Block 24 is the first building that visitors see on a tour of the main Auschwitz camp. This building was the location of the brothel and the camp library; both facilities were for the use of the inmates.
You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get a photo of the gate with Block 24 in the background. The camp opens at 8 o’clock in the morning and there are tour groups already lined up outside the visitor’s center and more tour groups inside the camp, ready to enter through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. Last year, there were 1.3 million visitors to the Auschwitz Museum and this year, there will be many more, as the story of Auschwitz-Birkenau grows in popularity.
Note the black sign at the base of the building. When I took this photo in 2005, the sign did NOT identify the building as the brothel and library.
Auschwitz was not the only camp to have a brothel and a library. According to Laurence Rees, in his book, “Auschwitz, A New History,” Auschwitz was the fifth camp within the Nazi state to offer such a “service.”
This quote is from “Auschwitz, A New History”:
Himmler had decided that providing brothels across the concentration camp network would increase productivity by offering “hard-working” prisoners (excluding Jews) an incentive to work even harder. He had ordered brothels to be constructed at Mauthausen and Gusen camps in Austria after an inspection as far back as May 1941 (they were finally opened in the summer of 1942). Then, in March 1943, he visited Buchenwald and demanded that another brothel be established there and also at other camps. His faithful factotum Oswald Pohl issued the necessary orders to concentration camp commandants in 1943.
The small rooms of the former Auschwitz brothel are now used to store archival documents. The doors into the rooms still have peepholes. This was for the protection of the women, in case one of the prisoners became violent during his visit. The prisoners were only allowed to have sex in the missionary position and an SS man had to watch in order to make sure that no “perverted” sex acts were committed. Each man was allowed only 15 minutes for his turn with one of the women.
Most of the women in the brothels came from the Ravensbrueck camp for women, but according to Rees, the women in the Auschwitz brothel were selected from the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp. On page 197 of his book, Rees wrote that the women in the Auschwitz brothel “were forced to have sex with approximately six men every day.” He also wrote that one of the Auschwitz prisoners said that “the girls were treated very well” and that they were given “good food” and allowed to “take walks.”
The girls who served the prisoners in the brothels were never Jewish girls because this would have been against Hitler’s Nuremberg laws of 1935. Jewish prisoners were not allowed to visit the brothels for the same reason. In spite of this, there are stories told by Auschwitz survivors that the women in the brothel were Jewish. You can read one of these stories on this blog.