MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Spokesman:

Bartosz Bartyzel
+48 33 844 81 45

Mini dictionary

Mini dictionary

A

Aid to prisoners

Arbeit macht frei

Asocial prisoners, category

Auschwitz

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Auschwitz III-Monowitz

B

Bauabschnitte

BIa

BIb

BIIa

BIIb

BIIc

BIId

BIIe

BIIf

BIIg

BIII

Birkenau, Auschwitz-II

Block 10

Block 11

Block elder

Bombing

Burning pits

C

Camp extension

Categories of prisoners

Children

Construction segment

Crematoria

Criminal prisoners, category

D

Death Marches

Death Wall

Dental gold

Diarrhea

Durchfall

E

Effacing the traces of crime

Escapes

Ethnic origins of the prisoners

Executions

Expulsion

F

First transports of Polish political prisoners

Food

Frauenlager

Functionary prisoners

G

Gas chambers

German companies

Gypsies

H

Hair

Himmler, Heinrich

Homosexual prisoners, category

Hospitals

Höss, Rudolf

Human ashes

Hygiene

I

IG Farben

Informing the world about Auschwitz crimes

Interest Zone of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

J

Jehovah's Witnesses, category of prisoners

Jews

K

Kanada

Kapo

Kommando

L

Labor

Lagererweiterung

Liberation

“Lili Jacob Album”

“Little Red House”

“Little White House”

Living conditions

M

Medical experiments

Meksyk

Mengele, Josef

Monowitz

Mortality in the camp

Muselmann

Mutinies

N

Needle

Number of prisoners in the camp

Number of victims

O

Oświęcim

P

Partisans

Penal company

Phlegmon

Pipel

Plunder

Poles

Political prisoners, category

Punishment by the post

Punishments

R

Rail ramps

Reeducation prisoners, category

Reports by escapees

Resistance movement

Roma

S

Selection in the camp

Selection on the ramp

Sonderaktion “Ungarn”

Sonderkommando

Sonderkommando manuscripts

Soviet prisoners of war

“Sport”

SS Garrison

Sterilization experiments

Strafkompanie

Sub-camps

T

Tattooing

Triangle

Typhus

W

Warsaw Uprising

Women

Y

Youths

Z

Zamość region

Zyklon B

Aid to prisoners

During the time Auschwitz was in operation, some of the residents of Oświęcim and the nearby localities rendered disinterested aid to prisoners, in spite of the penalties of death or imprisonment in the camp for doing so. They helped prisoners laboring outside the camp by covertly supplying them with food, medicine, and warm clothing and by serving as intermediaries in their secret correspondence with their families. Important forms of action for the sake of the prisoners were help in organizing escapes and hiding escapees, as well as receiving documents from prisoners that attested to the crimes committed by the SS. The conveying of an important number of valuable reports about the situation in the camp to the headquarters of the Polish Underground State and the Polish government‑in‑exile in London is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Polish resistance movement. The fact that the Allies never made the proper use of this information is another matter entirely.

Arbeit macht frei

(German: work will set you free) The inscription over the gate of the Auschwitz I camp comes from the title of a novel by the German writer Lorenz Diefenbach entitled Die Wahrheit macht frei (the truth will set you free).
Before the war, the slogan was used in Germany in programs to reduce mass unemployment. After the Nazis took power, the phrase appeared at the entrances to other concentration camps and ghettos aside from Auschwitz, including Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Flossenbürg, Gross Rosen and Theresienstadt.
The letter B was attached upside down, which some prisoners interpreted as an act of resistance aimed at the duplicity of the slogan above the gate. It is more probable, however, that it was merely accidental. In December 2009, the inscription was stolen and cut up into pieces on orders from a Swedish neo-Nazi. It was secured two days later, repaired and conserved. A replica of the original now hangs above the gate.

Asocial prisoners, category

Prisoners marked in the camp with a black triangle. The decision to incarcerate them in the camp was made by German criminal police posts on the basis of charges of vagrancy, alcoholism, prostitution, pimping, dodging work, and in fact many other deeds and behaviors that the police treated rather loosely. In the camp, their position differed little from that of criminal prisoners—the SS appointed them frequently to the functionary posts of Kapo and block elder. For other reasons, Gypsies (Roma) were also formally classed as asocial, although their status in the camp was completely different. In August 1944, Auschwitz held 437 Germans, 141 Poles, and 32 Czechs in the asocial category.

Auschwitz

The complex of Nazi German state concentration camps and center for the extermination of Jews, created during World War II on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim annexed to the Third Reich together with this region of Poland. Initially it consisted only of the Auschwitz I camp, later also of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, and later Auschwitz III-Monowitz and almost 50 sub camps created on the territory of Upper Silesia, Western Małopolska, and Bohemia. They all constituted a centrally managed administrative whole.
Among its around 1,100,000 victims, about 900,000 were Jews murdered in the gas chambers immediately after arrival; the others were prisoners of different nationalities registered in the camp who died of starvation, diseases, hard labor, executions, and selection.

Auschwitz I

The first of numerous concentration camps belonging to the Auschwitz complex, created by the Germans in June 1940 on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim, annexed to the Third Reich together with this region of Poland. It was created in former Polish Army barracks in the fork of the Soła and Vistula rivers, far from any built up areas and near a railroad station at a large junction.
Outside the camp, in an adapted former ammunition bunker, the first crematorium for burning prisoners' corpses was created in August 1940. The furnaces were supplied by the German company Topf und Söhne. The building became also the first of numerous gas chambers in Auschwitz.
The peak camp population was 18,000 prisoners (1944). In the years 1940-1942, Poles, as an ethnic group, predominated among the prisoners in Auschwitz I, with the first Jews from the Reich Main Security Office transports (spring 1942) mostly placed in Birkenau. At the end of the war, these proportions were reversed, e.g. in August 1944 the camp held over 9,000 Jews, almost 4,000 Poles, and almost 3,000 prisoners of other ethnicities.
Auschwitz I expansion plans
Initially, it was made up of the already existing 20 buildings for prisoners as well as two SS administrative blocks. Its expansion began in 1941. Two complexes of buildings for prisoners were planned: 33 in the main camp and 45 in the additional part (camp extension). The roll-call square for 30,000 prisoners was planned between them.
The plans included also the construction of SS residential area near the camp, with single-family and two-family houses with gardens, a school, kindergarten for children with a garden, garages, guest house and hospital. On the opposite side of the camp, military barracks including: residential and staff buildings, casino, garages, gunsmith shops, repair workshops, indoor riding halls, exercise halls and square as well as stables were planned. The plans were only partially realized.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Planned at first as a camp for Soviet prisoners of war, it ended up becoming a concentration camp for prisoners of various ethnic backgrounds and a center for extermination – the biggest mass extermination facilities in the occupied Europe were created there – gas chambers – where the Nazis murdered the majority of 1.1 million Jews deported to Auschwitz.
Construction of the camp began in October 1941 near the expelled Polish village of Brzezinka (German: Birkenau) and three kilometers from the Auschwitz I camp, existing already for over a year.
The camp reached the peak of its population in the summer of 1944 with nearly 90,000 prisoners (women and men and a small group of children): 68,000 Jews, 13,000 Poles, 8,000 prisoners of other ethnicities.
From early 1942, within the total extermination of Jews in Europe realized by the Third Reich authorities, mass extermination facilities began their operation near the camp under construction. Initially these were two provisional gas chambers, launched after converting the houses of Poles expelled from the village of Brzezinka. In late 1942, the Germans began the construction of a complex of four big gas chambers and crematoria, which went into operation in 1943.
Birkenau expansion plans
Initially, the camp was planned to hold 100,000 prisoners. In 1942, the intentions changed and the number of prisoners to be housed in Birkenau reached 200,000. The camp was to be divided into four parts called construction segments: the first for 20,000 prisoners and three other segments for 60,000 prisoners each. Planned surface of the entire camp was 175 hectares.
These intentions were only partially realized. Three of the four planned construction segments were completed and in total – by the spring of 1944, when construction works were definitively suspended – on the surface of 140 hectares, the total of over 300 wooden barracks as well as administrative and infrastructure buildings were constructed, together with 16 km of live barbed-wire fencing, a few dozen kilometers of roads and a 13-kilometer long system of drainage ditches. In addition, in May 1944, a three-rail siding went into operation together with the unloading ramp.

Auschwitz III-Monowitz

Initially, it was one of Auschwitz sub-camps, created in October 1942 on the area of the expelled and demolished Polish village of Monowice (German: Monowitz), 6 km from Auschwitz I, in connection with the construction by a German company – IG Farbenindustrie conglomerate – of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant.
In November 1943, Monowitz was raised to the status of concentration camp, to which all the “industrial” sub-camps in the Auschwitz complex were subordinated. Camp population grew progressively: from over 3,500 prisoners in December 1942 to over 6,000 in late 1943 and over 11,000 in July 1944 (mainly Jews). Prisoners were incarcerated in 60 barracks.
In January 1945, the majority of prisoners were evacuated on foot to Gliwice, from where they were transported by rail to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen camps. Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and famous Italian writer Primo Levi were among others the prisoners of the Monowitz camp.
Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp was the first of three main camps of the Auschwitz complex liberated by the Red Army soldiers. It took place on Saturday, January 27, 1945 before noon. In the afternoon, the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were liberated.

Bauabschnitte

Construction segments

BIa

(German: Bauabschnitt Ia – construction segment 1, sector a)
One of nine camps constructed by the Germans in Birkenau and one of the three women's camps. First women were incarcerated in the Auschwitz I camp in March 1942. In August, they were transferred to the BIa camp, located next to men's camp BIb. In July 1943, after the men were moved to camp BII d, women's camp was extended and it covered the entire first construction segment. In total, 60 barracks for prisoners, 10 barracks with washrooms and latrines, two kitchens, two bathhouses and two storehouses were constructed on the BI segment.
Women working in outside Kommandos occupied most of the barracks in BIb. BIa housed women employed inside the camp. Some of the blocks were designated as a hospital, where selections of sick prisoners were performed regularly. It was also the place where Dr. Horst Schumann conducted sterilization experiments. There were woeful hygienic-sanitation conditions in the camp because of overcrowding in the barracks and a severe water shortage, there was not enough food.
In August 1944, 23,000 women were imprisoned in the BI segment. Jews made up the largest contingent of prisoners. Other ethnicities were also present, mainly Poles, as well as Russians, Germans (mostly prisoner functionaries), Czechs, Yugoslavians and Frenchwomen. There were also Jewish, Polish, and Belarusian children in the camp.

BIb

(German: Bauabschnitt Ia – construction segment 1, sector b)
The first of the nine camps built by the Germans in Birkenau. Several thousand Soviet POWs died in the course of the construction work, which began in October 1941. It consisted of 15 masonry barracks constructed of bricks and wood from demolished houses that had belonged to Polish farmers expelled from nearby villages and 12 wooden barracks. Within the camp, there was also a kitchen, bathhouse, washrooms and latrines.
The camp went into operation in mid-March 1942, when the approximately 600 POWs who remained alive were transferred from Auschwitz I, together with the most serious cases from the camp hospital. It also became quarters for the penal company, the Sonderkommando and several thousand Jews. Starvation, hard labor and exceptionally poor living conditions resulted in a high death rate among prisoners. The completion at this time of the bathhouse, kitchen, and sanitary buildings failed to reduce the number of deaths because a typhus epidemic broke out in Birkenau and claimed thousands of victims.
The average camp population amounted to about 10,000 prisoners, who in July 1943 were transferred to the newly constructed camp BII d. Female prisoners from the women’s camp (BIa) moved into the vacated barracks.

BIIa

(German: Bauabschnitt IIa – construction segment 2, sector a)
One of the nine camps built by the Germans in Birkenau and one of three men's camps. It numbered 19 wooden barracks, three of which functioned as latrines and washrooms, with the other 16 serving as residential barracks. It was established in August 1943, a month after the opening of the BII d men’s camp. It held prisoners undergoing entry quarantine, which usually lasted three to four weeks.
Camp population underwent frequent fluctuations: at first, it held more than 7,000 prisoners, but in the spring of 1944 there were times when this figure fell below one thousand. From April, it was also used for exhausted prisoners arriving in evacuation transports from Majdanek, and later for other sick prisoners.
The quarantine camp was liquidated at the beginning of November 1944, with the healthy prisoners transferred to sector BII d and the sick to the BII f camp hospital.

BIIb

(German: Bauabschnitt IIb – construction segment 2, sector b)
One of the nine camps built by the Germans in Birkenau, assigned for Jews from the ghetto in Theresienstadt, probably set up for propaganda purposes. Prisoners of this camp mailed censored correspondence with mandatory content imposed by the Nazis in an effort to deceive relatives left behind in the ghetto about the nature of deportation.
As in the Zigeunerlager (BIIe), whole families of deportees were placed in the camp; the men, however, were quartered apart from the women and children. Other living conditions were the same as in other camps—hunger, beatings, hard labor, and limited access to water.
Out of the total of about 46,000 people deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz, the SS registered about 18,000 of them in the camp. After the first selection in the camp in March 1944, nearly 3,800 men, women, and children were murdered in the gas chambers. The camp was liquidated in July 1944 when, after another selection, about 3,000 men and women were sent to other camps and the remaining 7,000 killed in the gas chambers.

BIIc

(German: Bauabschnitt IIc –  construction segment 2, sector c)
One of the nine camps built by the Germans in Birkenau, used from May 1944 as a transit camp for Jewish women from Hungary. The women were not marked with camp numbers and waited for transport to other German concentration camps. They suffered from hunger (durchfall, muselmann) and were at risk of selections similarly to the registered prisoners. In October, the camp was liquidated and the prisoners incorporated into the population of the women’s camp.

BIId

(German: Bauabschnitt IId – construction segment 2, sector d)
One of the nine camps built by the Germans in Birkenau, and one of the three men's camps that existed from 1943. It opened in July when prisoners were transferred there from camp BI b. Apart from BII d, men were also held in the quarantine (BII a) and the hospital (BII f) sectors. Prisoners occupied 25 of the 40 wooden barracks there. On average there were 8–12 thousand men in the camp, which works out to 500 per barrack. Two of them, additionally fenced in and isolated, were occupied by the prisoners in the penal company and the Sonderkommando.

BIIe

(German: Bauabschnitt IIe – construction segment 2, sector e)
So-called Zigeunerlager (German: Gypsy camp). Established as the first of the six camps successively put into operation in so-called second construction segment of Birkenau. The first Roma were sent to the camp in February 1943. The deportees were placed together in the barracks, in entire family groups.
The camp was made up of 32 residential barracks, together with utility buildings, washrooms and latrines. One of the barracks was set aside for Dr. Josef Mengele, who conducted medical experiments there.
Roma families were not separated in the camp, they were permitted to wear civilian clothing and only limited numbers of Roma were forced to labor. However, the starvation food rations, terrible living conditions (hygiene) and the spread of contagious diseases (typhus) resulted in very high mortality in the “Gypsy camp”, reaching over 60%.
In total, during 18 months of its existence, about 21,000 men, women and children (including 378 born in Birkenau) were registered in the camp. The camp was liquidated on the night of August 2/3, 1944, when the last 3,000 men, women, and children were murdered by the Germans in the gas chambers.

BIIf

(German: Bauabschnitt IIf – construction segment 2, sector f)
A hospital camp, one of the nine camps in Birkenau, opened in July 1943. It was made up of 17 wooden barracks and a washroom latrine. Barracks housed sick prisoners in surgical, internal medicine, dermatological, and contagious diseases departments (typhus).
The most notorious block was number 12, used for patients unlikely to recover, who were subject to systematic selection for the gas chambers. SS physicians exercised formal supervision over the camp, with  Josef Mengele among them. They devoted most of their time to keeping records and writing reports, as well as carrying out selection in the blocks. In practice, a prisoner physician was responsible for organizational matters and the standard of treatment. Doctors, nurses, and auxiliary personnel in the various blocks reported to him. Despite their efforts, they were unable to help many prisoners because of the inadequate supply of medicine.
The peak population of the hospital camp was 2,700 in December 1943. Many of them were still in Birkenau when the evacuation (Death Marches) began in January 1945.

BIIg

(German: Bauabschnitt IIg –  construction segment 2, sector g)
One of the nine camps in Birkenau, used to store the plundered property of Jews who were the victims of extermination. The first storehouse of this type (called Kanada I in the camp jargon) was set up in the summer of 1942 next to the site where the DAW German Equipment Works factory (German companies) was being built, between Birkenau and Auschwitz I. A much bigger complex of 30 storage barracks built on the grounds of Birkenau, near one of the gas chambers, became operational in December 1943 (Kanada II).
This was the main depository for luggage that arrived from the spring of 1944 with Jews from Hungary (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”) and the Litzmannstadt ghetto. At the peak period, up to two thousand prisoners were directly employed at the two Kanada complexes unloading items from trucks and sorting them. A separate “order Kommando” collected suitcases and other items from the train cars and the ramp.
Kanada was universally acknowledged to be one of the best places to work, along with the kitchen and the food pantries. This surely explains the name of the Kommando—Canada was then regarded as a land of prosperity and abundance.

BIII

So-called third construction segment of the Birkenau camp, called Meksyk (Polish: Mexico) in the camp jargon. It was intended for 60,000 prisoners. Construction began in mid 1943, but by January 1944 only 32 of the planned 188 barracks were complete, with a further 35 in the assembly or outfitting stages.
The decision to halt work was made at the turn of March/April 1944. When Jewish women from Hungary (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”) began being quartered there in mid May, there were no kitchens, washrooms, or latrines, and many of the barracks had no bunks in them. The prisoners received bedraggled summer dresses, and some of them went almost naked with only rags and scraps of blankets to cover themselves. Thus the name given to the segment may reflect the image of Mexico in the prewar press as a poor, restless country with a disorganized administration.
With the constant influx of transports from Hungary, Litzmannstadt, Płaszów, and evacuated labor camps on the one hand, and women being transferred to camps in the Reich or falling victim to selection on the other, the population fluctuated wildly while generally remaining above 10,000 women.
Meksyk was liquidated in early October 1944 and those prisoners who remained in the camp were sent to the women's segment (BIa).

Birkenau, Auschwitz II

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Block 10

A prisoner block in Auschwitz I where, from April 1943, the gynecologist Carl Clauberg’s experimental station was located. From 150 to 400 Jewish women were quartered there, and he conducted sterilization experiments on them. They were officially listed in the camp records as “female prisoners for experimentation.” Some of them died during the experiments, and many were specially put to death for autopsy purposes. The windows of the building, looking out on the courtyard where the Death Wall was located, were permanently shuttered so that the women could not observe the executions taking place there. In May 1944, the experimental station was moved to the so called camp extension.

Block 11

A building in Auschwitz I that, in various periods, housed on the ground floor and first floor: penal company prisoners, so called police prisoners, new arrivals in the camp undergoing so called entry quarantine, and prisoners awaiting release undergoing. From 1943, the summary court held sessions in a ground floor room. Men and women prisoners suspected of being active in the resistance movement, contact with civilians, or attempting to escape were held in the basement. Also placed in the cells were prisoners sentenced to death by starvation in reprisal for the escape of a fellow prisoner. In the cellars of the block, at the beginning of September 1941, the SS carried out the first test using Zyklon B for mass murder. The victims of this crime were Soviet POWs and sick Polish prisoners selected from the camp hospital. In the courtyard of block 11, executions were held by shooting (Death Wall) as well as by hanging. Punishment by the post was also administered in the block and its courtyard.

Block elder

This position in the so called prisoner self government was held by a prisoner whose duties were maintaining order and discipline in the block, distributing food, and keeping records on the prisoners. The block elders had almost unlimited power over the prisoners, which usually took the form of continually hurrying, beating them, and imposing arbitrary punishments. Block elders had their own room that, by camp standards, was “luxuriously” furnished with a single bed, sheets, a pillow, and a duvet, as well as a wardrobe for his clothes and personal effects. Young prisoners known as “Pipels” had to clean for them and, sometimes were also forced to render sexual services. Block elders were distinguished by black coats, high boots, and armbands with the name of their post. In the early days of the camp, block elders were almost always German criminals. Later, Poles and Jews also became block elders. By that point, there were block elders who showed less brutality or even tried to protect their prisoner charges and exercise their power justly.

Bombing

The Auschwitz II-Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria never became targets for Allied bombing, despite reports about their existence forwarded by the Polish resistance movement. Instead, American bombers carried out several strikes against the IG Farben petrochemical installations located at the distance of seven kilometers from Auschwitz. The factory came under attack for the first time in May 1943. From the spring of 1944, Auschwitz camps came within range of American bombers flying out of bases in Italy. Reconnaissance aircraft, the task of which was to photograph the chemical plants, performed many photographs on which Birkenau gas chambers are, among others, visible. The first larger raid on the plant came only in August 1944, when 127 American bombers type B 17 dropped 1,336 bombs. This attack and the following ones seriously damaged the plant and made it impossible to resume production on any significant scale before the arrival of Red Army units in January 1945. Some of the bombs detonated far from the plant, including the grounds of Auschwitz complex camps, killing both the prisoners and SS men.

Burning pits

When the mass extermination of Jews began at Auschwitz in 1942, the corpses of the murdered people were initially buried in mass graves on the edges of the Birkenau camp. During his second visit to Auschwitz in July 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered that they be exhumed and burned.
For fuel, at first, the wood from demolished houses, near the camp, that had belonged to expelled Polish farmers was used. Later, branches and scrap wood were brought by the truckload from the nearby forests.
About 107,000 corpses were burned in this way by the end of the year. In the spring of 1943, when the crematoria went into operation, the burning of bodies in pits was limited. The burning of corpses in this way on a large scale resumed in the spring and summer of 1944 during so-called Sonderaktion “Ungarn” and the liquidation of the Litzmannstadt ghetto.

Camp extension

(German: Lagererweiterung)

A complex of 20 buildings erected in an area adjacent to Auschwitz I as part of plans for expanding the camp. These plans, only partially realized, envisioned more than 50 new buildings, including a new commandant’s office. The new buildings were used as temporary SS barracks, workshops, and storage facilities for property plundered from the Jews exterminated in the gas chambers. From May 1944, women prisoners were moved there from block 10 and the SS laundry, as well as women employed in the nearby Union‑Werke plant. At the end of 1944 there were three to four thousand women prisoners in the Lagererweiterung. The last public execution at Auschwitz was held there on January 6, 1945.

Categories of prisoners

    • asocial prisoners
    • Jehovah’s Witnesses
    • homosexual prisoners
    • criminal prisoners
    • political prisoners
    • Soviet prisoners of war (POWs)
    • reeducation prisoners

Children

There were a few children among the adult Poles deported to Auschwitz as early as 1940. At the turn of 1942/1943, children from the Zamość region were sent to the camp along with adults, and in 1944, children from Warsaw during the Uprising there. Jewish children began to be deported with their families to Auschwitz in 1942. The great majority were sent to die in the gas chambers after selection. Sporadically, teenage boys and girls were picked for registration in the camp. For a time, children from the Theresienstadt ghetto were held with their families in the so‑called Theresienstadt family camp (BII b) in Birkenau. Similarly, Roma children stayed with their parents in the so‑called Zigeunerlager. Both camps were liquidated in the end and little children still alive there were murdered. Children, along with adults, were also deported to Auschwitz from occupied Soviet territory (mostly Belarus) in 1943–1944.

Until mid‑1943, all children born in Auschwitz were murdered—usually by phenol injection or drowning. Later, non‑Jewish newborns were allowed to live. They were entered in the camp records as new arrivals. Due to the woeful conditions in the camp, few lived long. Children born to Jewish mothers were murdered until the end of October 1944, when the SS halted the mass killing of Jews.

The extant records note the birth of at least 700 children in Auschwitz. It is estimated, basing on the approximate data, that over 232,000 children and young people were deported to Auschwitz, of whom 216,000 were Jews, 11,000 Roma, about 3,000 Poles, more than 1,000 Belarusians, and several hundred Russians, Ukrainians, and others. A total of about 23,000 children and young people were registered in the camp. Slightly more than 700 were liberated on the territory of Auschwitz in January 1945.

Construction segment

(German: Bauabschnitt)

Term used by German architects who designed Birkenau to describe main segments of the camp, divided into smaller sectors. Until the spring of 1944, when construction works were halted, three out of the four construction segments were completed. They comprised nine camps.

Segment BI. In March 1942, men were housed in the first sector of the segment (camp BI b) and in August, women were housed in its second sector (BI a). From July 1943, the entire segment BI became women's camp.

Segment BII. The second construction segment, consisting of seven sectors-camps, started becoming operational from March 1943:

1. March – so-called family camp for Roma (Zigeunerlager, BII e),

2. May – transit camp for Jewish women from Hungary (BII c),

3. and 4. July – men's camp (BII d) and hospital camp (BII f),

5. August – quarantine camp for men (BII a),

6. September – so-called family camp for Jews transported from the ghetto in Theresienstadt (BII b),

7. December – a complex of storage barracks for property plundered from Jews murdered in the gas chambers (BII g, so called Kanada).

Segment BIII, so called Meksyk. In mid-May 1944, women from the transports of Jews from Hungary were housed there (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”).

Crematoria

As in other German concentration camps, also in Auschwitz there was a crematorium for burning prisoners’ corpses. It went into operation in mid‑August 1940. The furnaces for that first crematorium and all the later ones were supplied and installed by the German company Topf und Söhne of Erfurt. Up to 340 corpses per day could be burned in the crematorium. The morgue associated with this crematorium was converted into the first gas chamber in September 1941.

When the extermination of Jews began in 1942, they were murdered in the Little Red House and Little White House and the bodies were buried in mass graves. Midway through the year, with the number of transports of murdered Jews rising significantly, it was decided to dig up the mass graves and dispose of the bodies in burning pits, and also to build four modern, efficient crematoria, functionally connected with gas chambers. They went into operation in Birkenau in 1943. The two largest ones could burn up to 1440 corpses per 24-hour day; the smaller paired up to 768 corpses

In the spring of 1944, when extermination peaked as transports of Jews from Hungary arrived in Sonderaktion “Ungarn”, the crematoria could not keep up and, once again, some bodies were burned outdoors.

The building of the first crematorium which in 1944 served as storage space and an air‑raid shelter for Germans remains intact until today.

Criminal prisoners, category

A category embracing two groups of prisoners marked with green triangles in the camp: so-called professional offenders and repeat offenders under preventive detention. They were obvious favorites of the SS. In practice, the German criminals were never assigned to hard labor and even the least competent among them were assigned to Kommandos as functionaries. At the end of the summer of 1944, there were 1,372 Germans marked with the green triangle in Auschwitz. Many of them later volunteered for Oskar Dirlewanger’s Waffen‑SS unit, which committed numerous atrocities in rear areas on the Eastern Front.

Death Marches

In mid‑January 1945, the Red Army broke through the German lines. As Soviet units approached Cracow, about 70 km from Oświęcim, the Auschwitz authorities began the evacuation of prisoners to concentration camps in the depths of the Third Reich. From January 17 to 21, the SS marched about 56,000 prisoners out of the Auschwitz complex. The prisoners were forced to cover scores of kilometers of evacuation routes to be then carried onwards by rail. The SS murdered those who came to the end of their strength and could not go on and shot at escapees. At least nine thousand  Auschwitz prisoners perished in total during the evacuation.

The Germans left several thousand prisoners, mainly the sick and exhausted ones, in the camps. They were liberated by the Soviets on January 27, 1945.

Death Wall

A structure erected near the courtyard wall between block 10 and block 11 in Auschwitz I, where for two years, from the autumn of 1941 to the autumn of 1943, SS men conducted a few thousand executions. Prisoners were killed by SS men with a shot to the base of the skull from a small‑bore weapon. After the execution, the corpses were taken to the crematorium. From the autumn of 1943, executions by shooting were conducted in the Birkenau camp. The wall was dismantled. In 1946, it was reconstructed by former prisoners of the camp employed by the Memorial, which was then being founded.

Dental gold

Dental gold recovered from deceased prisoners was delivered to the main office of the SS sanitary service, which in turn would distribute it to dental clinics where SS men and their families went for treatment. By the beginning of October 1942, the office had 50 kg of bullion in its possession, enough to cover the needs of the SS dental service for five years.

An unknown quantity of this bullion and other dental metals was shipped from Auschwitz. Partially extant reports from the camp dentist’s office indicate that 16,325 teeth made of gold or precious metal alloys were extracted from the mouths of 2,904 deceased prisoners in the second half of 1942. The decided majority of this metal, however, was recovered from the bodies of Jews murdered in the gas chambers. According to estimates by members of the camp resistance movement, the SS authorities obtained from 10 to 12 kg of gold per month from the victims’ teeth.

Diarrhea

(German: Durchfall)

A symptom of the starvation sickness from which a majority of Auschwitz prisoners suffered. It was caused by a significant drop in the level of protein and other nutrients in the organism, as well as the presence of toxins resulting from tissue breakdown. These toxins, in turn, caused inflammatory ischemic changes in the bowel, resulting in difficulties in retaining feces. Prisoners suffering from diarrhea had to relieve themselves numerous times throughout the day, including working hours. This exposed them to harassment by SS men and prisoner functionaries all the more so when, unable to relieve themselves in time, they went around befouled and reeking. Nor could unfriendly reactions from fellow prisoners be avoided. Because anti diarrheal medication—charcoal or tannalbin tablets—were regulated by SS doctors in the camp hospital, sufferers tried to treat themselves by several days of strict fasting or by consuming charred bread or pieces of charred wood. If the diarrhea could not be stopped, the destruction of the organism occurred quickly, leading to the Muselmann state and, ultimately, death.

Durchfall

Diarrhea

Effacing the traces of crime

Initial camp evacuation and eliminating the traces of the crimes

From August 1944 through mid-January 1945 the Germans transferred approximately 65 thousand male and female prisoners out of Auschwitz to be employed as a slave labor force for various enterprises in the depths of the Third Reich. They also started the initial elimination and destruction of the evidence of their crimes – among others, the prisoners’ registers and records of the Jews murdered in gas chambers were burnt. Movable property of the camp was transported away, mainly large amounts of construction materials as well as goods plundered from the victims of mass murder. The technical elements of all gas chambers and crematoria but one were dismantled or disassembled by the end of the year.

Camp liquidation

In mid-January 1945, when the front line was broken by the Red Army and its troops were approaching Cracow, 70 km away from the camp, the final evacuation of prisoners started. From 17 to 21 January 1945 approximately 56 thousand male and female prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps in marching columns. Having reached the indicated railway station they were transported farther to the west in freight cars. Both evacuation routes, by rail or on foot, were littered with the bodies of prisoners who had either been shot or had died due to exhaustion or cold. An estimated 9 thousand prisoners of Auschwitz died during that operation.

On 20 January 1945 the SS blew up the gas chambers and crematoria that had already been put out of service some time earlier while the last one, still fully operational, was blown up on 26 January. On 23 January the warehouses, where the goods belonging to the victims of the extermination were stored, were set on fire.

Escapes

In total, in the entire history of the Auschwitz camp, for over a million deportees, there were several hundred prisoners who attempted to escape. Spontaneous escapes usually ended in the death of the escapee who, trying to escape from the workplace, was shot by the guards. Escapes prepared in advance were more likely to succeed. It became possible when the so-called large-cordon guard system was introduced. This line of guard posts surrounded a broad area around the camp where prisoners worked and were watched by SS patrols. Would‑be escapees tried to pick out a hiding place ahead of time. When a prisoner was reported missing, the Germans sent out patrols to search the area, which remained under surveillance day and night by the SS men posted along the large cordon. If this did not yield results, the guard posts were called in after three days and telegrams sent to nearby police stations containing information about the fugitive. Another method used by escapees was to obtain civilian clothing and passes in order to mix in with the crowd of civilian workers leaving the camp in the evening. Several prisoners escaped disguised in SS uniforms. Others tunneled under the fences in sub‑camps, where the guard system was not so highly developed.

There were three mass escapes from Auschwitz— prisoners from the penal company (June 1942), Soviet prisoners of war (November 1942) and Sonderkommando prisoners (October 1944). There were also several desperate attempts by groups of Jews deported for extermination to conceal themselves or escape (for instance in February 1943) right after arriving with the transport at the ramp.

The majority of fugitives were caught by police patrols or shot while being pursued. At least 180 people managed to escape.

Ethnic origins and number of victims of Auschwitz

1.3 million deportees

The German Nazis deported to Auschwitz at least 1.3 million people of more than 20 nationalities. Of that amount, 400 thousand were registered and incarcerated in the concentration camp as prisoners while 900 thousand were murdered in the gas chambers on arrival. Jews constituted 85% of all deportees and 90% of those who were murdered.

1.1 million murdered

From among 1.3 million Auschwitz deportees, at least 1.1 million were murdered:

    • 900 thousand Jews murdered in the gas chambers immediately on arrival at the camp;
    • Of the 400 thousand prisoners registered in the camp, 200 thousand people died there. They included almost 100 thousand Jews, 64 thousand Poles, 21 thousand Roma, 14 thousand Soviet prisoners of war and more than 10 thousand prisoners of other nationalities.

Total number of deportees and murdered in Auschwitz

Nationality/Category

Number of deportees

Percentage of the total number of deportees

Number of victims

Percentage of murdered within the category/nationality

Percentage of all victims

Jews

1.1 million

85%

~1 million

90%

91%

Poles

140 thousand

10.8%

~64 thousand

46%

5.8%

Other groups

25 thousand

1.9%

~12 thousand

48%

1%

Roma (Gypsies)

23 thousand

1.6%

~21 thousand

91.3%

1.7%

Soviet POWs

15 thousand

1.2%

~14 thousand

93%

1.3%

Total

~1.3 million

 

~1.1 million

85%

 

 

Jews deported to Auschwitz according to their country of origin

(according to the pre-1939 borders)

Country of origin

Number

Hungary (according to the borders during the war)

430 thousand

Poland

300 thousand

France

69 thousand

The Netherlands

60 thousand

Greece

55 thousand

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Theresienstadt)

46 thousand

Concentration camps and other centers

34 thousand

Slovakia (according to the borders during the war)

27 thousand

Belgium

25 thousand

Germany and Austria

23 thousand

Yugoslavia

10 thousand

Italy

7.5 thousand

Latvia

1 thousand

Norway

690

Total

~ 1.1 mln

 

Prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp

The Germans imprisoned approximately 400 thousand people in the Auschwitz concentration camp:

    • 200 thousand Jews (50% of the total number)
    • 140 thousand Poles (35%)
    • 25 thousand peoples of other nationalities (6%)
    • 21 thousand Roma (5%)
    • 12 thousand Soviet captives (4%)

Among the 25 thousand people of different nationalities the most numerous were the Czech (9 thousand), followed by: Belarussians (6 thousand), Germans (4 thousand), French (4 thousand), Russians (1.5 thousand), Yugoslavians (mostly Slovenians but also Croatians and Serbs) and Ukrainians.

Small numbers (several to several dozen persons) of people of the following nationalities were also imprisoned in the camp: Albanian, Belgium, Danish, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxembourg, Dutch, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovakian, Spanish and Swiss (alphabetical order not reflecting the actual numbers).

Prisoners of Auschwitz concentration camp

Nationality

Number

Jews

200 thousand

Poles

140 thousand

Roma

21 thousand

Soviet captives

12 thousand

Czech

9 thousand

Belarussian

6 thousand

German

4 thousand

French

4 thousand

Russian

1.5 thousand

Yugoslavian

800

Ukrainian

500

Other

200

Total

~ 400 thousand

 

Executions

Prisoners held in the camp as hostages or sent there by Gestapo for political reasons were executed in Auschwitz. Prisoners jailed in the cells of camp prison (Block 11) for belonging to the camp resistance movement or caught in an attempt to escape were also put to death. So were Poles not registered in the camp but convicted by summary courts.

The death sentence was carried out by: shooting, hanging, gassing or starvation. At first, prisoners—mostly Poles but also Soviet POWs—were shot by a firing squad. From 1941 to 1943, the majority of the executions took place at the so called Death Wall. In 1944 they were carried out in Birkenau, either inside or just outside the crematorium buildings, as when 200 Jewish prisoners were shot in October 1944 after the Sonderkommando mutiny.
It is estimated that about 5,500 prisoners, jailed in the camp prison, and the so called police prisoners sentenced to death by the summary court, lost their lives by shooting. An important but unspecified number of prisoners were sent straight from the camp to be shot, as were Soviet POWs and Poles brought in from the outside.
Execution by gassing was used to murder among others about 2,000 Soviet POWs, about 320 members of the penal company after an attempted mass escape and several hundred Poles sentenced to death by the Gestapo summary court.
Execution by hanging was carried out usually during roll calls, as a way of intimidating the prisoners. In July 1943, in the largest public execution, the Germans hanged 12 Poles from the surveyors’ Kommando in reprisal for the escape of three of their fellow prisoners. The last execution by hanging took place in the so called camp extension on January 6, 1945, when four Jewish women were executed on charges of supplying Sonderkommando prisoners with explosives that they used during their mutiny.
Camp authorities carried out also the death penalty by starvation. It was inflicted on prisoners chosen from the block or Kommando of the prisoner who had escaped.

Expulsion

In connection with the founding of the Auschwitz camp, the German administrative authorities expelled the local Polish and Jewish civilians. In total, over 15,000 people were forced to leave their homes.

First, Poles living in immediate proximity to the camp were forced to leave their homes; then the same thing happened to residents of the Zasole district of Oświęcim. The area became part of the so-called camp interest zone. Some of the houses were adapted as dwellings for SS men and their families, and most of the other vacated buildings were demolished. When a decision was made to create SS farms in the vicinity of the camp, Polish and Jewish civilians were expelled from eight villages near Oświęcim. The Auschwitz authorities confiscated all livestock, movable property and real estate in the vacated area. Almost a thousand houses and other buildings were demolished, and the material thus obtained used in building Birkenau and several of the sub‑camps. The entire Jewish population of Oświęcim was also expelled and their dwellings were assigned to German workers of the IG Farben plant. In connection with the construction by the company of the petrochemical plant, the majority of the residents of the village of Monowice were also expelled and the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp was constructed there.

Apart from these expulsions, German authorities also removed the Polish population of other villages near Oświęcim. This was connected with the policy of “strengthening German nationhood” in Polish land annexed by the Third Reich. German colonists took the place of the expelled.

First transports of Polish political prisoners

The first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners arrived in Auschwitz from the prison in Tarnów (150 km from the camp) on June 14, 1940. This date is accepted as the beginning of the operation of the camp. Shortly afterwards, next transports of political prisoners from the nearby prisons arrived in Auschwitz. Among them there were young men arrested while illegally crossing the Slovakian and Hungarian border in order to get to the Polish Army units forming in France, members of clandestine organizations, and people arrested in operations targeting the Polish intelligentsia. There were also several dozen Jews in the first transports.

Food

Menus for prisoners of concentration camps were based on nutritional norms specifying the ingredients necessary for preparing meals, and their caloric value. Often, however, the makeup and nutritional value of the meals did not correspond to the nominal specifications, either because functionaries pilfered food articles, or because the food was of low quality or spoiled.

Prisoners obtained three meals over the course of the day. In the morning they were given half a liter of liquid to drink. The midday meal consisted of about one liter of soup. Beginning in 1942, products originating in the baggage of Jews murdered in the gas chambers were also used in the soup. For supper, half a liter of liquid was given to drink along with approximately 300 g of black bread, to which a bit of the lowest‑quality sausage or margarine was added, or a tablespoon of marmalade or cheese. The bread obtained in the evening was supposed to suffice for breakfast as well, but the famished prisoners usually ate the whole portion at once; the fear that it would be stolen during the night was also a factor.

The low nutritional value of the meals and the associated insufficiency of animal protein, fat, vitamins and mineral salts led to the rapid wasting away of the organism (Muselmann).

Frauenlager

(German: Bauabschnitt Ia – construction segment 1, sector a)

One of nine camps constructed by the Germans in Birkenau and one of the three women's camps. First women were incarcerated in the Auschwitz I camp in March 1942. In August, they were transferred to the BIa camp, located next to men's camp BIb. In July 1943, after the men were moved to camp BII d, women's camp was extended and it covered the entire first construction segment. In total, 60 barracks for prisoners, 10 barracks with washrooms and latrines, two kitchens, two bathhouses and two storehouses were constructed on the BI segment.

Women working in outside Kommandos occupied most of the barracks in BIb. BIa housed women employed inside the camp. Some of the blocks were designated as a hospital, where selections of sick prisoners were performed regularly. It was also the place where Dr. Horst Schumann conducted sterilization experiments. There were woeful hygienic-sanitation conditions in the camp because of overcrowding in the barracks and a severe water shortage, there was not enough food.

In August 1944, 23,000 women were imprisoned in the BI segment. Jews made up the largest contingent of prisoners. Other ethnicities were also present, mainly Poles, as well as Russians, Germans (mostly prisoner functionaries), Czechs, Yugoslavians and Frenchwomen. There were also Jewish, Polish, and Belarusian children in the camp.

Functionary prisoners

    • Block elder
    • Kapo

Gas chambers

After the successful test of using gas to kill prisoners in the basement of block 11, the first gas chamber was set up in Auschwitz I. It went into operation in the autumn of 1941 in a converted facility that had previously served as a morgue associated with the first camp crematorium. Soviet POWs and the first groups of Jews sent to Auschwitz were murdered there. The last known case of killing with gas there was in December 1942.

In the spring of 1942, a second gas chamber, known as the Little Red House, went into operation in Birkenau. Another gas chamber, the Little White House, was set up in the middle of that year. Both of these gas chambers functioned until the spring of 1943, when four bigger gas chambers, together with crematoria, began operating in Birkenau. Two of the new chambers were subterranean rooms made to look like showers. Granules of Zyklon B were dumped through openings in the ceiling. Each of them had 210 sq. m of floor space. Two other chambers, with a similar floor space, were situated at ground level and divided into several smaller rooms. The Zyklon B was dumped in through openings in the walls of the buildings.

One of these gas chambers was partially destroyed during the Sonderkommando mutiny in October 1944. The others were partially dismantled after the halt to the extermination of Jews at the beginning of November 1944. All of them were blown up in January 1945. Only the ruins remain. The building of the first gas chamber situated in Auschwitz I is extant.

German companies

Nearly 2,000 German enterprises got involved in cooperation with Auschwitz. Numerous firms employed prisoners directly, on the spot, or in the sub‑camps, or sub‑let prisoners to their sub‑contractors; for example IG Farben “loaned” prisoners to at least 81 construction companies. Other companies delivered various products and supplies to the camp, undertook specialist renovation and construction works. Among them were large, well‑known firms like Osram, which supplied light bulbs for the lamps mounted on the camp fence or Siemens, which equipped the camp with various kinds of electrical devices. However, the majority were small retailers, wholesalers, drug stores, and shops operating in Upper and Lower Silesia.

Some companies were aware of what was going on in Auschwitz. There can be no doubt that the management of Topf und Söhne, which designed and supplied parts for the crematoria furnaces, was aware. The same is true of Tesch und Stabenow GmbH, which supplied Zyklon B, and the owners and employees of the companies involved in building the crematoria and gas chambers—Josef Kluge of Gliwice, Schlesische Industriebau Lenz u. Co. of Wrocław, Huta Hoch u. Tiefbau AG of  Katowice, and many others.

Gypsies

The Nazis regarded Roma as a “hostile element” allegedly possessing an inborn tendency to crime and asocial behavior. From 1933 they became, along with Jews, the objects of persecution on racist grounds, first through registration, then a ban on certain occupations and on contracting mixed marriages, then compulsory labor and, in the end, confinement in concentration camps.

At the outbreak of World War II it was decided to resettle German Roma to occupied Poland. German police authorities began arresting and executing Roma in the occupied territory. This was also true behind the lines on the Eastern Front where Roma were murdered on a mass scale alongside Jews by so-called Einsatzkommandos.

After the issuing by Heinrich Himmler of an order that they should be sent to Auschwitz, Roma were deported there from 1943 mainly from Germany and also from Austria, Bohemia and Poland. They were placed in the so‑called Zigeunerlager (Gypsy camp) in Birkenau. A total of about 23,000 Roma were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz, including 2,000 Roma murdered without being entered into the camp's records. 21,000 were registered in the camp, of which 19,000 died of starvation and sickness, or were murdered in the gas chambers upon liquidation of the “Gypsy camp”.

Hair

Prisoners at Auschwitz, as in other German concentration camps, had all the hair on their bodies cut and shaved off during the induction procedures. This procedure was applied for reasons of hygiene and escape prevention. The SS Economic-Administrative Main Office directed to store prisoners' hair and sell it to German companies as an industrial raw material. The hair of Jewish women murdered in the gas chambers was also put to use. Women had their hair cut off before they entered the gas chambers at the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka extermination centers, but at Auschwitz the hair was sheared from corpses. The hair obtained in this manner was next disinfected, dried, packed in sacks and sold to German companies as raw material for haircloth and felt. Bales of haircloth and almost two tons of hair belonging to almost 40,000 people can be seen at the Auschwitz Memorial.

Himmler, Heinrich

(1900-1945)

He associated himself with the Nazi movement almost from its beginnings: he took part in the Munich putsch in 1923, joined the SS two years later and, as Hitler’s confidant, became its leader in 1929. His influence in the party and state apparatuses grew systematically as he became among others head of the German police and minister of the interior. To a large degree, he was responsible for creating the system of state concentration camps, and for the extermination of the Jews during World War II.

He inspected Auschwitz twice—in March 1941 when he approved the decision to expand the camp and create the so-called interest zone and in July 1942 when he observed the process of murdering Jews deported from the Netherlands in the Little White House.

Homosexual prisoners, category

There were fewer than a hundred men recognized as homosexuals incarcerated in Auschwitz. They were prisoners of German nationality designated by a pink triangle, arrested on the basis of Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code. The majority of the several score thousand homosexuals arrested by the Nazis before the war ended up in such concentration camps as Dachau, Sachsenhausen, or Flossenbürg. Prisoners in this category were rare in camps founded during the war, when the persecution of them in Germany eased markedly.

Their fellow former prisoners usually held negative views of their behavior in the camp, which may in part have reflected prejudices that were widespread at the time. They were also sometimes confused with other German prisoners— criminal and asocial functionaries—who often compelled young boys (youths) to perform sexual favors.

Hospitals

A so-called “sick bay” was the starting point for the hospital in Auschwitz I. It was set up in June 1940, immediately after the opening of the camp. In the years to come, hospitals were also created in Birkenau (among others in the part of the women's camp BI a and in the camp BII f), as well as in Monowitz and several of the larger sub‑camps.

The overcrowding of hospital rooms caused high mortality. Living conditions in the camp were such that prisoners quickly came down with various illnesses. Colds, pneumonia, and frostbite were common in winter. Brutal treatment by SS men and functionaries resulted in broken limbs and damage to muscles. Because of vitamin insufficiency and contagion, prisoners came down with boils, abscesses, and ulceration. Starvation sickness was common (Muselmann). The hospital crawled with fleas and lice, and rats were an additional plague in Birkenau.

From the second half of 1942, in connection with the threat of typhus and the increased need for labor power, the SS leadership decided to take steps to improve conditions in the hospitals. Selections, conducted by SS doctors until November 1944, nevertheless represented a constant danger to anyone in the hospital. All sick prisoners were originally subject to selection, but after mid‑1943 it was confined to Jews.

Höss, Rudolf

(1900-1947)

The founder and first commandant of Auschwitz. He joined the NSDAP in 1922 and the SS in 1933. In May 1940, he was named commandant of the newly created Auschwitz concentration camp. In the course of three years he turned it into the largest center for the extermination of the Jews and the largest Nazi concentration camp complex, with prisoners hired out to German companies.

While serving at Auschwitz, he lived—with his wife and five children—in a villa standing only 30 m from the camp fence, and 170 m from the crematorium chimney. Horses were his life’s passion. Arrested in March 1946 in Germany, where he was in hiding, he testified in one of the Nuremberg trials. In May 1946, he was extradited to Poland. The Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw sentenced him to death. The sentence was carried out in April 1947, between the crematorium and the house where he lived during the war. The scaffold from which he was hanged still stands on the grounds of the Auschwitz Memorial.

Human ashes

The corpses of the murdered were burned in the crematoria. Sonderkommando prisoners used wooden mallets to crush not fully burnt bones into powder. Everything was then loaded onto trucks and carried to the banks of the Vistula river, beyond the woods in Birkenau, where it was shoveled straight into the waters of the river. Human ashes were also dumped into the Soła river near the Auschwitz I camp, and into holes and depressions in the terrain. They were used as a base for building roads or reinforcing dikes, and as an additive to the compost heaps used on the camp farms. Significant deposits of human ashes are extant in the vicinity of the crematoria, the burning pits, and in the clearings and at the edge of the woods in Birkenau.

Hygiene

SS men and prisoner functionaries noted the appearance and cleanliness of prisoners. Dirty clothing, an unwashed body, or an unshaved face frequently served as a pretext for inflicting punishment. The poor sanitary conditions in the camp, however, made staying clean and well‑groomed nearly impossible for the majority of prisoners. The paucity of sanitary facilities in blocks usually holding 600 to 750 prisoners limited the use of them. Prisoner functionaries restricted also access to the facilities, usually permitting prisoners only a few minutes to relieve themselves and wash before going out to work and upon returning.

The limited possibilities for washing and washing clothes, along with the overcrowding in the barracks made lice, which were the carriers for typhus, a plague in the camp. Although there were bathhouses in the camp, prisoners used them on an irregular basis, usually as part of what was known as “general delousing.” Before showering they had to undress, turn over their clothing for disinfection purposes, and then wait naked, usually outdoors regardless of the weather, for it to be returned. Many fell ill and died within the process.

IG Farben

A German chemical conglomerate resulting from the 1925 merger of such leading firms as Bayer, Agfa, and BASF. In the 1930s, owing to technological advances and state subsidies, it almost monopolized the production of many goods vital to the Third Reich war economy. The most important of these were liquid fuel and synthetic rubber, which could not be imported to Germany after the sea lanes were cut at the start of the war. The conglomerate was one of the first companies to employ concentration camp prisoners on a mass scale—above all from Auschwitz (Auschwitz III)— and to demand that the SS maintain their capacity for labor, mostly through the replacement of the sick (selection) and weak with healthy, strong new arrivals from the transports arriving in the camp. After the war some members of IG Farben management were tried at the American Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and sentenced to up to eight years in prison, but all the convicted men were released at the beginning of the 1950s.

Informing the world about Auschwitz crimes

    • Aid to prisoners
    • Reports by escapees

Interest Zone of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

(German: Interessengebiet des KL Auschwitz)

An SS‑administered area of over 40 sq. km established in early 1941 after the expulsion of Poles and Jews from the villages near the camp. The inhabitants of one of the Oświęcim districts were also expelled. Its creation reflected the desire of the camp authorities to remove witnesses to the crimes of the SS, as well as to impede contact between prisoners and the outside world; Rudolf Höss wrote in one of his reports that “the surrounding populace is fanatically Polish” and ready to help escapees “as soon as they reach the first Polish farmstead.” Another important motive was the confiscation of land for camp farms. By 1943, as a result, about nine thousand people were expelled from the area and more than a thousand houses demolished. The construction material thus obtained was used to build barracks in the Birkenau camp. Later, the SS organized eight sub‑camps in the area. Prisoners from these sub‑camps worked in the fields, raised animals and maintained fish ponds.

Jehovah's Witnesses, category of prisoners

Activities by the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in the Third Reich in 1933 because of the Witnesses’ religious principles and pacifistic views, as well as their organization’s international connections. As a result, many of them were imprisoned in concentration camps. Almost 400 Witnesses were in total incarcerated in Auschwitz. Some of them were marked in the camp with a purple triangle sewn on their prisoner clothing, some were placed in other categories, above all that of political prisoners. Germans were the most numerous in this group, followed by Poles and smaller numbers of Dutch, Yugoslavian, Russian, and Czech prisoners.

Jews

The extermination of the Jews by the Germans during World War II, within the framework of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” was the largest mass act of genocide in human history. One‑fifth of the almost six million murdered Jews perished in Auschwitz.

In total, in the years 1942-1944, more than a million Jews were deported to the camp:

• 430,000 from Hungary

• 300,000 from Poland

• 69,000 from France

• 60,000 from the Netherlands

• 55,000 from Greece

• 46,000 from Bohemia and Moravia

• 26,000 from Slovakia

• 25,000 from Belgium

• 23,000 from Germany and Austria

• 10,000 from Yugoslavia

• 7,500 from Italy

• 690 from Norway

About 900,000 of them were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after arrival and selection on the ramp. About 200,000 were registered in the camp, where more than half died as a result of brutal treatment by SS men and prisoner functionaries, work exceeding their strength, malnutrition, terrible hygienic conditions and the associated sicknesses and epidemics (living conditions) and selection in the camp.

Kanada

(German: Bauabschnitt IIg –  construction segment 2, sector g)

One of the nine camps in Birkenau, used to store the plundered property of Jews who were the victims of extermination. The first storehouse of this type (called Kanada I in the camp jargon) was set up in the summer of 1942 next to the site where the DAW German Equipment Works factory (German companies) was being built, between Birkenau and Auschwitz I. A much bigger complex of 30 storage barracks built on the grounds of Birkenau, near one of the gas chambers, became operational in December 1943 (Kanada II).

This was the main depository for luggage that arrived from the spring of 1944 with Jews from Hungary (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”) and the Litzmannstadt ghetto. At the peak period, up to two thousand prisoners were directly employed at the two Kanada complexes unloading items from trucks and sorting them. A separate “order Kommando” collected suitcases and other items from the train cars and the ramp.

Kanada was universally acknowledged to be one of the best places to work, along with the kitchen and the food pantries. This surely explains the name of the Kommando—Canada was then regarded as a land of prosperity and abundance.

Kapo

Under the so‑called prisoner government, this was the term for the supervisor of a Kommando. Its etymology derives from “capo,” the Italian word for head or boss. Responsible for maintaining discipline and the work rate of the prisoners in his charge, the Kapo had almost unlimited power and could punish, whip, and even kill prisoners as he saw fit. Many Kapos were distinguished by particular cruelty intended to intimidate and terrorize the prisoners. Their duties also included forming up the Kommandos, reporting on the number of prisoners, and preventing escapes. After the prisoners returned from work and stood for evening roll call, the Kapo handed them over to the block elder. Kapos lived apart, usually with other privileged prisoners.

Kommando

Prisoner labor group, numbering from several prisoners to more than a thousand. It was supervised by SS men and prisoner functionaries subordinated to him. In the first months at Auschwitz, Kommandos were assigned above all to work at converting the old army barracks into a camp. Later, prisoners demolished buildings whose owners had been subject to expulsion. They were also employed in farming, raising animals, expanding the camp, and erecting the IG Farben chemical plant. New Kommandos were formed in connection with the extermination of the Jews in Auschwitz and the plunder of their belongings. Kommandos' job was also to serve the camp itself—administration, cooking, storage facilities, and the hospitals.

Prisoner’s fate depended to a large degree on the Kommando he was assigned to. So-called good Kommandos in offices, storage facilities, the kitchen, or the showers were the most desirable. In the worst ones, prisoners demolished buildings, leveled the ground, dug foundations, transported building materials etc. The Sonderkommando was a special labor detail. Working there was mentally destructive and the majority of its prisoner members were murdered.

Labor

In the German concentration camp system, labor was intended to be the basic instrument for the “reeducation” and “training” of prisoners. In practice, however, and especially in the initial phase at Auschwitz, labor was an instrument of destruction and was often performed without regard for its real efficacy. Prisoners were forced to perform labor that exceeded their strength carrying bricks, sacks of cement, and concrete fence posts from rail cars to the warehouses and building sites while Kapos beat them and urged them on the whole time. They excavated drainage ditches and the foundations of buildings; they pulled heavy rollers or used wooden beams to batter down the walls of demolished houses, without any kind of protective equipment or clothing. Employment conditions improved insignificantly in 1942, when the SS began attaching greater importance to actual work performance.

Not including breaks, the working day lasted 10 to 11 hours in the spring and summer. It was reduced to 9 to 10 hours in the autumn and winter. Prisoners had a midday break to eat a meal. Theoretically, prisoners were not required to work on Sundays, but they often did additional work around the blocks or fell victim to harassment from functionaries.

Lagererweiterung

A complex of 20 buildings erected in an area adjacent to Auschwitz I as part of plans for expanding the camp. These plans, only partially realized, envisioned more than 50 new buildings, including a new commandant’s office. The new buildings were used as temporary SS barracks, workshops, and storage facilities for property plundered from the Jews exterminated in the gas chambers. From May 1944, women prisoners were moved there from block 10 and the SS laundry, as well as women employed in the nearby Union‑Werke plant. At the end of 1944 there were three to four thousand women prisoners in the Lagererweiterung. The last public execution at Auschwitz was held there on January 6, 1945.

Liberation of Auschwitz

Initial camp evacuation and eliminating the traces of the crimes

From August 1944 through mid-January 1945 the Germans transferred approximately 65 thousand male and female prisoners out of Auschwitz to be employed as a slave labor force for various enterprises in the depths of the Third Reich. They also started the initial elimination and destruction of the evidence of their crimes – among others, the prisoners’ registers and records of the Jews murdered in gas chambers were burnt. Movable property of the camp was transported away, mainly large amounts of construction materials as well as goods plundered from the victims of mass murder. The technical elements of all gas chambers and crematoria but one were dismantled or disassembled by the end of the year.

  Camp liquidation

In mid-January 1945, when the front line was broken by the Red Army and its troops were approaching Cracow, 70 km away from the camp, the final evacuation of prisoners started. From 17 to 21 January 1945 approximately 56 thousand male and female prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps in marching columns. Having reached the indicated railway station they were transported farther to the west in freight cars. Both evacuation routes, by rail or on foot, were littered with the bodies of prisoners who had either been shot or had died due to exhaustion or cold. An estimated 9 thousand prisoners of Auschwitz died during that operation.

On 20 January 1945 the SS blew up the gas chambers and crematoria that had already been put out of service some time earlier while the last one, still fully operational, was blown up on 26 January. On 23 January the warehouses, where the goods belonging to the victims of the extermination were stored, were set on fire.

  Liberation

After the final evacuation almost 9 thousand prisoners, mostly the ill and exhausted left behind in the camp by Germans, found themselves in an uncertain situation. Approximately 700 Jewish prisoners were murdered in the period between the forced departure of the last evacuation columns and the arrival of the Soviet soldiers. It was only a matter of coincidence that the most of the remaining prisoners survived.

On 27 January 1945 the Red Army entered the area of the town of Oświęcim, facing the resistance of the retreating German troops. More than 230 Soviet soldiers died while liberating the area. Approximately 7 thousand prisoners lived to see the liberation of the Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz camps. Approximately 500 other prisoners were liberated in the sub-camps before 27 January and shortly after that date.

The ill were taken care of by several Soviet field hospitals and the so-called Camp Hospital of the Polish Red Cross which was set up by Polish volunteers, mainly residents of Cracow and nearby towns. 4.5 thousand mostly Jewish survivors, including more than 400 children, citizens of more than twenty countries, were treated there.

Those prisoners who were in a relatively good physical condition left Auschwitz immediately after the liberation, going home on their own or in organized transports. Most patients admitted to hospitals did the same three or four months later.

“Lili Jacob Album”

An album of photographs taken by SS men in late May 1944. The photographs depict among others the arrival of Jews to Birkenau, selection on the ramp, walking to the gas chambers, the first moments in the camp for the persons left alive, the delivery of plundered property (plunder) and its sorting. The album was named after Lili Jacob, a Jewish woman from Slovakia survived from Auschwitz, who after the war found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp.

“Little Red House”

(Bunker no. 1)

A gas chamber put into operation at the end of March 1942 in a house whose Polish owners had been expelled, located near the Birkenau camp under construction. The unplastered brick building was called the “Little Red House” because of the color of its walls. Several interior partition walls were demolished during adaptation works, leaving two rooms. Hermetically sealed doors were installed, the windows walled up, and hatches installed through which Zyklon B could be dumped.

The floor space of both the gas chambers was over 80 sq. m, and about 800 people could be crowded in, according to testimony by Rudolf Höss. At first, most of those murdered there were Jews from Sosnowiec and the nearby ghettos, as well as sick prisoners from the camp hospital; later came Jews from other parts of Poland, Slovakia, and Western Europe. Sonderkommando prisoners used narrow‑gauge railroad push cars to carry the bodies of the murdered people to mass graves on the edge of the nearby woods; in August they began burning them in pits dug there (burning pits).

The gas chambers in the Little Red House functioned until the spring of 1943, when larger gas chambers combined with crematoria went into operation. The building was demolished, the ground planted over, and even the bricks from the foundation removed.

“Little White House”

(Bunker no. 2)

The second gas chamber, after the so-called “Little Red House”, constructed near the Birkenau camp under construction. The decision to convert another building, a farmhouse of the expelled Polish owners, into a gas chamber was made in June 1942 as a result of the arrival of numerous transports of Jews designated by the Germans for extermination.

Because the walls were plastered, it was called the “Little White House.” Its interior was divided into four gas chambers with a total floor space of 120 sq. m. The system of interior doors and hatches for Zyklon B was the same as in the Little Red House.

The gas chambers in the Little White House were taken out of operation at the turn of April/May 1943; they were again put to use when the transports from Hungary began arriving in May 1944 (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”). The building was demolished in the late autumn, when extermination operations in Birkenau were completed. Traces of the foundations of the gas chambers are still visible today at this location.

Living conditions

    • Diarrhea
    • Executions
    • Medical experiments
    • Phlegmon
    • Hygiene
    • Punishments
    • Muselmann
    • Labor
    • Selections in the camp
    • ”Sport”
    • Needle
    • Hospital
    • Typhus
    • Food

Medical experiments

In Auschwitz, SS doctors experimented on men and women prisoners, most of them Jewish. Surgical procedures were often carried out without anesthesia on victims who suffered severe pain and did not receive post‑operative care. Many of them, permanently injured and sick, were sent to the gas chambers. The SS, Wehrmacht and some German companies commissioned the experiments, which also served the doctors themselves in the advancement of their careers.

Experiments by Josef Mengele and Carl Clauberg claimed the most victims. Horst Schumann worked on a method for mass sterilization that relied on intense exposure to X‑rays. Several SS physicians, including in particular Helmuth Vetter, Friedrich Entress, Werner Rohde, Hans König and Bruno Weber, tested on sick prisoners the tolerance and effective doses of new drugs not yet released on the market. Frequent effects on the prisoners were bloody vomiting, painful diarrhea, and circulatory problems. In cases where the prisoner died, an autopsy was carried out to search for possible changes to the internal organs as an indicator of how the drugs worked. Vetter and Entress also deliberately infected healthy prisoners with typhus in order to establish its incubation period and define the virulence of strains of bacteria at various stages of the disease.

Johann Paul Kremer conducted the research on changes to the human organism caused by starvation. He chose extremely worn‑down prisoners in various stages of starvation sickness, carried out medical interviews with them, had them photographed, and then had them killed. Shortly after death, sections of the liver, spleen, and pancreas were collected and secured as anatomical preparations.

Emil Kaschub experimented on determining the symptoms that appeared as a result of the ingestion or rubbing into the skin of various substances by German malingerers wishing to dodge service on the front lines. The victims of his research were several score Jewish men in whom he induced inflammations, suppurating sores, and abscesses that led to gangrene.

Meksyk

BIII

Mengele, Josef

(1911-1979)

Physician, doctor of philosophy and medicine. In 1937 he became an assistant at the Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene at Frankfurt University and began his research on twins. He was accepted into the NSDAP and the SS a year later. He was employed among others in the Main Office for Race and Settlement in Poznań, where his task was to assess the suitability of resettled people for Germanization. Severely wounded on the front, he was classified as unfit for front‑line service. Desirous of continuing his scholarly research, he requested a transfer to one of the concentration camps.

From the spring of 1943, he carried out in Auschwitz the anthropological research on various racial groups, mostly Roma, as well as research on multiple pregnancy, and on the physiology and pathology of dwarfism. He also studied persons with hereditary physical anomalies. He chose people for a wide range of medical tests. Some of them went on to be photographed, finger‑and toe‑printed, and to have plaster casts taken of their jaws and teeth. Afterward, some of them were killed by phenol injection (the needle) so that they could be autopsied and their organs used for comparative analysis. Mengele also continued his pre-war racial and genetic research on Jewish and Roma twins as well as people with visible genetic defects. These prisoners, many of them children, were subjected to painful experiments without anesthesia and frequently killed so that they could be autopsied. At the same time, Mengele conducted selection on the ramp and among prisoners in the camp hospitals.

After the war, like many SS men and war criminals, he escaped to South America, where he hid until his death in 1979.

Monowitz, Auschwitz III

Initially, it was one of Auschwitz sub-camps, created in October 1942 on the area of the expelled and demolished Polish village of Monowice (German: Monowitz), 6 km from Auschwitz I, in connection with the construction by a German company – IG Farbenindustrie conglomerate – of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant.

In November 1943, Monowitz was raised to the status of concentration camp, to which all the “industrial” sub-camps in the Auschwitz complex were subordinated. Camp population grew progressively: from over 3,500 prisoners in December 1942 to over 6,000 in late 1943 and over 11,000 in July 1944 (mainly Jews). Prisoners were incarcerated in 60 barracks.

In January 1945, the majority of prisoners were evacuated on foot to Gliwice, from where they were transported by rail to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen camps. Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and famous Italian writer Primo Levi were among others the prisoners of the Monowitz camp.

Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp was the first of three main camps of the Auschwitz complex liberated by the Red Army soldiers. It took place on Saturday, January 27, 1945 before noon. In the afternoon, the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were liberated.\

Mortality in the camp

At least half of the 400,000 prisoners registered in Auschwitz died (Prisoners of Auschwitz concentration camp). This figure can be arrived at by comparing the total of numbers assigned to prisoners with the figures for prisoners transferred to other camps (about 190,000), liberated (7,500), released (about 2,000) and escaped (at least 180). Extant documents that provide a basis for calculating mortality in the camp during specific periods are in particular the death books kept by the Germans.

Muselmann

(German, obsolete: Muslim)

The word commonly used in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps. In Auschwitz, the distorted form of the Polish word denoting a Muslim was used (“muzułman”). In the camp jargon it referred to a prisoner in the terminal stages of physical and mental exhaustion, due above all to starvation. Muselmänner were characterized by the wasting away of the fat layer and the muscles; dry, peeling skin stretched over the outline of the bones; the face looked like a mask, eyes became clouded. Muscular atrophy made their movements sluggish. Their shoulders were hunched and they preferred a squatting position. Sensitive to cold, they often covered themselves with blankets, rags, and paper from cement sacks. Psychological disturbances accompanied the somatic changes. Early‑stage Muselmänner were easily excited and irritable, with their attention focused exclusively on acquiring food; over time they became totally indifferent to outside stimuli. During selection in the camp they were sent to their death in the gas chambers. Some ambiguity as to the etymology of the word remains.

Mutinies

    • Penal company
    • Sonderkommando
    • Escapes

Needle

In August 1941, the Germans began in Auschwitz the use of the “needle,” or putting prisoners to death by intravenous injection of phenol. The method was mainly used to kill sick prisoners who, in the opinion of SS doctors, were unlikely to recover quickly. The murdering was done in the so‑called procedures room of one of the hospital blocks of Auschwitz I. The doomed men were led in and told to sit on a stool. Then a prisoner functionary behind them pulled their arms back and an SS orderly plunged a needle directly into the heart muscle. Death followed within a few seconds.

Camp resistance movement documents show that in the late 1942, 2,467 prisoners were killed in this way in four months. Phenol injections were also used to kill Polish children from the Zamość region and pregnant Jewish prisoners. Over time the application of this method was limited because, once the gas chambers went into operation, they became the most common place for murdering sick prisoners after selections in the camp hospitals.

Number of prisoners in the camp

In total in the years 1940-1945 the Germans registered 400,000 prisoners in Auschwitz (ethnic origins of the prisoners). Data about prisoners incarcerated in the camp in subsequent periods come from reports by the camp resistance movement, reports on the number of prisoners in different parts of the camp and in the camp hospitals as well as from German radio transmissions intercepted by British intelligence and deciphered with Enigma machines. In 1940, there were about 6,000 prisoners in Auschwitz. In mid-1944, there were 17,000 men in Auschwitz I, 47,500 men and women in Birkenau, 9,200 men in Monowitz as well as 17,200 men and women in sub-camps. These figures do not include tens of thousands of Jewish men and women incarcerated in transit camps in Birkenau (mainly BII c and BIII).

Number of victims

Ethnic origins and number of victims of Auschwitz

Oświęcim

Polish city located 70 km west of Cracow. On the eve of the war it numbered about 14,000 inhabitants, more than half of whom were Jews. When the city came under German occupation, it was annexed to the German Reich by administrative order and renamed Auschwitz. Many members of the local intelligentsia were sent to German concentration camps. From the spring of 1940, in connection with preparations for opening a concentration camp at the site of the old Polish Army barracks located on the outskirts of the city, expulsion operations were held. In 1941, all the Jews were taken away from Oświęcim by the Germans. German colonists appeared in Oświęcim as white‑ and blue‑collar workers at the IG Farben plant. Construction began on a new residential district for them, which was envisioned as the forerunner of the future Musterstadt Auschwitz—a German “model city.” Until 1944, workers from the General Government—Poles and Ukrainians—as well as others from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Croatia, Bohemia, Slovakia, Spain, and Portugal, as well as from the parts of the USSR occupied by the Wehrmacht, were brought in and quartered in camps in the eastern part of town.

An organized resistance movement existed in Oświęcim throughout the war, and more than a thousand people from the city and nearby localities provided aid to prisoners.

Partisans

The largest partisan unit in the vicinity of Auschwitz was the AK (Home Army) “Sosieńki” group. It had several score members and operated at a distance of a few kilometers from the camp. Similar groups existed also in localities farther from the camp. Unaware of how things stood, prisoners in the camp cherished the hope that the day would come when Polish partisan units attacked the SS garrison and liberated the camp. It was impossible, however, with the camp SS garrison numbering about 3,000 in 1944 and Luftwaffe soldiers operating the anti‑aircraft cannons located around the IG Farben plant, as well as hundreds of German police, gendarmes and other officers, for a total of about 5,000 Germans, armed with rifles and automatic weapons, in the vicinity. In this situation, members of the Polish underground near Auschwitz concentrated on conveying food and medicine to the prisoners and receiving reports from them about the situation in the camp and the crimes being committed by the SS, and then passing the information on to centers of the Polish Underground State and further, to the Polish government‑in‑exile in London.

Penal company

(German: Strafkompanie)

The men’s penal company was formed in Auschwitz at the beginning of August 1940. Prisoners regarded assignment to it, frequently ending in death, as one of the harshest means of punishment in the camp. Reasons for assignment to the penal company included contact with civilians; escape attempts; possession of additional food, clothing or too slow work—in the eyes of an SS man or Kapo. Prisoners in this Kommando were isolated. In June 1942 the prisoners in the penal company attempted a mass escape. As a result of the escape, the SS murdered over 350 prisoners. Nine men managed to get away.

The women’s penal company was founded in June 1942. The prisoners were employed building roads, digging drainage ditches and cleaning fish ponds. Like men, the women in the penal company were exposed to cruelty from SS men and functionaries. A particularly tragic event occurred in early October 1942 when German female prisoner functionaries used poles and axes to massacre about 90 Jewish women from France.

Phlegmon

An acute purulent inflammation surrounded by soft tissue, with symptoms of fever, sharp pain, and swelling. The condition occurred on a mass scale among prisoners of Auschwitz. It was caused, in exhausted prisoners with vitamin deficiencies (Muselmann), by the body’s inability to combat bacterial infections arising as a result of minor wounds, blisters on the feet, etc. An untreated phlegmon often led to fatal whole‑body infection. Effective treatment should rely on lancing the abscess, cleaning the wound, and applying sterile bandages and drains, all of which was usually impossible in camp conditions. Prisoners therefore tried to treat themselves by cutting the swollen skin with sharpened scraps of tin. Only in later years, when conditions in the camp hospitals improved slightly, did prisoner doctors begin carrying out the needed procedure on a larger scale.

Pipel

    • Block elder
    • Youths

Plunder

In the early days at Auschwitz, as in other Nazi German concentration camps, prisoner property was placed on deposit to be returned upon potential release or, in case of death, mailed to next of kin. From January 1943, all personal items left behind by Jews, Poles, and Soviet citizens incarcerated in concentration camps began to be confiscated; a year later, confiscation was broadened to include the personal property of Roma.

The clothing obtained in this way was generally recycled in the textile and garment industries, while currency and valuables were sent to the Reichsbank. The high point of the plundering occurred during the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz for extermination. The hair was cut from the corpses of the people who were gassed, and jewelry torn off, and all gold dental work extracted (dental gold). Victims' luggage was taken to the Kanada warehouses. Worn‑out clothing and shoes were either used by the prisoners or sent to industrial plants as raw material. Medicine was sent mainly to the SS hospitals. Foodstuffs, depending on their quality, were sent to the SS or prisoner kitchens. Clothing and shoes in good condition together with everyday essentials were turned over to German civilians.

Poles

The first transports of Polish political prisoners arrived in Auschwitz in June 1940. Until the autumn of 1944, Poles were sent to Auschwitz from all regions of the German‑occupied country, and until mid‑1942 Poles were the most numerous ethnic group in the camp. A large number of the Poles belonged to the intelligentsia. People involved in clandestine activity were also imprisoned in the camp, as were people arrested during street roundups, peasant families expelled from the Zamość region, and civilians from Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. In Auschwitz there were also executions of Poles not registered in the camp but sentenced to death by summary courts.

According to estimates, about 140,000 Poles were sent to Auschwitz. Almost half of them died. Throughout the whole time that the camp was in operation, some Polish prisoners were active in the resistance movement—at first in groups of their own, and with the passage of time in cooperation with secret organizations of prisoners of other nationalities. Many Poles were shot or hanged when the camp Gestapo discovered their activities.

Political prisoners

In 1933, the Reich President issued the Decree “for the Protection of People and State”, which “temporarily” suspended civil rights guaranteed by the 1919 Weimar Republic Constitution. On the basis of the Decree, the police took the decision to imprison people accused of “political” offenses in a concentration camp without trial or any oversight by the state judicial apparatus. “Political” offenses were understood in the broad sense as activity hostile to the Nazi regime.

At the moment when Auschwitz was created, the majority of Poles, and later some inmates of other ethnicity, including Jews, were marked with a red triangle and numbered among this category of prisoners. Aside from those accused of participating in the resistance movement and belonging to forbidden organizations, the red triangle was also placed on people accused of such offenses as breaking curfew, arguing with German bosses, singing patriotic songs, expressing doubts about the ultimate German victory or illicit contact with German girls. Another charge that frequently landed Poles in concentration camps was “being an intellectual.” No concrete charges were ever formulated against many others, such as hostages or persons detained during street roundups or the pacification of villages. In August 1944, political prisoners, of whom 65 percent were Jews, constituted 95 percent of the total camp population.

Punishment by the post

(German: Pfahlbinden)

A frequent punishment in Auschwitz. It was initially applied in Auschwitz I, where prisoners were hung from hooks on high posts—this was the origin of its name. Prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs with rope or a chain that was then hung at a height making it impossible for their feet to touch the ground. The intense pain caused by the twisting of the shoulders sometimes caused the victims to pass out, and the ligaments in their shoulders were frequently torn. Prisoners injured in this way could be classified as unfit for labor and sent to the gas chamber. The punishment was administered for one to several hours.

Punishments

There were strictly defined procedures for punishing prisoners in German concentration camps. In Auschwitz, regulation penalties were assessed in writing by the commandant or camp director on the basis of reports submitted by SS men and prisoner functionaries. Offenses regarded as punishable included among others attempting to obtain additional food, for example by picking an apple off a tree at the work place; attempting to avoid work or malingering, for instance by attempting to change Kommando or warming oneself at a coke stove; performing various acts at a non‑regulation time or place, such as relieving oneself; possessing additional clothing or other personal belongings.

The most frequently applied punishments included flogging, jailing in the cells of camp prison, punishment by the post, assignment to the penal company, or additional labor under supervision. Aside from regulation penalties, prisoners were punished on the spot by SS men and functionaries for actual or alleged infractions. On such occasions they usually received a savage beating and kicking, or so-called sport.

Rail ramps

Rail was the main means of transport used by the Germans for deportation to Auschwitz. In 1940–1941, trains stopped at a siding adjacent to Auschwitz I. They carried mostly Poles. A second siding, known as the Jewish ramp (German: Judenrampe), was located at the halfway point of the 3‑kilometer distance between Auschwitz I and Birkenau. Transports of more than half a million people, mostly Jews, arrived there from the spring of 1942 to mid‑May 1944. It was the place where SS doctors conducted the selection of new arrivals; strong, healthy people were sent on foot to the camp, while those regarded as unfit for labor were taken by truck to the gas chambers. In the spring of 1944, shortly before the arrival of about 400,000 Jews from Hungary (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”), the ramp located directly in the Birkenau camp took over its role.

Reeducation prisoners, category

(German: Erziehungshäftlinge, EH)

Under a decree of May 1941 from Heinrich Himmler, “reeducation labor camps” were to hold workers “refusing labor or lazy individuals whose behavior is equivalent to the sabotaging of work.” In these camps, “intensive labor” would “reeducate them in the spirit of organized labor and in this way set an intimidating example as a warning to others.”

First reeducation prisoners were sent to Auschwitz I in July 1941. Instead of triangles, they had letters “E” sewed on their striped uniforms. In January 1943, a separate reeducation camp was set up for them in Monowitz. They were treated just as brutally as the other prisoners, forced to perform hard labor and fed starvation rations. As a result, about 1,400 prisoners died out of the 9,200 prisoners in this category, mostly Poles but also Russians, Ukrainians, Frenchmen and Italians. Reeducation women prisoners, in total 1,800 of them, were placed in camp BI a in Birkenau.

Reports by escapees

In 1944, three reports by Auschwitz escapees reached international organizations and the Allied governments. The escapees were the Pole Jerzy Tabeau and the Jews Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, as well as Czesław Mordowicz and Arnošt Rosin.

Tabeau escaped in November 1943. Afterwards, he wrote a report on the events he witnessed in the camp from the spring of 1942. He described the living conditions, methods of killing prisoners, and the procedures used in the extermination of the Jews. The Polish underground sent this document to the West through secret channels.

Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from the camp in April 1944. Their accounts were sent to the West through secret channels, and revealed in the media. Under their influence, Allied and neutral governments began pressuring Hungarian authorities to stop further deportation of Jews to Auschwitz (Sonderaktion “Ungarn”). Relenting under pressure, Regent Miklós Horthy did so in July 1944.

Czesław Mordowicz and Arnošt Rosin escaped from Auschwitz in May 1944. Their account on the beginning of Sonderaktion “Ungarn” in Birkenau was presented to the Allied governments, the World Jewish Congress, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It also made its way into the media.

In November 1944 the three reports were published in Washington in a brochure titled German Extermination Camps—Auschwitz and Birkenau. The information it contained was publicized by the press and radio, and contributed to awareness in the West of the crimes the Germans were committing in Auschwitz, and especially the extermination of Jews.

Resistance movement

Clandestine activity in Auschwitz was initiated by Polish political prisoners. With the deportation of other ethnicities to Auschwitz, above all Jews, new formations sprang up in the resistance movement—Jewish as well as Austrian and German, Czech, French, Russian and Yugoslavian. Some of them, mostly leftist, joined some Polish leftists in 1943 to create the organization called Kampfgruppe Auschwitz (Combat Group Auschwitz). A year later, this organization and members of the camp AK founded the Auschwitz Military Council.

The main goals of the underground were among others acquiring and distributing food and medicine, providing the outside world with the information about what was happening in the camp (informing the world) and preparing escapes. The plans for an armed uprising against the camp SS garrison with the aid of the Polish resistance movement (partisans) outside the camp were also prepared. This never came about, however, because of the disproportion of forces and the impracticality of concealing tens of thousands of prisoners after their hypothetical escape from the camp.

Roma

The Nazis regarded Roma as a “hostile element” allegedly possessing an inborn tendency to crime and asocial behavior. From 1933 they became, along with Jews, the objects of persecution on racist grounds, first through registration, then a ban on certain occupations and on contracting mixed marriages, then compulsory labor and, in the end, confinement in concentration camps.

At the outbreak of World War II it was decided to resettle German Roma to occupied Poland. German police authorities began arresting and executing Roma in the occupied territory. This was also true behind the lines on the Eastern Front where Roma were murdered on a mass scale alongside Jews by so-called Einsatzkommandos.

After the issuing by Heinrich Himmler of an order that they should be sent to Auschwitz, Roma were deported there from 1943 mainly from Germany and also from Austria, Bohemia and Poland. They were placed in the so‑called Zigeunerlager (Gypsy camp) in Birkenau. A total of about 23,000 Roma were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz, including 2,000 Roma murdered without being entered into the camp's records. 21,000 were registered in the camp, of which 19,000 died of starvation and sickness, or were murdered in the gas chambers upon liquidation of the “Gypsy camp”.

Selection in the camp

During the first months at Auschwitz, sick and exhausted prisoners who could no longer keep up with the required working tempo were usually finished off by the Kapo or, more rarely, carried to the camp hospital. When the SS men decided that hospital rooms were overpopulated, from the summer of 1941 some patients were killed with the “needle”—injections of phenol to the heart. SS doctors selected the doomed patients while inspecting the hospital wards. In addition to overall emaciation (Muselmann), diagnosis of a contagious disease such as tuberculosis or typhus meant a certain death sentence. The doctors held selections of prisoners also in the showers and during “general roll calls”. Larger groups of patients were murdered with Zyklon B in the gas chambers. At first, all prisoners went through selection regardless of ethnicity, but from mid‑1943 selection was performed only on Jews.

Selection on the ramp

Regular selections among Jews deported to Auschwitz for extermination began in mid-1942 (rail ramps). When the train arrived, the SS men ordered everybody to go outside. While forming up into separate columns of men and women with small children, the deportees listened to the assurances of the SS men that they would be placed in a labor camp and that trucks would carry the old and infirm there, while the others walked. The matter‑of‑fact tone of the speech and the feigned concern for the elderly usually had a calming effect.

SS physicians made the decision to send individual deportees to destruction or to work in the camp on the basis of their own impression of the person’s physical condition and age. Selection lasted from one to several hours, depending on the size of the transport. Initially, the trucks took the doomed to the Little Red or Little White House or, from the spring of 1943, to the new, larger gas chambers. From mid-1944, selections took place on the rail ramp inside the Birkenau camp.

Sonderaktion “Ungarn”

(German: Special action “Hungary”)

The mass deportation of Jews from Hungary in its wartime borders from 1944, which also included parts of Slovakia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Romania. It occurred after the occupation of Hungary by the German army in March 1944. With the collaboration of the Hungarian gendarmerie, the organization of transit camp‑ghettos was begun. The first transport of Jews departed in the direction of Auschwitz in late April 1944. More mass transports began crossing the Hungarian border in mid‑May. The register of trains passing through Košice station makes it possible to reconstruct the deportation schedule. It indicates that transports were sent almost daily, with some interruptions, for several weeks. The transports were usually very large. For instance, the five trains noted under the date May 16 carried more than 17,000 people; the following day, there were 16,000 people in four transports. Edmund Vessenmayer, the German ambassador in Budapest, reported that through July 9, when Regent Horthy halted the deportations, a total of over 430,000 Jews (out of 725,000) were deported from Hungary. Almost all of them went to Auschwitz (“Lili Jacob Album”).

Sonderkommando

(German: Special labor detail)

In April 1942, shortly after the mass extermination of Jews began in Birkenau, the first Sonderkommando was created there. It was made up exclusively of Jewish prisoners. Some of them worked in barracks where they performed the sorting of clothing and other property of the murdered and preparing it for transport to the Kanada warehouses. Others were employed in directly operating the gas chambers—dragging corpses out, extracting gold teeth, cutting off hair, washing away traces of blood and excrement from the floors. Another group of prisoners dug pits—the mass graves into which corpses were thrown at first. By mid‑1942, there were already two Sonderkommandos working at the Little Red and Little White Houses. Soon after, some of them were sent to dig up the mass graves, disinter the bodies, and burn them on pyres. When this task was completed in early December 1942, these prisoners were murdered in the gas chamber. The chronology of events is not completely clear; it is known that at least two groups of Sonderkommando prisoners attempted to escape around this time. As a result, the SS murdered all the prisoners from the gas chamber crews. Prisoners from transports arriving to Auschwitz were formed into a new Sonderkommando.

In February 1944, when fewer transports were arriving, half of its 400 members were murdered. As soon as the Sonderaktion “Ungarn” began, the Kommando was expanded to about 900 prisoners. In September 1944, the size of the Sonderkommando was again reduced by 200 prisoners. Anticipating further gambits of this sort, the members of the Sonderkommando put up resistance in October 1944. As a result of the mutiny and executions performed on that day by the SS men, about 450 from 660 prisoners of this Kommando were killed. Reduced in size to about 200, and later to 100 prisoners, the Sonderkommando remained in the camp until evacuation in January 1945.

Sonderkommando manuscripts

Between 1945 and 1980, writings by six Jewish members of the Sonderkommando were discovered near the crematoria in Birkenau. The writings were varied, with some taking the form of farewell letters, and others containing descriptions of life in the ghetto, deportation to Auschwitz, and work in the Sonderkommando including the extermination of specific transports and the burning of corpses. Besides their important, unique value as sources—for instance, Lewental’s detailed account of how the October 1944 mutiny was prepared and carried out—they testify to the spiritual conflicts and psychological burdens inflicted on the prisoners employed in this Kommando.

Soviet prisoners of war

The first Soviet prisoners of war arrived in Auschwitz in July and August 1941. At the beginning of September 1941, about 600 POWs were delivered to Auschwitz. Together with 250 sick Polish prisoners, they were murdered in the basement of block 11 with the use of Zyklon B. This was the first instance of the mass killing of people with gas at Auschwitz. In October 1941, the SS imprisoned about 10,000 POWs in a fenced‑off part of Auschwitz I. The main occupation of the POWs was building a new camp in the fields of the village of Brzezinka (Birkenau), whose residents had been expelled. Their death rate was high—about 60 men died each day. The causes of death were executions, beating, harassment, excessive labor, starvation and sickness. In March 1942, about 600 of the POWs who were still alive were transferred to the new Birkenau BI b camp. In the autumn the majority of them were transferred to camps in the depths of the Reich.

According to estimates, about 15,000 Soviet POWs were deported to Auschwitz by the Germans. About 3,000 were murdered immediately after their arrival, about 12,000 were registered in the camp, of whom at least 11,000 perished.

“Sport”

Prisoners were frequently compelled to perform exhausting physical exercises that the SS men and prisoner functionaries called “sport.” Despite the name, the goal was not improved physical fitness, but rather terrorizing the prisoners, forcing them to be submissive, and subjugating them to camp discipline. One of the most frequent “exercises” was squats (kniebeugen) repeated at a high tempo counted out by an SS man or functionary. A variation was remaining in a squat position for a prolonged period, often with the arms outstretched or held over the head, or with the hands clasped behind the head. Other popular forms of “gymnastics” were squat‑thrusts, frog‑marching (hüpfen) often for distances of several score meters, prolonged rolling back and forth along the ground (rollen) even when it was muddy or snow‑covered, and “dancing” (tanzen), which meant spinning around one’s own axis with the hands over the head or outstretched—at times, the “dancers” were also made to move from place to place. Prisoners who could not keep up were beaten unconscious.

SS Garrison

The size of the Auschwitz SS garrison rose systematically as the number of prisoners increased and consisted of about 700 SS men in March 1941, 2,000 in June 1942, almost 3,000 in April 1944, and 3,342 in August. It reached its peak of 4,480 SS men when it was strongly reinforced just before evacuation in January 1945.

SS men were sent to Auschwitz from concentration camp garrisons, regional SS replacement commands, and Waffen SS divisions. Many of them were transferred after some time to other camps or front‑line units; overall, there was twice almost a complete turnover of the camp garrison. Initially, Germans and Austrians predominated among the SS, along with “ethnic Germans” from the Sudetenland, western Poland, and later increasing numbers of Volksdeutsche from Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Romania. The educational level was low—over 70 percent of the SS men had attended only a few years of public school, and a mere 5 percent, mostly doctors and camp construction board engineers, had higher education.

The SS men had a hospital, rest and recreation center and military facilities including a shooting range at their disposal; they also had their own mess facilities. Rank‑and‑file SS men were billeted in barracks. Officers lived with their families in houses in Oświęcim whose prewar residents were expelled.

Among the 8,000 SS men who served in Auschwitz while the camp was operating, only about 10 percent were ever tried after the war.

Sterilization experiments

Dr Carl Clauberg

Non-surgical mass sterilization method developed by him in the German Auschwitz concentration camp consisted of introducing into female reproductive organs a specially prepared chemical irritant that produced severe inflammation. Within several weeks, the fallopian tubes grew shut and were blocked.

Heinrich Himmler remained updated on the progress and outcomes of Clauberg's experiments. In June 1943, Clauberg wrote:

“The non-surgical method of sterilizing women that I have invented is now almost perfected… As for the questions that you have directed to me, sir Reichsführer, on the time necessary to sterilize a thousand women in this way, I can today answer them in the way that I had anticipated: if the research that I am carrying out continues to yield the sort of results that it has produced so far (and there is no reason to suppose that this shall not be the case), then I shall be able to report in the foreseeable future that one experienced physician, with an appropriately equipped office and the aid of ten auxiliary personnel, will be able to carry out in the course of a single day the sterilization of hundreds, or even 1,000 women.”

Dr Horst Schumann

Also in 1942, Dr Horst Schumann, former head of the euthanasia institutes in Grafeneck and Sonnenstein, began sterilization experiments. Similarly to Clauberg, he searched for the most convenient way of mass sterilization based on the “scientific method”.

Groups composed of several dozen Jewish men and women prisoners were subject to sterilization experiments consisting of exposing the women's ovaries and the men's testes to X-rays. The exposure to radiation produced severe burns on the abdomen together with radiation inflammations and festering sores that were resistant to healing.

The results of the X-ray sterilization experiments were unsatisfactory. In the work that he sent to Himmler in April 1944, entitled The Effect of X-Ray Radiation on the human Reproductive Glands and based on the experiments conducted in Auschwitz, Schumann expressed a preference for surgical castration, as being quicker and more certain.

Strafkompanie

The men’s penal company was formed in Auschwitz at the beginning of August 1940. Prisoners regarded assignment to it, frequently ending in death, as one of the harshest means of punishment in the camp. Reasons for assignment to the penal company included contact with civilians; escape attempts; possession of additional food, clothing or too slow work—in the eyes of an SS man or Kapo. Prisoners in this Kommando were isolated. In June 1942 the prisoners in the penal company attempted a mass escape. As a result of the escape, the SS murdered over 350 prisoners. Nine men managed to get away.

The women’s penal company was founded in June 1942. The prisoners were employed building roads, digging drainage ditches and cleaning fish ponds. Like men, the women in the penal company were exposed to cruelty from SS men and functionaries. A particularly tragic event occurred in early October 1942 when German female prisoner functionaries used poles and axes to massacre about 90 Jewish women from France.

Sub-camps

Over the years, Auschwitz had almost 50 sub‑camps. The largest of them had extensive administrative structures, separate hospital barracks, showers and even small crematoria. In the smaller ones, prisoners were locked up for the night in rooms or cellars—there were no fences or guard towers there and meals were delivered from the main camp. The majority of prisoners were employed in the armaments and extractive industries, or agriculture. At the beginning of 1945, they held 35,000 men and women prisoners, more than Auschwitz I and Birkenau combined (31,000).

Tattooing

Auschwitz was the only German concentration camp where the prisoners were tattooed with their camp numbers. In the autumn of 1941 the camp administration decided to mark Soviet POWs this way. Initially the number was tattooed on the left side of the prisoner’s chest. Polish prisoners transferred to Birkenau from Auschwitz I in March 1942 were tattooed in the same way, as well as Jews arriving in the first transports. From the spring of 1942 the camp authorities ordered that incoming prisoners be tattooed on the left forearm. Jewish men arriving in new transports were marked in this way, together with Jewish women already incarcerated in the camp. At the start of 1943 the tattooing of non‑Jewish women prisoners began, and in the spring, men prisoners already registered in the camp as well as the new arrivals were tattooed like that. Aside from numbers, some groups of prisoners were tattooed with additional symbols such as Z[igeuner] for Roma, A for Jewish men and women arriving in May 1944 and later, and finally B for Jewish men only.

German and Austrian prisoners, so-called reeducation prisoners, police prisoners (block 11), and Poles deported in the summer of 1944 from Warsaw during the Uprising (Warsaw Uprising) were not tattooed. Neither were Jews held “temporarily” in Birkenau since May of that year, awaiting transfer to other camps in the Reich.

Triangle

(German: Winkel)

A triangle sewed on the striped uniform along with the camp number designated a prisoner’s category. Red triangles denoted political prisoners, green triangles—criminal prisoners, black— asocial, pink—homosexual, and purple—Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first, Jews were issued an additional yellow triangle pointing up; when a triangle in one of the colors mentioned above (almost always red in practice) was sewn over it, the resulting effect was a six‑pointed Star of David. Later, instead of the yellow triangle, a narrow band of yellow fabric was sewn above the red triangle. Letters on the triangles defined the nationality of the prisoner—P for Poles, R for Russians, U for Ukrainians, and so on. Reeducation prisoners (Erziehungshäftlinge) bore the letter E instead of a triangle, and Soviet prisoners of war had the letters SU (Sowjetunion) daubed on their clothing in oil paint. No letter designators were used on German prisoners.

Typhus

A severe and dangerous infectious disease which led to the death of tens of thousands Auschwitz prisoners, caused by bacteria transmitted by fleas that are parasitic to rodents, including rats and mice. The first symptoms, visible several days after infection, are high fever and a rash taking the form of red spots on the skin. Next comes damage to the nervous and circulatory systems, and to the heart. Effective treatment with antibiotics was not available during World War II. Surviving the illness thus depended on the resistance of the individual organism; recovery without treatment may occur after about four weeks. At first, SS doctors did not attach much importance to combating its causes. Only the death of the SS head camp physician in May 1942 and numerous cases among the garrison forced the camp authorities to take preventive measures. These included mass selection for the gas chambers of people with symptoms of typhus, more frequent fumigation of clothing, the disinfection of barracks, and showers for prisoners. The typhus epidemic was not brought under control until 1944.

Warsaw Uprising

An armed uprising against the German occupiers of Warsaw by the Home Army (AK), lasting from August 1 to October 2, 1944. During the fighting, the occupation authorities expelled the civilian population from the city in order to facilitate operations against the insurrectionists. Civilians were mostly directed to a transit camp in Pruszków, from where a significant proportion were later deported to conscript labor camps in the Third Reich or to concentration camps. In August and September more than 13,000 people, including 1,500 children and youths, were sent to Birkenau. They were directed to the camp and went through the complete registration procedure with the exception of the tattooing of numbers. The majority were soon transferred to camps in the depths of the Reich as part of the preliminary evacuation of Auschwitz that was already underway, and forced to labor in German industry.

Women

First women were sent to Auschwitz in March 1942. Initially the women stayed in a separate part of Auschwitz I and in August 1942 they were transferred to Birkenau, where the women's camp was established. Women were also imprisoned along with their families in the so‑called Theresienstadt family camp (BII b), in Zigeunerlager (BII e) as well as in so‑called transit camps (BII c, BIII).

Women labored at demolishing buildings, landscaping, construction, transport and in sub‑camps. They also worked in Kommandos connected with the functioning of the camp—in hospitals, kitchens, showers, storehouses, and at sorting property plundered from exterminated Jews (Kanada). Hard physical labor and terrible hygienic‑sanitary conditions contributed to the spread of contagious diseases (typhus) and also led to the rapid wasting away of the organism (Muselmann). Physically and psychologically exhausted women were picked out by SS doctors during selection in the camp for death in the gas chambers.

Until mid‑1943, pregnant women were put to death. Later, they were allowed to give birth, but the newborns were killed. From the middle of that year, the killing of newborn non‑Jewish children was halted while Jewish children born in the camp continued to be put to death until the end of October 1944. Jewish prisoners whose pregnancy was detected after being overlooked during selection were subject to forced abortions. Women prisoners were also subjected by doctors to medical experiments.

A total of 131,000 women prisoners were registered in Auschwitz—82,000 Jews, 31,000 Poles, 11,000 Roma, and the rest were Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Germans, Frenchwomen, and Czechs. They made up about 30 percent of all the prisoners registered in the camp. Several hundred thousand Jewish women classified during selection on the ramp as unfit for labor—the elderly, infirm, pregnant, or mothers with small children—were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after arrival.

Youths

Young people aged 15 to 18 arrived in Auschwitz together with adults as early as the first transports of Polish political prisoners. In the fall of 1940, there were about 300 boys in the camp. A so‑called bricklaying school was set up for them where they received vocational training and learned basic German, German songs and drill. Masonry courses were also held in subsequent years in both Auschwitz I and Birkenau. There were usually several hundred each of young Jews, Poles, Roma, and Russians enrolled.

As it was the case with adult prisoners, the boys had to perform heavy labor exceeding their physical abilities. Some also died in the camp because of the hard living conditions, sickness, and executions. Girls as well, together with adult women, were forced to do agricultural, construction, and earthmoving work that often exceeded their strength. Small numbers of youths, known as “Pipels,” were forced to act as servants to prisoner functionaries. Their duties included cleaning, washing, and cooking for the functionaries. Sometimes they were also forced to render sexual services. There were situations where youths held the posts of Kapo or block elder. Those among them who had lost their moral bearings exploited these positions to terrorize other prisoners.

The majority of young prisoners of both sexes, though, were at risk of beating and harassment by SS men and prisoner functionaries, and received the same punishments as adults.

Over 200 youths were liberated at Auschwitz in January 1945.

Zamość region

In the years 1942 and 1943, the Germans deported to Auschwitz Polish families from the Zamość region. This was connected to the realization of plans for the Germanization of the eastern lands that were treated by them as their “living space”. Expelled Poles were replaced with German colonists.

During the operation, the Germans ejected about 110,000 Poles from their homes. The majority of them were transported for forced labor in the depths of the Third Reich. The plans called for tens of thousands to be sent to Auschwitz, however, due to German military setbacks on the Eastern Front, the flight of peasants and the resistance put up by Polish partisan units, only 1,300 persons were sent to Auschwitz. The elderly, sick and disabled were chosen for the gas chambers. Pregnant women or those who gave birth immediately after deportation were put to death along with their children through phenol injections (the needle). The majority of those sent to the camp died because of the harsh living conditions and brutal treatment, or were murdered in the gas chambers after selection. About 80 percent of all the deportees from the Zamość region died in the course of a few months.

Zyklon B

A pesticide produced by the Degesch company, initially designated exclusively for eradicating insects. From the end of the summer of 1941, it was also used sporadically to put to death Auschwitz I prisoners and Soviet POWs; from the spring of 1942 it was used regularly to murder Jews in the Birkenau gas chambers. It took the form of granules of diatomaceous earth saturated with hydrogen cyanide, which was released at an appropriately high temperature (approx. 27 degrees C) and turned into a gaseous form. Its application produced so‑called internal asphyxiation of the victims by blocking the exchange of oxygen in the red corpuscles and impeding cellular respiration. At least 25 tons of Zyklon B were delivered to Auschwitz in the years 1942–1944. According to postwar testimony by Rudolf Höss, it took from five to seven kilograms of the pesticide to murder fifteen hundred people.