The Auschwitz Death Camps continued

Auschwitz II or Auschwitz-Birkenau

Construction of Auschwitz II began in October 1941. Of the three camps established near Oświęcim, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp held by far the largest prisoner population. In 1942 a section was built to house female prisoners. The camp was divided into more than a dozen sections. Electrified barbed-wire fencing four meters high was erected around Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. The complex was patrolled by SS guards armed with machine guns and automatic rifles. In addition, it was enclosed by a chain of guard posts manned by SS men with dogs — the Hundestaffel dog battalion.

Auschwitz-Birkenau also operated as a death camp and played a central role in the implementation of the Final Solution. Four gas chambers and large crematoria were constructed between March and June 1943. Each had three sections:

(i) a disrobing area;
(ii) a gas chamber;
(iii) crematorium ovens.

The SS continued gassing operations there until November 1944, at which time the gassing installations were destroyed. Soviet forces liberated the small number of surviving prisoners in the camp in January 1945.

Auschwitz III

Auschwitz III also called Buna-Monowitz, was established in October 1942 to house prisoners assigned to forced labour at the Buna synthetic rubber works in Monowitz. In 1941 the German conglomerate I G Farben established a factory to manufacture synthetic rubber and fuels, using the forced labour of prisoners from Auschwitz III. Siemens also built a factory and sub-camp in close vicinity to Monowitz, capitalising on the availability of slave labour, and the German steel manufacturer Krupp did likewise.

Auschwitz sub-camps

Between 1942 -1944, the SS built 45 sub-camps around Auschwitz for forced labour purposes. The most important were: Budy; Czechowitz; Gleiwitz; Rajsko and Fürstengrube. The inmates were predominantly Jews. Some sub-camps produced or processed agricultural goods. Some prisoners worked in experimental agricultural farms. Others were assigned to forced labour in industrial and armaments manufacturing and in coalmines and stone quarries. Once a prisoner was found to be unproductive (too sick or weak), he or she would be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be murdered.

Selektion (‘Selection’)

When the transports arrived carrying their starving and disorientated masses, a Selektion (selection) took place. Families were divided after leaving the cattle cars and forced to line up in two columns, men and older boys in one column and women, babies and children of both sexes in the other. They filed past camp doctors, officers and other functionaries, who judged whether they were fit for work and sometimes briefly questioned them as to their age and occupation.

Physical fitness and age were the principal criteria for ‘selection’. As a rule, all children below the age of 16, those deemed unfit for work, the frail and elderly were sent immediately to the left – to the gas chambers – which were disguised as showers to mislead the victims. Those judged fit for work were sent to the right for forced labour. They were forced to shed their clothing, their hair was shaved and in some cases they had numbers tattooed on their arms, and were given camp ‘uniforms’. Children who were twins were also specifically set aside as subjects for medical experiments by Nazi doctors (see below).

Life in Auschwitz – Life in the Shadow of death