The Establishment of Auschwitz
Auschwitz was the first Nazi concentration camp to be established in occupied Poland. The beginning of the camp can be dated to early 1940. It was originally intended to serve as a concentration camp and a place of slow death for Polish politcal prisoners and other Poles. In later years, however, it gradually became the main centre for the systematic murder of those the Nazis considered human vermin, namely Jews and Gypsies. The Nazis' beliefs of the superiority of the Aryan race condemned more than a million people to die in this one place alone.
The first prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz, a group of 728 Polish political prisoners(including a hand full of Jews), arrived in Auschwitz on June 14, 1940. Within a few months of the Wannsee conference of January 1942, when the plan as to how to proceed with the murder of the Jews of Europe was presented- the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question"- Auschwitz became the main camp to which Jews were sent to be murdered. The first known transport composed entirely of Jews arrived the very next month, and such transports continued to arrive from all over occupied Europe until November 1944.
Conditions in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Prisoners in Auschwitz used for slave labor were housed in brick-built barracks. At first they slept on the floor but as the camp population grew, two- and three-tier bunk beds were installed. They also built SS stables, and as many as 800 prisoners were sometimes crowded into a space designed for 52 horses. Lavatories were extremely primitive and few in number; prisoners had a very limited time to relieve themseleves. Washing facilities were likewise grossly insufficient.
Changes of clothing and underwear were available only every few months; in the filthy conditions of the camp, clothes were always infested with lice. Periodic delousing not only gave no relief but were an additional torture: in summer the showers were scalding, in winter icy cold.
Virtually the only advantage of admission to the infirmary was that prisoners could die in a bed; the only drugs available were aspirin and charcoal pills, making real medical treatment impossible.
The Daily Routine
At about 4:30am, the morning gong sounded the start of an exceptionally long workday that was an unmitigated series of sufferings. At the sound of the gong, the prisoners in charge of each barrack-often prisoners who had been sent to Auschwitz for real crimes-ran amoung the plank beds, beating the prisoners with sticks to make them move faster. After a breakfast of a small amount of coffee, the prisoners were driven out to work. 'Work' meant slave labour in factories, mines, farming operations, and construction. Although the prisoners were almost literally starving, they were often forced to carry bricks or push barrows at a run. Any attenpt to rest was punished. The return from work was a horrible sight because the exhausted prisoners had to carry back to the camp the bodies of those who had died during work that day. Even the dead bodies had to be present at the evening roll-call. After roll-call, prisoners were given a meal of bread with margarine and a small amount of salted pork. The night brought little rest for the prisoners. The bunks were so overcrowded that prisoners were unable to move, and fleas and lice made made rest impossible.
The most medical of all Auschwitz killing methods was the phenol injection, which was institutionalized during the relatively early phases of Auschwitz. A patient was brought to a treatment room and there administered a drug by a physician or his assistant, who wore a white coat and used a syringe and needle for the injection. Some witnesses thought that the change was made because the veins were sometimes hard to locate, but the real reason seems to have been the greater killing efficiency of a direct cardiac injection. The injection was ten to fifteen millimeters into the heart and caused death within fifteen seconds. Jewish prisoner assistants brought a victim into the room and positioned on a footstool, covered the victim's eyes with the right arm, and raised the left arm sideways in a horizontal position. The person giving the injection was usually the SDG. This person thursts the needle directly into the heart of the seated prisoner and emptied the contents of the syringe.
Punishments and Executions
Prisoners were totally at the mercy of the SS officers and could be punished at any time for just about anything. A prisoner could be punished for picking a few apples to satisfy his hunger, for not making their bed neatly, or even for relieving themselves during working hours. The usual punishment for infringements of this kind was twenty- five or more lashes with a whip. Another punishment used frequently was to confine prisioners in cells where conditions were very harsh. Ventilation holes in all punishment cells were so small that prisioners had trouble breathing and some were even asphyxiated. For example, at one time 39 prisioners were crowded into one single cell. 20 died of suffocation and 4 out of the 19 died later in the camp infirmary. There was executions in the camps. Prisoners working in the labour camp were always subject to some sort of execution. Some were shot, hung,and some were condemed to starvation. Many were even gassed. Prisoners were also executed at public hangs during the evening roll call. Those who tried to escape, were killed immediately.
The Mass Murder of the Jews
During it's history Auschwitz served two functions: as a concentration camp for the slow death of different kinds of prisoners from hunger and slave labor, and as one of the principle centers for the mass murder of the Jews of Europe.
The technique of industrialized mass murder had been planned methodically from the outset, even before the decision how to implement it had been formally adopted in January 1942. First a method had to be chosen. Shooting was ruled out because of the numbers of people and because the emotional and psychological burden it would place on the SS who had to carry it out. Gassing was thought preferable. Zyklon B gas came to be used as the instrument of murder. It could kill about 1500 people by using only 5 to 7kg of Zyklon B. Auschwitz had gas chambers of different sizes and the largest of these could kill as many as 2000 people in 10 to 20 minutes. The main victims were Jews, transported to Auschwitz to be gassed. In the summer of 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were brought from Hungary and most of them were gassed immediately on arrival.
The disposal of the bodies was a problem. Each of the four custom-built gas chambers in Auschwitz had its own crematorium, giving a capacity of reducing 4,416 bodies to ashes every 24 hours. However, 8,000 bodies could be disposed of if the incinerators were empited before the corpses were fully reduced to ashes and any remaining bones pulverized separately. But this was far fewer than the number of people that could be murdered in a day. The solution was to pile up the surplus bodies and burn them in the open air. Up to 2,000 bodies piled up, doused with methanol wastes, and set fire to: in 24 hours nothing remained but ashes, which were then scattered on fields or dumped into nearby ponds or the Sola and Vistula Rivers.
Pictures of Haunting Memories
History on the Holocaust
Quotes from friends:
"Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground"
"Dream as if you'll live forever, and live as if you'll die tomorrow"
"Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but of looking together in the same direction"