During the five years of its existence, an estimated 1.1 million people perished at Auschwitz (see page 44). With the general public having grown used to the figure of six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, it may be useful to point out that not all of them died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Some 1.35 million Jews were shot by the SS-Einsatzkommandos (SS mobile killing squads), first in Poland in 1939-40 and then, on a much larger scale, in Russia in 1941-42 (‘Holocaust by bullets’) and 800,000 perished in the overcrowded ghettos set up by the Nazis in eastern Europe. Nearly two million were murdered by gas in other death camps: Chelmno (150,000-200,000), Belzec (435,000-550,000), Sobibor (170,000-250,000), Treblinka (700,000-1,000,000) and Majdanek (50,000-60,000) in occupied Poland and Maly Trostenets (40,000-65,000) in the Soviet Union. Another 250,000 died in numerous other concentration camps all over Europe, giving a final figure of between 4.9 and 5.4 million victims.
Auschwitz was the creation of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (second from left) with camp commander Rudolf Höss (third from right) as his prime executive, pictured here on July 17, 1942 during Himmler’s two-day inspection of Auschwitz and the associated IG Farben plant. The man in civilian suit (centre) is Max Faust, IG Farben’s head engineer on site.
Auschwitz — the most infamous of all the Nazi concentration camps — has globally come to symbolise the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. Begun as a detention camp, primarily for Polish political prisoners, it grew to become the principal killing centre set up for the mass murder of the European Jews. At the same time, it was one of the largest of the Nazi slave labour camps, distributing thousands of inmates to war factories, building projects and other
In the years since the Second World War, the name Auschwitz has become virtually synonymous with the unrestrained tyranny, the power of terror, and the systematic murder of millions of human beings during German Nazi rule. In Der SS-Staat (The SS State), a book on the structure of the concentration camp system, Eugen Kogon, a former prisoner of the Buchenwald camp, described almost unlimited totalitarianism in which living arrangements and behavioural norms were imposed on persons deprived of any right to participate in shaping their lives and fate. It was under the unremitting oppression of the concentration camps that the Nazi concept of absolute power over a captive population came closest to full implementation. Thus a survivor, Primo Levi, observed that ‘never has there existed a state that was really “totalitarian”. . . . Never has some Right: The sign at Auschwitz had been manufactured by prisoners from the camp blacksmith under the supervision of Jan Liwacz in July 1940. They deliberately inverted the letter B as a covert mark of disobedience. Early in the morning on December 18, 2009, the sign was stolen in an overnight raid that made the world headlines. The culprits, five local petty criminals, were arrested within two days near Turin in northern Poland and the five-metre-long cast-iron sign — which had been cut in three to fit into a getaway car — was recovered and returned to its original place. It later transpired the theft had been organised by a former Swedish neo-Nazi, Anders Högström, who had hired the Poles for the job.
By Yisrael Gutman
industries in the region, spawning dozens of satellite camps. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work makes you free), the cynical slogan above the entrance gate of Auschwitz I — the Stammlager (main camp), pictured here by Stanislaw Luczko after liberation in 1945 — also appeared at the gates of other concentration camps like Dachau and Sachsenhausen (in both of which camp commander Rudolf Höss had served before he came to Auschwitz) and Flossenbürg.
Our author, Yisrael Gutman, is one of the world’s leading historians on the Nazi genocide of the Jews. A survivor of Auschwitz and other camps, he was professor of Modern Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as chairman of the Academic Committee of Yad Vashem, the central museum and archives on the Holocaust in Israel, and deputy chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. 3
Right: Just inside the camp perimeter near the gate was the venue of the Lagerkapelle (camp orchestra). It played as prisoners departed for their work details and again on their return. The Lagerkapelle was originally started by Polish inmates who had received musical instruments from home, and they first began rehearsing in a room in Block 24 on January 6, 1941. After getting official permission from the SS, they began playing at the gate and also giving concerts for prisoners and for the Commandant near his villa. The SS approved of their performing at the gate for it ensured that the prisoners paraded by in an orderly fashion and made them easier to count. The ability to play a musical instrument, and thus obtain a place in the orchestra, was one way of enhancing a prisoner’s chance of survival. The wooden building behind the musicians is the camp kitchen and the large empty space seen on the left is the Appellplatz (roll-call square). 4
OW AK KR
TO BIE LIT Z-B IAL A
GOO DS S TAT ION
LEGEND Railway Rivers/Lakes Roads Boundary of Camp Interest Area Outer guard perimeter Satellite camp Gas chambers and crematoria Provisional gas chambers (Bunkers 1 and 2) ‘Kanada’ I and II (plundered goods depots) Rampe I-III (unloading platforms) Birkenau camp sections Holzhof (timber depot) Bauhof (building materials depot) Workshops Expansion of the main camp (Lager-Erweiterung) Armaments factories Krupp AG, later Union-Werke Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd)
TO JAWISCH OWITZ
form of reaction, a corrective of the total tyranny, been lacking, not even in the Third Reich or Stalin’s Soviet Union: in both cases, public opinion, the magistrature, the foreign press, the churches, the feeling for justice and humanity that ten or 20 years of tyranny were not enough to eradicate, have to a greater or lesser extent acted as a brake. Only in the Lager was the restraint from below non-existent, and the power of these small satraps absolute.’ In a similar vein, Hannah Arendt argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism that ‘the concentration and extermination camps of totalitarian regimes serve as laboratories in which the fundamental belief of totalitarianism that everything is possible is being verified.’ Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps. In the period from May 1940, when German authorities laid the groundwork for its establishment, to January 1945, when most surviving Auschwitz prisoners were marched off by their German captors and Soviet Army troops liberated the camp, approximately 405,000 prisoners of
INTEREST AREA OF AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP
ICE OW KAT TO
Right: In order to isolate the Auschwitz camp from the Polish population living in the vicinity, the SS in June 1940 deported some 2,000 people, with further evacuations following in July and November, demolishing 123 houses and appropriating all the land in a five-kilometre radius around the camp. In October 1941, after a decision had been taken to build an extension of the Auschwitz camp at Birkenau (later designated Auschwitz II), further evictions and demolitions took place around that site. In all, seven villages were evacuated. In this triangular area of 40 square kilometres at the confluence of the Sola and the Vistula — known as the Interessenbereich KL Auschwitz (Interest Area of Auschwitz Concentration Camp) — the camp administration set up several satellite facilities, mostly agricultural model farms, all of them worked by prisoners housed in small subcamps. These included the plant-breeding establishment at Raïsko (where there was also a bacteriological research station of the Hygiene-Institut der Waffen-SS), the poultry farm and the fish-processing plant at Harmense, the agricultural estate at Babitz and the cattle-breeding station and fishponds at Budy. Also within the Area of Interest were the armaments factories of the Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke (DAW) and Krupp AG (later Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke) and a quarry run by the Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd — DEST). Thus the Auschwitz SS created their own industrial zone around the two main camps.
both sexes from nearly every European country were registered, assigned serial numbers, and incarcerated there. Of this number an estimated 200,000 perished. (This figure does not include prisoners who were murdered without being registered.) The proportion of deaths among Auschwitz prisoners was much higher than in other concentration camps, such as Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen. With the expansion and development of the camp complex, Auschwitz and its satellites encompassed more than 40 camps spread over a vast industrial area rich with natural resources. These camps served as a huge pool of prisoner labour for the German
war effort, as well as for work in mines, construction and agriculture. But the uniqueness and historical significance of Auschwitz do not derive from those features. In January 1941, the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office — RSHA), SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, second in the SS hierarchy to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, classified various concentration camps in accordance with the severity of the offences committed by their prisoners. Auschwitz was placed in the same category as Dachau and Sachsenhausen as a camp for prisoners whose offences were ‘relatively light and definitely correctable’. One might
conclude that at that time Auschwitz did not differ significantly from other concentration camps. From May 1940 to January 1942, 36,285 prisoners (26,288 civilians and 9,997 Soviet prisoners of war) were incarcerated in the camp. But not even the mass scale of the camp and the savagery of its regime were fated to become its hallmark. The gruesome history and enduring horror of Auschwitz can be attributed primarily to the machinery for mass extermination of human beings created by the Nazis at the nearby Birkenau camp, a unit of Auschwitz. The location was designated by Himmler as the centrepiece for ‘the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe’. From spring 1942 until autumn 1944, the operation designed to annihilate European Jews functioned almost without let-up as transport trains delivered Jews from Nazi-occupied countries and European satellites of the Third Reich. The overwhelming majority of those victims, designated as ‘RSHA transports’ earmarked for ‘Sonderbehandlung’ (‘special treatment’), were ignorant of their destination and their fate. They were moved like cattle and arrived in a state of total exhaustion. It has been said that ‘there will never be people as innocent as the victims on the threshold of the gas chambers’. ‘Selections’ took place on the railway siding ramp at the gates of Birkenau. Children, the elderly, the sick, and large numbers of men and women were selected for death and marched immediately to the gas chambers. Left: The camp kitchen was later enlarged with two wings to its front that swallowed up most of the Appellplatz. Today, this side of the building has lost its wooden cladding but otherwise it survives unaltered. 5
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When the SS took over the former Polish military barracks from the Wehrmacht to turn it into a concentration camp, there were just 20 brick-built barrack blocks — nine on one side of the terrain and 11 on the other, with a large open parade ground in between. Fourteen of the buildings had only one floor and six were two-storeyed. In 1941, having received orders from Himmler to enlarge the camp’s capacity from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners, camp commander SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Höss instigated the construction of eight more
The initiative to establish a concentration camp in Auschwitz in the spring of 1940 came from the SS and the police district command, which argued that the jails and prisons could no longer meet its needs due to the intensification of Polish resistance activities. Martin Broszat, a German historian of National Socialism and Nazi power, writes in Anatomie des SS-Staats, his study of the concentration camps: ‘Establishment of the camp and the selec-
tion of distant Auschwitz in the Katowice district, part of the annexed new Eastern Territories (about 30 kilometres east of Katowice, on the juncture of Eastern Upper Silesia, the General Government, and Warthegau), as its site was due above all, though not exclusively, to the large number of Polish prisoners captured by the security police in these areas. They were incarcerated in congested prisons without any intention of putting them on trial.’
Other transport arrivals, classified as ablebodied, were selected for work and were registered in the camp as prisoners. According to the best estimates now obtainable, more than one million Jews were murdered in the gas chambers on arrival and their bodies incinerated in the camp’s crematoria without the victims ever being registered. Of those murdered upon arrival, no trace remained: no name, no record, no precise information. In The Nazi Doctors, Robert Jay Lifton writes: ‘When we think of the crimes of Nazi doctors, what comes to mind are their cruel and sometimes fatal experiments. . . . Yet when we turn to the Nazi doctor’s role in Auschwitz, it was not the experiments that were most significant. Rather, it was his participation in the killing process — indeed his supervision of Auschwitz mass murder from beginning to end.’ The place that gave its name to the camp was the small Polish district town of Oswiecim, located 50 kilometres south-west of Krakow and 286 kilometres from Warsaw. From the partition and subjugation of Poland in 1772 until the establishment of the independent Polish republic in 1918, Oswiecim, virtually unknown outside Poland, lay within the territory of the Hapsburg Empire. Following the occupation of Poland in September 1939 by the Third Reich, Oswiecim was incorporated into Germany together with Upper Silesia, hitherto under Polish rule, and renamed Auschwitz. On the eve of the war, the town’s population stood at 12,000, including nearly 5,000 Jewish residents. The Sola river, a tributary of the Vistula, flows near Oswiecim; yet at this latitude it is little more than a creek. Although Oswiecim is not far from the Tatra Mountains, whose peaks remain snow-clad all year round, it lies in a humid and foggy valley with swampy soil, an unpleasant climate conducive to disease.
two-storey blocks to fill up the centre area and to add an extra floor to all the single-storey buildings, using the prisoners as the labour force. The work was completed in the first quarter of 1942, after which all blocks were assigned new numbers (the eight new ones became Nos. 4 to 7 and 15 to 18). This picture was taken in December 1944 from in front of Block 24 (formerly No. 9), the prisoner’s office near the camp gate, and shows two of the new blocks, Nos. 15 on the left and 16 on the right. Note the Christmas tree.
Unlike the wooden huts of most other Nazi concentration camps, all the buildings of Auschwitz main camp have survived and remain exactly as they were during the war. A State Museum since 1947, the site has been carefully preserved as a place of remembrance and warning to later generations. Since 1960 several of the blocks house so-called ‘national exhibitions’, each produced by one of the countries from where the prisoners came and detailing the history of that particular nation under Nazi rule and the fate of its nationals at Auschwitz. Most of them have been renewed from time to time. Block 15 currently houses the exhibition for Poland and Block 16 that of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
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The contrast today could not be greater. Tourists now stroll where inmates, wearing striped prisoner garments, once toiled through the mud and snow.
The concentration camps, which existed from the time of the Nazi takeover until the collapse of the Third Reich, were conceived as an ‘iron fist’ to circumvent the law as dictated by the regime’s changing needs. Initially the camps served as instruments of terror and ‘re-education’ to frighten, deter, and paralyse the Nazis’ opposition, primarily members of left-wing political parties and others with liberal views. As the regime consolidated its grip on power, some of its highly placed functionaries concluded that the camps had fulfilled their purpose and should be abolished. During 1936, some 7,500 prisoners on average were incarcerated
Above: Around the corner from the previous shot, in the main Lagerstrasse (camp street), this is the enlarged camp kitchen block completed in 1943. An oblong building built around an inner courtyard, its single entrance is visible between the two wings fronting the Lagerstrasse. This picture was taken by the SS in the winter of 1943-44.
Left: Public hangings of prisoners were an integral part of the terror campaign carried out by the SS, the first such execution occurring on July 8, 1942, when two Polish inmates were hung. On July 19, 1943, the SS used a specially constructed gallows to execute 12 Polish inmates in front of all the other prisoners during roll-call. They were Stanislaw Stawinski (Prisoner No. 6569), Czeslaw Marcisz (No. 26891), Janusz Skrzetuski-Pogonowski (No. 253), Edmund Sikorski (No. 25419), Jerzy Wozniak (No. 35650), Jozef Wojtyga (No. 24740), Zbigniew Foltanski (No. 41664), Jozef Gancarz (No. 24538), Mieczyslaw Kulikowski (No. 25404), Bogus-
law Ohrt (No. 367), Leon Rajzer (No. 399) and Tadeusz Rapacz (No. 36043). All members of the Vermessungs-Kommando (Surveying Squad), they had been sentenced to death for illegal contacts with the local population and for assisting in the escape of three fellow prisoners. After the war the joint gallows was reconstructed by the Museum, this picture being taken by Tadeusz Kinowski in 1954. Right: Although reconstructions in former concentration camps always run the risk of providing fuel for holocaust deniers, the gallows have been retained. Today, information panels provide visitors with ample background knowledge. 7
Right: Continuing his photographic documentation of the camp perimeter, Mucha pictured Guard Tower B which stood halfway along the length of the eastern (rear) side of the camp. Nine towers surrounded the prisoners compound, designated (clockwise from the north-eastern comer) A to J. Built in the winter of 1943-44 to replace the earlier provisional guard towers put up in 1940-41, they were of two models: large (Grosser Turm) and small (Kleiner Turm). Tower B was one of four of the latter type. Also note the fence constructed of concrete panels behind the tower. This was erected in 1942 to hide the camp from the street and it lined the entire eastern and southern sides. Far right: The same tower today. Note that the sign in the foreground is of a different design as the one from 1945 — most probably a replica produced by the museum staff. 8
Even without the snow of January 1945, and with trees in full summer bloom, the gruesome character of the camp still cannot be softened. The war brought in its wake ‘a great change in the life of concentration camps’, according to the commander and architect of the Auschwitz camp, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Ferdinand Höss, who wrote his memoirs in a Polish jail after the war. The growing network of concentration camps began absorbing ever-increasing numbers of nationals of Nazi-occupied countries, mainly underground political activists and other sus-
pects. Conditions in the camps deteriorated steadily. As Martin Broszat points out, the tendency of the SS to turn concentration camps into the pool of manpower for forced labour at its disposal can be detected as early as the winter of 1941-42. Paradoxically, this tendency ran counter to the desire, which had also gained momentum since the outbreak of the war, to eradicate and drive out certain groups of undesirables.
in concentration camps in Germany. Eventually the Chancellor and Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler decided to continue the camps under Himmler and the SS and consolidated their power. In the second stage of the camps’ history, from 1936-37 to the first years of the war, they served as dumping grounds for ‘work shirkers’, ‘a-social elements’, criminals and Jews (especially in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) anti-Jewish violence that erupted on November 9, 1938). Many such prisoners worked as forced labourers, described by the historian Karl Dietrich Bracher as slave labourers impressed for work in Hitler’s ‘megalomaniac’ construction projects. SS-owned plants and other enterprises were created next to existing camps, and two new camps were established at Flossenbürg (see After the Battle No. 131) and Mauthausen. On the eve of the war, the prisoner population of Nazi concentration camps had reached 25,000.
Right: The north-eastern corner of the camp, photographed by Stanislaw Mucha of the Polish Red Cross after the liberation of the camp in January 1945. It gives a good view of the double barbed-wired and high-voltage electrified fence surrounding the prisoners’ compound. The three blocks closest to the camera are Nos. 1 to 3. From October 7, 1941 to March 1, 1942, they — together with Blocks 12-14 and 22-24 — formed the so-called Russenlager (Russians Camp), a special enclosure within Auschwitz main camp housing 10,000 Russian POWs sent here from Stalag VIII E (308) in Neuhammer-am-Quais in Upper Silesia. They were to serve as work force to build the new camp at Birkenau which, in Himmler’s original scheme, was planned as a POW camp for captured Russian soldiers. Already in poor health on arrival, and further ravaged by starvation, typhus and ill treatment by the SS, in just five months the majority of these Russians had perished so that when the order came to transfer the rest to Birkenau, only 945 were still alive. Then, from March 26, 1942, the blocks seen in this shot — Nos. 1 to 10 (not counting No. 11, the one at the very end) — were closed off from the rest of the camp by a wall and used as the Frauenlager (Women’s Camp), to house several thousand female prisoners, both Jewish and non-Jewish. This situation lasted for five months, until August 16, when all the women were transferred to the B I section of Birkenau (see page 19) after which the Frauenlager in Auschwitz I was dissolved.
Reaching the next corner, Mucha took a picture looking down the southern side of the camp. Here the screening wall lay much closer to the inner barbed-wire fence. The building closest to the camera is Block 11.
In practice, this meant that along with planning and promoting productive labour, methods known collectively as ‘Vernichtung durch Arbeit’ (‘destruction through work’) were introduced. Destruction through work assumed two main forms: (1) work as punishment in the comprehensive terror system, involving humiliation, brutal treatment and physical abuse, and (2) back-breaking labour without even the simplest work tools, performed by prisoners living in conditions below subsistence level. The growing number of prisoners classified by the Nazis as ‘racial’ inferiors coincided with the attitude that such persons constituted a hostile and expendable element that should be eliminated. Their taskmasters acted as if the supply of prisoner manpower was inexhaustible, requiring no effort to preserve it. This stance changed in 1942, however, as the war on the Eastern Front dragged on and the shortage of manpower was keenly felt. In March 1942, concentration camps were placed under the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungs-Hauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Main Office — WVHA), a move that suggests a more rational approach to prisoner manpower in concentration camps. From the second half of that year, and particularly from 1943 on, this shift was apparent in a modest improvement in the living conditions of prisoners which, in turn, somewhat reduced the mortality rate. While this relaxation of prisoner labour policies did not extend to the policy on the extermination of European Jews, which reached its climax during this period, it did affect the conditions of some Jewish victims. Under heavy pressure from officials interested in the most effective use of manpower for the war machine, Himmler consented to the temporary use of some able-bodied, skilled Jewish workers in the production process, while making sure that these prisoners were placed in concentration camps under SS control. Although the living conditions of Jewish prisoners in the camps generally were much harsher than those of other national and ethnic groups and their mortality rate consequently was higher, it is nonetheless incontrovertible that the few Jews who survived until the end of the war in the camps owe their lives largely to the Germans’ desperate need for manpower, which brought a relaxation of camp regime in the later stages of the war. In the first years of their existence, the camps were populated by German prisoners and, after the annexation of Austria in 1938, by numerous Austrians as well. In the final stages of the war, Germans from the Reich (Reichsdeutsche) comprised only five to ten
The aspect is virtually unchanged today. Note the wall connecting Block 11 with the one next to it, No. 10. per cent of the prisoner population, while the overwhelming majority of prisoners were Russians, Poles, French, Dutch, Czechs, Greeks, and Jews from Nazi-occupied European countries.
The growth in the prisoner population was formidable, from 25,000 at the outbreak of the war to 525,000 in 1944. In January 1945, a few months before war’s end, the camps held more than 700,000. The concentration camp system was a relatively small segment of the vast network of more than 2,000 camps in areas under Nazi control, including labour camps, prisoner-ofwar camps, and transit camps for prisoners and Jews awaiting transport to their final destination. Concentration camps differed from other types of camps in that they remained under the control of the central SS authorities and maintained a uniform internal regime and unified command. All SScontrolled concentration camps were bound by the same harsh regulations which governed other prisoners and SS personnel: a daily schedule that regulated prisoners’ lives down to the last detail; a hierarchy of SS command with some power handed to functionary-prisoners (those assigned official duties), and a penal system which permitted the hanging of prisoners. The camp established at Dachau in 1933 by Himmler, then police chief in Munich, served as a model for all subsequent concentration camps. Dachau served also as a training facility for the SS’s so-called Totenkopfverbände (Death’s-Head Units), which became the core of SS personnel responsible 9
Block 11 (originally Block 13), in the south-eastern corner of the camp, was the camp prison and was known to the prisoners as the ‘Block of Death’. The ground floor served as prison for Polish civilians (men and women) who were awaiting the verdict of the Gestapo police summary court in Katowice. About once every month on average, SS-Standartenführer Dr. Rudolf Mildner, chief of the Gestapo in Katowice, would come to Auschwitz and, together with his assistants and with SS-Untersturmführer Maximilian Grabner, the head of the Politische Abteilung (the Gestapo detachment in the camp), hold a court session. At one sitting, lasting from two to three hours, they would pronounce from a few dozen to more than 100 death sentences. The condemned were then shot in the back of the head in the adjoining courtyard or, if the number was small, in the lavatory situated in the passageway to the yard. Prisoners from the camp were executed in the same way. In the cellar of the building were 22 prison cells of various size, used for camp inmates and civilians arrested on suspicion of maintaining contact with prisoners or helping them to escape. In late August 1941, while camp commander Höss was away on official business, SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the Schutzhaftlagerführer (Protective Custody Camp Commander), on his own initiative carried out the first-ever experimental gassing of prisoners in these cells using Zyklon B. (The poison was used in the camp as an insecticide and there was always a stock of cans on hand.) Blocking the window of one cell with earth, he shoved a small group of captured Russian functionaries
and political commissars (who had been sent to Auschwitz to be eliminated) inside and, wearing a gas mask, threw in the gas pellets which killed the victims instantly. A few days later, on the evening of September 3 (and after Höss had returned) the SS repeated the experiment on a much larger scale, cramming 298 Polish prisoners, selected from the camp infirmary, and about 600 Russian POWs into a larger number of cells into which Zyklon B was introduced. When the doors were opened the next morning, one prisoner was found to be still alive so more poison was thrown in and the doors shut again. Inmates removed the corpses on the next day.
for running the concentration camp system. Having completed the Dachau ‘school’, they went on to serve as commanders and senior officials in other such facilities (see After the Battle No. 27). SS-Oberführer Theodor Eicke, the first Dachau commander and later the Inspector for Concentration Camps, designed the Dachau camp regulations, which served as a model for regulations in all other concentra-
Right: The courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11. Enclosed by a high wall on both sides, this is where those who had been sentenced to death in Block 11 were led in pairs to stand facing the ‘Schwarze Wand’ (Black Wall) or ‘Wall of Death’ and then shot in the back of the head. In all, an estimated 20,000, most of them Polish prisoners, were executed here between 1940 and 1945. The execution wall is a post-war reconstruction.
Left: A portable gallows was used to hang prisoners who had escaped and been recaptured or had been found guilty of organising resistance in the camp. This picture of it in the courtyard of Block 11 was taken in 1945. Right: Today, the gallows is exhibited inside Block 11. 10
tion camps. It was Eicke who determined that ‘commiseration with the enemy of the state [the prisoner] does not benefit the SS man’. At the beginning of the war, Eicke joined the Waffen-SS, taking command of the SS-Division ‘Totenkopf‘, and was killed on the Eastern Front in 1943, but his theory and practice remained in force in Nazi concentration camps until the end. The site selected to become the core of the future Auschwitz camp lay outside the town of Oswiecim. It included 16 one-story buildings that had served as army barracks. The Inspectorate for Concentration Camps dispatched two commissions to inspect the proposed site. The first, which arrived in January 1940, issued a negative opinion. The second, which arrived in April 1940, was headed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Rudolf Höss, whose name was to become perma-
Right: The crematorium of the Stammlager (Auschwitz I) was built in JuneAugust 1940, converted from an old store. It stood in a walled enclosure behind the SS administrative buildings, outside the prisoners’ compound. Originally it just served to dispose of the prisoners who had died in the camp but, following the first gassings of prisoners in Block 11, it began to be used as a gas chamber.
nently linked with the camp. Acting on a report from Höss, Himmler ordered the establishment of the camp on the site and appointed Höss as its commander. The first order of business was the eviction of about 1,200 persons who lived in shacks and cabins in the vicinity of the projected camp. Next, 300 Jewish residents of Oswiecim were brought in for six weeks to level the terrain and lay foundations. Then, in May 1940, 30 German criminal prisoners arrived from the Sachsenhausen camp. Assigned the first Auschwitz camp serial numbers, these prisoners made up the network of functionary-prisoners holding official posts in the prisoner hierarchy, ‘the long arm of the SS in the camp’, as David Rousset, a French concentration camp survivor, put it.
Left: Its Leichenhalle (mortuary) was made airtight and several openings made in the ceiling (right) to enable Zyklon B to be dropped inside. Some 700 to 900 persons could be crammed into the room and killed in one go. The first gassing here took place in September 1941, its victims being 900 Russian POWs.
Between March and December 1942, tens of thousands of Jews from Upper Silesia, Slovakia, Holland, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Poland were murdered here. Krematorium I (as it was called after four new gas chambers and crematoria were opened in Auschwitz-Birkenau), functioned until July 1943.
The other main supplier of crematorium furnaces for Nazi camps was H. Kori of Berlin. They supplied fewer than Topf — some 20 to 30 in all — but to a larger number of camps: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Mauthausen, Flossenbürg (see
The bodies were taken to the adjoining crematorium room to be incinerated. Originally there had been only one coal-fired double-muffle furnace but two more were installed in January-February 1941 and in November 1941-May 1942 respectively. Each retort could take two to three bodies at a time and together the six cremators could burn 340 corpses daily. The incinerators were manufactured by the firm of Topf & Söhne in Erfurt, which also supplied those for five other Nazi concentration camps: Dachau (see After the Battle No. 27), Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Belzec and Gusen, and later those for Birkenau (Auschwitz II). In all, including those in the four large crematoria at Birkenau, there were 52 Topf & Söhne muffles at Auschwitz. When this crematorium was closed down in July 1943 (gassings had already stopped here in December 1942), the three ovens were dismantled and the building used thereafter as an air raid shelter. After the war, two of the ovens were reconstructed by the Auschwitz Museum using the original metal parts found in the camp. After the Battle No. 131), Neuengamme, Majdanek, Stutthof, Gross-Rosen, Natzweiler-Struthof (see After the Battle No. 108), Dora-Mittelbau (see After the Battle No. 101), Bergen-Belsen (see After the Battle No. 89) and Vught in the Netherlands. 11
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Today the eastern wing of the Admissions Building is used as the main reception area and visitors’ centre for the tens of thousands of people from all over the world who visit the Auschwitz Camp Museum every year, while the remainder is occupied by the museum administration. This is the view from the west, showing the latter offices.
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On June 14, 1940, the first transport carrying 728 Polish inmates from the town of Tarnow in Galicia arrived in the camp. The administration and management staff was assembled, mostly officials transferred to Auschwitz from other camps. SS-Obersturmführer Josef Kramer from Mauthausen was appointed as Höss’s deputy. SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritsch of Dachau was appointed Schutzhaftlagerführer (Chief of the Prisoner Detention Camp). A Politische Abteilung (Political Department — a branch of the Gestapo, the state secret-police organisation) was also established under SS-Untersturmführer Maximilian Grabner. As the main concentration camp for the occupied Polish territories, the Polish underground and the Polish intelligentsia, Auschwitz grew steadily and gradually to accommodate prisoners of various categories. To facilitate implementation of plans for the camp, more residents were evicted from several districts of the town and from surrounding areas; all Jewish residents of Oswiecim were evacuated to the nearby town of Chrzanow. By uprooting the local population, the Germans created an empty area measuring 40 square kilometres designated as the Interessenbereich Konzentrationslager Auschwitz (Interest Area of the Auschwitz Camp).
where prisoners had arrived ever since the camp was first opened in 1940 (right). Although still uncompleted, the building was already taken into use after the summer of 1944 and this picture of it was made that winter.
Left: In the spring of 1944 construction started of a large new Admissions Building on a plot of land immediately adjoining the prisoners’ camp and right beside the section of rail track — known as ‘Rampe I’ (Unloading Platform I), see the map on page 4 —
Left: Pictured during its construction in summer 1944, this is the central extension to the U-shaped building. Right: Today a brick wall has been erected to surround the forecourt so Karel Mar12
gry, who visited Auschwitz to research this feature and take the comparisons, had to hold his camera above his head to reach over the wall and, with some good luck, take this shot.
Above: When the Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz in January 1945, they made an extensive record on film of what they found. One of the most heart-rending sequences in the material is this one showing a group of small children — all twins and survivors of the medical experiments which were carried out by SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Josef Mengele, one of the camp doctors at Auschwitz-Birkenau — being led away by female attendants along the path between the two electrified fences of the Stammlager. As such, this path did not lead either to or from any logical place so it was most likely staged for dramatic effect. Right: Karel discovered that the Soviet cameraman filmed the sequence in the south-western corner of the main camp. Josef Mengele volunteered for Auschwitz in May 1943. Posted as camp doctor to the Gypsy Camp at Birkenau, he became infamous for his pseudo-scientific research on twins and dwarfs. Nicknamed ‘The Angel of Death’ he was hunted as a Nazi war criminal for many years but evaded capture and died of a stroke on January 24, 1979.
Another sequence filmed in the same corner of the camp in front of Guard Tower E — one of five of the large type (Grosser Turm). Here we see the same group of twins pulling up their sleeves to reveal the numbers tattooed on their arms.
All the guard towers at Auschwitz I were extensively overhauled during a restoration project between July 1998 and August 1999. The best available conservation techniques were employed to preserve them. 13
Above: Guard detachments at Nazi concentration camps were provided by the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS Death’s Head Units) of the Waffen-SS, those at the Auschwitz complex forming the SS-WachSturmbann KL Auschwitz, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Friedrich Hartjenstein. A Sturmbann equated to a battalion and the one at Auschwitz grew to encompass eight to ten companies. It later expanded to a regimental strength of some 3,500, designated the SS-WachRegiment Auschwitz, still under Hartjenstein’s command. Part of the unit was billeted in two large buildings of the former Polish Tobacco Monopoly (TabakMonopol-Gesellschaft), located a short distance away from the main camp on the other side of the Rampe I railway track. The block seen here was known as the Stabsgebäude (Staff Building) while the open area between the buildings formed a ready-made parade ground. 14
(SS Economic and Administrative Main Department — WVHA) in Berlin in November 1943, his family continued to live there. Today the house is privately owned. The concrete fence that hid view of the camp from the road can be seen in the background. Right: The SS compound, which lay immediately adjoining the camp, comprised three brick-built blocks — a Kommandantur, an administration building and an SS sick bay — and one barrack hut to house the Politische Abteilung (Gestapo detachment).
Left: Camp commander Höss lived with his family in this house. It stands right next to the camp, at its north-eastern corner and beside the entrance of the SS administrative compound (see the map on page 5) along the road that runs along the Sola river to the town. This is where Höss led a cosy life with his wife and five children, their household chores made easier using prisoner servants and housemaids. Even when Höss was relieved as camp commandant and posted to take charge of Amt DI of the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungs-Hauptamt
Today, the former SS barracks are used by the Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Zawodowa (State High School for Vocational Training).
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Auschwitz was taken by the company on March 8, 1943 and the factory opened on June 7. Led by Krupp director Dipl.-Ing. Herbert Weinhold and a civilian staff of 30, some 1,500 inmates were put to work here manufacturing aircraft parts and fuses for artillery shells. Five months later, on October 1, the firm of Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke took over the factory from Krupp, again for the production of artillery fuses.
Along the same stretch of railway, but further to the north, were two of the factory complexes built to put camp prisoners to work in industrial and armaments production: Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke (DAW) and Friedrich Krupp AG (see the map on page 4). This is the Krupp factory, seen from the north, pictured while it was still under construction in 1941. The decision to actually move part of its production capacity to
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Today, what remains of the former Krupp factory stands abandoned and neglected. This is the view from the south.
Left: In 1943, the SS started the so-called SchutzhaftlagerErweiterung (Expansion of the Protective Custody Camp), prisoner labour squads building a complex of 20 two-storeyed barrack blocks to the north of the main camp, planned to house another 30,000 prisoners (see the map on page 4 and the aerial on page 46). By October 1944, they accommodated
workshops and some 6,000 women prisoners employed at the Weichsel-Union armaments factory. Right: Today, little noticed by most of the present-day visitors to the camp, all the buildings survive as ordinary blocks of flats housing Polish families and forming a residential quarter of Oswiecim known as Pilecki. 15
During his first inspection of Auschwitz on March 1, 1941, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler announced his decision to further enlarge the complex. As he was in on the secret that the Wehrmacht would soon invade the Soviet Union, he instructed Höss to build a camp for 100,000 prisoners of war on a swampy site near the village of Brzezinka (Birkenau), three kilometres north-west of Oswiecim. The camp’s main gatehouse, the ‘Gate of Death’ which has since become a symbol When Himmler first visited Auschwitz in March 1941, 10,900 prisoners, most of them Poles, had been incarcerated in the camp. After touring the camp with an entourage of senior SS officers, local officials, functionaries of the Inspectorate for Concentration Camps, and officials of the giant industrial conglomerate IG Farbenindustrie which sought to establish a subsidiary on the camp grounds, Himmler laid down expansion plans. They included intensive construction work in the camp area with a view to accommodating 30,000 prisoners and the establishment at Birkenau (Brzezinka), about three kilometres away, of a camp for 100,000 prisoners of war. Three months before the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, Himmler was clearly anticipating prisoners from that future campaign. Expansion plans also called for supplying 10,000 prisoner workers to IG Farben for the construction of a large industrial enterprise in the vicinity of Auschwitz and for agricultural development with the help of prisoner manpower, establishment of workshops, and war effort enterprises in the camp. Himmler’s visit inaugurated an upsurge in construction and in 1942, an average of 8,000 prisoners were employed daily on such work. The main camp (Stammlager), Auschwitz I, expanded so rapidly that by the end of 1941 it could accommodate 18,000 prisoners and in 1943 held as many as 30,000. Living quarters for the SS were built within the perimeter of the camp, together with barracks for SS guards, headquarters for the Auschwitz complex, and a workshop and depot sector. The entire main camp occupied an area 1000 metres long and 400 metres wide. Construction in the Birkenau camp, which was to become Auschwitz II, started in Octo16
for the horrors of Birkenau, was only added in 1942, long after the camp first opened. Originally the building comprised only the part with the two arched gates — one for vehicular access, the other for a railway line — and the tower but, as the needs of the camp increased, a new wing was added on the right in 1943. The single railway track passing through its right-hand gate was a branch line leading directly into the camp and was only laid in early 1944.
ber 1941. The terrible congestion which prevailed in the main camp as a result of the arrival of Soviet prisoners of war toward the end of 1941 forced the Germans to accelerate the pace of construction work in Birkenau. Preparation of the ground necessitated draining swamps. Workers laboured under inhuman conditions and suffered cruel treatment. The new camp was completed at a high cost in lives of POWs and civilian prisoners. However, ultimately the construction did not go according to plan, and the projected scope of construction and the division of the camp into sub-camps had to be modified. In the second half of 1941, Himmler entrusted Auschwitz authorities with preparations for the projected mass annihilation of European Jews. In the context of this plan, Birkenau was designed to hold various categories of prisoners and to function also as a death camp. The first sectors of Birkenau, sub-camps separated by barbed-wire fences and equipped with gates and watchtowers, were completed in 1942. In 1943, the sector designated as B II was completed. It consisted of separate sub-sectors designed for living quarters (designated B II b to B II f) and located in long wooden structures built originally as horse stables. Thus a barrack originally designed for 52 horses served as living quarters for over 400 prisoners. In March 1942, a women’s sector was established in the main camp. It held 999 German women prisoners brought from the Ravensbrück concentration camp and the same number of Jewish women brought from Slovakia. Before long, the population of the women’s camp rose to 6,000. In August, it was moved to Birkenau. In January 1944, the Birkenau women’s sector held 27,053 prisoners, who suffered from a lack of the most
basic sanitary and hygienic conditions and were subject to frequent selections for gassings. The Birkenau camp sectors, both men’s and women’s, held prisoners of many nationalities, most of them Jews. In January 1944, the total prisoner population of Auschwitz camps reached 80,839. In February 1943, a separate family camp for gypsies was created in sector B II e, and a similar camp for Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia was opened in September. Later, both family camps were liquidated and most of their inmates murdered in the gas chambers. In addition to the intensive expansion and construction of sectors of the main camps in the years 1942-45, some 40 camps were established over a wide area around Auschwitz, some of them tens of kilometres from the main camp. These camps were either directly affiliated with Auschwitz or served as branches. Varying in size, their prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousands, these camps were established near mines, foundries and other industrial enterprises. Establishment of such an extensive network of satellite camps was necessary because prisoners could not march more than a few kilometres to work, and mines and other sources of raw materials were often located considerable distances from the main camp. The Germans also sought to avoid concentrating a large number of industrial buildings close to the main camp for security and other reasons. The various types of satellite camps were designated Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or sub-camp), Arbeitslager (labour camp) and others. For the most part, their internal regime was patterned after
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Left: Soviet POWs and prisoners from Auschwitz Stammlager were used to construct the new camp, commencing work in October 1941. Here a labour detail is pictured working on the new wing of the gatehouse, extending the transformer-station (the lower building attached to the tower) and adding office
quarters for the guards. The picture was taken by SS-Unterscharführer Dietrich Kamann, who worked as a photographer in the camp’s construction office. Right: The wing remains intact to this day, the view being taken from inside of the camp enclosure.
The first prisoners and Soviet POWs were settled in Birkenau in early March 1942. However, even before the camp was brought into use, its envisaged role had been decisively changed. Following an order from Himmler to Höss in the summer of 1941, instead of a camp for Russian POWs, it was now to become the central site for carrying out the Nazis’ ‘Final
Solution of the Jewish Problem’, i.e. the industrialised mass murder of the European Jews. Trainloads full of Jews from Germany and nearly every country under Nazi rule would be sent to Auschwitz where Höss was instructed to devise the means to kill them off. This aerial view of Birkenau was shot by a Soviet cine cameraman after liberation in January 1945. 17
Above: Design and construction of the new camp was supervised by a specially created bureau, the SS-Zentralbauleitung KL Auschwitz (SS Central Building Office Auschwitz Concentration Camp), led by its chief architect, SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Bischoff, and his main assistants, SS-Untersturmführer Fritz Ertl and SS-Unterscharführer Walter Dejaco. With plans enlarging the camp to hold 200,000, new sections were added to it until eventually it encompassed an area of 1,660 by 720 metres, divided into three major sections (B I, B II and B III). Only B I and B II were completed in full. B III (which was planned as a hospital area) was begun but it never advanced to the stage where it could be taken into full use. Only one-third of its huts were ever finished and they were mainly used as transit or overflow camp, especially during the mass arrival of Jews from Hungary in the summer of 1944. A fourth section, B IV planned to the left of B I, never even progressed beyond the drawing-board. Each of the main sections was further subdivided into compounds (B I a, B I b, B II a, B II b, etc). Each of these was enclosed by a barbed-wire fence and had its own 18
gate, thus forming a separate entity within the larger camp. The total length of wire fencing at the site added up to more than 17 kilometres. Thirty-eight guard towers surrounded the outer perimeter of the camp. Across the road from the secondary gate giving access to B II and B III was the SS compound comprising a commandant’s office and a series of wooden huts housing the SS personnel. Right: The massive undertaking began with the construction of section B I, planned to hold 20,000 persons. The first compound to be started was B I b (seen in the distance on the right in this panorama shot taken from the tower of the gate building), which housed the Soviet POWs and male prisoners assigned to build the camp. Completed in March 1942, it then became a men’s camp for prisoners of various nationalities. B I a (on the left) was opened in August 1942 and became a compound for female prisoners. B I b continued to serve as men’s camp until July 1943 (when the inmates were transferred to B II d) and thereafter was incorporated into the Frauenlager (Women’s Camp), which it remained until the end.
The first women to arrive in B I were those transferred here from the main camp on August 16, plus another 137 from the Strafkompanie (Penal Company) at nearby Budy who were moved in on the same day. The first women to reach the camp from other locations were 552 Jewish females who came from Ravensbrück on October 4, two days after Himmler had ordered all Jewish prisoners held in other camps to be transferred to either Auschwitz or Majdanek. B I was the only section of Birkenau to have part of its prisoner accommodation barracks built from brick, 30 of them being constructed (using material recycled from the demolished houses in the region).
The same barracks still stand. These are (L-R) Blocks 14, 8 and 2 in B I a, with the compound’s delousing barrack (completed in October 1943) standing at right angles to them at the far end.
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Left: Each brick-built block was originally designed to house 550 persons but when an order came to increase the camp’s capacity, the Zentralbauleitung adjusted that to 744 by simply increasing the use of each sleeping platform from three to four. In actual fact, with the Frauenlager at times filling up to over 40,000 persons, eight to ten persons had to sleep on each of the three levels. Built hastily on swampy terrain, initially the buildings had no concreted floor and there were no ceilings so that during the rainy season the interior became waterlogged due to leaking roofs. Each hut had two iron stoves but in winter the occupants still shivered with cold as there was often no coal or firewood to burn. This picture was taken by Stanislaw Mucha after the liberation in 1945. Right: Although the interior has been preserved clean and tidy, one can only imagine the miserable conditions that the inmates had to endure for months on end.
Section B II, which became available in July 1943, had a capacity of 60,000 and was designed as a Männerlager (Men’s Camp) but it ended up with each of its six sub-sections having a different function at various times. From August 1943, B II a was used as men’s quarantine camp. B II b functioned as so-called Familienlager (Family Camp) for Jews from Theresienstadt. Opened on September 8, 1943, a total of 18,000 Jews from that ghetto were placed here until the night of July 11/12, 1944 when the entire Family Camp was liquidated, all surviving 4,000 inmates
being gassed. B II c was used as a compound for Jewish prisoners, especially Hungarian women (from June 1944); B II d as men’s camp (Poles, Russians and Jews); B II e as family camp for gypsies (from February 1942 until the night of August 2/3, 1944, when the last 2,897 out of a total of some 23,000 gypsies were driven to the gas chambers), and B II f as male prisoners hospital. This overview of B II was pictured by SS-Unterscharführer Kamann from the tower of the gate building in the winter of 1943. Note the railway siding under construction on the left.
Right: Most of the huts at Birkenau were demolished after the war, leaving only their concrete foundations and the brick chimneys which serviced the stoves. The endless wasteland of solitary smokestacks is a haunting and enduring sight to all who visit the camp. Here a school class assembles outside the compound to share their impressions. 20
that of the concentration camp. They were populated mostly by Jewish prisoners living in the utmost deprivation, often under worse conditions than in the main camps. Mines and other industrial enterprises using the slave labour of prisoners (who, of course, were paid nothing, with all the proceeds from their labour going to the SS coffers) belonged to some of the largest German companies, including the Hermann-Göring-Werke, Siemens-Schuckert and IG Farbenindustrie. Acting in concert with the huge Krupp conglomerate, camp authorities established a large plant owned by Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke close to the main camp. It employed hundreds of prisoners, including men from
Of all the 250 or so stable-type huts that once stood in Birkenau, only the 19 of B II a, the men’s quarantine, are preserved today. Exposed to vagaries of the Polish weather, especially in winter, the staff of the museum have a huge job keeping them in good repair.
Auschwitz I and women from Birkenau. In the last phase of the camp’s existence, women workers from this plant were transferred to separate living quarters near the main camp. In a comprehensive survey of the structure of the camp, Danuta Czech, a Polish scholar on the staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, concludes: ‘Twenty-eight of the 40 satellite camps of Auschwitz worked either directly or indirectly for the German armaments industry. Nine were established near foundries and other metal works, six near coal mines; six more supplied prisoner labour to chemical plants; three others to light industry; one was situated next to the plant manufacturing construction materials and one near a food processing plant. Prisoners of other camps worked in renovation and construction, in forestry, farmsteads and growing livestock, experimental agricultural stations, and other enterprises.’ Prisoners of the Jaworzno and Jawiszowice satellite camps worked in coal mines; of Swietochowice camp, in a foundry; of Lagisze camp, in the construction of a power plant; of Myslowice camp, in a coal mine. The largest satellite camp was Monowice (Monowitz), where IG Farben erected a huge synthetic
intended to hold a total of 400 persons, nevertheless the SS managed to crowd up to 800-1,000 prisoners into each hut. Right: A few weeks after liberation of the camp in January 1945, the Soviet cine cameramen asked a group of women survivors to restage the cramped living conditions in the huts for the benefit of their cameras.
Left: Most of the huts in Birkenau were of a standard wooden type, originally designed as stables for the army (Pferdestallbaracken OKH-Typ 260/9) and intended to hold 52 horses. They had no side windows, all lighting coming from skylights, with heating being provided by a single brick stove. Fitted out with a double row of three-tiered bunks,
Latrine huts in B II provided little more than three long double rows of seats with holes, without any privacy and without any proper system to dispose of the excrement. Each row of 16 accommodation blocks in B II had two such huts which meant
that one hut had to serve some 6,000 persons. Each prisoner was allowed only a few minutes of latrine time before going to work in the morning, a further short visit being permitted during the evening. 21
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A large group of male prisoners at work digging a drainage ditch on the edge of B II a, pictured by Zentralbauleitung photographer Kamann.
hollow, empty and mirthless, lacking any novelty and enveloped in everlasting gloom. Despite the stress, with the ever-present danger the Auschwitz prisoners could never lower their guard, all their energy going to maintain permanent vigilance. Furthermore, the prisoners enjoyed no privacy; day and night they remained in tangible proximity to others. Spoiled food provided no nourishment. Incessant hunger was also a source of ceaseless torment and anguish. The daily regimen of the prisoner, whose name was replaced by a camp serial number, was punctuated by duties and orders from morning until night which had to be performed quickly and accurately. In addition to personal responsibility for inadequate performance, the prisoner had to bear the burden of collective responsibility. Sleeping and waking were regulated as well. Each morning the prisoner had to draw on every ounce of strength to survive. It comes as no surprise that memoirs and reminiscences of former prisoners abound with descriptions of terror and superhuman
rubber plant (the Buna-Werke). Studies conducted after the war indicate that the performance of prisoners working under duress, in conditions of brutal regime, harsh oppression, and extreme deprivation, fell far short of German objectives, and the overall performance of the huge industrial complex near Auschwitz can be considered an abysmal failure in terms of output and efficiency. In the autumn of 1943, sweeping organisational and administrative changes were made in the camp complex. These changes appear to have been precipitated by the discovery of widespread corruption in the Politische Abteilung (the Gestapo branch in the camp) headed by SS-Untersturmführer Maximilian Grabner, perhaps the most feared and cruel SS functionary in Auschwitz. Investigation proceedings instituted against Grabner uncovered unauthorised appropriation of property and other cases of abuse of power involving some senior SS officials, including Höss himself. Grabner was relieved of his duties and subsequently put on trial; others were transferred to new posts. In November, Höss was removed as camp commandant and transferred to the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager (Inspectorate for Concentration Camps) at Oranienburg. He was replaced by SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel. Simultaneously, the entire camp complex was broken into three parts. Auschwitz I remained the main camp; Birkenau became Auschwitz II; and Auschwitz III, also called Monowitz, the industrial camp, comprised the Buna-Werke and the network of satellite camps. Liebehenschel was the commander of Auschwitz I. SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Hartjenstein was the commander of the Birkenau complex, which included the massmurder installations and crematoria for incinerating the bodies of victims, and SSHauptsturmführer Heinrich Schwarz the commander of Auschwitz III. These changes brought some relative improvement in living conditions in the camp and opened the final phase of its existence, which lasted until its evacuation and liquidation beginning on January 18, 1945. It is all but impossible to portray the living conditions faced daily by prisoners of the Auschwitz camps. Every day in the life of a prisoner was filled with unbearable tension and superhuman effort, emotional turmoil and terror, continuing without respite for months on end. The prisoner’s day was also
efforts. Despite being surrounded by thousands of fellow inmates, each prisoner remained utterly alone. Only a handful appear to have established ties of friendship, to have considered other prisoners, or to have understood the reality engulfing them. Others drew sustenance from memory in their obstinate effort to go on, to nourish their hope of survival, to eventually reach the shore of the living. Setting foot on the soil of Auschwitz marked a radical and irrevocable departure from one’s previous existence. The camps were surrounded by a double length of barbed wire, an electrified fence illuminated at night and dotted with watchtowers manned by armed SS guards. All around were other camps and kilometres of empty space patrolled by the SS. On entry, the prisoner was stripped not only of all personal possessions but also of his or her identity. Even the prisoner’s body was violated, as all body hair was shaven off. A camp serial number was tattooed on the prisoner’s left arm (a practice unique to Auschwitz), and a small triangle if the prisoner was Jewish. Name was replaced by number, home by block, room and bed by a three-tiered bunk with a thin layer of straw for a mattress. Throughout the year, the prisoners wore striped camp fatigues, the fabric stiff with dirt and sweat, without underwear, and their feet shod in wooden shoes without socks. A piece of cloth was attached to the coat and trousers bearing the prisoner’s serial number and the symbol of his or her category: red triangle for political prisoners; green triangle for ordinary criminals; black triangle for asocials. There were several other such identifying marks, for homosexuals, for Bibelforscher (Bible researchers, i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses) and others. All Jewish prisoners were marked by a Star of David composed of red and yellow triangles. For most prisoners, the first encounter with what one former French prisoner described as l’univers concentrationnaire was usually the decisive one. As a rule, adjustment to the camp proved most difficult for persons accustomed to comfort, order and a predictable social milieu; such individuals either could not or would not become part of camp life. Prisoners who had experienced the harsh living conditions of prisons and ghettos, which served as an antechamber of sorts to the inferno of the concentration camp, were, on the whole, better prepared. Those unwilling or unable to adapt soon sunk into apathy and dejection; they were known in
Even the lush green of the grass fails to conceal the misery of the past.
Right: The camp street of B II d (the men’s camp), pictured by Kamann from the roof of one of the huts. This enclosure was first brought into use in July 1943, when the men originally incarcerated in B I b were transferred here. Note the flowerless flowerbeds.
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the camp slang as ‘Muselmänner’. (The origins of this appellation remain unknown, some surmise that it derived from the alleged resemblance of these prisoners, unable to stand on their feet, to Muslims in supine prayer.) Moribund, their senses dulled, such prisoners hovered in the twilight zone between life and death. Before long, their bodies lost their shape, becoming little more than skeletons covered with dry yellowish skin. Gazing aimlessly with their lifeless eyes, they moved slowly, unperturbed by savage cries in German urging them to move on, even after truncheon blows rained hard on their bodies. For their part, veteran prisoners found little pity for these ‘misfits’. We may surmise that the sight of these tragic figures caused fellow inmates considerable fear and anxiety at the prospect of deteriorating into one of them. The prisoner’s day began with reveille at 4.30 a.m. Half an hour was allowed for morning ablutions. At the mandatory roll-call, prisoners stood at attention in straight rows to be counted; the number of prisoners had to match the official figures. After roll-call, the prisoner work details or labour squads, called Kommandos, would set off to their places of work. Most prisoners were assigned permanently to a labour squad. In rows of five abreast, they passed through the gate emblazoned with the sign ‘Arbeit macht frei’
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Right: With no high vantage point to be found, Karel had to take his comparison from ground level.
Above: At the northern end of each enclosure in B II, two huts stood near to its gate, one on each side of the camp street and at right angles to the other huts. Of a different design compared with the latter, these were the kitchen blocks — note the three large chimneys serving the cooking stoves. The open space in between formed the compound’s Appell platz (roll-call square). This is again BII d, identified by the water tank. It was on this particular Appellplatz that prisoners at Birkenau were publicly hanged. Note the barbedwire fence behind the kitchen block, separating the enclosure from B II c. Right: The water tank confirms the comparison. 23
After the first experimental gassings with Zyklon B in Auschwitz’s main camp, in the early spring of 1942 the SS began regular gassing of large groups of prisoners in Birkenau. To this end they converted a farmhouse (whose Polish owners had been evicted) on the north-eastern edge of the camp into a gas chamber (see the plan on pages 18-19). Referred to as Bunker 1 or ‘The Red Cottage’, it had a floor area of some 90 square metres and was divided into two chambers having a combined capacity of 800 persons. Doors and windows were sealed and the SS threw in pellets of Zyklon B through openings in the walls. The victims died naked, having previously been ordered to undress in two disrobing barracks erected alongside. Their bodies were then buried in mass graves (Work makes one free), often to the accompaniment of an orchestra playing near the gate. Most of the work was performed outdoors in both summer and winter. In summer the workday lasted 12 hours, in winter a little less. Work was performed under the watchful eyes of the Kapos — prisoner foremen assigned to oversee the entire squad or parts of it — and the SS escort, who urged on both the Kapos and the working prisoners. No rest was allowed. A prisoner assigned to latrine duty would measure the time taken by workers to relieve themselves. The squads considered as ‘good’ assignments were those employed in services: kitchen, laundry, and various workshops. Prisoners in such squads worked indoors and enjoyed greater opportunity to ‘organise’ (a camp slang expression for ‘steal’) some extra food, the most precious benefit in the camp. For the most part, only the old-timers and prisoners with ‘connections’ worked in these squads. Relations in the prisoner society, such as they were, originated in pre-war ties, solidarity among prisoners from the same transport, and, above all, ties of membership in the political underground and resistance movements. After returning to camp from work, the prisoners reported to evening roll-call, also mandatory. The number of prisoners present again had to match official figures. The failure of even a single prisoner to appear, whether because he or she had fallen asleep or escaped, caused considerable agony to fellow inmates at the evening roll-call; they had to remain in their places, standing at attention, regardless of the weather, sometimes 24
nearby, but from September 1942 they were burned out in the open on grates of steel beams. In little over a year, tens of thousands of people were murdered here, men, women and children who had been deported to Birkenau from countries all over Europe. The SS also killed gypsies here and on June 11, 1942, a group of 320 Poles from the Penal Company were liquidated on this spot as reprisal for an attempted mutiny and escape. In the spring of 1943, when the four large gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz came into use, the Red Cottage was no longer needed and the SS ordered it demolished and the ground reinstated in order to conceal all evidence of what had taken place here. Today, all that remains to be seen is an empty field with three symbolic gravestones and an information panel.
for hours until the missing prisoner or the reason for his or her disappearance was discovered. The evening roll-call was often followed by individual or collective punishments. Only after that were the prisoners allowed to retire to their living quarters in the ‘block’ to receive their bread rations with meagre supplements and a watery drink. Those with enough strength or will power would leave their block to meet with friends or relatives from another block. At curfew two or three hours later, prisoners were confined to their cold and dark blocks. Prisoners used their rolled-up clothes and shoes as headrests to prevent their theft during the night. Except for those employed in armaments plants, the prisoners did not work on Sundays. Nevertheless, Sunday was not a day off. Cleaning, shaving, showering in groups, and similar activities were compulsory, keeping the prisoners occupied even on their one day free of work. Although the prisoner society lived under a uniform regime, it was far from homogeneous in its composition and, to some extent, in conditions. Some tensions and conflicts, including divisions between different categories of prisoners, resulted from deliberate German policies. Camp authorities created a small though powerful stratum of prisoners in positions of authority: Kapos in charge of the work units, Lagerälteste (Camp Elders) in charge of the entire prisoners’ camp population, Blockälteste (Block or Hut Elders) and Stubendienste (Barrack Room Chiefs) — the prisoners commanding the blocks — and many positions in the central administration of the camps. They also
divided the prisoner population into ethnic and ‘racial’ groups, as Germans did with all subjugated populations. One important division in the camp set the so-called reds, or political prisoners, against the greens, or criminal prisoners. Despite their small numbers, German prisoners generally held positions of authority and occupied key posts in the prisoner apparatus. Hermann Langbein, an Austrian political prisoner, wrote in Menschen in Auschwitz, (People in Auschwitz) that Höss concealed the fact that his subordinate SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier, who served as Schutzhaftlagerführer (Chief of the Prisoner Camp), admitted frankly after his arrest that prisoners with sadistic dispositions were deliberately singled out for the positions of ‘block elders’. ‘Most of them were professional criminals’, Aumeier added. In Auschwitz I, most official posts held by prisoners were assigned to Poles. In the men’s and women’s camps at Birkenau, many such posts were held by Jewish prisoners. Contrary to the prevalent opinion, not all prisoners in positions of authority, such as Kapos and block elders, maltreated their fellow inmates. Mistreatment was the case mainly in the first two years of the camp’s existence. This situation gradually changed, and the urge to harass and torment the prisoners abated somewhat. Bruno Bettelheim and others argue that the concentration camp system spawned a reality in which all the beliefs, values, and norms of behaviour adhered to in the world outside the camps were abandoned. The prisoners came to accept this situation as reality and in a certain sense even identified with
the apparatus of brute power, thereby becoming an integral part of the system. Thus, in his Surviving and Other Essays, Bettelheim maintains that ‘even in the concentration camps, belief in the power and justice
Above: With new groups of victims arriving every day, within three months the SS opened a second provisional gas chamber, again converting a deserted farmhouse, this one being located a short distance east of the Birkenau camp perimeter. Referred to as Bunker 2 or the ‘The White Cottage’, it had a floor area of 105 square metres and comprised four rooms with a total capacity of 1,200 persons. As with Bunker 1, there were two huts nearby for individuals to undress and the killing procedure was the same as well. It was first commissioned on June 30, 1942 and it was at this gas chamber that Himmler witnessed the killing of a large group of Dutch Jews during his second inspection visit to Auschwitz on July 17. Bodies were initially buried in mass graves and from September incinerated in two large pits at the rear of the building (marked today by the symbolic gravestones). Like Bunker 1, it ceased functioning when Birkenau’s four purpose-built gas chambers and crematoria became available in the spring of 1943. However, when even these got overworked with the mass arrival of Jews from Hungary in the summer of 1944, Bunker 2 was brought back into use. It was finally demolished in the autumn of 1944 but archaeologists from the museum uncovered its foundations in the mid-1980s.
Looking in the opposite direction, one can see how close Bunker 2 was to rear fence of the camp perimeter. The brick building in the background is the ‘Zentral-Sauna’, the prisoners admission and disinfection station built in 1943-44 (see page 31).
of the police was so strong that prisoners were not willing to believe that they had been unjustly persecuted. Rather, they searched their mind to find some guilt in themselves. The inner desire to be loved by
the super-ego is extremely strong, and the weaker the ego becomes, the stronger is this desire. Since in the totalitarian system the most powerful super-ego surrogates are the rules and their representatives — in short the Left: The burying of victims in mass graves proved a mistake and during his second inspection visit to Auschwitz, Himmler ordered that the graves be exhumed and the bodies burned. To carry out this gruesome task, a special squad of prisoners was formed, supervised by SS-Untersturmführer Franz Hössler. Incineration of corpses in the open air began on September 21, 1942, the human remains being heaped on timber pyres in piles of 2,000 and set alight with waste oil or methanol. Later they were burned in pits, 30 metres long, seven metres wide and three metres deep. The job of emptying the mass graves was completed on October 30 by which time some 107,000 bodies had been exhumed. However, the practice of destroying corpses from Bunkers 1 and 2 by burning still continued. Today, a simple Russian memorial and four symbolic headstones are all that marks the site of the mass graves and the incineration area. 25
These are the remains of the mass extermination building. ‘I am not an expert on the unconscious and the mind’s depths, but I do know that few people are experts in this sphere, and that these few are the most cautious. I do not
know, and it does not much interest me to know, whether in my depths there lurks a murderer, but I do know that I was a guiltless victim and I was not a murderer. I know that
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system itself — one can gain approval of the super-ego surrogates only by going along with the system.’ But such arguments chiefly articulate the soul-searching that went on among German prisoners in concentration camps in Germany in the 1930s as they witnessed the growing power of the Nazi regime. Bettelheim also refers to the phenomenon of a weak personality overawed by power and the desire to bask in its splendour, even to deliver oneself to its ‘mercies’. This phenomenon is in evidence in different aspects of the totalitarian regime, including concentration camps. Some prisoners elevated to positions of official authority at Auschwitz apparently exhibited such behaviour, but even at Auschwitz and other concentration camps, this phenomenon was exceptional, not routine. Primo Levi’s comments are pertinent in this context:
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Right: To further the speed and efficiency of mass murder on an industrial scale, in May 1942 the SS began construction of four purpose-built killing facilities within the confines of Birkenau camp. Referred to as Krematoria, they were in fact a combination of a gas chamber and crematorium. Designed by the architects of the Zentralbauleitung, with Topf & Söhne providing the crematorium technology and many other German technical firms helping out with their special input, their development was a gradual process over a period of time. Krematorium II (the numbering followed on from Krematorium I, the old facility in Auschwitz main camp), was the first to be commissioned in January 1942. It was originally devised as purely an incinerating facility, required only to dispose of the bodies of those who had been gassed or had died in the camp, and without any means of killing people. In its original form, it consisted simply of a large incinerating hall fitted out with five three-muffle ovens, to which bodies were fed from two large underground morgues attached to it. This is the crematorium part of the facility, pictured by SS-Unterscharführer Kamann in 1943. In the foreground is the camp’s sewage treatment area.
Then in December 1942 the design was decisively changed. The chute that fed corpses into the morgues from the outside disappeared from the blueprints and was replaced in one of the morgues by a staircase. This then became the room where the victims entered the building and disrobed. The other morgue, connected to the first by a short corridor, was fitted with a gastight door with a peephole and with wire columns, down which the Zyklon B crystals could be poured through holes in the roof. Spray-nozzles were installed to make it look like a shower room but in fact this was now a gas chamber with a capacity of 2,000. Thus, with these few changes, the building acquired the function of a death mill. Once the Zyklon B had done its work, ventilation equipment sucked out the deadly vapour, the doors of the gas chamber were opened, and the Sonderkommando (special squads of prisoners) pulled out the 26
corpses which were moved by a cargo lift to the crematorium on the ground floor. Before the corpses were burned, gold teeth and fillings were extracted and the hair cut from the women. Located at the far end of the camp, beyond compound B I (see the plan on pages 18-19), Krematorium II was completed on March 3, 1943. With its 15 muffles, it had a theoretical daily capacity of disposing of 1,440 persons (but in practice up to 2,500 corpses would be loaded into the ovens). On the night of March 13/14, the first group of 1,492 persons, all Jews who just arrived from the Krakow ghetto, were gassed in the facility. Left: This picture was taken by Bauleitung photographer Kamann shortly after its completion. The low square building beneath the windows is the roof of the underground gas chamber. The subterranean disrobing hall can be seen to the left of the main building.
Above: Disregarding short periods of repair (the excessive overloading of the ovens caused frequent breakdowns of furnaces, ventilators and chimneys), Krematorium II was in use for a full 20 months, until Himmler ordered the gassings at Birkenau to be halted on November 2, 1944. During that time, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered here. Three weeks later, on November 25, Himmler ordered the gassing and incinerating equipment to be dismantled to remove all evidence of what had taken place here. On January 20, 1945 — two days after the final evacuation of the camp — the empty building was blown up by Waffen-SS troops. Below: The ruins still remain to be seen.
the murderers existed, not only in Germany, and still exist, retired or on active duty, and that to confuse them with their victims is a moral disease or an aesthetic affectation or a sinister sign of complicity; above all, it is precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth.’ When key positions in the lower echelons of the camp hierarchy were held by habitual criminals, the Auschwitz prisoners were often subjected to humiliation, arbitrary punishment and physical abuse, including torture. This treatment stemmed from a total disregard for human beings and a desire to fulfil the expectations of Nazi taskmasters. This character type outlived its usefulness, however, when productive work assumed critical importance for the beleaguered Third Reich. At that time, most supervisory positions were entrusted to the ‘politicals’, bringing some relief into the lives of prisoners. A considerable proportion of the political prisoners in positions of authority were linked to the underground and resistance organisations active in Auschwitz, enabling these groups, in the late stages of the camp’s existence, to influence conditions in the camp. The underground groups operated through several channels, smuggling out information to the external world, procuring medicines and material assistance for prisoners associated with the underground, attempting to rescue prisoners due to be killed, and assisting in escapes. Although the underground’s ability to lead a general uprising and mass escape from Auschwitz fell short of expectations, its activities, especially in preserving invaluable documentation and informing the outside world about the camp, indicate that prisoner subjugation to the overwhelming might of Nazi power was far from complete. Jozef Garlinski, a former Polish Auschwitz prisoner who studied the underground activity in the camp, especially the role of the Poles and their ties with the surrounding Polish population, wrote that ‘the earliest threads which linked the camp with the outside world did not have the character of an organised action. The people, seeing the prisoners working nearby, tried to help them. Food, sometimes medicines and dressings, were left in hiding places. The initiative was private and spontaneous, but the circle of those who helped kept growing and began to take the form of a clandestine society. At the end of 1940 the district command of the underground army in Krakow helped to organise the Akcja Cywilna Pomocy Wiezniom (Civil Action for Help to Prisoners).’ The help of the population was vital in accomplishing many escapes from the camp. Hunger in Auschwitz was ubiquitous and pervasive. Prisoners were tormented by it before and after meals. Thoughts and fantasies about food haunted the prisoners, even in their sleep. Countless conversations revolved around hunger and ways of appeasing it. Food was uppermost on every prisoner’s mind, although not everyone went equally hungry. Theoretically, each prisoner was entitled to a daily ration of 350 grams of bread, half a litre of ersatz coffee for breakfast, and one litre of turnip and potato soup for lunch. Also, four times a week each prisoner was to receive a soup ration of 20 grams of meat, but in practice meat rarely reached the bowls from which the prisoners ate. The official daily value of food for prisoners employed in light work stood at 1,700 calories and for prisoners doing strenuous work, 2,150 calories. An analysis done after the war of the actual food content ranged from 1,300 calories for light-work prisoners to 1,700 calories for prisoners performing hard labour. The difference was caused by plunder of food by SS personnel and functionary-prisoners. Inequality pervaded the food distribution system. The Kapo, or the prisoner entrusted with ladling out the soup, made sure that the
This is what is left of the steps leading into the underground disrobing room. 27
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Like its counterpart, Krematorium III had five three-muffle Topf & Söhne incinerators (seen here being completed by prisoners and civilian workers) with a daily capacity of 1,440. Construction of the building began in early September but, due to various problems, it was the last of the four crematoria to be completed, being handed over to the SS on June 25, 1943.
On August 18, 1942, while construction of Krematorium II was already underway, three more gassing and incinerating facilities were commissioned. One of them, Krematorium III, was to be built as a mirror copy of Krematorium II and to be located opposite the latter, across the main camp road. (Its main chimney can be seen under con struction in the picture of Krematorium II on page 26.) Above: This picture was taken by Kamann from a position near Krematorium II. The smaller chimney on the left is the duct for the gas chamber; the centre one serves to extract the autopsy room, the warm air from the incinerator room, and the poisoned air from the gas chamber, while the tall chimney on the right is the combined flue from the incinerators themselves. The low hump covering the underground disrobing room can be seen on the left. Later both Krematoria II and III were surrounded by long lengths of wicker fence to conceal what was going on there from the rest of the camp.
With all gassings halted on November 2, 1944, Krematorium III was dismantled and then dynamited on January 20, 1945 along with Krematorium II. This is the site today. The gate posts from its barbed-wire enclosure on the far right are all that remain. 28
In the foreground is the Birkenau International Monument, which is provided with bronze memorial plaques in all European languages. Dedicated to all those who lost their lives, it was inaugurated in 1967.
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thicker, more nourishing contents from the bottom would reach ‘proper’ prisoners, whereas the others had to content themselves with a watery substance from the top of the pot. (The red bowl and tin spoon were the only items of private property the prisoners could have, and they lugged them everywhere they went.) Under these conditions, supplementary food was tantamount to survival. But other habits sometimes overrode even this paramount concern; prisoners addicted to tobacco went as far as trading part of their daily ration for tobacco. The bread ration thus served as a currency of sorts. The functionaries, who made up perhaps three to five per cent of the prisoner population, exchanged their supplementary bread and soup for higher-quality and tastier victuals. Prisoners condemned to subsist on the official ration lost weight rapidly and their survival odds diminished accordingly. NonJewish prisoners could receive some money from relatives or sponsors outside and purchase low-quality supplements of food and cigarettes. From the end of 1942, camp authorities allowed prisoners to receive food parcels, which proved of critical importance. The parcels usually contained food of high caloric value, and lucky recipients could even exchange some of it for bread. But the Jewish prisoners, who soon constituted the majority in the two main camps at Auschwitz, received no parcels. Nor did Soviet prisoners. In The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi argues that sometimes thirst was even more pervasive, more physically and mentally debilitating, than hunger. The water at Auschwitz was contaminated with various impurities, and members of the SS staff were
Krematorium IV functioned for 19 months although it was out of action for various periods due to its chimneys burning out. This building met a surprising end as it was set on fire by its Sonderkommando during a revolt on October 7, 1944. Having heard that they were about to be liquidated, 300 members of the squad attacked their SS guards with hammers, axes and stones. Inevitably, in the end, the revolt failed, all insurgents plus another 150 men of the Sonderkommando being killed or shot in retaliation, but it still left Krematorium IV gutted and inoperable. Over the following weeks, all the equipment was dismantled and the ruins lay abandoned until the camp was liberated the following January. After the war most of the bricks were carried off by Polish civilians for their own use, leaving only the concrete floor. The low ruins that visitors see today are a post-war restoration.
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The two other killing facilities commissioned in August 1942 — Krematoria IV and V — were of a different design compared with the other pair. Their disrobing room and gas chamber (divided into three, later four rooms with a combined capacity of 2,000) were not subterranean but at ground level, adjoining the incinerator room. The latter had only eight muffles, connected to two chimneys, giving each facility a theoretical daily capacity of disposing of 768 corpses (although in practice up to 1,500 would be burned there in 24 hours). The pair of buildings stood at the far end of the main camp road between sections B II and B III (see the plan on pages 18-19), a few hundred metres away from the other two. Their construction began in November 1942. This is Krematorium IV, photographed by Kamann shortly after its completion on March 22, 1943. The gas chamber is the part on the left, furthest away from the camera.
Krematorium V stood hidden in a birch copse in a far corner of the camp and was nicknamed the ‘forest crematorium’. It was handed over to the SS on April 4, 1943. With all four crematoria at Birkenau operational, and with the additional capacity of Krematorium I in the Stammlager (340 corpses), this added up to an ability to dispose of 4,756 corpses per day. With cremations per retort increased from two to three bodies at a time, and the incinerating process reduced from 30 to 20 minutes, in practice the daily number of bodies which could be disposed of was as high as 7,000.
Right: In operation until the very end, Krematorium V was finally dynamited on January 26, 1945, one day before the liberation of the camp. All that remains of the building today is the concrete floor, vestiges of its walls and a few iron remnants of the ovens. Over the years the museum staff have carefully exposed the site, laying bare the layout of the building. 29
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Right: Midway between the two pairs of crematoria lay a special camp enclosure comprising 30 warehouse huts. This was the Effektenlager (personal effects depot) where the masses of clothing, shoes, luggage and personal belongings, brought to the camp by the Jews, were sorted and packed for shipment to Germany. This section of the camp (B II g), which opened on December 14, 1943, was referred to by the prisoners as ‘Kanada’, because of all the riches that could be found there, and the several hundred inmates, men and women, who worked there were known as the Kanada-Kommando. Their work allowed them to get their hands on items that considerably improved their chances of survival, such as food or money or other items which could be used to bribe the SS guards. Thus a position in the Kommando was greatly coveted. They were accommodated in two huts in the compound, the men in one, the women in the other. (There had already been another ‘Kanada’ depot near the main camp so this new one was referred to as Kanada II.)
instructed not to drink it. This warning, of course, did not apply to the prisoners. In Birkenau, the prisoners, especially the women, suffered from chronic shortage and poor quality of water. Levi writes from experience: ‘In August of 1944 it was very hot in Auschwitz. There was no drinkable water in the camp or often on the work site. As a rule, the evening soup and the ersatz coffee distributed around ten o’clock were abundantly sufficient to quench our thirst, but now they were no longer enough and thirst tormented us. Thirst is more imperative
Above: There were separate sorting teams for different kinds of goods: men’s clothing, women’s clothing, children’s clothing, shoes, foodstuffs, jewellery and other valuables, suitcases, combs and hairbrushes, kitchen utensils, etc. These women prisoners are sorting out basketbottles and pans. On January 23, 1945 — four days before the liberation of the camp — SS troops set fire to the Kanada warehouses which continued to burn for several days. When they took over, Soviet troops discovered over a million items of clothing, more than 40,000 pairs of shoes, and a large numbers of toothbrushes, shaving brushes, spectacles, and other items in the six remaining, partially burned warehouses. There were even 13,000 rugs! 30
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than hunger: hunger obeys the nerves, grants remission, can be temporarily obliterated by an emotion, a pain, a fear; not so with thirst which does not give respite. In those days it accompanied us day and night: by day, on the work site, whose order was transformed into a chaos of shattered constructions; by night, in the hut without ventilation, as we gasped the air breathed a hundred times before.’ Other critical factors affecting prisoners’ chances of survival were their national origin and racial classification. In Values and Violence in Auschwitz, Polish researcher Anna Pawelczynska, who was also a prisoner in the camp, attempted to rank the prisoners according to their origins. ‘Pseudo-scientific theories of race’, she writes, ‘began to take drastic effect by ranking the different nationalities of prisoners, thus spelling out their turns to die.’ Jews and gypsies, regardless of their citizenship, occupied the bottom of the scale, a position which automatically made them the prime victims of the gas chambers and crematoria. Slightly above them, she adds, were Slavs, especially the Poles and the Russians, who were subjected to different
Today only the foundations remain. This is the view towards Krematoria IV and V.
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For many years after the war the Sauna building, complete with its steam-cleaning equipment, stood ruined and neglected. However, using funds provided by the Länder of the German Federal Republic, it was extensively renovated and
restored by the Auschwitz Museum in the 1990s and opened to the public in 2001. Visitors can now follow the route taken by the new arrivals and the large reception room is also used to lecture visiting school classes and other groups.
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Topf & Söhne) and three steam chambers (supplied by Goedecker from Munich) (below left) — but not returned. The naked prisoners then had their head and body hair shaved. After an examination by an SS doctor they were showered, deloused (below right), and finally given striped prisoner garments and shoes. Before emerging from the other end of the building each was tattooed with their individual prisoner number. Kamann took these pictures in early 1944.
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Across the road from the Kanada enclosure, on the very eastern edge of the camp, stood the prisoners reception and disinfecting station. Taken into use on January 29, 1944, and known as the Zentral-Sauna (Central Bathhouse), this was where new arrivals were processed in ‘conveyor-belt’ fashion. Entering at one end of the building, they were first told to undress and hand over their clothes — which were then immediately disinfected and cleaned in four hot-air ovens (also manufactured by
On May 15, 1944, the special branch line leading into Birkenau was completed and from that day onward all deportation trains could unload their human cargo directly inside the camp. Eleven days later, on May 26, 1944, two SS photographers on the Auschwitz camp staff, SS-Hauptscharführer Bernhard Walter and SS-Unterscharführer Ernst Hofmann, made an extensive photographic report covering the arrival of a train from Hungary. Exactly why they featured this particular transport is not known as their normal task as members of the Erkennungsdienst (Identification Service) of Auschwitz I was to take ID photos of all new inmates for the camp registry but the 200 photos taken by them on this day are the closest view we can get of the systematic mass murder carried out in secret at Birkenau. Above: Standing on the roof of one the boxcars, either Walter or Hofmann pictured the mass of deportees just after they alighted from the train. On the left is camp sector B I b (part of the women’s camp) and on the right B II (the men’s camp) but, more macabre for those in the know, in the background are the tall chimneys of Krematorium II (on the left) and III (on the right). 32
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Right: Trains destined for Birkenau initially unloaded at a siding in the Auschwitz goods station located about midway between the two camps (see the map on page 4). This came to be known as Rampe II or ‘Judenrampe’ (unloading platform for Jews). Between June 1942 and May 15, 1944, some 500,000 Jews from all over Europe arrived via this platform. From here they had to walk the two kilometres to the camp. Largely forgotten for many years, the site was restored by the French Foundation of the Memory of the Shoah in 2005 and today two boxcars of the type used by the Reichsbahn for the mass deportations stand here as a memorial.
The same view taken from ground level today. The curve of the track and the Blockführer-Stube (the guardhouse for the SS NCOs in charge of one or more prisoner huts in that particular compound) at the gate of B II b on the left pinpoint the exact spot. The shattered remains of the two gas chambers and crematoria lie hidden between the trees which have grown up on either side of the track in the background.
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had taken them two days to reach Auschwitz. The men in striped clothes are members of the Kanada-Kommando who have been detailed to collect and transport the luggage (which the new arrivals were ordered to leave behind on the platform) to the Effektenlager.
Again the Blockführer’s hut, the path crossing the railway tracks and the drainage ditch form the links with the past.
The brick building in the background is the Vorrätebaracke (storage barrack) of B I b.
The train seen in these pictures had brought 3,500 Hungarian Jews from the ghetto at Beregowo (Beregszász in Hungarian), a formerly Slovak town in the CarpathoRuthenian region of eastern Hungary (today western Ukraine). They had been put on the train on May 24 and it
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The chilling silence is overpowering as one looks towards the infamous ‘Gate of Death’.
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Above: All men and boys aged 16 and over were told to line up in one row, and women, mothers with infants, and young girls in another. Thus, the scene was set for the selection carried out by SS personnel . . . a process which was to decide between life and death. This particular train carried so many people that the two ranks were doubled up — note the beginning of the second line of women and children in the foreground. In the background is the camp gatehouse through which the train has just entered Birkenau. On the right is camp section B I a — part of the Women’s Camp. Note the lorries parked in the background and on the platform, standing by ready to transport the luggage to the Effektenlager or to carry those unfit to walk to the gas chambers.
One by one, each new arrival had to face the cursory selection process. A short glance from the SS officer in charge . . . sometimes a short question . . . and a movement of the hand to the left or right to decide whether a person was deemed fit enough to live . . . or if they were destined for immediate gassing. 34
Officially, the selections were to be carried out by SS doctors only but in practice other SS officers and NCOs, without any medical qualifications, also took turns. The officer carrying out the selection in this picture is SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Heinz Thilo who had been a camp doctor at Birkenau since October 9, 1942.
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murder methods at different times. The next category comprised persons of various European nationalities for whom no precise extermination plans were developed. The only ones exempt from such plans were persons of German origin. In point of fact, all the Jews and many of the gypsies brought to Auschwitz were not only victims of murder but also subjects of plans for annihilation. With few exceptions, Soviet prisoners of war were also annihilated en masse. Prisoners of other national origins were not subjected to systematic murder, even though in some cases they met a gruesome fate. Among the victimised groups were a large number of members of the Polish intelligentsia who had been subjected to mass arrests and violent terror. The harsh conditions in the camp and the savagery of its regime resulted in an inordinately high mortality rate, particularly in the first years of the camp’s existence. Langbein maintains that the periodic savage onslaughts by the German camp command, assisted by functionary-prisoners, were directed against the ‘new arrivals’, or Zugänge, as they were known in the camp. The first ones to bear the brunt of these murderous assaults were the Poles, followed by the Russians. The Jews’ turn also came early. But the Jews, including those registered and incarcerated in the camp as prisoners, met a different fate from that of victims of other origins. The few Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in the first transports were all murdered forthwith. Polish and other Jews who were deemed unfit for work were put to death mostly by phenol injections administered in the camp hospitals. Langbein, who occupied an official position in the Auschwitz hospital and was a leading figure in the prisoners’ underground structure, maintains that reports compiled by the resistance showed that between 25,000 and 30,000
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The survival of these dramatic SS pictures is due to a fluke of history. On the train from Beregowo was an 18-year-old Jewish Girl, Lili Jacob. Like many of those aboard, she came from the small Transcarpathian town of Bilke and she arrived together with her parents and five brothers. Selected for labour by the SS with her father and three elder brothers (her mother and two younger brothers were gassed immediately on arrival), in December 1944 she was transferred to work in a clothing factory in Silesia, then to a munitions factory at Morchenstern in the Sudeten, before ending up in the DoraMittelbau camp near Nordhausen (see After the Battle 101), where she was liberated by the Americans on April 11, 1945. Recovering from typhus and looking for some warm clothing in one of the deserted SS barracks, she found a cloth-bound album containing the 200 photographs taken by Walter and Hofmann. It must have belonged to one of the SS personnel transferred from Auschwitz to Nordhausen. (Possibly it was SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Bär, former commandant of Birkenau, who ended the war as commandant of Dora.) Recognising people from her own village in the images (among them her own two younger brothers), Lili took the album with her and this is how it survived. Selected photos from it appeared in numerous publications since 1949 but Lili kept possession of the original album for most of her life before finally donating it to the Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem in August 1980. She died on December 17, 1999.
Completely ignorant of the fate that awaits them, a long column of women, children and infants starts out for the gas chambers of Krematoria II and III. On the left is the gate to the women’s camp B I. The two brick buildings seen behind the Blockführer’s hut are the delousing barracks of B I a (completed in October 1943) and, behind that, the section’s kitchen block.
Right: It is not known exactly how many of the 3,500 people in this particular transport consignment survived the selection. During this period, many of those judged fit enough to work were admitted into the camp as temporary ‘depot prisoners’ without being registered or assigned a prisoner number. On many a day, only the few twins or dwarfs aboard a train selected for Dr. Mengele’s research were given camp numbers. What is certain, however, is that between May 2 and July 9, 1944, a total of 434,351 Jews from Hungary arrived in Birkenau aboard 147 trains and that the majority — about 330,000 — were exterminated on arrival. 35
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Almost too shocking to believe is this photograph of a group of women and children calmly queueing up for the gas chambers on the main camp road. The building in the background is actually Krematorium III, but this group is waiting to enter the compound of Krematorium II which stands on the opposite side the road, directly to the rear of the photographer.
The embankment with the railway track and the blasted ruins of Krematorium II remain to remind us of the atrocity that occurred here.
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persons were murdered by phenol injections; the proportion of Jews among them was very high. In March 1943, murder by phenol injection was discontinued. But Jews continued to be identified in hospitals as unfit for work and dispatched to the gas chambers. Camp hospitals evoked fear in prisoners. As long as they could summon enough strength to stand, prisoners avoided sick call, which might place them in the hospital. Even those suffering from high fever, crippling diarrhoea, or festering wounds tried to avoid hospitalisation as long as possible. At the same time, for some prisoners the prospect of several days’ rest in bed, exempt from rollcalls, backbreaking work and physical abuse, could be very alluring. The mortality rate among prisoners peaked periodically for various reasons. In the early stages, the terroristic regime and the poor living conditions pushed it upward. In those years, however, there were comparatively few prisoners in the camp. During the first two years, up to March 1942, about 27,000 persons were incarcerated in Auschwitz, whereas over the next year, until March 1943, the number of prisoners jumped by 135,000, five times the population of the two preceding years. This large influx marked a turning point in the composition of the prisoner population. According to reports compiled by the resistance, at this time 2.7 per cent of the Auschwitz prisoners were Germans, 30.1 per cent were Poles, and 57.4 per cent were Jews. With time this trend gained momentum so that in the middle of 1944, Jews constituted two-thirds of all the Auschwitz prisoners. Epidemics of lice, typhus, dysentery, and common phlegmon, particularly in Birkenau, resulted in skyrocketing mortality rates in the period from July 1942 to March 1943; according to available data, they ranged from 19 per cent to 25 per cent per month. The decline that followed can be attributed to some improvement in the camp conditions in general and in hospitals in particular. In May 1943, the monthly mortality rate dropped to 5.2 per cent, and in the main Auschwitz camp it fell even more. Opportunities to help patients were seized by most prisoner-doctors and other members of the medical staff. Ota Kraus and Erich Kulka, authors of The Death Factory, conclude that ‘most prisonerdoctors conducted themselves honourably. They succeeded in saving many lives not only by providing medical care but also by deceiving SS men with false diagnoses and examinations, by keeping secret the existence of contagious diseases, etc. In this way they saved a great many patients from gassing, hard work in the camp, and physical punishments.’
Other mothers and children are directed up the lateral road between camp sectors B II c and B II d on their way to Krematoria IV and V. Note the train in the far left background. 36
They were pictured at the beginning of the meridian, passing the latrine block of B II d. Today all that remains of the hut are its foundations and the brick structure of its stove.
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Having reached the area of Krematoria IV and V, this group of women and children calmly await their fate. It was not uncommon for victims to have to abide time for several hours before it was their turn to be gassed. In the background, beyond the barbed-wire fence, lie the huts of Kanada — the personal effects storage depot.
In addition to the racist policies that classified prisoners into national-ethnic categories, the atmosphere at Auschwitz made conflicts and divisions in the prisoner society inevitable. In a world with all moral norms and restraints lifted and no holds barred, where congestion, severe deprivation and nervous tension were ubiquitous, the prisoners easily succumbed to violence and rudeness. Conditions of life in the camp managed to undermine any solidarity that might be expected to arise among human beings who found themselves in identical situations. The assumption that common suffering bridges distances separating people was not borne out by camp reality. Tempers were short, and foreign customs and habits, manifestations of religious piety, and the sound of foreign languages kept the prisoners on edge. Deprived of privacy, the prisoners proved especially sensitive to an unfamiliar language which grated on their ears and often gave rise to suspicion that the speakers were mocking those unable to understand it. National stereotypes gained acceptance. The Germans were described as arrogant and conceited, seeking privileged treatment; the Poles were described as keeping to themselves and xenophobic; the French gained a reputation as unconcerned with personal hygiene. Jews were perceived as inferior by everybody else. Anti-Semitic stereotypes brought from the outside tended to become entrenched in the camp though in some cases non-Jewish prisoners discarded their homegrown prejudices. Jewish prisoners were set apart by national origin, cultural and economic background, and language. Thus, for example, the Hungarian Jews who arrived at the camp as late as August 1944 from relatively tolerable conditions accused the others from the harsh northern climate, did not speak any languages spoken in the camp, and often believed that other prisoners were responsible for their troubles and acute distress. Even if these divisions, rivalries, and rifts among the prisoner society were unplanned and did not stem from deliberate German policies, the camp authorities were of course well aware that this phenomenon worked in their favour. Jewish prisoners in particular lived in the shadow of certainty that their relatives had perished, that their own fate was sealed, and that their incarceration in the camp was but a reprieve granted by the Germans to drain them of their strength through slave labour before sending them to their deaths. Writers of memoirs and researchers of concentration camps usually agree that a source of great anguish and torment for prisoners, even in the period of some improvement in living conditions, was uncertainty as to the timing and circumstances of their liberation. Although no prisoner remained unaffected by it, the
They too were walking along the lateral road between B II c and B II d, this view being into the former.
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Undoubtedly one of the most harrowing and disturbing images . . . the old escorting the young on the road to the death house.
The birch trees and the foundations of the Effektenlager remain as silent witnesses. 37
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Inevitably there were some who reacted angrily to the splittingup of their families on the platform and many must have had suspicions as to the fate that awaited them. We will never know the true circumstances behind this particular photograph.
Right: As the original was taken quickly, probably without using the viewfinder, Karel reciprocated the same oblique angle of the clandestine shot in his comparison. 38
Except for the photo report made by SS photographers Walter and Hofmann, the only other images showing the actual murder process underway are three snapshots taken illegally by a member of the Sonderkommando in the summer of 1944. All that is known is that he was a Greek Jew named Alberto (‘Alex’) Errera and that several others prisoners — Alter Fajnzylberg and brothers Slomo and Jazek Dragon — stood by to warn him against approaching or observing SS guards. The pictures were taken surreptitiously from the entrance of Krematorium V with a camera secreted somehow into the camp and the film was then smuggled out to the Polish resistance — an unbelievable achievement. The first picture shows people undressing and naked women being led to the gas chamber.
shadow of a death that could come at any moment, even on the threshold of liberation, loomed particularly large over the Jewish inmates. Furthermore, unlike the great majority of other prisoners, who still had a home, a homeland, relatives, and friends waiting for them outside, the Jewish prisoners had lost these most precious possessions. Their homes, their entire pre-camp world, lay in ruins, and their families had perished. The first gassings of prisoners in Auschwitz were carried out in September 1941. The victims were thousands of Soviet prisoners of war, subsumed under the category of political activist, consigned to immediate annihilation, who were used in some way as guinea pigs in the trial run of the death machinery in the camp. A great deal of information is now available about mass murder by gas in Auschwitz, the operation of killing installations, dates, the type of victims and their numbers, selections for and methods of murder. There exist precise documents about the construction of the gas chambers and crematoria and the use of the gas Zyklon B. We also have the written and oral testimony of witnesses among prisoners and German personnel, including the most important among them: the memoirs and testimony of the chief organiser and commandant of the Auschwitz camp, Rudolf Höss. Höss gave statements shortly after his capture by the British in March 1946 and appeared as a witness before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. After his extradition to Poland, during his imprisonment before and after the trial, and as he was awaiting execution by hanging on the grounds of the Auschwitz camp, Höss, on his own volition, wrote his biography and various pieces in which he spelled out in great detail the mass murders in Auschwitz. Another written testimony of critical importance was given by SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, a uniformed SS doctor in the camp, who kept a diary during his duty there and took part in the selection of victims. An affidavit written during his captivity by the British in July 1945 by another SS man, SS-Unterscharführer Pery Broad, who served in the Politische Abteilung (the Gestapo office) in the camp, contains numerous details about the mass murders there. We also have statements by escaped prisoners, as well as reports from the camp smuggled out by the resistance. A collection of data based on daily resistance and
With the remains of Krematorium IV in the far background to identify the precise location, Karel was able to establish that the incident took place on the path leading towards Krematorium V which lies behind the photographer.
The other two pictures show members of the Sonderkommando at work, burning the bodies of the victims in open pits behind Krematorium V. Being selected for the Sonderkommando was the worst that could happen to a prisoner, not only due to the gruesome and horrible nature of the task which might well mean meeting relatives or friends before the gas chambers or
finding their corpses afterwards, but also because of the sure knowledge that after a certain period they would be replaced and gassed themselves. The average strength of the Sonderkommando for the four crematoria in Birkenau was between 600 and 800; only around 80 of the last batch survived the war, being evacuated with the other inmates in January 1945.
KREMATORIUM V KREMATORIUM IV
CAMP SECTION B II
On August 8, 1944, a photo-reconnaissance Mosquito from No. 60 Squadron of the South African Air Force, flying out of Foggia in southern Italy to record bomb damage to the BunaWerke synthetic oil and rubber factories at nearby Monowitz, inadvertently took a vertical photo of the Auschwitz camp complex which clearly showed the burning process taking place outside Krematorium V. This enlargement shows smoke rising from the incinerating pits. Allied photo interpreters may have noticed this detail, but they failed to realise its meaning or significance.
Four symbolical tombstones mark the site of the burning pits. 39
Right: On August 25, 1944, yet another mission flown by No. 60 Squadron — this particular sortie (No. 60PR/694) to determine the damage achieved by the bombing of the Buna-Werke on August 20 — included another shot of Birkenau that unwittingly showed the extermination process underway. This enlargement shows compound B I a (top left), the railway platform (centre) and part of B II, with Krematoria II and III on the right. A large group of prisoners is seen moving along the tracks on their way to the gas chamber of Krematorium II, the gates in the fence of which are open. A freight train of 33 cars is halted on the siding but the prisoners seen probably came from two trains that had arrived the day before bringing Jews from the Lodz ghetto. Another group of prisoners is seen beside a hut in B II d. The annotations were added by Poirier and Brugioni in 1979. 40
Four months earlier, on May 31, another Mosquito from No. 60 SAAF Squadron, LR469 flown by Captain Fred Larcher and Lieutenant Stolk (sortie No. 60PR/462), had taken this vertical shot of Birkenau. Allied photo-recce aircraft had had Auschwitz under their cameras from April 1944, ever since the Allied air forces in Italy had occupied bases that brought southern Poland within range. However, photo sorties to Auschwitz were not flown in connection with the death camps but to reconnoitre the Buna-Werke petrochemical factories at Monowitz and to asses the damage caused by US Fifteenth Air Force bombing raids on them. The death camps showed up more by accident than as a result of specific targeting. Allied photo interpreters at the time identified the camps but had no idea what was going on in them, classing them as labour camps which were ‘normal’ for an SS-supported industrial complex. Photo-recce aircraft went to Monowitz less than a dozen times between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945, and only half of those missions coincidentally covered the death camps — a few frames in each of 18 rolls of film. They were first unearthed and published by two CIA photo interpreters with an interest in history, Robert G. Poirier and Dino A. Brugioni, in 1979, with additional photos later being found by USAF Colonel Roy M. Stanley II.
other documents entitled Kalendarium, along with other data compiled by the Polish researcher Danuta Czech, offers a systematic and thorough chronological account of events in the camp. The Kalendarium (published in English as Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945) includes lists prepared at the behest of the Nazis, lists and reports illegally copied by inmate clerks and preserved, and documents abandoned when the Nazis retreated from Auschwitz. One important and greatly moving category of documents comprises notes written by Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners assigned to work in the crematoria who carefully buried their accounts in the vicinity of the crematoria. Some of these documents were recovered and deciphered after the war and were published in a few languages. We also have the testimonies of German defendants in the Auschwitz trials, as well as those of the handful of surviving Sonderkommando prisoners.
The gate on B II’s meridian road still remains although the watchtower is a post-war reconstruction by the Auschwitz Museum. Note the photo panels on the right-hand side which display other SS pictures taken along this stretch. It was in these installations at Birkenau that hundreds of thousands of Jews were systematically murdered after being transported from European countries. The chronicle of events, the Kalendarium, enables us to fol-
low the transport of Jews rounded up in various ‘actions’, or mass seizures of Jewish nationals, in several countries. Thus in 1942, Jews from Upper Silesia, Slovakia, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia
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The critical importance of the Höss testimony stems not just from Höss’s unique knowledge of the details and overall picture of the camp. His testimony is crucial mainly because Höss answers the questions not only of who carried out the mass murders, but also when and how, who ordered the conversion of Auschwitz into a death camp, and who backed this order with the necessary authority. Despite some inaccuracies due to tricks of memory, the general reliability of his testimony remains beyond doubt. Höss relates how in the summer of 1941 — he could not give the exact date, but we have reason to assume that it was in July or August — he was suddenly summoned from Auschwitz to the SS headquarters in Berlin. Himmler, contrary to his custom, received Höss outside the company of his aide-decamp and addressed him as follows: ‘The Führer has ordered the final solution of the Jewish question and we, the SS, were assigned this mission. The existing liquidation sites in the East cannot cope with the large operations expected in the future. I have therefore chosen Auschwitz for this purpose, first, because of its convenient location in terms of transportation, and, second, because the site can be easily isolated and concealed.’ Höss claims to have been keenly concerned with what kind of gas could be used as an efficient killing agent. During his absence from Auschwitz, Zyklon B, a product usually used for sanitation, was used to kill a large group of Soviet prisoners, and, he learned, it suited the requirements of mass killing. In early 1942, two peasant cottages near Birkenau whose inhabitants had been evicted began functioning as provisional gas chambers. About 2,000 persons could be squeezed into them at one time. In this phase of the operation, the gas victims were Jews brought in transports from Upper Silesia and Slovakia. Then, from March 1943 on, four gas chambers and crematoria, designed and built specifically for mass murder by German engineers and companies, were in operation at the Birkenau camp. At their top capacity, these installations could ‘process’ 4,416 victims in 24 hours.
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Right: SS photographers Walter and Hofmann also covered the treatment of those prisoners who survived the initial selection process. Here a group of young men, deemed healthy enough for work, are entering the lateral road through B II. They will first march to the ZentralSauna to hand in their clothes, to be shaved, deloused, showered and issued with striped garments, before being admitted to one of the compounds of the men’s camp.
Women, selected for work and on their way to the ZentralSauna, are overtaken by trucks carrying the luggage left behind on the platform to the sorting barracks at Kanada.
The narrow-gauge railway line that ran along B II’s lateral road has been lifted and the drainage ditch filled in. Remains of the brick smokestacks mark the positions of the huts in B II d. 41
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The gate and the water basin on the left remain to identify the location.
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and parts of occupied Poland reached Auschwitz. In 1943, Jews from Germany, parts of Poland, Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, France and Greece (continuous transports), as well as Yugoslavia, the Majdanek camp and ghettos of Zaglebie in Poland, the Bergen-Belsen camp (see After the Battle No. 89) and Italy, met their fate. In 1944, transports rolled into Auschwitz with Jews from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Theresienstadt, Italy, Slovakia and Poland (Lodz, Radom, Galicia) and one huge consignment comprised of several hundred thousand Hungarian Jews. Unlike other victims, Jews, with some exceptions, were not brought to Auschwitz individually, accused of real or imaginary offences. With the establishment of the death factory, Jews arrived in mass transports from Nazioccupied countries or satellites of the Third Reich. Most transports carried entire fami-
entrance, those for the B II enclosures being at their northern ends. In the distance are the huts of sector B III, begun in 1943 but never completed (and known in camp slang as ‘Mexiko’).
Now shaved and dressed in camp clothes, a large group of women is led into B II c which at this time was used to house Hungarian females. Each compound at Birkenau had only one
Hungarian women, in grey prisoner garments and with scarves masking their shaved heads, assemble on the roll-call square at the northern end of B II c. 42
The comparison shows that the gate in the right background is that leading to the main lateral road, the gravel track running between B II c and B II d.
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Above: Another group of Hungarian women lined up in front of the kitchen hut for B II c on the opposite side of the roll-call square. Whenever the supply of the striped clothing ran out, garments of people who had been gassed were painted with a coloured stripe on the back and given out to newcomers. Lili Jacob, who found the SS photo album, recognised herself in this particular picture: she is the one in the front row, seventh from the right, in the dark dress with the lighter-coloured collar. Right: Only the central one of the kitchen’s three chimneys remains standing today, the other two having collapsed. However, all three belonging to the kitchen block in the adjoining compound, B II b (seen behind), remain upright. The large building in the left background is the office of the Birkenau Commandant.
Some time later, either Walter or Hofmann photographed what appears to be the same group of Hungarian women being marched into section B I — the Frauenlager. Note the SS soldier standing outside the Blockführer-Stube on the left.
The comparison proves that the women were transferring from B II, leaving the latter through the gate which can be seen in the background, and crossing the railway tracks to enter their new compound. 43
NUMBERS OF JEWS TRANSPORTED TO AUSCHWITZ 1940-45 Year
Bohemia and Slovakia Moravia (Theresienstadt)
Germany and Austria
February March April May June July August September October November December
Establishing the exact number of persons that perished at Auschwitz has always been difficult, not only because the Nazis destroyed most of their records just before the final collapse of Germany, but even more so because the majority of Jews that were deported to Auschwitz were never entered in the camp registry. In 1993, Franciszek Piper, a Polish historian on the staff of the Auschwitz State Museum, published this computation of the total number of Jews sent to the camp complex. Based as it was on surviving records (transport lists, etc) of deportations from each individual country, and on research carried out by historians in each country, it is now accepted as the most-reliable calculation of Jews deported to Auschwitz. Out of the grand total of nearly 1.1 million, about 200,000 were selected as fit enough for slave labour and 44
allowed into the camp as prisoners (though a large number of them were still not formally entered in the camp register). The remaining 900,000 were gassed immediately after arrival. Of the 200,000 put to work, about half later succumbed to hard labour, starvation, maltreatment and further selections, giving a total of Jewish victims of one million. To these must be added 21,000 gypsies (out of 23,000 sent to Auschwitz); 70,000-75,000 Poles (out of 140,000-150,000); 15,000 Russian POWs (virtually the entire complement) and 10,000-15,000 persons of other nationalities (out of 25,000) murdered in the camp. This makes a grand total of 1.1 million who lost their lives at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. Of the 1.3 million prisoners, only 400,000 were formally registered in the camp records and assigned a prisoner number.
Other camps and places
1,500 — — — — — — 3,500 — 1,500 — —
— — — — — — — — — — —
— — — — — — — — — — 532
— — — 1,000 400 237 82 — 1,050 55 —
— — — — 4,000 — — — — — — —
— — — — — — — — — 1,031 415 215
— — 158 — — — — — — — — —
— — — 25 — 1,076 3,641 — — 1,803 1,291 626
— — — — — — — — — —
584 485 — 606 575 517 1,805 250 — 102
— — — — — — — — — —
1,006 406 14 766 1,413 — 2,714 9,279 1,937 —
— — —
— — —
— — —
3,413 — —
lies uprooted from their residences as part of the process of total eradication of Jewish communities, their only offence being their ‘racial’ and national origins. Designated as ‘RSHA transports’, the Jews faced selection immediately upon arrival; those deemed fit to work, usually a small minority of those on the transports, became registered prisoners, whereas all others, including as a rule all children and the elderly, went to their death in the gas chambers. Transport entries in the Kalendarium referring to mass transports of Hungarian Jews in May-July 1944 reveal a clear pattern
In November 1943, concurrent with the relief of Höss, the Auschwitz camp complex was divided up into three independent sections, each with its own commandant. The original camp, now designated Auschwitz Stammlager (Main Camp) or Auschwitz I, came under SS-Sturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel; the commander of Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was SS-Obersturmbannführer Friedrich Hartjenstein, while Monowitz and other satellite camps (Auschwitz III) were the responsibility of SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Schwarz. Right: Hartjenstein’s headquarters building stood on the edge of the camp opposite its secondary entrance (see the plan on pages 18-19). Behind it stood several rows of wooden barracks housing the SS personnel of the camp.
In May 1944 — in anticipation of the mass arrival of trains from Hungary — the principal SS commanders at Auschwitz were replaced. On May 8, just six months after he had been posted to Berlin, Höss returned to temporarily take over command of the whole complex. Liebehenschel was replaced as commandant of Auschwitz I by SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Bär, and Hartjenstein was succeeded as commandant of Auschwitz II by SS-Haupsturmführer Josef Kramer (who had already been Höss’s deputy at Auschwitz in 1940-41). Höss’s special task as Standortälteste (Garrison Commander) was to lead and supervise the Hungarian operation. He stayed for 11 weeks (until July 29), during which time 330,000 Hungarian Jews were exterminated, and then returned to his desk job in Berlin. Kramer would be posted to command of Bergen-Belsen in November and Bär would stay until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945. On conclusion of the Hungarian operation — sometime in late July or early August — this picture was taken at the retreat for the SS staff at Solahütte, 30 kilometres south of Oswiecim near the village of Midzybrodzkie Zywiecki. Enjoying a moment of leisure are (L-R): Bär; camp doctor Josef Mengele; Kramer; Höss (nearest the camera) and SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thumann (Schutzhaftlagerführer of Majdanek but temporarily posted to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944). This unique photo comes from the private photo album of SS-Obersturmführer Karl Höcker, Bär’s adjutant. Containing 116 exceptional photos showing the SS camp staff and personnel in the summer and autumn of 1944, the album only surfaced 62 years after the war. In 1946, a lieutenant colonel of the US Counter Intelligence Corps found it in an abandoned apartment in Frankfurt and took it home with him and he donated it to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in January 2007. Höss was already on the Allies’ wanted list as an alleged war criminal but he evaded capture for nearly a year. British troops eventually tracked him down masquerading as a farmer under the name of Franz Lang. He was handed over to the Polish authorities on May 25, 1946 and put on trial for murder. Found guilty he was sentenced to death on April 2, 1947 and 14 days later taken to Auschwitz to be hung on a gallows specially erected adjacent to the crematorium in Auschwitz I. which indicates their fate. Danuta Czech points out that individual deportees, mainly twins (designated as subjects of the Nazi physician SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Mengele’s experiments), were put in the camp as registered prisoners. Furthermore, a certain number of young people and those classified as fit for work were consigned to other camps. The remainder went to the gas chambers. Thus, for example, in an entry of May 2, we read that following the selection of two transports — one carrying 1,800 Jews, ‘men and women fit for work, ages 16 to 50’, and another carrying 2,000 deportees — 486 men
and 616 women were incarcerated in the camp, whereas the remaining Jews were gassed. The selections among Jews were carried out by SS doctors. Regular transports of non-Jews did not go through the selection process; non-Jews went on to become registered prisoners. The overwhelming majority of Jews transported to Auschwitz, particularly those from Western Europe, Greece and Hungary, were unaware of their destination or its nature until the very end. The SS was in charge of the killing process, and SS men poured the gas pellets down the shafts of the gas cham45
AUSCHWITZ II (BIRKENAU)
On June 26, a Mosquito from No. 60 SAAF Squadron (sortie No. 60PR/522) took this high-altitude vertical aerial of the wider Auschwitz area, taking in Auschwitz I (the Stammlager) and its Lager-Erweiterung (camp expansion); Auschwitz II-Birkenau three kilometres to the west, plus the huge IG Farben Buna-Werke petrochemical factory complex with the adjoining Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp which lay four kilometres to the east. The discovery of the Allied aerial photographs of Auschwitz in American and British archives has provided a rare source of confirmation of Nazi documents and camp survivor reports, enabling precise measurements and location siting for buildings that were destroyed before the Nazis left. oppressors; explosives were smuggled in by Jewish women workers from a factory to the Birkenau camp. Their uprising and subsequent attempt to escape, which ended with the murder of all participants, was the only significant act of resistance in the history of the camp. On January 18, 1945, ahead of approaching Soviet troops, the Nazis began a hasty and chaotic evacuation of Auschwitz. The
last roll-call in the main camp listed 48,342 male prisoners, 16,000 women, and 96 prisoners of war. About 58,000 prisoners then started forced marches from stop to stop, from camp to camp. They walked through Austria and Germany in the cold and snow of the winter and early spring months of 1945. Along the way, a large percentage of the last Auschwitz victims perished.
bers. The Sonderkommando, comprising mostly Jewish prisoners kept in isolation from the rest of the camp, performed the ‘dirty work’, consisting, as Höss wrote in his biography, of ‘helping [the victims] to undress, filling the bunker with Jews, removal of the bodies’, and burning the corpses. There is no doubt that the Sonderkommando workers were the most wretched of all the Auschwitz prisoners. Not only was their work the incarnation of a nightmare, but also they knew, as witnesses and participants in the labour of death, that their fate was sealed. In autobiographical notes, some wrote descriptions of their deeds; one wrote that no interpretation of the camp’s meaning would be complete without their testimonies. In October 1944, Sonderkommando prisoners staged a doomed uprising against their
AUSCHWITZ I (STAMMLAGER)
Left: In early 1941, the Auschwitz camp administration had begun negotiating with the German IG Farbenindustrie chemical concern for a further extension of the camp. IG Farben was planning to build a factory on a site near the village of Monowice (Monowitz), some four kilometres east of Oswiecim, and wanted to hire camp inmates as cheap labour. The BunaWerke, as it became known, was to produce synthetic oil and 46
rubber for the German war effort. Prisoners were leased out by the SS to IG Farben, charging them four Reichsmarks per day for skilled workers, three for unskilled workers, and one-and-ahalf for children. Right: The plant built by IG Farben was taken over by the Polish government after the war, becoming one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the country. It is still operational today. This is the view from the south.
AUSCHWITZ III (MONOWITZ)
The first prisoners began working on the site at the end of March 1941. At first they marched the seven kilometres to the worksite, later on they went by train, but in September/October 1942 some of the prisoners were housed in six newly-erected barracks on the southern edge of the factory area. Thus originated the Monowitz camp, which later became referred to as Auschwitz III. Gradually expanding both in number of huts and occupants, at its peak in July 1944 it held approximately 12,000 prisoners, the great majority of whom were Jewish. This vertical aerial photo of it was another from the series taken by Mosquito LR469 of No. 60 SAAF Squadron flown by Captain Larcher and Lieutenant Stolk (sortie No. 60PR/462) on May 31, 1944.  SS compound.  Political Prisoners compound.  Camp bordello.  Camp kitchen.  Appellplatz (roll-call square).  Tents housing prisoners (erected in 1943).  Camp hospital.  Camp expansion (not completed).  Road to the Buna-Werke plant. Jews, but they were afraid. Then the bombardment began. It was nothing new: I climbed down to the ground, put my bare foot into my shoes, and waited. It seemed far away, perhaps over Auschwitz, but then it was a near explosion, and before one could think, a second and a third one loud enough to burst one’s ear-drums. Windows were breaking, the hut shook, the spook I had fixed in the wall fell down. The Germans were no longer there, the towers were empty.’ About 6,000 sick and completely exhausted inmates and a few of the hospital personnel remained behind in the camp area waiting for the end. Finally, on January 24, the SS left in a hurry. Levi writes: ‘January 24. Liberty. The breach in the barbed wire gave us a concrete image of it. To anyone who stopped to think, it signified no more Germans, no more selections, no
work, no blows, no roll-calls, and perhaps, later, the return. But we had to make an effort to convince ourselves of it, and no one had time to enjoy the thought. All around lay destruction and death.’ Attempts have been made to classify the survivors according to their behaviour or personality traits, in an effort to pinpoint factors that might explain their survival. In some cases, physical fitness, endurance, a capacity to distance oneself mentally from the camp realities, or a callous attitude toward fellow prisoners undoubtedly played some part. But for the majority of survivors, one is hard put to formulate general rules in this regard. Life in the camp resembled walking through a minefield, and the fact that some prisoners managed to brave all the obstacles and dangers was due mostly to pure luck.
In Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi, who was among the few thousand inmates liberated at Auschwitz, writes about January 18, the day when the evacuation of Auschwitz began: ‘Nobody knew what our fate would be. Some SS men had remained, some of the guard towers were still occupied. About midday an SS officer made a tour of the huts. He appointed a chief in each of them, selecting from among the remaining non-Jews. The matter seemed clear. No one was surprised that the Germans preserved their national love of classification until the very end, nor did any Jew seriously expect to live until the following day. The two Frenchmen had not understood and were frightened. I translated the speech of the SS man. I was annoyed that they should be afraid: they had not even experienced a month of the lager, they hardly suffered from hunger yet, they were not even
Virtually nothing remains of the camp but a memorial near the main entrance of the petrochemical plant, unveiled in 1966, remembers those who died working at the Buna-Werke. Life expectancy of slave workers there was just three to four months.
Hard labour, starvation, executions and other forms of murder led to a very high death rate. Those deemed unfit for work were killed with phenol injections or sent back to Birkenau to be gassed. From August 1944, Allied bombing attacks added to the death toll. 47
THE 70th ANNIVERSARY OF STARS AND STRIPES No. 36 Rue du Sentier. The initial problem was that of distribution as the 300,000 American troops were spread out widely but by the time the last French issue appeared on June 13, 1919, circulation had risen to 526,000 copies, which were then printed by the large plant at Le Journal. This total included 70,000 copies sent by servicemen to families in the States. In total, 71 editions were published in Paris.
The Hotel Sainte Anne (left) was well known to members of the American Expeditionary Force who visited Paris in 1918. It was here in a small bedroom that the offices of The Stars and Stripes were located for the production of the first five First World War issues which started on February 8, 1918. In March the paper took over two floors of No. 1 Rue des Italiens, later moving to No. 32 Rue Taitbout, the final issue appearing on June 13, 1919. 48
Centre: No. 10 Rue Sainte Anne has today been converted into a fire station. Right: The paper was printed for the Americans on the presses of the French edition of the Daily Mail at No. 36 Rue du Sentier. Although the building is now occupied by the Fédération Nationale de la Coiffure Française (National Federation of French Hairdressing), it was nice to see that the old Daily Mail sign still remains above the entrance.
States, so he was selected to become the first editor of The Stars and Stripes. General James J. Harbord, Chief-of-Staff, and General Denis E. Nolan, the Chief of Intelligence, both supported the idea as an excellent agency for morale. The first WW1 issue appeared on February 8, 1918, the initial run of 30,000 copies being printed at the Paris plant of the French edition of Britain’s Daily Mail at
The purpose, policy and the very name of the US Army’s own newspaper is credited to Guy T. Viskniskki, a 2nd Lieutenant with the 80th Division, who in 1917 was serving as a censor with the American Field Press Headquarters at Neufchateau in France. The head of the Press section, Major Frederick Palmer, a well-known war correspondent, already knew of Viskniskki’s credentials as publisher of Bayonet in the United
With the introduction of US troops to the European Theater in 1942, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Ensley M. Llewellyn was charged with resurrecting the paper. Arrangements were made with Hazell, Watson & Viney to produce the ‘Stripes’ at their printing works in Long Acre in the West End of London. The first editorial office. L-R: Tom Bernard, Mark Senigo, Bud Hutton, Bob Moore and Ben Price. Sergeant Oram C. ‘Bud’ Hutton, former editor of the Buffalo Evening News and ghost writer for the Zane Gray Westerns. The reporters included enlisted men from the 34th Division yet all were experienced newsmen like Len Giblin (Associated Press); Russell Jones (United Press International); Charles Kiley (Jersey Journal); Ham Whitman (New York World Telegram) and Bob Wood (Detroit Free Press). Staff Sergeant Ben Price (Des Moines Register) was responsible for pictures and make-up, and Yeoman 2nd Class Tom Bernard (Los Angeles Examiner) for coverage of navy and marines stories. Private Mark Senigo (Bedford Standard Times) was sports editor, while Staff Sergeant Russell Jones (St Paul Post Despatch) was in charge of the Northern Ireland branch.
The leading story in the first edition was an interview with General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief-of Staff. He quoted General John J. Pershing, the American Expeditionary Force commander in the First World War, who said that the Stripes had been a major factor in sustaining the morale of members of the AEF: ‘We have his authority for the statement that no official control was ever exercised over the matter which went in Stars and Stripes. It always was entirely for and by the soldier. This policy is to govern the conduct of the new publication.’ To set against this is an interesting comment by Andy Rooney in his 1995 book My War: ‘There were very few stories that were put off-limits to us by the two military cen-
Following the declaration of war by the United States in December 1941, the first troops to reach Europe disembarked in Belfast on January 10, 1942 (see After the Battle No. 34). Just three months later the first edition of the reactivated Stars and Stripes was published as a weekly on Saturday, April 18, 1942. The first editorial office was established in the offices of Hazell, Watson & Viney at No. 52 Long Acre, London. As one of Britain’s largest printers with a work force of 1,700, its main purpose-built factory was on Tring Road, Aylesbury, but printing had begun in London at the Long Acre plant in 1901. Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Ensley M. Llewellyn was the editor with Lieutenant Harry A. Harcher and 2nd Lieutenant John Wilkinson as associate editors. The news desk was manned by Staff Sergeant Robert L. Moora (New York Herald Tribune) and
The initial run of 29 weekly issues were printed by Hazells, the first issue coming off the press on April 18, 1942. Hazell’s old works at
No. 52 occupied the white-fronted building on the left. When we took this photo 70 years later it had become a ladies dress shop. 49
Within a few months, with the build-up of American troops in Britain, it was decided to publish daily with an initial first run of 50,000. This was more than Hazells could produce so a tender (below) was put out by His Majesty’s Stationery Office (on behalf of the US), the contract being awarded to The Times to be printed the same size as The Times Literary Supplement and typeset in 7½pt and 9pt Times Roman.
Although The Times building fronted Queen Victoria Street, its address was Printing House Square as that was the location of the original private house, occupied by the Walter family which founded the newspaper in 1785. It remained as a dwelling until 1910 — the last in which a newspaper proprietor lived over the shop. As well as printing The Stars and Stripes, included in the price was the use of three rooms for the editorial staff in the Eaton building — Nos. 152-156 Queen Victoria Street. Below: On this early post-war plan it is described as ‘Photographers Library’.
On September 5, 1940, a bomb fell close to the building in Queen Victoria Street although the details were censored until October 12. The Eaton building is on the extreme right. sors who were always in the Stars and Stripes office. For one thing, we all knew what the rules were as well as they did and, for the most part, the rules made sense. No one wanted to give information to the Germans that would have helped them. There were stories I didn’t write because I didn’t like to think of the bomber crews with whom I spent so much time talking, reading them. Too sad. During the two years I covered the air war, there were half a dozen stories I couldn’t bring myself to write even though it would have been more honest if I had.’ In the early issues in 1942, the main news covered the fighting in the Pacific, plus home news, but in June men stationed in Northern Ireland began to be allowed to visit London. To Americans, Independence Day — the Fourth of July -– means fireworks, so it was only natural that they decided to mark their display in 1942 in a special way. The Eighth Air Force, using RAF Bostons of No. 226 Squadron, mounted their first raid to Holland on July 4 when, as Stars and Stripes reported on July 11: ‘In a joint operation with RAF light bombers, six American aircrews attacked targets in German-occupied territory today. Two American planes are missing. The Americans flew A-20 type aircraft in a daylight minimum altitude attack.’ (In actual fact, the first operation by an Eighth Air Force crew had taken place five days earlier!) At this stage, the Stripes was only appearing weekly but after 29 issues production was switched from Hazells to The Times building in Printing House Square at Blackfriars, where there was capacity to produce a daily paper. The initial contract was for 50,000 copies. There were to be eight pages in the Monday edition and four on the other days except Sundays when a special British Isles edition of Yank would be distributed as a Sunday supplement. For this, the rotogravure positives were rushed to Britain by aircraft to be produced on British presses. The first Times issue came off the press on November 6, 1942.
The whole of The Times complex was demolished in 1962 when the paper moved to new premises in Grays Inn Road. The huge Mallon Centre of offices now occupies the entire site.
The Times building had been damaged by a bomb exploding in Queen Victoria Street on October 12, 1940, and the Stripes was able to use the old rotary presses
which were standing idle in the basement. In all, 915 issues were printed at The Times, the last coming off the press on October 15, 1945.
The staff of The Stars and Stripes gather round to see the first daily edition come off the press. L-R: Private Mark Senigo, New York City; Private R. J. Collins, Yeoman 2nd Class Tom Bernard, Los Angeles, California; Sergeant Bud Hutton, New York City; Major Ensley Llewellyn. Second row: Corporal Einor Elg, Minnesota; Sergeant Robert Moora, New York City; Sergeant G. K. Holdenfield, Iowa City; and Lieutenant Harry Harcher, Bethlehem, Philadelphia. 51
Following the landing in North Africa in Operation ‘Torch’ in November 1942, the first pressroom outside London opened in Algiers in December that year using the equipment at L’Echo d’Alger. Thereafter offices of the Stripes were located in towns right across North Africa and Italy (see table).
The busy London editorial department at The Times. One anecdote, no doubt wholly apocryphal, is worth repeating to show how much the London staff felt at home in Printing House Square. It is said that one of the staffers was heard to say in a Fleet Street restaurant: ‘The Times’? Oh yes, it’s produced in our building!’ (The Times even had its own pub, the Lamb & Lark — see plan.) As more and more overseas territories were captured, offices for The Stars and Stripes were set up to print locally.
London April 18, 1942-October 15, 1945: 29 issues printed by Hazell, Watson and Viney, Ltd; 915 issues printed by the Times Publishing Co., London. Algiers December 9, 1942-July 15, 1944: 461 issues printed at L’Echo d’Alger, Algiers. Middle East April 16, 1943-December 21, 1945: 141 issues printed at Imprimerie Paul Barbey, Cairo. Oran May 3, 1943-November 24, 1944: 484 issues printed at L’Echo d’Oran, Oran. Casablanca May 19, 1943-July 30, 1944: 205 issues printed at the Imprimeries réunies de la Vigie Marocaine et du Petit Marocsin, Casablanca. Sicily August 12, 1943-June 2, 1944: 85 issues printed at Giornale di Sicilia, Palermo. Combat Edition, September 6-November 23, 1943: 38 issues published by a mobile Stars and Stripes detachment with the Fifth Army in Italy. Naples November 10, 1943-May 2, 1945: 467 issues printed at Il Mattino, Naples: May 3-June 12, 1945: 25 issues printed at Il Messaggero, Rome.
Rennes circa August 21, 1944-September 21, 1944: 27 issues printed at L’Ouest journal, Rennes. Paris Sept. 5, 1944-February 1, 1946: 493 issues printed at the New York Herald Tribune, Paris. Grenoble August 25, 1944 issue published by Bill Mauldin. Next 13 issues, August 29-September 12, 1944, printed at Les Allobroges, Grenoble. Besançon September 14-December 1, 1944: 28 issues printed at Les Nouvelles de Besançon; 40 issues printed at La République de Franche-Comte Besançon, Besançon. Marseilles September 29, 1944-March 10, 1945: 140 issues printed at La Marseillaise, Marseilles. Marseilles-Nice March 12, 1945-September 30, 1945: 201 issues printed at Le Patriote, Nice. Strasbourg December 4, 1944-January 20, 1945: 42 issues printed at Les dernières nouvelles de Strasbourg, Strasbourg. Liège January 20-April 17, 1945: 88 issues printed at La Meuse, Liège. Dijon January 22-February 3, 1945: 60 issues at Le Progrès, Dijon.
Northern Ireland December 6, 1943-January 29, 1944: 46 issues printed at the Belfast Telegraph, Belfast.
Nancy January 22-April 16, 1945: 81 issues printed at L’Est républicain, Nancy.
Tunis December 21, 1943-June 2, 1944: 48 issues printed at Dépêche tunisienne, Tunis.
Germany April 5, 1945-April 17, 1946: 370 issues printed at Frankfurter Zeitung, Pfungstadt.
Rome June 5, 1944-June 2, 1946: 572 issues printed at Il Messaggero, Rome.
Southern Germany May 8, 1945-December 5, 1946: 567 issues printed at Nürnberg 8 Uhr-Blatt, Altdorf, Bavaria.
Cherbourg July 4, 1944-circa August 19, 1944: 41 issues printed at L’Éclair, Cherbourg, to inaugurate the Continental Edition.
Middle Pacific May 14, 1945-January 30, 1946: 222 issues printed at the Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu.
the war for printing the Paris Herald, was found to be undamaged as the Germans had not bothered to use it and within a few days of the liberation, Stars and Stripes was rolling off the presses.
Above left: From August 1944, the Stars and Stripes was based in Paris at No. 21 Rue de Berri. Right: Today the premises is the main office of the Apostocks fashion retail company.
Editions were printed in Cherbourg and Rennes before the main Paris newsroom was established at No. 21 Rue de Berri in the former offices of the New York Herald Tribune. The equipment, which had been used before
Although the London edition was still being produced for US Air Force personnel in the UK, the operation in Paris became the main production centre for troops on the Continent. Including the other European outstations, total circulation was more than a million.
The staff were billeted at the nearby Hotel Haussmann located at No. 192 Boulevard Haussmann, today a retail shop. (There are two other Haussmann hotels in Paris, at No. 6 Rue du Helder and No. 89 Rue de Provence, but these are large four-star establishments with no connection with The Stars and Stripes.) 53
This ‘extra’ was produced at The Times and it was claimed that it was the first paper to hit the London streets at 9 p.m. on May 7, 1945. Bradley writing in 1960 said that ‘the Stars and Stripes literally covered the world. Its own correspondents often were in the thick of battle, because the paper’s prime interest was combat and combat troops. Because the men who did the fighting overseas also were interested in what went on back home, Stars and Stripes covered the home front thoroughly, too. Major issues, from strikes to a presidential election, were given the full, professional treatment; and the soldiers’ reactions to the events were published mainly in Mail Call, the popular Letters to the Editor department.
‘America’s favorite cartoonists and comicstrip artists also enlivened the pages of this sprightly tabloid, which frequently combined a degree of dignity and authority worthy of The New York Times with the insouciance of The New York Daily News. ‘Even though reporting the war was such a serious business with the editors that they would have fired any staff member who suggested that war was fun, expressions of a wholesome sense of humor were always welcome. Innumerable times levity lightened the burden of war and helped to ease many a weary, homesick soldier through trying situations.’
Just prior to the capitulation of Germany, an office was established in the US Zone of Occupation at a brewery in Pfungstadt, 30 kilometres south of Frankfurt, which became the main European office. The first issue came off the Frankfurter Zeitung presses on April 5, 1945. Some 370 issues were printed there until a move was made a year later to the office of former Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer before moving back to Pfungstadt. Then in September 1949, the Stripes took over buildings on the technical site of the former Luftwaffe airfield at Darmstadt. Former Army commander Omar N.
Left: Very soon after the US Third Army had overrun the Frankfurt area in March 1945 (see After the Battle No. 154), an old brewery at Pfungstadt, some 30 kilometres south of the city, was expropriated for Stars and Stripes. The Hotel Strauss was 54
taken over for the mess with administrative offices on the first (US second) floor. Right: Today the pub still stands at Mühlstrasse 1 but has since been rebuilt and its name changed to Ausschank Pfungstädter Bräuerei.
left is Rügnerstrasse, the house being No. 73. The vehicles are the Jeep Model 463 Station Wagon in two-wheel drive which was introduced in July 1946.
Left: The old school house on Kirchstrasse served as a barracks. At that time, over a hundred soldiers had been assigned
to various tasks on the newspaper. Right: Fortunately the building still stands in use for the Lessing-Schule.
In 1949 the ‘Stripes’ moved out to nearby Darmstadt where they occupied buildings on the former Luftwaffe base, the airstrip having been taken over by the US. Today The Stars and
Stripes is still published for US forces around the world, the European production base having moved to Kaiserslautern in July 2008, the motto of the paper being ‘By and For the Soldier’.
The paper factory (Papierfabrik Gebrüder Seidel) on Bahnhofstrasse was requisitioned for the editorial offices and composing room which were located on the top floor. The road on the