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June 22, 2013

Auschwitz survivor explains, in a new book, the motive for the Czech family camp at Auschwitz

New book by Otto Dov Kulka, a survivor of Auschwitz

New book by Otto Dov Kulka, a survivor of Auschwitz

According to a review of the book, shown above, which you can read in full here, Otto Dov Kulka, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, wrote about two groups of Czech Jews in the Theresienstadt ghetto, who were sent to the Birkenau camp, where each group was put into a “family camp,” and given privileges not allowed to the rest of the prisoners. In his book, Kulka claimed that “On March 7, 1944, six months after they arrived, all but a handful of Jews from the first group [of Czech Jews] were murdered in the [Auschwitz] gas chambers in a single night.”

According to the book review, written by Raimond Gaita:

Otto Dov Kulka was nine when he and his mother arrived in Auschwitz with the first group [of Czech prisoners from Theresienstadt]. His father had been taken to other concentration camps in 1939 and to Auschwitz in 1942.

Wait a minute!  Otto Dov Kulta was in the first group of prisoners who were put into a “family camp,” but he was not gassed when all the prisoners in the family camp were murdered in one night.  Apparently he was one of “a handful of Jews” who were saved so that they could write books about how the entire family camp was murdered in one night.  This may seem strange to some people, but the Nazis always made sure that they left some witnesses to tell the story, since they never kept records of the Jews who were gassed.

This quote is from the review of the book:

In 1943, the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt. The Nazis were allowed plenty of time to make the camp appear like a model community under occupation to a criminally gullible delegation (to put it kindly). Anxious that the ICRC might ask to visit camps in Poland, Himmler ordered the establishment of the family camp in Auschwitz, in order, Kulka writes, ”to serve as living proof that reports about the annihilation of Jews deported to the east were false”. When the ICRC declared that its visit to Theresienstadt had ”satisfied all their expectations”, Himmler ceased the grotesque charade.

So there you have it.  The motive for setting up the “family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau was to provide a separate camp for the Red Cross to visit, so that they wouldn’t see what it was really like in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  That sounds plausible, but the Red Cross had been inspecting the Auschwitz camp before that.

In September 1943, December 1943 and May 1944, just before the scheduled Red Cross visit to the Theresienstadt ghetto, there was a total of seven transports to Auschwitz-Birkenau, on which 17,517 Jews were sent to the death camp.

The Czech Jews from these transports were placed in a “family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Men, women and children were allowed to stay together in a separate camp, in contrast to the other prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau who had to live in fenced-off sections where the men and women were segregated from each other. The Czech Jews were allowed to wear civilian clothes instead of the blue and gray striped prison uniforms that the other inmates had to wear. Most importantly, the Czech Jews were allowed to send letters back to Theresienstadt to tell the others about how well they were being treated in the camp. Six months after it was opened, the “family camp” was closed and only 1,168 of the Czech Jews allegedly survived. The others were allegedly gassed in a single night, as told by Otto Dov Kulka.

How stupid was that?  Allowing 1,168 survivors to live so that they could write books and tell the story of how thousands of Jews were gassed “in a single night.”

What else could have happened to the Czech Jews who were allegedly “gassed in a single night?”  Auschwitz-Birkenau was not just a “death camp” where thousands of Jews were gassed.  It was also a “transit camp” from which Jews were sent to other camps, after a short stay at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Recall the story of Irene Zisblatt, who was pulled out of a gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau because the room was too full.  A Sonderkommando (Jewish helper) threw her over a 10-ft-high barbed wire fence into a railroad car that was bound for the Neuengamme labor camp.

What if the prisoners in the Czech family camp were also transferred to another camp, but the 1,168 survivors of the family camp were not told this?

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.