Concentration Camp Effectiveness

By: Rander & Swilly 5eva

While each concentration camp during Hitler’s reign in World War Two had it’s own methods of extermination, labor, and humiliation, Majdanek proved to be the most effective concentration camp in terms of its death toll, technology, and techniques.

Ahmed Gado

SAD PIANO - Alone In The Dark by Ahmed Gado

Auschwitz (SW)

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Auschwitz was a complex camp, divided into three main areas, near Oswiecim, Poland (5). Auschwitz was by far the largest Nazi death camp in Europe, with a maximum capacity of more than 150,000 inmates at any given point (6). The camp was established in April of 1940 as a holding center for Polish prisoners, as their numbers had outgrown the local prisons, but soon was viewed as a potential concentration camp site, and expansion began (7).

As Auschwitz grew in size and capacity, it was divided into three main sections: Auschwitz I (the main camp), Auschwitz II (Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) (8). More than 40 other sub-camps were also constructed for the holding of Russian POWs and Polish prisoners, for slave laborers, for women, for Gypsies, and for Czech Jews (9). It wasn't until 1943 that gas chambers and crematoriums began to be built (10).

Trains began to import Jewish prisoners and others by the thousands from all over Europe and other camps - Auschwitz was eventually seen as a sort of 'final destination' for most Jews and other enemies of the Nazi party. Upon arrival each train car would undergo a selection conducted by physicians to separate the healthy from the ill, elderly, pregnant, young children, and unfit - those that were not deemed healthy were sent immediately to die in the gas chambers (as much as 70-75% of each transport) (11). Janda Weiss, an Auschwitz survivor, remembers walking into the camp and seeing the crematorium, which "greeted [them] with its horrible tongues of flame coming out of its smokestacks" (12). Those that were 'healthy' enough to live were then tattooed, had their heads shaven, undressed, and showered before they entered the camp under the unforgettable sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Labor Will Set You Free") (13).

Labor in Auschwitz

Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele was an SS captain and physician at Auschwitz, after working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics (26). Serving as a physician alongside nearly thirty other men, his duties ranged from selection after new transports arrived (his cold demeanor landed him the nickname, "Angel of Death") to medical experimentation (27).

Mengele often used twins for medical research, using one as an "experimental" case, and the other as the control case (28). His research ranged from determining if medical alterations could change eye color to documenting the progression of disease - in these experiments, he used no pain medicine or anesthesia of any kind; after all, he had full license to do whatever he wanted with his patients, including maim or murder them (29). Often using juvenile twins or Roma (Gypsies), Mengele performed blood transfusions from one twin to another, injections with deadly diseases, sex change operations, amputations, incestuous impregnation, and autopsies (30). Mengele even tried to create Siamese twins by sewing Gypsy children together - however, the information of his intentions of most of his experiments died with the victims that they were performed on (31).

Mengele was subject to random outbursts of violence and cruelty during selection; when a woman refused to be separated from her child, he shot both the woman and her child, and sent her entire transport (including the ones that were going to be allowed to live) to the gas chambers (32). He would also draw lines in a random children's barrack, at slightly over five feet off the ground, and all those whose heads did not reach the line were sent to the gas chambers (33). If a block was infected with lice, the hundreds of people assigned to it would all be sent to the chambers (34).

Out of the nearly 1,500 sets of twins Mengele experimented on, only 100 sets survived the war and the hospital (35). Of those, many remember Mengele as being a kind father figure of a man, giving them special treatment and candy - older sets of twins, however, recognize his facade as a deception (36).

Janda Weiss

Janda Weiss arrived at Auschwitz in May of 1944, when she was only fourteen years old (48). She recalls watching people be "killed on the spot" as they refused to cooperate with the SS; when she finally entered the camp around midnight, she was shoved into a section of the camp with Czech prisoners (49). For the first two days, they got nothing to eat - Janda recalls, "[i]n these two days we saw how people who had once been good human beings had turned into ravening wolves..." (50). She could recognize, even from a young age, that everyone was fighting for their own lives. Janda also reported that it was common knowledge in the camp that each transport was allowed to survive for six months before being gassed, and during those six months there would be several selections to sort out the strongest men and women - Janda was considered one of the strong (51).

"After a lengthy struggle our senior camp inmate was granted 100 strong young people capable of hard work. Out of 1,500 people the camp doctor, SS Captain Mengele, selected ninety-eight. I was among the 'strong'," (52). The rest of the camp was gassed once those ninety-eight were chosen, and Janda was to work in the crematorium (53). Janda said she can still picture the scene: thousands would arrive in trains, where the strong were picked out by Mengele, the "devourer of Jews", and the elderly were placed into dump trucks and dumped into trenches, where they burned alive - the rest were to be gassed (54).

As a prisoner of "special work details", Janda would remove corpses from the chamber and collect their valuables before loading them onto the elevator to be burned - if there was too many bodies for the crematorium, they were thrown into fire trenches (55). Janda vividly remembered the violence of the captain of the crematorium, Moll; he would arrange "twelve that their heads were at the same height. Then he mercilessly shot through them all with a single bullet" (56). On another occasion, Moll hung up a man by his arms and shot until his arms were "torn through", then hung him up by his feet and repeated the process before letting the man bleed out and die (57).

"Thousands of women with shaved heads asked about their children and husbands. I lied to thousands of women, telling them that their loved ones were still alive, even though I knew very well they were all dead." (58)

The End of Auschwitz

As Allied forces closed in on German troops and concentration camps, SS Himmler ordered for Auschwitz to begin a "clean-up" operation, to cover up the crimes committed in camps - documents were burned, buildings were demolished, and structures were dismantled (59). The orders for evacuation of the camp were given in early January of 1945, when the weather was bitter; prisoners were forced to march, with no destination, just a purpose: for as many to "drop dead" as possible (60). When Soviet troops reached Auschwitz for liberation, they found a few thousand survivors who could not march, as well as:

- 836,525 items of women clothing

- 348,820 items of men clothing

- 43,525 pairs of shoes

- 460 artificial limbs

- 7 tons of human hair (61)

Of those who passed through Auschwitz, only 200,000 survived; millions were not so lucky (62).

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Mauthausen (RA)

In August of 1938, Himmler wanted hundred of prisoners from the Dachu camp to be moved to the small town of Mauthausen located 20 kilometers from the city of Linz, Austria. (63) Himmler’s orders caused the Mauthausen concentration camp to be created. This new camp was to provide slave labor for the Wiener Graben stone quarry. (64) When the prisoners first arrived, they were instructed to build a granite-fortress prison for the main camp. (65) By the end of 1938, Mauthausen contained almost 1,000 prisoners. (66) Most prisoners were Jews and politicians from Austria, Italy, Holland, and Hungary. (67) When the war started, thousands of Russians and Polish prisoners of war were also transported to Mauthausen. (68)

Mauthausen had forty-nine permanent subcamps and a few temporary ones that only lasted for a few weeks. (69) From the main camp, prisoners had to walk around four kilometers to get to the stone-quarries at Gusen. (70) This march caused the death of more than 150 prisoners in the winter of 1938 to 1939. (71) In December 1939, it was decided to build a sub-camp of Mauthausen at Gusen. (72) Over four-hundred prisoners marched every day from Mauthausen to Gusen to build prisoners’ barracks, SS-barracks, and an electric fence until March 1940. (73) The first group of inmates at Gusen died within a few weeks because of the poor work conditions and the cruelty of the guards. (74) Within one year the population of Gusen rose from 800 to 4,000 prisoners in the spring of 1941. (75) Over 1,500 of them died from the labor in the stone-quarries. (76)

Gusen II was established on March 9, 1844. (77) This sub-camp was built to administer prisoner labor for the construction of the Bergkristall project. (78) This would have been one of the largest underground manufacturing facilities with 50,000 square meters of manufacturing space. (79) This was 85% completed when captured by the United States Army at the end of the war. (80)


Col. Edmund M. was a First Lieutenant in the 6th Infantry Division of the U.S. Third Army. (110) He stated that most prisoners were in "horrible conditions" and some looked like "living skeletons". (102) The average weight would have been eighty to ninety pounds. (103) Along with starvation, Typhus was extremely common and deadly. (104)

Another survivor, Martin Gilbert, only weighed eighty pounds when the camp was liberated. (104) He wrote, "These emaciated men and women...were no longer used to such food nor could their digestive systems cope with it. It was too rich, too fatty, too filling, and it killed in the first hectic day of liberation, as surely as the bullets and the rifle butts of the day before." (105)

Peter van Pels, the boy who hid with Anne Frank in Amsterdam, died on May 5, 1945, the day of camp's liberation. (106)

Edward Mosberg stated that the SS Guards would shoot you or push you off the cliff if stopped for a second while carrying stones up and down the steps. (107).

Majdanek (SW & RA)

Majdanek was an extermination camp located right outside of Lublin, Poland (117). The camp was nearly 700 acres and lined with electric fences and almost twenty watchtowers, and complete with a total of seven gas chambers, one crematorium, and two gallows (118). Nearly 500,000 prisoners passed through the camp, deported there by trains and trucks from numerous ghettos around Europe (119).

After a prisoner would arrive, they would receive a number, the purpose of which was to take away the prisoner’s name and identification - however, unlike other camps, Majdanek’s numbering system never exceeded 20,000 (separate sets of 20,000 for men and women); new prisoners would receive the numbers of old prisoners, rather that the numbers continuing to increase (120). Prisoners also received a triangle to be worn on their clothes, to represent imprisonment, with a letter in the center of the triangle to indicate the wearer’s nationality (121). Solomon Radasky, a survivor, remembers getting thin “striped shirts, pants and wooden shoes,” none of which offered any comfort or protection from the weather (122). The conditions, disease, and starvation were the main causes of death in Majdanek - others were murdered in mass killing actions by camp guards (123).


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This Google Drawing displays the multitude of ghettos from which the majority of Majdanek victims were deported from, including the Warsaw Ghetto, from which Solomon Radasky, a survivor, was from (143). (SW)

Survivor: Solomon Radasky

Solomon Radasky survived nine excruciating weeks at Majdanek. (144) He was raised in Warsaw and was the only person out of 78 people in his family to survive. (145) When he first arrived at the camp, they took his clothes and gave him a striped shirt, pants, and wooden shoes. (146) When he arrived at his Barrack, a man, who had been a doctor in Paris, operated on his ankle with a pocket knife. (147) Radasky had been shot during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (148) Since there was no medication for prisoners to use, Radasky used some of his urine as an antiseptic on his wound. (149) While walking the three kilometers to work, Radasky wasn't allowed to limp or they would take him out of line and hang him. (150)

Prisoners were not allowed to were shoes on the way to work. (151) There were little stones on the road and would cause cuts on the bottom of feet. (152) If anyone fell down on the road and died, the other workers still had to carry the bodies back. (153)

One day, a man in the back of the line was smoking a "cigarette." (154) People who were heavy smokers would light a piece of paper and pretend they were smoking. (155). The Lagerfuhrer, a German, saw the smoke and demanded to know who was smoking or he would hang "10 dogs." (156) When no one answered, he picked 10 people to stand on a bench put the rope around their neck. (157) Radasky was in the group of ten. (158)

Right before the Lagerfurhrer could kick the bench out, a soldier stopped him and said those prisoners had been chosen to go to another camp. (158) Radasky was transported to Auschwitz. (159)

Radasky said, " In my 9 weeks at Majdanek I had not changed my shirt or washed myself. We were eaten up with lice, and many of us were swollen from hunger." (160)


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All three camps were very efficient, but the camp that was most effective was Majdanek. Majdanek conducted many violent practices that caused the death of many prisoners. Every nine out of ten victims died in this camp compared to 8/10 that died at Auschwitz and 7/10 that died at Mauthausen. Majdanek succeeded with its cruel punishments and tortures. (RA)