** World War II concentration camps -- individual camps Auschwitz death camp

NAZI Concentration Camps: Auschwitz (Poland, 1940-45)

Figure 1.--These are children behind barbed wire at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most Jewish children were killed on arrival at the camp after the healthy adults were selected for a slower process of being worked to death. The children here have camp uniforms meaning they were not immediately killed. We are not yet sure why they were not killed like most children were. These are children that the Soviets found in the camp when they readed it (January 1945). We do not know how these children managed to survive. We think they are not Jewish children, but the survivors of NAZI anti-partisan operatins in the Western Soviet Union and Poland. Source: Soviet newsreels.

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).

NAZI Invasion (September 1939)

The Germans more than any other military, correctly assessed the lessons of World War II. The War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Panzers crossed the Polish frontier on September 1 along with a devestating strike by the Luftwaffe. The Polish Army and Air Force was shattered. Over 1 million German soldiers surged into Poland. Hitler emerged from the Reich Chancellery in a new grey uniform with his World War I Iron Cross. In a speech at the Reichstag before cheering NAZIs he declared, "I myself am today, and will be from now on, nothing but the soldier of the German Reich." Whithin 6 days Cracow, the center of Polish nationhood, fell. Pincer movements began on September 9 to encirle the major remaining Polish forces. Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Warsaw fell a few days later after a ruthless bombing assault. The Blitzkrieg tactics that were to prove so devestaing in the West during 1940 were all on display in 1939. Neither the British or French showed much attention, abscribing Polish defeat to military incompetance. The French had promissed the Poles an offensive in the West. It never came.

Establishment (April 1940)

Richard Gluecks, head of the SS Concentration Camp Inspectorate informed Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler (February 21, 1940) that he had found an ideal 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. What was to become the largest NAZI concentration and extermination camp facility, was situated nearby the provincial Polish town of Oshwiecim in Galacia. Himmler was pleased with the site and issued the order to begin building a camp there (April 27, 1940). Auschwitz was not at first intended for Jews. The SS evicted the Poles living in the vicinity of the barracks (May 190), Most were reportedly simply shot. The SS then brought a work crew from the Sachsenhausen concentratin camp. The SS also pressed 300 Jews from Oswiecim to help build the camp. were also pressed into service. The first transport of prisoners was almost entirely Polish civilians (June 1940). They were used to build the SS administration and staff facilities. The camp population was still fairly small just before the invasion of the Soviet Union,. One soyrce estimates 10,900 inmates (March 1941). The SS from the beginning operated the camp brutally. It quickly developed a reputation for torture and mass ececutions by firing squads.


Auschwitz like the other concentration camps, but not the POW camps, were established and controlled by the SS. Reichsführer SS Commander Himmler then chose SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss who had exoperirnce at both Dachau and Sachsenhausen and was hihghly regarded vto oversee Auschwitz. When Auushwitz was selected as ine of thge NBAZI death camos, it was Höss who develop the operations and orocedures for the mass killing of Jews there. After Höss was removed as commandant because of an illicit affair with a prisoner he briefly returned to assist with the mass killing of Hungarian Jews. Oher individuals served as commandants in the final months. There were also several wommen who commanded the woman's camp.

Rudolf Franz Hoess (1900-47)

Rudolf Franz Hoess was born in Germany (1900). He joined the SS after the NAZIs seized power in Germany (1933). The SS assigned him to Dachau (1934). Dachau was the first NAZI concentration camp and served as a blue print for other camps and a training ground for future camp staffs. Hoess was appointed adjutant of Sachsenhausen concentration camp (1938). Himmler within a few months of the NAZI invasion and occupation of Poland, chose him to be Kommandant of the new camp beuing built at Oshwiecim--Auschwitz (1940). One of his first steps was to send for convicted criminals from Sachsenhausen, to serve as Kapos (barracks chiefs). [Gilbet, p. 298.] Himmler told Höss that Adolf Hitler had ordered him to carry out the "final solution of the Jewish question". And he told Hoess, "I have chosen the Auschwitz camp for this purpose" (May 1941). Hoess thus played a central role in the Holocaust. He proceeded to set up Burkenau as an extermination camp. He oversaw the installation of gas chambers and crematoria and conducted experiments on what gas should be used. Himmler was apparently pleased with Hoess' performance. He appointed Höss chief inspector of the concentration camps. Höss then attempted to improve the 'efficiency' of the death camps. He received a SS commendation calling 'a true pioneer in this area because of his new ideas and educational methods'(1944). Hoess after the War claimed that he was bothering about killing children. "I did, however, always feel ashamed of this weakness of mine after I talked to Adolf Eichmann. He explained to me that it was especially the children who have to be killed first, because where was the logic in killing a generation of older people and leaving alive a generation of young people who can be possible avengers of their parents and can constitute a new biological cell for the reemerging of this people." After Höss was removed as commandant because of an illicit affair with a prisoner he briefly returned to assist with the mass killing of Hungarian Jews. Höss went into hiding using the name Franz Lang. It took a year, but the British finally found him. He was arrested by Britiush military police (1946). After he testified as a defense weiutness at Nurenberg, the Allies turned him over to Polish authorities. Much of what we know about the operatin of the Camp comes from Hoess' interogation and writing, especially his autobiography, while in custody. The Poles tried him (1947). He was was found guilty sentenced to death. The execution was carried out on a gallows outside the entrance to the gas chamber.

Other commondants

SS-Obersturmbannführers Rudolf Hoess served as Commandant until the summer of 1943. Subsequently Arthur Liebehenschel and Richard Baer. The commondants of the women's camp were Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath. As the Red Army approached Auschwitz, the other SS staff fled the Camp and tied to hide in the collapsing Reich.


Eventually Auschwitz became a vast facility for slave labor in addition to the death camp. Auschwitz I was the original concentration camp . It served as the administrative center for the entire complex. The women's camp, which was separated from the men's area by the incoming rail line. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was where the extermination camp or Vernichtungslager was located. It was a huge complex, much larger than Auschwitz I. Auschwitz III (Monowitz), which served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the I.G. Farben concern. In addition there were There were 51 smaller sub-camps established for various purposes. (This number varies in different accounts.) The many surrounding work camps were associated with German industry and the NAZI war effort. Inmates at the camps worked in arms factories, foundries and mines. The largest work camp was Auschwitz III Monowitz, named after the near by Polish village of Monowice. Auschwitz III ws opened May 1942. Inmates worked at the I. G. Farben Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and liquid fuel plant. SS doctors at regular intervals wold would visit the work camps and select out the weak and sick for the Birkenau gas chambers. The largest subcamps were Trzebinia, Blechhammer and Althammer. Female subcamps were constructed at Budy, Plawy, Zabrze, Gleiwitz I, II, III, Rajsko and at Lichtenwerden (Světlá).


The initial inmates at Auscwitz were Polish political prisoners and intelectuals arrested by the SS to destroy potential Polish resistance to NAZI rule. After the invasion of the Soviet Union, large numbers of Soviet POWs were sent to Auschwitz. Jews also were sent to Auschwitz, although most Polish Jews were at first confined to ghettos. Prisoners were beaten, starved, shot, hung, and kilked in different ways.

Prisoner Classification

A system of marking prisoners was adopted at Auschwitz that was developed at Dachau, the first NAZI concentration camp. There were some differences, but the basic system was the same. The badges were primarily inverted triangles. The system relied heavily on color which unfortunately compkicated the evaluation of black and white photoigraphs. The main classifications were: Political - Red, Criminal - Green, Antisocial - Black, Homosexual - Pink, Emigrant - Blue, Gypsies - Brown, and Jehovah's Witness, Purple, Jews had these badges, but with upward facing yellow triangle underlaying the doward facing triangle forming a Star of David. There were a variety of other badges and some had letters. The Red triangles marked “political prisoners (Schutzhäftlinge – Sch.). They were individuals arrested on the basis of a “protective custody order” (Schutzhaftbefehl) issued by the police. The great majorirty of the political prisoners in Auschwitz were Poles. Green triangles identified “criminal” prisoners (Berufsverbrecher - BV). They were arrested for various criminal acts. Some were individuals were arrested after release from prison when the police concluded that the sentence he received was too lenient. These prisoners were almost entirely Germans. Black triangles identified “asocial” prisoners (Asoziale - Aso), mostly meaning vagrancy or prostitution. The police could use any infraction or preceived infraction to justify arrest for anti-socisl behsavior. The Gypseys in the Birkenau “Gypsy camp” were classified as asocials. Purple triangles identified prisoners imprisoned as Jehovah’s Witnesses (Internationale Bibelforscher-Vereinigung - IBV). The NAZIs hated the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of their pacifist stance. Pink triangles identified homosexuals. They were also almost exclusively Germans. Article §175 of the German criminal code crimalized homosexuality. Not all prisoners were given these badges or even uniforms. Soviet POWs were allowed to wear their uniforms. Some prisoners continued to wear their civilian clothes. Many of the Jews tranported to Birkenau were murdered upon arrival.

Warsaw Ghetto (October 1940)

Warsaw was the cultural center of Jewish life in Poland. About 30 percent of the city's population was Jewish. It was the largest Jewish community in Europe.Frank ordered all Warsaw Jews on October 3 to move to the predominately Jewish part of the city which was now called the Warsaw Ghetto (Otober 3). He then ordered it to walled off. The entarnces were then sealed off from the rest of the city and closely guarded by the NAZIs. Jews had previously lobed throughout the city without restruction. There had been about 0.25 million Jews in the Jewish section. Now 0.15 million more had to find acommodation there as well as for those arriving in future transports. Many within the Ghetto had to move. Jews had to abandon their property except what they could carry on bring in a hand cart. The Germans administering the Ghetto delighted in humilitaing the Jews in the initial phase of the Ghetto. Jews would be ordered to kiss the pavement or search for bits of paper in mud, all the time being beaten. [Gilbert, p. 345.] Much worse was to come. Some 500,000 Polish Jews were are forced into the Warsaw ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the single most important Jewidh act of defiance against the NAZIs (April 1943).

Birkenau Killing Operations

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 od 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. Gistorians 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 sivkness, 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 beginning the killing of Jews in lage numbers. At Jews in large numbers had already been presispositioned for easy transport. Poland's large Jewwish comminity had been isolated in medieval ghettos. Other Jews throufhout NAZI occupied Europe had also been concentrated or were in the porocess 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 sock. 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 alsi 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 did not include children and family groups.

Work Selections

Auscwitz ws primarily a work camp. Thus unlike the death camps, at Birkenau there was a selection for work. This process was especially fpr the Jews, because most other groups were not brought into Auschwitz as family groups, but rather individuals already separzted from their families. Those Jews selected for work included healthy youths and men as well as women unaccopanied with children. The Germas had learned that trying to separate mothers and children woyld disrupt the efficent processing on the Judenrampe. Even if it meant losing young women capable of work, efficently handling the Jews on the ramp was given priority. SS doctors carried out the selection of those deemed halty and fit for work. Youths down to about 14 years of age were seen as suitable for work. Younger children were selected for death. Those deemed fit for work were sent to one side of the Judenrampe and deparate from their families sent to the other side. The elderly and women with children were automatically directed to the line leading to the gas hmbers. The Jes on the ramp had no idea what the selection process meant. Those selected for work were directed to a non-discript building for the registration process. Prisoners would be registered than ordered to undress. They hung their clothes on hooks with their shoes on the floor underneath. Stripped naked they wre thus sparated from all possessons they might still have. Next they were tattooed with their registration number ending with a J for Jew. Finally they were shaved of all body hair, disinfected, and forced into showers that were usually cold even in the dead of winter, but slometimes painfully hot. After the showers, they were given the striped pyjama-like uniforms, cap, and a pair of wooden clogs. Clogs were much cheaper than leather shoes. Fiinally they were marched to the barracks blocks to begin their life in the camp. It is only then that begin to find out what happened to the rest of their families. Work assignments would determine how long they were survive in Auschwitz. Out doors work would mean they would not survive long, especially in the cold winter weather. They were not issue cold weather coats and jackets. The Germans did not intend for them to survive or even love long.

Children at Auschwitz

Auchchwitz was primarily a work camp--the largest one in the NAZI system. Thus children were for the most part not brought there. Auschwitz was not one of the dedicated death camps. The major exception was the Jews murdered at the Birkenau killing operation. Here whole families were delivered intact. The children deemed incapable of working and their mothers (to avoid disruptions) were selected out for immediate murder in the gas chambers. There were very few exceptions to this. By late 1944 with the loss of one of the gas chambers and to save gas, the SS began throwing younger children directly into the ovens or burning pits without gassing them first. Healthy adults were selected for work. The work conditions and food for Jews were such that most of those selected for work only survived a few months. Conditions for some other groups were better, but this varied. Children born in Auschwitz as in most other camps were usually killed immediately after birth. There were, however, a few children and youths found at the camp when the Soviets liberated it. Many of these children were Poles and Ukrannians that the Germans had bought to the camp as a result of the anti-partisan operations in the western Soviet Union and the supression of the Warsaw uprising. What is unknown is why the SS did not shoot these children when they evacuated the Camp. Himmler had ordered when the Soviets pushed into Poland that the no prisoners be allowed to fall into Soviet hands, presumably so no one could testify as to what the Germans had done at Auschwitz.

Medical Experiments

Of all the dreadful actuins at Auschwitz, perhaps the most apauling was the medical experiments conducted there. SS camp doctors wre involved in a range of medical experiments. These men were doctors with varying medical credentials. Some had theories they wanted to pursue. In some cases they were theoiries they knew that NAZI leaders would appreciate involving racial issues and thus would advance their careers. Others were working on military medecine such as to how Luftwaffee airmen downed in frigid water should be revived. These doctors jumped at the opportunity to use human experimental subjects. The experiments they derived were horifgic, inflicting incredible pain on the individuals involved. Almost all of the subjects were Jews and a few Gypseys. It is difficult to assess their motives. It is probably to simplistic to suggest they derived pleasure from the suffering, but they were certainly oblivious to it. Some were viciciously anti-Semetiv, but this varied. Adults were put into vacuume , injected with with drugs, castrated, exposed to freesing temperatures, abd subjected to various other traumas. The most notorious of these experiments were conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele and carried out on Jewish and Gypsy children--in many cases twins carefully selected for that purpose. The children were subjected to terrible trauma involving absurd racial theories. As a SS doctor, Mengele oversaw the selections when the transports arrived at Auschwitz. It was here he found his child medical victims. One account provides an insight into his character. When he ordered a mother separated from her 13-year old daughter, she bit and scratched the face of the SS man who was forcing her into the selection line. Mengele was enraged. He took out his poistol and shot both the woman and her daughter. He then to punish all the Jews in the transport, ordered all those who had been selected for work to be gassed with the order, "Away with this shit!" Mengele was not the only SS doctor experimenting on Jewish children. Professor Carl Claubergalso conducted experiments in Jewish children. A HBC reader has provided some information on two French children arrested by the NAZIs--Georges Andre Kohn and Jacqueline Morganstern.

Hungarian Jews

The last large group was the Hungarian Jews. The Hungarian Government headed by Admiral Horthy had allowed the deportment of foreign Jews (1941), but not Hungarian Jews, much to Hitler's despleasure. This meant that even as the NAZI empire collapsed, a large number of Jews remained relatively untouched in Hungary. This situation changed dramatically when the NAZIs seized control of Hungary. Admiral Horthy as the Red Army approached had been conducting secret negotiations with the Allies to extricate Hungary from the War. Hitler ordered a coup to prevent this (March 1944). With the NAZIs now in control, SS Colonel Adolf Eichman, the engineer of the Holocaust, personally went to Budapest to supervise the destruction of Hungarian Jews, the last large group of Jews left in NAZI hands. NAZI and Hungarian allies deported 437,402 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in 148 trains (May 14-July 8, 1944). This was the largest single mass deportation during the Holocaust. Very few survived.

Oscar Schindler

Only one man is know to have succeeded in getting any substantial numbers of Jews out of Auschwitz. That was Oscar Schindler, a remarkable Austrian NAZI. Schlinder was little known to the general public until Steven Speilberg imortalized him in his award-winning film "Schlinder's List" (199?). Schlinder not only got some of his opeople out of Auschwitz, but may have saved more Jews in NAZI hands than any other single individual. Some of the Jews he was protecting by error were diverted to Auschwitz. The 300 women had no idea what was happening, but suspected the worse when the camp sworkers cut their hair very short. One survivor recounts, "I knew something had gone terribly wrong .. they cut our hair real short and sent us to the shower. Our only hope was Schindler would find us ..." [Duklauer Perl] Schlindler actually went to Auschwitz to retreive them--an incredible act. After their hair was cut they were hearded toward the showers, having no idea if it would be real showers or gas. Then they heard a familiar voice. "What are you doing with these people? These are my people." Schindler had somhow reached them in the middle of Auschwitz. He bribed the guards and got them out. Schindler spent millions to protect these and the other Jews in his care. In fact he spent everything he had. After the War he proved not to be a very good businessman. He was penniless when he died.

Birkenau Revolt (October 1944)

Jews were selected to work at the Birkenau killing operation. Anyone who refused was killed. They were called Sonderkommandos. They worked in both the gas chambers and crematoria. They were kept separate from the main camp. Kommando III staged the uprising. They attacked the SS guards with with makeshift weapons (stones, axes, hammers, other work tools as well as homemade grenades) they managed to stockpile. The Jews managed to catch the SS guards by surprise and overpowered them (October 7, 1944). They blew up Crematorium IV with explosives female inmates smuggled in from a weapons factory in the Auschwitz complex. They were joined by the Birkenau Kommando I of Crematorium II which also managed to overpower their SS guards. They then broke out of the compound and along with hundreds of prisoners escaped. Tragically they were quickly recaptured and along with others who participated in the revolt were executed. Women from the munitions factory who supplied the explosives were tortured, but refused to name any co-conspirators. Because of the deteriorating military situation, the d Destroyed crematoria were not rebuilt.

Bombing Auschwitz

It is often asked why the Allies did not bomb the gas chambers or the rail lines leading to Auschwitz. This is part of the common criticism that the Allies, especially the Americans, did not do enough to save the Jews. While we do not disagree with this criticism, the question is usually posed by individuals with no knowledge of the military situation or the military capabilities of the Allies. First it should be understood that most of the killing at the death camps occurred in 1942 and 43. The Allies at this stahe of the War did not have the capability of bombing Auschwitz. This questions primarily concerns the Americans, because to hit the gas chambers required a day-light raid and the British RAF Bomber Command operated at night. The American 8th Force during 1942 was just building up in Britain and even by the end of the year was just conducting small-scale raids, mostly in France. The 8th Air Force did begin to bomb Germany in 1943, but took terrible casualties, even when bombing targets in Wrestern Germany. Attempting to bomb targets in Poland would have been a death sentence for the airmen involved. Only by 1944 were long-range escorts availavle that allowed the Americans to establish air superority over Germany. At this time hitting Auschwitz was feasible. Second, Allied understanding of what was happening was imperfect. Too many authors tend to belief because a report was received the Allies should have known. But in the fog of war, analysts can not accept reports as factual. Not only does the emnemy concoct misleading reports, but other individuals persuing their own agendas have reasons for submitting false reports. Third, hitting a small target like the gas chambers would have been very difficult to even identify, let alone hit. Modern readers are acustomed to pin-point hits in recent wars. This was not the case in World War II. Studies done during the War indivated that most bombs dropped did not hit anywhere near the target. Quite a number of raids did not even find entire cities, let along a small camafloged target like the gas chambers. Hiting the gas chambers would have required a major effort. Fourth, trying to sever the rail lines would have been impossible. Three was not just one line. Hitting them would have been difficult and they could be repaired in a few hours. Fifth, a major raid or more likely a series of raids on Auschwitz would have meant because of targetting limitations, the death of large numbers of the slave laborors at the camp.

Closing and Destruction

As the Red Army approached, the SS ordered the 'evacuation' of Auschwitz. Himmler ordered SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst-Heinrich Schmauser to oversee the evacuation. He was known for extensively using Jewish slave labor. The SS with the srunning success of te Red Army's Operation Bagration and destrction of Army Group Center began the tansfer of 130,000 prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau to camps further west (October26, 19444). [Longerich, p. 415.] The Red Army moved close enough that the SS command in Berlin ordered the complete evacuation. Himmler personally ordered Schmauser who was the ranking commander in Silesia to 'expedite' the removal of the still surviving camp inmates. Schmauser was not sure just what Himmler wanted done and exactly how to handle the evacuation. He telephoned a close associate, SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, who told him precisely what Himmler wanted done. Pohl told him that Himmler wanted no 'healthy' prisoners left alive in the camp. [Blatman, pp. 79-80.] Apparently Himmler wanted to eliminate any inmate who coild testify as to just what the SS had done at the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing operation. The result was that 56,000 prisoners were forced marched westwards in harsh winter conditions without winter clothing, food or water. Healty does not accurately escribe the codition of the inmates. The surviving inmates who were in poor condition because of the starvation regime at the camp. The selection was basically for those who were still capable of walking. Higher Police Headquarters (HSSPF Breslau) and Schmauser did what they could in chaotic comditions to make sure ensured to the best of his ability that healty inmates who make the best witnesses would end up in the hands of the Soviets. Himmler seems to have not wanted the Soviets to find piles of dead bodies either. Sick people could be explained away. It would have been more difficult to explain 50,000-60,000 recently shot bodies. Inmates too sick to march out of the camp were abandoned. [Blatman, pp. 81-84.] Once the guards left the camp with the healthier inmates on what was esentially a death march, the shooting began. The guards shot those who failed to keep up the pace or who fell out. Apparently it was decided tht bodies spread out alone the way would not draw unwanted attention. It is believed that about 25 percent of theinmates were sot. The death march wound its way to the Groß-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia. Here they were transported further west into the Reich. [Longerich, p. 415.] Schmauser ordered the killing of the remaining inmates in uschwitz-Birenau (January 20, 1945). A SS unit still in the ca,p shot 200 Jewish women and then blew up the buildings where crematoria I and II were located. The SS than shot 700 more inmates from Auschwitz-Birkenau and other sub-camps. The Red Army 1st Ukrainian Front of the Red Army reached the camp (January 27, 1945). They found some 8,000 inmates still arrived. escaped death because the remaining SS units had fled as the Red Army arrived. [Rees, p. 352.] Schmauser himself lso headed west by car. He encountered some German troops near Altenrode. They warned him that Red Army tnk spearheads were breking through in the area. Schmauser apparently in a hirry ignored their warning and continued on (Februry 10, 1945). [Schulz and Zinke] That was the last known sighting of him. It is assumed that he was killed by Red Army soldiers. It is unclear of he was shot immediately or was captured and shot subsequently. Mny of the surviving inmates wound up in Bergen-Belsen.

Liberation (January 1945)

The Red Army liberated Auschwitz and found 7,000 starving prisoners that the NAZIs had failed to kill (January 27, 1945). While the NAZIs had tried to destroy evidence, Red Army soldiers were shocked at what they found. Soviet photographers recorded shocking images. We note an unidentified child who survived. We do not know anything about his experiences or who he was. There were a number of other children found alive. Some of them can be seen here (figure 1). These survivors at first were aided by the Red Army medical service. The Polish Red Cross and volunteers from local area (Brzeszcze – Tadeusz Mleczko, Roman Pêcikiewicz and Wilhelm Wazdr¹g) mobilized to aid them. At first field hospitals were set up and aided 4,500 people. There were 960 Polish citizens among those aided. We are not sure about the other nationalities, but quite a number probably would have beem Soviet citizens (Belorusians, Ukranians and others). They included 160 Polish women sent to Auschwitz after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Most of the survivors were near starvation. They suffered a number of dietary problems and diarrhea and tuberculosis was rampant. Gradually the aid workers moved the survivers found in Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and Monowitz (Auschwitz III) to the buildings in the main camp (Auschwitz I) which had more substantial buildings and facilities to care for the survivors. Other found help in the communities outside the camp. The starving survivors had to get used to eating nutritious food slowly. Gulping down food could kill these people. Many of the survivors resisted medical aid like baths and injections because of their experiences with the NAZIs. Authorites attempted to find the families of the survivors. Most left Auschwitz in the months after liberation as soon as their health had recovered. Meeting points were set up in Krakow, Katowice and Bielsko for the non-Poles. [A-B Museum archive] It was not possible for those from Western Europe to return home until the NAZIs surrendered (May 7). We do not know if the Soviet newsreels were released to the Western press. Auschwitz was liberated almost 3 months before the Allies crossed the Rhine and began to liberate the camps in the westen Reich. What the found was shocking, almost as if what the Soviets found at Auschwitz had not been publicized.

Reader Comment

A British reader writes, "Auschwitz is the only concentration I have visited. It resmbles medical facilities that used to exist on the edges of large towns and cities in England were mentally retarded adults and children lived. There were two parts to the camp as it now exists. The brick buildings resemble the English mental hospital. The Birkenau wooden structure a little further away is where the boy in the image you have was probably located. This is where the famous structure is where Speilburg imortalised in his 'Schindler's List'."


A-B Museum archive.

Blatman, Daniel. The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide (2011).

Duklauer Perl, Anna.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Longerich, Peter. Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews (2010).

Rees, Laurence. Auschwitz: Geschichte eines Verbrechens.

Schulz, Andreas, and Dieter Zinke. Deutschlands Generale und Admirale. (Teil V /Band 5). Die Generale der Waffen-SS und der Polizei, 1933-1945 (Schlake - Turner: 2011).


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Created: 1:39 PM 3/30/2008
Last updated: 4:28 PM 9/16/2020