Auschwitz-Birkenau: Germany’s Largest Death Camp- Part I



I can stomach a lot of things, and I do mean A LOT of things. I can watch horrific murder documentaries and graphic horror movies without a second thought. But what I am going to write about and the man/people behind it make me want to vomit every time I hear or read about it. As I researched this particular portion of history my mouth fell open as I gasped in horror, my eyes filled with tears, I got goosebumps, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I placed a hand on my stomach for fear of emptying its contents. Needless to say, I was and will always be appalled by this event.

I can’t for the life of me wrap my head around what was done to an innocent group of people just based on their beliefs. How human beings (if you even want to call them that) could be so evil is unfathomable. Now, I in no way shape, or form condemn Germany or the German people for the atrocities that took place in and outside of their country. And believe it or not, I don’t even condemn all Nazis for what occurred as I’m sure some of them were only doing what they had to do to survive. I’m sure some of them only joined the organization because their life depended on it. At the end of the day when we are put in a life-or-death situation, most of us are going to pick whichever option will keep us alive.

Unfortunately, I am going to have to make this a two part article because I can’t pack all this despicable information into just one. It would just be too much. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.

Disclaimer: This is a sensitive subject for many people, and reader discretion is advised!

The entrance to Auschwitz I with its Arbeit macht frei (“Work sets you free”) sign

National Socialism (Nazism) combined elements of “racial hygiene”, eugenics (a set of practices and beliefs used to “improve” the genetic quality of the human populations), antisemitism, pan-Germanism (a national political idea to unite all German and Germanic speaking people to form the Greater Germanic Reich), and territorial expansionism. Adolf Hitler known as “der Fuhrer” (“leader”) and his Nazi Party became obsessed with the “Jewish question” (a wide-ranging debate in European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jewish people). During and after the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, acts of violence against German Jews became noticeable. Shortly after a law was passed excluding Jewish people from certain professions, including the civil service and the law.

Ongoing harassment and economic pressure encourage Jewish people to leave Germany. Their businesses were denied the ability to advertise in newspapers and sign government contracts. On September 15, 1935, the Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws which were made up of two different legislations. The Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which forbade marriages and extramarital intercourse between Jewish people and Germans, and the employment of German women under 45 years old in Jewish households as well as the Reich Citizenship Law. The Reich Citizenship Law declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens. The remainder of the population was classed as state subjects without citizenship rights. A decree outlining the definition of who was considered Jewish was passed on November 14, 1935. The laws were expanded to include Romani (Gypsies), and Black People on November 26, 1935. This supplementary decree defined Romanis as “enemies of the race-based state”, putting them in the same category as Jewish people.

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Hitler ordered that the Polish leadership and intellectuals be destroyed. The area surrounding Auschwitz was taken by the German Reich. It was made part of Gau Silesia and Gau Upper Silesia (administrative divisions of Nazi Germany). The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was established in April 1940, as a quarantine camp for Polish political prisoners. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in an attempt to obtain new territory. Around August 1941 a group of Soviet prisoners of war was taken to Auschwitz where they were executed. This unfortunately would be the first executions of many. By the end of 1941, 500,000-800,000 Soviet Jews has been murdered in mass shootings by Einsatzgruppen (“deployment groups”), German soldiers, and local supporters. On January 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference was held in Berlin, Germany. During the conference Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German SS outlined the Final Solution to the Jewish Question to senior Nazis. This started the transport of Jewish people from all over occupied Europe to German extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. The public was informed that these were strictly hard labor camps and were not told of the true horrors that occurred in those disgusting facilities.

Arial view of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp

A former World War I camp for transient workers and later Polish army barracks; Auschwitz I was the main camp and administrative headquarters of the camp complex. The site 31 miles (50 km) southwest of Krakow, Poland was first suggested as a quarantine camp for Polish prisoners in February 1940 by Arpad Wigand, the inspector of the Sicherheitspolizei (“security police”) and deputy of Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia. Head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (I can’t believe there was such a thing), Richard Glucks, sent Walter Eisfield, former commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, to inspect it. Auschwitz-Birkenau was approximately 1,093 yards (1,000 m) long and 437 yards (400 m) wide. It consisted of 22 brick buildings, 8 of which were two stories. The other buildings had a second story added to them in 1943 when 8 new blocks were built.

In April 1940 Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, approved the site on the recommendation of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoss. These two men were savages if I’ve ever heard of one. They were disgusting excuses for human beings. They were sadistic mother f*s that got off on exercising their power over others. I would spit on their graves if I knew where they were. The first 30 prisoners arrived on May 20, 1940, from the Sachsenhausen camp. German criminals were brought to the camps as officials. This group helped establish the sadism of early camp life, which was particularly geared towards Polish inmates. Political prisoners eventually took over the German criminal’s roles. Bruno Brodniewicz, the first prisoner (who was issued serial number 1), became camp elder. The others were given positions as kapos and block supervisors.

728 Polish male political prisoners, including Catholic priests and Jewish people, arrived on June 14, 1940, from Tarnow, Poland. This was the first mass transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were given serial numbers 31 to 758. In a letter dated July 12, 1940, Hoss told Glucks that the local population was “Fanatically Polish, ready to undertake any sort of operation against the hated SS men.” By the end of 1940, the SS had confiscated land around the camp to create a 15 square mile (40 sq km) “zone of interest”. This area was patrolled by the SS, Gestapo, and local police. 10,900 people were imprisoned in the death camp by March 1941.

 Inmates who were not sent straight to the gas chamber upon arrival were registered at the prisoner reception center near the front gate. Here they were tattooed with their serial number, shaved, disinfected, and given a striped prison uniform. The reception center contained a bathhouse, laundry, and 19 gas chambers for delousing clothes. Construction of crematorium I began at Auschwitz I at the beginning of July 1940. The crematorium was not initially intended for mass murder but for prisoners who had been executed or died by other means while at the camp. It was in operation until July 1943 when the crematorium at Auschwitz II had taken over. By May 1942, 3 ovens had been installed in crematorium I, which together could burn 340 bodies in 24 hours. 

Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoner registration card

The first experimental gassing took place around August 1941. At the instruction of Commandant Rudolf Hoss, Lugerfuhrer Karl Fritzsch murdered a group of Soviet prisoners of war by throwing Zyklon B (a cyanide-based pesticide) crystals into their basement cell in block 11 of Auschwitz I. Between September 3-5, 1941, a second group of 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 sick Polish prisoners were gassed. The morgue was later converted into a gas chamber able to hold at least 700-800 people. Zyklon B was dropped into the air-tight gas chamber by slits in the ceiling.

Historians have disagreed about the date the all-Jewish transports began arriving in Auschwitz-Birkenau, putting it somewhere around December 1941, January 1942, or March 1942. According to accounts told by Daunta Czech, a transport of Jewish people from Beuthen, Upper Silesia, the first group of all-Jewish transports arrived at the death camp on February 15, 1942. Czech also claimed that everyone in that transport was sent directly to the gas chamber as they arrived from the Organization Schmelt labor camps and were deemed unfit to work. On March 20, 1942.

After visiting Auschwitz I in March 1941, Himmler ordered that the camp be expanded. Construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau began in October 1941, roughly 1.8 miles (3 km) from Auschwitz I. Auschwitz II was planned to have 4 sectors (Bauabschnitte I-IV), each consisting of 6 subcamps (Blla-Bllf). Each sector and subcamp would have its own gates and fences. The first two sectors were completed, the construction of BIII was started in 1943 but stopped in April 1944, and the plan for BIV was abandoned. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Karl Bischoff, an architect, was the chief of construction. His plan originally called for each barracks to hold 550 prisoners, but it was later changed to 744 prisoners per barracks. This meant the camp could house up to 125,000 prisoners. A total of 174 barracks, each measuring 116 by 36 feet (35 by 11 m) were constructed. They were divided into 62 bays of 43 square feet (4 sq m). Each bay was divided into “roosts”, initially intended for 3 inmates and later for 4. Each prisoner had a personal space of 11 square feet (1 sq m). This personal space was used for sleeping and housing whatever belongings the inmates had.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau gatehouse; the train track led directly to the gas chambers

Prisoners were forced to live in the barracks as they were constructing them. Long roll calls at night were tacked on after a long work day that had little to no breaks. As a result of these conditions, most of the prisoners in Blb (the men’s camp) died in the early months of hypothermia, starvation, or exhaustion within a few weeks. Between October 7 and 25, 1941, 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz I, but by March 1, 1942, only 945 were still registered; they were transferred to Auschwitz II, where most of them had died by May. The first gas chamber at Auschwitz II was operational by March 1942. Around March 20, 1942, a transport of Polish Jews sent by the Gestapo from Silesia and Zaglebie Dabrowskie was taken straight from Oswiecim freight station to the Auschwitz II gas chamber. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave in a nearby meadow. On March 26th and 28th, two transports of Slovakian Jews were registered as prisoners in the Auschwitz-Birkenau women’s camp. All the women were kept for slave labor, these were the first transports organized by Adolf Eichmann’s department IV B4 in the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA). When new arrivals stepped off the trains at the death camp, they were sorted into two lines; men in one and women in the other. The new arrivals were then put through a “selection process”. They would be called forward by an SS doctor and given a once over. The disabled, pregnant women, elderly, women with young children, sick, children, babies, and injured were deemed unfit to work and were sent to the left line. Those who were healthy, strong, and deemed beneficial to the camp were sent to the right line. The left line was never registered as prisoners and was taken to the gas chambers while the right line was sent to the reception center. These “selections” went on regularly starting in April 1942. The gas chamber in Auschwitz II was located in bunker 1, called the “little red house” by the prisoners since it was a brick cottage that had been turned into a gassing facility. A second brick cottage, the “little white house” or bunker 2, was converted and in operation by June 1942.

Gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau

When Himmler visited the camp on July 17 and 18, 1942, he was given a demonstration of a selection of Dutch Jews, a mass murder in a gas chamber in bunker 2, and a tour of the building site of Auschwitz III; the IG Farben plant being built at Monowitz. I’m guessing he was pleased with what he saw. The sick son of a bitch. In spring 1943 the use of bunkers 1 and 2 stopped when the new crematoria were built. However, bunker 2 became operational again in May 1944 specifically for the execution of Hungarian Jews. Bunker 1 was eventually demolished in 1943, and in November 1944 bunker 2 was demolished as well. Blueprints for crematoria II and III show that both had an oven room 98 by 36 feet (30 by 11 m) and gas chambers 98 by 23 feet (30 by07 m). The undressing rooms had benches along the walls and numbered pegs where victims could hang their clothing. The “undesirables” would be taken to these rooms down a narrow corridor which led to a space where the gas chamber door opened. The chambers were white inside, and nozzles were fixed to the ceiling to resemble showerheads. The daily capacity of the crematoria was 340 bodies in crematorium I; 1,440 bodies each in crematoria II and III; and 768 each in IV and V. All of the crematoriums were operational by June 1943. This made the total daily capacity 4, 416 bodies. Although by loading three to five corpses at a time, the Sonderkommando were able to burn approximately 8,000 bodies a day. The average amount of bodies burned between 1942 and 1944 was 1,000.

After visiting several sites for a new plant to manufacture Buna-N, a type of synthetic rubber essential to the war effort, the German chemical corporation IG Farben chose a site near the towns of Dwory and Monowitz, about 4 miles (7 km) east of Auschwitz I. The site had good railway connections and access to raw materials. Its proximity to the death camp created a source of cheap labor. Don’t they mean free, forced labor? Assholes. The corporation also got a tax exemption under the Eastern Fiscal Assistance Law that was passed in December 1940. Himmler ordered that the Jewish population of Oswiecim be expelled to make way for skilled laborers and that all Polish people able to work remain in the town and help construct the factory along with Auschwitz prisoners. In April 1941, houses were demolished in Monowitz to make room for the new plant. By May, there was a shortage of trucks and that meant that hundreds of Auschwitz-Birkenau inmates were waking up at 3 am to walk to the plant; having to turn around and walk back to Auschwitz after a long day of work. Since a long line of overworked inmates walking through the town of Oswiecim might hurt German-Polish relations, the prisoners were told to shave daily, make sure they were clean, and sing as they walked. Given the difficulty of moving the inmates to and from the plant, IG Farben decided to build a camp at the construction site. On October 30, 1942, the first set of inmates moved there. The site became KL Auschwitz III-Aussenlager, and later the Monowitz concentration camp. It was the first camp to be financed and built by private industry.

Measuring 890 by 1,610 feet (270 by 490 m), the camp was larger than Auschwitz I. It housed 60 barracks measuring 57 by 26 feet (17.5 by 8 m) by the end of 1944. Each barracks had a day room and sleeping room. The sleeping room contained 56 3-tiered wooden bunks. Between 1943 and 1944, about 35,000 inmates worked at the plant. Roughly 23,000 were murdered through malnutrition, disease, and workload. The inmates were “reduced to walking skeletons” after being at the camp for 3 to 4 months. The deaths and some transfers to the gas chambers at Auschwitz II, reduced the population at Auschwitz III by nearly a fifth each month. Site managers would threaten inmates with the gas chambers, and the smell from the crematoria at Auschwitz I and II hung over the camp. The factory was supposed to begin production in 1943, but shortages of labor and raw materials postponed the start-up repeatedly. On August 20, September 13, December 18, and December 26, 1944; allies bombed the plant. The SS ordered that the site be evacuated on January 19, 1945. 9,000 inmates were sent on a death march to another Auschwitz subcamp at Gilwice. From Gilwice, prisoners were taken by train to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps. 800 inmates had been left behind in the Monowitz hospital and were liberated along with the rest of the camp on January 27, 1945.

Heinrich Himmler (second left; the one that kind of looks like a chicken wearing glasses) visiting the IG Farben plant. Don’t you just want to grab him by his skinny little neck and shake him?

Other German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own subcamps. There were approximately 28 camps near industrial plants, each camp housing hundreds or thousands of prisoners. These subcamps were designated as Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension camp), Arbeitslager (labor camp), or Aussenkommando (external work detail). Camps were built at Blechhammer, Jawiszowice, Jaworzno, Lagisze, Mystowice, Trzebinia, and Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (in Czechoslovakia). Industries with satellite camps included coal mines, foundries, and other metal works, as well as chemical plants. Many prisoners were also forced to work in forestry and farming. Wirtschaftshof Budy, was a subcamp in the Polish village of Budy where prisoners worked 12-hour days in the fields, tending animals, and making compost by mixing human ashes from the crematoria with sod and manure. Living conditions in some of the camps were so horrid that they were referred to as punishment subcamps. 

Well, that’s about all I can stomach for now. I’m sure most of you feel the same way. I have no witty sign off for this one. I can’t even image trying to make one for an article of this magnitude. Next time I will go more into detail about what being imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau was like for the inmates. It will be another tough one. I’m sure of it. 


“Auschwitz concentration camp” – Wikipedia

“Auschwitz-Birkwnau Museum” –

“Auschwitz” – Holocaust Encyclopedia

“Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp” – YouTube

“Hitler’s Circle of Evil” – Netflix


1 Comment

  1. It’s hard to imagine that something like this took place. Absolutely disgusting.
    Awesome article. Can’t wait to read the second one.

    Liked by 1 person

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