May 1940 the Nazi Germany built what would be known in history as one of its biggest concentration and extermination camp. Located in the upper province of Silesia in Germany, Auschwitz consisted of 22 barrack buildings. It covered an area of 40 square kilometers at its core and several hundreds of kilometer consisting of numerous branched camps. At its peak in 1944 it housed 135 thousand prisoners accounting about 25% of the total prisoners in the Nazi camps.
Auschwitz as one concentration camp was too big to be managed and hence to ease its complex running it was split into three formal camps on November 23, 1943 called Auschwitz I, II and III. Auschwitz I was the apex camp of the three. It seated the main offices of the political department and the prisoner labour department. The main labour assignment of the prisoners was to work at the supply stores, companies, workshops and economic units. Auschwitz II or Auschwitz-Birkeau was the largest camp at Auschwitz. When it started in 1941 it was a camp for 125 thousand prisoners of war. It then became an extermination camp for the Jews in 1942 and a concentration camp in 1944. About 90% of the Auschwitz prisoners i.e. over a million people died in Birkenau with 9 out of 10 being Jews. Auschwitz III was in Monowice, largest of Auschwitz’s sub camps. It served as the headquarters of the industrial sub camps at Auschwitz.
Records show that from January to December 1941 about 16, 710 prisoners were sent to Auschwitz of whom 10,055 were Jews. Jewish prisoners in the camp were the ones who were subject to most torture. Authorities considered a Jewish life to be the least valuable of all. They were exposed to hard labour, starvation, constant harassment, abuse and medical experiments. They arrived in trains where they were packed like salmons in a tin can and at the station inside Auschwitz they were stripped of all the belongings which were used to fund the army. They were catagorised, their heads shaved, they were given a striped blue and white outfit and lived with a number as their identity for as long as they survived.
During the war when Germany successfully captured Poland as per Hitler’s vision the entire polish population was exterminated or used in labour camps while Poland was completely Germanized. He made it the task of his people to destroy the Poles, to succeed at the cost of others.
Partially preserved camp records state that there were approximately 232 thousand children and young people up to the age of 18 in Auschwitz II. Of these about 216 thousand were Jews; 11 thousand were Gypsies, 3 thousand Poles, and numerous Russians and Ukrainians among others. Jewish children were of not much use at the camp hence they were directly sent to the gas chambers where they were put to death in large numbers. In 1944, when there was a serious shortage of labour, children aged 13 and 14 were employed in the camp refineries and used for criminal medical experiments.
An amusing fact came into light when undertaken rescue operations revealed that the soldiers made barracks for children of about 2 years of age similar to the ones made for adults. There was improper division of milk and food. Most children died of starvation and when these camps were liquefied 60% of the children had acquired diseases from their time in the camp. And the terrible truth was that a majority of the children who faced the gas chambers were Jewish.
The barracks in which the adults and children were housed had no furniture of any kind; everyone was made to sleep on straw stuffed mattresses on the floor. And the room which later accommodated beds for three prisoners each were so overcrowded that the people could only sleep on their sides.
The day of an ordinary prisoner began at 4:30 am in the summers and an hour later during the winters. Their conditions were at times so bad that some prisoners wouldn’t wake up to hear the morning gong and they had to be burnt by their fellow prisoners. When the barracks were cleared the prisoners went through a process of labour division and proceeded with their day. They were made to work for eleven hours every day, sometimes more. Years after they were rescued when they reminisced their days in the camp many survivors claimed to have the lavatory duty as the best because it was always warm there and officers were less frequent in that area which meant less flogging.
People that lost their lives at Auschwitz were piled together and burnt to ashes which were then left into a lake within the premise. That went on to become the resting place of everyone who couldn’t be more than a memory for those who survived. Auschwitz and all such other camps symbolize the limits of human beings at feeling superior about themselves, dehumanizing their kin and kith and the capability of people to feel such a strong hate and passion for what they felt was right. These camps signify a terrible loss that our race suffered decades ago and they give us hope that nothing like that could happen again for a long time.