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August 29, 2016

How the ruins of Auschwitz-Birkenau have changed over the years

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 3:55 pm
Recent photo of the ruins of a gas chamber

Recent photo of the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site

In the photo above, note the height of the trees in the background. The old photo below shows virtually no trees.

A photo of the same ruins, taken in 1945

Photo of the ruins of Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau, taken in 1945

My photo of the ruins taken in 1998

My 2005 photo of the same ruins

Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau, shown in the photos above, was the site of the largest mass murder in the history of mankind, according to Robert Jan Van Pelt, a noted Holocaust historian.

It was here that over 500,000 Jews were  gassed to death with Zyklon-B, an insecticide that was also used to disinfect clothing in the camp, according to Mr. Van Pelt.

The old black and white photo was taken shortly after Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Union on January 27, 1945.

The photo at the top of the page shows the same view of the ruins of Krema II, taken recently. The trees in the background are at the west end of the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.

These photos show the on-going effort to preserve the ruins of Krema II. Robert Jan Van Pelt calls Krema II the “Holy of Holies.” He feels that this is a place that demands great reverence and respect for the thousands of innocent victims who perished here.

My 2005 photo of the ruins of the oven room for Krema II

My 2005 photo of the ruins of the oven room in Krema II where bodies were burned

Old photo shows Krema II before it was blown up

Old photo shows Krema II building before it was blown up

The old black and white photo above shows the Krema II building in 1943, when it was still under construction; the roof of the partially-underground gas chamber, covered with about two inches of snow, is on the right.

The ceiling of the gas chamber room was around eight feet high; the exterior roof was about three feet above ground.

There were four holes in the roof of the gas chambers in both Krema II and Krema III; the roofs were made of reinforced concrete, six inches thick. Through these four holes on the roof, an SS man, wearing a gas mask, would lower an open can of Zyklon-B gas pellets down into four wire-mesh columns inside the gas chamber.

When the gassing was finished, the pellets were retrieved and sent back to the Degesch company so that they could be filled with poison and used again.

Michael Kula, a Holocaust survivor, testified as an eye-witness to the use of wire-mesh columns for the Zyklon-B pellets, but these columns are no longer in existence.

 

 

July 11, 2016

a devastating three-hour guided tour, the only way summer visitors are allowed in the camps.

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:08 am

The title of my blog post today is a quote from a recent news article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/10/touring-auschwitz-the-week-after-elie-wiesel-s-death.html

The following quote is from the news article:

Begin quote

This week, just after the death of Eli Wiesel, I traveled with my family to Auschwitz, the largest crime scene in world history.

 Nowadays it’s a gruesome but essential tourist destination in Oswiecim, Poland, an hour and a half west of charming Krakow. A visit to Auschwitz (the German name for the area) includes a devastating three-hour guided tour, the only way summer visitors are allowed in the camps.

Wiesel’s classic book Night, which went from selling 1,000 copies when first published in the indifferent 1950s to more than 10 million today, offers a shattering supplement to the experience.

End quote

I am very glad that I took the opportunity to visit Auschwitz three times in the past, before it was over run by tourists.

The first time that I visited Auschwitz, in 1998, I was the only tourist there; I was accompanied by a private tour guide from New York City, who met me in the train station in Warsaw, and drove me from Warsaw to the camp on several successive days.

My tour guide showed me the “ash pits” where the ashes of the Jews had allegedly been thrown, after the Jews has been gassed to death. Before I went to Poland, and saw the evidence, I truly believed that the Jews had been gassed. The ash pits started me down the road to Denial.

The Germans were the first people to become concerned about the environment. Yet they threw ashes into a pond. I don’t think so.

A large ash pit at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My photo of a large ash pit at Auschwitz-Birkenau; the Sauna building is in the background

My photo of the ash pit near Krema III gas chamber

My photo of the dried up ash pit near the ruins of the Krema III gas chamber

Markers show the location of the ashes of Jews killed in gas chambers

My photo of markers at the location of ashes of Jews killed in gas chambers

My photo of markers at the ash pond near Krema II

My photo of markers at the ash pond near the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber

The building in the background of my photo, directly above, is the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber. The German people were the first to worry about the environment, yet they allegedly dumped ashes into ponds.

The following quote is also from the news article:

Begin quote

Our guide started by explaining that Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million Jews—plus two hundred thousand Poles, gypsies, homosexuals and others—died between 1940 and 1945, is actually three large sites, now known as: Auschwitz I, the original camp commandeered from the Polish Army by the Nazis, where the mocking ARBEIT MACHT FREI (“Work makes you free”) sign greeted Polish inmates who were quickly worked to death; Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau, the sprawling extermination camp built from scratch by inmates three kilometers away and named for the surrounding birch trees, where once stood scores of wooden barracks, four gas chambers and four crematoria; and Auschwitz III, also known as Monowitz-Buna, an I.G Farben rubber plant that employed slave labor and where another factory sits today.

Wiesel spent time in all three at various times in 1944 and 1945, with Auschwitz-Birkenau the first and worst. 

End quote

February 25, 2013

Nazis set up a Family Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau to fool the Red Cross

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:49 am

Most people know about the famous visit by the Red Cross to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in June 1944 where the Nazis fooled Red Cross representatives into thinking that the prisoners were being treated well.  You can read about it on my previous blog post here.

What I didn’t know, until just recently, is that the Czech Family Camp was set up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in order to fool the Red Cross again, in case Red Cross representatives decided to make a visit to the famous Auschwitz II death camp to see how the Czechs were being treated. The Czech Family Camp was in existence for six months before the Nazis carried out their real plan, which was to murder all the prisoners who had been sent from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz.

One of the survivors of the Czech Family Camp was Otto Dov Kulka (born in 1933) who has written a book entitled Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death. I will get to him later.  Otto’s father was also a survivor of the Family Camp.  You can read about him here.

This quote, regarding the Family Camp, is from this website:

It is still not altogether clear why the organisers (sic) of the final solution created the family camp, with its unusual privileges, only to liquidate it several months later. All that seems clear is that this remarkable activity was connected with the Nazis’ attempts to hide the genocide of the Jews to the outside world, and with the visit of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Terezín, for which Terezín’s SS command ordered the ghetto to be specially embellished. The Terezín SS command then showed the Red Cross delegates a Potemkin village, which had very little in common with Terezín’s cruel reality. A few days before they were murdered, the prisoners of the family camp were ordered to write post-dated postcards to their Terezín relations from the labour camp at Birkenau. The Terezín prisoners were thus meant to gain the false idea, ahead of the Red Cross commissioner’s visit, that their parents, childrens and siblings in Birkenau were all right, and above all alive. Some historians also believe that the family camp was meant to be the target of a similarly-manipulated visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, this time to Auschwitz.

Map of Auschwitz-Birkeanau

Map of Auschwitz-Birkeanau

But I am getting ahead of the story. The map of Birkenau, in the photo above, shows the Family Camp in section BIIb (B2B) on the left side. Click on the map to see it in a larger size. The main camp road is shown on the map, dividing the Family Camp from the women’s camp and the buildings where disinfection chambers and shower rooms were located. The Krema II and Krema III gas chamber buildings are shown in red on the map.

The article from the website cited above starts out with this quote:

In September 1943 five thousand prisoners were deported from the Terezín ghetto [Theresienstadt] to Auschwitz-Birkenau in two transports.Unlike previous transports, they received unusual privileges: on arriving at the camp they did not undergo the usual selections, and families were also not divided up into various sections in the camp – hence the family camp. The privileges also included the fact that the Terezín prisoners were not subjected to the humiliating ritual of having their heads shaved on arrival, and that children were allowed to spend daytimes in a children’s block. In December 1943 and May 1944, further large transports from Terezín brought a further 12,500 prisoners, who were placed in the family camp. While the first transports consisted exclusively of prisoners who had come to Terezín from the Czech lands, almost half the prisoners on later transports were Jews who had initially been deported from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

In the family camp, labelled section BIIb in Birkenau, the prisoners had to live in a narrow, muddy strip surrounded by an electric fence. They suffered from hunger, cold, exhaustion, illnesses and poor sanitation. The mortality rate was no lower here than in the rest of Auschwitz. The children were allowed to spend the day in the children’s block, where teachers led by the charismatic Fredy Hirsch engaged them in improvised lessons and games.

The unusual privileges given to the prisoners in the family camp were a complete mystery to the members of the Auschwitz resistance movement. After a while, however, they managed to find out that the prisoners’ personal papers contained the abbreviation SB and the period six months. SB – Sonderbehandlung, or special treatment – was code in Nazi jargon for execution without verdict, in Auschwitz usually death in the gas chambers.

After exactly six months, all the still-living prisoners who had been deported to Auschwitz in September 1943 were told that they would be transferred to the Heydebreck labour camp. Instead of going to this fictitious camp, however, the lorries of prisoners headed to the Auschwitz gas chambers, where on the night of 8 March they were murdered without selection. According to several eyewitnesses, before going to their deaths in the Auschwitz gas chambers they sang, as a sign of resistance, the Czechoslovak anthem, the Jewish anthem Hatikva and the Internationale. Members of the Auschwitz resistance organisation (sic) had warned Fredy Hirsch and other prisoners in the family camp that they were shortly to be murdered, and had appealed to them to rebel – however, there was not enough time to prepare and organise (sic) armed revolt. Fredy Hirsch, who had been expected to lead the rebellion, then died of an overdose of tranquillisers (sic) — it is probable that he committed suicide.

From that point on, the remaining prisoners in the family camp lived in permanent fear that after six months they would meet the same fate. At the beginning of July 1944 these fears were confirmed: unlike in March, however, the prisoners underwent selections, and some of them were sent to work in other concentration camps. By chance, Mengele was persuaded to carry out a selection of the boys from the children’s block, which meant that some of them managed to survive until liberation. Approximately 6-7,000 prisoners remained in the family camp, and were then murdered over the course of two nights, from 10 to 12 July 1944. Of the 17,500 prisoners sent to the family camp, only 1,294 survived.

It is still not altogether clear why the organisers (sic) of the final solution created the family camp, with its unusual privileges, only to liquidate it several months later. All that seems clear is that this remarkable activity was connected with the Nazis’ attempts to hide the genocide of the Jews to the outside world, and with the visit of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Terezín, for which Terezín’s SS command ordered the ghetto to be specially embellished. The Terezín SS command then showed the Red Cross delegates a Potemkin village, which had very little in common with Terezín’s cruel reality. A few days before they were murdered, the prisoners of the family camp were ordered to write post-dated postcards to their Terezín relations from the labour camp at Birkenau. The Terezín prisoners were thus meant to gain the false idea, ahead of the Red Cross commissioner’s visit, that their parents, childrens and siblings in Birkenau were all right, and above all alive. Some historians also believe that the family camp was meant to be the target of a similarly-manipulated visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, this time to Auschwitz.

The liquidation of the family camp on 8 March and 10-12 July 1944 was the largest mass murder of Czechoslovak citizens during the Second World War.

This quote is from this website, which gives a review of a new book, entitled Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, written by Otto Dov Kulka, a survivor of the Czech Family Camp:

[Otto] and his mother were part of a unique transport of Jews from Theresienstadt who were housed together in a specially designated “Family Camp”, and allowed to continue some semblance of normal life. He attended a makeshift school, where he and his friends put on plays and concerts, some of which were attended by camp dignitaries like Josef Mengele. They were all aware that this was highly unusual, and could not understand why they should have been singled out for such special treatment (it turned out that they were being kept as a showpiece just in case the Red Cross should visit).

Their good fortune did not last long. In March 1944, exactly six months after their arrival, the entire group was rounded up and taken to the gas chambers. There were no selections, and no possibility of escape – they were simply disposed of en masse. Their place was then taken by a new group, which was again to be granted the same privileges and the same freedoms – but only until their six months had, in turn, come to an end.

Kulka and his mother survived the first culling by a twist of fate: they both happened to be in the infirmary on the night of the liquidation. But they were under no illusion that this was anything but a temporary reprieve. Unlike the rest of Auschwitz, whose inmates might at least hold out hope of being “selected” for work duties, they knew that any future round-up would take in all of them, and that they would all be killed. It is this certainty, this “immutable Law of the Great Death”, that formed the background to Kulka’s experience of Auschwitz, and which has continued to haunt him ever since.

[…]

In later years [Otto] visited the remains of Auschwitz, and made a point of stepping through the doorway into the ruins of the crematorium where his childhood friends were all killed, in the hope that this symbolic act might somehow lay his mind to rest.

Ruins of Krema II crematorium

Ruins of Krema II crematorium

Note that Otto Dov Kulka visited “the remains of Auschwitz” and stepped “through the doorway into the ruins of the crematorium” where his childhood friends were killed.  What doorway?  Have the ruins of Krema II, shown in the photo above, been opened up so that tourists can now enter through a doorway?  If so, I think that this is a good idea.

Few people have been brave enough to climb through the hole in the roof of Krema II to see the inside of the gas chamber.  It should be opened up, with wheel chair access, so that everyone can see the inside of the gas chamber, which Fred Leuchter first entered years ago.  Seriously.  Everyone should have the opportunity to see the gas chamber evidence which Fred never  found.

October 18, 2012

The Auschwitz gas chambers — there are two sides to every story

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 10:49 am

The gas chamber in Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau is nothing but ruins now.  It was blown up by the Nazis, or by the Soviet liberators of Auschwitz, depending on what you believe.  There are two sides to the story.

Ruins of Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Ruins of the oven room in Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Original blueprint for Krema II building

There are two well-known videos which tell two sides of the story of the gas chamber in Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Watch the two videos and decide for yourself which is true.

February 14, 2010

History of gas chambers at Auschwitz

Prior to the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz, the Nazis began gassing mentally and physically handicapped persons with carbon monoxide in May 1940 at Hartheim Castle in Austria, and at other locations.

Gas chamber at Hartheim Castle used carbon monoxide which came through a pipe near the floor

The sign in the photo reads:

Gas Chamber – The victims entered the room through a low narrow steel door. Shower installations gave the impression that it was merely a bathroom. As soon as the door closed behind the victims, gas (carbon monoxide) was pumped in through a perforated pipe near the floor. When it appeared there were no more signs of life, the gas was pumped out to enable the removal of bodies. Since 1969, this room could be visited as a memorial.

The first mass killing of human beings by the Nazis, using a poison gas called  Zyklon-B, took place in cell #27 in Block 11 at the  Auschwitz main camp on September 3, 1941, according to the tour guide on a trip which I made in October 1998.

First gassing at Auschwitz was in Cell #27 in Block 11

Adolf Eichmann was visiting the Auschwitz camp on that day, although Commandant Rudolf Höss was away on business, according to the Auschwitz Museum guidebook.

Since 1939, Adolf Eichmann had been the head of Department IV, B4 in the Reich Central Security Office (RSHA); Eichmann’s department was in charge of getting rid of the Jews in Europe.

Karl Fritzsch, the Lagerführer (camp commander of Auschwtz I) took it upon himself to carry out this first gassing, while his superior officer, Commandant Rudolf Höss, was away.

The tour guide told me that  Cell #27 was sealed by packing dirt into the concrete well around the window outside; then the prisoners were shoved inside, Zyklon-B crystals were thrown in through the door, and the door was quickly shut.

The photo below shows the exterior of Block 11 with concrete wells around the windows of the cells in the basement.

Window well was packed with dirt to seal Cell #27

The first tests using Zyklon-B had been done in August 1941 in one of the basement prison cells. These experiments were done long before the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was planned at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942. Zyklon-B was, at that time, being used extensively in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and at most of the other camps, as an insecticide to kill body lice in clothing in an effort to prevent typhus epidemics.

The subjects of this first mass killing on September 3, 1941 were 600 Russian POWs and 250 sick prisoners. According to my tour guide, testing done in the previous months had determined the right amount of Zyklon-B needed to kill a room full of people.

In a book entitled Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, edited by Israel Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, it was stated that the murder of 600 Soviet Prisoners of War and about 250 sick prisoners took place in Block 11 between September 3rd and September 5th. The authors also quoted from a report by the prisoner underground which said that 600 Soviet prisoners and 200 Poles were gassed in Block 11 on the night of September 5th and 6th.

Reconstructed gas chamber in Auschwitz main camp

According to a guide book sold at the Auschwitz Museum, the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp was used from September 1941 to March 1942 and after that, the gassing of the Jews continued in “the little red house” at Birkenau. Later, gassing was also done in “the little white house” at Birkenau. However, Danuta Czech wrote that the last gassing in the main camp was done in Krema I  in December 1942.

Ruins of “the little white house” where prisoners were gassed

In March 1943, the first gassing took place in Krema II at the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau. According to Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, there was a total of  500,000 Jews gassed in Krema II.

Model of Krema II gas chamber and undressing room

In the photo of a model of the Krema II gas chamber, the undressing room is on the left and the gas chamber is on the right.

Krema III gas chamber building at Birkenau

Krema II and Krema III were the largest gas chambers at Birkenau.  There were two other gas chambers, known as Krema IV and Krema V which had above-ground gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.

Krema IV gas chamber building at Birkenau

The photograph above shows the gas chamber building known as Crematorium IV, or Krema IV, taken in the Summer of 1943 after it became operational. This building was blown up by Jewish inmates in a camp rebellion on October 7, 1944.

The Krema IV gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, was located above ground in the wing of the building which is to the left in the picture. Note that the roof line of the gas chamber is lower than the roof of the main part of the building. Zyklon-B poison gas pellets were thrown into the fake shower room through windows on the outside wall of the gas chamber.

Recent photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau at this web site