While Auschwitz was primarily a work camp, Jews and otheres were killed here on an industrial basis. The NAZIs carried out the largest numbers of murders by gas in an industrial fashion at the Birkenau killing opperation. Birkenau was one of the many sub-camps, but the most infamous one. Auschwitz-Birkenau became the the NAZIs premier killing center. Auschwitz when fully operational had the capacity to murder 10,000 people in 24 hours, accorduing to Camp Commandant Rudolf Hoess at the War Crimes Trials following the War. Witness after witness, document after document produced irrefutable evidence of the crimes committed, and no witness was more shocking than Rudolf Hoess, who calmly explained how he had come to exterminate 2,5 million people. The NAZIs first experimented with gassing (September 1941). They chose 850 malnourished and sick prisoners no longer capable of work. When the gass chambers were completed, murder became a daily routine (mid-1942). The NAZIs used Zyklon-B to kill Jews on an industrial level as part of a carefully planned effort to exterminate European Jews. Historians believe that about 3 million persons were murdered at Auschwitz. The largest number were killed by gassing, but starvation, disease, and shooting also took their toll. The opening of the gas chambers changed the nature of Auschwitz. Up to that point, the killing was largely to dispose of people who because of sickness, abuse, and malnutrition were no longer capable of work. The killing capacity of the gas chambers meant that huge numbers of people could be killed daily. This began the killing of Jews in lage numbers. The NAZIs had already prepositioned Jews for easy transport. Poland's large Jewish comminity had been isolated in medieval ghettos. Other Jews throughout NAZI occupied Europe had also been concentrated or were in the process of being so. Rail transports delivered the Jews to a station platform located adjacent to the gas chambers. A selection at the station selected out mothers with children, the elderly, and sick. Healthy individuals unencumbered with children were selected for slave labor which because of the conditions would eventually reduced them to a condition where they would also be gassed. Most of the NAZI victims were Jews, perhaps 90 percent. They were, however, not the only victims. The NAZIs also gassed Christian Poles, Soviet POWs, gypseys, and homosexuals. The difference was that these groups (except the gypseys) did not include children and family groups.
Auschwitz was the largest and most deadly of the NAZI concentration camps. Richard Gluecks, head of the SS Concentration Camp Inspectorate informed Himmler on February 21, 1940 that he had found a site for a punishment camp where Poles who had defied the NAZIs in any way could be put to work under especially harsh conditions. The site was Auschwitz/Birkenau ( Oswiecim-Brzezinka ). It was an old Austro-Hungarian calvary barracks. It was not at first intended for Jews. Rudolf Hoess, who was working at Dachau, was made the camp commandant. He sent for convicted criminals from Sachsenhausen to serve as Kapos (barracks chiefs). [Gilbet, p. 298.] Eventually Auschwitz became a vast facility for slave labor in addition to the death camp. There were 51 sub-camps (this number varies in different accounts) at Auschwitz. Prisoners were beaten, starved, shot, hung, and kilked in different ways. The largest numbers of deaths resulted from the murder by gas in an industrial fashion. Once the gas chambers were functional, large numbers of Jews in the Polish ghettos and from NAZI occupied Europe were transported to Auschwitz to be murdered. Trains delivered the Jews right to a station platform located by the gas chambers. Most of these victims were Jews, but there were also gentile Poles, Soviet POWs, gypseys, and homosexuals gassed. Of all the dreadful actuins at Auschwitz, perhaps the most apauling was the medical experiments that Dr. Mengele carried out on Jewish children, in many cases tins selected for that purpose. The last large group was the Hungarian Jews. Jews stage a revolt and manage to blow up one of the crematoria (October 7, 1944). As the Red Army bis approaching, the SS decides to destroy the remaining crematoria and gas chambers in aan effort to hide their murderous crimes (October 26, 1944). The SS evacuated Auschwitz before the Red Army arrived (January 17, 1945). The surviving inmates who were in poor condition because of the starvation regime at the camp were forced marched in freezing condition to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Many peish along the way. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz and find 7,000 starving prisoners that the NAZIs had failed to kill (January 27, 1945).
A very small facility at the massive Auschwitz concentration camp was the Birkenau Vernichtungslager. This was a death camp. Vernichtungslager meam extermination or destruction camp. The sole purpose was to select out healthy Jews for work and kill the rest. It was a very small part of Auschwitz. As the Jews were murderedon arrival or sent to Auschwitz work camps, the normal camp faciliies like barracks and workshops were not neded. And as the victims were murdered upon arrival, very few guards were needed.
Jews and otheres were killed here on an industrial basis. The NAZIs carried out the largest numbers of murders by gas in an industrial fashion at the Birkenau killing opperation. Birkenau was one of the many sub-camps, but the most infamous one. Auschwitz-Birkenau became the the NAZIs premier killing center. Auschwitz when fully operational had the capacity to murder 10,000 people in 24 hours, accorduing to Camp Commandant Rudolf Hoess at the War Crimes Trials following the War. Witness after witness, document after document produced irrefutable evidence of the crimes committed, and no witness was more shocking than Rudolf Hoess, who calmly explained how he had come to exterminate 2,5 million people.
The NAZIs first experimented with gassing at the main camp (September 3, 1941). They chose 850 malnourished and sick Soviet POWs no longer capable of work. They were used to evaluate Zyklon-B. They were gassed in underground cells in Block 11.
Zyklon-B was an insecticide by the German company Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Schädlingsbekämpfung (Degesch).
The development of Birkenau as an death camp is complex. The initial gas chambers wee make-shift affairs. Eventually the NAZIs built facilities to puinto operation what they had learned about mas murder. The SS used Jewish sonderkommandos in the killing process. Historians believe that about 3 million persons were murdered at Auschwitz. The largest number were killed by gassing, but starvation, disease, and shooting also took their toll. The opening of the gas chambers changed the nature of Auschwitz. Up to that point, the killing was largely to dispose of people who because of sickness, abuse, and malnutrition were no longer capable of work. The killing capacity of the gas chambers meant that huge numbers of people could be killed daily. This began the killing of Jews in lage numbers.
After the successful trials on Soviet POWs, the SS set up a gas chamber just outside the main camp (February 1942).
The SS used the mortuary at the main camp which already had a crematorium. The mortuary was converted into a gas chamber late 1941-October 1942). The capacity was about 835 square feet.
The SS then set up temporary gas chambers at Birkenau (spring 1942). They used peasant huts which they called 'bunkers'.
The first of these bunkers had two sealed rooms and operated for several months (January-December 1942).
The second bunker had four air tight rooms. The second bunker had a capacty of 1,134 square feet. It became unecessary when the main gas chambers were opened (spring 1943). The bunker was left standing and was reactivated (fall 1943) when greater capacity was needed and again (autumn 1944) when the killing of Hungarian Jews began.
The SS began planning the construction of four large gas chambers (August 1942).
The first two gas chambers appear to have been adapted from mortuaries which had huge crematoria already attached. This resulted from the huge number of mortalities resulting from the poor conditions and mistreatment of the slave labor force at Auschwitz. These workers suffered a horendous death rate.
It is clear that at some point the SS staff and civilian contractors were clearly building an indistrial plant to carry out mass murder (autumn 1942). The German company Topf & son at Erfurt designed and built the crematories. When the gas chambers were completed, murder became a daily routine (mid-1942). The NAZIs used Zyklon-B to kill Jews on an industrial level as part of a carefully planned effort to exterminate European Jews
The two pairs of gas chambers were numbered II and III, and IV and V. These gas chambers were opened (March 31, 1943 - April 4, 1943. The four chambers had a total area of 2,255 square meters. This gave the SS the capability to kill 4,420 people in a single cycle.
The NAZIs had already concentrated and presispositioned Jews for easy transport to the death camps. Poland's large Jewwish comminity had been isolated in medieval ghettos. Ghettos were also established in Lithuania and Latvia and one in Czechoslovakia. The experience in the Ghettos varied. Some of the Jews in the Baltic ghettos were murdered even before the death camps were operational. Others especially the Polish ghettos were steadily reduced once the death camps were operational. The process of concentration varied from country to country. Other Jews throughout NAZI occupied Europe had also been concentrated or were in the porocess of being so. In the Reich itself the process was somewhat different. Many Jews were allowed to remain in their homes until receiving instructions for deportation by mail. Reich Jews and Jews in Western Europe were then transported to the ghettos or directly to the death camps.
Rail transports delivered the Jews to a station platform located adjacent to the gas chambers (figure 1). First the men and women were separated. The children stayed with their mothers. A selection at the station selected out mothers with children, the elderly, and sick. SS doctors like the infamous Dr. Mengele on the platform made the final selection. Healthy individuals unemcumbered with children were selected for slave labor which because of the conditions would eventually reduced them to a condition where they would also be gassed.
The killing process differed somewhat, depending on the facilities used.
The Jews murdered in these bunkers were forced to strip naked in temporary wooden barracks set up nearby and then forced to file into the bunkers. There was no crematoroia located here. After gassing the corpses were taken to pits where they were burned. This operation was slow and laborous because there was no crematria attached. Even so, the SS gassed 175,000 Jews here (January 1942 - March 1943).
Most were killed (January to March 1943).
Those selected filed into an attached undressed room. There they took off their clothes and were forced into the actual gas chamber which was desguised to liik like a shower. SS personel then dropped uin Zyklon-B crystals. Within 20 minutes all of the victims were dead.
Gas chambers II and III were underground chambers. The Sonderkomando moved the bodies to the five ovens by an electrically operated lift. During this phase. dental gold and other valuables such as rings were removed.
The process was a little different at gas chambers IV and V. There the killing procss was slightly different. Here the gas chambers and ovens were on the same leve. The crematoria ovens, however, were so poorly built and the usage was so intense that they constantly malfunctioned. Eventually they have to be abandoned. The corpses had to be burned outside in open pits. Jewish sonderkommandos worked the crematoria under SS supervision.
These dedicated killing operations were at first underutilized. About 160,000 Jews were killed at Birkenau (April 1943 - March 1944). This was because there was five dedicated death camps actively killing Jews. This situation changed as the military situation on the Eastern Front change and the Red Army began go drive west.
The NAZIs were forced to abandon these camps. Thus with the other death camps closed, Birkebau became the premier NAZI killing machine (March 1944 - November 1944). Birkenau at this time surpassed all previous NAZI records for murder. The victims were the Hungarian Jews and the final liquidation of the Jews left in the remaining Polish ghettos (especuially Lodz). As a result, about 585,000 Jews were gassed at Birkenau.
Most of the NAZI victims were Jews, perhaps 90 percent. They were, however, not the only victims. The NAZIs also gassed Christian Poles, Soviet POWs, gypseys, and homosexuals. The difference was that these groups (except the gypseys) did not include children and family groups.
The initial mass killing of Jews was conucted in the East by SS Ensazgruppen, but involved Wehrmacht personnel to varying degrees. The killing was done publically, not only wih Whermacht personel observin or participating. but not uncommonly with local civilian observers. As a result there is an extensive photographc record of what the Germans were doing, most taken by the Germans themselves, mostly by men who were proud of what they were doing. SS Chief Himmler was concerned about the first chapter of the Holocaust for several reasons. He was concerned about the impact n the morale of the men invlved as it involved the shooting of women and childrn. He ws also concrned about the public nature of the killing. He was also concerned about the process. He attended one killing opertion himself ans wnearly feinted when brans and blood were spatered on his uniform. Thus the next phase of he Holocaust was desgned to be conductd in privte with at specially designd and built death camps. Here ther few obsrvers and no pubic observers. And two methods were introduced. There were still shootings, but poson gas was also introduced. In this ne more controlled approach, there were no longer opportunities to take photographs which were strictly forbidden. Thus very little photographic evidence exists of the killing operations conducted at the dath camps eevn though millions were killed in these hellish operations. There is only one important excepton--what is today known as the Auschwitz Album. This is today the only known surviving photographic evidence of the mass killing opeation at Auschwitz-Birkenau or the other death camps. The photographs were taken during late-May or early-June 1944 of the Hungarian Jews being deported to Auschwitz. They were taken by Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walter, two SS men assigned to take ID photos and fingerprints of the inmates committed to Auschwitz work camps. Such records were not made of the Jews dispacted directly to the gas chamberrs. No one knows why the SS took these photogrphs at Birkenau, but given their assignment, they were presumbably interested in photography and decided to record the dramatic historical spectacle unfolding at Birkennau. It imspossible that they compiled it as a gift to a high ranking SS officer, although by 1944 the upper echelon was incresingly aware of where the War was headed and beginning to have quams about the future and involvement in such operations. It is more likely that they wanted a record of the great entrprise in which thy were participting. he Jews photographed are from Carpatho-Ruthenia which the Hungarians had seized from Czrchoslovakia. Many came from the Berehovo Ghetto, which had served as collecting point for Jews from small towns in the area. The album was found by Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier, a Hungarian Jews and Auschwitz survivor, who recognized friends and family in the photographs. .
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