According to an article on this web site, “Rosie and Max won a school essay writing competition to win places on the government funded Lessons from Auschwitz Project which included a day trip to the Polish mausoleum.”
This quote from Rosie is on the web site cited above:
“We visited both Auschwitz One, which was a former Polish military barracks, brick built and the site’s work camp and Auschwitz Two, which was purpose built by the Nazis and was the death camp.”
Rosie is correct: the brick buildings in the Auschwitz One camp were previously used by the Polish military as army barracks. This implies that the brick buildings in the main Auschwitz camp were built by the Polish military, but they were actually built by the Germans before World War I and were originally intended to house migrant farm workers.
Why is this small detail important enough for me to waste my time blogging about it? It is important because the fact that Auschwitz One (the main camp) was originally built as a transit camp, for migrant workers who traveled to farms all over Europe to work, tells us that Auschwitz was the best location in all of Europe for a TRANSIT camp. Before that, Auschwitz was a center for the production of liquor, which was shipped all over the world; liquor from Auschwitz was sneaked into America during Prohibition.
Auschwitz was a railroad hub for all the train lines in Europe. You can read all about it in the book “Auschwitz 1270 to the Present” on page 59. This book reads like a revisionist book, until you get to the end, and even then, the authors were honest enough to write that the gas chamber in the main camp is a reconstruction. I read this book before I went to Poland in 1998; when I toured the Auschwitz main camp with a Jewish guide, I was told that the gas chamber was original.
Rosie also said this:
“I was shocked by the sheer size and industrial scale of the purpose-built death camp. The horrors of the extermination were brought home when you saw the black stains on the ceiling above the incinerators, which were left by the remains of the burning bodies.”
Rosie is again correct: “the purpose-built death camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau is huge — 425 acres to be exact. Seven Polish villages were torn down to build it.
The photo below shows the “black stains” on the ceiling of the crematorium.
The “incinerators,” that Rosie mentioned, were the cremation ovens in the main camp, shown in the photo above. The bodies were burned in an attempt to stop the spread of disease. The ground at Auschwitz-Birkeanau was too wet to bury the bodies.
I was also shocked when I saw the “sheer size” of the Birkenau death camp. My first thought was: Why was a such a huge camp needed when most of the Jews were immediately gassed upon arrival?
Actually Birkenau was a multi-purpose camp, contrary to what Rosie said. It was originally built as a POW camp for captured Soviet soldiers. The Soviet POWs built the brick barracks that later became the women’s camp.
Birkenau was used as a transit camp as well as a death camp. The prisoners who were immediately gassed were not registered in the camp and neither were the prisoners who were transferred to a sub-camp or another concentration camp.
Remember the story of Irene Zisblatt who escaped from Birkenau when she was tossed over a 10 ft barbed wire fence into an open car on a train that was taking prisoners to the Neuengamme camp in Germany to work. The barracks at Birkenau were used to house the thousands of prisoners who were brought by train to Birkenau and then transferred on a train to another camp to work.
It is impossible to determine the exact number of people who died at Auschwitz because the train records have never been found. There were 200,000 prisoners who were transferred out of the camp to other camps, but the total number of prisoners who were brought to Auschwitz (1.3 million) is only an estimate. 1.3 million arrivals minus 200,000 transfers equals 1.1 million deaths at the Auschwitz death camp. The original estimate by the Soviet Union was 4 million deaths.