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December 6, 2013

British students on HET tour of Auschwitz learn about “the block of death”

Filed under: Germany, Health, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 11:28 am

A news article, in a British newspaper, which you can read in full here tells about a recent trip, taken to Auschwitz, by 17-year-old students from the UK.  Block 11, shown in the photo below, is mentioned in the article.

Block 11 at the Auschwitz main camp

Block 11 at the Auschwitz main camp

Pictured above is Block 11, the prison building, which is located inside a walled courtyard in the Auschwitz main camp. It was here, in this building, that political prisoners, brought from outside the camp, were housed while they awaited trial in the courtroom of the Gestapo Summary Court, which was in this building.

Jewish prisoners from inside Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) were also brought here for punishment for what the Nazis considered serious offenses, such as sabotage in the Auschwitz factories.

My photograph above was taken in 1998, from inside the courtyard between Block 11 and Block 10. It shows the front side of the prison building, known as Block 11. On the left is the black wall, where prisoners were executed after being convicted in the courtroom that was located in Block 11.

In the photo, one can see the concrete wells placed around the basement windows so the prisoners in the cells below could not see out, but some light could enter through the open top of the well.

The windows on the ground floor have bars on them; there were dormitories with three-tiered bunk beds in these rooms, where prisoners lived while awaiting trial. The upper floor window openings, on both sides of the building, have been closed up with bricks with only a small window left at the top.

The back side of Block 11, where prisoners were housed before trial and execution

The back side of Block 11, where prisoners were housed before trial and execution

The photo above shows the other side of Block 11, where there was a gravel pit, which was used as an execution site for 152 Polish Catholic political prisoners. Note that the windows have been blocked up.

The gravel pit is where, in 1988, Carmelite nuns placed the 26-foot souvenir cross from the Mass said by the Pope at Auschwitz II in 1979.  The cross is shown on the left side of the photo above.

Think about all this, as you read this quote from the British news article:

We continue our tour of Auschwitz I [the main camp] and hear of the atrocities committed there.

We walk past Block 11, known as the “block of death,” where prisoners were tortured and medical experiments were conducted.

We are told of the Nazi tactic of sterilising Jews and those with “genetic imperfections” so they could no longer have children with the aim that they would slowly die out.

This is all new to me.  When I first visited the Auschwitz main camp in 1998, my private tour guide told me that Block 11 was where prisoners were held until they were put on trial.  If convicted, they were taken outside to the “black wall” (between Block 11 and Block 10) where they were executed with a shot in the neck.  I was told that “medical experiments” were conducted in Block 10, the building on the other side of the courtyard, across from Block 11.

My tour guide didn’t say anything about sterilising Jews at Auschwitz. This would have been a waste of time because Hitler’s alleged plan was to kill all the Jews.

As far as sterilising people with “genetic imperfections,” I know that Hitler ordered that German people with hereditary conditions should be sterlized so that conditions such as Huntington’s disease, mental illness, and hereditary deafness, would not be passed on to future generations.  Needless to say, this is no longer done in Germany, and one can see people with hereditary conditions on the streets of German cities.

This quote is also from news article:

The pupils from Imberhorne School, 17-year-olds Ellie Radcliffe and Chania Fox, both tell me they want to hear personal stories to humanise the loss of life. This is something our guide, Phillipa Meggit, from the Holocaust Educational Trust, has said on several occasions during the journey here – look beyond the figures which you can’t quantify – how can you imagine an estimated 1.2 million people whose lives were pointlessly snuffed out? – and think about the individuals.  […]

For Chania, who lives in Crescent Road in East Grinstead, it was a pile of shoe polishes which most struck a chord.

She said: “It was the shoe polishes that really made me stop and think. Just the fact that those people were so deceived and unaware of where they were going, they brought things like that with them.”

I also noticed the small round containers of shoe polish when I visited Auschwitz, but I didn’t photograph them. The Nazis saved the shoe polish because they were planning to send it back to Germany, to give to the German people whose homes had been bombed by the Allies.

The most popular brand of shoe polish was Shinola

The most popular brand of shoe polish in America was Shinola

Shinola was the most well-know brand of shoe polish in America.  A popular expression, back in the day, was “[so and so] doesn’t know shit from Shinola.”  This could be said for the Auschwitz tour guide.

The shoe polish is representative of a different era, when people in America, as well as in Germany, polished their shoes every Saturday night, after their weekly bath in a galvinized tub in front of the kitchen stove. Everyone dressed up, back then, and put on their shined shoes, to go to church on Sunday morning.  The Jews were also shining their shoes, but on Friday night.  Who knew?