5 Horrifying Facts About Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Probably the most infamous of all the Nazi concentration camps, the name Auschwitz conjures up horrific images of the evil that was perpetrated there. Originally intended to house Polish prisoners of war, the camp in Southern Poland first housed Poland’s political prisoners. It wasn’t until after the invasion of the USSR and the enlargement of the camp to become Auschwitz-Birkenau that its function changed from a concentration camp to a death camp.
Widely believed to have held just Jews from occupied territories, many of the inmates of the camp were not of Jewish descent. Any person regarded by Nazi Germany as an enemy of the state could be housed there as well as other ethnic minorities considered as Untermensch – sub-human……Gipsies, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses and gays were all incarcerated in Auschwitz as well as Jews. Even British POWs were held in some of the numerous satellite camps.
The black and white striped prison uniforms were adorned with colour-coded triangular badges that denoted the status of the prisoner – red for political prisoners, green for criminals, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, pink for gays and black for Roma Gypsies. The Jews would wear the yellow star of David.
The atrocious living conditions that the prisoners were kept in led to many deaths outside of the gas chambers. Inmates were often beaten to death by guards; poor sanitation meant that disease was rife with many thousands succumbing to typhoid or dysentery.
Some inmates were given the role of a Kapo or a prison functionary. They were given what could be regarded as privileges in return for the overseeing of prisoners. The Nazis used this as a way to turn the prisoners against each other, and so retain command.
When Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of Nazi security, was given instructions to enact the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem’, the order called for the population of Eastern Europe to be used as slave labour or to be eliminated.
The camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was designated as a camp where such individuals would be held. As the trains carrying the prisoners rolled into the camp, SS officers and staff were waiting to commence a selection process whereby those who appeared fit for work would be brought to a different area where they would be taken into the camp or to one of the many camps that made up the site complex. From there, they would be used as forced labour for the German war machine that was in desperate need of cheap manpower.
Those who were deemed by the SS doctors to be unfit for work… children, mothers with young children, the sick and the elderly, were not permitted to enter the camp. Instead, they were taken to another area.
Here they were told that they were to be sanitised before entering the camp. After removing their clothing, they were led into a large, windowless block……The gas chamber.
SS doctors performed numerous medical experiments on the prisoners at Auschwitz.
Doctors Claus Clauberg and Horst Schumann both used inmates as guinea pigs in their studies of human sterilisation. The victims, male and female, were put through horrific operations often without the use of anaesthesia. The survivors were left with physical and psychological damage.
Although the most likely outcome for those who underwent the operations was death from any number of causes such as shock, infection and multiple organ failures. Even after death, some corpses were used in autopsies in the name of medical research.
The most infamous Nazi doctor was Josef Mengele. While Clauberg and Schumann focused on the biological destruction of ‘sub-humans’, Mengele’s interest lay in anthropological studies and especially that of twins.
Subjects were quickly identified after arrival at the camp. Twins almost exclusively children, were handed over to the care of Mengele. After lengthy examinations, he would commence a series of terrible experiments upon them. Often one twin would be kept well as a ‘control’ while the other would be subjected to inhuman tests – the deliberate amputation of limbs or exposure to diseases.
After the tests were completed, the children were then killed or taken to the gas chamber.
It is difficult to understand now how so many people could endure the hardships of living in the camp, knowing that death may be only a whisper away, without taking any action.
It would be wrong to assume this…
Sonderkommandos were prisoners who were formed into work units who would be forced, under threat of death, to assist with the removal of the victims of the gas chambers. Their living conditions were slightly better than the rest of the prisoners. They had access to food, medicines and cigarettes and the sleeping quarters were also less squalid. They would avoid the arbitrary killings meted out the others.
Yet every Sonderkommando knew that this was only a temporary stay of execution. The Nazis would never be able to allow them to take their knowledge of happenings outside of the camp and therefore every three months or so, they would be sent, en masse, to the gas chambers, and a new consignment would replace them.
In October 1944, knowing that they would soon be killed, a group of Sonderkommandos attacked their SS guards with hand-made weapons. After a struggle in which three of the guards were killed, the revolt was put down, and 451 Sonderkommandos perished.
Allied prisoners of war took it as their duty to escape from the camps wherever they were incarcerated. When you have no-where to escape to, the urge to flee diminishes and a resignation to the fate that awaits sets in.
Not everyone in Auschwitz thought this way. Over 900 inmates attempted to escape and although the majority were captured a remarkable number did actually succeed.
The first successful escape was in July 1940 when a Pole, Tadeusz Wiejowski disguised himself as a civilian worker.
In June 1942, four Poles broke into a warehouse and stole SS uniforms. They then armed themselves and after stealing a staff car, simply drove through the gates of the camp unchallenged.
Jerzy Bielecki made a similar escape in July 1944. He wore the uniform of an SS guard and using false documents, managed to pass through the camp’s sentries accompanied by his girlfriend, Cyla Cybulska. They managed to link up with Polish partisans and Cybulska survived the war. In total 196 inmates successfully escaped from Auschwitz, the majority surviving the war.
Sadly, for most the only escape from their nightmare was through the chimney of the crematorium.
Submitted By Paul Galliford
Checkout Top5s Exploring Auschwitz-Birkenau As It Is Today https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQWmQUdglQs