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Auschwitz-Birkenau (Fall 2012)

            The Holocaust is an event that will never be forgotten because of Auschwitz II having such an impact in the time period. This event is one of the biggest in history where specific concentration camps were involved, killing millions of innocent men, women, and children that were Jews and Gypsies. When World War II started in 1939, the concentration camps expanded and housed vast numbers of non-political prisoners. The prisoners, who were Jews, were either worked to death or died from the living conditions. Three concentration camps, Chelmno, Birkenau and Majdanek, were meant to hold political prisoners. Men, women, and children were all killed differently and lived different lives throughout these concentration camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau, being one of the largest concentration camps, had the most impact and killed the greatest number of people; medical experiments were also done to individuals and twins. Auschwitz was a huge camp and was created for working and killing Jews.  Hitler and his team had the greatest impact that caused this whole event; they controlled this concentration camp and everyone involved throughout the camp. 

            Auschwitz-Birkenau was the center where European Jews were tortured and killed during the Holocaust. The camp was established by Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler in April of 1940. It was one of the largest complexes which, also known as Auschwitz II, located by the provincial Polish town of Oshwiecim in Galacia. At first, the camp was planning to hold the capacity of 100-125 thousand prisoners, however, the number changed many times in the year of 1942. Himmler wanted to have the capacity be at 200 thousand and then divide it into four parts; known as segments. Himmler needed at least 175 acres in order to divide the camp for their starting point of twenty thousand prisoners. Germans Isolated not just Auschwitz, but all camps and sub camps from the outside world and surrounded them with barbed wire fencing, all contact with outside world was restricted and forbidden. When the first prisoners arrived in September 1941, all 850 malnourished and sick prisoners were involved in a gassing experiment. These mass murders quickly became daily routines for the Nazis. The mass gassing of Jews in 1942, using the chemical Zyklon-B, began at Auschwitz. The number of deaths being as high as 3 million through gassing, disease, shooting, burning and starvation. There were private diaries of Goebbels and Himmler, which showed that Adolf Hitler personally ordered the mass extermination of Jews during a meeting of Nazis regional governors. Knowing this, proved that Hitler really wanted the killing of the Jews to happen, but may have wanted to keep it a secret.

            Men and women were dealt with differently, and killed in different ways at Auschwitz. They were all separated from each other when getting off the trains. There would be dogs, soldiers, and doctors standing, walking up and down the lines. When separated, men on one side and women on the other, this was the last time people saw each other, in most situations. The doctors would evaluate everyone, anyone who was a child, elderly or sick was sent to another side, in those situations many were sent to the gas chamber immediately. Men and women would have to strip naked and think they were going to shower, but ended up getting killed. All belongings, such as jewelry and shoes, were taken by the Nazis. The procedure was more traumatic and humiliating for women; the Nazis wanted the procedure to be perceived like that for all the men and women. The humiliation of women undressing in front of men they didn’t know wasn’t the most traumatic. Sexual assault was the most traumatic; being touched during examinations of their intimate body parts. Men and women that were not killed right away were sent to work camps. The Nazis would work these people to death. They used multiple killing techniques in order to kill people at this concentration camp including gas chambers, mass shootings, and starvation. Pregnancy was another death sentence; any visible pregnant women would be selected for immediate killing. Some pregnant women, if they were only a few months along and passed the examination, would hide the remaining months. At Auschwitz, if pregnant women prisoners were discovered by the Nazis it was an immediate death.  Prisoners who were physicians often tried to save any mother they could by poisoning the fetus before it was born.

            At the concentration camps, men and women were required to do intensive physical labor. Men adjusted to the work more easily than women because men were used to the hard labor that they were given. The tools they received were not good; if you received a good tool at all, you were considered lucky. Many deaths were caused by this because people could not work fast enough with only using their hands. Work was 12-14 hours a day usually starting at 4 am including activities throughout those hours such as moving sand bags, heavy stones, digging trenches or to bore a tunnel. Heavy lifting, which often exceeded the strength of the prisoners, was common and an everyday routine. Some worked in a factory, but it never meant that they had it better nor improved their condition of life. Working as fast as they could and never slowing down was how everyone worked throughout the day, if anyone slowed down it increased the chance of that person getting beaten or sometimes killed. 

            Children’s lives at Auschwitz were also different from men and women; children were often killed upon arrival and those born in the camp were generally killed on the spot. Children were treated differently based on religion such as Jewish, Roman, Polish, Soviet Union, or children born in Auschwitz.  Jewish children made up the largest group of those deported to the camp, beginning in 1942 as part of the “Final solution of the Jewish question.” There were very few girls and boys chosen to go work out in the job sites or fields. Towards the end of the war, the government wanted to start saving the economy. Hitler wanted to cut back on expenses and save on gas; the accountant’s solutions were to place living children directly into the ovens or throw them into open burning pits. Lucie Adelsberger described the lives of the children like this: "Like the adults, the kids were only a mere bag of bones, without muscles or fat, and the thin skin like pergament scrubbed through and through beyond the hard bones of the skeleton and ignited itself to ulcerated wounds. Abscesses covered the underfed body from the top to the bottom and thus deprived it from the last rest of energy. The mouth was deeply gnawed by noma-abscesses, hollowed out the jaw and perforated the cheeks like cancer. Many decaying bodies were full of water because of the burning hunger; they swelled to shapeless bulks which could not move anymore. Diarrhoea, lasting for weeks, dissolved their irresistant bodies until nothing remained ....." (Auschwitz 1) A forensic medical commission reported that they examined 180 children that were between the ages of 6 months and 14 years and majority of those 180 were suffering from disease that they contracted from their time at the camp. 40 % of them had tuberculosis and 60 % showed that they were lacking in vitamins and overall were weakening in the organism. Along with these diseases and lacking of vitamins, they also were very underweight due to starvation (Kubica 7). In situations where women would scratch, cry and scream that their children were getting taken, they would often get killed right on the spot along with their children.

            Medical experiments were often done throughout the camp, an example being the twin study done by Josef Mengele who is also known as the "Angel of Death". He was fascinated with genetic experiments and did nearly 1500 sets of twins (interested in identical) within the year of 1943-1944. The twins were kept in separate areas and sometimes given different treatments such as being better fed, if any twins were to get sick and die the guards would be blamed for the death. In the case of twins, Josef drew sketches of each twin. Many times he would draw lots of blood from the twins in order to compare them easier, this would cause them to faint. An example of all this is one twin recalls the death of his brother: “Dr. Mengele had always been more interested in Tibi. I am not sure why--perhaps because he was the older twin. Mengele made several operations on Tibi. One surgery on his spine left my brother paralyzed. He could not walk anymore. Then they took out his sexual organs. After the fourth operation, I did not see Tibi anymore. I cannot tell you how I felt. It is impossible to put into words how I felt. They had taken away my father, my mother, my two older brothers--and now, my twin.” (Lagnado & Dekel 1) All these treatments didn’t last long, only 200 survived throughout the war, many were murdered after the experiment was over and their bodies dissected. They did a couple other experiments were they would inject certain chemicals into women’s uteruses, in an effort to glue them shut. The doctors tested the efficiency of X-rays as a sterilization device by giving many large doses to women, which resulted in many deaths. Many operations were done, one being children were sewn together in order for an attempt to create Siamese twins; one of many crazy operations. Mengele not only picked out twins, but also people with any other physical abnormalities such as midgets, dwarfs and hunchbacks (Auschwitz).

            Politics and Government had a large part to do with the Holocaust and this concentration camp; it was during the World War II during which time Hitler was the leader.  The Nazis started to think they were not killing fast enough, so Hitler and the German government ordered things like the gas chambers, which would help them kill faster and in larger amounts of people.   While Hitler was the leader at the time, all people bowed to him and followed everything closely, so that they would not get killed themselves. They all trusted Hitler and believed he was going to change Germany and get them back on track. He brainwashed the people to believe that Jews caused Germany to be where they were then. What if Hitler never came to power? What would Germany look like? It is hard to picture how things would have gone differently in this time period, all the Jews would have lived their lives and there would have been 11 million more people still with us. Ideas have a large part to do with the Holocaust because Hitler viewed Jews as a race, having these views and ideas also led to everything during the holocaust. Hitler believed there can be no mixing of race in order to have a superior population. The “Final Solution” is what drew the line for the Jews and was the most mortal phase of the Holocaust. This final plan was to wipe out the Jewish population which pushed 7.5 million people into various camps to become slaves and then eventually slaughtered. The Nazis were able to eliminate the Jews because of their obedience to Hitler’s orders. 

            There are multiple museums today in multiple different countries and states. Where the Auschwitz II was located, now sits a museum that anyone can visit. All the museums have things representing the Holocaust and the concentration camps. It would be very intriguing to get a guided visit of this camp or any of the concentration camps just to imagine what went on and maybe understand it more fully. It is important to have these museums in order for people to see the evidence of the killings. This experience could be life changing for many people.  After, reading so many articles, stories, and seeing so many pictures it is hard to imagine something like that happened in our world, but maybe being in the actual gas chambers, seeing the scratch marks on the ceilings and where the prisoners slept, would make the picture come to life. 

            Overall the Holocaust is an unforgettable tragedy in modern history. Concentration camps, people, and places involved with the event were very hurt by it all. Men, women, and children were treated differently, each living different lives, some whose lives didn’t last long, is all a part of this time period. The people who were involved and caused a lot of this to happen were very sick people and deserved a lot of punishment. Experiments done too many children and the way people died is something that was very interesting to be learned about in this time period. Looking back, this event will never be forgotten due to the important impact it had on the world. 

  1. "Josef Mengele and Experimentation on Human Twins at Auschwitz." Longwood Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://www.longwood.k12.ny.us/lhs/science/mos/twins/mengele.html>.
  2. Ofer, Dalia. "Women in the Holocaust | Jewish Women's Archive." Women in the Holocaust | Jewish Women's Archive. N.p., 2005. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/women-in-holocaust>.
  3. "Auschwitz, Nazi Death Camp." Auschwitz, Nazi Death Camp. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://auschwitz.dk/Auschwitz.htm>.
  4. "Auschwitz Concentration Camp." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp>.
  5. "Just a Normal Day in the Camps." Just a Normal Day in the Camps. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/DayEng.html>.
  6. Memorial and Museum Auschwitz -Birkenau. N.p., 1999. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://en.auschwitz.org/h/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=1>.