Terror Of Auschwitz Essay, Research Paper
The Terror of Auschwitz
The Holocaust refers to any widespread human disaster, but it is more widely known as
the almost complete destruction of the Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany. During the 19th century,
European Jewry was being emancipated, and, in most European countries, Jews achieved some
equality of status with non-Jews. Nonetheless, at times Jews were vilified and harassed by
anti-Semitic groups. Indeed, some anti-Semites believed that Jewry was an alien “race” not
assimilable into a European culture, but they did not formulate any coherent anti-Semitic
campaign. In 1940, Germany began sending Jews to Concentration Camps, a place where selected
groups of people (Jews) are confined, usually for political reasons and under inhumane conditions.
One of the largest concentration camps was located thirty-seven miles west of Krakow,
Poland. Auschwitz was the camp where Jewish people were worked and killed. This
camp, out of all the rest tortured the most people.
Auschwitz began as a barracks camp in the town of Oswiecim, for the polish army
in the early 1930’s. Germany then captured Poland and needed another location for Polish
political prisoners. In 1940, the German SS sent a commission to Oswiecim to see if the
barracks there could be used. The first inspection reported that it could not be used,
however, a later inspection stated that after a few minor changes it would be useable. On
May 4, 1940 Rudolf Hoss officially established it as a German concentration camp. Hoss
was Auschwitz’s first commandant. Auschwitz was originally intended for Polish political
prisoners and other Poles. In June of 1940, the first load of prisoners arrived. 728 Poles
and a handful of Jews. Soon, though, it became a melting pot of prisoners. Male Czechs,
Soviets, Yugoslavs, Jews, and Gypsies; were housed there. Not until 1942 did women
arrive. In January of 1942 it was decided that Auschwitz would become the main Jewish
extermination camp. Thereafter cattle cars brought in ship loads of Jews monthly. They
were brought from all over in these filthy cars, going for days without food, water, or
washing facilities. Many times these cars were so crowded that people were simply
crushed to death. During the first few months of operation, Auschwitz simply housed the
Jews because an effective method for mass extermination had not yet been found. They
performed many experiments on the prisoners to find a gas that was cheap and quickly
effective. Also, they had not yet begun cremating the bodies so they had prisoners dig
huge trenches 15 ft. wide, 15 ft. deep, and 150 yds. long to bury them. These massive
holes would be filled within days. However, during the summer, the bodies bloated and
rotted and a disgusting purplish liquid began seeping up from these graves, smelling of bile
and rotting flesh. Nearby fish farmers complained that their fish were dying from pollution
caused by the rotting bodies. Some other way to deal with the prisoners had to be found,
especially since their numbers were increasing with every arrival. The Nazis then
discovered Zyklon B. It was a very effective killing gas. Since they were then able to kill
more efficiently, they had to find a more efficient means of disposing of the bodies. Soon,
mass crematoriums were erected, capable of burning 2,000 bodies in a single day. Upon
arrival at camp, doctors made selections as to who would live and perform slave labor.
The others would be gassed. Two lines would be formed, one going in the direction of the
camp, and the other leading toward the ’shower rooms’. Those not selected for the ‘life’
line were told that they would be going to the showers for ‘delousing’. They were made to
fold their clothes neatly and put them in piles and march, naked, to the ’showers’. Those
rooms were equipped with fake shower heads and benches, but none of the shower heads
worked. The Jews would be herded into these rooms and the doors would lock. Then
vents in the ceiling would open and granules of Zyklon B would be released. Within 15
minutes, they would all be dead. Thirty minutes after they died, authorities would open the
doors and let it air out for two or three hours. Then they would send in slaves to remove
the bodies, taking them to the crematorium. The prisoners chosen for the ‘life’ line may
have had the worst fate though.
The conditions at Auschwitz were unthinkable. Prisoners slept six people to a
bunk, which was made for two. These bunks rose 6 feet high, sometimes with so much
weight on the tops of them, they would collapse and kill all the ones underneath. Sleep
was impossible for most though, beds were hard plank boards, over crowded and infested
with lice, ticks and bed bugs. The rats were so bad that if a prisoners died in the middle of
the night, the rats would have eaten him to the point where recognition was impossible.
Every morning prisoners had to stand or squat for hours at a time for roll call. They also
had to bring out the bodies of anyone who had died during the night and hold them up to
be counted. Then they were sent off to work. Work was long hours of hard labor building
more barracks, adding to the camp, or going off to the German factories. The Nazis rented
out slave labor very cheaply to the industries in the area. Some had a lunch of cabbage
stew, but those away on work crews did not. After work was another roll call, lasting for
hours. The living holding up the bodies of those who had died while working. Dinner for
the prisoners was rotten meat, stale bread, and ‘coffee’ made of warm, dirty water. Those
who had missed lunch were also given cold pulpy cabbage stew that had been poured at
noon. Prisoners were supposed to be broken and dehumanized. The Nazis shaved all their
body hair and took all their possessions. They were allowed 15 minutes every day to use
the lavatories. All 1,500 prisoners (per bunker) had 15 minutes to go to the bathroom with
no privacy whatsoever in the mornings before work. They weren’t allowed to go while
they were at work, and if they did, the punishment was so severe that few survived it.
The ‘Hospital’ was dreadful. The prisoners referred to it as the crematorium
waiting room. If one didn’t heal fast enough to suit the authorities, they gave him an
injection of phenol to the heart or they sent him to the gas chambers. There wasn t any
medication. The only advantage to the hospital was that one could spend his last few days
lying down rather than working. Many were sick but afraid to go to the hospital. As a
result, typhus and diarrhea were an epidemic.
The SS was corrupt. They would select the best rations for themselves and then
sell the stolen goods on the black market. The prisoners got whatever was left, no matter
how meager or rotted it was. SS officers however were fat and pig like. They had parties
where they were served pork sausages, potatoes, and vegetables by the women prisoners.
The professional criminals (burglars, murderers, rapists) at Auschwitz were entrusted with
special jobs. They were called ‘kapos’. It was the kapos job to wake prisoners in the
morning, beating them with sticks if they didn’t move fast enough. They also administered
some of the punishments, floggings and beatings mostly. Kapos were also not required to
do the menial slave labor. Punishment at Auschwitz was sever and biased. If an SS officer
didn’t like a particular prisoner for some reason then that poor prisoner was tormented and
beaten until the SS was satisfied, usually when the prisoner died. They had many ways of
punishing people. You could be beaten, flogged (75-100 lashes), or just plain shot. They
were creative and came up with many torments just to amuse themselves. They might
make you stand holding rocks over your head for one of the long roll call and shoot you if
you drop them. The SS might also force you to beat or torture your friends or family. The
worst thing they could do to you however was send you to Cell Block 11. Cell Block 11
was a torture chamber. There were ’standing’ cells, four feet square that prisoners were
packed into, sometimes twenty at a time. These cell had no room to lie down or even sit.
The ventilation consisted of two inch squares covered over with heavy wire mesh to deter
escape attempts. Many people suffocated, after being left in them for hours or days at a
time. Even if you did survive a standing cell you still had to go to work that day. Cell
Block 11 also contained starvation cells. These cells accommodated fifty people or more.
Prisoners were put here to die if one of them attempted to escape. They would lick the
walls and drink their own urine to stay alive just a little bit longer, some even resorted to
cannibalism. Outside Block 11 more murders took place. It was there that they held their
hangings and floggings. One wall was covered in cork and the ground in sand to help
absorb the blood from all the shootings that took place there. Cell Block 10 was just as
bad, it was here that ‘Doctor’ Menegal did his infamous research on twins and sterilization.
They tried many drugs and new procedures on helpless prisoners. They would inject
poisonous chemicals and compounds into the prisoners, just to see if some of them might
live. Most of them died of course. On a regular day in Cell Block 10 they would perform
mass sterilization, castrating around ninety Jewish men. Approximately twice that many
women were sterilized daily. They performed brain surgery and amputations just for
practice and send samples off to labs in other places. Prisoners would be given deadly
viruses to test antibiotics. They did experiments on pregnant women and their fetuses.
Many things they did were unthinkable.
Winter at Auschwitz was even worse. They had to stand outside for hours at a
time in the freezing snow and sleet for roll call every morning and every night. Frostbite
was very common, and after frostbite gangrene usually set in killing the already weak
prisoners within days.
In late 1945, Allies bombed the railroads that took the shiploads of Jews to
Auschwitz. It didn’t end the killing there though. The SS, knowing that liberation for the
Jews was probably coming soon started killing all the elite prisoners and the decorated
Jewish military men, the gypsies, and the kapos. Then in a frenzy, burned as many of their
incriminating files as they could before they fled taking all the prisoners able to march with
them. Today very few of the files from Auschwitz remain. Those prisoners left in the
camp, too sick or weak to walk were liberated a few days later by the Russian Army.
However only half of them lived to see the next week. All of that is in the past now
though. Today Auschwitz still stands. It has become a Polish museum honoring all the
Jews that died there.