This news story in the online Edmonton Journal, which you can read in full here, mentions the “death barracks” at Auschwitz. I was not familiar with this term, so I had to do some searching to find out exactly where the “death barracks” were located.
The photo below is from the Auschwitz Album, a book of photographs that was found by Lili Jacob in a concentration camp in Germany at the end of the war. The album consists of around 200 photos taken by the SS men at Birkenau when a transport of 3,500 Hungarian Jews arrived in May 1944 from Carpatho-Ruthenia, a region annexed to Hungary from the former country of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Jacob was on this transport; she survived because she was selected to work.
According to this page on Wikipedia, the caption on the famous photo above claims that it shows a woman and children walking to the “death barracks.” Many websites about the Holocaust have repeated this information.
When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2005, I took the photo below which shows the famous photo of the woman and children on a signboard at the entrance to a road that goes from South to North through the center of the Birkenau camp, from the women’s camp to the new “Mexico” section of the camp which was in the process of being built.
According to the text on the display board shown in the photo above, this road through the Birkenau camp was a shortcut to Krema IV and Krema V where there were gas chambers, disguised as shower rooms. Note the photo on the display board. This photo was shown as evidence at the Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt where 22 SS men, who had formerly worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau, were put on trial by the Germans in 1963.
Is this the road to the “death barracks” that Holocaust survivor Ray Pierzchajlo was talking about? I don’t think so. According to the Edmonton Journal article about him, he was in the main Auschwitz camp, not the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau. He was a political prisoner, who had been wrongly arrested for helping the Polish Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
This quote is from the Edmonton Journal article about Ray Pierzchajlo:
On Dec. 5, 1941, the Gestapo came looking for his 14-year-old brother, who had been delivering flyers for the Polish resistance. Pierzchajlo, 20 at the time, pretended to be his brother, figuring the Gestapo would let him go when they realized their mistake, while giving his brother time to go into hiding. “I whispered to my mother, ‘Send him (my brother) away.’ ”
But the Nazis kept Pierzchajlo, and after three months in a Warsaw jail, he was shipped to Auschwitz. Just before he left, he smuggled a note to his father, who was being held in the same jail.
At the camp, prisoners were divided into different lines. Most Jews were sent to the gas chambers. Pierzchajlo, young and strong, joined the lines for forced labour. [...]
With the number 12632 tattooed on his arm, he worked alongside other political prisoners, Jews and Gypsies, barely alive on thin soup and bread full of sawdust.
Through his barracks window, he watched Nazi guards shoot hundreds of Jews, Poles, Russians and Germans as they walked out of a nearby “death barracks.”
Then, in 1942, the trains filled with Jews began arriving. They were systematically killed in the gas chambers in the nearby Birkenau extermination camp, built in 1941.
So it is clear that he is not talking about the “death barracks” at Birkenau, toward which the old woman and the children were walking, according to the Wikipedia caption on a photo taken by an SS man and put into an album called Auschwitz Album. No, Pierzchajlo is talking about the “death barracks” at the main Auschwitz camp.
I did some more searching and found this quote on this blog post:
Located in Auschwitz I is Cell 18, in the “death barracks” beside the execution wall. The door way to Cell 18 remains closed with an iron grill, for it is holy ground. Maximillian Kolbe died on the floor of this cell, having made the ultimate sacrifice. A Polish national and a priest, he offered his life in the place of another inmate with children who was randomly selected for execution as punishment for a block mate who did not appear at roll call.
Cell No. 18, where Father Kolbe died, is shown in the photo below.
So it turns out that both the Auschwitz main camp and the Birkenau camp had “death barracks.” The “death barracks” at the main camp were in Block 11, the camp prison, which had a courtroom where political prisoners were put on trial. If they were convicted, the condemned men were taken out into the courtyard between Block 10 and Block 11 to be shot. Somehow, Pierzchajlo was able to see the convicted prisoners being shot from his barracks window.
In the photo above, Block 10 is shown on the right. This is where medical experiments were conducted on women. So where was the barrack building from which Pierzchajlo could observe the shooting of the men and women who had been convicted in the courtroom in Block 11?
Almost every Holocaust survivor says that prisoners went through a selection upon arrival and those who were selected to die were sent immediately to the gas chamber, not to a “death barracks” to wait for their turn in the gas chamber. There were other selections when Dr. Mengele would come to the barracks and choose prisoners, who looked unhealthy, to be taken to the gas chamber. However, I have never heard of a “death barracks” at Birkenau where prisoners were sent to wait for their turn to die.
Numerous stories told by Holocaust survivors mention that a train would arrive at Birkenau and on that same day, 3,000 prisoners would be gassed and burned. There was a soccer field right next to Krema III, one of the gas chamber buildings, and the prisoners who were playing soccer could watch the prisoners entering the gas chamber.