Today we visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Some of you might know that I studied the Holocaust a lot in college — both tons of history classes as well as literature from survivors. Because of this, it wasn’t the visuals of the barracks or the Jews’ stolen belongings (such as the shoes above) that shocked me the most.
What I kept going back to was the psychological strategy and calculation that went into The Final Solution.
Some examples that really haunted me included:
- One of the reasons the women AND children were gassed (even though many of these women could have worked) was that if they had been separated from their children it would have created hysteria. The children would have began to cry and scream, and it would have raised panic among the new arrivals. Because they were kept together, they remained more calm on their way to the gas chambers.
- Through the entire process the SS used hope as a means to keep panic at bay. When the prisoners arrived, they immediately saw the enormous amounts of barracks, and assumed this would be their new homes after the showers. They were asked to mark their luggage with their name and car number (as well as address) so that they could find their belongings after they were cleaned from the trip and were ready to move into the camp. Also, they were told to bring a certain amount of goods to move into their new homes. Because of this, women brought kitchen utensils, men brought shaving accessories, some families brought prayer shawls etc. etc. None of them realized it would be immediately sorted and taken by the Nazis.
- In terms of “efficiency,” the SS had the prisoners from Auschwitz I (which was much, much smaller and had begun as a Polish Prisoner camp) walk 6 km each day round trip (about 3 miles) to Birkenau where they built that camp from scratch. This newer camp had railway tracks that led straight to the gas chambers and crematoriums. The rail tracks divided the men’s camp from the women’s.
- If 1,000 prisoners arrived, it took about 2 hours from unloading the
train car until they were dead. There simply wasn’t time to put two and
- Also, when Auschwitz I began, each prisoner was photographed and logged in with date of birth, date of arrival and date of death. After a while, they realized this was taking too much time and resorted to the tattoos to keep track instead.
- Also, if a group of 10 workers left the camp to help build Birkenau, 10 had to return or the rest would be killed or tortured. Because of this, prisoners would have to carry back anyone who died on the job to prove the numbers were still good. And the camp had an “orchestra” who would play music as the prisoners marched in and out of the camp. They found the music helped keep them walking to a rhythm and it was easier to count them this way.
- By keeping the camp so “internationalized” many of the prisoners didn’t speak the same languages, and this lack of communication ability helped to stop any chances of rebellion.
Lastly, there were 7,000 SS who ran these camps. Only 1,000 were ever caught because they were so rich from selling off the belongings of the prisoners, that fake passports and papers were easily obtained after the war. Disgusting.
To see photos from the day, look here.
Oh, and before I forget, there is a chance I won’t be able to blog tomorrow. We arrive in Budapest at 10 pm, and I’m not sure if I’ll have the wifi password upon arrival or not, or if I’ll even make it on time. Don’t fret if there’s nothing new.