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Transcript of Auschwitz
Gas chambers were used at Auschwitz, just as they were used at most concentration camps. The poisonous gas, Zyklon B, was usually used to exterminate lice, but after being experimented with was used to exterminate humans. "And when the bunker was already so filled they couldn't put no more people, no more...they made the kids crawl on the top of the heads, all the way in there, just kept on pushing them in, to fill them all in..." explained Sam Itzkowitz. Gas chambers were used as mass killings; the more you could fit in, the more you could kill. Before entering a gas chamber, prisoners were told to undress in a nearby barrack (living quarters). Prisoners were told they would be receiving a shower to throw suspicion off, but when the packing in began, fear would break out amongst everyone. It took about five to ten minutes from the time Zyklon B pellets were released into the holes, leading into the chamber, for everyone inside to be dead. Using a gas chamber was a cheaper way to kill people than a shooting execution; that's how gassing became a popular and often used means of killing.
In February 1940, Auschwitz was selected to be a concentration camp. Walking into Auschwitz 1, the gate states a phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei"; this translates to "Work will set you free". Being the starting base of the expanding camp to come, Auschwitz 1 was an administrative camp. Polish prisoners of war, were the first prisoners held in the camp. Housing barracks, named blocks, were expanded to hold more prisoners. All prisoners were forced to do hard labor, in all weather. Death happened, even though it wasn't intended. Corpses were deposed of at a small crematorium. In the beginning, executions were done at the black wall, by gun, but in September 1941 Zyklon B (a poison) was experimented with. After a successful first trial in the basement of Block 11 (the jail block), larger groups were gassed. Crematoria 1 came to be when a group of 900 prisoners were gassed in the crematoria, then burned in the ovens. As mass killings took place, problems arose. It was time to expand.
The entrance to Auschwitz 1.
Auschwitz I was an administrative, Auschwitz II was a death camp. The death camp was located about two miles from the first Auschwitz and was established in October 1941. A railroad came into the middle of the camp where Jews that came in cattle cars were unloaded. Immediately upon arrival, the life and death selection was made. Children, the elderly, the sick, the weak, and others were taken to their death. The "life selected" prisoners were forced to work. Auschwitz II had only one gas chamber, as of March 1942, called "The Little Red House". Later, another, bigger bunker named "The Little White House" was opened. After awhile these bunkers became inconvenient for the Nazis, so by 1943 four killing buildings were built in place of the "houses". These factories came to be know as Crematoria II and III; Crematoria IV and V were also established. With these mass killing buildings 4,000 people could be killed everyday.
The inside of a gas chamber from Auschwitz II, after being liberated.
Living conditions at Auschwitz were those worse than any in which a neglected dog would live . Blocks that were designed for 700 people, usually held around 1,200 people; they were also notorious for being infested with lice. For months, prisoners had no beds, no furniture, no nothing. Straw stuffed mattresses were provided, but blocks were so overcrowded that a prisoner could only sleep on his side. Prisoners' blocks usually did not have kitchens and/or showers, so they would have to go around dirty. There were limited opportunities to visit the bathhouse, and prisoners that were granted the opportunity had to undress in the barracks and walk naked, through the weather conditions; this would cause sickness and disease outbreaks. Food was scarce at Auschwitz, which led to many deaths caused by malnutrition. The morning rations consisted of a half liter of boiled water with "tea" or "coffee" substitute in it. A liter of unappetizing soup was served at noon. Lastly for supper, a small portion of black bread and sausage. The meals had little nutritional value. A work day started between 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. There was a short time for the prisoners to use the restroom and attempt to clean themselves, before it was time for breakfast. After breakfast everyone gathered in the "roll-call square". This was done everyday, even in bad weather conditions. Starting in March 1942 a minimum work day consisted of 11 hours. Sundays and holidays were nonworking days.
Modern day, touring bunker from Auschwitz.
Arrival at Auschwitz
"So they marched us through the gates with whips and beatings and dogs jumping on us..." This is what Miso (Michael) Vogel recalls from entering Auschwitz. Upon arrival at Auschwitz the able bodied prisoners were sorted from those who were unable to work; unable bodied prisoners were taken and immediately killed. The survivors were then taken to an area and were told to undress, where they were then shaven of any hair on their bodies. After being shaved, they were tattooed on the left arm. Clothing was then distributed, but it was not the clothing the prisoners had brought with them. A Star of David was also to be worn on shirt and pants of Jewish prisoners. For some prisoners the disinfecting process was worse than just a shaving. As Cecilie Klein-Pollack says, "...they first opened the hot water, so we were scalded and as we ran out of the hot water, we were beaten by the SS...to go under the showers again, so they opened the ice cold water, which had the same effect."
These Auschwitz prisoners wear the striped uniforms distributed after arrival.
Zyklon B used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Medical experiments were common at Auschwitz. Sick patients were prone to being experimented on, while staying at the camp hospital. "...they took blood from me and, it was extremely painful because it was from the left side of my neck..." stated Irene Hizme; she now lives a traumatic fear of hospitals, doctors, and illness. Dr. Josef Mengele, also known as "the Angel of Death" performed many of the experiments on people; he also chose which were the able bodied prisoners upon arrival. Mengele had a sick infatuation with infants, dwarfs, and especially with twins. Patients endured an array of experiments. Some were injected with different medicines to see how fast they would die, and some were more or less frozen to death.
Medical experiments were done for a main reason: to solve the mystery of genetics and to create the perfect, Aryan race. Experiments were also used for mass sterilization.
A photo of the famous Josef Mengele.
Revolt in Auschwitz
"Sonderkommando, young Jewish males responsible for removing corpses from crematoriums and gas chambers, staged a revolt. They assulted their guards using tools and makeshift explosives, and demolished a crematorium. All were apprehended and killed." states an unidentified witness. In October 1944, a revolt was planned to take down the Nazis in Auschwitz. Women supplied the men with gunpowder, which was turned into makeshift explosives. In the end, Sonderkommando were overpowered after successfully destroying Crematorium IV. All of the Sonderkommando were executed and the women that helped supply were put on trial and most were killed.
Crematoria IV after being destroyed in the revolt.
The growth of camp hospitals came off the infirmary set up in June 1940. The first patients were the first arrival of Polish prisoners who were beaten or had been over exercised. Soon, when more arrivals came the hospital became too full. This sparked expansion. Heads, or runners of the hospitals, were usually SS physicians. The physicians weren't always worried about the well being of their patients, but more worried about the well being of the hospital itself. From the horrible conditions of the camp, sickness was quick to spread. Beatings caused broken limbs, sores, open wounds, and fractures. Winter and spring brought numerous colds, pneumonia, and many cases of frost bite. Starting in 1942, epidemic outbreaks of malaria, tuberculosis, meningitis, and pemphigus. Out of all diseases, epidemics of typhus took the most lives. Most prisoners also suffered from a camp illness of "starvation sickness" caused by malnutrition. The hospital conditions were as horrific as those of the camp. Hospitals were usually over crowded and infested with lice and fleas. Patients received less food than those who were not sick. Many patients that entered the hospitals died before leaving.
An artistic replication of what Auschwitz camp hospitals would look like.
Classification and Tattooing
All prisoners that were selected to stay at Auschwitz, after their arrival, were tattooed. Auschwitz used a system of winkels, a series of triangles, as classification for certain groups of prisoners. If a prisoner had green triangles, this meant they were criminals. These people were usually Germans. Red triangles were for "political prisoners", usually Poles. Black triangles represented "asocial" prisoners. These prisoners were the outcasts of society: Romas, also called Gypsies. Purple triangles were for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Pink triangles marked homosexuals. Jewish prisoners were usually considered political prisoners, but their red triangle had a yellow stripe in it/overlapping it.
Prisoners were also given a number. For example if you got the number 1,536, you were the 1,536 person at Auschwitz.
Auschwitz number and triangle classification.
In 1944, as the Red Army was closing in, the Germans faced a problem; either evacuate the camp, or keep it on running it. Germans decided on a series of evacuation, which would last until January 1945. In early January of 1945 about 65 thousand men and women were evacuated from different plants and areas of Auschwitz. In the camp remained another 65 thousand people. These prisoners were kept as long as they could be without being liberated; they were mainly kept to continue production in working plants. As evacuation began, mass extermination stopped. Most Sonderkommando had been liquidated, so there was no one to work the Crematoriums. A final evacuation happened in the middle of January after the Red Army got closer to the camp.
A photo as prisoners evacuated from Auschwitz.
As the last evacuations were happening, the Nazis made one last attempt to cover up all the crimes they committed. They burned camp documents, blew up crematoriums, and destroyed bunkers. Around 9 thousand sick or weak prisoners were left behind and many SS officers stayed behind as well. Auschwitz was officially liberated on January 27, 1945. Shortly after liberation, hospitals were set up to help the remaining victims. Bedridden patients were taken to clean wards. After patients were taken care of the Allied Army began complying evidence against the Nazis for all of the brutal crimes performed.
Prisoners with joy after being liberated from Auschwitz.
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