After the visit of the first concentration camp from the complex of the Nazi factories of death Oswiecim - Auschwitz I, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a rule, if the conversation drifts to Auschwitz, this particular camp is understood as the greatest numbers of people were killed here and exactly here there were the most deadly gas chambers of Auschwitz. The railway “Death Gate” became almost the visiting card of the camp and when you come into contact with any mention of Auschwitz, before your eyes there is this grim picture. The concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (known just as “Auschwitz II” or “Brzezinka”, according to the name of the county) is in three kilometers from Auschwitz, in the village Brzezinka. Construction of the camp began in October 1941 on-site of the dislocation of the Polish cavalry regiment when the barracks of Auschwitz I were already crowded and didn't cope with the anti-human loading.
The first of four sites was handed in at the end of February, 1942 and man's and female sectors were there, and the first prisoners the factory of death Birkenau “accepted” already on March 1st. Construction of the second site was complete in 1943-1944s, the quarantine and the hospital Blocks for men, the camp for Roma, the Block for the Hungarian Jews (“the Deportation camp”), the Jewish family camp and warehouses were placed here. In 1944 construction of the third site began in unfinished barracks of which in June and July the Jewish women were housed in, whose names weren't entered in the camp books, and this sector began to call “Mexico” later. The fourth site wasn't built up.
The easiest way to reach the Auschwitz - Birkenau is the complimentary shuttle bus which goes between the museums and we used it, having left our car on the parking before the entrance to Auschwitz I. Though in principle it would be possible to drive by the car there, there is also the parking before the entrance. The entrance in the territory of both complexes is free.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp (Auschwitz II Birkenau in Oswiecim)
The first thing that the prisoners arriving to this concentration camp saw was the “Death gate” already from the inside. Franz Hoessler, the camp commandant of Birkenau from 1942 to December 1944, at once declared to prisoners that there is only one exit from here - through the crematorium pipe. Based on this aphorism the camp slang was formed “go in the hole”.
Prisoners arrived to the camp by rail - waggonages with prisoners went from all over Europe. They were landed from wagons and built in a long line for “sorting” along the railway lines. It is considered that Auschwitz II “accepted” daily up to 10 waggonages with people on 50-100 wagons everyone.
Many future prisoners didn't even guess where they were carried! Nazis convinced everybody that they “moved to the east”, sold them abstract grounds in Eastern Europe and offered “good work” at plants and factories. This was particularly so with the Greek and Hungarian Jews - after such “processing” people usually took out all their savings and jewelry, than Nazis used, taking away from the arrived prisoners all things, the most valuable of them exported to Germany for needs of the Third Reich.
On rare photos from Birkenau made by Nazis in secrecy from the command it is possible to see how there was “sorting” of prisoners. In total about two hundred original pictures remained, and some of them were recognized as the corpus delicti of atrocities of fascists on the lawsuits.
The arrivals were divided into four groups. The first group (the most numerous, approximately ¾ from all arrivals) repaired almost at once to the gas chambers on painful death. They were generally Jewish old men, women, children and those who for some reason weren’t suitable for work.
It is a common wisdom that for the whole time of existence Auschwitz-Birkenau, more than one million Jews was killed here, and it was one of the main mechanisms so-called “The Final solution (of the Jewish problem)”.
The following group left for works on the industrial undertaking. 405 thousand people from Auschwitz were attributable to factories, plants and mines; more than 340 thousand from them were tortured, executed or died of unsupportable workload. Near the camps the German company “IG Farben Industrie” constructed the oil refinery “Buna Werke” making gasoline and synthetic rubber whereon the prison labor of the Auschwitz concentration camps was used.
Another group (generally people with inborn physical defections - dwarfs, twins) went to the “main” concentration camp (Auschwitz I) to the doctor Josef Mengele famous as «the death angel», for anti-human and sadistic experiences. On completing of the war Mengele was succeeded to hide from prosecution in Brazil where he died a natural death by blood-stroke at the age of 67 years.
Well the last group consisted only of women and it was called “Canada”. The women selected in this group were used by SS-men as servants, workwomen on sorting of the confiscated personals at the arriving prisoners, and personal slaves. Such name was chosen as a jest about the Polish prisoners - earlier the Polish emigrants sent to their relatives gifts from Canada, therefore the exclamation “Canada!” was often used at the sight of a rich gift from foreign relatives.
The wagons in which prisoners were transported, were badly ventilated, water and food wasn't there while the trains from the far flung corners of Europe sometimes went to Bzhezinka approximetly10 days. When on arrival wagons were opened, the part of prisoners was already dead, and survived were in a condition of extreme emaciation and dehydration. One such wagon is presented in the territory of the museum.
In every wagon it was taken from 50 to 100 people, and they went to the camp by never-ending stream almost the day and night.
Total of the prisoners who were at the same time in the camp - more than hundred thousand people, and the “servitorial staff” of the factory of death totaled about 6000 SS-men.
The territory of the camp was truly huge - the area of the complex was more 170ga. The understanding of that, how many people was killed here me creep all over.
In total in the territory of the concentration camp there were about 300 barracks, but almost all of them were ruined and on their places there were only brick skeletons of heating furnaces and chimneys. The majority of barracks were constructed of wood, without foundation, and the first prisoners built them.
The part of brick barracks remained, and some were reconstructed.
On the photo lower there is the kitchen block in which the bread and scrape was cooked for prisoners. According to some reports the daily ration of the prisoners consisted of a liter of fast soup from a turnip or rotten vegetables, about 300 grams of black bread and about a liter of herb tea. The prisoners who worked in the camp more than a month, one-two times a week were encouraged with 20-30 grams of sausage or cheese. The calorific value of such set didn't exceed 650-700 calories, and the Soviet prisoners in general received only 500.
Some inhabited barracks are open for free visit, and it is possible to see with own eyes, in what conditions the prisoners “had a rest”.
Like so one of the brick barracks looked from internally. Reconstruction of these “berths” there is also in the Auschwitz I Concentration Camp which we visited a little earlier.
There are three-storyed wooden plank beds, and instead of flock beds there is a thin straw covering.
In each such unit from 4 to 8 prisoners took place.
There are a few windows, and glasses often were absent. In strong winter frosts the prisoners more often than not died asleep of overcooling. The huge barrack was heated by two small furnaces therefore there it was always cold.
Lack of normal water, canalization and a vast number of rats were another problem of the camp.
The brick barracks were not much in Auschwitz-2 - the camp generally consisted of the wooden ones. Neither of such Blocks lived up to our times in a state of nature, and now we can see only their reconstruction.
Before the occupation in these barracks there were stables of the Polish army, everyone was on 52 horses. 1000 people stayed overnight in each such barrack in Birkenau.
The beds weren't enough for everybody therefore often people slept on a cold floor and on 2 persons on one bed. There was still such variant of sleeping plank beds and in each section from 4 to 8 people took rest.
The wooden barracks were heated by one long double furnace but because the walls were from wafer thin board, the gates weren't closed, and there were full of cracks, in wintertime in such “stables” it was very cold too.
The toilet for prisoners (the “sanitary” barrack) consisted of three concrete ramps wherein circular holes - “toilet bowls” were cut through with such space that people, sitting on them, touched each other by backs and shoulders and felt even more degraded. Also there were troughs with water where the prisoners washed and douche. Cleaning of such barracks was made manually, barehanded, by forces of the prisoners - excrements and dirty water was taken out by barrows to “waste treatment facilities”. There were not any towels and toilet papers, and the prisoners could visit it only 3 minutes, 2 times a day - in the morning and in the evening. Because of insanitary conditions the prisoners constantly had diarrhea and more serious diseases. By the way, “the hygiene ban” was one of punishments in the concentration camp - delinquents were prohibited for a definite period to visit the toilet and to wash.
The gas chambers and crematoriums of Auschwitz II Birkenau
At the end of the railway lines there are ruins of two main crematoriums of the concentration camp (crematoriums №2 and №3 on the plan) combined with the gas chambers. Each of them contained five threefold furnaces (on only 15 muffles on a crematorium), was constructed by the German firm “Topf und Söhne” (“Topf and sons”) and coal coke used as fuel. According to the current knowledge, on a daily bases in these 30 furnaces about 5 thousand bodies were burned. Crematoriums № 4 and № 5 were less and consisted of one 8-muffle furnace, and during day and night 3 thousand bodies burned down there.
All prisoners selected by fascists in the gas chambers were sent allegedly to “bath” or to “disinfection” and to be washed. Suspect nothing people were led to the crematoriums, forced to undress completely in special checkrooms, and then exhausted in “shower”, hermetically closed and started up Zyklon-B.
When living people didn't remain, bodies were transferred to the furnaces of the crematorium and burned. The following party of suiciders already waited before the entrance... Waited for their “water procedures”...
The crematoriums worked round the clock, with a three-hour break for cleaning of the furnaces of human ashes and used fuel. The ashes were taken out by waggons to a nearby field and dumped in holes.
Construction of the first crematorium in Birkenau (№2, because the first crematorium is in Auschwitz I) was begun in August 1942 and the termination was planned for the middle of February, 1943, but, despite the greatest possible speed of construction, the crematorium was put in commission only a month later.
The first mass killing happened on March 13th, 1943 there when one and a half thousand Jews from the Krakow Ghetto “B” were poisoned with the Zyklon-B gas there. The gas chamber of 210 sqm had 30 meters lengthwise, 7 width way and 2.41m in height. The ceiling by thickness 22cm of the strengthened concrete was covered from above with a 45-centimeter soil layer. At the end of the 1943rd year in the gas chamber the additional wall was put up which divided the placement on 2 parts. If the quantity arrival was small, only a half of the camera was used, the gas was saved, and death of the prisoners was accelerated because of faster expansion of the gas in the small room. The crematorium №2 was finally put in commission on March 3 1943, and №3 - on June 24. Structurally they didn't differ from each other if not to consider some insignificant improvements.
Shower heads were established in the gas chambers which made only one function - they kept suiciders from a panic, forcing them to put faith in “a shower legend” and weren't connected to any water pipe. Through them the lethal gas wasn't supplied as noted by some sources there were just moulages. As the camera was rather big, the process of its filling lasted for a time, and meanwhile the first incomers viewed the room (light bulbs hung there also for prevention of a panic), at somebody suspicions started arising - it wasn't really similar on a “washing-house”. In such cases there was a mass panic which instantly and rigidly was suppressed with the armed supervisors.
At distinct from the checkroom, the gas chamber was equipped with a complicated system of ventilation and had an airproof steel entrance by 192 cm height, 100 cm by width and the sight hole protected from within by a steel grid. Except ordinary locks, the door could be fixed by dent of bolts as sometimes suiciders, having realized their further destiny, tried to open it, closed in on all their mass.
The ceiling of the camera was propped up by 7 concrete columns, and for diffusion of the lethal gas near the columns 1, 3, 5 and 7 special constructions were established. They represented square girder polarized 70x70cm, made of armature, rising from floor to ceiling, and ended with a hole in the roof. These columns had 2 external “layers” from lattices with a different step of nucleus in which there was the mobile wire basket serving as the container for the gas carrier material and it was operated assisted of a rope from the roof.
When the camera was filled with the victims and the door was closed tight, the SS orderly officer, “disinfector”, opened an airproof door on the roof, took out the mobile basket by dent of the rope, filled it up by crystals of “Zyklon-B” and threw down, quickly closing the door. While it fell, the crystals of gas flied apart through nucleus of the girder polarized across camera that accelerated the extension of the poison across the room and all of this was made only to accelerate the execution process.
At the same time 2.5 thousand people were located in one such camera and after 10-15 minutes of the gas influence, everybody died. Then the ventilation was switched on and half an hour later members of the Sonderkommando opened the door and started taking out bodies, preparing them for burning in the crematorium furnaces (one floor up) and then lifted upward by dent of the elevator. The team worked at the first time in gas masks to be secured against the remains of hydrocyanic acid.
On October 7, 1944 the prisoners population from among the Sonderkommando in which Jewish prisoners were taken mostly and which practiced by “service” of the crematoriums (prepared the suiciders for the gas chambers, cut hair, gathered gold jewelry, took out gold teeth from bodies, directly burned them and cleaned the furnaces) succeeded to organize a revolt.
As a result of the armed insurrection the crematorium №4 was set on fire that completely put it out of action. On the photo lower the fourth crematorium is represented before destruction.
The crematorium №5 was completely similar in construction to the fourth and there was near it, behind the sector “Canada II” in a small forest.
The wedding rings were denudated from dead prisoners which then went to Germany.
It happened that the members of the Sonderkommando were forced to cremate directly in the open air. Such, in particular, happened in 1944.
The temporary gas chambers Auschwitz II Birkenau in Oswiecim
Before the construction start of the “big” crematoriums in Bzhezinka, after the successful test of “Zyklon-B” in the basement of the Block №11 in Auschwitz-1, and having decided the carrier capacity of the crematorium №1 insufficient, and its arrangement was not really successful, SS-men found temporary “alternative” to it. In several hundred meters from border in process of construction Auschwitz-Birkenau, couple of private houses of the evicted Poles was remade to temporal gas chambers.
Bunker-1 «The little red house»
The “Bunker 1” also is known as “The little red house” because of color of its rough walls, was located on the northern border of the Auschwitz II Concentration Camp, closed by adjoining the zone “Mexico” (see the plan of the camp). The house about 15х6 meters in size initially had 4 rooms which were remade by Nazis in two gas chambers. Each of them had a separate door, windows were sealed by a brick, and for filling of the rooms the gas, the special holes by the size 30x40cm were made which were closed with tight covers. Doors had felt packings, except ordinary locks could be closed by bolts, and plates with an inscription “Disinfection” hung there. In the rooms the walls were painted in white color, and the floor was covered with fresh cuttings after each “using”. Because in the house there was no system of ventilation, the expansion of gas was slow, as well as death of the people there. At first executions were only at night, but then started poisoning also in the afternoon because of a large number of the arriving prisoners. Each camera in this house at the same time contained up to 400 people. The bodies were buried in holes nearby. The exact start date of using this house as the gas chamber is unknown, but researchers think it was the end of March, 1942. After putting in operation of the crematoriums №2 and №3, this house was not used, and it was destroyed approximately in March, 1943.
Bunker-2 «The white house»
The “Bunker 2” is also known as “The white house” because of its color, was located on the western border of Birkenau, near the “Sauna” and was put into operation approximately in June 1942. In the building by the size 17x8m, 4 gas chambers of various sizes were organized and unlike the first Bunker, each camera had by two doors that improved ventilation after using of “Zyklon-B”. All the other things looked like the “Bunker 1”. As the area of the cameras was more, and the ventilation was better, the body count was also much more here. The “Bunker 2” was stopped by using after going of the “big” crematoriums, and the wooden barracks used as checkrooms were ruined. The brick building was empty till summer of 1944 when it was again used as gas chambers against the Hungarian Jews. During “the Hungarian Operation” the building received the name “Bunker 5” and then, in November, 1944, was ruined.
The Monument to the Victims of Fascism in Auschwitz
Between the ruinous crematoriums №2 and №3 in 1967 the international Monument to the Victims of Fascism was established.
The number of memorable plates of the monument corresponds to quantity of nationalities of the tortured and killed prisoners.
300 female prisoners of Auschwitz succeeded to escape, and this case was adapted for the screen in the known movie of Steven Spielberg “Schindler's List”. The German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved about 1000 Jews, having bought out them from Nazis for works at his factory, but 300 women of them by mistake got to Auschwitz. Schindler got out the workers and took away to Krakow.
On January 27, 1945 the Soviet troops, in particular parts of the 100th rifle division of the general Fedor Krasavin of the 1st Ukrainian front, occupied the territory of the camp and found up alive only about 7500 people. 58 thousand were killed by Nazis during leaving of the camp or taken out to the Third Reich.
This publication is based on the generally accepted version of events in Auschwitz, and official information of the museum aushcwitz.org, the Russian and Polish archives of military documents, the site deathcamps.org and other open resources was used as sources. But also we want to note that there are alternative versions as in official ones it is possible to find fair amount inconsistencies. So up to now there are disputes the matter of real productivity of the crematoriums in Auschwitz, about their physical disability to kill that number of people which is attributed to them.
It can be gathered some records, for example, in Jurgen Graf's book “The Myth of the holocaust”, Alexey Ignatiev's book “Was in actual fact the Holocaust?”, John Zimmerman's book “Holocaust Denial” and other sources. We are also obliged to warn that in many countries of Europe denial of the Holocaust is prosecuted by local laws.
First part: the Auschwitz Concentration Camp - Auschwitz I