Auschwitz-Auschwitz Birkenau

SS officers amidst building plans in the central offices of the Auschwitz Central Construction Directorate
Yad Vashem Photo Archive

This will not be a post explaining what Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau was, We all know that by now. This is post with various eye witness reports.

A former prisoner recalls the conditions inside the huts at Birkenau.

“On rainy days, the packed-earth floor of the huts turned into a swamp as a result of the lack of drainage.

These huts were originally intended to house 500 people. Building manager Dejaco’s order to build a third lower layer of bunks increased the huts’ capacity to 800-1000, and often, not 4 but 10-12 prisoners would lie on each bunk.”

Roman Frister, a survivor, a writer and journalist said the following of some of his experiences, particularly about the winter months.

“The seasons changed in accordance with nature’s logic, reminding us all of the existence of laws that never change: summer ended, fall followed suit, and winter burst into our lives, lashing at us with its whip of frost. Unlike the factory, which was pleasantly warm, the huts in the camp had never been heated; the heaters inside them were used as tables. After the evening roll-call, which lasted forever, or more accurately, until the Germans got fed up, there was nowhere we could warm up. We went to sleep without undressing, sometimes without taking off our shoes. The nights brought suffering, but for me, the waking moments were the worst. They forced me to make a choice. Each morning at 5, when the Blockaelteste’s whistle woke us up, I had to decide, yet again, if I was going to fight, or give up.”

An early blueprint of Crematorium II, Birkenau, dated November 1941. The blueprint provides an overview of the structure’s underground level, including the undressing chamber and the gas chamber. The two areas are collectively called the “Corpses Room” in the plan. The plan is signed by Oberführer Hans Kammler, Chief of Office Group C, the SS Construction Division.
Yad Vashem Archives

Pery Broad, or Perry Broad was a Brazilian non-commissioned officer in the Schutzstaffel (SS) active at Auschwitz from April 1942 to 1945. He reached the rank of SS-Unterscharführer while working as a translator and stenographer in the camp headquarters. As a prisoner after the war, he wrote a historically valuable account of the camp’s operation, dubbed the Broad Report

“A number of victims noticed that the covers had been removed from the six holes in the ceiling (of the gas chamber). They screamed in terror when a head, covered in a gas-mask, appeared at one of the holes. The “disinfectors” went to work…. Using a hammer and chisel, they opened some innocuous-looking tins which bore the inscription “Zyklon, to be used against vermin. Attention, poison! To be opened by trained personnel only.” As soon as the tins were opened, their contents were thrown through the holes, and the covers were replaced immediately… about two minutes later, the screams died down, and only muffled groans could be heard. Most of the victims had already lost consciousness. Two more minutes passed, and Grabner (one of the SS men) stopped looking at his watch. Absolute silence prevailed.”

Henri Kichka who was a Belgian Jewish survivor said:

“You did not live through Auschwitz. The place itself is death. It is the only concentration in the history of the world where a million people died. The only one, Auschwitz. It was horrible and now I am one of the last survivors.”

Women and children being led to the gas chambers in Birkenau, May 1944
Yad Vashem Photo Archive,

When the first reconnaissance units of the Soviet Red Army arrived as they drove the Nazis back west towards Germany, they found Auschwitz more or less deserted.

The Nazi guards had forced the starving, emaciated prisoners on “death marches” westwards, towards camps in Germany.

At this point, Henri Kichka, a tall young man of 19, weighed 39kg (85lb) and to this day he suffers from the injuries he sustained from the long march on broken and bleeding feet through the snows of January in Eastern Europe.

“I was 90% dead. I was a skeleton. I was in a sanatorium for months and in hospital.”

Henri lived to reach the age of 94, only to die from Covid on April 25,2020.

David Nencel was born into a religious Jewish family in Rypin (Poland) in 1916. In December 1942, he was deported to Auschwitz. He survived and was liberated from the Mauthausen satellite camp Ebensee in spring 1945. In Auschwitz, the SS put him into the Special Squad (Sonderkommando): prisoners who were forced to work at the crematoria and gas chambers. Speaking in 1996, he describes his deportation from the ghetto Maków Mazowiecki, the process of mass murder in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the anguish of Special Squad prisoners.



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