The History of Auschwitz
27th January 1945, Oświęcim, Poland. Red Army troops make their way through the Lesser Poland province of southern Poland, situated 50 kilometres west of Kraków. The SS began evacuating Auschwitz and nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced to march west towards Germany. Thousands had been killed in the days prior to the start of these death marches. If you were to stop, unable to walk any further, then SS officers would shoot you on the spot. However, it wasn’t just fatigue that would kill you; it was starvation and exposure to the cold weather. More than 15,000 died during these death marches. When the Soviet army entered into Auschwitz they were able to liberate more than 7,000 remaining prisoners who were mostly ill and dying. It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these, at least 1.1 million were murdered, 90% of whom were Jewish.
Voices from Auschwitz
“So I was hiding out in the heap of dead bodies because in the last week when the crematoria didn’t function at all, the bodies were just building up higher and higher. So there I was at night-time, in the daytime I was roaming around in the camp, and this is where I actually survived”
“It was the silence, the smell of ashes and the boundless surrounding expanse that struck Soviet soldier Ivan Martynushkin when his unit arrived.
As they entered the camp for the first time, the full horror of the Nazis’ crimes there were yet to emerge.
“Only the highest-ranking officers of the General Staff had perhaps heard of the camp,” recalled Martynushkin of his arrival to the site. “We knew nothing.”
But Martynushkin and his comrades soon learned.
After scouring the camp in search of a potential Nazi ambush, Martynushkin and his fellow soldiers “noticed people behind barbed wire.”
“It was hard to watch them. I remember their faces, especially their eyes which betrayed their ordeal,” he said.
Among items discovered by Martynushkin and other Soviet troops were 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 7.7 tons of human hair.” – source
My Experience of Auschwitz-Birkenau
I was lucky enough to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau a couple of months ago thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust (http://www.het.org.uk/) and their project, Lessons from Auschwitz. Before I actually went on the trip to Poland I met with a Holocaust survivor, her name is Susan Pollack and she has to be one of the most amazing people I have ever had the fortune to meet. She was around 14 when she was sent to Auschwitz with the rest of her family and was lucky to survive as normally children would be sent to the gas chambers upon arrival, as were most women. Susan was fairly understanding of what happened to her and stated she felt “no need for retribution”.
I spent a whole day walking around both Auschwitz I, with a guided tour, and Birkenau. Auschwitz was as I imagined, rows of buildings in a somewhat orderly fashion.
Birkenau however completely blew my mind, it was so quiet (despite the mass of people visiting) and so vast that is was almost intimidating. As the Nazis were preparing to leave following the advance of the Red Army they decided to try and blow up some of the evidence of their crimes. This creates an astonishing view within Birkenau that is very difficult to stop picturing for me.
As the picture above shows, there are rows upon rows of chimneys were huts, like the one in the forefront of the picture, used to stand. It makes for a truly awe-inspiring visit and something that will stay with be for a long, long time.
Now you may be wondering what this has got to do with you and World of Tanks (which is why we’re all here). I have recently been observing not just in society and everyday life but also within the World of Tanks – one obviously directly affects the other – there has been a massive increase in anti-Semitism with many a keyboard warrior shouting out in chat “Take a shower you Jew” (or something to such affect). Now, it is apparent to me that this may be down to sheer ignorance, monkey see monkey do, but it could also be a lack of knowledge of what quite happened throughout the Holocaust. This is where I hope the first part of this article helped with some of the liberation and numbers involved. But I hope to help further within this second part.
First things first, when I say Auschwitz-Birkenau I am actually talking about two separate camps; Auschwitz I and Birkenau.
I’m sure most of you assume that the Holocaust only affects the Jews of Europe, I used to think just such a thing, however, you’d be wrong. Nazi Concentration and Death Camps contained not only Jews but Roma gypsies, Slovaks, Poles, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even political prisoners. Now I have to admit that in comparison to the number of Jews the other categories of prisoner combined are significantly less.
Life in Auschwitz-Birkenau
In Auschwitz you were never known by name, you were known by a number that was tattooed on your fore arm, this is a clear example of how the Nazis tried their utmost to belittle and dehumanise the prisoners in the camp.
Auschwitz I was opened in former Polish army barracks in 1940. Prisoner’s rooms were much better than the sleeping accommodation in Birkenau; however it was hardly suitable for living in. As the pictures below show the bedding was either layers of blankets, straw or human hair.
Upon arrival prisoners were stripped naked and had their belongings taken from them, some were so optimistic that they would go home that they would write their name, date of birth and address on any luggage they had with them. Shoes were also collected and there is now a room within the museum where you can see just a fraction of the shoes that were taken from small children, adults and the elderly.
In comparison an officers room was actually rather nice, they had a comfortable bed (like we would have today), a little desk to work and a wardrobe for their clothes.
The most well-known physician within Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, a psychopathic doctor who had a fascination with dwarfism and the science of twins. I say he was psychopathic because of what he did to such aforementioned people and his frankly disturbing obsession with torture and pushing inmates to their psychological limits. In the first phase of his experiments, Mengele subjected pairs twins and people with physical handicaps to special medical examinations that could be carried out on the living organism. Usually painful and exhausting, these examinations lasted for hours and were a difficult experience for starved, terrified children (for such were the majority of the twins). The subjects were photographed, plaster casts were made of their teeth and jaws, and their fingerprints and toe prints were taken. As soon as the examinations of a given pair of twins or dwarf were finished, Mengele ordered them killed by phenol injection so that he could go on to the next phase of his experiments, the comparative analysis of internal organs at autopsy. “Scientifically” interesting anatomical specimens were preserved and shipped to the Institute in Berlin-Dahlem for more detailed examination.
Whenever a prisoner stole bread, tried to escape or where just picked out at role call to make an example of a number of things could happen to them. There was a death wall that they would be stood up against and shot by camp officers.
The “delightful” looking posts below were designed to break a man, both physically and mentally, but they were definitely not designed for killing as that wasn’t the Nazi way. What they would do is tie your hands behind your back, lift your arms above your head and attach the rope to the little hook and hang you up for hours at a time. It was a certainty that you would dislocate your shoulders. *Note that the windows are boarded up so that other prisoners are unaware of what is happening to their friends or neighbours*
The picture below (sorry it’s a bit blurry) shows out of the nearly 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust what countries they were deported from to their death. Please take not of Poland with 2.93 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, the Jewish population in Poland prior to the war was 3.3 million.
Inside some of the cattle wagons that were found there were children’s drawings of their experiences under the Nazi regime. I find them very chilling and quite upsetting actually. They were traced from the wagon onto a wall inside a small museum inside one of the buildings in Auschwitz.
See pictures below.
Rudolph Hoess was the Camp Commandant at Auschwitz and had his house actually inside the camp and even worse, it was opposite a gas chamber. His children however saw their father as loving and thought there was nothing wrong with what was going on around them. They did in fact state that they enjoyed their time living there. When Hoess was caught and trialled for his crime he was sentenced to death, gallows were set up next to the gas chamber, the one opposite his house, where he was hanged in 1947.
As I said in the first part of this article, Birkenau was intimidating for me for a number of reasons, the huge entrance with the guard tower at the top.
It might also have been the rather sombre silence mixed with the mass of chimneys and huts that lay inside the barbed wire fence.
The picture above is the right side of the camp, most of it was destroyed by the Nazis before they left but there were some huts that were left intact. I refer to them as huts in a rather loose manner as they were actually stables before they were used as accommodation for the prisoner of Birkenau. Previously there would have been 60 horses inside one of these stables, but when Birkenau was turned into a camp there would be around 1,000 Jews crammed inside. This would spread many diseases and it isn’t exactly an insulated building like your home, it is closer to a shed you would have in your garden, this resulted in hypothermia.
Now you may be wondering, did anyone ever get found guilty for the Holocaust?
Well, the trial of Adolf Eichmann is the closest we can get to that. In the 60s Eichmann was tried in Israel for drawing up the details for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem”. After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Eichmann and his staff arranged for Jews to be concentrated into ghettos in major cities with the expectation they would be transported farther east or overseas. As the Nazis began the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, their Jewish policy changed from emigration to extermination. Eichmann and his staff became responsible for Jewish deportations to extermination camps, where the victims were gassed. After Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, Eichmann oversaw the deportation and extermination of that country’s Jewish population. Most of the victims were sent to Auschwitz, where 75 to 90 per cent were killed on arrival. By the time the transports were stopped in July, 437,000 of Hungary’s 725,000 Jews had been killed. Eichmann said towards the end of the war that he would “leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.” So Eichmann was a real nutjob that got everything he deserved when he was sentenced to death by hanging.
Thank you for taking your time to read through this, I appreciate greatly and I hope you learned to some degree the extent of the Holocaust. So next time you get infuriated with some, I implore you to think about what you’re going to say and not blurt out some stupid rubbish about Jews and gassing.
I would like to extend a special thank you to Silentstalker for letting me write such an article and posting for all of you to read.
I leave you on a poem by Primo Levi, a survivor of the Holocaust.
You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.