Scrapbookpages Blog

December 19, 2010

Update on the Irish prisoner at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:09 am

I previously blogged here about an Irishman who was allegedly a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp.  It turns out that I was wrong in assuming that the Irish prisoner was a British SOE agent who was using the code name Patrick O’Leary.  A reader who commented on that blog post yesterday wrote that there was another Irishman who was at Dachau, but so far I have not been able to find out his name.

The reader mentioned in his comment that there were a lot of prisoners brought to Dachau in the last months before the camp was liberated.  In fact, there were 7,000 prisoners who arrived in the last days who were not registered.   (more…)

December 16, 2010

Sonderkommando Revolt video game — Update

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:22 am

There is a new YouTube video, called a game teaser.  It gives a preview of the Sonderkommando Revolt video game which is due out on January 1, 2011.

Update: Dec. 27, 2010:

It turns out that the video game, Sonderkommando Revolt, will not be released; the developer has withdrawn the video game because negative criticism has caused him a lot of stress.  The YouTube video has now been made private.  Bloggers who know something about video games are calling for support for the developer and saying that it should be released.  I agree.  It took four years for a team to create this video game and there is no reason not to release it.   It might even cause young people to study the history of the story upon which the game is based.  So, it’s all good.

Return to my original post:

The YouTube preview shows that the video game is very, very loosely based on events that happened during the Holocaust.  Sonderkommando Revolt does not reflect real history; it merely uses some icons of the Holocaust, such as the Arbeit Macht Frei gate at Dachau and the Black Wall at the Auschwitz main camp.  The real life Sonderkommando revolt took place at the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.

I am not a video game player, so my opinion is worth nothing, nada, zip, but I’m going to give my opinion anyway:  the Sonderkommando Revolt video game is no different than any other video game. In other words, it is harmless fun — no big deal.  (more…)

December 15, 2010

It’s so fun to say Bergen-Belsen — another Holocaust game

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:18 am

The title of my blog post today comes from what a young man named Jon said while playing a new board game, which was designed by Brenda Braithwaite.  You can read the full story on The Daily Beast here.

The new game, which is based on the  Holocaust, is called “Train” and it involves putting pawns (representing people) into trains; the player does not know what the destination of the train will be until he draws a “Terminus” card with the name of the concentration camp at which the people have arrived. According to the Daily Beast article, when a player named Helen drew her first Terminus card, she showed it to Jon, who said, “Bergen-Belsen, nice! It’s so fun to say.”    (more…)

December 14, 2010

The children of the Theresienstadt ghetto

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:18 am

As every student of the Holocaust knows, there were 1.5 million children who were killed by the Nazis.  As Heinrich Himmler famously said, in his second speech at Poznan on Oct. 6, 1943: “I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men – that is, to kill them or have them killed – and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up.”  Actually, he said this in German: “Ich hielt mich nämlich nicht für berechtigt, die Männer auszurotten- sprich also, umzubringen oder umbringen zu lassen – und die Rächer in Gestalt der Kinder für unsere Söhne und Enkel groß werden zu lassen.”

So we know what Himmler was planning all along.  In spite of this, Jewish children were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto and treated very well for a year or two before they were shipped off to the Auschwitz II camp, known as Birkenau.  The Czech prisoners from Theresienstadt were allowed to live for another six months at Birkenau, in a special “family camp,” where families were allowed to live together; they were allowed to wear their own clothes and they were treated as privileged prisoners before being sent to the gas chamber.

The old walled fort which became the Theresienstadt ghetto

Theresienstadt was called a “concentration camp” by the Nazis, but it is usually referred to today as a “ghetto.”  It was formerly an old military fort that was like a small town.  Today, it is an actual town, called Terezin, where people live.

Theresienstadt was the designated site for the deportation of Jewish children from the orphanages in the Greater German Reich. Children were also sent to the ghetto with their parents or other relatives. Approximately 10,000 children passed through the Theresienstadt ghetto.

The drawings and paintings, produced by these children in their art classes at Theresienstadt, are known the world over. Some of their artwork hangs at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Many other Holocaust museums display their work also. The Jewish Museum in Prague has a collection of 4,000 pieces of children’s art from Theresienstadt.

Barracks for young Jewish girls at Theresienstadt

Building L410, shown in the photo above, is located on Hauptstrasse, the main street of Theresienstadt. This was the barracks for Jewish orphan girls from 8 to 16 years old. The older girls, aged 14 to 16, had to work during the day, but they took  art classes at night. The building also had a basement where concert practice took place. Mrs. Friedl Dicker-Brandejsova gave art lessons to the young girls.

The children were encouraged to express their feelings in their artwork. Some of the drawings that have been preserved show practice sheets where the children were obviously being taught the various elements of drawing. The children depicted their surroundings in the ghetto in their drawings and watercolors, but they also painted what they remembered from their world before they were deported to Theresienstadt.

Remarkably, the drawings of the children were not censored by the Nazis, who allowed the children the freedom to express themselves on paper. It is even more remarkable that the Nazis carefully preserved the artwork, after the children were deported to the Birkenau death camp.

Approximately 8,000 children, both boys and girls, were deported to other camps from Theresienstadt.  Their paintings, which now hang all over the world, are a unique memorial to the innocent children of the Holocaust.

First view of the Theresienstadt ghetto from a tour bus

The first view of Theresienstadt, as seen from the tour buses that come from Prague, is shown in the photo above.  The park in the foreground is the Stadtpark and the building in the background is the Ghetto Museum, which is located at the northwest end of Hauptstrasse. The Museum was dedicated on October 17, 1991, the 50ieth anniversary of Nazi’s decision to deport the Jews from the Greater German Reich to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

Before the Nazis decided in October 1941 to turn the old military garrison town of Theresienstadt into a concentration camp, the museum building was being used for a school. During the period when Theresienstadt was a camp for Jews, the museum building was originally known as L417; it was used to house boys between 10 and 15 years old.

Barracks for young boys at Theresienstadt is now a Museum

When I visited the Museum, I purchased a book entitled “Ghetto Museum Terezin” written by PhDr. Vojtech, CSc, Ludmila Chladkova, and PhDr. Erik Polak, CSc. According to this book, the boys’ barracks in L417, which is now the Ghetto Museum, had its own self-administration, which was the so-called SKID. The boys’ barracks was under the supervision of Professor Valtr Eisinge, who was transported in September 1944 to Auschwitz, where he died.

The boys’ barracks had an emblem and an anthem.  The boys were allowed to publish their own newsletter, called Vedem, for almost two years.  This publication was like a children’s magazine, which contained fiction and poetry, written by the boys, as well as news from the ghetto.

The former boys’ barracks, now the Ghetto Museum, has a courtyard which was formerly the playground for the boys; it is now a Memorial to the Children of Theresienstadt. The photograph below shows a statue by Italian artist Emilio Greco and a Star of David which have been placed there. On the walls in the background are memorial plaques; the statue of a naked woman is shown in close-up in the second photograph below in the courtyard of the former boys’ barracks.

Courtyard of the Ghetto Museum which was formerly the boys’ barracks

Close-up of statue in courtyard of Ghetto Museum

If any of the young boys, who lived in the building which is now the Ghetto Museum, are still alive, they will love the current artwork in the courtyard where they used to play.  The Nazis would never have allowed such artwork in a Memorial to Children.

Former barrack for infants at Theresienstadt

At the corner of Rathausgasse and Langestrasse I photographed the building, shown above, that is currently the post office in Terezin, but in the former ghetto, it was a home for infants. It also housed a pre-school and a kindergarten.

Some books say there were 207 babies born in the Theresienstadt ghetto, but others say it was 275. All adults up to age 60, and young people over the age of 14, had to work in Theresienstadt, so the infants and small children were taken care of, by some of the prisoners, in the building shown in the photo above, and returned to their mothers in the evening.

The building for the babies also had space for theater performances in the evening. In addition, there was a bakery and the kitchen which supplied the food for the Jews who lived there. To the right of the post office is the current town hall, which is barely visible in the photo above.

Across Langestrasse, to the west of the current Post Office shown in the photograph above, is a block of buildings which were used as homes for Jewish children in the former ghetto. Some of the buildings in this block were also used for theater and cultural performances and building L216 in this block was the children’s library.

One of the barracks buildings for young children at Theresienstadt

Another building on Langestrasse, which faces the market square on the west side of the square, is today the Culture House of Terezin, shown in the photograph below. During the ghetto days, there was a theater here where live performances were given. It was also where the ghetto guard was housed. This was a unit of young male inmates, organized by the Nazis to keep order in the ghetto. Most of them were eventually sent on the transports to the death camps, and they were replaced by 100 Jewish men over forty who made up the new ghetto guard.  (Did you catch that?  The young men were sent to death camps to be killed, while the older men were allowed to live.)

Building where the Jewish ghetto guards lived at Theresienstadt

The building next to the Ghettowache on Langestrasse, across from the market square, is the Sapper barracks where older Jewish prisoners were housed. The building is shown in the photograph below. There was also an auxiliary hospital here for patients with heart disease and tuberculosis. There were plenty of inmates to staff this hospital, as one out of 7 of the adult males in the ghetto was a doctor. Cultural programs and lectures were given here as well and there was a synagogue in the attic. Today this building is the Social Care Home of Terezin.

A Synagogue was in the attic of this building

After seeing these photos, the reader might be confused.  Why were the Jewish children treated so well before they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be killed?  This was all part of the diabolical plan of the Nazis.  The purpose was to fool the public, so that their real plan of genocide would not be suspected.

In case you think I’m writing facetiously, which I have been known to do in the past, here is a quote from another blog post that says essentially the same thing.

During World War II, prisoners of the Theresienstadt ghetto — used as a transit camp for Auschwitz — were given space and time dedicated to pursuing the arts.  For the German government, it was a way to hide their atrocities from the rest of the world.  For the prisoners, it was an outlet to deal with the extraordinary, horrible events that had enveloped the world.

December 13, 2010

It was actually Himmler who ordered the gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:17 am

You can stop blaming Hitler for ordering the gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of all the “extermination” camps; it was actually Heinrich Himmler, the number 2 man in Nazi Germany, who gave the order to convert the “corpse cellars” in two of the crematoria at Birkenau into gas chambers.

This morning I read a news article which shows a photo of a blueprint that is being shown in an exhibit in Dublin, Ireland until December 17th. You can read the news article about the exhibit in Dublin here.

I have just added a similar photo to the blog post that I did yesterday; I am showing this photo again, so you will understand what I am writing about today.

Blueprint of Krema II at Birkenau

Here is a quote from the news article about the blueprint of Krema II at Birkenau:

The illustration shows an early blueprint of crematorium II, dated November 1941, showing two elevations and the basement.  Designed to be built in Auschwitz, this incineration installation with 15 ovens and a daily capacity of 1,440 corpses was to accommodate the normal mortality of the Auschwitz complex.  When in July 1942 Himmler took the decision to transform the Auschwitz complex into an extermination camp, the SS decided to build in Birkenau two of these crematoria (numbered II and III) and to transform the spaces that were intended as morgues or corpse cellars (indicated in the basement plan as L(eichen)-Keller, into an undressing room and a gas chamber.  In addition, the SS built also two smaller crematoria equipped with gas chambers (number IV and V).

So what was going on in July 1942 that made Himmler decide to change the blueprint plans for the “corpse cellars” into gas chambers?  On July 3, 1942, a typhus epidemic was out of control at the Birkenau camp and Himmler gave an order that everything possible should be done to stop the epidemic.  In 1942, there were no crematory ovens at Birkenau.  The only ovens were at the main camp, which was about two miles from Birkenau.  At the Auschwitz main camp, there were three ovens, which could burn 340 bodies in a 24-hour period.

The bodies of the victims of the 1942 typhus epidemic were buried in mass graves at Birkenau; the bodies were later dug up and burned.  Commandant Hoess wrote in his autobiography that “The number of corpses in the mass graves amounted to 107,000.”

Otto Moll, the SS man who was in charge of digging the mass graves at Birkenau in 1942, disputed Hoess’ version of the story; on April 16, 1946, Moll told an interrogator at Nuremberg:

“When I was in charge of these excavations, as I told you about before, together with another comrade, which was confirmed by Hoess today, we put between 30,000 and 40,000 people in these mass graves. It was the most terrible work that could be carried out by any human being.”

Was Himmler out of his mind?  Just at the time that thousands of Jews were dying of typhus, faster than the bodies could be burned, Himmler ordered the corpse cellars, that had been planned for two new crematoria, to be changed to undressing rooms and gas chambers!  Where was he planning to put all the bodies that were piling up?  Why didn’t Himmler just let the typhus epidemic kill all the Jews at Birkenau, instead of trying to stop the epidemic?

By 1943, the first typhus epidemic at Birkenau was over and the construction of the Krema II and Krema III crematoria had been completed.  In 1943, another typhus epidemic broke out at Birkeanau.  So now the ovens in Krema II and Krema III had to be used to burn the bodies of the Jews who were gassed, as well as the prisoners who were dying of typhus.  There were 15 ovens, but with that many people dying, where did they put the bodies that were waiting to be burned?

What else was going on in Himmler’s world in 1942 that caused him to make the stupid mistake of eliminating the corpse cellars?  In July 1942, just when the typhus epidemic at Birkenau was out of control, trains were transporting Jews to Treblinka to be gassed.  Himmler was also in charge of the gassing of the Jews at Treblinka, so he had a lot on his mind.

Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, said this in the confession that he made after he was tortured by the British.  My comments are in brackets like this […]

I was ordered to see Himmler in Berlin in June 1941 and he told me, approximately, the following:

The Führer ordered the solution of the Jewish question in Europe. [Actually, Hermann Göring ordered Reinhard Heydrich to hold a conference at Wannsee on January 20, 1942 to plan “the final solution of the Jewish question.”] A few so called Vernichtungslager [extermination camps] are existing in the General Government [occupied Poland]:

Belzec near Rawa Ruska Ost Polen [not in operation until March 1942]

Treblinka near Malkinia on the River Bug [not in operation until July 1942]

Wolzek near Lublin [no camp with that name ever existed]

The Buna Works [the Auschwitz III camp at Monowitz which was not opened until 1942]

These camps come under the Einsatzkommando of the Sicherheitspolizei under the leadership of high SIPO officers and guard companies. These camps were not very efficient and could not be enlarged. I visited the camp Treblinka in spring 1942 to inform myself about the conditions. [The Treblinka camp was not in operation until July 1942.] The following method was used in the process of extermination. Small chambers were used equipped with pipes to induce the exhaust gas from car engines.

This method was unreliable as the engines, coming from old captured transport vehicles and tanks, very often failed to work. Because of that, the intakes could not be dealt with according to the plan, which [was] meant to clear the Warsaw Ghetto.

Why did Hoess make so many mistakes in his confession?  Did he have brain damage from the all the beatings that he suffered at the hands of the British?  Did Himmler have so much on his mind that he couldn’t think straight and he made the huge mistake of eliminating the corpse cellars at Birkenau?


December 12, 2010

Sonderkommando Revolt — Holocaust revenge video game

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:44 am

A new video game, called Sonderkommando Revolt, developed by an Israeli game maker, is due out next month.  The developer of the video game described the game as “blast the Nazis fun.”  The game is based on the uprising of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners on October 7, 1944 when the Krema IV gas chamber was blown up. Players will take the part of Zalmen Gradowski, a real-life Sonderkommando, who was one of the leaders of the uprising.  Gradowski was killed during the actual uprising, but in the video game, he will finally have the chance to get revenge on the Nazis through the kids who play the game.

I have never wasted my time playing video games, but my grandchildren spend hours playing.  In fact, one of them started playing video games at the age of two, and he is thinking of becoming a video game developer himself.  What a great “after Christmas gift” this would be for him! (Just kidding; I would never do that.)


December 11, 2010

Kristallnaht on Nov. 9, 1938 and what happened just months before this date

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

One of my favorite web sites is  Today I read an article on about “what Kristallnacht means to the Jews” here.  Kristallnacht needs no explanation; most people know about it — unless they have been living in a cave somewhere for the last 70 years.  But how many people know about the Evian Conference that was held in July 1938, just months before the pogrom known as Kristallnacht took place on Nov. 9th and 10th in 1938.    (more…)

December 10, 2010

Why is there so much interest in Elie Wiesel?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:32 pm

Not too long ago, I checked my wordpress “site stats” to see which post had gotten the most hits “of all time.”  It turned out that one of my posts about Elie Wiesel was the all time favorite of the readers of my blog.  I have been posting on my blog for almost a year now, and I have written 364 posts so far.  Out of all those posts, why is there so much interest in the subject of Elie Wiesel?  The obvious answer is that students in most schools in America are required to read Elie’s book Night.  But I find it hard to believe that students are reading a blog written by an old fogey like me.

I read Night many years ago, before I knew a lot about the Holocaust.  I knew about the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but Elie’s book didn’t mention the gas chambers, which I thought was odd.  When Oprah picked Night as her book club selection a couple of years ago, a new edition was released, which has some changes.  You can go to and search inside the new edition.  The part about the burning pits starts around page 32 and continues to page 34.

How could Elie Wiesel not have known about the gas chambers at Auschwitz?  Anyone who was there would have known.  Many survivors have written books in which they said that the Kapos, who met the train and removed the luggage, told them to lie about their age so they would not be waved to the left during the selection process; the left meant that you were in the group that was destined for the gas chamber.  (Elie was told by one of the Kapos to lie and say he was 18; his father was advised to say he was 40.)

Selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The photo above shows the selection process for the incoming prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Two SS officers in uniform are shown, along with several prisoners in striped uniforms on the far left.  The woman carrying a baby is headed toward Krema II, but she will have to walk a long way to get around the train that is in her way.  According to many survivors, mothers were asked to hand over their babies to the elderly women, but those who refused were sent to the gas chamber.

In his book entitled Absence of Closure, Dr. Gustav Schonfeld wrote about what happened when his family was transported to Auschwitz from the town of Munkacs in Czechoslovakia, which had become part of Hungary after Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Hungarian army in 1938. Schonfeld wrote that, during the selection process at Birkenau, his father ran ahead in the line to see what was going on, and then ran back to tell his wife that she should let her mother hold her baby, and she should tell the selections officer that she was a nurse. This saved his mother’s life because if she had not handed her baby over to her mother, she would have been sent to the gas chamber.

According to Dr. Schonfeld, Dr. Josef Mengele told his mother not to worry, that she would see her baby later. Later, when his mother asked Dr. Mengele where her baby was, she was told to look at the camp’s smokestacks. Dr. Schonfeld wrote that his mother never forgave herself for giving her baby to her mother.

Elie Wiesel wrote in Night that he and his father were waved to the left.  Then he wrote:

“We did not know, as yet, which was the better side, right or left, which road led to prison and which to the crematoria.”

I am not sure, but this sentence might have been added in the new edition released for Oprah’s book club.  He couldn’t add the term “gas chamber” in the new edition, but since everyone knows that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were in the crematoria buildings, this was just as good.

Train that has just arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau

In the background of the photo above, you can see the tall chimneys of the Krema II and Krema III crematoria where the gas chambers were located.  Almost every survivor mentioned that the first thing that they saw when they got off the train was smoke, or flames, coming out of the two chimneys.  Elie and his father arrived at night so, of course, they didn’t see the chimneys.  What they saw instead was far worse: two burning pits, one for children and one for adults.

Here is the part about the burning pits in the new version of Night:

Not far from us, flames, huge flames, were rising from a ditch.  Something was being burned there.  A truck grew close and unloaded its hold: small children.  Babies!  Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes …. children thrown into the flames.  [..]  A little farther on, there was another, larger pit for adults.  [….]  We continued our march.  We were coming closer and closer to the pit, from which an infernal heat was rising.  Twenty more steps.  If I was going to kill myself, this was the time.  Our column had only some fifteen steps to go.  I bit my lips so that my father would not hear my teeth chattering.  Ten more steps.  Eight.  Seven.  We were walking slowly, as one follows a hearse, our own funeral procession.  Only four more steps.  Three.  There it was now, very close to us, the pit and the flames.  I gathered all that remained of my strength in order to break rank and throw myself onto the barbed wire. […] Two steps from the pit, we were ordered to turn left and herded into barracks.

Many survivors wrote that mothers with children were always sent to the gas chamber and that mothers and babies were gassed together.  I have read many survivor books, but none of them ever mentioned that the babies were grabbed out of the mothers’ arms and thrown into a truck to be taken to a burning pit.

Painting illustrates how the babies were thrown into a burning pit at Birkenau

Elie Wiesel and his father were marched down this road

According to the display board shown in the photo above, this road 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 which shows a woman and three children; the text on the display board says that they are on their way to the gas chamber. This famous photo is from the Auschwitz Album; it was taken by an SS man on May 26, 1944. The 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.

If my memory of the original version of his book is correct, Elie Wiesel and his father arrived at Birkenau around midnight, and were assigned to a barrack in the Gypsy camp, which was to the left of the interior camp road shown above, behind the Men’s camp.

Map of Birkenau camp. The top of the map is West, not North

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

In the new 2006 version of Night, on page 37, it is mentioned that Elie and his father were “herded into yet another barrack inside the Gypsy camp.” In 1944, part of the Gypsy camp had been converted into a transit camp for the Durchgangsjuden who were held there temporarily until they could be transferred to another location. Elie and his father were transferred to the main Auschwitz camp and then to the Auschwitz III camp, also known as Monowitz, which was a labor camp.

There is a story, often told, that Heinrich Himmler witnessed Jews being shot by the Einsatzgruppen, early in the war, and this affected him so much that he decided to use gas chambers to kill the Jews.  But why did Himmler change his mind and decide that innocent babies should suffer the most ignominious death of all — being burned alive?

Elie Wiesel and his father were selected for work when they arrived at Birkenau.  Why were they sent down the same road where the babies were being burned alive?  Did the Nazis deliberately provide witnesses to the cruel deaths of the babies?

A couple of months ago, I got into an argument with one of my readers and a history professor about whether or not the prisoners were marched out of the camps so that they could be killed because the Nazis didn’t want to have any witnesses who could potentially testify about the atrocities in the camps.  I maintained that the prisoners were marched out so that they could be taken to labor camps in Germany to work.

Elie and his father were witnesses to the most horrible atrocity of all, yet they were marched out of Birkenau on January 18, 1945 and taken to Buchenwald.  O.K. now I am confused.  First Elie and his father were marched down the road to the burning pits so that they could get a good look at the babies being thrown off a truck into the fire, but then, according to the history professor, they were marched out of the camp in order to kill them because they were witnesses.

As it turned out, Elie wasn’t killed on the march out of the camp; he survived and told the world about the babies being burned alive.

The German people are some of the smartest people in the world, yet they made many stupid mistakes during the Holocaust.  Like bringing witnesses to see the burning pits and then allowing them to survive.

You can read more about Elie Wiesel and Night here on the web site with the title Elie Wiesel Cons the World.

December 9, 2010

Dead from cancer or Dead from cancer treatment?

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 6:27 am

I was shocked and saddened when I read the first announcement of the death of Elizabeth Edwards on google news:  “Elizabeth Edwards, dead at 51 from cancer.” I knew that she was older than 51 so I thought that perhaps this news report was false.  Just the day before, she had been writing on Facebook.  She had given several interviews in recent months, and she never really looked sick.  How could she have taken such a sudden turn for the worse?  But was she dead from cancer or dead from cancer treatment?    (more…)

December 7, 2010

“The People Who Walked On” at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 12:28 pm

“The People Who Walked On” is the title of a short story, written by Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski, which is included in a collection of short stories in a book entitled This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, published by Penguin Books.  Borowski was a prisoner himself at Birkenau, so he was a witness to what happened there.  But what does it mean — “the people who walked on”?  What’s he talking about?    Maybe it would be easier to understand if his original Polish words were translated as “the people who walked on by.”

Women and young children walking past Krema III at Birkena

The photo above clearly illustrates “the people who walked on.”  This group of women and children are looking toward Krema II as they pass Krema III which is in the background.  They are headed to the intersection of the main camp road and the road to the Sauna, where they will turn right and go to the shower room in the Sauna.  The intersection no longer exists because it is currently covered by the International Monument.

International monument at Birkenau is located between ruins of Krema II and Krema III

In the photo above, the International Monument is on the left.  The fence posts for the fence around Krema III can be seen in the background. The monument covers the first part of the road that leads to the Sauna. Krema II and Krema III were blown up on Jan. 20, 1945 after the prisoners were marched out of the camp on Jan. 18, 1945.

In his short story “The People Who Walked On,”  Borowski famously wrote:

Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.

He was referring to 3,000 Hungarian Jews who had been put to death in the four gas chambers in the crematoria at Birkenau in 1944.  “The People who walked on” were Jews who walked past the gas chambers and went on to the Sauna where they took a shower.

Here is a quote from Borowski’s short story, which explains why the people walked on by Krema III:

In the following months, the procession to the little wood moved along two roads: one leading straight from the ramp, the other past the hospital wall.  Both led to the crematoria, but some of the people had the good fortune to walk beyond them, all the way to the Zauna, and this meant more than just a bath and a delousing, a barber’s shop and a new prison suit.  It meant staying alive.  […]

Each day, as I got up in the morning to scrub the hospital floors, the people were walking — along both roads.  Women, men, children.

They carried their bundles.

The road that went “past the hospital wall” was the main camp road.  The location of the hospital was just east of Krema III; it is shown on the map below.  (Click on the photo to enlarge)

Map of Birkenau. The top of the map is west, not north

Famous photo of a woman and her children walking down the road “leading straight from the ramp” at Birkenau, carrying their bundles

Men walking on the north-south road “leading straight from the ramp”

Women and children walking on the same north-south road leading straight from the ramp, carrying bundles

Men selected for labor walking on the same road as the women and children

The “ramp” where the Jews got off the trains inside the Birkenau camp in 1944

In May 1944, the train tracks were extended inside the Birkenau camp so that the trains could be brought right up to the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III.   The Jews who got off the train on the track on the right hand side would walk down the north-south road that went through the middle of the camp.  The Jews who got off the trains on the other side would walk down the main camp road, which led to the Krema II and Krema III gas chambers. Before the International Monument was built, the main camp road intersected an east-west road that led to the Sauna, where incoming prisoners took a shower. On the other side of the road were Krema IV and Krema V, which had gas chambers, disguised as shower rooms.

Men in one column and women and children in another

Hungarian Jews, who have just arrived on a train, form two lines before marching down the main camp road at Birkenau, shown on the right side of the photo above.  Notice the complete lack of guns, dogs or even guard towers.  Dr. Mengele is the man standing in front of the column on the right, holding a cigarette at chest height. The “gate of death” is shown in the background.  Both columns will march to the end of the main camp road, passing Krema II and Krema III, then turn right and continue down the road to the Sauna and to the fake showers in Krema IV and Krema V.

The north-south road that leads to the Sauna

Shower room in the Sauna building

North-South road through the middle of the Birkenau camp

The photo above was taken in 2005; it shows the road that goes from the women’s camp on the south side of the Birkenau camp, all the way to the new section, called Mexico, on the north side.  This is the start of Lagerstrasse A, the road “leading straight from the ramp.”  When the prisoners reached Lagerstrasse B, at the mid-point of this road, they turned left and continued on to the western end of the camp where the Sauna was located.  Krema IV and Krema V were also located at the western end of the camp, across the road from the Sauna.

Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp talk about the selection process in which those who could work were waved to the right and those who were destined to be gassed were sent to the left.  Forget that.  There was no right and left.  Both groups walked down the same two roads, according to Borowski, and both roads led to the crematoria, as well as to the shower room in the Sauna.  Some of the incoming prisoners were taken to the crematoria while others walked on by and went to the Sauna.

The incoming prisoners, shown in the photo below, are waiting in the “little wood” for their turn to go into the Sauna, or maybe for the gas chambers, disguised as shower rooms, in Krema IV and Krema V.

Incoming prisoners waiting in the little wood

“The little wood” at Birkenau, 2005 photo

Borowski was not a Jew.  But that didn’t matter at Birkenau.  According to Borowski, even “Aryans” were sent to the gas chamber.

This quote is from page 113 of his book of short stories:

Why is it that nobody cries out, nobody spits in their faces, nobody jumps at their throats? We doff our caps to the S.S. men returning from the little wood; if our name is called we obediently go with them to die, and — we do nothing. […] Our only strength is our great number — the gas chambers cannot accommodate all of us. […] Do you know the last time the ‘Aryans’ were selected for the gas chamber?  April 4th.  And do you remember when we arrived in the camp? April 29th.  Do you realize what would have happened — and you with pneumonia — if we had arrived just a few weeks earlier?

After dropping this bombshell on page 113, Borowski goes on to write about the boxing matches at Birkenau — on the same page! Soccer and boxing matches at Birkenau?  Life was good, until your turn came to walk down one of the two roads to the crematoria.  Hopefully, you would be one of the fortunate ones who walked right on by.

On page 116, Borowski writes about the labor Kommandos which used to march in formation back to the main camp. “The band played and the passing columns kept step with its beat.”  Then one day, there were 10 thousand men marching back to the camp and they “were ordered to stop and stood waiting at the gate. At that moment several trucks full of naked women rolled in from the F.K.L. (women’s camp at Birkenau)  The women stretched out their arms and pleaded:  ‘Save us!  We are going to the gas chambers!  Save us!’ ”

This was happening in 1943.  The problem with this story is that the gas chamber in the main camp was not being used in 1943. The gassing of the prisoners took place in the “little red house” and “the little white house,” starting in 1942.  The two little houses were called Bunker No. 1 and Bunker No. 2.  By 1943, four new crematoria were in operation in the Birkenau camp: Krema II, Krema III, Krema IV and Krema V.

So why were women from the women’s camp at Birkenau brought in trucks to the main camp, two miles away, to be gassed?  The worst part is that Borowski wrote that the ten thousand men waiting at the gate did nothing to help the women.  Borowski wrote:  “Not one of us made a move, not one of us lifted a hand.”

Several women who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau have said that they survived because they manged to jump off the truck that was taking them to the gas chamber.  Borowski’s story confirms that women were, in fact, transported on trucks to the gas chamber.

The photo below shows the ruins of Krema III; the field of grass in the background is the location of the soccer field where Borowski was playing while 3,000 Hungarian Jews were being gassed.  How terribly insensitive of the Germans to gas people so close to the soccer field!  This also shows that they never expected someone to survive and write about the gassing, so they didn’t keep the gassing operation a secret.

Ruins of Krema III with the location of the soccer field in the background

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