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Holocaust Terms Notes #3
The Camps
The Camps
Types of Camps:
• Concentration Camps - Dachau
• Slave Labor Camps - Mauthausan
• Death Camps - Auschwitz, Treblinka,
• 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
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
• 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
• Another problem was what to do with their
Jewish intellectuals, writers, composers,
conductors, actors, artists, and other worldfamous 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
– 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
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
• One of the survivors, Willy Groag, was
entrusted with two suitcases of children’s
drawings and poems which he took to
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 AuschwitzBirkenau, and 850 malnourished and ill
prisoners were killed.
• After that first gassing, mass murder
became a daily routine.
• The largest killing center was AuschwitzBirkenau, 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
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,
enterprises (and, later,
armaments and other
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
Between the crema torium and the me dical - experiments barrack
stood the "Black Wall," where SS guards executed thousands of
• 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.
Dr. Josef Mengele, the Angel
of Death
• 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
• 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.
Block 11 of Auschwitz I - Torture Area
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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.
Entrance to Crematorium II at Birkenau
• 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
• "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.
Remains of a gas chamber in Crematorium I
• 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.
Gold Teeth Removed from
• They also had a crew ready to shave all of
the body hair from the victims which was then
sold to furniture factories as stuffing or to
make felt, a type of fabric.
• If in the course of the sporadic inspections it
was established that not all gold had been
extracted from the mouths, the
Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was
punished by being thrown alive into the
cremation furnace.
Bales of Human Hair at
Over Two Tons of Human Hair
Remained at Auschwitz
• Bodies were carted away and were stacked
and layered like cord wood to await
• Since the entire area was floodlit, the work
could be carried out day and night.
• Each time the gas chambers were emptied,
Sonderkommando prisoners whitewashed the
walls and washed the floors. (Why???)
• The ovens were specifically constructed to
turn human remains into ashes.
• Bodies were placed on a stretcher and slid
into the furnace onto a grill.
• Most furnaces had the capacity of
incinerating three corpses in 20 minutes.
• This process was actually accelerated to
cremate four to five corpses in 25 to 30
• Overloading of the furnaces caused the
camp authorities to improvise and burn
corpses outdoors.
• This was done at the same rate as the
collective use of all the furnaces: about
five thousand in 24 hours per pit.
• Therefore the combined capacity of all
the incineration installations reached a
staggering number of 20,000
victims/day by the summer of 1944.
• Hitler wished to remove the Jews from
history; "to make them not" -- die
Vernichtung was his ultimate goal.
• Incinerating them by the millions fulfilled
his maniacal wishes.
• Cremation turned victims into ashes that
were disposed of like unwanted
• The remains of corpses would fall through the
grill into the ash pit.
• The ashes would be emptied into pits outside
the crematorium, disposed of in nearby ponds
or rivers, used to prepare compost, or used to
fertilize the fields of the camp farms.
• Human ashes were used as plant food.
• With unimpeded operation, the furnaces were
able to cremate a combined approximation of
five thousand corpses daily.
• Mass graves were camouflaged and
isolated from the view of those still alive.
Unless they were told by a
Sonderkommando prisoner or an SS
guard, new transports knew nothing of
what was in store for them.
• The SS guards could not handle the volume
of work involved in the mass killings within the
death camps. Therefore, they used Jewish
prisoners within the camps. They were known
as the Sonderkommando - “Special
• The Sonderkommandos had to clear the
dead bodies out of the gas chambers,
dispose of the bodies, and remove the hair
and gold teeth from the corpses.
The Sonderkommando
Crematorium oven at Birkenau with
• Who became Sonderkommando?
Young males in good health were the obvious
For those at the death camps, the choice was
simple - immediate death in the gas
chambers or work for the SS.
However, belonging to the Sonderkommando
only prolonged the inevitable.
The SS were determined to ensure that there
were no witnesses to the crimes committed at
the death camps.
• The men in the Sonderkommando were
condemned to die one way or another.
• If they refused to do what the SS
required them to do, they were shot on
the spot or sent straight to the gas
The Perks of Being a
• At most of the death camps, the
Sonderkommando lived 'better' lives than
other prisoners.
• They were kept segregated from other
prisoners still alive in the camps.
• The Sonderkommando usually got more food
and could frequently wear their own clothing.
However, they were always living on
borrowed time.
• Saturday, October 7, 1944, the men in
Birkenau III Crematorium Sonderkommando
rose up against their SS guards. They were
joined by Birkenau Crematorium I
• The transports from Hungary were slowing
down and there had been over 800
Sonderkommando to dispose of these
• The Sonderkommando knew that the SS
would not let them live when they didn’t need
them to work in the crematoria. After 300
Sonderkommando were gassed, the rest,
who had managed to secure explosives,
• They blew up a crematorium and threw three
SS guards into the ovens alive . In the
ensuing shoot-out, 300 of the Sonderkommando were killed although 27 cut
through the barbed wire and did manage to
escape and make their way back to Germany.
• The revolt at the Crematoria was the
only armed revolt in Auschwitz and had
a profound moral impact. It encouraged
the prisoners, aroused their faith and
hope that they would be privileged to
see the end of the war.
“Canada” aka “Kanada”
A series of special warehouses known
collectively as "Kanada." (Named this
because the Nazis thought that Canada was
a wealthy country!)
Located in Birkenau, it consisted of six storage
barracks near the main camp.
• It served as the central facility for sorting
material looted from arriving Jewish and nonJewish prisoners and preparing this material
for future reutilization.
• From 1942 to 1943, between 1,000 and 1,600
male and female prisoners worked in two
shifts, emptying the suitcases of the prisoners
and inspecting clothing from the dressing
rooms of the gas chambers for jewelry and
money that could be sewn into hems and
linings of clothing.
• The prisoners considered the labor squads in
Kanada as privileged, since there they had
the chance to obtain food, clothing, and other
• Items pilfered from Kanada warehouses
could be traded for other items on the black
market within the Auschwitz complex.
Suitcases at Kanada
Spectacles taken from victims
The Smallest
Children were
often killed upon
Children born in
the camp were
killed on the spot
along with their
mothers. This was
considered to be a
“humane” act by
the Nazis.
Auschwitz III - Buna
Slave Labor Camp
Auschwitz III
• Of the three Nazi concentration camps
located near the town of Auschwitz, the
Auschwitz III camp, also known as
Monowitz, was the most important to
the Nazis because of its factories which
were essential to the German war effort.
• The Monowitz industrial complex was
built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in
April 1941.
• The Jews who were sent to Auschwitz, and
then assigned to work at Monowitz, had a
much better chance of survival because the
factory workers were considered too valuable
to send to the gas chambers, at least while
they were still able to work.
• Two famous survivors who worked at
Monowitz were Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi,
both of whom wrote extensively about the
• The factories at Monowitz were built by the IG
Farben company, which was attempting to
produce synthetic rubber, called Buna.
• Farben executives intended to exploit
concentration camp labor to manufacture
synthetic rubber and fuels.
• I.G. Farben invested more than 700 million
Reichsmarks (about 1.4 million U.S. dollars in
1942 terms) in Auschwitz III.
• Prisoners selected for forced labor were
registered and tattooed with
identification numbers on their left arms
in Auschwitz I.
• They were then assigned to forced labor
at the main camp or elsewhere in the
complex, including the subcamps.
• Conditions inside Auschwitz III were
harsh and brutal, as you will see when
you read Elie Wiesel’s book, Night.
• On November 25, 1944, Himmler ordered the
demolition of the Auschwitz gas chambers and
Prisoners were put to work to take apart the
installations. Openings were made for dynamite
charges to blow up the entire structure.
• The last crematorium was blown up a day before the
liberation of the camp. Some were to remove the
ashes from the incineration pits and cover them with
• The Nazis were only partially successful
in obliterating the traces of their crimes.
• They had no time to remove the ruins of
the dynamited compounds. The
underground "undressing rooms" and
gas chambers of two crematoria
remained relatively intact.
In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces
approached the Auschwitz camp complex,
the SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its
satellite camps.
Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced to march
west from the Auschwitz camp system.
Thousands had been killed in the camps in the
days before these death marches began.
Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews,
were forced to march to the city of Wodzislaw
in the western part of Upper Silesia.
SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could
not continue. Prisoners also suffered from the
cold weather, starvation, and exposure on
these marches.
More than 15,000 died during the death
marches from Auschwitz.
On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered
Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000
remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and
• In the 1990s, it was estimated that at
Auschwitz alone, there were 1.35 million
Jewish victims and a total of 1.5 million
Auschwitz victims.
• This is a staggering number since
roughly 6 million died in the Holocaust.
Wall at Auschwitz today
• Established in March 1933, this was the
first concentration camp created by the
Nazis for political prisoners.
• It was located at a former munitions
factory about 10 miles outside of
Munich, Germany.
• In 1933 there were about 4,800 prisoners, but
by 1937 it held over 13,260.
• The first prisoners were German
Communists, Social Democrats, and other
political prisoners.
• Over time Jehovah ‘s Witnesses, Gypsies
homosexuals and repeat criminals were sent
to Dachau. Very few Jews were sent to
Dachau in the early years.
• Dachau was a training camp for SS
guards being sent to other camps.
• It was the model camp that the other
camps imitated.
• The camp had 32 barracks, including
one for clergy imprisoned for opposing
the Nazis.
• One barrack was also used for medical
experiments on prisoners. Hundreds of
prisoners died or were permanently crippled
by these experiments.
• The camp was surrounded by an electrified
barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with
seven guard towers.
• A crematorium area was constructed in 1942,
but prisoners that failed selection were sent
to euthanasia killing centers for gassing.
• Executions at Dachau were by firing range or
gallows rather than gassing.
• Dachau prisoners were used for forced
labor first in the operation of the camp
and construction projects, as well as
• The number of prisoners in Dachau
between 1933 and 1945 was around
188,000. Of these at least 28,000 are
confirmed deaths, but the total number
of victims in Dachau will never be
• On April 26, 1945, American forces
were approaching Dachau.
• There were 67,665 prisoners: 43,350
political prisoners, 22,100 Jews, and the
remainder from various other groups.
• On this day the Germans forced more
than 7,000 Jewish prisoners on a death
march to Tegernsee far to the south.
• On this death march any prisoner that
couldn’t continue was shot and many others
died from hunger, cold, or exhaustion.
• Dachau was liberated by the Americans on
April 29,1945. In early May the prisoners that
survived the death march were liberated.
• The Americans found more than 30 railroad
cars filled with decomposed bodies at
• On August 8, 1938, soon after the Nazis
occupied Austria, prisoners from
Dachau were sent to the Austrian town
of Mauthausen to build a granite
There were 49 sub-camps built around
the original “mother” camp.
• Between 1938 and 1945 about 195,000
people were forced into these camps
because they were considered
dangerous to the Nazis.
• Prisoners were given primitive tools, or
were forced to work with their bare
hands in the granite quarry under
Himmler’s policy of “death through
• The prisoners were divided into two work
• One group worked in underground tunnels
cutting rock.
• The other group carried the rocks up 186
steep steps to the top of the quarry.
• These steps were called the “Stairs of Death”
because of how the Nazis sometimes used
them for entertainment .
The Stairs of
• For “ fun” the SS often had prisoners
carry a 45 kilo stone on their backs up
the stairs.
• When a prisoner dropped his rock the
prisoners behind him would be crushed.
• Anyone that survived the stairs would
be pushed over the cliff at the top.
• Mauthausen prisoners were subjected to
medical experiments involving being injected
with diseases to surgical procedures.
• Deaths were by shooting, hanging, beating,
starvation, and disease.
• There was a gas chamber capable of killing
120 people at time but it was mostly used to
demonstrate a mass killing for visiting
dignitaries and for selection.
• A popular form of torture was to spray a
group of naked prisoners with water in the
winter and then let them freeze to death
• Prisoners were also beaten to death with
• Food sent to the camp was given to civilians
leaving the prisoners to die of starvation.
• The SS also used prisoners for target
• It is estimated that 65,000 prisoners were
executed at Mauthausen.
• Mauthausen was
liberated by American
troops on May 6, 1945.
The End of Part III
Liberation of Auschwitz