LIFE IN THE CAMPS
Everything was planned. The SS set out to break morale, wipe out every
trace of human feeling, to drive fear, dread and panic into the people. Guards with rifle butts and clubs marched them into
camps. At the entrance to Auschwitz, they passed under a huge gate with its inscription Arbeit Macht Frei Work means Freedom
At Buchenwald it said Jedem Das Sein Each Gets What He Deserves
Bullied, bleeding, yelled at, they were put into an unheated room and
told to undress. Their baggage had already gone, now their clothes and jewellery were to go. Then the barbers came, mens hair
and beards were shaved, womens hair was clipped close to the skull, even armpits etc were shaved. They were then moved to
the showers, no soap, no towel and even no water. Shivering, then were then disinfected with a sticky foul smelling liquid.
They were given clothes, not knowing that these were the clothes of others killed shortly before. After this they were given
numbers. These were tattooed in blue on the left forearm in Auschwitz. For not knowing this number from now on could lead to being beaten or shot,
having nowhere to sleep and no food or water.
They had nothing, only a number and they realised they had reached the
One SS commander named Krause on a visit to Auschwitz,
noticed a low number on an inmates arm, which meant he had been there a long time. He said that a prisoner should not survive
more than six weeks and it meant that they had adapted and must be killed immediately.
Every event in the camp was planned to break down minds and bodies. If
he did not starve, he would die of disease, if not by that then by murder, if that did not finish him, then hard work 15 hours
a day would and if after all this, he
still lived then
it would be the gas chamber.
The barracks were called blocks, meant for 500, they held nearly 2000.
Four or five people per bunk, head to toe, they laid on filthy straw.
Up at 4am, rushed into a field, for roll call. The numbers had to match,
if one was missing, roll call would go on for 3, 10, 24 hours. Even those who died during the night, had to be dragged to
roll call. Many of them passed out from illness, starvation, in a way this was a selection. If a guard thought something was
wrong, even if it wasnt, in other words, for reasons that were not serious they would be punished, beaten or shot. At Auschwitz and other camps they had to march to work to music.
There were Kapos leaders from the prisoners, usually they were favoured
by the SS, criminals or murderers. They had better food and living quarters. But they too could meet death if the SS thought
that they were getting soft.
Disease ran rampant. There were no changes of clothes they were rarely
if ever allowed to wash. The lice and fleas caused typhus and dysentery which claimed thousands of lives.
Sport also took its toll. Inmates were forced to do push-ups and other
things in the mud and were flogged or shot when they dropped. Holding stones above their heads till they were told to put
them down. Tag was played, the loser being shot. Target practice guards would aim at fingers and toes, then shoot them because
they were no longer fit for work.
The food, if you can call it that, was watery salt less soup made of
rotten vegetables and tainted meat, a few ounces of dry bread and tea. Not fit to eat but a feast to the starving. They would
eat grass, steal from the dead anything, hunger was the greatest torment.
One inmate recalls I had sores on my feet that would not heal, I pushed
wagons, used shovels, I turned rotten in the rain. I shivered in the wind, my belly was swollen, my limbs emaciated, my skin
thick in the morning, hollow in
Sometimes yellow skin, sometimes grey
Some flung themselves at the electrified fences, others were the walking
dead. Those who had died inside a long time ago, just waiting for the exterior to die and that did not take long coming.
These were made by the camp or the block. Doctors would select by the
inmates numbers. Anyone too sick was an automatic choice as was anyone who passed out or wouldnt stand up straight. They did
not always die at that time, it could take hours or days. In Auschwitz, it was block 25 that they were moved too, then it
was only a matter of time.
Hard as it is to believe, some Jews did survive the camps. If someone
was to survive, they had to get round the regulations. It was one word Organize Organisation meant to steal, buy, exchange,
get hold of whatever you wanted from clothes to food. Things that most people would throw away, would mean life o death to
an inmate. People could be bribed, even some SS.
Loners did not last long. You had to help each other to survive even
one day. Some behaved just like the SS just to survive. They dealt out cruelty and the lied, cheated and stole. They had to
be selfish to live. They had to survive to tell the world what had happened in these camps. They had hopes and dreams even
in this terrible world.
Why didnt they fight back? Why was there no resistance? But they did,
in many ways. Not many survived to tell and the Nazis side cannot be reliable, why should THEY tell the truth.
Sabotage was everywhere and often. Key people would be too sick to work,
an important piece of machinery would break down. Coal trucks were allowed to run off rails, conveyor belts mysteriously caught
fire. In sewing
uniform sleeves were closed, buttonholes left uncut, zippers not lined up. Shoes were repaired with glue that dissolved in
water. Sand and alcohol went into gas tanks.
Three-quarters of the guns made at Buchenwald were returned as defective.
Of the 10,000 V1 and V2 rockets made at Dora-Mittellau, less than half reached their target. At Dauchau, tanks were sabotaged,
at Ravensbruck munitions and spare parts. Sachsenhausen were planes with fatal flaws and in Nevenganme, U-boats were the target.
Nazi regulations were designed to make life impossible, both in the camps
and in the ghettos. To obey them meant to die sooner or later, to disobey them meant to die immediately. So, they were obeyed
as much as was necessary and disobeyed as much as possible.
War was waged against starvation by smuggling food. The sick were helped
wherever possible. For a Jew, life was a defiance of nazi wishes. They hid women who were about to give birth so that they
wouldnt be killed. They substituted a dead person to save another from the gas. In these kingdoms of death they took enormous
Survivors and Nazis recall the rebellions. Gestapo were pelted with acid
and bullets in Amsterdam, a Polish butcher who had been shot but not killed leapt at an SS commander and ripped out his throat
with his teeth. Guards were attacked and seriously injured. Guards at Treblinka had grenades thrown at them. 2000 at Sobibor
tore the freight car and attacked them with wood, a son grabbed a guard for stopping him saying goodbye to his mother, hundreds
escaped from one train after killing several guards. Stories like this one came from all over the place from survivors and
in Nazi records.
Escape from the deportation trains was dangerous because of the speed
but also the floors had to be ripped up in order for anyone to try and escape. Many died beside the tracks. A lot died in
the woods or they were caught and deported again. In the camps they found similar problems ifg they got to the woods. Plus
the SS had dogs. They were soon found. Of the 667 escapes from Auschwitz only 76 were known to have succeeded. Secrecy was
essential and only a few trusted were told. Clothes, money, food had to be smuggled in and hidden. Workers from the outside
were essential for maps, safe routes and people who would help, they were well paid, while others watched from the towers.
The moment a prisoner was missing from roll call, the search began. If
they werent found in the camp, sirens went off and dozens of SS went with their dogs aided by local police, searching every
inch of the ground. If he survived this, he faced a dangerous journey on foot to be safe. If he was caught by the Nazi sympathizers,
he might remain alive. Four people who escaped were responsible for getting the news out of the gas chambers etc.
Most resistance came when the Jews realised that instead of savage cruelty
and slavery ahead of them but planned and pitiless extermination. By mid 1942, at least half the population of the ghettos
had been deported. By 1943 the killing machine had slowed down. Revolt was secretly organised in the underground. They had
their problems, no aid from non-Jews, betrayed by others. Many died under torture or were gassed before plans could be carried
When they got hold of guns and ammunition, their bravery and
took the Nazis by surprise. As Goebbels confided once One sees what Jews can do when armed When they had no arms, they used
sticks, boiling water, iron bars, acid and their bare hands.
Almost all who revolted in the ghettos or the camps were killed. The
camps did not stop because of rebellious crowds. The end of the war saw to that. A small number fled, to die in the woods,
a few joined the Partisans and a fewer still lived till the end of the war. They had almost all died but they had torn the
decision away from the nazis. These died in a way they had chosen.
DAY TO DAY IN THE CAMPS
travelling for 30 hours, they had to walk to the camp, where money and anything else of value was taken from them. They were
then separated immediately and kept in rooms of 17 each. They had to lie on the floor with straw without tables or chairs
or any other furniture. Food was served after queuing in all weathers outside in the courtyards. No-one was allowed outside
the courtyards or turn on any lights. A ten hour day with no days off. People turned into skeletons and most of their relations
or friends were dead, some by suicide.
Bres Lauver On
the way we were told of the suffering that awaited us, the opposite of what wed been told in Berlin. We saw old people shuffling along to the station to be transported to the east.
We didnt know till the end of the war what those transports meant.
On our transport we saw a hearse, no horses, people were pulling it and no coffin, it was full of bread. This became an every
day sight. Where were the apartments, the old peoples homes. Stuffed through two doors, we could see people in rags lying
on the floor or on wooden frames. Some being led to get food, carrying a little bowl. This was our home.
An SS man told us that we had come to a real paradise and to wait till we got to Auschwitz.
They shave your hair off there, youll just be a number, two months later you go to the gas chambers. Its a pity, you dont
look like a Jew.
was a constant bickering over bedding, who had ore room, no-one got much sleep. We were constantly moved, I myself moved 17
Paula Frahm We
got up at 6am, washed as best we could, drank coffee which wasnt warm and took a great delight if we were given 5 pieces of
toilet paper and a small piece of soap.
FOOD OR LACK OF IT
Bursova I was in the camp for 3 years, aged between 7 and 10 years. Most of the kitchens were in the open courtyards. The
lines were very long. Worse in winter. Breakfast was coffee, dinner was a very watery soup, a potato and a small amount of
meat sauce. Supper was soup. By the time most people got to the food, it was cold and so were they. In the early years when
I read that in famine-affected camps people looked for food in dumps and bins, I couldnt believe it was possible. Here I saw
it was not only possible but was an everyday fact. Vegetable remains, potato peelings were valuable treasures. Bread, you
got one slice a day and the meat you got was rotten, foul smelling horse meat. Not even a mouse could live. Food parcels did
arrive fro people sometimes and they were hidden and selfishly kept by the person. But one lady called Heidi, received one
parcel in all her time at the camp. Beaming with joy, she shared it with 25 other women in the room. She died later in Auschwitz.
HEALTH AND DISEASE
Lice , bedbugs were amongst the nasties that the people had to put up
with. They caused Typhus etc, One person relates:- I personally killed 30 in my bed, 40-50 on the wall every morning and slept
on the stone floor in the end because it was better. The only way to exterminate the lice and bedding was to burn Theresienstadt
from end to end.
Work was also compulsory except for the blind, the dying and chronically
ill. It consisted of a 10 hour day and by the beginning of 1944, there were 1180 women to every 1000 men working. This shows
the number of women
2600 manual labour
510 youth work
Mica, used as
an essential war mineral was worked on by many. Work consisted of cutting thin strips from a block that was 50cm in size.
Peoples eyes watered after about 30 minutes as the glare from the mica was so strong. After 3-4 hours, their eyes were bleeding
and feel was the only way to work. Most of the population was made up of old people and many fell victims to the diseases
of the camps. Therefore medical staff were in high demand. One lady, Dr Martha Wygodzinsky, was in her 70s and made her rounds
as a nurse on swollen feet, ill with diarrhoea and typhus, that eventually would kill her.
and exhaustion coupled with hunger caused the most deaths. At one point the daily toll was 150. One recalls several coffins
were loaded on a pushcart and brought outside the camp for burial in a mass grave. The coffins were reused after each burial.
I walked behind the pushcart carrying my father until I reached the gates, then
I wasnt permitted to go any further.
Death was commonplace that people were used to it and viewed it as a
release from the prevailing conditions. They spoke of death as casually as talking about having a drink. It was less feared
that the transports. Suicide, although forbidden by the SS, did happen, often. To the outside world, a lovely place to live,
from the inside terror. This terror was exemplified by an event that took place on 13 th November 1943. This also reminded the people that the camp was a prison and they could be annihilated at any time. It
happened as follows:-
It was a dismal, cloudy day and quite unsuitable for any excursion. About
35, 000 people were involved and the field was surrounded by soldiers. They could have counted us more easily but that would
not have been torture for the Jews. When we were completely frozen to the bone the
order was given
to return. We had to march in the dark, not easy with 35, 000 people. This was all done to try and break us and also to determine
how many Jews were left to gas.
The issue of survival in the concentration camp is a major theme in Holocaust
studies but it is a particular nasty one with regard to theresienstadt because it was founded and run on deceit. Adler makes
the following distinctions between this and other camps, in the main Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, sheer despair was supreme and the reality of the situation
was recognised. Even if some vital, indestructible spark still flickered or if a person could escape in spirit by some magical
way into a more pleasant way, reality was never the less seen for what it was and basically nobody was deceived. It was not
that way in Theresienstadt, where almost anything could be repressed, where illusion ran rampant and merely dampened by anxiety,
suffered everything that lay under thick fog. Truth occasionally emerged from the darkness, touched the people and after giving
them a little scare, let them fall back again into the pretence of living.
TRANSPOTATION AND LIBERATION
Up till now we have dealt with people coming into the camp. Transports
from the camp constitute a separate and even more painful subject. Unless you possibly knew someone in authority. It was inevitable
you would be on one of the transports out. By the autumn of 1944, everyone was liable to be on a transport , including the
Jewish Elders. No-one knew the implications of the words Birkenau or Auschwitz or so they thought. A woman someone met after
the war, showed someone a birkenau card dated march 25th. It was sent to her by her sisiter in Birkenau. The woman
had given her sister a code before she went, if the writing slants up, everything is alright, if it slants down, we are going
to die. It slanted down.
Most transports consisted of 1200 to 1500 people and in the autumn of
1944, over 15-20,000 people went to Poland. Two sisters Ruth and Eva
saved from the gas chambers because they were twins and were subjects of the notorious Dr Mengele. But they watched their
father walk into the chambers and there was nothing they could do. Barely 100 children survived out of 15,00 that left Theresienstadt.
Towards the end of the war, march 1945, to their amazement transports
came back from very different camps in Poland and Germany. Living corpses, so weak that the majority of them died, 25 people
dropped dead as soon as hot water touched them in the showers. No-one looked human any more, they looked more like wild animals.
Young though most were, they looked old. They were swarming with lice, covered in ulcers and running sores, wearing thin rags.
Some eyes were clouded by the suffering and were indifferent to their fate. Others were shining as they greedily swallowed
every scrap of food. Many had not come by train but had walked hundreds of miles. One person sums up the feeling so many had
I survived all my illnesses and deliberate humiliation without permanent physical and emotional damage and now I was actually
on my way home. What a joyful feeling. Free of fear and hunger and vermin and tortures. What a glorious feeling. To be free
again not to be a sub-human, deformed, oppresses, guarded, faltered but a free person like other people.
THE DEATH CAMPS
Situated on the marshy tract between the Vitula and its estuary, the
Sola, 160 miles south of Warsaw, the camp was built in an
unfavourable location surrounded by stagnant ponds, smelly and full of germs. The place was originally military barracks and
later a tobacco factory. It was opened in 1940, after the defeat of Poland
and later was greatly expanded.
Spezialeinrichtungen ( special Installations) were added, including Badenstalten
(bath houses) used for gassing and Leichenkeller (corpse celler for storage of bodies). An experienced concentration camp
staff, composed of SS members, was sent to Auschwitz to carry out the Final Solution. The
staff was composed of Lageralteste (camp seniors), the Blockalteste (block seniers), Stubendienst ( room orderlies) and kapos
(foreman of the individual huts)
Death transports flowed to this large complex of buildings, including
victims from all over Europe, 400,000 from Hungary, 250,000 from Poland, 100,000 from Germany, 90,000 from
the Netherlands, 90,000 from Slovakia,
65,000 from Greece and 11,000 from France.
On May 1st, 1940, SS Hauptsturmfehrer (captain) Rudolf Franz
Hoss was transferred from Sachsenhausen. The next year Himmler inspected Auschwitz and gave
orders to enlarge the camp at nearby Birenau. The first Jews to arrived in 1941, those unfit for work were gassed in temporary
chambers run by tank engines, later special crematoria were set up to implement the Final Solution.
It is estimated that from 1 to 4 million people died in gas ovens and
other methods at this camp. The leading SS officers who worked at Auschwitz were tried at
Frankfurt am Main in December 29th 1963 to August 20th, 1965.
Originally a labour camp, Belzac was founded by SS Brigadefuhrer Odilo
Globcnik, who in 1941 became head of all death camps in Poland.
There were no non-jewish inmates not was there any industrial activity. The
Business of Belzac
was the gassing of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Originally the gassing took place in a shack known as the Heckenbolt Foundation
after Sergeant Heckenboldt, who ran the diesal engine that distributed exhaust fumes used for gassing. In August 1942, Zyklon-B
was used for the first time at Belzac. It was declared more humane and used at several of the other camps.
This was located in the Birkenau woods near Auschwitz. It was constructed
in 1941 on orders from Himmler as a special killing centre for 100,000 Russian prisoners. Two old farm buildings were made
airtight by strong wooden doors. Prisoners were unloaded from nearby vans and separated into those fit for work and those
to die. The latter were required to undress at the doors of the Disinfectionsraum (the disinfections chambers) and were sent
in 250 at a time. After the doors were closed, Zyklon-B was thrown in. Later the doors were opened and the bodies were removed
by prisoner detail and burned in pits lined with rags soaked in paraffin. Six to seven hours were necessary to cremate 100 bodies in one burial pit.
One of the extermination camps in Poland, it was set up at Chelmno in
the middle of the Warta river region, as a strictly local enterprise for the Jews of the area.
Chelmno later became one of the more important killing centres in occupied Poland.
There were no industrial activities in this camp not were there any non-Jew
inmates. From all over Poland, sick Jews were resettled in Chelmno. The deportees were brought to a large mill in the nearby
village of Chelmno, where
was collected and they were gassed. The camp guards received a bonus of 15 Reichmarks per day because of the dangerous duty
in that they were exposed to infection. Chelmno achieved a special reputation among extermination camps because of its efficient
bone crushing machine. In the summer of 42, Himmler sent a special commando unit to Chelmno to destroy the mass graves by
fire and dynamite.
Located in Poland about 2 miles from Lublin, it was regarded as in the
same class as Belzac and Sobibor. Was originally a labour camp but was transformed into a death camp under Odilo Globocnik.
At first death was induced by carbon monoxide but later Zyklon-B. It is estimated that 1.5 million inmates were gassed here.
After Russian troops discovered the camp in 1944, a soviet writer, wrote a full account of the death camp. A special issue
of the London Illustrated News carried photos of the gas chambers and ovens.
Located near the Bug river this was one of the four camps in the Lublin
area. This was a killing centre for Jews, including children and no selection was made. Victims were brought to the camp in
unventilated vans and all but a handful were gassed on arrival. On October 14th 1943 about 150 inmates broke out.
Some 35, 000 Dutch Jews were sent to Sobibor, most of their corpses were burned in open pits, along with Treblinka and Belzac,
it was evacuated in the fall of 43.
Located at Malkinia Goma on the Bug river, it was exclusively a death
camp. More than 80,000 prisoners were gassed at Treblinka in the six months before the spring of 42. Mass expulsions of Jews
began on July 22, 1942 with one train a day bringing 5,000 to treblinka.
After being unloaded from the trains, the prisoners were told that they
were to be bathed
and then classified under various signs :- tailors, hat-makers etc. Instead they were taken to the bath-house where they were
sprayed with gas instead of water. The bath house did not always work, some suffered shock etc until they were forced into
the rooms by guards with whips. On August 2, 1943 after secreting hand grenades and rifles stolen from the camp arsenal, the
prisoners rushed the guards. About 150 to 200 of the then 700 inmates got away but they were hunted down one by one. Only
about 12 survived.