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News

Anniversary of the First Transport of Polish Jews to Auschwitz

13-02-2006

Feb. 13, Bielsko-Biała (PAP—Polish Press Agency) – February 15 is the 64th anniversary of the first deportation of Polish Jews to Auschwitz. A transport of Jews arrested by the Gestapo in Bytom arrived that day in 1942. They were all liquidated immediately after arriving.

Little is known today about that transport. The late Danuta Czech, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum historian, wrote in her Auschwitz Chronicle that the people disembarked at the unloading platform next to the railroad siding at the camp, and were ordered to leave their baggage there.

“The special squad of camp SS was waiting for the Jews,” writes Czech, “and led them to the gas chamber located in the camp crematorium, where they killed them using Zyklon B gas.”

The tragic events probably unfolded in the Auschwitz I Main Camp, and not in Bunker no. 1 at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, as had previously been supposed. This may have had something to do with difficulties in taking the Jews to Birkenau, and in burying them in the meadow near the bunker, which was frozen over.

The head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum historical department, Franciszek Piper, said that the records preserved in the Museum are, at best, laconic on the subject of this transport, which is mentioned only in the footnotes of camp commandant Rudolf Hoess’s memoirs. It is not known how many Jews arrived on the transport.

Michał Czajka, an archival specialist at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, told PAP that there are no records from Bytom in the archives there. However, there are narratives by Bytom residents Jozua Blumenfeld and Ludwik Szlezynger. These accounts suggest that a certain number of Jews were arrested during the winter of 1941-1942 on various charges, some quite trivial. These people were deported to Auschwitz, and urns containing their ashes arrived back in Bytom shortly thereafter.

The book Żydzi polscy w KL Auschwitz. Wykazy imienne [Polish Jews in Auschwitz: Lists of Names], published last year by the Jewish Historical Institute, contains only the names of 17,949 Polish Jews who were registered in the extant records on Auschwitz prisoners. Franciszek Piper estimates that about 300,000 Jews were deported to the German camp from occupied lands that had been part of Poland before the war.

The majority of the Polish Jews were murdered in other extermination centers located in Chełmno on the Ner (Kulmhof), Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Majdanek, as well as in mass executions in or near the localities where they lived. About 150,000 Polish Jews starved to death or perished in epidemics in the ghettos.

The great majority of the Jews murdered in Auschwitz were sent directly to the gas chambers after arrival. (PAP)