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September 16, 2010

“Holding pen for the gas chamber” at Auschwitz

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:26 am

I have been to Auschwitz twice, as a tourist, but I have never seen the “holding pen for the gas chamber.” Then today, I learned about it from an AP news article by Vanessa Miller, which you can read here. The news article is about a Holocaust survivor, Walter Plywaski, whose home was burned up in the recent fire in Colorado. 

Here is a quote from the article by Vanessa Miller:

At age 15, Plywaski said, he was in the “holding pen for the gas chamber” for what seemed like “three lifetimes.”

“In Auschwitz, two weeks was a lifetime,” he said.

He found a way out by volunteering for a work camp elsewhere, although he said that was risky because German officials often promised to transport workers and instead took them to be gassed. At a camp in Dachau, Germany, he said, his father was beaten to death by a camp commandant with a shovel.

Women and children waiting for the gas chamber at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau

The photo above was taken in May 1944 when a transport of Jews from Hungary arrived at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau.  In the background, you can see the horse barns in the section called “Canada” which is where the clothing, taken from the luggage of the Jews, was stored.  Across the road was the building called the “Sauna” where the clothing was disinfected in steam chambers; there was also a shower room for the incoming prisoners in the “Sauna.”

The location in the photo above might be called a “holding pen,” where the Jews had to wait, but there was no fence around it.  Down the road from this location was Krema IV and Krema V, two buildings which had cremation ovens as well as shower rooms that were really gas chambers, according to the survivors of Auschwitz.

After World War II ended, the acting Commandant of Dachau, Martin Weiss, was prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal, along with 39 staff members of the Dachau concentration camp.  There was no testimony about Weiss or any of the other Dachau commandants beating a prisoner to death with a shovel.  Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS judge, investigated the Nazi concentration camps for corruption and abuse of the prisoners and arrested the commandants of five of the camps, but he gave Dachau a good report.  Apparently, Morgen never learned of the prisoner who was beaten to death by the commandant of Dachau, even though he stayed in the camp for weeks and asked the prisoners about any abuse at Dachau.

It’s been five years since I’ve been to Auschwitz and a lot of signs have been put up since then.  For all I know, there may be a sign now, which identifies the “holding pen” at Auschwitz.

Women and children on their way to the gas chamber

In the photo above, women and children are walking toward the entrance gate to the Krema III gas chamber, which is shown in the background.  Notice the barbed wire fence around the building.  Is this the “holding pen” for the gas chamber?

The prisoners in the photo above are looking toward the Krema II gas chamber which is behind the camera.  They could be just steps away from entering the gate into the enclosure around Krema II.  They are walking down the main camp road in Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau.  When the camp was in operation, this road intersected another road which went to the Sauna and then on to Krema IV and Krema V.  The International Monument at Auschwitz was built over the intersection of these two roads.

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