Holocaust Terms Notes #3 The Camps The Camps
Types of Camps: • Concentration Camps - Dachau • Slave Labor Camps - Mauthausan • Death Camps - Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc.
The first killing center was Chelmno, which opened in the Warthegau (part of Poland annexed to Germany) in December 1941. • Mostly Jews, but also Roma (Gypsies), were gassed in mobile gas vans there. • In 1942, the Nazis opened the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers (known collectively as the Operation Reinhard camps) to systematically murder the Jews of Poland.
Who were the Kapos? • Kapos supervised the prisoners in the camps and carried out the will of the SS and camp guards . • They were often as brutal as their SS counterparts. • Many of the Kapos were hardened criminals taken from the prisons. However, some were Jewish, and even they inflicted harsh treatment on their fellow prisoners.
Failure to perform their duties would have resulted in severe punishment and even death. They too had to go through selection. • After the war, the prosecution of Kapos as war criminals, particularly those who were Jewish, created an ethical dilemma which continues to this day.
In 1941 Hitler’s policy changed. He now intended to kill every Jew in Europe. The Final Solution had begun. • However, the Nazis were in a quandary as to what to do with their Jewish veterans from WWI. • Another problem was what to do with their Jewish intellectuals, writers, composers, conductors, actors, artists, and other world-famous people.
A final problem was how could they conceal what they were doing from the world and still kill every Jew in Europe? • Himmler solve this problem by creating a “model ghetto” in the small village of Terezin in the Czech Republic, also known as Thersienstadt.
The “Model Ghetto” of Terezin: • It would be inhabited by Jews and ruled by them. • The Czech police would patrol it. No SS men would be allowed within its walls. • It would have its own currency • It would be a gift from “the Fuhrer to the Jews” to prepare them for life in Palestine.
The Nazis would invite the Red Cross inside to inspect it. • Admission to Terezin would be sold to privileged and wealthy Jews, for tens of thousands of dollars. • However, upon arrival to Terezin, the Jews did not find the “gift” that they expected.
Terezin was built to hold a population of 8,000 people. Instead, 60,000 people were squeezed inside its walls. • Living conditions were poor and dysentery and typhus broke out and killed many. • It became a crime, punishable by death, to write letters to people outside of the ghetto.
The Red Cross inspected Terezin one time. For the inspection, the ghetto was cleaned up, consumer goods filled the store shop windows, people were nicely dressed and staged in strategic areas so they would be seen, and musicians played music in the streets. No prisoners were permitted to talk to the inspectors.
Before long, Terezin became merely a holding area for the trains that would eventually carry the residents off to death camps. • Despite the wretched conditions, culture thrived there. • The prisoners in this camp were Jewish scholars, doctors, engineers, singers diplomats, actors, composers, and artists.
Culture became a means to resist the Nazis. • The people in Terezin created a library of over 60,000 books. • There were so many musicians in Terezin, there could have been two full symphony orchestras performing simultaneously daily. • A number of distinguished composers created works at Terezin including a number of chamber compositions which only now are being resurrected and played in Europe and the United States.
Art lessons were taught to the children by world renowned artists. • The children created over 5,000 drawings, collages, and poems. • On May 8, 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Terezin. • One of the survivors, Willy Groag, was entrusted with two suitcases of children’s drawings and poems which he took to Prague.
The suitcase sat on a shelf for ten years before they were opened and the children’s poems and art work were rediscovered. They were put on exhibition and published in a book entitled, I Never Saw Another Butterfly.
In the ghetto itself, tens of thousands of people died, mostly from disease or starvation. In 1942, the death rate within the ghetto was so high that the Germans built--to the south of the ghetto--a crematorium capable of handling almost 200 bodies daily. • Before the arrival of the Soviet Army, the Nazis tried to destroy all evidence of what had happened there. The remains of the cremated victims which were stored in large vases were quickly emptied into the Ohre River which is still polluted from them.
Hundreds of thousands of victims passed through Terezin on their way to the various death camps. • Over 97,000 victims died at Terezin. • Of the 15,000 children incarcerated there, only 100 survived - none under the age of 14.
The Nazis’ largest concentration and extermination camp facility. • Located near the remote Polish town of Oshwiecim in a swampy area plagued with mosquitoes. • Established under the orders of Heinrich Himmler on April 27, 1940.
In September 1941, an experimental gassing was carried out at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 850 malnourished and ill prisoners were killed. • After that first gassing, mass murder became a daily routine.
The largest killing center was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which by spring 1943 had four gas chambers (using Zyklon B poison gas) in operation. At the height of the deportations, up to 10,000 Jews were gassed each day. • Over a million Jews and tens of thousands of Roma, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war were killed there by November 1944.
Over the following years the camp expanded to include these three main complexes that featured all three types of camps created by the Nazis: • Concentration • Slave labor • Death
Auschwitz I - a Concentration Camp • Auschwitz II-Birkenau - a Death Camp • Auschwitz III - Monowitz aka Buna - a Slave Labor Camp There were also 40 sub-camps.
Auschwitz I • Similar to most German concentration camps, Auschwitz I was constructed to serve three purposes: 1) to incarcerate real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime and the German occupation authorities in Poland for an indefinite period of time;
2) to have available a supply of forced laborers for deployment in SS-owned, construction-related enterprises (and, later, armaments and other war-related production);
3) To serve as a site to physically eliminate small, targeted groups of the population whose death was determined by the SS and police authorities to be essential to the security of Nazi Germany. Like most other concentration camps, Auschwitz I had a gas chamber and crematorium.
At Auschwitz I, SS physicians carried out medical experiments in the hospital, Block 10. • They conducted pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and dwarfs, and performed forced sterilizations, castrations, and hypothermia experiments on adults. • The best-known of these physicians was SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele.
Born in Bavaria before WWI to an upper middle class family. • Sent to school in Munich, Germany where he was attracted to the popular racial theories. • Received a medical degree from th Institute for racial Hygiene at the University of Frankfurt.
Mengele was a fanatic anti-Semite and he hated gypsies even more than he hated Jews. • He served as a medical officer when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. After being wounded and found unfit for active service, he was appointed to serve as a physician at Auschwitz in May 1943.
Dr. Mengele met the trains as they arrived and supervised the first “selection” of the prisoners. He would survey his prey and a motion of his thumb to the left meant immediate death, while a motion to the right meant a life in Hell. • Mengele became animated when he spotted a pair of twins on the trains. • He performed numerous “twin studies” and the twins were usually murdered after the experiment was over and their bodies dissected.
Mengele performed horrific experiments on children. Once he had two Gypsy children sewn together to create Siamese twins. • He injected chemicals into children’s eyes in an attempt to change their eye color. • He often performed surgeries without anesthesia, injected children with deadly diseases, performed sex change operations, removed organs and limbs, and studied incestuous impregnations.
The Daisy Game ala Mengele Mengele would play this game with a child. “He loves me, he loves me not, etc.” If the last petal to come off of the daisy was an “He loves me not” Mengele would have the child skinned alive.
Built nearly two miles from the main camp, Auschwitz I. • Large transports of Jews were brought from all over Europe in cattle cars and unloaded upon the dreaded ramp where SS officials, most notably Josef Mengele, made selections. • Loved ones were parted, families were split. Some were destined for Birkenau's gas chambers and one of its four crematoria.
Those not selected to die immediately in the gas chambers were sent to a particular Block within the camp. • These men and women worked long hours not knowing that their families had been murdered. • Many of these prisoners died from overwork, hunger, sickness, or were chosen for the crematoria in one of the many selections.
Prisoners were sectioned from each other with sixteen foot high electrified barbed wire fences, living only feet from the smokestacks of the crematoria.
Mechanized Murder: The Process • After the first selection upon exiting the train car, the healthy, if needed, would be taken to the work camp, and the sick, anyone under the age of 16 and over the age of 40 would be taken to the showers. • The shower areas were disguised underground facilities. The victims were told to undress and hang up their clothes, remembering where they were hanging them as they ‘d be back to get dressed.
Once full, the chambers were sealed shut and Zyklon B gas was released through the fake shower heads. All were dead minutes after the induction of the gas. Rudolf Hoss, commandant of the camp, personally observed the killing and described the process:
"It could be observed that those who were closest to the induction vents were killed at once. It can be said that about one-third died straightaway. The remainder staggered about and began to scream and struggle for air. The screaming, however, soon changed to the death rattle and in a few minutes all lay still. • "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard, and it was clear that they fought for their lives.”
The sealed door to the gas chamber was usually opened about thirty minutes after the gas was administered to be sure that there were no survivors. Ventilation was turned on and Sonderkommando prisoners were allowed to start moving the bodies to the mass graves and cremation area.
The Sonderkommando prisoners worked in several teams. The first group was in charge of removing the bodies from the gas chambers with large tongs that grasped the heads of the victims and pulled them out of the shower. This could take several hours to remove 2,000 bodies. • They wore gas masks so that unventilated gas would not harm them. • Before they transported the corpses with trolleys to deep pits, gold teeth and and other precious metals or jewelry were removed from the bodies.