The subject of the “family camp” came up in a recent comment on my blog. Actually, the full name for this camp was “the Czech family camp.”
Here is what I know about “the Czech family camp”:
In 1944, the main camp road into Auschwitz-Birkeanau intersected a north-south road at the western end of the Birkenau camp; the north-south road led to the Central Sauna where those who were selected for labor took a shower before being assigned to their barracks.
In the photo above, the tall chimneys of Krema II and Krema III can be seen in the background.
A short distance beyond the Sauna were the fake shower rooms in Krema IV and Krema V, where those unfit for work were gassed.
The intersection of these two roads can no longer be seen today because the International Monument has been built in that location at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 1944, the main camp road at Birkenau went all the way to the western end of the camp and continued outside the camp. Today visitors must turn north at the ruins of Krema III to get to the north-south road to the Sauna and the ruins of Krema IV and Krema V.
In a 2006 interview with Don Moore, a writer with the Sun-Herald, Holocaust survivor William Schick told about how he narrowly escaped being gassed at Birkenau on two separate occasions.
Schick was a Czech Jew who had been first sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto, before being transferred to the Czech family camp at Birkenau. As a prisoner in the Czech family camp, Schick played in the soccer matches at Birkenau. The soccer field was located near the Krema III gas chamber.
Regarding the liquidation of the Czech family camp in section BIIb, the following quote is from Don Moore’s article in the Sun-Herald:
“They told everyone in Camp B2B we were going to be sent to Germany as slave laborers, but we had to clean up and shower first and we’d be issued new uniforms,” he said. “When we reached what the guards said were the ‘showers’ there was a commotion going on. I could speak a little German and I heard the guards say something was ‘kaput.'”
He learned later that the apparatus that filled the showers with poison gas was ‘kaput.’ The prisoners from B2B had escaped death. They were marched back to their barracks. Three days later they were marched back to the gas chambers to die.
“We were just about to go into the gas chambers once more and there was another commotion out front.
“A train with 10,000 Jews from Hungry had just arrived. They had no place to put them. We were sent back to our barracks once again. They marched all 10,000 Hungarian Jews into the three gas chambers at Auschwitz and killed them all in 24 hours.”
In the book written by Ruth Elias, entitled “Triumph of Hope,” which I read years ago, the following sequence of events in the liquidation of the Czech family camp is given:
On July 2, 1944, Dr. Josef Mengele made a selection in the Czech family camp. He selected 1,000 male prisoners whom he considered fit for work, and on July 7, they were transported out of Birkenau. Women who were considered fit for work, including Ruth Elias who was pregnant, were transferred from the Czech family camp to the women’s camp at Birkenau.
On July 11, 1944, the liquidation of the Czech family camp began when 3,000 prisoners were sent to the gas chamber. The next day, 4,000 more prisoners were sent to the gas chamber, after being selected by Dr. Mengele, and the family camp ceased to exist. On July 14, the women who had been selected for work, including Ruth Elias, were sent to Hamburg or to the Stutthof concentration camp near the city formerly known as Danzig.
Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz was 18 years old when she was sent from Czechoslovakia to the Birkenau camp in 1943 and tattooed with the number 34042 on her left arm. In a newspaper article in the Salisbury Post, Scott Jenkins reported on a talk that Cernyak-Spatz gave to sixth-graders at Corriher-Lipe Middle School in May 2000. She stressed to the Corriher-Lipe students that the Holocaust was not a single event, but an efficiently conceived and executed process that began “the minute Adolf Hitler came to power” as Germany’s dictator in 1933.
Elaine Geller is a famous Holocaust survivor who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the age of 4, after seeing her mother and grandparents shot right in front of her. Geller now gives frequent lectures about the Holocaust, telling about her experience.
Geller told an audience in Granite Hills, CA on March 4, 2009 that she never officially got any food while she was in the Birkenau camp, since she was a child and because of her age, she wasn’t counted at Auschwitz; Geller survived only because her aunt shared her food. She did what was necessary to survive, including stealing food, eating toothpaste and drinking her own urine.
Geller said that “two Nazi soldiers said her hair was too pretty for a Jewish girl, and they shaved her bald. When her aunt came back from work she saw Elaine and began to cry. For crying, the Nazis beat Geller’s aunt right in front of her, and then they hit Geller’s head with their fists so now she has calcified ears.”
Somehow Elaine Geller managed to survive at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was eventually sent to Bergen-Belsen where she was liberated by British soldiers in April 1945.
From all over Europe, Jews were brought by train to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly in cattle cars. According to Olga Lengyel, a doctor who was a prisoner at Birkenau, the new arrivals went through a selection process during which 30 SS officers took turns selecting workers for the factories and sending those who were too young or too old to the gas chamber with a wave of the hand.
To the left meant immediate death in the gas chamber; to the right meant a few months of slave labor, living in miserable conditions, and barely subsisting at a starvation level. The woman in the photo above tries to escape after being selected for the gas chamber because she is too old to work.
In her book entitled “Five Chimneys,” Lengyel wrote that Dr. Fritz Klein was the “Chief Selector.” She described Dr. Klein as “different from the other S.S. He never shouted and had rather nice manners.”
Dr. Fritz Klein had arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on December 15, 1943; he had first served as a camp doctor in the women’s camp in Birkenau. Later, Dr. Klein worked as a camp doctor in the Gypsy camp at Birkenau.
In December 1944, Dr. Klein was transferred to Neuengamme concentration camp; he was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in January 1945, where he was arrested by the British in April 1945.
Dr. Fritz Klein was put on trial by the British after the war, charged with committing war crimes at both Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen; he was sentenced to death and hanged on December 13, 1945.