Scrapbookpages Blog

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.

March 20, 2010

Theresienstadt survivor tells British school children about Red Cross visit

Theresienstadt is a former military fort in what is now the Czech Republic; during World War II, the Nazis turned it into a concentration camp for the prominent Jews, including many artists and musicians. Theresienstadt is now known as Terezin.

Theresienstadt is famous for die Verschönerung, the beautification program in which the Nazis cleaned up the ghetto in preparation for a visit on June 23, 1944 by two Swiss delegates of the International Red Cross and two representatives of the government of Denmark. (more…)