig like. They had parties where they were served pork sausages, potatoes, and vegetables by the women prisoners. The professional criminals (burglars, murderers, rapists) at Auschwitz were entrusted with special jobs. They were called ‘kapos’.

It was the kapos job to wake prisoners in the morning, beating them with sticks if they didn’t move fast enough. They also administered some of the punishments, floggings and beatings mostly. Kapos were also not required to do the menial slave labor. Punishment at Auschwitz was sever and biased. If a an SS officer didn’t like a particular prisoner for some reason then that poor prisoner was tormented and beaten until the SS was satisfied, usually when the prisoner died. They had many ways of punishing people.

You could be beaten, flogged (75-100 lashes), or just plain shot. They were creative and came up with many torments just to amuse themselves. They might make you stand holding rocks over your head for one of the long roll call and shoot you if you drop them. The SS might also force you to beat or torture your friends or family. The worst thing they could do to you however was send you to Cell Block 11. Cell Block 11 was a torture chamber. There were ‘standing’ cells, four feet square that prisoners were packed into, sometimes twenty at a time. These cell had no room to lie down or even sit. The ventilation consisted of two inch squares covered over with heavy wire mesh to deter escape attempts.

Many peopl! e suffocated, after being left in them for hours or days at a time. Even if you did survive a standing cell you still had to go to work that day. Cell Block 11 also contained starvation cells. These cells accommodated fifty people or more. Prisoners were put here to die if one of them attempted to escape.

They would lick the walls and drink their own urine to stay alive just a little bit longer, some even resorted to cannibalism. Outside Block 11 more murders took place. It was there that they held their hangings and floggings. One wall was covered in cork and the ground in sand to help absorb the blood from all the shootings that took place there. Cell Block 10 was just as bad, it was here that ‘Doctor’ Menegal did his infamous research on twins and sterilization.

They tried many drugs and new procedures on helpless prisoners. They would inject poisonous chemicals and compounds into the prisoners, just to see if some of them might live. Most all died of course though. On a regular day in Cell Block 10 they would perform mass sterilization, castrating around ninety Jewish men. Approximately twice that many women were sterilized daily. They performed brain surgery and amputations just for practice and send samples off to labs in other places.

Prisoners would be given deadly viruses to test antibiotics. They did experiments on pregnant women and their fetuses. Many things they did were unthinkable. Winter at Auschwitz was even worse. They had to stand outside for hours at a time in the freezing snow and sleet for roll call every morning and every night. Frostbite was very common, and after frostbite gangrene usually set in killing the already weak prisoners within days.

In the summer of forty-three, a new director took over. Conditions improved somewhat, but prisoners still were not treated as humans. In late forty-five Allies bombed the railroads that took the shiploads of Jews to Auschwitz. It didn’t end the killing there though. The SS, knowing that liberation for the Jews was probably coming soon started killing all the elite prisoners. The decorated Jewish military men, the gypsies, and the kapos.

Then in a frenzy, burned as many of their incriminating files as they could before they fled taking all the prisoners able to march with them. Today very few of the files from Auschwitz remain. Those prisoners left in the camp, too sick or weak to walk were liberated a few days later by the Russian Army. However only half of them lived to see the next week. All of that is in the past now though.

Today Auschwitz still stands. It has become a Polish museum honoring all the Jews that needlessly died there. BIBLIOGRAPHY Brimmer, Larry, Pane. Voices From the Camps. New York, Franklin Watts; 1994. Friedrich, Otto.

The Kingdom of Auschwitz. New York, Harper Perennial; 1994 Leitner, Isabella. Fragments of Isabella. New York, Dell Publishing Co.;1987 Swiebocka, Teresa. Auschwitz A History in Photographs.

Indianapolis, Indiana University Press; 1990 Zacek, F. Josph. “Oswicim” Encyclopedia Americana; 1992 ed. pg 121, 031 ENC.