Auschwitz Research

By Maddy Starr

What is Auschwitz?

Auschwitz concentration camp is a camp in Poland used to exterminate and force labor onto real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime. Some groups of people kept in this camp were Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, emigrants, criminals, prisoners of war, gypsies, asocial, and more. Auschwitz contained three main camps including Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (known as Auschwitz-Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (known as Auschwitz-Monowitz). About 1.3 million people were deported to one of the three camps in Auschwitz and about 1.1 million of those people were murdered there.

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I was a main sub-camp of Auschwitz established in April 1940. The purposes of the camp were to incarcerate enemies of the Nazi regime, to supply the SS army with artillery and other supplies using forced laborers, and to eliminate specific groups of the population whose death was determined by the SS and authorities of Nazi Germany. Prisoners in Auschwitz I lived in old brick barracks with hundreds of wooden bunks. Due to overcrowding, some basements and lofts were also used as living quarters. These living quarters lacked any heating or any sanitary facilities and barracks were swarmed with vermin and other rats. The fouling of straw and the straw mattresses, dampness, and leaky roofs make the situation much more aggravating and uncomfortable. Prisoners spent over 10 hours working everyday and the rest of their day consisted of long roll-call assemblies, lining up for food rations or a place in the latrines/washrooms, removing dirt and pests from clothing, and disinfection. Prisoners in the camp received 3 meals per day in the morning, noon, and evening. Prisoners with less forced labor received about 1,300 calories per day and prisoners with more forced labor received about 1,700 calories per day. In Auschwitz I, there was only one gas chamber and crematorium used for executions, for most of the killing was done in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some commanders of the SS army in Auschwitz I include SS Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Hoess (1940-1943), SS Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Liebehenschel (1943-1944), and SS Major Richard Baer (1944-1945).

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz II, better known as Auschwitz-Birkenau was an extermination sub-camp of Auschwitz established in October 1941. This sub-camp had the largest prisoner population in Auschwitz with the purpose to murder groups in Europe who deemed to be enemies of the Nazi regime and the Aryan race. In November 1943, the SS decreed Auschwitz-Birkenau to become an independent concentration camp, but in November 1944, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau were unified as one. The camp was divided into sections for women; men; a family camp for Gypsies deported from Germany, Austria, and Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; and a family camp for Jews deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto. Prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau lived in brick and wooden barracks with more than 700 people in each barrack. Prisoners also lived in wooden stable barracks that were made to hold 52 horses. There was no suitable insulation or sanitary facilities in the barracks. Like Auschwitz I, majority of the prisoners' day was spent working for over 10 hours and the remainder of the day was spent waiting in lines for food and the washroom, long roll-call assemblies, cleaning clothes of dirt and pests, and disinfection. Prisoners received three meals a day in the morning, noon, and evening. Labor for the prisoners in the camp were similar in Auschwitz with jobs such as mining and working on mills and in factories. In 1941, Zyklon B gas was introduced into the camp as means for murder. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were four crematoriums. Each crematorium included a disrobing area, a large gas chamber, and crematorium ovens. In these crematoriums, prisoners were poisoned with Zyklon B gas and then were burned. On October 7, 1944, hundreds of prisoners assigned to crematorium IV rebelled after learning they were going to be killed. They killed three guards and used explosive smuggled in by women to blew up the crematorium and a nearby gas chamber. The Germans crushed the revolt and killed almost all the prisoners involved and publicly hung the women who had smuggled the explosives. Commanders of Auschwitz-Birkenau included SS Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Hartjenstein (1943-1944) and SS Captain Josef Kremer (May 1944-November 1944). Also working in this camp was SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele who worked as a physician who conducted medical experiments and research on twins, infants, and dwarfs and also forced sterilizations and castrations on adults.