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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Address Essay

Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager, KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners.

Heinrich Himmler's SS took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35. Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, criminals, homosexuals, and Romanis. The number of people in the camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.

The concentration camps were administered since 1934 by the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) which in 1942 was merged into SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt and they were guarded by SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV).

Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps (described in this article) and extermination camps, which were established by Nazi Germany for the industrial-scale mass murder of Jews in the ghettos by way of gas chambers.

Pre-war camps

Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real and potential opposition. The general public was intimidated by the arbitrary psychological terror that was used by the special courts (Sondergerichte).[8] Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.[9]

The first camp in Germany, Dachau, was founded in March 1933.[10] The press announcement said that "the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5,000 people. All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated there, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons."[10] Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the German coalition government of National Socialist Workers' Party (Nazi Party) and the Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."[10]

On 26 June 1933, Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke commandant of Dachau, who in 1934 was also appointed the first Inspector of Concentration Camps (CCI). In addition, the remaining SA-run camps were taken over by the SS. Dachau served as both a prototype and a model for the other Nazi concentration camps. Almost every community in Germany had members who were taken there. The newspapers continuously reported on "the removal of the enemies of the Reich to concentration camps" making the general population more aware of their presence. There were jingles warning as early as 1935: "Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not come to Dachau."[14]

Between 1933 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than 3.5 million Germans were forced to spend time in concentration camps and prisons for political reasons,[15][16][17] and approximately 77,000 Germans were executed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts-martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.[8]

As a result of the Holocaust, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. Because of these ominous connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer terms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.

World War II

After September 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps became places where millions of ordinary people were enslaved as part of the war effort, often starved, tortured and killed.[18] During the war, new Nazi concentration camps for "undesirables" spread throughout the continent. According to statistics by the German Ministry of Justice, about 1,200 camps and subcamps were run in countries occupied by Nazi Germany,[19] while the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that the number of Nazi camps was closer to 15,000 in all of occupied Europe[20][21] and that many of these camps were run for a limited amount of time before they were closed.[20] Camps were being created near the centers of dense populations, often focusing on areas with large communities of Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Communists or Romani. Since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, most camps were located in the area of the General Government in occupied Poland, for logistical reasons. The location also allowed the Nazis to quickly remove the German Jews from within Germany proper.

By 1940, the CCI came under the control of the Verwaltung und Wirtschaftshauptamt Hauptamt (VuWHA; Administration and Business office) which was set up under Oswald Pohl. Then in 1942, the CCI became Amt D (Office D) of the consolidated main office known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Department; WVHA) under Pohl. In 1942, the SS built a network of extermination camps to systematically kill millions of prisoners by gassing. The extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) and death camps (Todeslager) were camps whose primary function was genocide. The Nazis themselves distinguished the concentration camps from the extermination camps.[23][24] The British intelligence service had information about the concentration camps, and in 1942 Jan Karski delivered a thorough eyewitness account to the government.

Internees

The two largest groups of prisoners in the camps, both numbering in the millions, were the Polish Jews and the Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) held without trial or judicial process. There were also large numbers of Romani people, ethnic Poles, Serbs, political prisoners, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, Eastern European intellectuals and others (including common criminals, as the Nazis declared). In addition, a small number of Western Allied aviators were sent to concentration camps as punishment for spying.[25] Western Allied POWs who were Jews, or who were suspected of being Jews by the Nazis, were usually sent to ordinary POW camps; however, a small number of them were sent to concentration camps because of antisemitic policies.[26]

Sometimes the concentration camps were used to hold important prisoners, such as the generals involved in the attempted assassination ofHitler; U-boatCaptain-turned-Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller; and AdmiralWilhelm Canaris, who was interned at Flossenbürg on February 7, 1945, until he was hanged on April 9, shortly before the war’s end.

In most camps, prisoners were forced to wear identifying overalls with colored badges according to their categorization: red triangles for Communists and other political prisoners, green triangles for common criminals, pink triangles for homosexual men, purple triangles for Jehovah's Witnesses, black triangles for asocials and the "work shy", yellow triangle for Jews, and later the brown triangle for Romanis.[27]

Treatment

Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps due to deliberate maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or they were executed as unfit for labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their final destination. The prisoners were confined in the boxcars for days or even weeks, with little or no food or water. Many died of dehydration in the intense heat of summer or froze to death in winter. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while they were not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many of their inmates perished because of harsh conditions or they were executed.

In the spring of 1941, the SS – along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program – introduced the Action 14f13 programme meant for extermination of selected concentration camp prisoners.[28] The Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps categorized all files dealing with the death of prisoners as 14f, and those of prisoners sent to the T-4 gas chambers as 14f13. Under the language regulations of the SS, selected prisoners were designated for "special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung) 14f13". Prisoners were officially selected based on their medical condition; namely, those permanently unfit for labor due to illness. Unofficially, racial and eugenic criteria were used: Jews, the handicapped, and those with criminal or antisocial records were selected.[29]:p.144 For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician’s “diagnosis”.[29]:pp.147–148 In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational, Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Action 14f13.[29]:p.150

After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labor. IG Farben established a synthetic rubber plant in 1942 at Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz III); other camps were set up next to airplane factories, coal mines and rocket propellant plants. Conditions were brutal and prisoners were often sent to the gas chambers or killed on site if they did not work quickly enough.

On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-ObergruppenführerReinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.

Towards the end of the war, the camps became sites for medical experiments. Eugenics experiments, freezing prisoners to determine how downed pilots were affected by exposure, and experimental and lethal medicines were all tried at various camps. A cold water immersion experiments at Dachau concentration camp were performed by Sigmund Rascher.[32]

Total number of camps and casualties

Further information: List of Nazi concentration camps

The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.[33]

Some of the most notorious slave labour camps included a network of subcamps. Gross-Rosen had 100 subcamps,[34] Auschwitz had 44 subcamps,[35][35][36]Stutthof had 40 sub-camps set up contingently.[37] Prisoners in these subcamps were dying from starvation, untreated disease and summary executions by the tens of thousands already since the beginning of war.[38]

Liberation

The camps were liberated by the Allied forces between 1944 and 1945. The first major camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on July 23, 1944. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on January 27, 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on April 11; Bergen-Belsen by the British on April 15; Dachau by the Americans on April 29; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on May 5; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on May 8.[39]Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the U.S. 7th Army said of Dachau: "There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind."[40][41]

In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors.[42] Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division,[43] 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks.[44] The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.[45]

Types of camps

The Nazi concentration camps have been divided by historians into several major categories based on purpose, administrative structure, and inmate population profile.[33][46][47] The system of camps preceded the onset of World War II by several years and was developed gradually.

  1. Early camps, usually without proper infrastructure, sprang up everywhere in Germany when the Nazi reached power in 1933: rising "like mushrooms after the rain", Himmler recollected. These early camps, called also "Wild camps" because some were set up with little supervision from higher authorities, were overseen by Nazi paramilitaries, political police forces, and sometimes local police authority utilizing any lockable larger space, e.g. engine rooms, brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars, etc.
  2. State camps (e.g. Dachau, Oranienburg, Esterwegen) guarded by the SA; prototypes for future SS concentration camps, with a total of 107,000 prisoners already in 1935.
  3. Hostage camps (Geisellager), known also as police prison camps (e.g. Sint-Michielsgestel, Haaren) where hostages were held and later killed in reprisal actions.[51]
  4. Labor camps (Arbeitslager): concentration camps where interned captives had to perform hard physical labor under inhumane conditions and cruel treatment. Some of these were sub-camps, called "Outer Camps" (Aussenlager), built around a larger central camp (Stammlager), or served as "operational camps" established for a temporary need.
  5. POW camps (Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager / Stalag) a.k.a. Main Camps for Enlisted Prisoners of War: concentration camps where enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. They were usually assigned soon to nearby labor camps (Arbeitskommandos), i.e. the Work Details. POW officers had their own camps (Offizierslager / Oflag). Stalags were for Army prisoners, but specialized camps (Marinelager / Marlag ("Navy camps") and Marineinterniertenlager / Milag ("Merchant Marine Internment Camps")) existed for the other services. Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager Luftwaffe / Stalag Luft ("Air Forces Camps") were the only camps that detained both officers and non-commissioned personnel together.
  6. Camps for the so-called "rehabilitation and re-education of Poles" (Arbeitserziehungslager - "Work Instruction Camps"): camps where the intelligentsia of the ethnic Poles were held, and "re-educated" according to Nazi values as slaves.
  7. Collection and Transit camps: camps where inmates were collected (Sammellager) or temporarily held (Durchgangslager / Dulag) and then routed to main camps.
  8. Extermination camps (Vernichtungslager): These camps differed from the rest, since not all of them were also concentration camps. Although none of the categories are independent, many camps could be classified as a mixture of several of the above. All camps had some of the elements of an extermination camp, but systematic extermination of new arrivals by gas chambers only occurred in specialized camps. These were extermination camps, where all new-arrivals were simply killed – the "Aktion Reinhard" camps (Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec), together with Chelmno. Two others (Auschwitz and Majdanek) were combined concentration and extermination camps. Others like Maly Trostenets were at times classified as "minor extermination camps".[47]

Post-war use

Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II.[52] In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.[53]

See also

Organization
Camp bombing
Other

References

  1. ^Jewish Virtual Library (2014). "Main Concentration Camps". The Holocaust: Concentration Camps. AICE. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  2. ^ abPeter Hoffmann "The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945"p.xiii
  3. ^Andrew Szanajda "The restoration of justice in postwar Hesse, 1945–1949" p.25 "In practice, it signified intimidating the public through arbitrary psychological terror, operating like the courts of the Inquisition." "The Sondergerichte had a strong deterrent effect during the first years of their operation, since their rapid and severe sentencing was feared."
  4. ^ abc"Ein Konzentrationslager für politische Gefangene In der Nähe von Dachau". Münchner Neueste Nachrichten ("The Munich Latest News") (in German). The Holocaust History Project. 21 March 1933. Archived from the original on 6 May 2013. 
  5. ^Janowitz, Morris (September 1946). "German Reactions to Nazi Atrocities". The American Journal of Sociology. The University of Chicago Press. 52 (Number 2): 141–146. doi:10.1086/219961. JSTOR 2770938. 
  6. ^Henry Maitles NEVER AGAIN!: A review of David Goldhagen, Hitlers Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust", further referenced to G Almond, "The German Resistance Movement", Current History 10 (1946), pp409–527. It's actually about Daniel Goldhagen.
  7. ^David Clay, "Contending with Hitler: Varieties of German Resistance in the Third Reich", p.122 (1994) ISBN 0-521-41459-8
  8. ^Otis C. Mitchell, "Hitler's Nazi state: the years of dictatorial rule, 1934–1945" (1988), p.217
  9. ^Producer, By Wayne Drash CNN.com Senior. "Army to honor soldiers enslaved by Nazis - CNN.com". www.cnn.com. 
  10. ^"List of concentration camps and their outposts" (in German). Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. 
  11. ^ abConcentration Camp Listing Sourced from Van Eck, Ludo Le livre des Camps. Belgium: Editions Kritak; and Gilbert, Martin Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: William Morrow 1993 ISBN 0-688-12364-3. In this on-line site are published the names of 149 camps and 814 subcamps, organized by country.
  12. ^"List of national socialist camps and detention sites 1933 - 1945". Germany - A Memorial. Bettina Sarnes, Holger Sarnes.  So far 3600 sites are recorded on this website.
  13. ^Diary of Johann Paul KremerArchived 2008-05-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^Overy, Richard. Interrogations, p. 356–7. Penguin 2002. ISBN 978-0-14-028454-6
  15. ^One of the best-known examples was the 168 British Commonwealth and U.S. aviators held for a time at Buchenwald concentration camp. (See: luvnbdy/secondwar/fact_sheets/pow Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006, "Prisoners of War in the Second World War" and National Museum of the USAF, "Allied Victims of the Holocaust"Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine..) Two different reasons are suggested for this: the Nazis wanted to make an example of theTerrorflieger ("terror-instilling aviators"), or they classified the downed fliers as spies because they were out of uniform, carrying false papers, or both when apprehended.
  16. ^See, for example, Joseph Robert White, 2006, "Flint Whitlock. Given Up for Dead: American GIs in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga" (book review)
  17. ^"Germany and the Camp System" PBS Radio website
  18. ^Holocaust Timeline: The CampsArchived January 26, 2010, at WebCite
  19. ^ abcFriedlander, Henry (1995). The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 144. 
  20. ^Robert L. Berger, M.D. (1990). "Nazi Science — The Dachau Hypothermia Experiments". The New England Journal of Medicine. 322: 1435–1440. doi:10.1056/NEJM199005173222006. PMID 2184357. 
  21. ^ abLichtblau, Eric (March 1, 2013). "The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2014.  For the map of more that 1,000 locations, see:Map of Ghettos for Jews in Eastern Europe. The New York Times. Source:USHMM.
  22. ^"Historia KL Gross-Rosen". Gross-Rosen Museum. 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  23. ^ abAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (2014), Podobozy KL Auschwitz (Subcamps of KL Auschwitz). Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  24. ^"Stutthof, the first Nazi concentration camp outside Germany". Jewishgen.org. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  25. ^"Stutthof (Sztutowo): Full Listing of Camps, Poland"(Introduction). Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2014-10-07.  
  26. ^Marek Przybyszewski, IBH Opracowania - Działdowo jako centrum administracyjne ziemi sasińskiej (Działdowo as centre of local administration). Internet Archive, 22 October 2010.
  27. ^Stone, Dan G.; Wood, Angela (2007). Holocaust: The events and their impact on real people, in conjunction with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. p. 144. ISBN 0-7566-2535-1. 
  28. ^Holocaust: The events and their impact on real people, DK Publishing in conjunction with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, p. 146.
  29. ^A film with scenes from the liberation of Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps, supervised by the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information, was begun but never finished or shown. It lay in archives until first aired on PBS's Frontline on May 7, 1985. The film, partly edited by Alfred Hitchcock, can be seen online at Memory of the Camps.
  30. ^Holocaust: The events and their impact on real people, DK Publishing in conjunction with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, p. 145.
  31. ^"The 11th Armoured Division (Great Britain)", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  32. ^"Bergen-Belsen", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  33. ^Wiesel, Elie. After the Darkness: Reflections on the Holocaust, Schocken Books, p. 41.
  34. ^Moshe Lifshitz, "Zionism". (ציונות), p. 304
  35. ^ abWilliam L. Shirer (2002). "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". p.967. Random House
  36. ^Federal Archives (2010). "Police prison Camps and Police Prisons in the Occupied Territories". Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  37. ^"One place, different memories". Geschichtswerkstatt Europa. 2010. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  38. ^"Ausstellung der KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau". Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (in German). Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. 

Bibliography

  • Browning, Christopher R. (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution : The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942. Comprehensive History of the Holocaust. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1327-1. 
  • Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-14-303469-8. 
  • Evans, Richard J. (2005). The Third Reich in Power. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-14-303790-3. 
  • Evans, Richard J. (2008). The Third Reich at War. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-14-311671-4. 
  • Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06757-6. 
  • McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. London: Amber Books. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5. 
  • Snyder, Timothy (2010). Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00239-9. 
  • Wachsmann, Nikolaus (2015). KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Macmillan. ISBN 978-142994372-7. 
  • Weale, Adrian (2012). Army of Evil: A History of the SS. New York: Caliber Printing. ISBN 978-0-451-23791-0. 

Further reading

  • Megargee, Geoffrey P., ed. (2012). Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945. in association with United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35599-7. 

External links

The Dachau concentration camp was created for the purpose of holding political opponents. In time for Christmas of 1933, roughly 600 of the inmates were released as part of a pardoning action. The picture above depicts a speech by camp commander Theodor Eicke to prisoners who were about to be released.
The main German camps and extermination centers, 1943–44
A concentration camp victim identifies an SS guard in June 1945

"Auschwitz", "Auschwitz-Birkenau", and "Birkenau" redirect here. For the town, see Oświęcim. For other uses, see Auschwitz (disambiguation) and Birkenau (disambiguation).

Auschwitz
Nazi concentration and extermination camp (1940–1945)

Main entrance to Auschwitz II (Birkenau)

Auschwitz

Location in Poland

Coordinates50°02′09″N19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833Coordinates: 50°02′09″N19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833
German nameKonzentrationslager Auschwitz (pronounced[kɔntsɛntʁaˈtsi̯oːnsˌlaːɡɐ ˈʔaʊʃvɪts] ( listen)); also KZ Auschwitz or KL Auschwitz
Other namesBirkenau
Known forThe Holocaust
LocationAuschwitz, German-occupied Poland
Operated byNazi Germany and the Schutzstaffel
Commandant
Original useArmy barracks
OperationalMay 1940 – January 1945
InmatesMainly Jews, Poles, Romani, Soviet prisoners of war
Killed1.1 million (estimated)
Liberated bySoviet Union, 27 January 1945
Notable inmatesAdolf Burger, Anne Frank, Otto Frank, Viktor Frankl, Imre Kertész, Maximilian Kolbe, Primo Levi, Irène Némirovsky, Witold Pilecki, Edith Stein, Simone Veil, Rudolf Vrba, Elie Wiesel, Fritz Löhner-Beda, Else Ury
Notable books
Websitewww.auschwitz.org

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Official nameAuschwitz Birkenau, German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945)
TypeCultural
Criteriavi
Designated1979 (3rd session)
Reference no.31
RegionEurope and North America

The Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original concentration camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps.

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis' Final Solution to the Jewish Question during the Holocaust. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed en masse with the pesticide Zyklon B. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those were Jews; approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allied Powers did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners attempted to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units—prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers—launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.

As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947 Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

History

Background

The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of anti-Semitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. Immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, acts of violence perpetrated against Jews became ubiquitous. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April 1933 excluded most Jews from the legal profession and the civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of the right to practise. Harassment and economic pressure were used by the regime to encourage Jews to leave the country voluntarily. Their businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of government contracts. German Jews were subjected to violent attacks and boycotts.

In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws prohibited marriages between Jews and people of Germanic extraction, extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of Germanic or related blood were defined as citizens. Thus Jews and other minority groups were stripped of their German citizenship. The laws were expanded on 26 November 1935 to include Romani people and Afro-Germans. This supplementary decree defined Gypsies as "enemies of the race-based state", the same category as Jews. By the start of World War II in 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Palestine, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

Nazi Germanyinvaded Poland in September 1939. German dictator Adolf Hitler ordered that the Polish leadership and intelligentsia be destroyed. Approximately 65,000 civilians, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryanmaster race, were killed by the end of 1939. In addition to leaders of Polish society, the Nazis killed Jews, prostitutes, Romani, and the mentally ill. SS-ObergruppenführerReinhard Heydrich, then head of the Gestapo, ordered on 21 September that Polish Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport the Jews to points further east, or possibly to Madagascar. Two years later, in an attempt to obtain new territory, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there.

Auschwitz I

After this part of Poland was annexed by Nazi Germany, Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was located administratively in Germany, Province of Upper Silesia, Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz, Landkreis Bielitz. It was first suggested as a site for a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-OberführerArpad Wigand, an aide to Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to house prisoners in the Silesia region, as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glücks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site, which already held sixteen dilapidated one-story buildings that had once served as an Austrian and later Polish Army barracks and a camp for transient workers.Reichsführer-SSHeinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), approved the site in April 1940, intending to use the facility to house political prisoners. SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) Rudolf Höss oversaw the development of the camp and served as the first commandant. SS-Obersturmführer (senior lieutenant) Josef Kramer was appointed Höss's deputy. Auschwitz I, the original camp, became the administrative center for the whole complex.

Local residents were evicted, including 1,200 people who lived in shacks around the barracks. Around 300 Jewish residents of Oświęcim were brought in to lay foundations. From 1940 to 1941, 17,000 Polish and Jewish residents of the western districts of Oświęcim were expelled from places adjacent to the camp. The Germans also ordered expulsions of Poles from the villages of Broszkowice, Babice, Brzezinka, Rajsko, Pławy, Harmęże, Bór, and Budy to the General Government. German citizens were offered tax concessions and other benefits if they would relocate to the area. By October 1943, more than 6,000 Reich Germans had arrived. The Nazis planned to build a model modern residential area for incoming Germans, including schools, playing fields, and other amenities. Some of the plans went forward, including the construction of several hundred apartments, but many were never fully implemented. Basic amenities such as water and sewage disposal were inadequate, and water-borne illnesses were commonplace.

The first prisoners (30 German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp) arrived in May 1940, intended to act as functionaries within the prison system. The first mass transport to Auschwitz concentration camp, which included Catholic prisoners, suspected members of the resistance, and 20 Jews, arrived from the prison in Tarnów, Poland, on 14 June 1940. They were interned in the former building of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly, adjacent to the site, until the camp was ready.

The inmate population grew quickly as the camp absorbed Poland's intelligentsia and dissidents, including the Polish underground resistance. By March 1941, 10,900 were imprisoned there, most of them Poles. By the end of 1940, the SS had confiscated land in the surrounding area to create a 40-square-kilometre (15 sq mi) "zone of interest" surrounded by a double ring of electrified barbed wire fences and watchtowers. Like other Nazi concentration camps, the gates to Auschwitz I displayed the motto Arbeit macht frei ("Work brings freedom").

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

The victories of Operation Barbarossa in the summer and fall of 1941 against Hitler's new enemy, the Soviet Union, led to dramatic changes in Nazi anti-Jewish ideology and the profile of prisoners brought to Auschwitz. Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. Reichsführer-SSHeinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), intended the camp to house 50,000 prisoners of war, who would be interned as forced laborers. Plans called for the expansion of the camp first to house 150,000 and eventually as many as 200,000 inmates. An initial contingent of 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz I in October 1941, but by March 1942 only 945 were still alive, and these were transferred to Birkenau, where most of them died from disease or starvation by May. By this time Hitler had decided to annihilate the Jewish people, so Birkenau was changed to a labor camp–extermination camp. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum estimates that 1.3 million people, 1.1 million of them Jewish, were sent to the camp during its existence.[34]

The chief of construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau was Karl Bischoff. Unlike his predecessor, he was a competent and dynamic bureaucrat who, in spite of the ongoing war, carried out the construction deemed necessary. The Birkenau camp, the four crematoria, a new reception building, and hundreds of other buildings were planned and constructed. Bischoff's plans called for each barrack to have an occupancy of 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). He later changed this to 744 prisoners per barrack. The SS designed the barracks not so much to house people as to destroy them.

The first gas chamber at Birkenau was the "red house" (called Bunker 1 by SS staff), a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the windows. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, the "white house" or Bunker 2, was converted some weeks later. These structures were in use for mass killings until early 1943. Himmler visited the camp in person on 17 and 18 July 1942. He was given a demonstration of a mass killing using the gas chamber in Bunker 2 and toured the building site of the new IG Farben plant being constructed at the nearby town of Monowitz.

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase greatly the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, which had been designed as a mortuary with morgues in the basement and ground-level incinerators, was converted into a killing factory by installing gas-tight doors, vents for the Zyklon B (a highly lethal cyanide-based pesticide) to be dropped into the chamber, and ventilation equipment to remove the gas thereafter. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943, all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed using these four structures.

The Gypsy camp

See also: Porajmos

On 10 December 1942, Himmler issued an order to send all Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) to concentration camps, including Auschwitz. A separate camp for Roma was set up at Auschwitz II-Birkenau known as the Zigeunerfamilienlager (Gypsy Family Camp). The first transport of German Gypsies arrived on 26 February 1943, and was housed in Section B-IIe of Auschwitz II. Approximately 23,000 Gypsies had been brought to Auschwitz by 1944, 20,000 of whom died there. One transport of 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma were killed in the gas chambers upon arrival, as they were suspected to be ill with spotted fever.

Gypsy prisoners were used primarily for construction work. Thousands died of typhus and noma due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and malnutrition. Anywhere from 1,400 to 3,000 prisoners were transferred to other concentration camps before the murder of the remaining population.[a]

On 2 August 1944, the SS cleared the Gypsy camp. A witness in another part of the camp later told of the Gypsies unsuccessfully battling the SS with improvised weapons before being loaded into trucks. The surviving population (estimated at 2,897 to 5,600) was then killed en masse in the gas chambers. The murder of the Romani people by the Nazis during World War II is known in the Romani language as the Porajmos (devouring).

Auschwitz III

Main article: Monowitz concentration camp

After examining several sites for a new plant to manufacture buna, a type of synthetic rubber essential to the war effort, chemicals manufacturer IG Farben chose a site near the towns of Dwory and Monowice (Monowitz in German), about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east of Auschwitz I and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) east of the town of Oświęcim. Financial support in the form of tax exemptions was available to corporations prepared to develop industries in the frontier regions under the Eastern Fiscal Assistance Law, passed in December 1940. In addition to its proximity to the concentration camp, which could be used as a source of cheap labor, the site had good railway connections and access to raw materials. In February 1941, Himmler ordered that the Jewish population of Oświęcim should be expelled to make way for skilled laborers that would be brought in to work at the plant. All Poles able to work were to remain in the town and were forced to work building the factory. Himmler visited in person in March and decreed an immediate expansion of the parent camp to house 30,000 persons. Development of the camp at Birkenau began about six months later. Construction of IG Auschwitz began in April, with an initial force of 1,000 workers from Auschwitz I assigned to work on the construction. This number increased to 7,000 in 1943 and 11,000 in 1944. Over the course of its history, about 35,000 inmates in total worked at the plant; 25,000 died as a result of malnutrition, disease, and the physically impossible workload. In addition to the concentration camp inmates, who comprised a third of the work force, IG Auschwitz employed slave laborers from all over Europe.

At first, the laborers walked the seven kilometers from Auschwitz I to the plant each day, but as this meant they had to rise at 03:00, many arrived exhausted and unable to work. The camp at Monowitz (also called Monowitz-Buna or Auschwitz III) was constructed and began housing inmates on 30 October 1942, the first concentration camp to be financed and built by private industry. In January 1943 the ArbeitsausbildungLager (labor education camp) was moved from the parent camp to Monowitz. These prisoners were also forced to work on the building site. The SS charged IG Farben three Reichsmarks per hour for unskilled workers, four for skilled workers. Although the camp administrators expected the prisoners to work at 75 percent of the capacity of a free worker, the inmates were only able to perform 20 to 50 percent as well. Site managers constantly threatened inmates with transportation to Birkenau for death in the gas chambers as a way to try to increase productivity. Deaths and transfers to the gas chambers at Birkenau reduced the prisoner population of Monowitz by nearly a fifth each month; numbers were made up with new arrivals. Life expectancy of inmates at Monowitz averaged about three months. Though the factory had been expected to begin production in 1943, shortages of labor and raw materials meant start-up had to be postponed repeatedly. The plant was almost ready to commence production when it was overrun by Soviet troops in 1945.

Subcamps

Further information: List of subcamps of Auschwitz

Various other German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own subcamps. There were 45 such satellite camps, 28 of which served corporations involved in the armaments industry. Prisoner populations ranged from several dozen to several thousand. Subcamps were built at Blechhammer, Jawiszowice, Jaworzno, Lagisze, Mysłowice, Trzebinia, and other centers as far afield as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Satellite camps were designated as Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), or Arbeitslager (labor camp). Industries with satellite camps included coal mines, foundries and other metal works, chemical plants, and other industries. Prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming.

Evacuation, death marches, and Soviet liberation

In mid-1944, about 130,000 prisoners were present in Auschwitz when the SS started to move about half of them to other concentration camps. In November 1944, with the Soviet Red Army approaching through Poland, Himmler ordered gassing operations to cease across the Reich. The crematorium IV building was dismantled, and the Sonderkommando were ordered to begin removing evidence of the killings, including the mass graves. The SS destroyed written records, and in the final week before the camp's liberation, burned or demolished many of its buildings. The plundered goods from the 'Canada' barracks at Birkenau together with building supplies were transported to the German interior. On 20 January, the overflowing warehouses were set ablaze. On the same day, the gas chambers as well as crematoria II and III at Birkenau were blown up. The raging fires lasted for several days. On 26 January 1945, the last crematorium V at Birkenau was demolished with explosives just one day ahead of the Soviet attack.

Himmler ordered the evacuation of all camps in January 1945, charging camp commanders with "making sure that not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy."[73] On 17 January, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees, of whom two-thirds were Jews, were evacuated under guard, largely on foot, in severe winter conditions. Thousands of them died in the subsequent death march west towards Wodzisław Śląski. The guards shot all prisoners who were unable to march at the imposed pace. Peter Longerich estimates that a quarter of the detainees were thus killed. A column of inmates reached Gross-Rosen concentration camp complex. Throughout February, the terribly overcrowded main camp at Gross-Rosen was cleared, and all 44,000 inmates were moved further west. An unknown number died in this last journey. In March 1945, Himmler ordered that no more prisoners should be killed, as he hoped to use them as hostages in negotiations with the Allies. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.

When Auschwitz was liberated on 26 and 27 January by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army, the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Among items found by the Soviet soldiers were 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair. The camp's liberation received little press attention at the time. In historian Laurence Rees' opinion, this was due to three factors: the previous discovery of similar crimes at Majdanek concentration camp, competing news from the Allied summit at Yalta, and the Soviet Union's interest, for propaganda purposes, in minimizing attention to Jewish suffering. Due to the vast extent of the camp area, at least four divisions took part in liberating the camp: 100th Rifle Division (established in Vologda, Russia), 322nd Rifle Division (Gorky, Russia), 286th Rifle Division (Leningrad), and 107th Motor Rifle Division (Tambov, Russia).

After the war

Auschwitz II Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army at around 3:30 p.m. on 27 January 1945, and the main camp (Auschwitz I) two hours later. Military trucks loaded with bread arrived the next day. Volunteers began to offer first aid and improvised assistance the following week. In early February, the Polish Red Cross hospital opened in blocks 14, 21, and 22 at Auschwitz I, headed by Dr. Józef Bellert and staffed by 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from Kraków, along with around 90 former inmates. The critically injured patients – estimated at several thousands – were relocated from Birkenau and Monowitz to the main camp. Some orphaned children were immediately adopted by Oświęcim residents, while others were transferred to Kraków, where a number of them were adopted by Polish families. Others were placed in an orphanage at Harbutowice.

The hospital cared for more than 4,500 patients (most of them Jews) from 20 countries, suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, and typhoid fever. At least 500 patients died. Assistance was provided by volunteers from Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, who donated money and food, cleaned hospital rooms, delivered water, washed patients, cooked meals, buried the dead, and transported the sick in horse-drawn carts between locations. Securing enough food for thousands of former prisoners was a constant challenge. The hospital director personally went from village to village to collect milk.

In June 1945 the Soviet authorities took over Auschwitz I and converted it to a POW camp for German prisoners. The hospital had to move beyond the camp perimeter into former administrative buildings, where it functioned until October 1945.

Early on, many barracks at Birkenau were taken apart by civilians who used the materials to rebuild their own homes, levelled out in the construction of Auschwitz II. The poorest residents sifted the crematoria ashes in search of nuggets from melted gold, before the warning shots were fired. The POW camp for the German prisoners of war was used by the Soviet NKVD until 1947. In the two years, the Soviets dismantled and exported the IG Farben factories to the USSR. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish investigators worked to document the war crimes of the SS.

After the site became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.Antoni Dobrowolski, the oldest known survivor of Auschwitz, died aged 108 on 21 October 2012, in Dębno, Poland.

Trials of war criminals

Camp commandant Rudolf Höss was pursued by the British Intelligence Corps, who arrested him at a farm near Flensburg, Germany, on 11 March 1946. Höss confessed to his role in the mass killings at Auschwitz in his memoirs and in his trial before the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland. He was convicted of murder, returned to Auschwitz and hanged at the site of his crimes on 16 April 1947.

Around 12 percent of Auschwitz's 6,500 staff who survived the war were eventually brought to trial. Poland was more active than other nations in investigating war crimes, prosecuting 673 of the total 789 Auschwitz staff brought to trial. On 25 November 1947, the Auschwitz Trial began in Kraków, when Poland's Supreme National Tribunal brought to court 40 former Auschwitz staff. The trial's defendants included commandant Arthur Liebehenschel, women's camp leader Maria Mandel, and camp leader Hans Aumeier. The trials ended on 22 December 1947, with 23 death sentences, 7 life sentences, and 9 prison sentences ranging from three to fifteen years. Hans Münch, an SS doctor who had several former prisoners testify on his behalf, was the only person to be acquitted.

Other former staff were hanged for war crimes in the Dachau Trials and the Belsen Trial, including camp leaders Josef Kramer, Franz Hössler, and Vinzenz Schöttl; doctor Friedrich Entress; and guards Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath. The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, held in West Germany from 20 December 1963 to 20 August 1965, convicted 17 of 22 defendants, giving them prison sentences ranging from life to three years and three months.Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, the owner and the chief executive officer of the firm Tesch & Stabenow, one of the suppliers of Zyklon B, were executed for knowingly supplying the chemical for use on humans.

Command and control

Main article: SS command of Auschwitz concentration camp

Camp guards were members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units). Around 7,000 SS personnel in total were posted to Auschwitz during the war. Of these, 4 percent of SS personnel were officers and 26 percent were non-commissioned officers, while the remainder were rank-and-file members. Approximately three in four SS personnel worked in security. Others worked in the medical or political departments, in the camp headquarters, or in the economic administration, which was responsible for the property of dead prisoners. SS personnel at the camp included 200 women, who worked as guards, nurses, or messengers. The overall command authority for the entire camp was Department D (the Concentration Camps Inspectorate) of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economics Main Office; SS-WVHA).

Auschwitz was considered a comfortable posting by many SS members, due to its many amenities and the abundance of slave labor.[104] Of the various prisoner groups, SS officers preferred Jehovah's Witnesses for household slaves because of their nonviolent behavior. Höss lived with his wife and children in a villa just outside the camp grounds. Other SS personnel were also initially allowed to bring fiancees, wives, and children to live at the camp, but when the SS camp grew more crowded, Höss restricted further arrivals. Facilities for the SS personnel and their families included a library, swimming pool, coffee house, and a theater that hosted regular performances.

One prisoner in each work detail or prisoner block—usually an Aryan—was appointed as a Kapo ("head" or "overseer"). The Kapos received better rations and lodging and wielded tremendous power over other prisoners, whom they often abused. Very few Kapos were prosecuted after the war, due to the difficulty in determining which Kapo atrocities had been performed under SS orders and which had been individual actions.

About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria. Several SS personnel oversaw the killings at each gas chamber, while the bulk of the work was done by the mostly Jewish prisoners known as Sonderkommandos (special squads).Sonderkommando responsibilities included guiding victims to the gas chambers and removing, looting, and cremating the corpses.[113]

The Sonderkommando were housed separately from other prisoners, in somewhat better conditions. Their quality of life was further improved by access to the goods taken from murdered prisoners, which Sonderkommandos were sometimes able to steal for themselves and to trade on Auschwitz's black market. Hungarian doctor Miklós Nyiszli reported that the Sonderkommando numbered around 860 prisoners when the Hungarian Jews were being killed in 1944. Many Sonderkommandos committed suicide due to the horrors of their work; those who did not generally were shot by the SS in a matter of weeks, and new Sonderkommando units were then formed from incoming transports. Almost none of the 2,000 prisoners placed in these units survived to the camp's liberation.

Life in the camps

The prisoners' day began at 4:30 am (an hour later in winter) with morning roll call. Dr. Miklós Nyiszli describes roll call as beginning 03:00 and lasting four hours. The weather was cold in Auschwitz at that time of day, even in summer. The prisoners were ordered to line up outdoors in rows of five and had to stay there until 07:00, when the SS officers arrived. Meanwhile, the guards would force the prisoners to squat for an hour with their hands above their heads or levy punishments such as beatings or detention for infractions such as having a missing button or an improperly cleaned food bowl. The inmates were counted and re-counted. Nyiszli describes how even the dead had to be present at roll call, standing supported by their fellow inmates until the ordeal was over. When he was a prisoner in 1944–45, five to ten men were found dead in the barracks each night. The prisoners assigned to Mengele's staff slept in a separate barracks and were awoken at 07:00 for a roll call that only took a few minutes.

After roll call, the Kommando, or work details, walked to their place of work, five abreast, wearing striped camp fatigues, no underwear, and ill-fitting wooden shoes without socks. A prisoner's orchestra (such as the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz) was forced to play cheerful music as the workers left the camp. Kapos were responsible for the prisoners' behavior while they worked, as was an SS escort. The working day lasted 12 hours during the summer and a little less in the winter. Much of the work took place outdoors at construction sites, gravel pits, and lumber yards. No rest periods were allowed. One prisoner was assigned to the latrines to measure the time the workers took to empty their bladders and bowels.

Sunday was not a work day, but the prisoners did not rest; they were required to clean the barracks and take their weekly shower. Prisoners were allowed to write (in German) to their families on Sundays. Inmates who did not speak German would trade some of their bread to another inmate for help composing their letters. Members of the SS censored the outgoing mail.

A second mandatory roll call took place in the evening. If a prisoner was missing, the others had to remain standing in place until he was either found or the reason for his absence discovered, regardless of the weather conditions, even if it took hours. After roll call, individual and collective punishments were meted out, depending on what had happened during the day, before the prisoners were allowed to retire to their blocks for the night and receive their bread rations and water. Curfew was two or three hours later. The prisoners slept in long rows of wooden bunks, lying in and on their clothes and shoes to prevent them from being stolen.

According to Nyiszli, "Eight hundred to a thousand people were crammed into the superimposed compartments of each barracks. Unable to stretch out completely, they slept there both lengthwise and crosswise, with one man's feet on another's head, neck, or chest. Stripped of all human dignity, they pushed and shoved and bit and kicked each other in an effort to get a few more inches' space on which to sleep a little more comfortably. For they did not have long to sleep".

The types of prisoners were distinguishable by triangular pieces of cloth, called Winkel, sewn onto on their jackets below their prisoner number. Political prisoners had a red triangle, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple, criminals had green, and so on. The nationality of the inmate was indicated by a letter stitched onto the Winkel. Jews had a yellow triangle, overlaid by a second Winkel if they also fit into a second category. Uniquely at Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with their prisoner number, on the chest for Soviet prisoners of war and on the left arm for civilians.

Prisoners received a hot drink in the morning, but no breakfast, and a thin meatless vegetable soup at noon. In the evening they received a small ration of moldy bread. Most prisoners saved some of the bread for the following morning. Nyiszli notes the daily intake did not exceed 700 calories, except for prisoners being subjected to live medical experimentation, who were better fed and clothed. Sanitary arrangements were poor, with inadequate latrines and a lack of fresh water. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, latrines were not installed until 1943, two years after camp construction began. The camps were infested with vermin such as disease-carrying lice, and the inmates suffered and died in epidemics of typhus and other diseases.Noma, a bacterial infection occurring among the malnourished, was a common cause of death among children in the Gypsy camp.

Block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. These cells were about 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), and held four men; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. Prisoners sentenced to death for attempting to escape were confined in a dark cell and given neither food nor water while being left to die. [130]

In the basement were the "dark cells", which had only a very tiny window and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they used up all the oxygen in the cell; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly. Many were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs for hours, even days, thus dislocating their shoulder joints.

Selection and extermination process

Map showing the location of the three main camps (1944). Prisoners: yellow; facilities: blue-gray
American surveillance photo of Birkenau (1944). South is at the top in this photo.
Zigeunermischlinge (Gypsy half-breeds) used in an anthropological study by German psychologist Eva Justin. Housed in the Gypsy camp, all but two of Justin's subjects were murdered when the camp was liquidated.
Young survivors at the camp, liberated by the Red Army in January 1945
Ruins of barracks at Birkenau. Stoves and chimneys are all that remains of most of them
Gallows in Auschwitz I where Rudolf Höss was executed on 16 April 1947
Rudolf Höss (1901–1947), the first commandant of Auschwitz

Guard tower at Auschwitz-Birkenau (2013)

Latrine at Auschwitz-Birkenau (2003)