MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

The organizational structure of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The SS departments

The organizational structure of Auschwitz was composed of seven departments (the commandant’s office, the political department, camp administration, prisoner labor, administration-economic, camp SS medical service, and SS unit welfare and training) and such separate administrative units as the Construction Board, the SS unit supply stores, the German Equipment Factory, the German Food Factory, the construction materials plants, the camp farms, and the Waffen-SS Hygiene Institute.

Departments III (camp administration) and II (political department) played the leading role in the terror and extermination system. The officials in the political department were employees of the Gestapo or the Kripo (criminal police), seconded from the State Police post in Katowice. The head of the political department reported to the camp commandant and to the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), and carried out orders from both the commandant and the RSHA apparatus.

The heads of the political department were SS-Unterstumführer Maximilian Grabner and his successor, SS-Unterstumführer Hans Schurz. Among the organizational sub-units in the political department, the one that evoked the greatest fear among the prisoners was the interrogation and investigation unit (Vernehmungsabteilung). The most notorious henchmen there included SS-Oberscharführer Wilhelm Boger and SS-Unterscharführer Gerhard Lachmann.

The political department had a wide range of prerogatives in admitting and releasing prisoners, keeping personal files and identifying the prisoners, administering the crematoria, exercising oversight in relation to prisoners and SS men, combating the prisoner resistance movement, and supervising the campaign for the mass extermination of Jews. These functions made the political department the most important component in the Auschwitz organizational structure.

The camp director and the head of the political department jointly made decisions on placing prisoners in the camp jail and shooting prisoners at the Death Wall.

The SS medical service

The SS medical service also played a salient role in the extermination system. The medical unit had two different goals: treating the SS crew and exterminating prisoners. SS doctors carried out selection in the prisoner hospitals and turned a blind eye to the horrid sanitary and hygienic conditions in the camp. They also participated in selections for the gas chamber among the newly arrived Jewish transports and carried out criminal medical experiments.

The head doctor of the SS garrison (Standortarzt) directed the camp medical service. His immediate supervisors were the head physician of the concentration camps and the head SS physician. The post of head doctor of the SS garrison in Auschwitz Concentration Camp was held in turn by Max Popiersch, Oskar Dienstbach, Siegfried Schwela, Franz Maria von Bodmann, Kurt Uhlenbroock, and Eduard Wirths.

The auxiliary medical personnel, the SS orderlies (Sanitätsdienstgrade – SDG), were also involved in the extermination process. SS orderlies took part in the killing of terminally exhausted prisoners by lethal injection of phenol to the heart. Some of them, such as Josef Klehr, were famed for their sadistic cruelty. Some of the SS orderlies made up the so-called SS disinfection detail (SS-Desinfektionskommando) that dumped the Zyklon B into the gas chambers.

Guards

Seventy-five percent of the Auschwitz garrison performed guard duty. The SS guard battalion was made up of 8 to 10 guard companies, two staff companies, and a company of guard-dog handlers (Hundesstaffel). The SS men assigned to guard duty belonged to the SS-Totenkopfverbände. At a later date, Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe soldiers who were too old for frontline service were also assigned to guard duty at Auschwitz.