Yesterday a friend e-mailed me about something that Gordon Duff said on a radio show about the Buchenwald crematorium. Duff said that the Buchenwald crematorium was a completely new building which was built by the Russians after the old one was destroyed. I had never heard this before, so I decided to look up the photos that I took on my visit to Buchenwald and compare them with photos taken by the Americans immediately after the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945. (more…)
January 17, 2011
January 16, 2011
The 81-year-old Dutch Resistance survivor, Bert Schapelhouman, was the subject of an article by Jaime O’Neill in the Sacramento News & Review tabloid newspaper, published on August 2, 2007. The article featured Schapelhouman’s memories of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. I have saved the article all these years because Schapelhouman’s stories are unique.
Lubertus (Bert) Schapelhouman was a Dutch Resistance fighter who was 19 years old at the time of his liberation from Mauthausen on May 5, 1945. Bert told the reporter that he had entered the camp in November 1944 weighing 160 pounds, but had wasted away to 78 pounds in only six months and was near death.
This quote about the liberation of Mauthausen is from the 2007 article by Jaime O’Neill:
There were others near him, all filthy, all emaciated, all confused. An American soldier approached him and the cluster of wretches nearby. He was the first black man any of them had ever seen. The soldier said something unintelligible. Next to Lubertus, two Hungarian Jews began to shout and gesticulate toward a guard tower. The American soldier took out his pistol and fired several rounds. A German guard who had been hiding in the tower tumbled to the ground.
“I can still see him falling through the air,” Bert says, and then he chuckles. “That’s terrible,” he says, “I shouldn’t laugh. It was a human life.” He shakes his head. And then he chuckles again.
According to Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the Mauthausen camp, most of the regular SS guards had left before the Americans arrived and Captain Kern of the Schutzpolizei (protection police) of Vienna had replaced Commandant Franz Ziereis on the night of May 2-3, 1945. The Vienna police occupied the guard posts, assisted by a few old men and young boys of the Volksstrum; most of the SS men had escaped to an island on the Danube river and only a few of them remained to help in guarding the camp.
The US Army was segregated during World War II with African-American and Japanese-American soldiers fighting in separate units. Mauthausen was liberated by white soldiers in the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, who arrived on May 5, 1945.
Schapelhouman was not the only survivor of Mauthausen who claimed to have been liberated by black soldiers. Roman Frister, a young Jew who had just arrived at the main camp a few days before the liberation, on a death march from a work camp in Vienna, wrote in his book, “The Cap: The Price of a Life,” that one of the liberators who emerged from an American tank was a black soldier. According to Frister’s account, the black soldier called to the armed guards in the watch tower “Hitler kaput,” and signaled them to come down from the tower.
According to Frister’s account of the liberation, the black soldier ordered the guards to throw down their tommy guns and form a line; then “a group of prisoners darted forward and snatched the guns.” In Frister’s version of the liberation of Mauthausen, the black soldier did not shoot a guard in the tower.
In his August 2007 article, Jaime O’Neill wrote the following story about a Mauthausen inmate who died on Christmas Day in 1944, as told to him by Schapelhouman:
He was a Hungarian Jew, and both of his parents had been executed in the months preceding his own death. He was in bad shape. A Belgian priest, also an inmate at the camp, took pity on him because his suffering was notable even in this place of great suffering. Seeking solace, the boy told the priest he wanted to convert to Catholicism and so, secretly, the priest nurtured the boy in his faith, though all religious practices were forbidden in that camp. The inmates — political prisoners, gypsies, and Jews — were referred to by their keepers as nacht und nebel, “night and fog,” the forces of darkness and the underworld, and because they were seen as subhuman in all respects — the enemies of the Aryan light — they were not worthy of religious practices.
On Christmas Eve 1944, at this place of horror, while the German guards partied with girls from the nearby town, the priest held a clandestine baptismal mass for the boy, and for 28 other camp prisoners. Lubertus Schapelhouman was in that number.
The boy was weak, but he spoke of his desire to go to heaven. At the moment the boy was baptized, the Germans and their camp Kapos burst into the room and began to beat everyone, a storm of blows and curses, a pandemonium of pummeling and kicking and the heavy thudding of rubber-sheathed truncheons breaking bones. A kick or a punch — he would never know the source — threw Schapelhouman’s hip out of joint.
They were taken outside — the priest, the boy, and all the attendees of the forbidden Mass. It was 14 degrees below zero. The priest and the boy were made to strip naked and told to embrace, and then the guards drenched them with a hose. They froze in that position, died in that position, and the next day — Christmas — the entire camp was marched out to look at them — the frozen statuary of blasphemous baptism. “Augen raus.” Eyes right (sic). That was the command the Germans shouted as they marched the prisoners past the boy and the priest.
(“Eyes right” would be “Augen Recht” in German.)
The Nacht und Nebel prisoners at Mauthausen were resistance fighters who had been condemned to death for acts of sabotage, but were allowed to live; they disappeared into the “night and fog” and their relatives were made to believe that they had been executed.
There were few Jews and no Gypsies among the N.N. prisoners; the N.N. prisoners were not considered to be “subhuman.” All of the Nacht und Nebel prisoners in the concentration camps were illegal combatants, or spies who had been caught behind enemy lines in civilian clothes; they had violated the Geneva Convention and could have been legally shot.
After the Catholic Church complained about the treatment of priests in the concentration camps, Hitler ordered that all priests should be sent to Dachau, which was considered the mildest camp. Mauthausen was a Class III camp where prisoners, who were considered dangerous and beyond rehabilitation, were treated more severely. At Dachau, the priests were allowed to say Mass every day and to baptize anyone who wanted to be baptized.
Jaime O’Neill’s article continues with the following quote:
Then, the following spring, when the war was nearly over, new prisoners arrived at Mauthausen each day, driven there in forced marches from other concentration camps as allied forces closed in. On one such day, 600 women straggled into the camp, stumbling before the guns of the SS, a pitiful remnant of a group that had numbered 4,800 when their march began. The inmates of Mauthausen were assembled to greet them, to witness their degradation as the new arrivals were made to strip before the assemblage, were told that 200 of them would be chosen to serve as prostitutes to the Kapos, the camp guards. SS officers moved among the huddled women, using swagger sticks to lift a breast here, or stroke a thigh, gesturing to the slavering Kapos who were to make the selections. “What do you think of this?” in German, or “how about this one?”
Tears well up in Schapelhouman’s eyes as he stands to continue his story. “And then,” he says, “I heard a sound, a guttural growl of uncontainable rage, and a man charged out of our midst, ran toward the SS in a fury.” Bert tries to reproduce the sound the man made in his last moments on earth, the inchoate rage that drove him, and though the sound he makes is frightening as he tells the tale more than 60 years on, it is clearly restrained, a facsimile of hell itself, brought to life in a tidy suburban home far from where it happened.
They shot him, that berserk and enraged man, as he charged forward, and the story later went around the camp that he had become unhinged at the sight of his own daughter among the women.
Their fun over, the SS marched the women into the gas chambers, gassed all of them, and then cremated them. That 200 of them would be “spared” to become prostitutes had just been a joke, a way of taunting the Kapos.
Smoke from their cremation hung in the air for days. “I smell them all the time,” Bert says, “to this very day.” And sometimes, deep in the night, he smells them on his own flesh and goes from his bed to shower the phantom odor from his aging body before returning to his clean sheets and tortured sleep.
The Kapos were not “the most swinish and brutal of the camp guards,” but rather German criminals who were prisoners assigned to assist the guards in the camp.
All of the Nazi concentration camps had brothels for the use of the non-Jewish prisoners. In the fall of 1942, around ten women were brought from the Ravensbrück camp to staff a brothel at Mauthausen.
Even before he was sent to Mauthausen, Schapelhouman claimed that he had been subjected to the most brutal torture by the German Gestapo.
The following quote is from Jaime O’Neill’s article:
When he was 18, in 1944, the SS came to the family farm and took Lubertus and his brother away for interrogation. On the first day, the interrogators feigned kindness, offered him a cigarette, spoke in soft tones. But the second day, different men came into the room, and the soft interrogation was over.
On the second day of interrogation, they put his left hand in a vise and pulled out all of his fingernails. On the third day, they did the same to his right hand, and on the fourth day to his right foot, and on the fifth day, his left foot. On the sixth day, they knocked out all of his upper teeth.
“And you know what?” he asks, rhetorically; “they were drunk, those men. Always drunk. I could smell it on them.”
They wanted names of people in the Dutch resistance. They wanted to know who was hiding Jews. Lubertus had such information, but he gave them none of it.
Most interrogators would have given up after pulling out two or three fingernails and toenails, but not the Gestapo. They kept on, until the last toenail was removed and then knocked out all his upper teeth for good measure. But still the drunken Gestapo men continued to interrogate Schapelhouman.
O’Neill wrote the following story, which he had heard from Schapelhouman:
“After those days,” he says, “I have no idea how long I was there. They would bring me back for interrogation and I would faint before they ever struck a blow.” He shakes his head in puzzlement. “Isn’t that something? That we have such a saving mechanism built into us.”
Back in his cell, his body trembled all over with shock and pain. He couldn’t eat. “There are millions of nerves that jump, all over your body.” He couldn’t hold things, and he couldn’t walk. Not long after that, he was transferred to Mauthausen, a politische haftlung (sic), or political prisoner.
The story of how the Mauthausen Commandant, Franz Ziereis, allowed his son to kill 50 prisoners on his birthday has been told many times, and there are several variations of the story.
Bert Schapelhouman told the story to O’Neill, who wrote the following in his August 2, 2007 article in the SN&R:
The Kommandant at Mauthausen was a man named Ziereis. Bert spells the name carefully-”Z-I-E-R-E-I-S,” then pronounces it again. “When his son turned 14, Ziereis brought him into the camp, down among the prisoners. He told the boy to pick out 50 of the inmates, then handed him his long-barreled Luger and told him to kill those he’d chosen, those he’d counted off. The first time the boy tried, he flinched, and only managed to blow off a man’s ear, but soon he was proficient in the killing, and in 3 1/2 hours, he had killed all 50. His father hugged his son then and said for all to hear: ‘Now I know he is a man.’ “
Franz Ziereis was a mild-mannered man whose nickname among the prisoners was “Baby face.”
In a previous article in the SN&R weekly paper in 2006, Jaime O’Neill wrote the following information which he got from Bert Schapelhouman:
Each day the prisoners would walk 4 kilometers to a sub camp known as Gusen Zwei where they were made to work each day. They worked through that winter of 1944-45 in bitter cold, and dozens died each day, of exposure, exhaustion, malnutrition or brutalization. At the end of those work days–from dark to dark–the survivors would carry their dead back to the camp for cremation. Exhausted, stumbling in darkness, with the dead weight of a corpse on his back, Bert carried dead men from that Gusen Zwei sub camp back to the main camps (sic) on seven or eight occasions. Other nights he was luckier and all the corpses had been taken by prisoners ahead of him.
The Gusen II camp had 19 barracks buildings and the prisoners did not walk to the “Gusen Zwei” sub-camp from the main camp. For the Gusen II camp, the closest cremation ovens were at the nearby Gusen I sub-camp. The Gusen prisoners were not evacuated to the main Mauthausen camp before the American liberators arrived. The Gusen camps and the main camp were all liberated on the same day, May 5, 1945.
In his previous article in 2006, Jaime O’Neill wrote the following:
Bert remembers one German officer, a remarkable specimen — handsome, tall, radiant with good health. The first time Bert saw him, he thought he’d never seen a more perfect man, and something in the man’s appearance and demeanor gave Bert a faint hope of kindness or mercy. The officer walked past the assembled inmates, smiling, chatting with an aide. Then he singled out a prisoner, took out his Luger and shot the man dead. He did this each day for two months, picking a man at random and shooting him, the assembled prisoners shuddering fearfully before him waiting to see which of them he’d choose.
There were 200 cases of cruelty and corruption in the concentration camps which were tried by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, a German judge who was a member of the SS. Morgen testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal that he had examined 800 documents which resulted in 200 indictments of SS men who were staff members of the concentration camps. Dr. Morgen put five camp Commandants on trial, including Hermann Florstedt and Karl Otto Koch, both of whom were executed by the Nazis after being convicted in Morgen’s court.
The Commandant of a Nazi concentration camp could not order the death of a prisoner on his own authority. All execution orders had to come from the main office in Oranienburg which controlled everything that was done in the camps. If a German officer had selected a prisoner at random to shoot each day for two months, he would have been put on trial in Morgen’s court and sentenced to death if convicted.
Schapelhouman’s story of the handsome German officer shooting prisoners at random is reminiscent of Amon Goeth, the Commandant of the Plaszow camp, who is shown in the movie Schindler’s List shooting prisoners at random from the balcony of his house. Amon Goeth was awaiting trial in Morgen’s court when the war ended.
Every survivor’s story has one “good German.” He is the exception that proves the rule.
In Jaime O’Neill’s 2006 article in the SN&R, he tells the following anecdote, as related to him by Bert Schapelhouman:
In fact, the first German soldier he ever saw saved his life. He and two of his brothers were at a soccer game. It was 1943, three years after the occupation of his country had begun, more than a year since he’d become an onderduicker, but no Germans had yet found their way to Bert’s remote village. It was a Sunday afternoon when the rumor went through the spectators that the Germans were coming. And then they heard the sound of the vehicles approaching. Bert and his brothers took off running. Bert hid in a dry ditch thinking he’d keep quiet and wait until everyone went away. “All of a sudden,” he says, “there was a German with his rifle. Our eyes met, but he pretended he didn’t see me and just kept on walking.”
As Schapelhouman explained to Jaime O’Neill in his 2006 interview, “onderduicker” was a Dutch word which was used to describe a young person who had gone into hiding after being ordered to report for conscripted labor by the Nazis during the war-time occupation of Holland. Anne Frank’s sister Margo also received a notice to report to a labor camp, and that is the reason that the Frank family went into hiding. Schapelhouman was able to hide until October 1944 when he was arrested by the Gestapo.
January 15, 2011
On Thursday night I was watching the Glenn Beck TV show with some young family members; Glenn started off by mentioning “the big Lie.” Glenn Beck is a self-taught historian and I expected him to get “the big Lie” story wrong. As everybody knows, the term “big Lie” is associated with Hitler and this expression has been twisted to mean that Hitler advocated big lies.
I soon learned that Beck was not going to educate us about Hitler, but rather he was going to tell us about a man named Edward Bernays. The name Bernays was very familiar to me, and for a moment I thought that he was going to talk about the man named Bernays who came up with the “common plan” charge that was used against the Germans by the Nuremberg IMT. I thought I should prepare my young family members for what was coming next, so I began by asking: “Do you know who Edward Bernays was?” One family member spoke up and said, “Was he the guy who invented Bernaise sauce?” (more…)
January 14, 2011
Last night I watched a new documentary entitled “The Last Days of the Big Lie” which you can see on the Internet here. The title is a spoof of Steven Spielberg’s Academy award winning documentary entitled “The Last Days.”
Irene Zisblatt is prominently featured in the new documentary as she tells the story of how she escaped from a gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Remarkably, Irene tells her story without showing any emotion. If I had narrowly escaped from a gas chamber, I would not be able to tell the story without crying like John Boehner. Irene shows no hatred of the people who persecuted her, nor does she even blame them; she exhibits no emotion at all.
For 50 years, Irene kept quiet about her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but in 1994, after Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List” came out, she decided to tell her story. In 1995, she was interviewed for 3 hours by Jennifer Resnick while her testimony was videotaped for Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. Part of this interview is shown in the new documentary.
As a result of her Shoah interview, Irene was chosen as one of five Hungarian survivors to be featured in Spielberg’s documentary, “The Last Days,” which was released in 1998. A book, also entitled “The Last Days,” was published in 1999. I saw the movie and also bought the book.
The photo above shows Irene Zisblatt in 2009, as she addresses students from Fairland High School, telling them about what happened to her at Birkenau and other Nazi camps. She is pointing to the spot under her arm where her tattoo was removed in an experiment done by Dr. Josef Mengele. Other survivors of the Holocaust had numbers tattooed on their left forearm, but not Irene. She was tattooed under her arm, like the SS men who were tattooed with their blood type. Mengele himself did not have an SS blood type tattoo, so why was he concerned with ways to remove a tattoo?
Irene Zisblatt wrote a book, published in 2008, entitled “The Fifth Diamond.” The title refers to a necklace with four diamonds, set into a pendant, that she wears around her neck when she speaks to American school children about the Holocaust. As a survivor, Irene is the Fifth Diamond.
In the documentary “The Last Days,” Irene tells about how her mother gave her the diamonds before the family was sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She managed to keep them through all the time that she was in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and on a death march out of another camp, by swallowing them before being searched, excreting them, cleaning them and then swallowing them again. She said in her Shoah interview that she sometimes cleaned her diamonds “in the soup we were going to get.”
In the documentary, we hear Irene tell about why her mother gave her the diamonds. Her mother told Irene that she might need them to bribe someone for bread so that she would not starve to death. Apparently Irene never went hungry in the camp and she was able to keep all of her diamonds. How were the rest of the family members planning to survive if Irene had all the diamonds? Irene does not explain this.
Irene was from the small resort town of Polena in the Carpathian mountains; when Irene was a child, Polena was in Hungary. There were 62 Jewish families in the town; her father owned a business, but they had no electricity in their house, according to Irene. This was not unusual in those days; many towns in Eastern Europe had no running water and no electricity. Irene now lives in a nice house in Florida, where her interview for the Shoah Foundation was filmed.
After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, Irene and her family were put into the Miskolc ghetto. Irene was 13 years old when she was put on a train from the Miskolc ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during the deportation of the Hungarian Jews in May 1944. She says that she was immediately separated from her family and she was the only one of her 40 family members to survive the gas chambers.
According to her story in the book entitled “The Last Days,” Irene’s father was born in 1908, so he was 36 years old in 1944, young enough to be selected for work at Birkenau. In the selections upon arrival at Birkenau, everyone older than 45 or younger than 15 was sent immediately to the gas chamber. Irene says that her entire family was gassed in Gas Chamber #2 on the day that they arrived, including her parents who were of working age. Remarkably, Irene was not gassed, along with the rest of her family members, even though she was only 13 years old at that time.
The photo above is from the Auschwitz Album, a series of photographs taken by the Germans in May 1944. In the background, one can see the chimney of Krema II on the left side. Krema III is shown on the right side, about one inch from the edge of the photo. Krema III is also shown in the photo below. Note the ten-foot-high fence around the building and the railroad tracks just outside the fence. In her Shoah interview, Irene Zisblatt claimed that she was thrown over the fence around Krema III and into an open railroad car.
The photo above was taken by me in 2005; it shows how the fence posts curve over and barbed wire is strung over the top of the posts.
In her story of her escape from the gas chamber, Irene says that when she was taken to the gas chamber, the room was full and she got stuck in the door. An SS man had to fling her out of the doorway in order to shut the door. She hid in the rafters until a young boy came to rescue her. He wrapped her in a blanket and threw her over the fence around Crematorium III, into an open railroad car that was waiting on the tracks. The train was bound for the Neuengamme camp where prisoners were being sent to work in a factory.
There are no open railroad cars shown in the photos taken in 1944 at Birkenau, but there were open cars on the “Death Train” at Dachau, which are shown in the photo below.
Irene says that she was around 4 feet tall and weighed 60 lbs. at the time that she was thrown over the 10 ft. fence into a railroad car. This would have been quite a feat, but not necessarily impossible.
Could Irene’s story of her escape from the gas chamber possibly be true? I don’t think so, and here’s why: When prisoners were taken to the gas chamber at Birkenau, they entered through the undressing room, where they took off their clothes. Irene says that she was naked when she got stuck in the gas chamber door, but she does not mention that she entered through the undressing room. If there were too many prisoners taken to the gas chamber that day, Irene would have been stuck in the door into the undressing room, not in the gas chamber door. The photo below shows a model of the gas chambers at Birkenau.
In the photo above, the undressing room is on the left and the gas chamber is on the right. The photo at the bottom of the picture shows the cremation ovens that were on the ground floor. The Sonderkommando prisoners, who carried the bodies out of the gas chamber for burning, lived in the attic space above the ovens.
In her video taped Shoah interview, Zisblatt told about being selected for an inspection by Ilse Koch who was looking for “unblemished skin” in order to make leather lampshades. Ilse Koch was the infamous wife of Karl Otto Koch, the Commandant of Buchenwald. Zisblatt and several other girls were allegedly sent on a train to the Maidanek camp in Lublin where Ilse Koch was expected to arrive, but she never made it.
So what’s wrong with this story? Ilse Koch wanted tattooed skin for her lampshades, not the unblemished skin of a teenaged girl. There were plenty of criminals at Buchenwald who had tats, and she didn’t need to go all the way to Poland to find subjects for her lampshades.
Irene pronounced the name Koch like a native German speaker; she also referred to the Majdanek camp as Maidanek, the German name.
You can hear more of Zisblatt’s incredible lies here.
January 13, 2011
I’ve been reading about the ruins of Krema II and Krema III at Auschwitz-Birkenau on the blog of little grey rabbit here. The crematoria buildings were blown up, allegedly by the Germans, before the Soviet soldiers arrived on January 27, 1945. Or were they actually blown up much later? (more…)
January 12, 2011
Some of the tour guides at Dachau tell visitors today that the gas chamber, located just outside the concentration camp, was used a few times to gas a small number of prisoners, although not for mass gassing. Some of the guides tell visitors that the gas chamber was used to test combat gases on prisoners in the camp. This claim is based on a letter that was written by Dr. Sigmund Rascher to Heinrich Himmler, in which Rascher mentioned that “the same installation as in Linz is to be built at Dachau” and that he wanted to use the new installation to test combat gases. (more…)
January 11, 2011
The photo above was sent to me by Gasan, a reader of my blog, who believes that Himmler was murdered and that the photo shows that Himmler’s nose had been broken. Heinrich Himmler was captured by British troops on May 21, 1945 and was “silenced permanently” two days later, according to one of the documents shown below. You can read the full story on the web site of British historian David Irving here. (more…)
January 10, 2011
Auschwitz was abandoned by the German SS guards on January 18, 1945 and it was ten days before Soviet troops arrived to rescue the prisoners. Primo Levi was an Italian Jew who was a prisoner at the Monowitz labor camp in the Auschwitz complex. In 1947, Levi wrote a poem entitled “If this is a man,” which is included in a book published in America under the title “Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.”
Chapter 17 of the book is entitled, “The Story of Ten Days.” This is the story of what happened during the ten days that the prisoners were on their own, without the Germans to keep order and feed them. There are some surprising revelations in this chapter. (more…)
January 9, 2011
January 27th will mark the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. This day was designated by the United Nations in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual commemoration in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.
“The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” is observed around the world on Jan. 27th each year. To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will hold a candle-lighting ceremony, which will be attended by the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, along with Holocaust survivors, and the general public. The ceremony will take place in the Museum’s Hall of Remembrance.
Each year in April, the United States also commemorates the Holocaust during the national Days of Remembrance held inside the Hall of Remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The 6,000 square-foot Hall of Remembrance is on the second floor of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC at the end of the tour of the permanent exhibit. The room has 6 sides which represent the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and the 6-pointed Star of David, which is the Jewish emblem. The Hall is three stories high and there is a 6-sided skylight at the top.
As you enter the Hall of Remenbrance, the first thing you see is a rectangular block of black marble, topped by an eternal flame, as shown in the photo below. There are no real windows in the room but shafts of light are provided by narrow glass-covered slits at the four exterior corners of the building, as shown on the left in the photo below.
The photograph directly above shows a black marble block, evocative of a coffin, which contains dirt from 38 of the concentration camps in Europe. The dirt was brought to America in urns, like those used by the Nazis for the ashes of the victims who were cremated, and in a touching ceremony, the dirt was deposited inside the block by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Dirt from a cemetery in Europe where American soldiers are buried was also included, in honor of the American liberators of the Dachau, Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps.
The black marble panel on the wall behind the eternal flame has the inscription: “Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.”
On the other side of the hall, opposite the eternal flame, are two speaker’s stands, one on each side, resembling two pulpits in a church. It is from one of these stands that the President of the United States will deliver a speech on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th and also on the U.S. Holocaust Remembrance Day in April.
When the Auschwitz main camp, the Birkenau death camp and the Monowitz labor camp were liberated by soldiers of the Soviet Union in the First Army of the Ukrainian Front, under the command of Marshal Koniev, on January 27, 1945, this was no big deal. The story was hardly covered by the press.
Auschwitz was not the first Nazi extermination camp to be liberated. The first camp to be liberated was Majdanek, located in a suburb of the city of Lublin in eastern Poland. The first gas chambers to be seen by anyone in the outside world were at Majdanek, which Soviet soldiers entered on July 23, 1944.
When I visited Auschwitz for the second time in 2005, I purchased a film that had been produced by the Auschwitz Museum. In the film, one of the Museum administrators said that he had heard that the camp was not liberated, but rather “it was happened upon by the Red Army when they were marching by.” He also mentioned that some people have said that the survivors liberated themselves. Binjamin Wilkomirski, who claimed to be a child survivor of Auschwitz, wrote in his book, “Fragments,” that there was no liberation. “We just ran away without permission,” he wrote. “No joyous celebration. I never heard the word ‘liberation’ back then, I didn’t even know there was such a word.” (Wilkomirski has since admitted that his story is fake and his book has now been down graded to a novel.)
When the Soviet soldiers arrived on Jan. 27th, they didn’t have cameras with them, so the liberation had to be reenacted a few days later when a film of the liberation was made. The photos of the liberation are still photos from the film.
On January 18, 1945, the three Auschwitz camps, called Auschwitz I, II and III, and the 40 satellite camps had been abandoned by the Germans. The gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, had stopped at the end of October 1944. Aerial photos taken by the Allies showed that the roofs of crematoria buildings Crematorium II and Crematorium III at Birkenau had been removed in November 1944, so that the cremation ovens could be removed by cranes. The gas chambers in Crematoria II, III, and V were blown up on Jan. 20th and Jan. 26th. Crematorium IV had already been blown up by the inmates in October 1944.
When the soldiers of the Red Army of the Soviet Union arrived at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they were expecting to find gas chambers, since the gassing of the Jews had been common knowledge as early as June 1942 when the news was first broadcast over the radio by the BBC. What the Soviet soldiers found were the ruins of four large gas chambers where, according to their estimate, 4 million Jews had been gassed to death. It is currently estimated that 1.1 million prisoners were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After the Germans had abandoned the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex and marched thousands of the prisoners out on January 18, 1945, they came back on January 20 and blew up two of the crematoria buildings where underground gas chambers were located. The photo above shows the ruins of one of these buildings (probably Krema III) with an unidentified building still standing in the background.
The photo above shows an opening into the oven room on the left hand side. This opening was cut when the gas chamber was reconstructed by the Soviet Union.
In 1947, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was turned into an outdoor museum and for the next 50 years or more, visitors were told that the gas chamber in the main camp was original; it is now admitted that it is a reconstruction.
Before they fled from the camp, the Germans had attempted to destroy the evidence of the genocide of the Jews, but had left behind at least 1,200 survivors at the Auschwitz main camp and 5,800 survivors at Birkenau, including 611 children. Some of these children are still alive today and they have told the world about the monstrous crimes that were perpetrated by the Germans at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
One of the most famous child survivors of Birkenau is Eva Moses Kor who is shown on the far right in the photo above.
Miriam Moses, the twin sister of Eva Moses Kor, is shown on the far right. Eva and Miriam survived because they were twins who were selected by Dr. Josef Mengele for his sadistic medical experiments.
The photo above shows some of the 611 children in the Birkenau camp who were left behind when the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945. According to Holocaust historian Danuta Czech, the evacuation of Auschwitz-Birkenau began in the early morning hours when 500 women with children were escorted out of the camp by SS guards. They reached Wodzislaw on January 21st. The men arrived the next day and all were loaded onto open railroad cars and taken to Germany.
The prisoners at Monowitz and all the prisoners in the sub-camps marched to the four concentration camps at Gleiwitz near the German border, arriving also on January 21st. They were then taken on trains to Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen or Mauthausen. Among the prisoners at Monowitz was Elie Wiesel, who was taken to Buchenwald, where he was liberated on April 11, 1945 by American troops.
Altogether, there were 4,428 women and girls and 169 boys who stayed behind at Birkenau. Around 2,000 prisoners were left behind in the men’s camp at Birkenau and there were around 1250 men in the main camp who did not join the march out of the camp. There were 850 men who chose to stay behind at Monowitz. According to Primo Levi, around 800 of them were sick or injured and they were in the camp hospital. Primo Levi was one of the prisoners in the hospital.
The last roll call, taken by the SS on January 17, 1945, showed that there was a total of 16,226 prisoners in the main camp, called Auschwitz I. Of this number, there were 10,030 men and 6,196 women. The total count from the last roll call was 67,012 prisoners in the three Auschwitz camps, according to Danuta Czech’s book entitled “Auschwitz Kalendarium.” The Nazi records from the camp were turned over to the International Red Cross Tracing Service by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism in 1989.
The last roll call showed that there was a total of 15,668 prisoners at Birkenau and four nearby sub-camps. The following figures were published in “Auschwitz Kalendarium”:
Birkenau Men’s Camp 4,473
Birkenau Women’s Camp 10,381
The photo above is a still photo from a movie made by Henryk Makarewicz, a soldier in the Polish Berlin Army, immediately after the camp was liberated.
Before the Nazis abandoned the camp, they burned some of the camp records and also set fire to the clothing warehouses and some of the barracks at Birkenau. The prisoners had named the area where the warehouses were located “Canada” because of the riches contained in these buildings. The warehouses and the barracks were still burning when the Soviet liberators arrived 10 days later.
You can read here about how Eva Moses Kor has been able to forgive Dr. Mengele and the other doctors at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This quote is from the web site cited above:
What changed her was the death of Miriam, her twin, and meeting Dr. Hans Munch, a former SS physician at Auschwitz, who told her the “nightmare” had haunted him ever since. To her amazement, Kor found she actually liked him. He was also the first Nazi doctor to verify the existence of the gas chambers and crematories, and Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” plan to exterminate all European Jews.
Kor soon went on to forgive all of the Nazi doctors, including Dr. Josef Mengele. And she and Dr. Munch wound up signing separate documents — his verifying the Holocaust or Shoah actually happened and her “Declaration of Amnesty” letter — at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January 27, 1995. At the same time, she forgave her parents for not saving her from the horrors of Auschwitz and also herself for hating her parents because of that.
January 8, 2011
This morning I was reading a blog post written by a man who is working as a volunteer assistant with the Church of Reconciliation in the Dachau concentration camp.
He wrote that a popular restaurant in Munich had donated food for a Christmas dinner for “the homeless in the centre of Munich.” Homeless in Munich? How can that be? Where is Hitler when we need him? There were no homeless people on the streets of Munich in Nazi Germany — they were all imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp. (more…)