MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

The Polish Red Cross Hospitals

After liberation, the Red Army was in charge of the grounds. Soldiers of the Soviet medical corps and members of the Polish Red Cross (Polski Czerwony Krzyż - PCK), with much help from the local population, set up hospitals that treated about 4,800 sick and physically exhausted prisoners.

At first, the patients received treatment in three parts of the liberated camp—the main camp, Birkenau, and Monowitz. From the second half of February, all treatment was administered in seven specially prepared blocks at the main camp, where conditions were best. Patients requiring specialist treatment were transferred to hospitals in Cracow. Despite intensive care, some died—mostly in February and March. A total of about 600 ex-prisoners died while the hospitals were open.

At first, the hospitals also treated liberated children. In February and March, however, the children were transferred from the camp to shelters in Katowice, Cracow, Rabka, Warsaw-Okęcie, and Harbutowice near Cracow.

From June, the size of the PCK hospital was reduced as the number of patients declined, but also because German POWs were being quartered in the blocks. The PCK hospital closed on October 1, 1945.   

Other priority tasks included removing and burying the approximately 600 corpses found at the main camp and Birkenau sites. Block 11 at the main camp was used as a morgue, and the corpses were brought there. In Birkenau, they were placed in a large pit dug at the end of the railroad platform, between the ruins of gas chambers and crematoria II and III. The bodies of prisoners who died after liberation were also placed there. Doctors from the Soviet commission investigating German war crimes performed autopsies on some of the corpses before burial.

A ceremonial funeral for victims was held on February 28, 1945. A funeral procession brought 470 bodies from Birkenau to be buried in a grave dug near the Lagererweiterung blocks just outside the main camp. All the corpses from block 11 had been placed in the grave beforehand. It is estimated that about 700 Auschwitz victims rest together in this common grave.

Another important task was helping the prisoners in relatively good physical condition return home. Some set out on their own, and others in transports organized by the Red Army and the PCK. Several score transports were formed up and sent on their way between mid-February and July. Former prisoners from outside Poland were taken to assembly points in Cracow, Katowice, and Bielsko, and from there to resettlement camps in the Ukraine and Byelorussia. In the spring, several score prisoners sailed from Odessa to Marseilles, and in the autumn, after the end of the war, trains carried another group through Romania, Hungary, and Austria to Western Europe. Missions from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Romania, and Hungary came to the Auschwitz site to evacuate their citizens.

All of those who left received PCK certificates to prove that they had been in Auschwitz—the only identity document they had—along with passes in Polish and Russian, issued by the Voivodship office, which entitled them to help from the military and civilian authorities on their way home. The survivors also received dry rations for 3 to 5 days and, in some cases, modest sums of pocket money.

PCK staff also prepared a list of the names of former prisoners on the basis of the partially extant camp records and information received from survivors. This list was the basis for providing several thousand families with information about relatives who had been in Auschwitz. Over time, PCK offices in Cracow and Warsaw took over this informational work, before the creation of an information office (now the Office for Information on Former Prisoners) at the State Museum in Auschwitz in 1954.